Sudan crisis crying out for solution
Sudan crisis crying out for solution
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Op-Ed / Africa

Sudan crisis crying out for solution

In the best-case scenario, ‘only’ 100,000 people are expected to die in Darfur in the coming months; sadly, there is little reason for even this desperate optimism.

Such is today’s grim reality for this region in the western part of Sudan: even if the 8 April ceasefire between the government of Sudan and rebel groups were respected, 100,000 people would likely perish due to the targeted destruction of water sites and food stores by government-aligned forces throughout Darfur. And the government broke the ceasefire the day after it was signed.

Open warfare erupted in Darfur in early 2003, when two loosely allied rebel groups seeking an end to the region’s chronic economic and political marginalization, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), attacked military installations.

The government responded by arming and deploying ‘Janjaweed’ militias against the civilian populations of the African tribes in the region - those it accuses of supporting the rebellion, principally the Fur, Zaghawa and Massalit, as a means of collective punishment.

The Janjaweed are recruited among groups of Arab extraction from Darfur and Chad, building on twenty years of government policy of arming and supporting Arab tribes in the region.

Part of a scorched-earth government offensive, Janjaweed attacks have led to massive displacement, indiscriminate killings, looting and mass rape. These have been characterized as ethnic cleansing by many observers and compared to the Rwandan genocide by the former head of the United Nations in Sudan.

To date, more than one million residents of Darfur have been displaced, many now living in squalid camps, where they are dying from disease and malnutrition. Another 110,000 have crossed into neighbouring Chad, though even there they are not safe from Janjaweed attack.

The worsening situation has turned Sudan, where prospects for peace elsewhere in the country had looked so promising for much of 2003, into the world’s most serious conflict-driven humanitarian disaster of 2004 thus far.

The civil war in Darfur risks inflicting irreparable damage on a delicate ethnic balance of seven million people and its implications go far beyond Darfur’s borders. The war indirectly threatens the regimes in both Sudan and Chad and has the potential to inspire insurgencies in other parts of the country.

The Beja Congress from eastern Sudan has already allied itself with the SLA and other groups could emerge - east and west - in an anti-government coalition.

At every stage, Khartoum has sought to avoid addressing the political issues that fuel the conflict.

The initial international response was weak and ineffectual, because the priority of the key external actors - neighbouring governments and their backers in Washington, London, Oslo and Rome - was to get Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA), who have been at war for decades, to a final agreement through the IGAD (intergovernmental authority for development) peace talks in Naivasha, Kenya. The Khartoum regime realized that the international community would not criticize it on Darfur at a crucial point in the IGAD peace process, so it slowed the process in Naivasha to give itself time for a major offensive in Darfur in the hope of crushing the rebellion.

More muscular diplomacy was begun only in recent months with respect to constructing an effective negotiation on Darfur.

Well-intentioned statements, such as the 15 April 2004 declaration by the Irish EU presidency, are not enough.

Welcoming "the commitment of all parties to authorize unrestricted humanitarian access and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian assistance" is premature until evidence of that commitment appears. Praising the ceasefire even after it had been broken on numerous occasions seems naïve.

Simply calling on the Sudanese government to "fulfill its commitment to control the irregular armed forces known as the Janjaweed" is not applying the right pressure and incentives.

EU member states need to put real pressure on the government of Sudan to comply with the ceasefire agreement, especially its humanitarian relief elements and Khartoum’s commitment to rein in its allied militias.

Access to Darfur must be granted to aid agencies and international observers immediately. Since 1990, the EU has limited its Sudan assistance to humanitarian activities, emergency relief and food aid but Sudan would clearly like fully normalized relations with the EU to help it emerge from its current pariah status internationally, so Brussels enjoys some leverage in Khartoum.

At the least, the Sudanese government should be made to understand that any benefits stemming from a successful IGAD peace process, which is nearing completion, would be tied to an improvement of the situation in Darfur.

If government attacks against civilians, violations of the ceasefire, and denial of humanitarian access continue, then the international community must be prepared to look at further measures, such as imposing a flight ban to counteract the aerial bombardment of civilian locations, and more forceful measures to gain humanitarian access to Darfur.

Investigations should also begin immediately into the human rights abuses and war crimes that have taken place in the region over the past year.

The EU and member states should assist in establishing effective international monitoring for the Darfur ceasefire, before the situation can be said to be improving.

Finally, political talks need to begin right away.

These should no longer happen in Chad, which has once again proven itself a compromised mediator in the recent humanitarian negotiations and is now being rejected as a site of future talks by both rebel groups.

African Union-led mediation in Addis Ababa would greatly strengthen the process, but as in the IGAD peace process in Kenya, greater international involvement and support will be critical. Focused pressure must be placed on the government to accept more neutral mediation if a credible and lasting solution is to be reached.

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