Why nobody is doing enough for Darfur
Why nobody is doing enough for Darfur
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Sudan’s Imperilled Transition: Policy Recommendations for the U.S.
Op-Ed / Africa

Why nobody is doing enough for Darfur

Last week's United Nations Security Council resolution on Darfur, western Sudan, is too little, too late a response to the crisis gripping the region. Tens of thousands are already dead, up to 1,000 more are dying every day and more than 1m people have been displaced. The ugly violence that is the immediate cause of this catastrophe is ongoing and insufficient aid is getting through.

Yet the Security Council resolution does not put troops on the ground to protect those at risk and guarantee aid delivery; it does not impose a no-fly zone; it merely hints at possible sanctions; and it does not seriously threaten anyone with international criminal accountability.

Why is it taking the international community so long to do the right thing?

There are certainly no legal reasons for inaction. Chapter seven of the UN Charter, which the Security Council has already invoked, ensures that any action that needs to be taken can be taken. Here, as so often elsewhere, debate on application of the genocide convention has been less of a political energiser than an energy-draining diversion. Whether the Janjaweed militia that has run rampant in Darfur and its Khartoum backers had the requisite intent to commit genocide can be settled only in an international court. When the issue is crimes against humanity, giving their alleged perpetrators the chance to split hairs does not help mobilise international action. What should always matter most is not the "g" word - emotionally powerful though it is - but the "a" word: when atrocities occur, countries do not need the authority of the genocide convention to "prevent and punish" them.

Nor is ignorance the reason for inaction. For more than a year now, UN agencies and major non-governmental organisations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and the International Crisis Group have been producing detailed reports on the Darfur carnage, arguing that if Sudan's government were unwilling or unable to protect its people from violent death, starvation and disease, then the responsibility to protect had to be exercised by the international community.

These findings and recommendations found powerful audiences. At least by early April 2004, at the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, was warning of "ethnic cleansing" in Darfur and the possibility that outside military intervention might be necessary. In the same week, the US administration openly condemned the "atrocities" in Darfur. By June, the international media was at last on the case.

What has been missing with Darfur is neither knowledge nor authority, but - yet again - a lack of will among key players. Part of this is due, inevitably, to narrow self-interest; it is difficult to believe, for example, that fighter jet contracts in the case of Russia and oil concessions in the case of China have no link with their reluctance so far to take tough action. The invasion of Iraq has complicated the debate: the wan and belated attempt by some coalition leaders to paint it as a legitimate humanitarian intervention has made consensus on new cases hard to reach. Also, countries such as Pakistan and Algeria are presenting themselves as champions of the Islamic world against outside interference in Sudan's internal affairs (conveniently ignoring the fact that Darfur's victims are all Muslim).

But even the countries that have become most outspoken on Darfur have been slow to translate that outrage into action by the Security Council - and into their own direct commitment. Britain has signalled it could send up to 5,000 troops at short notice and Australia has offered forces but only if "there's action by the Europeans"; but the US has cried impossible, citing Iraq commitments, while no other developed country has offered to supply the 10,000 or more required. Many of them, still with cold war force structures, can only deploy a tiny proportion of their personnel on active operations: the starkest case is probably Germany, with some 250,000 troops but only 10,000 of them deployable at any given time.

If the developed world cannot or will not supply the troops that may be needed, it can certainly do more to pay and provide the necessary logistic support for troops potentially available from elsewhere. The African Union is making Darfur a test case for its ability to provide African solutions for African problems, but its members lack the financial and equipment resources for the job.

On Khartoum's past form, no one can possibly be confident that the international pressure so far will be enough to answer Darfur's desperate plight. The Security Council almost certainly has to show much more resolve than that involved in last Friday's patch-job - not just in applying threatened sanctions, but in providing real security and achieving actual accountability. The developed world will also have to match its escalating rhetoric with a willingness to pay for whatever action is required.

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