You can still hear the sound of death in Darfur
You can still hear the sound of death in Darfur
Sudan: A Year of War (with Comfort Ero)
Sudan: A Year of War (with Comfort Ero)
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

You can still hear the sound of death in Darfur

DESPITE increased international attention and extensive media coverage, the humanitarian situation in Darfur keeps worsening. Atrocities against civilians continue while toothless diplomatic pressure fails to force Khartoum to change its criminal conduct.

Some 70,000 displaced people are thought to have died in Darfur from hunger and disease since last March and up to 10,000 people are still perishing each month in camps for the internally displaced, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Including the tens of thousands of casualties that occurred during the government’s ethnic cleansing campaign from December 2003 to March 2004, the overall number of deaths is now at 100,000.

As many as two million civilians need emergency aid, but many are not receiving it because of bottlenecks created by the government and, to a lesser extent, the rebels. While staggering, these numbers could still be an underestimation and are likely to increase in the coming months as access improves to areas behind rebel lines.

The international community is falling short of its promises: only half of the $300 million (€244 million) pledged to WHO for relief efforts in Darfur has been delivered.

The European Union has responded generously and is by far the biggest donor of humanitarian aid, with a total of €104 million allocated this year to provide Darfurians with food, shelter, access to clean water and sanitation, and emergency health care. At the same time, the EU also needs to back up decisively efforts by the African Union (AU) to monitor the ceasefire and improve the security of the internally displaced persons. Brussels is off to a good start: with its €100 million pledge, the EU has taken on more than half the cost of deployment of the expanded AU force in Darfur.

In the political arena the EU has been increasingly applying its weight to pressure Sudan’s leadership: closing lines behind UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot for the EU presidency, French and German Foreign Ministers Michel Barnier and Joschka Fischer, and the high representative for common foreign and security policy Javier Solana. Solana visited Sudan at the weekend (23-24 October) and made clear to Khartoum the deep preoccupation all Europeans feel about the situation in Darfur.

Unfortunately, these diplomatic efforts and similar efforts from around the world have failed to stop the now eighteen-month ethnic cleansing going on in Darfur.

The government has a record of tactically pretending to bend to international pressures while it continues pursuing its strategic targets in its conflicts at home. But its record also shows that when faced with coordinated pressure from all the key international players, Khartoum is a pragmatic regime and carries out what it is required to do.

The EU and its member states should lead the way in providing international support to the AU mediation efforts between the Sudan government and the Darfurian rebel groups.

At the same time, they need to make clear to Khartoum that it risks EU sanctions if the army does not cease its raids and if humanitarian aid workers do not get full uninhibited access to Darfur. It is true that the Sudan government has improved humanitarian access in the face of international pressure over the past few months, but it has also cynically used the imperative of humanitarian access to claim territory held by the rebels – under the pretext of extending of “safe areas” it agreed with the UN to secure for the internally displaced persons.

In the field of security, the EU has responded by allocating funding from its recently established African Peace Facility to assist the AU to deploy 68 ceasefire monitors and a 300-strong protection force in Darfur last July.

This October, EU military, civilian and police elements – together with the AU, the UN and the US – have helped to plan the ten-fold expansion of the AU force and ten EU military observers are expected to join the AU’s ceasefire monitors in Darfur.

The crucial point, though, remains the nature of the mandate of the AU’s expanded force. Khartoum has long rejected any expansion of the AU mandate that goes beyond the protection of the ceasefire monitors. But the needs on the ground cry out for a force capable of protecting civilians, humanitarian workers and relief convoys.

The EU must firmly insist on an effective civilian protection mandate for the upgraded AU force.


Former Vice President (Europe)
Former Manager, EU Advocacy

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