The World's Worst Humanitarian Crisis Continues:
Ethnic Cleansing and Forced Displacement in Darfur
July 14th, 2004
Just over two months ago, the first Hot Spots Column questioned whether the international community - and the United Nations in particular - was reluctant to criticize the Sudanese government's handling of Darfur because of the critical phase of the peace process with the south.
Since then, the last remaining protocols of a framework for peace between the Sudanese government and the Southern People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA/M) have been signed. Additionally, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1547, establishing an advance political mission in Sudan that is tasked with laying the groundwork for an eventual UN "peace support operation" in the region.
Yet the crisis in Darfur continues, and by nearly all accounts has gotten much worse. There are now an estimated 200,000 refugees in Chad and more than one million people displaced within Sudan. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has stated that more than two million people are affected by the crisis, and 350,000 people could die by the end of the year without immediate and massive humanitarian assistance.
That assistance, however, has yet to come at the level needed. Despite its claims to the contrary, the Sudanese government continues to obstruct international relief agencies from delivering assistance to those in need - toying with visas and travel permits, confiscating technology and transportation equipment, subjecting imported medicines to endless series of tests and imposing other ever-shifting restrictions. The difficulties faced by humanitarian workers in gaining access to vulnerable populations has been compounded in recent weeks by the beginning of the rainy season, which has made many roads in the remote region completely impassable, even to trucks. In a worrying new trend in Darfur, relief convoys have recently come under attack at checkpoints set up by both government and rebel forces.
Increased International Attention
Both the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Khartoum and camps in Darfur between June 30-July 2. The visits were extremely important in focusing high-level international attention on Darfur and providing a platform from which both men could address the responsibility of the Sudanese government for the crisis. Despite such international attention, however, the Sudanese government actually emptied a camp scheduled to be visited by the Secretary-General just before his arrival. Government officials also prevented some of the displaced in other camps from responding to Powell and Annan's questions, and had allegedly threatened and intimidated many IDPs into silence.
As a result of all the attention, the Sudanese government has promised - again - to rein in and disarm the Janjaweed. It added, however, that it would simultaneously increase the army and national police presence in Darfur. Such a move has not been welcomed by Darfurian civilians (who report, even after fleeing to camps, continuing harassment by government officials). Furthermore, common sense dictates that a party implicated in a conflict cannot be trusted to then provide security to the victims of that conflict.
Meanwhile, the African Union summit in Addis Ababa has just concluded. Though participants refused to call the situation in Darfur "genocide," the Union has offered to deploy a force of 300 armed peacekeeping troops. Though welcome, it is clear that 300 troops are nowhere near enough to maintain peace in for a region the size of France - and even that is assuming there will peace a peace to maintain. To be effective, such a force would have to be augmented - perhaps by troops from EU countries, NATO, or UN peacekeepers.
What to do?
The United States has in recent days been circulating a draft resolution on Darfur in the Security Council, calling for sanctions - including international travel bans - on Janjaweed leaders. While the efforts of the US team (now led by former Senator John Danforth, a longtime advocate for peace in Sudan) are important, they do raise questions as to their practicality or effectiveness. Do the Janjaweed - by all accounts loose bands of well-armed, roving local militias on horses and camels - really want to travel internationally? And even if they did want to travel for some reason but were stopped from doing so, how would that change the violent reality on the ground in Darfur?
The Administrator of USAID Andrew Natsios said back in April that "Every sanction that exists in world history is now in operation against Sudan." That may be true. Targeted sanctions against individual government leaders, however, have yet to be tried - despite numerous calls to this end. It could be argued that sanctions against government officials would be similarly ineffective at changing the realities on the ground, but at this point many observers have suggested it is worth a try. If sanctions are implemented, it would be the first concrete action taken by the UN against the government of Sudan regarding the crisis in Darfur.
There comes a point, however - and it has been reached in Darfur - when resolute and immediate action becomes the last resort. Months of diplomatic pressure have achieved nothing. The Sudanese government continues to stall, to shift tactics, to say one thing one day and another the next. At the same time, violence continues, malnourishment and disease skyrocket, regional instability threatens, and families and villages are decimated.
A no-fly zone over all of Darfur must be imposed and relief convoys mobilized and protected by a force with a mandate not only for self-defense, but for protection of civilians. The force - ideally led by the African Union and relying on the logistical backbone of the European Union, US and/or NATO - must be large and robust enough to provide security not just for the convoys and camps, but to allow civilians to return to their homes in security and dignity.
Difficult? Of course. Expensive? Yes. But the alternative would be to allow - yet again - a genocide to occur right under the noses of the international community.
Much has changed in Darfur in two months, and little for the better. Given the situation - and the attention it has received - the absence of so much as a single Security Council resolution focused on the world's worst humanitarian crisis is particularly indefensible.
The opportunity presented by the back-to-back visits of Secretary-General Annan and Secretary of State Powell and the African Union summit is not one that will come along often. It is therefore even more imperative that the international community not waste this unique chance to take strong and resolute action to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Forced Return to Chechnya
June 1, 2004
World's Worst Humanitarian Crisis":
Ethnic Cleansing and Forced Displacement in Darfur
May 5, 2004