Who Will Save Darfur
Author: Dominic R. Pkalya
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 02/16/2007
The media and aid agencies have rightly described the human carnage in Darfur, Western Sudan, as a “slow-motion genocide” that threatens to embarrass “international community” once again. The Darfur genocide could not be as swift as the 1994 Rwandan genocide or highly publicized as the Milosevic crackdown of Muslim Kosovars in the former Yugoslavia. Whatever the situation, at least 300,000 people have been killed or died as a result of hunger and diseases induced by the conflict and further 2 million people have been displaced from their homes since the conflict became more violent in 2003. These numbers are just estimates and the actual fatalities could be several times higher.
In retrospect, the Darfur crisis started when two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), took arms against El Bashir government accusing it of systematic oppression of the black Sudanese in favor of Arabs among other injustices.
The most disheartening thing is that this carnage is going on unabated in full view of the United Nations and powerful countries in spite of their unanimous resolve not to let “another Rwanda” happen again. In April 2004, while unveiling a new five-point plan for genocide prevention in Geneva, Kofi Annan announced that the world must not permit Darfur to become “another Rwanda”. We don’t need to remind ourselves that after the Holocaust, the then world powers promised not to let another Holocaust happen again. Interestingly, the post-Holocaust period has been replete with massacres, ethnic cleansings, genocides and so forth.
So why has the “international community” been unable to intervene in Darfur? To answer this question, it would be fair to note that the United Nations has indicated its willingness to intervene in Darfur but the government of Sudan has refused to consent to such an intervention terming it nothing short of foreign invasion. The African Union did also intervene in 2006 by deploying a force of 7,000 men and women but this AU peacekeeping force has largely failed to stem the conflict.
Before we slaughter the UN at the alter of indifference to Darfur genocide, it would be fair to understand the politics of consent in UN peacekeeping operations and how it has complicated or delayed a possible deployment of Blue Helmets to Darfur to keep peace and help the conflicting parties implement Abuja Peace Accord.
Before a UN peacekeeping mission is deployed, there must be the existence of the consent for the operation from the host country or countries as well as the parties to the conflict. In exceptional circumstances, the UN can circumvent this requirement by inducing consent of the parties to the conflict for the operation. Among other things, the Security Council can do this by using sanctions, travel bans or direct military intervention.
This leads us to another question; why hasn’t the Security Council threatened Sudan with sanctions and military action to induce its consent as it (covertly through NATO) did in Bosnia?
This is perhaps a very simple or difficult question to answer depending on whichever way you approach it. First, what is the Security Council? Is it the five permanent members (P5) or the 15 members? The Security Council may be the 15 members (both permanent and non permanent) but realists will deduce that real decisions are made by the P5. This latter theory would be useful to pursue by analyzing the relationship between P5 and Khartoum and deduce how this relationship has affected the politics of consent. To complete the picture, the role of western press in this quagmire needs to be mentioned.
The war on global terrorism is undoubtly America’s top priority in its foreign policy. The fact that Washington is courting Khartoum in this counterterrorism undertaking has complicated Washington’s role in pressurizing Khartoum to consent to a UN peacekeeping force. The revelation in the western media that CIA sent a plane to Khartoum to ferry the head of Sudanese intelligence, General Salah Abdallah Gosh, to Washington for discussions with his American peers on the “war against terror” illustrates this new found Washington-Khartoum counterterrorism engagement. Sudan, it appears, had become a crucial intelligence asset to the CIA. Never mind that General Gosh’s name is widely assumed to be among the 51 leading Sudanese officials considered by the UN-appointed International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to be most responsible for the conflict and that until recently Sudan was listed by Washington as one of the rogue countries that supports terrorism.
To add credibility to the allegation that Washington is courting Khartoum at whatever cost to Darfur, it was reported in a dozen of media outlets that the United States sought to block the inclusion of Sudan’s intelligence chief and other government officials from a list of people targeted by UN sanctions over their roles in facilitating or committing crimes against humanity, feeding a theory that the administration is soft on Sudan because it wants Sudanese cooperation on counterterrorism intelligence. If this theory is wrong, then Washington should explain why it opposes the use of sanctions to put pressure on Sudanese officials.
While delivering a public lecture on genocide prevention at UN-mandated University for Peace, Costa Rica, in December 2006, Gerry Caplan, a genocide prevention activist, pointed out that the “war on terrorism” obviously trumps genocide at least for Washington. It seems it is in the national interest of the United States to cooperate with Sudan in war on terrorism despite of whatever is happening in Darfur. In several occasions, the immediate United State’s UN Ambassador, John Bolton, has remarked that “the only question for the US is what’s our national interest, and if you don’t like that, I’m sorry but that’s the fact.” Darfur may not be of national interest to US if compared to the olive branch extended by Khartoum in this crucial war on terror.
In various forums, the United States has spoken publicly in support of calls to force Sudan to consent to UN peacekeeping force but it has failed to live to its words. The US senate has labeled the Darfur crisis genocide and so has George Bush. However, the United States has had and continues to have a vexing and inconsistent record on Sudan. Periods of engagement have been followed by longer, and troubling, periods of inaction.
As the former colonial power, many people expected Britain to play a leading role in saving Darfur but that has not been the case. If anything, London has decided to maintain a low profile in Sudan and occasionally comes out in support of calls to punish Sudan if it does not halt the killings in Darfur. Just like the US, such claims have been nothing more than mere politicking. The war on terror has also complicated Britain’s involvement in Darfur.
While attending a closing dinner of a two day conference of African, counterterrorism officials in Khartoum sometime in October 2005, Guardian reporter Jonathan Steele observed that the British MI6 officials present were seemingly at ease with the Sudanese government delegates alongside their United States official and were wary of the western press presence especially when their names were being called out. Steele concluded that “the loss of anonymity was a small price for the excellent cooperation both agencies (CIA and M 16) believe Sudan is giving to keep tabs on Somali, Saudi and other Arab fundamentalists who pass through its territory”.
Also, it seems that Britain has ruled out an Iraq-style invasion of Sudan to save Darfur by claiming that its military is already overstretched. It would be a herculean task for the British to add another intervening force on top of its commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In comparison to the other permanent members of Security Council, China has vast economic stakes in Sudan. China is one of the biggest consumers of Sudanese oil. It is alleged that China imports well over 60% of Sudan’s oil and is currently involved in numerous oil exploration projects in Sudan. These Chinese economic and political stakes in Sudan have complicated its role in pressurizing or threatening Sudan with sanctions in order to consent to UN peace keepers or halt the killings in Darfur.
To further prove Chinese complacence in Darfur genocide, while voting to adopt resolution 1556 (2004) under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which demanded that the Government of the Sudan disarm the Janjaweed militias, apprehend and bring to justice its leaders and their associates who had incited and carried out violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as other atrocities in the country’s Darfur region, thirteen votes were in favor of the resolution, none against, and two abstentions (China, Pakistan). Anyway the resolution was adopted but its implementation has been more difficult as more of the P5 later joined China in sabotaging it.
To drive the point home, the London based Institute of War and Peace Reporting got wind of a UN Security Council closed-door session over Darfur in which it was reported that conflict arose between members at meeting in which China, Russia and Qatar are believed to have opposed sanctions against Sudan. The most disheartening thing is that the press and western media in general chose to ignore this “breaking news” that could have shed more light on the ambiguities of Security Council in responding to far way crisis. An exposé of such a Security Council voting pattern/result could have embarrassed China and Russia and cowed the other P5 members from being soft to Khartoum with cumulative result being sanctions imposed on Sudan, UN force in Darfur and the blatant killings put to a halt.
In yet another defiance of reason, China alongside Qatar and the Russian Federation abstained in another vote to adopt resolution 1706 (2006) that sought to expand the mandate of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) to include its deployment to Darfur, without prejudice to its existing mandate and operations, in order to support the early and effective implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement. Twelve members voted in favor of it, three (China, Qatar and Russia) abstained and none voted against the resolution.
On the other hand, China, given its extensive economic interests in Sudan, has been requested to help pressurize Khartoum to allow the deployment of UN blue helmets in Darfur. This call seems to have yielded some fruits for Chinese President Hu Jintao who announced during a Chinese-African summit conference that he had urged the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, to work with the UN and other envoys to end the fighting. China’s U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, has since claimed that China played a critical role in securing Sudan’s participation in a recent international accord that aimed to replace the AU peacekeeping force in Darfur with a larger UN contingent.
But in his latest and much hyped visit to Sudan in February 2007, Chinese President Hu Jintao talked of “strengthening the traditional friendship between China and Sudan and bring cooperation between the countries to a new level” in a statement made available to media. In the statement, he never mentioned Darfur or the violence in the Western region of Sudan.
It seems that the Chinese would never agree to punitive sanctions by the Security Council or other actors against Sudan less it would say goodbye to its numerous oil concessions and oil for its expanding economy. If anything, China wishes to be nice to regime in Sudan irrespective of the carnage and pillage in Darfur.
Russia and France
In addition to the above incidences where Russia has worked closely with China in opposing sanctions against Khartoum, Russia is one of the main suppliers of arms to Sudan and it is unlikely for it to push or support resolutions or sanctions that might cripple the ability of its number one African customer to procure more arms from it. France has been throughout postcolonial African history aloof to Anglophone issues (Sudan was a colony of Britain). Protecting the equally threatened and unstable Idris Derby regime seems to be the only concern for France, a true reflection of francophone solidarity.
From the foregoing, it can be concluded that the Security Council has been held hostage by economic and political interests of some of its members in Sudan. Almost all the five permanent members of the Security Council have some dealings with Khartoum and these dealings have played to the advantage of the Sudanese government in as far as inducement of consent is concerned.
Gerard Prunier, in his book, Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (2005), succinctly sums up the “international community” ambiguity in saving Sudan and writes, “Darfur presents a spectacle of complete lack of resolve and coordination over the Sudan problem in general and the Darfur question in particular. The French only cared about protecting Idris Deby’s regime in Chad from possible destabilization; the British blindly followed Washington’s lead, only finding this somewhat difficult since Washington was not very clear about which direction it wished to take”. While reviewing Prunier’s book, New York Times columnist Nivcholas Kristof, wrote “the slogan ‘Never Again’ is being transformed into ‘One More Time’” by this inexplicable inactivity of the civilized world to stop further genocides.
The UN secretariat has repeatedly appealed for Sudanese cooperation to ameliorate human suffering in Darfur. But, emasculated by the self-interested maneuverings of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the UN is far from saving Darfur. General Romeo, A Canadian General who commandeered the UN forces that failed to halt the Rwandan genocide in 1994 observes, “the UN fails to intervene and looking at Darfur, we see Rwanda”. The UN might have the will to intervene but it seems it does not have the means to do it given that the most powerful members are not bothered or are implicitly sabotaging any efforts to pacify Darfur.
One thing that comes out clearly is that the Darfur crisis has received favorable western press coverage and that most of these press establishments are not obscure blogs or wikis but serious and authoritative mainstream media. In all fairness, New York Times, The Economist and the Guardian are perhaps some of the best newspaper in the English-speaking world. Information about Darfur is there but the world has chosen not to respond.
Given Khartoum’s intransigence, it seems that only a Western-led intervention force – whether under the auspices of NATO, the United Nations, or some coalition of the willing countries – can put a stop to the genocide. That might be the best way forward in saving Darfur, but given the intricacies involved coupled with competing strategic interests, such an intervention is not in the horizon. Maybe the AU and its forces should learn how to respond to crises in its own backyard.
Ameliorating the Effects of Darfur Crisis: Some Thoughts
The reality of the matter is that foreign strategic interests triumphs humanitarian disasters especially when it is in the south and the best the media and the UN Secretariat and other emerging world powers like Canada, Germany, Brazil and India can do is to continue pushing the Security Council to pass resolutions that would economically and politically cripple Sudan unless it consent to a robust UN peacekeeping operation the soonest convenient. Those seemingly in bed with Khartoum should be reminded that they are in embarrassing position of being seen to support a government that is committing suicide against its citizens just like the way the international press reminded France during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. With such pressure and exposé, the P5 will gradually prevail upon Khartoum to yield to a UN peacekeeping force. The media should also continue exposing the dynamics of Darfur crisis without wavering.
The rebels in Darfur should also play its part in bringing peace. Currently, it seems that the major problem in Darfur is not just the inability of the UN or lack of means by AU forces to intervene nor the government-backed Janjaweed militias, it is the Darfur rebels themselves. After the Abuja peace agreement was crafted, two of the three main rebel groups refused to sign it and immediately launched attacks on each other. Rebel groups, once welcomed as the Darfuris’ sole defense against government aggression, are now viewed with the same levels of fear as the government’s supported Janjaweed militias, notorious for their mass killings, rape, pillage and torture. So, it is pointless to cry foul of international community aloofness to Darfur crisis when the Darfur rebels themselves are causing more trouble than the “enemy”. Darfur, you must clear your house first before you attempt to pick a peck in another person’s eye.
So it is safe to say that the media, especially Western media, gave prominence to the Darfur crisis but it has failed to turn the volume and the heat up till it reaches a level where the Security Council will say enough is enough and something must be done for Darfur. As the old saying goes, throw more mud and some of it will stick, the media should continue piling on Darfur crisis and the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of the P5 members in dealing with Khartoum.
Finally, if the United Nations, African Union, rich countries and the media have failed Darfur, the global citizens should throw themselves into the ring. Those global citizens with economic clout should consider disinvesting from Sudan by pulling their money from companies and corporation that still do business with Khartoum as many entrepreneurs have already done. Still, for those of us who have nothing of sorts so to speak, we should join the masses in the streets of big cities to sing “another Rwanda is unfolding yet you are sitting in the offices and you promised not to let another Rwanda happen again”. Perhaps our voices would be heard and Darfur would be on every world power agenda.
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Bio: Dominic Pkalya is a MA student in the Media, Conflict and Peace programme at the University for Peace, Costa Rica.