Sudan Can't Wait (Economist)
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July 29, 2004
Genocide in Darfur
Sudan can't wait
The world must act now to stop the death toll in Darfur from exploding
HOW bad are things in Darfur? Ask the villagers who saw their neighbours trussed with chains and burned alive. Ask the 1.2m people who have been terrorised into fleeing the embers of their huts. Ask the aid workers who estimate that 1,000 people are dying each day in this remote region of western Sudan, mostly of hunger-related diseases, and that hundreds of thousands will die if not helped. Darfur is so horrifying that even the African Union (AU), an organisation that sees no evil during Zimbabwean elections, has protested.
Less forgiving organisations have protested more loudly. America's House of Representatives decided by 422 votes to nil last week to describe the Sudanese government's actions in Darfur as “genocide”, and to demand that something be done. This week, the UN Security Council is considering whether to impose sanctions. A British general has said that 5,000 British troops could be swiftly despatched to Darfur, if the order were given. In short, outsiders are starting to notice what the UN has for months been calling the world's worst humanitarian disaster (see article). But what can and should they do?
Sudan's rulers are gambling that that they will do very little, and they may win their bet. The country's size and turbulence deters all but the most ardent interventionists. Sudan is home to two civil wars. The older of the two, pitting the Muslim Arab-dominated regime against black, non-Muslim rebels from the south, has claimed 2m lives in the past two decades, and spurred 4m people to abandon their homes. In the past year, however, the two sides have come close to a peace pact that would allow for power, and Sudan's oil wealth, to be shared among their respective leaders.
The prospect of such a carve-up helped to provoke a separate revolt in Darfur, which is almost uniformly Muslim but divided among a plethora of tribes. Some identify themselves as Arabs, while others consider themselves black Africans, though there has been enough intermarriage to make it sometimes hard to tell who is who. The Darfur rebels are mostly black Africans, who are angry after years of neglect, and who have decided that if the southerners can win a share of power by taking up arms, so can they.
The government frets that any concessions to the Darfur rebels will tempt other restless regions to rebel. So it is trying to crush them and punishing their ethnic kin. It has armed an Arab militia called the janjaweed, given it free rein to rape, rob and kill blacks, and helped it along by bombing black villages just before the camel-mounted raiders ride in. The government denies abetting attacks on civilians, but no one believes it. Besides the accumulated testimony of thousands of refugees, there is also a stack of documents, unearthed last week by Human Rights Watch, a lobbying group, that shows beyond reasonable doubt that the janjaweed's ethnic cleansing has Khartoum's blessing.
So what can be done? There are pragmatic arguments for holding aloof. Sudan poses no immediate threat to the West, though it has succoured terrorists in the past. America and its allies are overstretched by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. In any case, could they really hope to pacify such a vast, violent and dysfunctional country? Surely, the most realistic approach would be to try to deliver food and medical supplies to the needy, but to stay out of Sudan's internal politics?
There is no time for such caution, however. Aid cannot reach Darfur in adequate quantities unless the Sudanese government stops obstructing its delivery. People cannot go back and rebuild their villages unless they are reassured that the janjaweed will not burn them again. The Sudanese government says it is doing its best to curb janjaweed who step out of line, but it plainly is not. The murderous raids on civilians continue, backed up by government bombers. This regime will only stop killing if forced to. It was largely outside pressure that pushed it to talk peace with the south—and that peace process is at risk if the mayhem in Darfur continues.
There are several levers that could be used, but the great powers are not all pulling in the same direction. An arms embargo would be a start, but Russia, which is selling fighter jets to Khartoum, is likely to oppose it. The threat of an oil embargo would be more potent. Unless the Sudanese government makes a serious and immediate effort to rein in its killers, its main source of hard currency should be shut off. The French and Chinese governments may not like this idea, however, as their oil firms have interests in Sudan. As a last resort, outsiders should be prepared to use force. If certain members of the UN Security Council, mindful of their own ugly records in terrorising turbulent provinces, veto such a proposal, a coalition of the willing should go ahead regardless. There is a precedent: without approval from the Security Council, NATO intervened in Kosovo to curb ethnic cleansing.
The trickiest obstacles to military intervention are neither legal nor moral, but practical. Darfur is a long way away, and as the rains grow heavier, its few roads are growing steadily less passable. Western troops would be welcomed by some of the people there, but would arouse violent passions among Sudanese Islamists, who are already warning of a “crusader” plot against Muslims. (Islamist protests against the Sudanese regime itself, a leading killer of Muslims, have been muted.)
The least bad approach would be to send an African force, under the auspices of the AU. Western powers could provide most of the funding (the AU has practically no money), logistics, electronic intelligence and possibly air cover. Willing African nations, whose soldiers would cause less affront than white ones, could provide the boots on the ground. Their mandate would have to be robust—they should be allowed to shoot to kill. But their mission should be narrowly defined: to protect refugees trying to return home, and to police a ceasefire while government and rebels negotiate a political solution. It might work. But the world has already dithered too long to save tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives.
July 30, 2004
Stepping up the pressure on Sudan
>From The Economist Global Agenda
The UN Security Council has passed a resolution threatening Sudan's government with sanctions if it does not quickly disarm the Arab militiamen who have been slaughtering black Africans in the Darfur region. This follows the African Union's unprecedented threat of military intervention to protect Darfuris
THE word “sanctions” was removed to overcome objections from some members of the United Nations Security Council. But the resolution that the council passed on Friday July 30th makes it pretty clear that sanctions will follow if the Arab-led government of Sudan does not, within 30 days, disarm the Arab militia, known as the janjaweed, that has been slaughtering, raping and terrorising black African civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan. The resolution passed by 13-0 with two abstentions (China and Pakistan). America, which drafted the text, replaced the explicit reference to sanctions with a threat of action under article 41 of the UN charter—which lists a wide range of economic and diplomatic embargoes that might be imposed.
The Security Council's vote came shortly after the UN's secretary-general, Kofi Annan, speaking at an African summit in Ghana, revealed that he had received reports of continuing atrocities by the janjaweed—despite assurances by the Sudanese government that it was rounding up the militia's leaders and protecting Darfuri civilians. The resolution also came three days after the African Union's unprecedented decision to consider expanding its observer mission in Darfur into a full-scale peacekeeping mission: if this happens, it would be the AU's first military intervention in a member state. Already, the AU's firmness over Sudan is a sharp contrast to the largely ineffectual Organisation of African Unity, which it replaced two years ago, and which routinely turned a blind eye to atrocities in member countries.
The AU's own “peace and security council” has powers to send troops to stop genocide and war crimes in any member country. The AU was already preparing to expand its ceasefire-observer mission to Darfur, which would be protected by a small force of around 300 troops. But it is now contemplating a much larger contingent, with the specific job of disarming the militiamen. If ever such an intervention force were needed, it is needed right now in Darfur where, so far, perhaps 50,000 have died and more than 1m have fled their homes. The UN says it is the world's worst humanitarian disaster and aid agencies fear that the death toll may eventually run into hundreds of thousands.
Sudan’s authoritarian regime, led by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, continues to deny arming and backing the janjaweed, though there is plenty of reliable evidence that it is doing so. Earlier this month, America’s Congress passed a resolution describing the killings of black Darfuris as “genocide”, though the Bush administration has so far stopped short of using this description. The horror stories emerging from the region suggest it is no exaggeration: this week, AU observers reported that the militiamen had chained and burned alive a group of Darfuris.
Britain, Australia and New Zealand have indicated that they could contribute troops to any UN peacekeeping force—though Colin Powell, America’s secretary of state, said on Tuesday it was too early to be contemplating military intervention. The Sudanese government has threatened to attack any foreign troops that enter the country. But it may be harder to resist them if they come from Sudan’s neighbours in the AU rather than from “colonialist” rich countries.
The conflict in Darfur began early last year, when black African rebel groups began an uprising over a number of long-standing grievances and the government retaliated by unleashing the janjaweed on the civilian population. The AU has been hosting peace talks between the government and rebels, but the rebels walked out earlier this month, accusing the other side of breaking the ceasefire. The government, in turn, accused the rebels of killing almost 1,500 people since the ceasefire was signed. International observers worry that the rebels are being deliberately intransigent, in the hope that the dire humanitarian crisis will force world powers to send troops.
Any failure to end the conflict in Darfur could have dire consequences for a longer-running war in southern Sudan and for another in neighbouring Uganda. Under pressure from America and others, in May the Sudanese government signed a power-sharing accord with the main rebel group in the south of the country. If this deal leads to a formal peace settlement, it would end a north-south war that has lasted, on and off, almost half a century and killed 2m people. However, if the chaos continues in Darfur it might trigger the collapse of the shaky deal.
This in turn might lead the Sudanese government to renew its support for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a bizarre cross between a religious cult and a rebel movement with bases on both sides of Sudan’s border with Uganda, which abducts children and makes them attack Ugandan security forces and civilians. There are conflicting signs on whether Sudan has kept a promise to stop backing the LRA: on Tuesday church leaders and southern Sudanese rebels said at least 40 civilians had been killed as the rebels fought to regain a village the LRA had captured, allegedly with the help of Sudanese pro-government forces. But on Thursday Uganda said its troops had been allowed by Sudan to penetrate well inside its territory the day before, to attack the LRA’s main base there.
In Uganda itself, perhaps 1.8m have fled from the LRA. The resulting humanitarian crisis merits perhaps as much international concern as is now beginning to be expressed over the plight of the Darfuris. On Thursday the UN’s International Criminal Court said it had opened a war-crimes investigation into the LRA.
In both of Sudan’s main conflicts there is a strong case for both concerted international action and, if necessary, the dispatch of peacekeeping troops. However, America and its allies are already overstretched, as they struggle with insurgency in Iraq and instability in Afghanistan, not to mention the conflict in Kosovo. Thus, an AU peacekeeping force, perhaps with rich countries providing financial and other assistance, would be a good idea. That is, if its member countries, many of which have serious security problems of their own to tackle, can muster enough troops and agree on a plan of action.