Friday, December 15, 2006

"Yes, there really is a way to help Darfur" - An update (Pham & Krauss) and practical proposals (James Smith)

The basic facts about the current situation in Darfur should already be well known, but it can't hurt to re-emphasize them. This overview of the latest bad news is provided by J. Peter Pham & Michael I. Krauss ("'Tis the Season in Darfur"):
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In the latest indication of how bleak the situation is, the United Nations recently evacuated its staff from El Fasher, capital of northern Darfur, one of the two major centers for its relief operation to what the world body itself has termed "the world's worst humanitarian crisis."

Armed forces of the Islamist Arab regime in Khartoum, acting in close coordination with roving bands of camel- and horseback-mounted Janjaweed militiamen, are closer than ever to completing their grisly undertaking. Up to half a million black Africans have now perished in a three-year-old orgy of rape, torture, mutilation, and killing. Another 2.5 million, driven from their homes, are dying a slow death in miserable camps for refugees like the ones surrounding the El Fasher base which the UN has just abandoned.

Those who have followed the unfolding of this tragedy have taken a sickening roller coaster ride: every announced "breakthrough" has been followed by a plummet into depths of ever-greater despair. [....] As Richard Williamson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for special political affairs, noted succinctly in a recent commentary: "The diplomatic minuet to end this catastrophe has been long. The resolve insufficient. The results anemic."

Now the carnage has spilled beyond Sudan's borders. Chad, despite its own poverty, is playing host to a quarter-million refugees from Darfur. Chadian villages that sheltered Darfuris have come under attack from Janjaweed units, displacing 50,000 Chadians according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. Guterres warns that the situation now risks destabilizing a region extending well beyond Sudan's borders, telling the Voice of America, "There is an earthquake in the area. The epicenter is Darfur but the effects can be felt quite far away."

There are troublesome indications that the tremors have already begun. Chadian rebels trying to overthrow that country's president with help from Khartoum have built a base in the Central African Republic (CAR), whose northeast frontier abuts Darfur. These Chadian fighters have recently aligned themselves with local dissidents trying to overthrow the CAR's government, thus conflating three different conflicts. The situation has become so dire—over 100 villages have been burned this year and about 220,000 forced to flee their homes—that as he was evacuating his personnel from El Fasher, outgoing UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egelund made an appeal for $50 million to provide food, shelter, and healthcare for up to one million people in the CAR. [....]

If the combined diplomatic efforts of the U.S. government (including the tireless shuttles of presidential envoy Andrew Natsios) and the United Nations (including last ditch efforts by Annan) cannot deter the Sudanese from their determination to finish off Darfuris, then the time for diplomacy is over. Someone must act. [....]
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Read the rest here.

=> Some readers who accept their description of the situation will dismiss their call to action with impatience, distrust, or discouraged skepticism--or some combination of all three. In some ways this is understandable. When people try to think about the Darfur atrocity, there is sometimes just a small step from apathy to despair. Both can lead to cynicism, indifference, and efforts to rationalize that indifference. Considering the magnitude of the crime, the utter inadequacy of the world's response, and the genuine difficulties and dangers inherent in any serious response now that so much mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and social devastation have already been allowed to occur ... it is tempting to conclude that the situation is simply hopeless, so that it is pointless to dwell on it and any complaints about genocide in Darfur are no more than empty self-indulgent moralizing (or perhaps some kind of Zionist plot).

But this conclusion (or rationalization) would be quite wrong. Serious steps that could at least begin to mitigate the catastrophe and to put effective pressure on the criminals (that is, the Khartoum government and their accomplices) are realistically quite possible--if there is a minimum of political will to do something constructive, especially among governments and publics in western Europe and North America.

This point is brought out quite forcefully in the piece below by James Smith, head of the Aegis Trust (to which I was alerted by Mick Hartley). The title and subtitle get right to the heart of the matter: "Yes, there really is a way to help Darfur: Politicians can do more than just give speeches". And they need to.
More than two years ago I met three women fleeing from Darfur to Chad. Their villages were burnt, they saw their husbands and children killed, and they were then gang raped, leaving two pregnant.

After trite words of sympathy I assured them the international community would bring protection; such atrocities would not be allowed to continue so soon after the genocide in Rwanda. World leaders who witnessed the atrocities in Darfur spoke strongly to Sudan’s Government. But the Sudanese, like the Serb nationalists a decade earlier, ignored these words and instead looked at the actions of these statesmen. The lack of action to back up the words told them they could get away with murder.

Months have dragged into years, and the killing and rape of Darfur continues. [....] A defector from the Arab Janjawid militia confirmed to Aegis last month that orders to “ kill and destroy” in Darfur come directly from Khartoum. He added: “We didn’t know the term ‘ethnic cleansing’, but when we heard what it meant we agreed it accurately described what we were doing.”

The rest of Smith's discussion addresses only part of the picture, but an important part. Let me fill in some background first.

In the end, introducing substantial peacekeeping forces with a serious mandate to enforce security is an essential part of any workable solution. And for the moment, I'm afraid, it does seem very unlikely that serious peacekeeping forces will be deployed in Darfur against the opposition of the Khartoum government (backed up by diplomatic support from the Arab League, the acquiescence of the African Union, and the threat of Chinese and Russian vetoes in the UN Security Council)--or even that there will be a credible threat of such intervention, to which the Khartoum government would have to pay attention..

However, as other analysts and activists have emphasized, this is not the end of the story. If western governments (including European ones) are really willing to use the leverage at their disposal, then both Khartoum and its foreign backers are susceptible to a range of effective economic, diplomatic, and political pressures that could well make them back down. In the absence of such pressures, the perpetrators of the genocide (and their foreign backers) have unsurprisingly responded to criticism and to diplomatic initiatives with arrogant contempt. Until that situation changes, it may well be true that
Negotiating with Khartoum to allow a UN peacekeeping force into Darfur is a waste of time. Sudan will never consent to allow UN troops on its soil and China will veto any intervention by force.
But that situation can and should be changed.

In the meantime, as Smith correctly argues, the so called "international community" is not condemned to plead impotently and do nothing. At the very least, if sending UN peacekeeping forces into Darfur itself is stymied, it can take a substantial and urgently necessary first step by acting in Chad, where it is hard to make a plausible claim that the Sudanese government deserves any veto power. Doing this would be worthwhile in itself, and in the process it would also add to the pressures on Khartoum.
Peace talks, of course, are essential but we should have learnt from the Balkans and Rwanda, that they also allow genocidal governments cover and time to carry on mass murder. The latest diplomatic round was won again by Khartoum last month. Kofi Annan jumped on a plane to Addis Ababa, grasping the straw that the Sudanese Government was now prepared to let Darfuris receive protection. Ministers around the world misled the media into believing an agreement had been reached to allow the UN to deploy troops alongside the AU in Darfur. Predictably, once the pressure was off, Sudan said it never agreed to this.

Instead, in South Darfur, Antonov bombers supported the Janjawid and the Sudanese Army in destroying villages. [....] Sudan is also destabilising neighbouring Chad in order to assist its campaign in Western Sudan. The ideologues in Khartoum, just as they are doing in Darfur, want to “Arabise” Chad and topple its black African president. Last week Sudanese-backed rebels in Chad briefly took Abeche, a town that is crucial to getting aid across the border and into Darfur.

What is happening in Chad revives bleak memories of Congo. [....] We know that genocidal violence does not respect borders and can quickly become a regional problem, yet we are standing by and allowing it to spill over from Darfur into Chad. Once security is lost in Chad, the aid agencies that use bases there to reach the four million Darfuris that depend on them will have to withdraw. [....] In the meantime, more people die and the crisis deepens.

So let’s stop fiddling and deploy UN forces into Chad, on the border with Darfur. This will serve three purposes — helping to stabilise the region, putting UN soldiers in striking distance of Darfur’s camps if all-out attacks require immediate intervention, and signalling to Khartoum that the international community takes the protection of civilians seriously. Finally, the UN Security Council should sanction a no-fly zone. We lent our Awacs equipment to monitor the Winter Olympics last year. Why can’t we lend it to monitor the safety of desperate human beings in Africa?

If we start acting according to our words, maybe there is a chance the Sudanese Government would do likewise.

--Jeff Weintraub
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The Times (London)
December 9, 2006
Yes, there really is a way to help Darfur
Politicians can do more than just give speeches
By James Smith

More than two years ago I met three women fleeing from Darfur to Chad. Their villages were burnt, they saw their husbands and children killed, and they were then gang raped, leaving two pregnant.

After trite words of sympathy I assured them the international community would bring protection; such atrocities would not be allowed to continue so soon after the genocide in Rwanda. World leaders who witnessed the atrocities in Darfur spoke strongly to Sudan’s Government. But the Sudanese, like the Serb nationalists a decade earlier, ignored these words and instead looked at the actions of these statesmen. The lack of action to back up the words told them they could get away with murder.

Months have dragged into years, and the killing and rape of Darfur continues. In the face of such genocide, the UN Security Council is demonstrating it is not fit for purpose. Britain, one of its five permanent members, may be generous with aid but is feeble when it comes to defending civilians. Why? Because the Foreign Office argues that Sudan bears responsibility for protecting the very civilians it is murdering.

The facts are changed to justify such an absurdity. In his statement today, Tony Blair implies a moral equivalence between Darfur rebels fighting for political and economic fairness and the Arab-controlled Sudanese Army that is leading a scorched-earth policy against the black tribes. A defector from the Arab Janjawid militia confirmed to Aegis last month that orders to “ kill and destroy” in Darfur come directly from Khartoum. He added: “We didn’t know the term ‘ethnic cleansing’, but when we heard what it meant we agreed it accurately described what we were doing.”

When the African Union sent its mission to Darfur in the summer of 2004, the phrase “African solutions to African problems” echoed across the diplomatic world, absolving non-African nations of the need to stop the crimes against humanity. States such as Rwanda readily contributed troops. However, the AU mission could not work without proper resourcing from wealthy nations. They were set up for failure. AU policemen in Darfur staged a sit-in last month because they had not been paid for three months.

Peace talks, of course, are essential but we should have learnt from the Balkans and Rwanda, that they also allow genocidal governments cover and time to carry on mass murder. The latest diplomatic round was won again by Khartoum last month. Kofi Annan jumped on a plane to Addis Ababa, grasping the straw that the Sudanese Government was now prepared to let Darfuris receive protection. Ministers around the world misled the media into believing an agreement had been reached to allow the UN to deploy troops alongside the AU in Darfur. Predictably, once the pressure was off, Sudan said it never agreed to this.

Instead, in South Darfur, Antonov bombers supported the Janjawid and the Sudanese Army in destroying villages. One witness interviewed by Aegis had seen 70 villages destroyed since August this year, the last in mid-November, before he was forced to flee the region. He made an appeal to Tony Blair; “Please, please come and save us.” But today, after three years of strong words and empty threats, our Prime Minister still has no new plans for action — just more words: “if rapid progress is not made, we will need to consider alternative approaches.”

Sudan is also destabilising neighbouring Chad in order to assist its campaign in Western Sudan. The ideologues in Khartoum, just as they are doing in Darfur, want to “Arabise” Chad and topple its black African president. Last week Sudanese-backed rebels in Chad briefly took Abeche, a town that is crucial to getting aid across the border and into Darfur.

What is happening in Chad revives bleak memories of Congo. The UN’s failure to mobilise sufficient forces on the Rwanda-Congo border allowed Rwandan genocidaires to slip across the border and spark a civil war in Congo that left four million dead. The UN is still there now, picking up the pieces. We know that genocidal violence does not respect borders and can quickly become a regional problem, yet we are standing by and allowing it to spill over from Darfur into Chad. Once security is lost in Chad, the aid agencies that use bases there to reach the four million Darfuris that depend on them will have to withdraw.

Negotiating with Khartoum to allow a UN peacekeeping force into Darfur is a waste of time. Sudan will never consent to allow UN troops on its soil and China will veto any intervention by force. In the meantime, more people die and the crisis deepens.

So let’s stop fiddling and deploy UN forces into Chad, on the border with Darfur. This will serve three purposes — helping to stabilise the region, putting UN soldiers in striking distance of Darfur’s camps if all-out attacks require immediate intervention, and signalling to Khartoum that the international community takes the protection of civilians seriously. Finally, the UN Security Council should sanction a no-fly zone. We lent our Awacs equipment to monitor the Winter Olympics last year. Why can’t we lend it to monitor the safety of desperate human beings in Africa?

If we start acting according to our words, maybe there is a chance the Sudanese Government would do likewise.

James Smith is chief executive of the Aegis Trust

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