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John Metzler Archive
Monday, August 2, 2010

UN — checked by China — offers only words of concern
as Darfur crisis worsens

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council has unanimously renewed the peacekeeping mandate for Sudan’s embattled Darfur region. In the meantime, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague has slapped charges of genocide on Sudan’s ruler. This comes amid continuing violence in the troubled region against both helpless civilians and the UN blue helmet peacekeepers. Still despite the ongoing horrors inside Sudan, diplomatic efforts by both the UN and the Obama Administration to pursue a credible settlement in this corner of Africa’s largest country appear off-balance.
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    In 2003 and 2004, during the height of the ethnic cleansing of black Darfur farmers and herders by Arab elements of the Sudan regime, there was a worldwide outcry for action to stop the violence. As the horrors continued with Islamic regime-backed Janjaweed militia attacking fellow Muslims in the remote regions, calls for international military action became part of the political polemic with a growing drumbeat of pressure on the Bush Administration to “do something.”

    Moreover the UN transfixed in horror over the killings and refugee exodus, treated the symptoms but failed to stop the problem. Endless Security Council meetings and discussions ensued, condemnations were leveled, and humanitarian assistance was rolled out to the victims. Serious political action in the Security Council was lacking since the People’s Republic of China, one of Sudan’s close commercial partners, was more than willing to provide political cover fire for the Khartoum regime.

    In the meantime, the Bush Administration mobilized massive humanitarian assistance for Darfur and former Secretary of State Colin Powell dared to call the killings in the region “genocide,” something which was never fully accepted by many observes until now.

    When Ban Ki-moon became Secretary General in 2007, he stressed that solving the Darfur crisis was one of his most pressing problems; yet by the autumn of 2009, the Darfur issue was barely mentioned in the UN General Assembly debate. This reflects a growing global crisis overload in which Darfur has been knocked off the headlines by a combination of security challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Haiti’s humanitarian nightmare, and the global economic downturn.

    When the UN’s African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur was finally authorized in 2007, the damage had been long done; over 300,000 people had been killed and 2.7 million forced from their homes. The Hybrid force, too little, too weak, too late, finally has its authorized 20,000 troop strength from a host of countries. This to patrol and control an area the size of Texas but with few roads and rudimentary communications. This is like sending in the proverbial “Hybrid” plug-in electric car to do the work of a Hummer or Land Rover. You get the picture.

    UNAMID’s mandate extension comes with the usual “deep concerns” caveats over the deterioration in security. The most recent Security Council resolution , “Demands that all parties to the conflict in Darfur immediately end violence, attacks on civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel.”

    The resolution moreover, “Expresses its serious concern at the deterioration of the humanitarian situation, the continued threats to humanitarian organizations, and the restricted humanitarian access in Darfur.” The Council reiterates that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Darfur and demands all groups, including the rebels engage in the peace process.

    What has been long overlooked in the crisis is that many rebel groups are fighting each other not only for political power but for control over the volatile refugee camps. Militants such as the Sudan Liberation Army have been opposing both the government and other rival rebel groups for control of camps and crucial humanitarian supplies.

    UN official Ibrahim Gambari told the Security Council that the “peace process in Darfur has reached a critical point, with the security situation deteriorating just as the prospects for a negotiated settlement have improved slightly.”

    Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the UN added, “We are alarmed and gravely concerned by the dramatically deteriorating security situation in Darfur.”

    Clearly the UNAMID forces are able to contain but not stop further violence by all parties to the conflict. The Khartoum rulers and the rebels alike may be are simply worn out and thus ready to make tactical political deals. At least for now.

    Back in April Omer Al-Bashir (already an indicted war criminal) easily won re-election as Sudan’s president. Recently the ICC added three new charges of “genocide” to Bashir’s rap sheet. Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor, accused Bashir of keeping 2.5 million refugees from specific ethnic groups in Darfur in camps “under genocide conditions, like a gigantic Auschwitz”. This is the first time a world court has issued genocide charges against a current ruler. The gravest crime under international law, genocide is the intent to wipe out “in whole or in part” a racial, religious or ethnic group.

    Darfur’s horrors have been well documented since 2003. The perpetrators are well known. As to whether petroleum-rich Sudan and its rulers will truly have to account for war crimes and genocide against their population — that’s probably a different matter.

    John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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