Home | News    Tuesday 13 March 2007

UN, West facing pressure to impose sanctions on Sudan


March 12, 2007 (CAIRO) — Targeted sanctions against high-level officials could push Sudan to ease violence in troubled Darfur, some experts believe, after a U.N. report Monday blasted the West for not doing enough. But even such punishments might not sway Khartoum — and China or Russia might block any U.N. effort.

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Cambodian students, light the candles as they held an evening candlelight vigil at a local mosque to remember Darfur victims in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2006 . (AP)

Months of international pressure and a stream of envoys to Khartoum have failed to force Sudan to accept the centerpiece of the U.N.’s campaign to end the bloodshed: a plan to to deploy 22,000 U.N. and African Union troops in Darfur.

Last week, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir scuttled the plan, rejecting key points in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban is to discuss al-Bashir’s response with the Security Council in the coming days — likely prompting a debate over how to deal with Sudan.

Pressure for action was increased with Monday’s report by a top-level U.N. human rights team, which soundly criticised al-Bashir’s government, saying it had "orchestrated and participated in" war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The report noted that past international actions "have been largely resisted and obstructed, and have proven inadequate and ineffective."

The Security Council has passed no fewer than 10 resolutions on Darfur since the conflict erupted in early 2003. Both rebels and the government have flouted calls for ceasefires, but the government has also defied U.N. demands for disarming the janjaweed militia — the most notorious force on the battlefield — and halting airstrikes.

An August U.N. resolution calling for the beefed-up peacekeeping force says the troops can only be deployed with Khartoum’s permission. But Sudan’s refusal to accept the force under any terms has provoked calls for the U.N. to intervene unilaterally.

The world’s failure to make Khartoum heed its will carries a high cost. In the past two months alone, fighting has forced 84,000 people to flee to refugee camps, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Darfur now has 4 million people — equivalent to the population of Bosnia or Puerto Rico — in need of food aid and other relief from the U.N. and NGOs, said UNOCHA spokeswoman Dawn Blalock on Monday. Of these people, 2.2 million live in refugee camps or are hiding in the mountains of Darfur and Chad.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in the fighting between rebels, government forces and the pro-government janjaweed, who are accused of widespread atrocities against civilians.

Sudan’s leaders "have violated every commitment that they’ve made and there is no longer any rationale for waiting" to impose sanctions, said Mark Schneider, a vice president of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

The ICG is calling for sanctions targeting the officials in the Sudanese government and security forces who are involved in Darfur.

Many of these officials are believed to own stakes in companies in Sudan’s oil, construction and communications industries, from which profits are funneled to pay salaries and buy equipment for janjaweed and other pro-government fighters in Darfur, the ICG says.

The ICG is calling on Western governments to impose restrictions making it impossible for these firms to trade with the West.

Targeted sanctions are supported by from opponents of al-Bashir’s regime in Sudan, including the top opposition leader, Sadiq al-Mahdi, and Alfred Taban, editor of the independent newspaper, The Khartoum Monitor.

Officials are "very worried about such sanctions," Taban said in phone interview from his Khartoum office. "They get a lot of money from these companies."

However, there is scepticism whether such measures would work.

Al-Mahdi said he doubted sanctions could bring peace because "a lot of what is happening in Darfur is beyond (the government’s) control."

Khartoum has a history of evading or surviving sanctions, said Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "They are not terribly vulnerable," he said, although he believes sanctions are worth trying.

Sanctions have not been imposed so far because "members of the Security Council were divided," said Jan Pronk, who was chief U.N. envoy to Sudan until late last year.

China, for instance, buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports and is likely to veto U.N. sanctions. Russia too has commercial interests in Sudan.

The International Crisis Group and the affiliated Save Darfur campaign have urged the U.S. and EU to impose sanctions by themselves.

But "public opinion has not reached the point where they felt compelled to do so," said Schneider.

When the West imposed sanctions on Sudan because of the civil war in the south and its association with al-Qaida in the 1990s, the government did change, said Larry Rossin, an executive of the Save Darfur Coalition in the United States. Al-Bashir forced al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden out of the country in the late 1990s and reached a landmark peace treaty in the south in 2005.

"The bottom line is that without any pressure, there is no track record to indicate that you’re going to get any change of behaviour," said Rossin, "and people are going to keep dying."


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