Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 26 April 2004

Stalling in Sudan . . .


Editorial, The Washington Post

April 26, 2004 — TWO WEEKS AGO, Sudan’s government agreed to a humanitarian cease-fire in Darfur, a region in the western part of the country. The cease-fire was necessary because of the government’s own actions: It has carried out aerial bombings of civilians and armed a militia that has terrorized villages, burning crops, raping women and flailing men with studded whips. As many as 1 million people have been chased from their homes and have no food stocks to support themselves. Doctors Without Borders, an intrepid charity that has 30 foreign staffers in Darfur, reports that malnutrition among children is rising precipitously. The aim of the cease-fire is to allow food deliveries before the rainy season makes roads impassable, probably six weeks from now. If the world misses that window, mass starvation becomes probable.

The cease-fire, however, has not been honored. Sudan’s Islamic and Arab government has a long history of denying humanitarian access to civilians as part of its long war with Christian and animist Africans in the south. It is applying those same tactics to Darfur, whose people, though Islamic, share the southerners’ aspiration for regional autonomy. A senior United Nations official who was supposed to visit Darfur under the terms of the cease-fire has been denied a visa. A U.N. delegation was delayed at the border.

Exiles from the region claim that the government’s purpose in stalling humanitarian visits is to cover up evidence of its atrocities. It is attempting to conceal mass graves, collecting bodies from the sites of known atrocities and hiding them elsewhere. It is removing militia leaders so that U.N. inspection teams won’t question them and issuing death certificates in their names so that nobody will seek them out elsewhere. It’s bad enough that evidence is being destroyed while the cease-fire is not implemented. It’s worse that a million people are running out of food.

Outsiders led by Kenya, Norway, Britain and the United States have been successfully mediating a peace deal in the long-running north-south conflict. A final breakthrough may be announced in the next week or two. Although this progress owes much to international pressure — and in particular, the Sudanese government’s fear that, after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration was serious about punishing rogue states — the United States and its allies seem reluctant to apply more pressure on the Darfur issue. They have yet to ask for a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing coercive force, for example, even though U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has spoken of the destruction of Darfur’s villages in the same context as the Rwandan genocide. They worry that excessive pressure will cause Sudan’s government to pull out of talks with the south or that Sudan will refuse to permit U.N.-authorized monitors to implement an eventual north-south deal.

But Sudan should not be allowed to get away with denying U.N. officials visas and refusing to live up to its cease-fire promises. If it can do that with impunity, it will assume that it has no need to live up to any promises it makes in a north-south settlement.

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