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Sudan: Now or Never in Darfur


International Crisis Group

- Africa Report N°80
- 23 May 2004


A month after the international community solemnly marked the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in April 2004 with promises of "never again", it faces a man-made humanitarian catastrophe in western Sudan (Darfur) that can easily become nearly as deadly. It is too late to prevent substantial ethnic cleansing, but if the UN Security Council acts decisively — including by preparing to authorise the use of force as a last resort — there is just enough time to save hundreds of thousands of lives directly threatened by Sudanese troops and militias and by looming famine and set in train a serious negotiating process to resolve the underlying political problems and reverse the ethnic cleansing.

Since it erupted in February 2003, the conflict has claimed some 30,000 lives, but experts warn that without a rapid international response, what UN officials have already called the worst humanitarian situation in the world today could claim an additional 350,000 in the next nine months, mainly from starvation and disease. Many more will die if the direct killing is not stopped.

The international response thus far has been divided and ineffectual. The Sudan government has gained time to pursue a devastating counter-insurgency strategy against two rebel groups and a wide swathe of civilians by playing on those divisions and the desire of leading states not to put at risk the comprehensive peace agreement that is tantalisingly close between Khartoum and the SPLA insurgency on what for 21 years has been the country’s main civil war.

The ceasefire signed by Khartoum on 8 April 2004 with Darfur rebels is not working in either military or humanitarian terms. Its international monitoring commission has yet to begin, and plans are woefully lacking in numbers, authority and enforcement capacity. The government’s strategy for "neutralising", as it promised, the "Janjaweed" militias — whom it in fact sponsors and who have done the most horrific damage — is to incorporate them into its formal police and security structures. The political process the ceasefire was supposed to facilitate was still-born.

The majority of the estimated 1.2 million forced from their homes are in poorly run government-controlled Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps within Darfur, where they remain vulnerable to attack by the Janjaweed and have inadequate access to relief supplies. The perhaps 200,000 of these victims who have fled across the border into Chad as refugees are not safe either. The Janjaweed have followed them, and the resulting clashes with Chad’s army threaten to destabilise that country and produce a full-scale international war.

Despite new — and cynically late — promises by Khartoum in the past few days, aid agencies have effective access, at best, to probably half the IDPs, and lack adequate pre-positioned food and other supplies to meet even their needs. The fast-approaching rainy season presents new dangers of malnutrition and water-borne diseases. To move large amounts of food and medicine, the international community needs either to get unimpeded and monitored access via the rail line, identify new cross border routes from neighbouring countries or SPLA-controlled territory in the south or create — and be prepared to protect — a major humanitarian air lift. And none of this will matter unless there are guaranteed safe concentration points for the IDPs — including from government air strikes and Janjaweed attacks — on the ground.

The Sudan government has effectively played on fears that its peace talks with the SPLA in Naivasha (the regional, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, process) might unravel as a means to continue its brutal strategy while shielding itself from criticism. Western governments have played directly into that strategy. They have given total priority to Naivasha while only quietly engaging Khartoum about Darfur in an effort to secure incremental improvements in humanitarian access. They have refrained from directly challenging it there even while attacks continue and access is continually impeded. But a failure to resolve the catastrophic Darfur situation will undermine not only the last stages of negotiation in Naivasha but also the prospects for implementing whatever agreement is ultimately reached there.

Urgent action is required on several fronts if "Darfur 2004" is not to join "Rwanda 1994" as shorthand for international shame.


In Order to Prevent Starvation

1. The U.S., EU member states and other donor governments should launch a high-level, aggressive public and private diplomatic offensive aimed at ensuring the Khartoum government implements its promise to provide immediate and full access for aid operations to war-affected populations in Darfur, including by opening the rail line so the UN can make massive deliveries of food and medicine from Port Sudan.

2. The U.S., EU member states and other donor governments should approach Libya, Chad, other neighbouring countries and the SPLA with a view to establishing alternative routes and channels not subject to Khartoum’s veto for delivering humanitarian aid to Darfur by land and air.

3. The Darfur insurgents — the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) — should admit all humanitarian aid deliveries into territory they control, including from government controlled areas, provided those deliveries are not accompanied by government military forces.

4. The UN Security Council should authorise planning for a military intervention in Darfur, focusing on the creation of a half dozen internationally protected concentrations of IDPs, the means to deliver assistance to those populations, and the means to protect those deliveries, if necessary by force.

In Order to Stop Further Fighting and Atrocities

5. The African Union (AU), U.S. and EU member states should intensify efforts to implement the Ceasefire Commission that was called for in the 8 April 2004 agreement between the Darfur rebels and the Sudan government and deploy adequate numbers of ceasefire monitors, equipped with helicopters and land rovers, in the major towns of al-Geneina (West Darfur), al-Fasher (North Darfur) and Nyala (South Darfur).

6. If government bombing in Darfur recurs, the Security Council should authorise a no-fly zone to protect civilian populations and undertake urgent consultations with states that have the capacity to enforce such a restriction, and in which such an operation could be based, to act to enforce it.

7. If the Sudan government does not cease support for and disarm the Janjaweed militias, or claims that it is unable to do so, the Security Council should authorise the use of military force to achieve this.

8. The Security Council should appoint a high-level panel to investigate and report on war crimes in Darfur as a possible first step to establishing legal accountability, and to act as a deterrent to further atrocities.

In Order to Reverse Ethnic Cleansing

9. The Security Council should condemn the atrocities and insist upon the deployment of human rights monitors to accompany IDPs back to their home areas.

In Order to Advance the Political Resolution of the Darfur Conflict

10. The AU, U.S. and EU member states should harmonise positions on the venue, structure and substance of a Darfur peace process that would replace the stalled one heretofore mediated by Chad and deal with the political, economic and social roots of that crisis.

11. The Darfur insurgents should harmonise their positions and develop a more professional approach to negotiations.

In Order to Make Clear beyond Doubt the International Community’s Commitment to these Objectives

12. The U.S. and EU should impose targeted sanctions (travel bans, asset freezes) against officials of the Khartoum government most directly responsible for the conduct of the conflict in Darfur and seek authority from the Security Council to apply similar measures on a universal basis.

13. The observer states at the Naivasha peace talks (U.S., UK, Norway, Italy), acknowledging that showing infinite patience with the Sudan government and the SPLA makes a successful peace agreement less, not more, likely, should adopt a new strategy with the following elements:

(a) given that the major substantive issues have already been agreed at Naivasha, the observers should present an early deadline for signature of the three protocols on the table and make a high-level push, including through a Security Council statement or resolution, to bring the negotiation to a successful conclusion;

(b) if this fails and the deadline passes, the observers should downgrade their participation at Naivasha for a time and focus on the Darfur agenda, both for its own sake and to change the dynamic of the peace talks, which have encountered endless delays since January 2004.

Nairobi/Brussels, 23 May 2004

To full report is available at http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=2765&l=1

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