Late this summer, after the U.N. Security Council gave the go-ahead to send 22,500 troops and police to end the genocide in Darfur, in the form of Resolution 1706, Khartoum adamantly refused to accept the U.N. force. But, on November 16, representatives of the regime sat down at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa for a “high level consultation on the situation in Darfur.” The meeting was convened by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and African Union Commission Chair Alpha Oumar Konar, and it was attended by officials from the permanent members of the Security Council and a number of African countries. Their goal was to come to terms on a peace support operation overseen by the United Nations that would take over from the beleaguered and ineffectual AU force currently deployed in Darfur: In short, Resolution 1706 in a form acceptable to Khartoum.
The result–a “conclusions” document that called for the creation of a “hybrid” force of some 20,000 troops and civilian police from both the UN and the AU–suggested that Resolution 1706, though somewhat diminished, might be implemented after all. The force would enjoy all the things the current AU force has fatally lacked: a U.N. command structure; U.N. troops and trained civilian police, as well as logistics and technical assistance; and a robust mandate.
This “agreement,” as it has been called, was seized upon by those desperate for some sort of diplomatic victory. A State Department press release raved, “The United States welcomes the successful outcome of this historic meeting.” Condoleezza Rice declared that the agreement “is certainly a real opportunity to resolve an extremely difficult problem.” The British and French spoke in similar, if more guarded terms–Khartoum’s representatives would, after all, have to consult with their government about the terms of the document. But Annan seemed confident that troops would be mobilizing soon, telling reporters in Geneva four days after the meeting that force size and command structure “were the only outstanding issues” and that, as a consequence, “We do expect [Khartoum’s representatives] to come with an answer by today, or, latest, tomorrow.” The Darfur crisis, finally, appeared headed toward a conclusion.
If only. Instead of signifying Khartoum’s acquiescence to international pressure, the “conclusions” document represents just the opposite. A close inspection of its text reveals, in fact, that Khartoum got all it wanted.
On the crucial question of who would oversee the new force, Paragraph 31 declared only that “[B]ackstopping and command and control structures will be provided by the U.N.” But, lacking further specification, this statement could mean anything–from a shared command role in the field to simply advising the AU commander or providing general guidance on command principles.
The force’s mandate was similarly toothless. Paragraph 29 said only that it “should be capable of contributing to the restoration of security and protection of civilians in Darfur”–a condition so vague that any contribution, however insignificant, might satisfy it. Moreover, this contribution would come through “implementation of security aspects of the [Darfur Peace Agreement],” signed last May. But, since Khartoum has never followed through on that agreement’s essential requirement to disarm the Janjaweed, there is no reason to believe it would implement its conditions now. Furthermore, the document states that the new force “should also ensure full humanitarian access.” But, since Khartoum shows no sign of ending its vicious war of attrition on humanitarian operations in Darfur–it recently evicted one of the most important aid organizations on the ground–this “should” amounts to a mere wish.
Even the structure of the new force is maddeningly vague. Paragraph 28 of the document spoke of agreement on a “hybrid operation,” not a “hybrid force.” The distinction is significant. An “operation” is a term so broad as to include any form of U.N. participation; a “force” would refer to the actual deployment of personnel. More tellingly, even this was an agreement only “in principle” and was left “pending clarification of the size of the force” by Khartoum’s gnocidaires.
Predictably, Khartoum seized on these ambiguities for its own ends; it has sent clear signals that it agreed to much less than what Western officials trumpeted. National Islamic Front President Omar Al Bashir said publicly just after the meeting that “Any talk that we accepted joint forces is a lie.” Bashir also ruled out a U.N. command structure and settled the question of force size, at least from Khartoum’s perspective. Insisting that the Darfur crisis was being vastly inflated by Western humanitarian organizations for money-making purposes, he stated that the desperately inadequate AU force (5,000 troops and 2,000 support personnel for a region the size of France) needed only a couple of additional battalions–just over 1,000 troops. Furthermore, Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol suggested that there would be no need for a change from the AU force’s current mandate, which consists of monitoring a nonexistent ceasefire–not civilian protection.
Thus, the 22,500 troops and security personnel originally slated to deploy with U.N. Chapter VII authority and a robust mandate to protect civilians and humanitarians have been reduced by Khartoum to a 1,000-man augmentation of the AU force that all observers agree is completely overwhelmed by the Darfur crisis. Indeed, the AU itself is desperate to hand off the operation to the United Nations. If the meeting in Addis was indeed “historic,” it was a historic failure.
In the wake of the Addis “consultation,” it’s unclear what further steps, if any, can be taken. Bashir re-confirmed the regime’s position on the “conclusions” document at a November 30 meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council, at which Darfur was the chief agenda item. There is no further U.N. Security Council resolution pending, and Qatar, which has backed Khartoum unquestioningly throughout the Darfur crisis (and abstained in the vote on Resolution 1706), is set to chair the Security Council in December–with the power to set the agenda.
This inertia is bad news for Darfuris. Large-scale military campaigns by Khartoum are escalating in both North and West Darfur, and the brutal Janjaweed militia forces continue to be re-mobilized and very heavily re-armed. Many hundreds of thousands of utterly bereft civilians are at extreme risk of slaughter or further displacement. And, with no change in the security conditions in sight, humanitarian organizations providing an essential lifeline for some 4 million conflicted-affected persons in Darfur and eastern Chad will continue to evacuate. In short, an already catastrophic situation is becoming immeasurably worse.
[Eric Reeves is a professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College and has written extensively on Sudan.]