Security in Darfur: Donors’ Conference in Brussels Fails to Take Action
Eric Reeves | July 21, 2006
Yet again the international community seems determined in its refusal to take seriously the precipitous decline in human security throughout Darfur, both for civilians and humanitarian workers. The July 18, 2006 meeting of Western donors in Brussels was touted as a way to address the growing security crisis, but failed in all ways. Western donors failed to provide the AU force in Darfur with the resources it requires and can usefully absorb, even as the AU is the only force on the ground and will remain so for the foreseeable future. At the same time, these donors failed to acknowledge the radical shortcomings of even an augmented AU force, and the correspondingly urgent need for deployment of a robust international peacemaking force. And most abjectly, they failed to convince Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime of any need to accept such a force, even under the aegis of the UN.
The consequences of these ongoing failures can be measured most fully in a survey of current conditions in Darfur: AU performance is declining rapidly while civilians are caught up in ever more violent conflict between factions of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), as well as ongoing Janjaweed predations; several aid workers have recently been shot and killed in Darfur and another badly wounded in eastern Chad; many thousands more civilians have very recently been displaced; no progress is being made by the AU in implementing the Darfur Peace Agreement, which has essentially collapsed; the political leadership within the AU is demoralized and badly divided, and is failing to speak out about the most consequential developments on the ground. This AU silence occurs even as all evidence strongly suggests that Khartoum’s regular military forces have taken the side of the SLA faction of Minni Minawi, instigating what many observers on the ground are calling a “new war”—between the Zaghawa-dominated SLA faction of Minawi and the relatively new SLA coalition called SLA/United or SLA/19 (after the 19 commanders who broke with former SLA chairman Abdel Wahid el-Nur).
As more of Darfur moves deeper into the heaviest part of the rainy season (which runs through September) humanitarian logistics are becoming increasingly difficult, even as insecurity has closed many humanitarian corridors to large and highly distressed populations. Almost two-thirds of a million people are beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance (Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, statement to Security Council, April 20, 2006). Hundreds of thousands of civilians have only the most tenuous humanitarian access. The cholera outbreak shows no signs of abating. Funding for humanitarian operations remains critically low, both for Darfur and eastern Chad, as well as for other traditionally marginalized areas of Sudan. Food rations for extremely distressed civilian populations remain at only about two-thirds of what the UN estimates is required to sustain human life. The Gereida region of South Darfur has a huge population of displaced civilians poised to experience catastrophic mortality. The humanitarian crisis in eastern Chad deepens, with a total lack of security in many areas. And amidst this vast humanitarian crisis, Khartoum continues to obstruct and impede humanitarian relief—actions that are directly responsible for large numbers of human deaths and widespread suffering.
This is the context in which to assess the Brussels donors’ conference, and its various failures.
WHAT DID AND DID NOT HAPPEN IN BRUSSELS: FUNDING THE AU
Donors in Brussels committed $220 million dollars to the African Union force in Darfur, enough to sustain current AU operations through the end of September, but certainly not until the end of the year. This permits no significant expansion of AU capacity, and leaves an already badly demoralized mission wondering about its future. At the same time, what went unspoken in Brussels was the widely recognized truth that the AU is hopelessly incapable of taking on full responsibility for security in the immense Darfur region, or of undertaking the various labor-consumptive tasks stipulated for the AU in the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), or of staunching the flow of ethnically-targeted violence into eastern Chad. The refusal to fund the AU more generously is essentially a calculation that the AU can effectively absorb relatively little beyond what it presently has in the way of resources.
In an extraordinarily telling moment, a senior European Commission official told the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)—and only on condition of anonymity—that “the real problem was that ‘the AU is snowed under with the complexities of financial management'” (UN IRIN [dateline: Brussels], July 19, 2006). In fact, this is hardly news: many observers of the AU mission in Darfur have remarked the unorthodox nature of AU budgeting, the lack of administrative capacity, and even outright corruption in the appropriation of equipment. AU logistics in the field have also come in for extremely harsh criticism from those most familiar with AU operations, as have AU intelligence and communications abilities.
Many of these shortcomings have been detailed over the past year—by the International Crisis Group, Refugees International, and the Brookings Institution/Bern University (see my two-part overview of this substantial body of research [“Ghosts of Rwanda: The Failure of the African Union in Darfur,” November 13 & 20, 2005],
For example, Refugees International reported that,
“One of [the AU mission’s] biggest weaknesses in terms of skills is in its Command, Control and Communications, and Intelligence (or ‘C3I’) functions. Sources in Darfur told Refugees International that [the African Union mission] suffers from language and cultural barriers between officers from various countries, confusion in procedures, limited future planning, and ineffective communications systems. Much of this stems from lack of peacekeeping experience. Many Military Observers do not have basic investigatory skills.” (“No Power to Protect: The African Union Mission in Sudan,” November 2005, at http://www.refugeesinternational.org/content/publication, page 9)
Similarly, a military assessment of the AU from the Brookings Institution/Bern University (“The Protecting of Two Million Internally Displaced: The Successes and Shortcomings of the African Union in Darfur,” November 2005, at http://www.brookings.edu/fp/projects/idp/200511_au_darfur.pdf) highlighted a number of key deficiencies in AU communications abilities: the AU mission lacks “fast warning of imminent attack”; lacks “continuous, all-source, and real-time intelligence”; lacks “ability to distinguish among combatants”; and lacks “flexible command and control of distributed forces” (page 35).
The intelligence capabilities of the AU are disastrously weak. Human intelligence, aerial and ground surveillance, intercept capability, and analytic capacity are virtually non-existent. Refugees International (RI) noted,
“Even when [the African Union force] does collect valuable information, RI was told by [AU] officers and advisors that there is a lack of suitably trained personnel capable of analyzing this information for intelligence value, which hinders any given commander’s ability to react.” (page 10)
Even more bluntly, the Brookings Institution/Bern University assessment notes:
“Lack of planning and establishing an intelligence infrastructure within [the AU force] meant that there was no routine way to gather and analyze intelligence on either the government forces and their militias or the various rebel groups. Good intelligence is vital in Darfur, yet [the AU’s] capacity to gather, analyze and act on information has been very weak. ‘The AU does not understand the importance of having an “intelligence cell” and of having good information on the command structure, for example, of the Janjaweed.’ ‘AU force headquarters is blind when it comes to intelligence,’ according to a former advisor.” (page 37)
The International Crisis Group had even earlier reported on deep skepticism in European Union thinking about AU operations in Darfur:
“It is common thinking in Brussels [among EU officials] that increased troop numbers in [the AU mission] have been accompanied by declining efficiency. One EU official claimed [the AU] is operating at 40 to 50% capacity, while another asserted the mission conducted fewer patrols in September than in April and May when it had a least 2,000 fewer troops.” (“The EU/AU Partnership in Darfur,” October 25, 2005 [Brussels], page 12, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=3766)
In understanding why this week’s donors’ conference in Brussels gave so little to the AU, essentially sustaining present operations through September 2006, these and many other fundamental, structural shortcomings weighed heavily in deliberations. For of course an appropriate intelligence capacity or operating efficiency cannot be “airlifted” to the AU; nor can they be “purchased” along with appropriate equipment. In this and other crucial areas, the AU mission will fail so long as it is solely responsible for security in Darfur.
This cannot be an excuse, however, for a failure by the countries of the EU and North America to provide the training, equipment (especially transport), and other resources that can indeed be effectively absorbed by the AU. To say that the AU is fundamentally incapable of providing adequate security in Darfur hardly precludes saying as well that the force can be significantly, if only incrementally improved. Given the overwhelming need for security, donors in Brussels had a compelling obligation to fund the AU in all ways that would increase its performance on the ground. These wealthy nations did not, and this is a conspicuous failure.
POLITICAL FAILURE IN BRUSSELS
Just as conspicuous as the failure to fund the AU in adequate fashion was the inability of the donors’ conference to compel Khartoum to accept a robust UN force, with Chapter 7 authority, and with appropriate military resources from NATO countries. While minimalist ambitions were most evident in funding decisions—one EU diplomat is reported by Agence France Presse as declaring that, “‘the international community’s [funding] goal is to ensure that [the AU] can function at its current level until the end of the year'” (dateline: Brussels, July 17, 2006)—there was also a general reluctance to do more than gesture vaguely, and with an excessively expansive time-frame, toward the force necessary to protect acutely vulnerable civilians and humanitarians:
“In a pre-conference declaration adopted on Monday, the European Union urged Sudan to allow a UN mission into Darfur to replace an African Union force that has been unable to stem the violence Washington called genocide. ‘A UN operation is the only viable and realistic option in Darfur in the long term,’ the declaration said.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], July 17, 2006)
The declaration was made in advance of the conference because it was clear that neither the EU, the UN (well represented in Brussels), nor the US was willing to confront Khartoum over its continuing obduracy in refusing to accept a UN deployment. There were expressions of “hope” for a UN deployment from Secretary General Kofi Annan, from head of UN peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno, and from the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana. But Khartoum’s refusal to accept a meaningful UN deployment was announced decisively yet again before the conference convened:
“Sudanese officials said that for them the sole aim of the meeting [in Brussels] is to secure more money for the AU peacekeeping mission in its sprawling west, where tens of thousands of people have been killed in three years of fighting. ‘The delegation which left today is going to discuss with the EU what support is needed for AU forces … (a UN force) is not the issue of the meeting,’ Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Jamal Ibrahim told Reuters.”
“Ibrahim said Sudan’s stance on UN troops had not changed since Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir again ruled out UN troops at an AU summit earlier in July. UN forces cannot be deployed without his consent and diplomats say little leverage is available to persuade him.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], July 17, 2006)
In this context, the European notion that “a UN operation is the only viable and realistic option in Darfur in the long term” seems muddled on several counts. There was no public discussion in Brussels about what makes UN deployment “realistic” when both China and Russia—veto-wielding members of the Security Council—have clearly stated their opposition to any deployment not agreed to by Khartoum. China and Russia adamantly refuse to countenance Chapter 7 deployment of a UN force without permission from the very genocidaires who have made of Darfur a vast killing field; this fundamental diplomatic fact seems still not to have registered with European “realists.”
But even more telling is the convenient European assumption that a UN deployment, with the AU at its core, and presumably augmented by contingents of Asian peacekeepers, is somehow adequate to the job of providing security for Darfur. This is the opposite of “realism”; it is the most dangerous form of wishful thinking, indulged not only by Europeans and the US, but by many human rights and humanitarian organizations too fearful to draw the truly “realistic” conclusions about what is militarily necessary in Darfur. Despite this fearfulness, including on the part of senior officials of the Bush administration, the US government has produced one thoroughly authoritative and compelling analysis of security requirements in Darfur.
THE REAL U.S. VIEW FROM KHARTOUM
This writer has received a highly confidential US State Department cable, under circumstances fully ensuring its authenticity, that offers an unsparing assessment of what the military realities in Darfur are and will be for the foreseeable future. This assessment is provided with an “introduction” by Cameron R. Hume, charge d’affaires, US Embassy Khartoum. Hume, the senior American diplomat in Khartoum, declares of the cable and its author:
“Everyone with an interest in Darfur should read this cable. It is written by Ron Capps, the Foreign Service Officer who has the most comprehensive knowledge of Darfur. He is now completing with great distinction a tour as the Deputy Chief of the Political/Economic Section in Embassy Khartoum.” [Hume notes Capps’ previous peacekeeping and diplomatic missions, including in Rwanda].
Capps’ analysis was distributed confidentially on April 28, 2006 (a week before the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in Abuja). Though there was no guarantee of a DPA signing at the time of the document’s dissemination, this does little if anything to diminish the prescience of Capps analysis:
“An Abuja peace accord is unlikely to stop the violence in Darfur. There are several reasons why:
 Rebel field commanders have lost faith in the leadership of the movements. Nineteen SLA/[Abdel] Wahid [el-Nur] commanders have publicly broken with Wahid. SLA/[Minni] Minawi has splintered, with breaks by Sulieman Jamooz, Sharif Harir, Sulieman Marajan, Khamis Abdullah and seventeen other commanders. Other commanders have defected to Wahid. At least one has joined the government in fighting the SLA; [ ]
 Government of Sudan negotiators do not represent the Arab tribal militias of the Janjaweit leaders, nor does the Government have a sufficient level of control over those militias to guarantee their compliance;
 fighting between SLA factions will continue and could degrade into a tribal war which would eventually draw in the Arab tribals.”
The rapidly escalating SLA factional fighting that Capps describes has in fact been the dominant source of insecurity in North Darfur since the signing of the Abuja agreement. Moreover, the tribal nature of the violence also seems to have been exacerbated by the willingness of SLA/Minni Minawi (predominantly Zaghawa) to collaborate with the military forces of the Khartoum regime, this as a means of establishing military superiority over SLA rivals. There is an increasing body of evidence, including from eyewitnesses, which makes overwhelmingly clear that an ominous collaboration between SLA/Minawi and Khartoum’s regular forces defined recent fighting in Bir Mazza and Um Sidir, North Darfur. Minawi’s forces are also reported to have brutally attacked many other towns and villages, with attacks and counter-attacks by the SLA/Unity (comprising the nineteen commanders who have defected from Abdel Wahid). This factional fighting has produced over 8,000 newly displaced civilians in the past two weeks, in one of the areas in Darfur most difficult for humanitarians to access.
Khartoum’s decision to side with SLA/Mini Minawi is calculated precisely to exacerbate growing ethnic tensions between the Zaghawa and other non-Arab (African) tribal groups, especially the Fur. The “divide and conquer” strategy has long been used relentlessly by Khartoum in its war in southern Sudan, and is being perfected in Darfur’s conflagration.
Three months ago, Capps drew inescapable conclusions from the violence he predicted, and which is now all too evident:
“A weak international force with a limited mandate will be powerless to stop the violence. In this scenario, Internally Displaced Persons and refugees will be unable to return home, rebels and militias will continue to kill with impunity, and all our work in Abuja will have been futile.”
“The [African Union mission in Darfur] has been a stop-gap. It was put in place in haste and because at the time it was the best answer. Seen in this light, the AU mission has done well. But it has not met its mandate. Coalition task force operations of the type required in Darfur are beyond the level of experience of the AU troops. In many cases the troops want to perform but simply do not have the experience to conduct a successful peace support operation in an area larger than Iraq. And neither the force as a whole nor many of the troops and units that make up the mission are capable of conducting the militarily complex and politically thorny missions that will face a post-Abuja international security force.”
“Regardless of whether Abuja produces an enhanced cease-fire agreement or a complete peace accord—or even if the talks completely collapse—in order to stop the violence, rebel forces and militias will have to be mapped, counted, cantoned and disarmed. Given the lack of cohesion among the rebels and the lack of Government control over the [Janjaweed] militias, it seems likely that the groups will resist these steps, particularly disarmament. In this event, the international peace and security force will be required to militarily defeat them. This is not a Chapter VI mission. The force will require the combat power and prowess to enforce a peace accord if it is to provide a safe and secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the return of Internally Displaced Persons and refugees. It will require the right mandate. Seven UN Security Council Resolutions have been issued under Chapter VII. This must be the starting point for the follow-on force.”
Capps here characterizes the force necessary in Darfur:
“Stopping the violence in Darfur will require a military force with first-world leadership, first-world assets, and first-world experience. US and coalition experience in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq is relevant here. Putting together such a coalition and getting it into place to do its work will require that the United States government and our military take a lead role, at least initially. Our NATO and other first-world military partners will not be keen to step forward without our participation, and many of the traditional UN troop contributing countries lack the military capability to successfully complete the mission.”
One needn’t be a partisan of the Iraq war, or the other military operations Capps speaks of, to understand the essential truth of his remarks: if there is to be a military mission tasked with effectively protecting civilians and humanitarians in Darfur, it must have the “first-world” leadership, military assets, and experience that Capps—as Deputy Chief of the Political/Economic Section in the US embassy in Khartoum—describes.
Perhaps in understanding what is really militarily at stake in protecting Dafuris, those who have so often and loudly demanded such protection—including UN and government officials, humanitarian and human rights organizations, and advocacy groups—will desist in their demands. But they cannot have it both ways: they cannot demand that civilians and humanitarians be protected and then fail to accept the extraordinary military requirements and difficulties entailed in providing that protection. Much too often the appeal to a “UN peacekeeping operation” is little more than a disingenuous request for a conveniently sanitized military power, and a pretense that there is somehow a peace to “keep.” This more than anything explains the refusal to recognize the limitations of a failing AU mission, and the corresponding refusal to ask seriously how the multiple security tasks facing a military operation in Darfur will be undertaken by a successor force.
Even Kofi Annan has not backed away from his belated (January 2006) assertion of the need for first-world military assets in any Darfur mission:
“But let no one imagine that the [Darfur] crisis can be solved simply by giving the present AU mission a ‘UN hat.’ Any new mission will need a strong and clear mandate, allowing it to protect those under threat, by force if necessary, as well as the means to do so. That means it will need to be larger, more mobile and much better equipped than the current African Union mission. Those countries that have the required military assets must be ready to deploy them.” (“Darfur Descending,” The Washington Post, January 25, 2006)
As Annan made explicitly clear in interviews the same month, the countries with the “required military assets” were NATO countries. This week in Brussels Annan again referred to the “much needed support from developed countries” that must accompany any UN mission in Darfur (UN News Service, July 18, 2006).
This is the context in which to understand Capps’ conclusion to his relentlessly honest and deeply informed assessment:
“We alone have called the atrocities in Darfur genocide. [In fact, the Parliament of the European Union has declared virtually unanimously that realities in Darfur are “tantamount of genocide,” and senior British and German officials have declared genocide to be occurring in Darfur—ER] We must lead the coalition that will stop it. We must demonstrate to the world our resolve and determination to stop this genocide and to never again let genocide occur. We already lead the world in the provision of humanitarian aid to Darfur. We must not cede our leadership at the crucial moment.”
“During the Rwandan genocide the United States and others in the international community failed the Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were killed by the hundreds of thousands at the hands of the Interahamwe. In 1998 President Clinton went to Rwanda to apologize and said, ‘We must never again be shy in the face of evidence.’ In Darfur the evidence is clear. The President of the United States has said so; two Secretaries of State have said so.”
“Some will say that the steps outlined here are impossible. They are not. Certainly the Government of Sudan will resist. This will be a challenge to the nation’s sovereignty, perhaps even to the survival of the government. Security Council members will resist. But if we fail to properly construct and mandate a Peace Enforcement Force, we will fail to stop the genocide and more people will needlessly die. Yes, it will be hard. But being hard should not deter us from doing what is right. This is genocide. If we are serious about stopping it, this is what it will take. Otherwise, which American President will be the one to apologize to the dead of Darfur?”
THERE WILL BE NO “PERMISSIVE ENVIRONMENT” FOR AN INTERNATIONAL PEACEMAKING FORCE
Capps’ analysis forces several issues. Foremost is whether the international community will continue to allow Khartoum to determine whether an international force deploys to Darfur or not, and whether this force will be appropriate to the security needs of the region. Kofi Annan has tried to declare that deployment of a robust UN force is “inevitable”:
“The transition from the AU force to a UN peace operation in Darfur is now inevitable. A firm decision by the Security Council is needed, and soon, for an effective transition to take place.” (“Darfur Descending,” The Washington Post, January 25, 2006)
Half a year later there is no longer talk of an “inevitable” transition, only “hopeful” talk of a consensual one. Nor is a “firm decision” on such transition anywhere in prospect at the UN Security Council. The simple truth is that declaring the transition to be “inevitable” does not make it so, certainly not in dealing with the experienced National Islamic Front in Khartoum. Nor do feckless and empty threats from the UN create fear in these brutal men. John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group notes in a Boston Globe op/ed a recent conversation:
“As one high-ranking Sudanese government official brazenly told me this week, ‘The United Nations Security Council has threatened us so many times, we no longer take it seriously.'” (“A dying deal in Darfur,” Boston Globe, July 13, 2006)
This is hardly surprising. In March 2005, for example, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1591, designed to impose travel restrictions and asset freezes on those in the NIF regime—as well as in the rebel groups—who were obstructing the peace process (including by refusing to disarm or neutralize the Janjaweed) or failing to halt the flow of weapons into Darfur. Besides fueling ethnic conflict, Khartoum has moved massive quantities of weapons to its own regular forces as well as to its Janjaweed militia allies over the past 16 months; during this lengthy period, only one mid-level (and retired) military officer has been targeted with sanctions. The painful weakness of such a gesture is not lost on Khartoum’s genocidaires, who have also stiff-armed with impunity the International Criminal Court investigation of the regime’s massive crimes in Darfur.
Perversely, at the same time the NIF regime is speaking and acting so brazenly in defiance of all putative “threats,” international actors continue to speak only of consensual deployment, as if the National Islamic Front regime will eventually succumb to some yet unspecified pressures or incentives. But several months of relentlessly obdurate refusal by Khartoum to countenance any UN force should have forestalled such complacency. Moreover, as Patrick Smith of the highly authoritative Africa Confidential reminds us, there is no reason to take seriously a promise made by Khartoum on this score in any event:
“‘(Second Vice President) Ali Osman Mohamed Taha was absolutely categorical that once a peace deal was signed [in Abuja] … Sudan would allow UN peace keepers in Darfur. There was no ambiguity at all,’ said [Chief Editor] Patrick Smith of the Africa Confidential political newsletter in London.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], July 11, 2006)
Of course once Khartoum secured in Abuja the deal it found most advantageous, it promptly reneged on Taha’s commitment.
Nor should we forget just how relentlessly Khartoum has obstructed the work of the AU in Darfur, even after nominally accepting the presence of this “cease-fire monitoring” force. Khartoum for many months denied the AU a reliable source of fuel for its air operations; the regime has imposed a curfew on AU flights and patrols; and as Refugees International reported, as one of many example of Khartoum’s obstructionism:
“The AU is often unable to use its helicopters because the Government imposes severe flight restrictions on [the AU mission]; in addition, the Government permits only civilian pilots. Refugees International was told that the Government requires AU pilots to travel to Khartoum to re-certify their domestic flight credentials every two months.” (RI page 13)
In addition to its intimidation, harassment, and obstruction of humanitarian operations in Darfur, Khartoum has engaged in the same actions toward the AU. The current environment in Darfur is only very partially “permissive,” and there are many signs that it would be even less “permissive” were an international force to deploy without the robust military means to ensure that Khartoum did not engage in acts of intimidation or denial of access and resources.
DISINGENUOUSNESS AT THE CRITICAL MOMENT: THE FINAL BETRAYAL
The refusal to speak honestly about the brutal political realities in Khartoum, and their deadly consequences for Darfur, derives from both impotence and geopolitical callousness. When Kofi Annan tries to urge UN deployment by declaring that such deployment will “help” Khartoum (“after all, we [the UN] are going [to Darfur] to help the government [of Sudan]; we are going to help them protect their own people,” Reuters [dateline: Brussels], July 18, 2006), he is of course suggesting that Khartoum wishes such “help.” In fact, massive evidence of genocidal ambition on the regime’s part makes clear that far from wishing UN “help,” the regime has unfinished business in Darfur, including neutralizing the military and political power of the SLA elements drawing their strength from the Fur and other non-Arab or African tribal groups (ultimately including the Zaghawa, despite the present tactical alliance with SLA/Minni Minawi). In working to “change the demography of Darfur” (as a directive from Khartoum’s chief Janjaweed ally Musa Hilal urges), the regime needs no UN “help” at all.
At least one UN official recognizes the similarities between current realities in Darfur with the more extensive and directly ethnically targeted violence of 2003-2005. Jan Egeland, UN aid chief, declared in a May 5, 2006 Wall Street Journal op/ed:
“I first spoke to the UN Security Council on Darfur two years ago, calling it ethnic cleansing of the worst kind. Today, I could simply hit the rewind button on much of that earlier briefing. The world’s largest aid effort now hangs in the balance, unsustainable under present conditions.”
Though politically constrained from rendering a genocide determination, Egeland’s phrase “ethnic cleansing of the worst kind” can hardly be distinguished in implication from “genocide.” And while the active phase of “ethnic cleansing of the worst kind” may have largely given way to genocide by attrition in Darfur, this only means that Khartoum’s assault is now designed to create conditions of insecurity that will produce a collapse in humanitarian operations, and the final phase of civilian destruction.
It is now two and a half months ago since Egeland declared that in Darfur, “the world’s largest aid effort now hangs in the balance, unsustainable under present conditions.” These conditions have deteriorated seriously in the interim, and humanitarian collapse could be only days away. The very recent series of killings, woundings, and abductions of aid workers and employees gives unsurpassable urgency to an international response, as do explosive conditions of anger and despair in the squalid, under-served, vulnerable, and overcrowded camps, where some displaced persons have lived for as long as three years. Just today (July 21, 2006) Reuters has reported that aid operations have been suspended in the camps in the Zalingei area of West Darfur following the killing of three water workers:
“International aid operations in refugee camps in the Zalinge area of Sudan’s Darfur region have been suspended after three water workers were killed by a mob, the United Nations’ refugee agency said on Friday. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the three were beaten to death on Thursday in the region near the border with Chad in circumstances that were still unclear. It is the latest in a long list of security incidents. ‘UNHCR is extremely concerned about the deterioration of the security situation in Darfur,’ the agency said in a statement.”
“The incident follows an attack on two non-governmental [humanitarian] organizations in the Jebel Mara area, north of Zalinge, two days ago and the fatal shooting of an NGO driver attacked by bandits in [West] Darfur’s El Geneina last week, the UNHCR said.” (Reuters [dateline: Geneva], July 21, 2006)
Almost 4 million people in Darfur and eastern Chad have been affected by genocidal conflict and are desperately in need of humanitarian assistance. And yet the world community remains unwilling to act with appropriate urgency or force to protect either them or the humanitarian workers and operations upon which they have become increasingly dependent.
This international callousness is emblematized in President Bush’s bland words of yesterday (July 20, 2006) about US “strategy” for Darfur: “Our strategy is that we want AU forces to be complemented and blue-helmeted. In other words, the United Nations should be invited in.” This is not a “strategy,” it is a politically expedient wish, expressed with no evidence of a willingness to commit the substantial diplomatic and political assets required to secure an “invitation” for UN deployment. Even less is there evidence of a willingness to confront the hard truths of Ron Capps’ analysis for the State Department, and its signal conclusion: “Stopping the violence in Darfur will require a military force with first-world leadership, first-world assets, and first-world experience.”
If the State Department’s Capps is right, as all evidence suggests, then by ignoring his analysis the Bush administration—in particular the State Department—is engaged in a charade in speaking as it has about Darfur. This administration is governed not by the human realities of the genocide determination that Bush glibly invokes on various occasions, but by the geopolitical thinking that has concluded Darfur is not worth the effort to stop the violence and genocidal destruction. In this Bush and his State Department have formed with the countries of Europe—as well as Canada, Japan, and other important international actors—a “coalition of the indifferent.” Just how destructive this new “coalition” is will be all too evident in the months and years ahead.