From The New Republic (on-line)
by Eric Reeves
It has been a good few weeks for those who believe that the United Nations can save Darfur–or so it may appear. Eleven days ago, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding that the Sudanese government allow a mission to enter Darfur and assess the needs of an eventual deployment of U.N. troops. That vote came in response to repeated obstruction by Khartoum, which has long balked at allowing a U.N. assessment team to enter Darfur–even after reaching a peace agreement with one faction of the largest Darfuri rebel group earlier this month. But yesterday, three days past the deadline established by the Security Council, Khartoum finally agreed to allow the U.N. team to enter the country. The State Department trumpeted the development as “a positive step,” and a headline in yesterday’s Washington Post conveyed optimism that a deployment of U.N. troops to Darfur is on the way: “DEAL ON MISSION IN DARFUR MAY PRESAGE U.N. PRESENCE: MOVE CALLED PRECONDITION TO PEACEKEEPING.” Good developments all. Right?
Actually, far from suggesting that the United Nations can save Darfur, the developments of the last few weeks provide an excellent illustration of why the international body will never be able to stop the genocide. Indeed, the most recent Security Council resolution does more to highlight Darfur’s exceedingly grim future than to suggest that security for civilians or humanitarian operations will improve anytime in the near term. We might recall that there have been seven previous U.N. Security Council resolutions on Darfur, none of which has halted the genocide. These previous resolutions, which together constitute a shameful record of impotence, are recounted in the most recent resolution–unwittingly drawing attention to just how useless Turtle Bay’s steady stream of diplomatic activity on Darfur has been. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that this time will be any different.
First, it’s worth understanding just how bad the situation on the ground in Darfur has become–despite the recent peace agreement signed in Abuja that many believe could open the way for U.N. troops. This past week there have been widespread Janjaweed attacks on villages near the town of Kutum in North Darfur, where the Janjaweed are reported to be continuing a massive mobilization. The Gereida area in South Darfur continues to be threatened by the Janjaweed, and late last month Khartoum launched a large military offensive in the area. In West Darfur, international aid workers were attacked by “unidentified men in uniform,” likely Janjaweed or Khartoum-allied paramilitary forces. Doctors Without Borders reports large numbers of civilians injured in recent military clashes between rebels and Khartoum’s forces near Labado, also in South Darfur. The rebel groups are far from innocent in all this: In North Darfur, the two main factions of the Sudan Liberation Army–only one of which has signed the peace agreement–are locked in extremely fierce fighting.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese government has proven adept at exporting violence across the border to Chad. Jan Egeland, head of U.N. aid efforts, warned last week that all humanitarian operations in eastern Chad–providing assistance to more than 350,000 refugees and displaced persons–may soon have to be withdrawn due to growing insecurity. As Khartoum-backed rebels continue to threaten the Chadian government of Idris Deby, his military response has been to pull armed forces out of vulnerable rural areas to towns and garrisons. This has left many villages in eastern Chad vulnerable to Janjaweed predations and to attacks by Khartoum’s regular forces; refugee camps along the border have also seen a wave of abductions and forced recruitment by the Darfuri rebel groups in recent weeks.
The only international force on the ground right now is the African Union, but AU troops are without the manpower, equipment, transport capacity, logistics, or intelligence abilities required to stop the genocide. And politically the AU shows no sign of finding the courage to demand of Khartoum a mandate to do more than monitor an absurdly irrelevant April 2004 ceasefire. While the new Abuja peace agreement stipulates any number of roles, tasks, and commission-formings for the AU, this amounts to shuffling paper without the means to enforce the merely notional “guarantees” of the agreement. Guarantees in Darfur, as elsewhere in Sudan, are only as meaningful as the guarantors, and the AU has nothing approaching the capacity to serve as a guarantor of the Abuja agreement. A detailed New York Times dispatch from South Darfur last week, while admiring of the courage of some AU personnel, paints a grim picture of futility and helplessness.
It is against this backdrop that Darfuris are now expected to wait patiently for a U.N. force that may or may not be coming, that may or may not deploy quickly, and that may or may not have a mandate to protect them. About the only thing we can say for sure about this force is that it will require the approval of the Khartoum government; and that, unfortunately, tells us all we need to know.
By delaying permission for the U.N. assessment team to enter the country three days past the deadline imposed by the Security Council, Khartoum was sending an emphatic message to the international community: “We control all access to Darfur, and unless you are willing to enter a non-permissive environment, you will be fully guided by our demands and our timetable.” Just today, an advisor to Sudan’s president gave a hint as to what those demands would be. “The [U.N.] role has not been decided yet,” he said, according to Reuters. “Will it be a humanitarian role, one of monitoring the ceasefire, a role of peacekeeping?” Note that none of these options include a mandate to disarm the Janjaweed, the essential precursor to ending the genocide.
Fortunately for Sudan, its allies on the Security Council are looking out for its interests. True, China and Russia did eventually accept last week’s resolution, but it was a considerably weakened version of what was originally proposed; language that would have allowed some U.N. peacekeepers from the large force already in southern Sudan to move to Darfur was stripped out. These forces, even if relatively few in number, could have established an important precedent for future deployment of U.N. peacekeepers. One assumes that China and Russia were responsible for watering down the resolution, though we don’t know for sure. Meanwhile, neither China nor Russia is likely to accept any resolution authorizing a U.N. operation under Chapter 7 authority. This is a major problem, since only Chapter 7 authority can provide the mandate necessary to separate combatants and confront the Janjaweed. Instead, the most China and Russia will permit is Chapter 6 authority, which allows only peacekeeping–a cruel joke, since there is no peace in Darfur to keep. The Chinese were quite explicit about this. To explain how they made this clear requires an understanding of the role of Chapter 7 in the current debate. Last week’s resolution–which China and Russia grudgingly agreed to–was passed under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter. But it did not call for the deployment of troops: Chapter 7 was invoked merely to place Sudan in violation of international law if it refused to admit the U.N. assessment team. Following the vote, China’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. declared that this vote “should not be construed as a precedent for the Security Council’s future discussion or adoption of a new resolution against Sudan.” In other words, China may have permitted Chapter 7 to be invoked this time; but when it comes to deploying actual troops to Darfur, Chapter 7 authority will not be an option.
Meanwhile, the clear sense among diplomats in Sudan’s capital, according to a recent Reuters report, is that resistance is growing to a U.N. mission, not diminishing. Understanding full well the views of their veto-wielding friends on the Security Council, officials of the National Islamic Front are confident that they can play their trump card whenever needed: threatening a non-permissive environment in Darfur. They know this card can be played with full support from China and Russia. Moreover, various accommodating public statements by U.N., European, and U.S. officials encourage Khartoum in its belief that there is no stomach in the world community for deploying any force in a non-permissive environment. For instance, pressed in a recent interview about what the United States would do in the event Khartoum did not accept U.N. peacekeepers, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said that she was “certain Khartoum would agree.” As she went on to explain, “There is no need to do the contingency plan [for military intervention] if you expect the government of Sudan to agree to a U.N. operation.” There could hardly be a clearer signal that the United States has no intention of challenging any claim of national sovereignty that Khartoum might make.
Which leaves two possibilities for the United Nations in Darfur. Either Khartoum will delay for months before making explicit its refusal to admit U.N. troops; or the regime’s genocidaires will calculate that by dictating the terms and mandate of a U.N. mission, they can use it in the same way they have used the African Union mission–as a means of forestalling any more robust initiatives from the international community while the work of genocide goes on. Indeed, a “rehatting” of the ineffective AU force with U.N. blue helmets, along with the addition of a small number of Asian troops, may be much to Khartoum’s liking: It will appease the international community while largely preserving the status quo on the ground.
Here, then, is what the people of Darfur are being asked to believe: that a piece of paper signed in Abuja marks a change of heart within a regime of genocidaires that has never abided by any agreement it has ever made with any Sudanese party; that these genocidaires, having been effectively granted veto power over U.N. actions in Darfur, will permit the United Nations to take actions that would end the killing; that Moscow and Beijing, loyal defenders of the National Islamic Front, will soon abandon their old allies in Khartoum and allow U.N. troops to deploy with an appropriate mandate; that, while waiting for a U.N. force that is either not coming or is likely coming without the tools to stop the genocide, an existing African Union mission that has failed to protect Darfuris for two years will suddenly protect them now. In short, they are being asked to accept the genocidal status quo. Never has it been more obvious that only NATO military action can save Darfur. The people of Darfur have been waiting for help for three years. If working through the United Nations is the best the international community has to offer, they will be waiting for a long time to come.
Eric Reeves is a professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College and has written extensively on Sudan.