Amidst the ominous uncertainties created by the Chadian rebel assault on N’Djamena, Chad’s capital city in the far west of this vast country, one reality is all too clear: in eastern Chad, more than 400,000 displaced Chadians and Darfuri refugees confront an extremely dangerous future. If humanitarian assistance is cut off, many thousands will die. As of this writing a number of UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations are withdrawing personnel. Both food and critical non-food items (medicine, shelter materials, resources for clean water and sanitation) all come from the west, and this long and tenuous life-line could easily be snapped by continued violence in and around N’Djamena—or along the road stretching hundreds of miles to the most affected regions in the east.
Khartoum, which has long supplied and given sanctuary to the Chadian rebel groups, hopes to topple President Idriss Dby and install a much more pliant regime—one that will in the near term forestall the European Union force (EUFOR) that had finally begun deployment to protect civilians and humanitarians in eastern Chad. Khartoum is determined to prevent a militarily capable force from deploying to its western border, and the timing of the rebel attack on N’Djamena was dictated by the impending movement of European Union forces.
But the fate of Darfur itself and its more than 4 million conflict-affected civilians also looks daily more ominous. There is no longer a “border” between those in Chad who face violence and humanitarian collapse and those in Darfur who face the same threats. Just as in Chad EUFOR has waited too long to deploy (it was to have begun operations in late October/early November after muddy roads from the preceding rainy season had dried), so the UN and African Union have moved much too slowly in attempting to deploy their “hybrid” security force in Darfur. And they have too often refused to acknowledge Khartoum’s resolute policy of obstructing this UN-authorized peace support operation.
More than six months after UN Security Council Resolution 1769 authorized a force of 26,000 civilian police and troops to protect Darfuri noncombatants, as well as the humanitarian operations on which they depend, insecurity has only continued to deepen, bringing many aid organizations to the brink of withdrawal. More than a year and a half after the signing of the ill-conceived Darfur Peace Agreement in Abuja, Nigeria, in May 2006, violence is a great deal more chaotic and more deeply threatening. In recent weeks both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guhenno have stressed that insecurity has reached unprecedented levels.
The UN-authorized force is supposed to replace a badly demoralized, under-manned and under-equipped African Union force. But the UN/African Union “hybrid” force (known as UNAMID) has managed to deploy no significant increases of personnel or resources—nothing that can offer real protection. As a consequence, at any given moment between 500,000 and 1 million human beings are completely beyond the reach of humanitarian efforts, and at least as many have only tenuous access to food, clean water, sanitary facilities, and primary health care. If insecurity does force aid organizations to abandon Darfur, a possibility they stress both publicly and privately, human destruction will be catastrophic within a population weakened by a genocidal counterinsurgency campaign that has now entered its sixth year.
What accounts for this unconscionable delay of a UN-authorized peace support mission, with Chapter 7 auspices? Unsurprisingly—and now increasingly publicly acknowledged by UN diplomats—the answer lies in defiant obstructionism by the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime in Khartoum (which has expediently and euphemistically renamed itself the National Congress Party). Though notionally the senior member of a Sudanese “Government of National Unity,” the Khartoum security cabal represents only ruthless survivalism, and is animated only by a determination to retain its stranglehold on Sudanese national wealth and power. But the NIF has extremely limited domestic political support; their confident obstruction of international efforts to halt what has become a grim “genocide by attrition” in Darfur must be explained in other terms. And here the key is Chinese support for the regime—support of longstanding that has taken economic, military, and diplomatic form.
To be sure, the Arab League—Egypt in particular—has been supportive of Khartoum, as has the Organization of the Islamic Conference. But to survive international pressure, especially by the US, to flout with disdain Security Council resolutions, and to thrive economically despite the crushing burden of its more than $25 billion in external debt, Khartoum has depended upon Beijing. Beijing has abstained on, or blocked through a threatened veto, virtually every action the Security Council sought to take prior to passage of Resolution 1769. China did finally vote for this resolution, but only after significantly weakening its mandate and insisting that there be no sanctions threat against Khartoum, even in the event of non-compliance with the resolution.
This insulating of Khartoum from international pressure is longstanding and enormously consequential. In August 2006, for example, before the violent factionalizing of the Darfur rebel movement, and before the security conditions on the ground had reached anything approaching the current chaos, the Security Council passed Resolution 1706. This authorized the deployment of 22,500 civilian police and troops, with a robust mandate that included protecting civilians and humanitarians, as well as staunching the flow of genocidal violence into neighboring eastern Chad and Central African Republic. With Chapter 7 authority and rapid deployment, this force could have halted the long and continuing slide toward complete anarchy, saved tens of thousands of lives, and prevented much of the current spillover of violence into Chad. China agreed to abstain on the resolution, as opposed to vetoing it outright, but only because it had succeeded in inserting language that “invited” the consent of the Khartoum regime. The invitation was of course contemptuously rejected, and for the first time in the history of UN peacekeeping, an authorized force did not deploy. China had done more than enough to convince Khartoum that it could defy the international community with impunity.
We see this same sense of impunity in the regime’s response to indictments from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Resolution 1593 (March 2005) referred atrocity crimes committed in Darfur to the ICC, despite China’s abstention on this vote. In spring 2007 the ICC issued its first indictments, charging a Janjaweed militia leader, Ali Kushyb, and a mid-level NIF official, Ahmed Haroun, with a broad range of crimes against humanity. In response Khartoum has spared no opportunity to express its contempt for the ICC and its warrants. Indeed, Haroun—who was deeply complicit in many of the most brutal genocidal efforts of 2003-2004—has been promoted: he serves as State Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and as a member of a team selected by Khartoum to “investigate” human rights abuses in Darfur. Most troublingly, he is the regime’s liaison with the UN/African Union force (UNAMID) now attempting to deploy to Darfur.
In December 2007 the UN Security Council President (Italy) attempted to pass a non-binding “Presidential Statement” supporting the ICC special prosecutor on Darfur, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. China insisted on eviscerating the statement to the point of vacuousness, and the measure was quietly dropped. This represented not only a serious blow to the struggling ICC but worked to reassure Khartoum yet again that China would allow no serious action to be taken. Similarly, when Khartoum deliberately, and with clear premeditation, attacked a UNAMID transport convoy on January 7—a shocking event, and one meant to intimidate peace support personnel throughout Darfur—China led the way in weakening what amounted to a tepid Security Council threat.
Why is China so determined to protect a regime whose genocidal counterinsurgency in Darfur has left hundreds of thousands dead, more than 2.5 million displaced into overcrowded camps, and two-thirds of the pre-war population of the province dependent on humanitarian aid operations that will collapse rapidly without a fundamental change in the security dynamic? Most of the answer lies in China’s dominant role within Sudan’s oil exploration and production consortia, which lie in southern Sudan and along the north/south administrative border imposed by colonial rulers Great Britain and Egypt. A net importer of oil since 1995, China has seen its petroleum thirst grow as rapidly as its economy—over 10% annually over the past decade. Sudan is China’s premier source of offshore oil production (without a close second), and this does much to insulate the Chinese economy from the effects of rapid rises in crude oil supplies. For more than a decade Beijing has looked at Sudan, and its many marginalized and impoverished regions, solely through the eyes of Khartoum’s interests—and its own interests in crude oil production that now runs to approximately 500,000 barrels per day.
China has also more than willingly responded to Khartoum’s determination to acquire the means to wage war on its own people. During the time of burgeoning oil development, China has been the regime’s leading provider of arms and arms technology. With China’s assistance, Khartoum acquired not only the weapons it used during the decades-long war in southern Sudan—including tanks, artillery, and military aircraft—but those that have been introduced into Darfur. Despite an arms embargo on Darfur, per UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005), a UN Panel of Experts on Darfur has repeatedly found that Khartoum completely ignores the embargo. In turn, Amnesty International has reported that among these arms are weapons and military supplies of Chinese manufacture. Unsurprisingly, China abstained on Resolution 1591; and, as it has on many similar occasions, China also made clear that it would not countenance sanctions against Khartoum, even in the event the regime flagrantly refused to comply with UN demands.
A grim syllogism governs the fate of the people of Darfur, and to a very considerable extent the displaced and conflict-affected people of eastern Chad: Either the international community devises a strategy for bringing pressure on Khartoum to negotiate in good faith and abide by agreements signed, or ethnically-targeted human destruction will continue throughout much of Sudan. Here we should bear in mind the fate of the much-touted north/south “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” (January 2005). More than three years after its arduous consummation, the CPA has been serially abrogated by Khartoum in ways that have made the resumption of war a terrifyingly likely outcome.
The regime has also failed to abide by the various terms of the Darfur Peace Agreement, most significantly on security issues, but also in funding compensation and reconstruction promised in the agreement. An especially revealing example of the regime’s attitude toward its commitments is the unilateral “cease-fire” it declared on October 27, 2007 at the start of the doomed peace talks in Sirte, Libya. Senior presidential advisor Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, who holds the Darfur portfolio, promised a halt to all offensive military activities; the very next day rebel groups reported that the regime’s Antonov bombers attacked civilian targets in West Darfur, attacks confirmed privately by the UN and African Union.
LEVERAGE AND PROSPECTS
Can the international community muster the resolve to deal resolutely with the ongoing genocide in Darfur? Certainly there are opportunities to ratchet up pressure on Khartoum. China is particularly vulnerable at present as host of the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympic Games, a fact seized on by a wide range of human rights and Darfur advocacy groups, which have defined these Games as the “Genocide Olympics.” But their successes must be amplified by Western governments, which have so far done far too little to make Darfur a significant issue in their bilateral relationships with China. This is true of the US, France, Britain, Germany, and other powerful trading partners with China. Unless China faces effective pressure to convince Khartoum that the days of unqualified political and diplomatic protectionism are over, the regime’s behavior will not change in fundamental ways.
There are certainly other measures available, especially to the Europeans. The EU should impose a moratorium on all future trade and investment with Sudan that benefit the Khartoum regime (unsurprisingly, China is by far the largest commercial and capital investor in the Khartoum-dominated economy). Since so little of foreign trade and investment benefits any part of Sudan other than a narrow sliver of the Nile River Valley (essentially Khartoum, Omdurman, and their extended suburbs), this will not cause broad hardship. Even more potent would be the imposition of EU monetary sanctions, modeled on the sanctions imposed by the US last year, which have forced an awkward and inefficient transition to the Euro by Sudan’s central bank. Denied use of the Euro in contracts, business and banking transactions, and other financial activities, Khartoum would have no effective alternative currency available. This would immediately turn up the domestic political heat on a regime that must ultimately surrender power if Sudan is to make any progress toward the ideals of true federalism and national equality without regard to religion, geography, race, or ethnicity.
But the likelihood of unctuous hand-wringing being replaced by robust and decisive action seems slim. In the absence of concerted, forceful pressure on Khartoum, particularly in securing urgent deployment of UNAMID, there is very little chance that a new cataclysm of human suffering and destruction can be avoided. The world has watched as several hundred thousand innocent Darfuris have died from violence, disease, and malnutrition. The watching seems destined to continue.
[February 5, 2007]