Category Archives: Darfur

Countering Darfur’s anti-humane rebels

There was a significant op-ed on Darfur in the NYT today. It’s by Alan J. Kuperman, who was once Legislative Director for sen. Charles Schumer– and in it, Kuperman directly takes on the arguments of those in the US who argue that outside military intervention is needed to stop the anti-“black” genocide in Darfur.
Kuperman notes that,

    Without such intervention, Sudan’s government last month agreed to a peace accord pledging to disarm Arab janjaweed militias and resettle displaced civilians. By contrast, Darfur’s black rebels, who are touted by the wristband crowd [that is, people in the US “Safe Darfur” movement who wear green wristbands to signal their commitment] as freedom fighters, rejected the deal because it did not give them full regional control. Put simply, the rebels were willing to let genocide continue against their own people rather than compromise their demand for power.

This is a very strong statement of a case I’ve been making– in much more tentative terms– here on JWN over the past few weeks.
Kuperman recalls that, after US diplomatic intervention early this month the Khartoum government made even more concessions to the rebels, raising hopes that at last the two holdout rebel factions might be persuaded to join the peace agreement…

    But that hope was crushed last week when the rebels viciously turned on each other. As this newspaper reported, “The rebels have unleashed a tide of violence against the very civilians they once joined forces to protect.”
    Seemingly bizarre, this rejection of peace by factions claiming to seek it is actually revelatory. It helps explain why violence originally broke out in Darfur, how the Save Darfur movement unintentionally poured fuel on the fire, and what can be done to stanch genocidal violence in Sudan and elsewhere.
    Darfur was never the simplistic morality tale purveyed by the news media and humanitarian organizations. The region’s blacks, painted as long-suffering victims, actually were the oppressors less than two decades ago — denying Arab nomads access to grazing areas essential to their survival. Violence was initiated not by Arab militias but by the black rebels who in 2003 attacked police and military installations. The most extreme Islamists are not in the government but in a faction of the rebels sponsored by former Deputy Prime Minister Hassan al-Turabi, after he was expelled from the regime. Cease-fires often have been violated first by the rebels, not the government, which has pledged repeatedly to admit international peacekeepers if the rebels halt their attacks.
    This reality has been obscured by Sudan’s criminally irresponsible reaction to the rebellion: arming militias to carry out a scorched-earth counterinsurgency. These Arab forces, who already resented the black tribes over past land disputes and recent attacks, were only too happy to rape and pillage any village suspected of supporting the rebels.
    In light of janjaweed atrocities, it is natural to romanticize the other side as freedom fighters. But Darfur’s rebels do not deserve that title. They took up arms not to stop genocide — which erupted only after they rebelled — but to gain tribal domination…
    Advocates of intervention play down rebel responsibility because it is easier to build support for stopping genocide than for becoming entangled in yet another messy civil war. But their persistent calls for intervention have actually worsened the violence.
    The rebels, much weaker than the government, would logically have sued for peace long ago. Because of the Save Darfur movement, however, the rebels believe that the longer they provoke genocidal retaliation, the more the West will pressure Sudan to hand them control of the region. Sadly, this message was reinforced when the rebels’ initial rejection of peace last month was rewarded by American officials’ extracting further concessions from Khartoum.
    The key to rescuing Darfur is to reverse these perverse incentives. Spoiler rebels should be told that the game is over, and that further resistance will no longer be rewarded but punished by the loss of posts reserved for them in the peace agreement.

Kuperman’s conclusion is, “Ultimately, if the rebels refuse, military force will be required to defeat them.”
I disagree with this. I still maintain that there are always alternatives to the use of violence! And certainly in this situation, when the Khartoum government has expressed a commitment to general disarmament of militia forces, resettlement of the displaced, and reconstruction of the three Darfur provinces under a large degree of self-government…
Surely this is a project that could and should be easy to sell to the people of Darfur, even if not to all of their ambitious, self-appointed “leaders”.
But it’s interesting to see where Kuperman goes with his argument about the need to use force to quell the anti-humane rebellion. He argues that no UN force could achieve this. (And I would note here that if US and European forces were not so terrifically badly tied up in ill-planned missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, then they would be in a much, much better position to offer logistics and even personnel support for a UN force in Darfur… )
So Kuperman conclusion is this:

    we should let Sudan’s army handle any recalcitrant rebels, on condition that it eschew war crimes. This option will be distasteful to many, but Sudan has signed a peace treaty, so it deserves the right to defend its sovereignty against rebels who refuse to, so long as it observes the treaty and the laws of war.

Though I agree, in general, with the argument that Sudan has a right to exercise its own national soveriegnty, I’m still not sure I totally agree with Kuperman’s proposal. For the anti-violence reasons given above; but also, the calibration of allowing Khartoum to re-assert its sovereign powers in Darfur while not enacting any atrocities might be very hard to achieve…
But Kuperman also makes a very good longer-range argument regarding the direction of US foreign policy:

    Indeed, to avoid further catastrophes like Darfur, the United States should announce a policy of never intervening to help provocative rebels, diplomatically or militarily, so long as opposing armies avoid excessive retaliation. This would encourage restraint on both sides. Instead we should redirect intervention resources to support “people power” movements that pursue change peacefully, as they have done successfully over the past two decades in the Philippines, Indonesia, Serbia and elsewhere.
    America, born in revolution, has a soft spot for rebels who claim to be freedom fighters, including those in Darfur. But to reduce genocidal violence, we must withhold support for the cynical provocations of militants who bear little resemblance to our founders.

This is an excellent argument. Following that advice would, of course, have avoided us getting drawn by Ahmed Chalabi and all his fellow Iraqi snake-oil salesmen into the tragically criminal invasion of Iraq– and would guide us not to accede to the invasion requests now being voiced by some anti-regime exiles from Iran.
I was interested to read Kuperman’s article. In 2001 he published a controversial short book on Rwanda in which he argued (I think) that the genocide there would have been much harder to stop militarily than most people thought, and that therefore claims that “the US could have stopped it but chose not to” were misleading… But he is evidently someone who has studied very closely the many ethical dilemmas entangled in the topic that western liberals like to call “humanitarian intervention”, but that people in the international humanitarian-law field often prefer to call “military action with a claimed ‘humanitarian’ motivation.” (Noting, of course, that wars are always launched with claimed ‘humanitarian’ aims much publicized. No national leader ever says publicly, ‘Okay chaps, let’s go out and launch ourselves a highly inhumane, unjust war.’..)
I would personally love to discuss all these issues more with Kuperman some time. I am strongly of the opinion that the “international community” needs to do a lot more to fund, refine, and upgrade our ability to launch all kinds of nonviolent interventions to protect lives and help broker and buttress peace agreements around the world, and that that is a better path to focus on than simply letting national governments reassert their own sovereignty while piously bleating at them from outside about the need to respect IHL norms.
But anyway, that discussion is for another day. For today, I am just glad to see Alan Kuperman entering the debate on Darfur with this feisty and generally strongly reasoned article.

Darfur peace deadline Wednesday

May 31 is a deadline for the parties to the fighting in Darfur to sign onto the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), that was concluded in Abuja, Nigeria, on May 5. The augurs don’t look particularly good. Reuters is reporting that the head of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Khalil Ibrahim, and representatives of the other holdouts– a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA)– were heading to a last-minute meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia to try to find common ground with the AU negotiators. (Slovenia? Why Slovenia? Nice beaches?)
Ibrahim told Reuters:

    “We are not going to sign this agreement unless there is a radical change including real regional government for Darfur, and reconstruction of Darfur, compensation for our people and a fair share of power.”

For his part, the AU’s Peace and Security Commissioner, Said Djinnit, told AFP today that, “Until the May 31 deadline expires, we are hopeful that the parties that have not signed will sign the Abuja peace agreement.”
That report continues,

    Djinnit said that if they fail to append their signatures on the Darfur Peace Agreement, the bloc’s Peace and Security council would meet to discuss measures to take against them.
    “We hope that they will exemplify a historic responsibility and to realise that the agreement is a good basis to achieve peace in Darfur,” Djinnit said.
    “If not, the Peace and Security Council will meet to see what measures to take … measures will be taken.”
    The AU special representative in Sudan Baba Gana Kingibe said efforts were continuing to woo the holdouts to sign the agreement.

Reuters is meanwhile also reporting that in Khartoum the two ruling parties, “are divided over sending U.N. forces to its violent Darfur region.” This, though last week veteran UN troubleshooter Lakhdar Brahimi apparently secured a guarantee from Khartoum that a joint AU-UN assessment team could begin working inside Sudan “within days.”
It all sounds like a very tangled web indeed. The near-daily reports of the UN. Country Team in Sudan make clear that throughout Darfur a continuing level of anti-civilian violence, often lethal, still continues– and that it is being committed by all sides. (You can access these reports and a lot of other great, up-to-date info through this excellent Reliefweb portal.)
Writing over at Headheeb May 26, Jonathan Edelstein noted the fragility of the DPA, and the possibility that the fighting in Darfur could spill over even more than it already has done into Chad and even perhaps the north of the Central African Republic. If you scroll down to the comments there, he makes this wise observation:

    I’ve noticed the same pattern in connection with Middle East peacemaking: the international mediators move heaven and earth to get the Israelis and Palestinians to sign an agreement, but then don’t invest the time in setting up monitoring and dispute resolution mechanisms. There’s a distressing absence of recognition that peace accords require maintenance, especially during the early stages.

In other words, it’s all very fine Robert Zoellick rushing over to Abuja at the beginning of the month to try to twist a few arms and win signatures onto the agreement, as he did. (He’d also made a similar arm-twisting visit to earlier rounds of the negotiations in Nairobi, as well.) But what the people of Darfur and the rest of Sudan really need to see is sustained, high-level commitment by Washington and all the world’s big powers to back the DPA by investing in real peacebuilding there. And to Jonathan’s list of what’s needed (ceasfire monitoring and dispute-resolution mechanisms) I would add a strong and crediblepeacekeeping presence, and also major reconstruction aid and a commitment to help the war-shattered communities to rebuild the livelihoods (as well as the lives) of their people.
As it is, it’s been a terrible struggle for the World Food Programme even to get, and once again to deliver, enough emergency rations to keep Darfur’s many thousands of IDPs alive (as I noted here.) People need to be able to return to their home communities in security and dignity, and start rebuilding a future! And as we know very clearly from what we see every day in Iraq or Afghanistan, people cannot do that under conditions of prolonged warfare or rampant public insecurity… The fighting needs to end. And the Abuja DPA provides a reasonable basis on which to do this.

Challenges of peacebuilding in Darfur (and all of Sudan)

Just to record how glad I am that the main focus of international attention and activism regarding Darfur has shifted from one-sided finger-pointing to problem-solving… And specifically to the massive, multi-pronged effort that will be required to make and then buttress a sustainable longterm peace in that region.
Jonathan Edelstein has not only the text of the peace agreement but also what looks to me like an extremely well-argued commentary on the broad peacebuilding effort that must follow the signing of the peace accord.
Thanks so much for the clearheadedness and commitment you put into writing that, Jonathan.
Great that the US government is going to fund some of the needed efforts. Everyone else needs to pitch on in.

Emily Wax’s 5 truths about Darfur

Eight days ago on that Sunday I was still reeling from my recent trip to Jordan, dealing with my chaotic travel home from Philadelphia, etc., and come to think of it I don’t think I even read the WaPo that day. I should have, because it carried Emily Wax’s extremely interesting piece 5 Truths about Darfur. (Hat-tip to a Jeffersonian friend who urged me to read it.)
She is the WaPo’s East Africa bureau chief, and a reporter on Africa whose writing I have come to admire over the past few years.
She writes,

    much of the conventional wisdom surrounding the conflict — including the religious, ethnic and economic factors that drive it — fails to match the realities on the ground. Tens of thousands have died and some 2.5 million have been displaced, with no end to the conflict in sight.

Note, please, her carefully non-alarmist representation of the number of people who have died because of the conflict in Darfur: “tens of thousands”. That, as opposed to the decidedly alarmist figures that are bandied about with no accompanying evidence… I have even seen some unauthenticated reports of “200,000 killed”.
Even one person killed because of political violence is bad enough. “Tens of thousands”, and we should be very concerned indeed. But Wax is close to the ground, and close to the aid coordinators and AU officers who are probably the people who have the best sources of information inside Darfur on the true scale of the casualties.
As a matter of basic integrity and ethics in human-rights work opr journalism, one should always try to get the best authenticated sources of information possible, and when using estimates of casualties to err on the side of conservatism
Anyway, here’s how Wax continues:.

    Here are five truths to challenge the most common misconceptions about Darfur:
    1 Nearly everyone is Muslim
    2 Everyone is black
    Although the conflict has also been framed as a battle between Arabs and black Africans, everyone in Darfur appears dark-skinned, at least by the usual American standards. The true division in Darfur is between ethnic groups, split between herders and farmers. Each tribe gives itself the label of “African” or “Arab” based on what language its members speak and whether they work the soil or herd livestock. Also, if they attain a certain level of wealth, they call themselves Arab.
    Sudan melds African and Arab identities. As Arabs began to dominate the government in the past century and gave jobs to members of Arab tribes, being Arab became a political advantage; some tribes adopted that label regardless of their ethnic affiliation. More recently, rebels have described themselves as Africans fighting an Arab government. Ethnic slurs used by both sides in recent atrocities have riven communities that once lived together and intermarried.
    “Black Americans who come to Darfur always say, ‘So where are the Arabs? Why do all these people look black?’ ” said Mahjoub Mohamed Saleh, editor of Sudan’s independent Al-Ayam newspaper. “The bottom line is that tribes have intermarried forever in Darfur. Men even have one so-called Arab wife and one so-called African. Tribes started labeling themselves this way several decades ago for political reasons. Who knows what the real bloodlines are in Darfur?”
    3 It’s all about politics
    Although analysts have emphasized the racial and ethnic aspects of the conflict in Darfur, a long-running political battle between Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir and radical Islamic cleric Hassan al-Turabi may be more relevant.
    A charismatic college professor and former speaker of parliament, Turabi has long been one of Bashir’s main political rivals and an influential figure in Sudan. He has been fingered as an extremist; before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks Turabi often referred to Osama bin Laden as a hero. More recently, the United Nations and human rights experts have accused Turabi of backing one of Darfur’s key rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement, in which some of his top former students are leaders…
    “Darfur is simply the battlefield for a power struggle over Khartoum,” said Ghazi Suleiman, a Sudanese human rights lawyer. “That’s why the government hit back so hard. They saw Turabi’s hand, and they want to stay in control of Sudan at any cost.”
    4 This conflict is international
    China and Chad have played key roles in the Darfur conflict.
    In 1990, Chad’s Idriss Deby came to power by launching a military blitzkrieg from Darfur and overthrowing President Hissan Habre. Deby hails from the elite Zaghawa tribe, which makes up one of the Darfur rebel groups trying to topple the government. So when the conflict broke out, Deby had to decide whether to support Sudan or his tribe. He eventually chose his tribe.
    Now the Sudanese rebels have bases in Chad; I interviewed them in towns full of Darfurians who tried to escape the fighting. Meanwhile, Khartoum is accused of supporting Chad’s anti-Deby rebels, who have a military camp in West Darfur. (Sudan’s government denies the allegations.) Last week, bands of Chadian rebels nearly took over the capital, N’Djamena. When captured, some of the rebels were carrying Sudanese identification.
    Meanwhile, Sudan is China’s fourth-biggest supplier of imported oil, and that relationship carries benefits…
    5 The “genocide” label made it worse

This portion is particularly interesting. Wax makes, basically, two arguments under this heading. Firstly,

    in September 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell referred to the conflict as a “genocide.” Rather than spurring greater international action, that label only seems to have strengthened Sudan’s rebels; they believe they don’t need to negotiate with the government and think they will have U.S. support when they commit attacks. Peace talks have broken down seven times, partly because the rebel groups have walked out of negotiations. And Sudan’s government has used the genocide label to market itself in the Middle East as another victim of America’s anti-Arab and anti-Islamic policies.

In other words, Powell’s attaching of the ‘genocide’ label has been extremely politically polarizing within Sudan, hardening the attitudes of both “sides” to the conflict in Darfur and setting back the chances for reaching a negotiated peace…
And secondly, she makes this,quite distinct argument under the rubric of No. 5:

    Perhaps most counterproductive, the United States has failed to follow up with meaningful action. “The word ‘genocide’ was not an action word; it was a responsibility word,” Charles R. Snyder, the State Department’s senior representative on Sudan, told me in late 2004. “There was an ethical and moral obligation, and saying it underscored how seriously we took this.” The Bush administration’s recent idea of sending several hundred NATO advisers to support African Union peacekeepers falls short of what many advocates had hoped for.
    “We called it a genocide and then we wine and dine the architects of the conflict by working with them on counterterrorism and on peace in the south,” said Ted Dagne, an Africa expert for the Congressional Research Service. “I wish I knew a way to improve the situation there. But it’s only getting worse.”

I think Wax is probably right here. After all, the whole point of the 1948 Convention on Genocide was that it actually obligates its signatories to act to “prevent, suppress, or punish” any act of genocide regardless of where in the world it is committed… That was why there was such a big fuss made in 1994 over whether the Clinton administration would declare that the killings in Rwanda constituted a genocide, or not. At least Clinton and his people seemed to take quite seriously the commitment that, if the Rwandan killings did indeed constitute genocide, then the US would be obligated to intervene to suppress that genocide.

As for the Bush administration– as we all know– it takes the power and truth-value of words extremely lightly when it chooses. I can imagine Karl Rove saying something like,”Sure, call it a genocide if that seems politically advantageous to do, here at home, with all these people clamoring for it. But you don’t think we’re going to do anything about it, do you?”
And thus, the value of the whole approach pioneered by the authors of the Genocide Convention has been completely annulled. (Rove: “Who cares? The Genocide Convention is no better than the Kyoto Treaty or the NPT, is it?”)
…Anyway, belatedly, I’d like to thank Emily Wax for a well-grounded and well-argued article there. I wish I’d read it earlier.

Truly saving the people of Darfur

Let us first focus our energies on making sure that we and our governments are doing all we can to get literally life-saving basic humanitarian aid to the people of Darfur. They are women, men, and children with pressing physical, social, and psychological needs. They are not a “cause” to be taken up (or dropped) by well-meaning outsiders.
And yet, the international “community” has not yet responded in even a halfway acceptable way to the pleas of the World Food Program and others for enough basic food aid to be sent there.
The NYT reported Saturday that the WFP,

    said it had received just a third of the $746 million it had requested from donor nations for all of its operations in Sudan. As a result, individual rations that include grain, blended foods, beans, oil, sugar and salt for people in Darfur, where a brutal ethnic and political conflict has raged since 2003, will be reduced from 2,100 calories a day to 1,050 calories — about half the level the agency recommends.

This is beyond tragic. It is also, surely, the very first thing we should be campaigning about. Go to Oxfam’s site and send them a donation. Then call your representatives in Congress or your local parliament and tell them to quadruple the government’s food aid to Darfur-– and to do it now.
Then, we have to recognize that it is not only the pro-government forces in Sudan who are impeding the delivery of such aid as is available. This sobering press release issued last Friday by he UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) states:

    Over the past few weeks aid workers operating for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and U.N. agencies have come under continuous attacks and harassment by armed groups in the area of Shangil Tobayi, Tawilla and Kutum in North Darfur. Several reports indicate that many of these attacks have been waged by SLA factions [that is, factions of an anti-government force ~HC]. Armed robbery and hijackings have endangered humanitarian workers assisting over 450,000 vulnerable people living in the area. Moreover, credible information point to the use of hijacked vehicles for military purposes by these armed groups. This is unacceptable and contrary to International Humanitarian Law.
    The SRSG [Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General] Jan Pronk appeals to the SLM/A to take all necessary steps to assure the safety of humanitarian personnel and property in areas under their control and the consistent implementation of agreements. Unless these attacks and harassment stop immediately, the U.N. and its partners will be obliged to suspend all relief assistance to this particular area till effective safety for humanitarian personnel and assets is guaranteed. The U.N. will hold responsible the armed groups, including those related to the SLA, and their leaders, for the failure to assist the vulnerable populations under their control.

I noted, too, that on last Friday’s BBC t.v. news report, Orla Guerin– whose reporting from Darfur I had earlier criticized– spoke openly about Darfuri villagers having been expelled violently from their village or villages by the rebels, and having sought refuge inside one of the bases for the AU forces. She spoke as a crowd of the expelled villagers could be seen behind her in the frame…
Now, of course, there is the additional political development of the nearly-secured peace agreement between the Sudan government and the rebels, that AU negotiators have been working on for two years now.
Yesterday, the Government of Sudan expressed its acceptance of the deal. But today, the two main rebel groups still seemed unprepared to accept it. In this piece, Reuters’ Estelle Shirbon writes:

    Chances of a peace agreement for Sudan’s Darfur region looked slim on Monday despite a 48-hour extension to negotiations, observers said, citing rebel inflexibility.
    Mediators from the African Union (AU) agreed in the early hours after a deadline expired to give the government of Sudan and two rebel groups until midnight Tuesday to agree on a proposed peace plan, the result of two years of talks.
    But on Monday morning, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha left the Nigerian capital Abuja, venue of the talks. Taha had arrived three weeks ago and held face-to-face meetings with rebel leaders that had raised hopes of a deal.
    A diplomat who is closely involved in the talks said Taha left because his latest meetings with rebel leaders had given him the impression they were not open to substantial talks.
    “His meetings with the (rebel) movements yesterday were so bad. They were, frankly, so insulting to the government,” said the diplomat, who described his mood as “depressed”.

So it looks as though the rebel leaders’ inflexibility may now be consigning the people of Darfur to further months or even years of civil war. This, when we know that far too many of the civilian people of Darfur have already had their homes, communities, and livelihoods wrecked by the gunmen from both pro- and anti-government groups… Surely, the most urgent imperative should be to find a formula that will allow everyone to de-escalate, disarm, return to their home communities, and start rebuilding lives and livelihoods shattered by the violence!
I have to ask whether the rebel groups’ intransigence was perhaps stoked by the one-sidedly anti-Khartoum tenor of much of the Darfur-related mobilization in the US over the past few weeks? (Did that mobilization perhaps give the rebels the idea they could get more political support from Washington than they have been able to win, so far, from the African Union? If so, I suspect they will be sorely disappointed…)
Wouldn’t it, honestly, have been better if from the get-go the people involved in the US “Save Darfur” coalition had focused their efforts somewhat less on one-sided finger-pointing, and much more on the urgent need for solid humanitarian aid, and the creation of the political climate of civil peace which is the only climate in which such aid can both be delivered in the shorter term and help to rebuild and heal war-torn communities over the longer term?
By the way, Jonathan Edelstein recently had a good post on the draft peace agreement out of Abuja, on his blog, here.
His analysis of the draft was this:

    If I’m reading between the lines accurately, the proposal falls somewhat short of what the southern Sudanese got in the Machakos protocol, offering some degree of local control over land and resources but not a full-fledged autonomous government or a secession option. This is probably to be expected. Unlike the south, Darfur has a significant pro-government constituency (the pastoralists), and the rebel movements can’t claim to speak for the region as a whole. In addition, the Darfur rebels aren’t as militarily powerful as the SPLA/M, and thus don’t have the leverage to overcome Khartoum’s opposition to regional autonomy. The AU draft is, in practical terms, the most that the rebel movements are likely to get.

Finally, maybe the only thing we can do at this late hour in the diplomacy is to pray for peace and rebuilding in Darfur… And to hope that wisdom, compassion, mercy, generosity of spirit, and restraint can guide the actions of all concerned… Including our own.

Darfur: negotiators close to peace agreement?

African Union mediators who have been convening peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, between representatives of the Sudanese government and the two main Darfuri opposition groups have put forward a draft peace agreement for consideration by the parties. (Hat-tip to Jonathan Edelstein for that news.)
The foregoing link goes to the Sudan Tribune‘s account of the content of much of the peace deal. That account says that the “Security” portion of it still has to be worked out. VOA’s account of the draft presented by AU chief mediator Salim Ahmed Salim says, however, that the draft contains provisions in all spheres, including security.
Reuters’ Estelle Shirbon writes in this very informative report that the AU-proposed draft includes a requirement that Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed militia.
As the April 30 target date for the final conclusion of the peace agreement approaches, there have been recent reports that both sides have been taking some worryingly escalatory moves.
IRIN reported from Nairobi today that,

    A recent spate of attacks in South Darfur State seems to constitute a new military offensive by the Sudanese government and puts the lives of tens of thousands of people at risk, regional analysts have warned.

And in Friday’s Christian Science Monitor, Katharine Houreld has a very troubling report saying that “various Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups” have been kidnapping men– and even some children– from the refugee camps strung along the Darfur-Chad border, and impressing them into their own forces.
Houreld writes:

    Although the exact number is unknown, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that around 4,700 refugees in Chadian camps were abducted last month. Most were taken in the span of three days in mid-March from the camps of Treguine and Bredjing, when unidentified rebels went from tent to tent looking for potential fighters, according to refugees and the UNHCR. Women who tried to cling to their men were beaten back mercilessly, say witnesses. Some men who resisted were tied up at knifepoint and carried off in vehicles. Many of those taken say they saw people tied up and left in the sun for days, or witnessed beatings. Some were killed.
    Among the dusty tents and straw shacks of the refugee camps, the clumps of frightened people do not even know who attacked them, although most of the refugees who escaped agree their kidnappers spoke with Sudanese accents. At least four rebel groups – some Sudanese, some Chadian – are now active along the chaotic border between the two countries.
    … Although the Darfur conflict has been marked by gross human rights violations and ethnic cleansing, Olivier Bercault of Human Rights Watch says the forced recruitment of fighters, including children, is a new development.
    …”The war is shifting gear and [the various rebel groups] need more people to fight,” said Bercault. “I’m very concerned about child recruitment. When you start with this, it’s like an addiction. It’s difficult to stop.”

In the United States, meanwhile, President Bush hurried to add his own, US sanctions to those that the UN imposed on four military leaders involved in the fighting in Darfur… And representatives from numerous US organizations have been preparing for Sunday’s rally to “Save Darfur”, though their “Unity Statement” still doesn’t tell us how they propose doing this …
(Oh, and actor George Clooney has gotten into the action, too. In a newsclip he and his father made that I saw tonight, the dad– described as “a journalist”– got some very basic political facts about the situation wrong, referring to the janjaweed as “insurgents”, which is precisely what they are not… Which doesn’t give me much confidence in the quality of the duo’s analysis.)
I hope the peace talks in Abuja can really succeed, and the rebuilding process that they envision can really take hold. That is far and away the best way to end the commission of atrocities in Darfur and start rebuilding a rule-of-law-based society there.
But what about the reports of the recent escalatory acts? Let’s hope they were just one last push that each side was making, trying to win one last spot of negotiating advantage, before they both sign onto the peace deal
Another interesting question: Have the UN’s recent imposition of targeted sanctions and other political pressures from outside helped to nudge the government toward accepting the peace agreement? If so, that’s good.
One last point. If the parties do sign onto the peace, then surely the main impetus in the “international community” has to be towards supporting this peace and giving it the very best possible chance to succeed. Including, obviously, by funding it. But also, by agreeing to be led by the AU negotiators regarding questions of how perpetrators of the conflict-era atrocities should be dealt with.
I certainly hope the AU has been making robust plans for the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration back into their home communities (DDR) of the vast bulk of the former fighters on both sides of the conflict… DDR is by far the best way to help rebuild societies torn apart by civil war.

Darfur: peacemaking or partisan finger-pointing?

The NYT reported today that the UN Security Council yesterday voted to impose personalized sanctions on four named individuals suspected of involvement in the atrocities in Darfur.
Interestingly, the four persons sanctioned comprise two leaders affiliated with the Khartoum government: “Maj. Gen. Gaffar Mohamed Elhassan, a Sudanese Air Force officer accused of helping the government-backed janjaweed militias commit atrocities; [and] Sheik Musa Hilal, chief of an Arab tribe and a janjaweed leader”– along with two leaders with the anti-government forces: “Adam Yacub Shant, a commander of Sudanese Liberation Army forces that broke a cease-fire to attack government troops; and Gabril Abdul Kareem Badri, the commander of another rebel force, which kidnapped and threatened African Union troops.”
Is the Security Council (and perhaps also the ICC, with which it has been working on the Darfur atrocities) perhaps getting something right this time, in terms of the political “balance” of these sanctions?
The Council’s position stands in notable contrast to that adopted by nearly all the mainstream media and political activists here in the US, who have stayed almost completely silent about the atrocities reportedly committed by the anti-government militias– the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement– while hyping up those committed by pro-government forces.
In a report on BBC t.v. the other day, I saw even the estimable Orla Guerin fall into that trap. She spoke breathlessly about refugees “streaming away” from a government-attacked village– while in the frame behind her all you could see was a bedraggled group of around six people making their way mournfully from one side of the screen to the other. She also stated– incorrectly– that the African Union troops in Darfur “have no mandate to protect civilians”. And at a point when a group of armed anti-government fighters were visible in a Jeep quite close behind her she made no mention of their presence or of the well-documented accusations that the anti-government forces are also accused of atrocities.
I note that many Jewish-American organizations are among those that have joined the (increasingly politicized, anti-Khartoum) US campaign to “Save Darfur” that was launched recently by Elie Wiesel and that is organizing a big march in DC this Sunday. If you go to the campaign’s Unity Statement, you will see descriptions of atrocities committed by government and pro-government forces, but no mention at all of violence by anti-government forces.
Here’s what it says:

    The emergency in Sudan’s western region of Darfur presents the starkest challenge to the world since the Rwanda genocide in 1994. A government-backed Arab militia known as Janjaweed has been engaging in campaigns to displace and wipe out communities of African tribal farmers.
    Villages have been razed, women and girls are systematically raped and branded, men and boys murdered, and food and water supplies targeted and destroyed. Government aerial bombardments support the Janjaweed by hurling explosives as well as barrels of nails, car chassis and old appliances from planes to crush people and property. Tens of thousands have died. Well over a million people have been driven from their homes, and only in the past few weeks have humanitarian agencies gained limited access to some of the affected region…

What a problematic statement. Firstly, it completely ignores the horrendous conflict-related suffering in eastern DRC, where more than four million people have already died in the past eight years, as a result of conflict stirred up largely by the Rwandan (post-genocide) government or by the west’s poster-boy in Uganda, Pres. Museveni.
… And the last sentence I quoted from the statement is now quite out of date and should be updated or dropped.
… Note, too, the way in which the “Unity Statement” tries to make the conflict seem quite simply to be one between “Arabs” and “Africans”, and thereby to whip up the anti-Arab sentiment that lies very close to the surface of much US discourse; whereas, as best I understand it, the Darfur conflict is much, much more complex than that.
… And finally, the statement makes no mention at all of what the signatories believe should be done in response to the violence and suffering in Darfur. This is presumably because the signatory groups failed to agree on this? Some people here in the US have been urging the intervention of NATO forces “to save the Darfuris”– a military campaign on the model of Kosovo, which would similarly weaken the central government involved, i.e., Khartoum. Others urge a more pacific, multilateral approach. But by waving the bloodied garments of the victims of pro-government violence, while making no mention of the victims of anti-government violence, this campaign will surely serve only to whip up anti-Khartoum feeling.
My own prescription for what should be done? Support peace efforts in these three troubled provinces of Sudan to the greatest degree possible.
Atrocities like genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes always (or nearly always) occur in the context of an ongoing armed conflict. The situation in Darfur is certainly no exception to that rule.
I share the angst of all those in the global rights community who are appalled at the grotesque, man-inflicted suffering in Darfur. But the way to bring those atrocities to a lasting end is to bring to a lasting end the conflict that has spawned them. By contrast, engaging in a campaign of one-sided, blame-hurling accusations against only one party to the conflict seems like a sure recipe for keeping the situation inflamed.
That’s why I’m really heartened by the even-handed approach adopted by the Security Council.
By the way, the ICC– to which the Security Council last April made a formal referral of the situation in Darfur– has not yet named its own list of indictees, as you can see if you check the documents available through this ICC web portal on the topic. But I wonder if the prosecutor there consulted with the Security Council members on who should be the targets of these sanctions?

Peace in Darfur?

A glimmer of real hope regarding the situation in Darfur!
I just got an email from those great peacemakers at the Catholic lay organization Sant’ Egidio to say that after a gathering at their homeplace in Rome,

    the representatives of the two movements opposing the government of Sudan, who interrupted the negotiates in December 2004, have committed themselves to return to the negotiations table under the aegis of the African Union, without preliminary conditions. This is a first step towards peace, so much needed by this people that is greatly suffering.
    An agreement was achieved, once again, within the walls of an ancient house of prayer where, every day, the Gospel teaches how to become craftsmen of peace.

I don’t yet see the announcement in the English-language pages on their website. Actually, this “news” is not completely new, but was contained in, for example, this May 13 story from Reuters.
Many people in the human rights community worldwide have become very energized around the campaign to arrest, prosecute, and punish the perpetrators of the worst rights abuses in Darfur. I hope they become equally– or even more– energized around the campaign to find a decent, sustainable, rights-respecting peace for the peoples of Darfur and of all of Sudan.
The more I study the phenomenon of atrocities in our world, the more clear it becomes to me that atrocitious violence on a scale that commands the attention of the whole world is committed primarily in situations of grave political conflict, whether that conflict is internal to a country, or straddles national borders.
It is in circumstances of grave, violent conflict that the normal (thank God!) human inhibitions against the killing and desecration of other human persons can rapidly dissolve… People in such circumstances can all too easily become entangled in frenzies of killing and atrocious violence of a type that in normal times they would find, quite rightly, to be quite abhorrent. War is itself a violent, tortured universe to inhabit, one that itself imposes grave rights abuses on everyone in its path.
Therefore, the best way to end the atrocities is to end the war. After the war has ended and people are on the path to the kind of sustainable peace in which their remaining differences can be solved through equality-based, non-violent, and rights-respecting means– that is the time to (as and when the people of that community choose to) explore issues of “accountability” about the past.
Many of the people worldwide who shout for “prosecutions!” have little idea of what sustained, atrocity-laden conflict does to societies and to the people who constitute them. From their little bubble-universes they think that a pertformance in a courtroom can somehow, “magically”, make everything right again.
Actually, building peace is both much harder–and at one level, much simpler– than that.
Let’s therefore keep the focus on doing all we can, including prayer, to help the peace negotiations over Darfur to succeed.
(P.s. You can read a little about the remarkable role that Sant’ Egidio played in shepherding the crucial peace negotiations in Mozambique, 1990-92, in this paper of mine. Also, here.)