January 05, 2005

What about Darfur?

Not to rain on the "We are the World" moment we are having now (and you know that things have reached that critical mass when they have a special commemoration of "the events in South Asia last week" during corporate schlock-fest that is the BCS game), but what about the Sudan?

A colleague has an excellent op-ed today in the Christian Science Monitor on the topic:

Forced evacuations and mass rapes; brutal ethnic killings and rampaging militias; oil profits and arms sales. The deadly mix of politics, economics, and insecurity has displaced 1.6 million people and killed tens of thousands in the Darfur region of western Sudan since early 2003. The United Nations recently described Darfur as the "world's worst humanitarian crisis."

This is not a humanitarian crisis. It is a war. Humanitarian
assistance, in the absence of political and military engagement, can
actually exacerbate the conflict.

The label "humanitarian crisis" conveniently absolves the rest of the
world from taking political and military action in Darfur. By providing
generous humanitarian assistance, governments and the UN claim to take
meaningful action. But genocide cannot be resolved by donating blankets
and food to the potential victims.

A purely humanitarian approach can worsen the war in three ways. First,
it obscures the political and strategic importance of refugee
populations as potentially destabilizing forces. Second, a humanitarian
response empowers militants and fuels a war economy. And last, by
dispatching aid workers rather than soldiers and politicians,
governments increase the security threats faced by charitable

The crisis has now spread outside Sudan's borders and threatens to
ignite a regional conflict. An estimated 200,000 Sudanese refugees have
escaped from Darfur across the border into Chad. Policymakers and aid
organizations lament the miserable situation of these refugees.

In addition to the human misery they embody, the refugees also have the
potential to spread the conflict further. Refugees present a political
obstacle to the Sudanese government and a political opportunity to the
rebel forces. The mere presence of the refugees represents a potent
indictment of the Sudanese regime. In response to the perceived threat,
Sudanese forces have raided the refugee camps and nearby Chadian
villages. If sufficiently provoked by cross-border attacks, Chad could
enter the conflict. An international war will be even harder to resolve
and contain than the current civil war.

The UN has broadcast desperate appeals for increased funding for basic
necessities - such as tents, food, and medical care. It should also
appeal for improved border security to prevent the spread of war.

Humanitarian assistance empowers the combatants when they control aid
distribution. The combatants - both the Khartoum government and rebel
forces - have used humanitarian assistance as a bargaining chip. The
Sudanese Army and police have repeatedly raided camps for internally
displaced civilians, brutally dispersing the residents. This prevents
aid organizations from providing assistance - and from documenting
human rights abuses committed during the raids.

Rebel groups in Darfur also routinely prevent humanitarian
organizations from accessing desperate civilians. In some cases, rebels
have detained aid workers until they met their captors' demands for
more access to aid resources. Rebels also routinely loot relief
supplies including fuel, medicine, and food. Control over the displaced
people, and the aid meant to sustain them, has become an essential
weapon in the conflict.

Cease-fire violations have made much of the Darfur region unsafe for
aid deliveries. In December, two employees of Save the Children died
when attackers deliberately targeted a clearly marked convoy of
humanitarian aid vehicles. The charity Doctors without Borders also
lost two staff members to violence in the past three months. As
security conditions worsen, more and more aid agencies have withdrawn
from the war zone.

The international response has been paltry. The UN Security Council
called on the Sudanese government to disarm the militias and protect
aid deliveries. But the weakly worded resolution lacked enforcement
mechanisms to back up those demands. The UN General Assembly
collectively avoided responsibility by refusing to vote on a measure
that condemned human rights abuses in Sudan. The 1,000 African Union
troops presently in Darfur do not have a mandate to use force to
protect civilians. They are meant to deter war crimes simply by their

Despite their official neutrality in the conflict, it is the
humanitarian groups that are pressing for greater political and
military action. Oxfam condemned recent Security Council resolutions as
tepid responses. In retaliation, Khartoum expelled Oxfam's country
director. InterAction, the American nongovernmental organization
clearinghouse, implored President Bush to provide funding and support
for the African Union mission.

The only point that all parties agree on is that civilians are
suffering in Darfur. Therefore, as a compromise measure, the
international community has deployed humanitarian organizations to fill
the political and military policy vacuum. Unfortunately, treating the
war purely as a humanitarian disaster only fuels the conflict.

I couldn't agree more.

Posted by Steve at January 5, 2005 09:41 AM
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