By Charles Jackson
Over and over, the international community has promised that genocide will never happen again, but contrary to these pronouncements, the United Nations and the great powers, have so far failed to deal decisively with the situation prevailing in the Dafur region of Sudan.
The situation in Dafur seems to suggest that the region is becoming a replica of the Rwanda genocide. The few lessons that the world body drew from their ineptitude during the Rwanda catastrophe would have been applied to prevent the deepening crises in Dafur. Had the United Nations and its systems moved promptly, Dafur would not been in this situation. When the UN got its act together it was too late to save Rwanda from the carnage. And this is exactly what we are witnessing in Dafur today.
In the face of criticisms by advocacy groups against the world body’s feet dragging in resolving the crisis, in September 2004, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1564 to create a Commission of Inquiry on Dafur to assess the crisis. A year later, the UN released a report stating that while there were mass murders and rapes, they could not label it genocide because genocide intent appears to be missing.
Again, the UN failed to draw on the Rwandan lessons. Because the “genocide intent is missing”, the UN failed to exert pressure on the Sudanese government or moved swiftly to deploy peacekeepers to stop the violence. Efforts by activist organizations for international intervention in Dafur have failed.
The African Union with little resources continued to work in the troubled region but the rest of the world hasn’t supported those efforts the way it should have been done with funds and sufficient equipment to do the job.
The crisis in Dafur started when two local rival groups- Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Liberation Army accused the Sudanese government of oppressing non-Arabs in favor of Arabs. In addition, the group accused the government of neglecting the Dafur region. The Khartoum government responded to these allegations by mounting a campaign of aerial bombardment and supporting ground attacks by an Arab militia known as Janjaweed (devils on horseback).
The conflict has led to some of the worst human rights abuses, including systematic and widespread torture, murder, rape, abduction and displacement. The violence between the government of Sudan and their allied Arab Janjaweed and the multiple armed opposition groups has so far claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. Nearly 2.25 million have been displaced, some into neighboring Chad, according to UN estimates.
Despite the current U.N. ban on weapons to Darfur, arms continue to find their way into the conflict-prone region. The government of Sudan, in particular, continues to violate the embargo by delivering prohibited arms to allied militia. The proliferation of arms into the region is a clear indication that the UN arms embargo has failed to restrain arm flow from reaching the troubled region.
According to Human Rights First (a New York based rights organization) over 90% of the light weapons currently used in the conflict in Darfur is from China. International human rights advocates and African progressives have criticized China’s role in providing weapons and aircraft to the Khartoum government in exchange for access to the vast oil reserve in the region. In fact China continues to offer support to Sudan, by threatening to use its veto on the UN Security Council to protect Khartoum from sanctions in order to protect its interest.
In response to these criticisms on its stance toward the situation in Darfur, Chinese Ambassador to Sudan Li Chengwen said that China is playing an important role in promoting the agreement among the parties that includes the Sudan government, the African Union and the UN that paved the way for the deployment of the peacekeeping force (Hybrid Force) in Darfur.
In addition, Ambassador Chengwen said that intensive economic development in the region is a more effective means than harsh economic sanctions. But the question is how can economic development be achieved in a situation where the beneficiaries have been driven from their homes into bushes escaping war and hunger? The government and their Janjaweed partners are those reaping such economic benefits being trumpeted by the Chinese.
The conflict in Dafur can be addressed on several fronts. First, the Chinese should stop the flow of weapons to the region and used their influence on the Sudanese government to cease attacks against the civilian population. The UN should use its power to arrest the entire Sudanese officials linked to the atrocities in Dafur.
It was refreshing when the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) disclosed to the world that the court will arrest Sudanese President Omer el-Bashir and charged him with war crimes against humanity and genocide in Dafur.
The court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina indicated targeting other top officials of the regime. “The whole state apparatus is implicated in crimes against humanity in the troubled Darfur region where nearly 300,000 people have died since the conflict in 2003,” the chief prosecutor told reporters recently.
An indictment and subsequent arrest of el-Bashir would mark the second time the Hague based court has charged a sitting head of state with war crimes. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor set the record as the first head of state in Africa to be indicted with war crimes while in office and second to the former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on global level.
The indictment of el- Bashir will send the right signals that the UN is prepared to end impunity in the region. However, the indictment alone will not serve the purpose unless el-Bashir is brought before the court.
However,latest reports coming from Khartoum indicate that the Sudanese cabinet in an emergency meeting held on July 14,reaffirmed its rejection to the ICC decision on war crimes or crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.
The Sudanese Council of Ministers headed by the President al-bashir and attended by his two deputies, Salva Kiir Maydrit and Ali Osman Mohamed Taha reiterated its rejection to recognize the ICC or indictment issued by the Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
The meeting was held after the leakage of the imminent indictment of the Sudanese president in the second case to be filed by the ICC prosecutor to the pretrial Chamber on Monday 14 July.
Sudan’s Cabinet called on the international community to halt “irresponsible political blackmail” and to take the necessary steps to achieve peace and settlement in the country.
However, the Sudanese government praised the “solid position undertaken by regional and international organizations, friendly and brotherly countries for the benefit of our people and government.”
This is the time the UN must demonstrate its authority to ensure that el-Bashir surrenders to the court or in the alternative; the UN should apply the same mechanism that led former Nigerian President Olusegun Obansanjo to “deliver” Charles Taylor to The Hague to face trial. Indeed, all parties involved in the conflict need to abide by their international obligations.
The powers that be with the tools needed to enforce the UN arms embargo against Sudan should do so. The ICC should move quickly to get el-Bashir into custody, and the international community should provide the much needed logistics and funds for the ill-equipped peacekeepers. Whether these actions will take place depend largely on the political will of those powers at the UN Security Council. But can they?
Charles Jackson is a former Knight Fellow, Stanford University, California. He is a researcher on African issues. Contact him at email@example.com