Date: 14 Nov 2005
The ethnic cleansing which caused so many people to flee their homes started to receive world attention about 18 months ago but has now all but disappeared from the headlines. Since that time, however, the number of displaced people has actually doubled. Two million people have fled their homes and another harvest has been missed in many places because crops could not be planted.
Many lives have been saved by the massive international relief effort, and the numbers dying each month has fallen. But the insecurity that caused people to flee is still there. Attacks and harassment by various groups prevent them from returning home and hinder the relief effort. In September, the authorities detained one of Trócaire’s partner organisations that worked in Darfur while it held a human rights workshop. Another partner organisation had staff members abducted by a rebel group who wanted their vehicle and cash.
There can be no solution to Darfur’s suffering until the protection of civilians is addressed. That will take combined action by all sides. The UN Secretary General has repeatedly highlighted the fact that the Government of Sudan has failed to carry out its promise to disarm and control the Janjaweed - militias which it backs and which continue to attack civilians. Meanwhile the rebel groups in Darfur have also attacked relief workers: as they go down the road of fragmentation, banditry and indiscipline, it is civilians who suffer.
The international community too bears responsibility: the United Nations Security Council has carefully documented the continuing abuses in Darfur and asked for those responsible to desist, but refuses to take any real action. China has considerable oil interests in Sudan, and its threat of a veto of any mention of economic sanctions looms large - as do Western fears about upsetting Beijing.
Last March, after months of negotiations, the Security Council finally created a mechanism to impose a travel ban or assets freeze on individuals responsible for atrocities in Darfur. But the committee it set up to deal with this has not reported back, many months after the deadline for doing so. The message this sends to Khartoum is clear: you can do what you want as the international community’s attention span has been exceeded.
The deployment of international observers in Darfur by the African Union has made a difference to the attacks on civilians in many places where they are present. But there are still too few of them, without sufficient support, and with a mandate that doesn’t give them enough powers for civilian protection. AU observers were killed last month in an ambush while dozens of others were abducted in a separate incident.
Khartoum, meanwhile, continues to block the importation of most of the 105 armoured personnel carriers offered to the AU by Canada. While the government plays games with the African Union mission in Darfur, it prepares to host the AU summit in Khartoum in January and take over the presidency of the organisation. An effective peacekeeping force is essential, and that means enough people on the ground, with backup and resources from the richer countries, and a firm mandate to protect civilians.
Sudan is at a crossroads. The peace deal signed last January to end the war in the South is an opportunity to create a more representative regime throughout the country and to turn away from war and exploitation. But it cannot succeed if a new war against the people in Darfur is being waged and while other peripheral areas of Sudan suffer neglect. It is the responsibility of the international community to make this clear to all parties.
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