Two Sides of Sudan

by Jeff Fleischer

(Mother Jones, January 4, 2005)


Facing a Dec. 31 United Nations deadline, Sudan’s government agreed to a peace deal with rebel groups in the southern part of the country. However, even assuming Khartoum genuinely plans to comply with the peace — and that’s a huge assumption, given the government’s track record — this agreement does nothing about the greater problem in Darfur, and again demonstrates the timidity of the U.N. when it comes to opposing the genocide.

The government in Sudan has consistently ignored deadlines to end attacks against ethnic Africans in Darfur and violated the terms of the April ceasefire agreement. But the international community’s response has consisted of lofty language and some humanitarian aid for refugees — with no sanction of any kind against the Janjaweed killers or their backers in Khartoum. As the Associated Press notes, “U.N. and U.S. officials hope a solution to the civil war will spur a resolution to a separate conflict between government-backed forces and rebels in the western Darfur region,” but talk as if such a resolution can happen without them having to do anything concrete. As professor Sarah Kenyon Lischer argues in Monday’s Christian Science Monitor:

“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 organizations.”

The risks to humanitarian workers even caused the U.N. to suspend its food convoys last week due to more ceasefire violations. With international unwillingness to dispatch troops, the African Union remains responsible for supplying peacekeeping forces to protect aid workers and refugees. The AU has asked for international funds to help it deploy more troops, but hasn’t received them. As a result, only about 900 AU troops are in Darfur (a region about the size of France), though the 53-nation coalition wants to send 3,000-4,000.

After consistently punting when it comes to sending troops to Darfur, the U.N. has ironically now agreed to use its forces to enforce the peace in the south. U.N. envoy Jan Pronk announced Monday that the United Nations “will deploy between 9,000 and 10,000 troops as part of a monitoring force whose mission will not be to keep peace but to boost it” for an expected term of six years. In agreeing to police the south, the international community again demonstrated that its failure to intervene in Darfur (despite its own policy on genocide) is a matter of priorities rather than resources.

As for the peace deal in the south, Khartoum agreed to pull 91,000 troops out of rebel-held areas within the next two and a half years, while rebels have only eight months to pull their forces back. Khartoum agreed to rewrite the constitution so that Sharia law won’t be imposed on non-Muslims, and the southern region will elect an autonomous regional government. But the government’s constant breaking of previous peace agreements and ceasefires should render the most cautious optimism about this deal. As John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group told in mid-December, signing a peace deal doesn’t mean Khartoum will keep its word this time around:

“The main theory is that because the U.N. Commission of Inquiry is going to report the next week, on Jan. 7, the government may take a pretty big hit with that. So they may sign the peace deal in order just to let the thing go, and then stall implementation over the next few months while the pressure would obviously be taken off. I don’t predict what’s going to happen on the 31st, but I’d be surprised if the government was that defiant and didn’t sign the thing. I think they have a lot to gain by signing and, therefore, confusing the international community into believing that its constructive engagement policy actually worked. And then the government could just dig in and not really help with the implementation.”

The terms of the implementation also give Khartoum an inherent advantage if the international community eases the pressure (as noted above, the government has a much longer timeframe for withdrawal than the rebels). Considering its track record of using peace negotiations to divert attention from military buildups and planned attacks, the government’s willingness to actually comply with the peace deal remains in question. And Darfur remains unresolved, with attacks continuing, refugees still facing a dire situation, and the international community standing by for nearly two years.

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