REVIEW: Article

The Crisis in Sudan

Called by many the world’s worst current humanitarian disaster, the continuing crisis in Darfur is testing the resolve and the ability of the international community to move effectively to confront violence, provide humanitarian relief, and resolve political conflict in one of Africa’s most inaccessible locations. Thus far, more than 1.4 million people are displaced within Darfur itself; another 200,000 more have sought refuge in Chad. The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates that 70,000 among the internally displaced have died since March in their temporary camps—in addition to the thousands who likely have been killed by violence. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 9 that “genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the [Jingaweit] bear responsibility—and genocide may still be occurring.”

The crisis in Darfur started over 18 months ago when two rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), began an armed rebellion to correct what they assert was the central government’s neglect of Darfur.  The rebel movements have emerged largely from the agricultural communities and tribes of Darfur, while the Government of Sudan in Khartoum has been more representative of the northern and central populations of Sudan, which identify themselves as ethnically Arab. Following several early reversals to its conventional forces, the government armed and supported Arab irregulars, known as “Jingaweit,” to put down the rebellion. These guerrilla warriors come for the most part from herding peoples who have long contested land and water rights with the agricultural communities. With government support, including aerial bombardment, the Jingaweit destroyed hundreds of villages throughout Darfur, killing, looting, raping and chasing off their inhabitants. The raiders have continued to terrorize the people of Darfur, many of whom are now trapped in displaced persons camps without adequate food, water, sanitation, or health care. The World Health Organization assesses that between 6,000 and 10,000 people are dying each month due to disease and starvation.

The United States (US) took an early role in alerting the international community to the developing catastrophe in Darfur. In March 2004, the US called for a briefing on Darfur for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In April, it pressed hard for a strong resolution on Sudan and the appointment of a special rapporteur in the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights and underscored its disappointment when the rest of the Commission adopted a softer, albeit critical, statement. Nonetheless, the United States has continued to work with the UNSC, the African Union (AU), their leaderships, and their members, to build an international action coalition to end violence in Darfur, to restore security for its peoples, to provide adequate humanitarian assistance and to create the conditions that will permit the displaced and the refugee population in Chad to return voluntarily to their homes.

The United States has taken a leading role, but the international community has united to meet the challenge collectively. We have been instrumental in working with our colleagues in the Security Council to ensure the adoption of UNSC resolutions 1556 and 1564, both of which laid down clear markers to the Government of Sudan as to what it must do to resolve the crisis in Darfur.

At the same time, the African Union has demonstrated that Africans can and do take responsibility to resolve crises in their own region, and have the will to do so. The African Union has deployed a force to monitor the ceasefire agreed to by the Government of Sudan and JEM and the SLA in N’djamena on April 8. Currently, monitors come from 19 countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Senegal, Mozambique, Denmark, Hungary, Sweden, the United States and France. The US and the European Union have provided essential logistical and transportation support. The AU is now in the process of organizing an enhanced force that will give a more robust presence to monitor the situation and deter further violence. Parallel to its military deployment, the AU has organized peace talks between the Government of Sudan and the two rebel movements in Nigeria, under the auspices of Nigerian President and AU Chairman Olesegun Obasanjo. The United States, the United Kingdom (UK) and the EU have been active in their support of and presence at these talks.

US and international efforts to deliver humanitarian relief to the people of Darfur have been complicated by obstructionism by the Government of Sudan. Only concerted international pressure has moved that government to permit freer humanitarian access following the visits to Khartoum by Secretary Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in late June/early July. Despite some improvement on access issues, the Government of Sudan has yet to take the steps necessary to provide security to its people:  disarm the Jingaweit, control irregular forces and hold those responsible for atrocities accountable. The government must, as is its duty, establish the rule of law in Darfur, and apply it justly and without discrimination.

Of most immediate concern is the deployment of an enhanced African Union monitoring force. The enhanced observer force will be a multiplier for security, as its presence should require government security forces to act appropriately to protect the entire population, and especially the most vulnerable populations. Rapid deployment, however, will require a robust planning effort by the AU military staff, and substantial, timely financial and logistical support from the international donor community. The US has already provided $20.6 million dollars for this effort.  The Europeans (collectively and bilaterally), Canada and Australia are working closely with us, the AU leadership, and individual African governments to make this force a reality.

Despite the world’s focus on Darfur, proper attention and support must be extended to the north-south Sudan peace process in Kenya under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), mediated by Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo. The comprehensive peace agreement for Sudan, which will end more than 20 years of civil war, provides the best long-term hope for dealing with the grievances of the Darfurians in a democratic, multi-ethnic Sudan. The comprehensive peace sought by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) is within sight; the parties must push themselves to achieve and implement an agreement that will create the conditions for a new federalism and a new relationship between all Sudanese peoples. This will not happen without continued, intense international support.  The US, Norway, and the UK—the “Troika”—and the IGAD member states have been continuing partners with the Sudanese parties in pressing forward towards peace. This partnership, between the parties to the conflict, the regional African leadership that is committed to taking responsibility within its neighborhood, and the US, the Europeans and the rest of the international community, is pointing the way towards more effective problem solving and conflict resolution throughout Africa.

Darfur is the greatest humanitarian tragedy we face today, and the United States is devoting very substantial efforts and resources towards resolving the crisis. We have already provided $302 million in assistance to Darfur, including $72 million to help refugees in Chad.  However, the lesson so far is that this effort is not enough. Nor is this simply an “African problem” for the AU to deal with. To resolve a crisis of this magnitude requires concerted effort by a unified international community. While not every country has treated this situation with the necessary urgency, we have forged a committed worldwide coalition to make progress. That progress is not sufficient, and is being achieved too slowly. We need to continue to accelerate our cooperation with the AU, the EU, and the UN on all fronts—ensuring that violence ends, that adequate humanitarian relief is afforded, and that durable peace and security are achieved.  Only with the rest of the international community—Americans, Africans, Europeans, and others—working together as governments, as organizations, and as partners, can we ensure that the tragedy of Darfur becomes a demonstration of successful cooperation, rather than a mark of shame and a failure of justice, compassion and responsibility. 

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Senior Representative on Sudan, United States Department of State