Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Looming Genocide in Sudan

Despite the signing of a peace deal in May 2006, the situation in Darfur seems to be heading towards disaster and genocide. Last week, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir refused to meet with the envoy dispatched from the United States, and then rejected a UN resolution to fold the existing, but ineffective, African Union peacekeeping force into a larger, more capable United Nations force. Today, the AU force threatened to pull out of Darfur when its mandate expires at the end of the month if the mission is not handed over to the UN. Meanwhile, Sudan has begun a major offensive -- a testament in and of itself to the ineffectiveness of the AU peacekeepers -- presumably in an effort to crush the Darfuri rebels before being forced to accept a UN force (or, more cynically, in advance of "graciously" allowing the UN in to Darfur to see how nicely the situation has been resolved). Civilian casualties, looting, and rapes are all on the rise. To date, deaths in Darfur are approximately 250,000, with 2.5 million peope displaced and at the mercy of the Sudanese government and the murderous janjaweed raiders if the peacekeepers are withdrawn.

The situation is coming to a head, and the world cannot wait for the UN to take action. Waiting to convince Sudan to accept the international peacekeepers will simply present Sudan with a window of opportunity to complete its operations. The UN needs to set aside its strong predilictions for state sovereignty, and formally request that other international actors, such as NATO, take actions into their own hands. However, as opposed to Kosovo, when UN authorization was not particular explicit and didn't come until after the NATO operation, this time the UN needs to act before thousands more Darfuris are slaughtered by their barbaric government. True, China and Russia would likely veto a Chapter VIII authorization of a regional actor intevening in Sudan's affairs, or even a less formal request to do so. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan must act in accordance with the spirit, rather the laws, of his institution, and issue a direct call from his office.

Would, if given the opportunity and green light from the UN, the west act? It's hard to say. On the one hand, the NATO powers, and the US in particular, has been much more vocal and active about Darfur than previous genocidal situations in Africa, like Rwanda. However, the lessons of Somalia still ring loudly in the ears of politicians and military leaders alike: in the absence of strong public support, humanitarian deployments are doomed to failure. Now is the time for President Bush to begin mustering support for a deployment to Sudan. Given that many European powers are providing troops for Lebanon, the US may have to send several thousand of its own. But, given the need to rebuild the US image (although intervening against the Muslim state of Sudan may not help the US with the Arab "street"), the clearly looming disaster, President Bush's interest in the problem, as well as the growing recognition that US inaction in Rwanda was a great black spot on US foreign policy, it doesn't seem impossible to imagine.

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