Darfur: Don’t Do Anything – Stop and Think for a Moment
At a moment like this, in which the ICC and the P3 have massively increased their threat against the Government of Sudan, which has retaliated in a manner that causes a new crisis, it is tempting for the UN and western governments to escalate further. Certainly, lives are in the balance. But the reflex to further intensify the threat is perilous. The logical next international counter-move is military, on the logic that bigger the threat to the Sudan Government, the nicer it will be to western governments, aid agencies, and Darfurian IDPs. Western governments are on the brink of becoming parties to the Sudanese conflict.
The response of the blog “˜Wronging Rights‘ to the arrest warrant had it about right, “@)*&U#*()$&!!!!! Are you KIDDING ME?????) @*($)%&)%>>>>>>&*#^%*#&%^>.”
This pretty much sums up international policy too. Such incoherence, tinged with panic and righteous anger, is a terribly bad basis for taking irrevocable steps. Under other circumstances, the UN Secretary General and the Security Council would step in to calm things down and offer a face-saving formula for both sides. But there’s no obvious way to de-escalate this conflict–imagine the columnists’ response to the SG if he were brave enough to try (‘coward’ and ‘appeaser’ would probably be the first adjectives used).
How to get emergency assistance to Darfurians? Threatening President Bashir with being investigated for a ‘war crime’ of expelling agencies doesn’t seem persuasive. The idea of a Kurdish-style ‘safe haven’ stretches the limits of practicality and the military enforcement needed would be an act of war. Access needs to be negotiated with the powers-that-be, on the basis of that age-old principle of neutrality between conflicting parties.
Sometimes there isn’t an immediate solution, especially to a crisis that is partly self-inflicted. It’s time to think for a moment.
It is sobering to discover that there is more wisdom in the satirical website “Wronging Rights” than in the solemn deliberations of the UN Security Council, not to mention the publications of the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and the assembled commentariat. As Tom Lehrer remarked when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, reality has gone beyond parody.
If the Security Council considers deferring the ICC warrant, it must come with a clear price. All aid agencies must immediately be readmitted, the UN/AU peacekeeping force must be brought up to full strength without any restrictions on where the troops come from or on their operations. Guarantees that the national elections and the Southern referendum will proceed smoothly and fairly must be in place. If Khartoum commits to all of these, then the warrant can be deferred. But if they drag their feet, they must face consequences. If military force has to be used to protect Darfurians from attack or starvation, so be it.
Deferring the ICC warrant at all costs is exactly what the government is trying to achieve by all means. Doing that, the international community will be just playing into the hands of the regime and into its game. The regime will accept all conditions, but as experience has shown us, it is capable of coming up with all imaginable and non-imaginable reasons and scenarios to hinder the delivery of any commitments to the international community. The history of the regime in Sudan is that of continuously dishonored agreements.
As a Sudanese, I am sad to see the international community being trapped into guaranteeing Beshir another year to continue atrocities and to block the achievement of a real peace in Sudan. Whatever arrangements are made, the next elections will show us Bashir in power again, this is what the history of dictatorships in Africa and elsewhere is telling us. They have all the resources in their hands to shape the outcome of the elections in their favor.
And again, people in South Sudan did not, and those in Darfur will not die because of lack of humanitarian support or by reasons of some expelled INGOs. Hunger is a result of lack of peace and stability rather than a product of shortage of humanitarian aid. Using an argument of potential hunger in Darfur to justify the use of military force in Sudan, in my opinion is another blunder and will only bring more controversy than peace and stability to Sudan.
I am afraid that the possibilities of a negotiated compromise are, under the current circumstances, remote at best. The Sudan Government has taken the ICC arrest warrant as a declaration of war, and would consider any concession at this stage merely handing assets to a declared enemy. The old rules no longer apply. The ICC is indeed a game changer: if the aim was to isolate the regime in Khartoum, it has succeeded to the extent that the international community no longer has any leverage through using established instruments.
If we see the confrontation between the ICC and the Sudan Government as a zero sum game we will always remain trapped in the logic of retaliation and escalation, and the people of Darfur, and Sudan as a whole, will be the loser forever. I will write more on this soon.
I don’t agree with some of the statements your final paragraph. As the correspondence on Julie Flint’s article points out, one of the huge differences between South Sudan and Darfur is that Operation Lifeline Sudan never reached more than a tiny fraction of the war-affected population, while the humanitarian effort in Darfur was, until last Wednesday, extraordinarily effective in reducing human suffering. But it is of course true that the basic reason for hunger is the violence and displacement.
Actually, I am against playing into any game with the government. My view is that the arrest and trial process should be allowed to go on without any compromise. I think it would rather be a gross mistake from the international community to try to retaliate by calling the expulsion of the aid agencies a “war crime” or trying to pose threat of military intervention. Such acts will only enforce the position of the government and make a “national hero” of Bashir. The regime is quite ingenious and can always use arguments of sovereignty and state national security to justify and actions against aid agencies.
We have all seen Bashir dancing and using “street language” with pride to insult the ICC and the international community to mobilize popular support. Now he is threatening not only with the expulsion of more aid agencies, but also by taking similar actions against any diplomatic mission or UN bodies if they found to pose threats on sovereignty and national security. More over, at 3:00 am this morning, Bashir released Trubai which is also sending a very clear signal of what the regime is capable of doing.
I am quite aware of the difference between the negotiated access operation lifeline in South Sudan and the current situation in Darfur. Causes of significant deaths in both cases are results of lack of peace and stability, insecurity, and population movements in addition to some natural shocks. Hypothetically, under peace and stability and profound state development plans, neither Darfur nor South Sudan would require the presence of hundreds of International Humanitarian NGOs. To me this imply that the focus should be on identifying the route for bringing peace and stability rather than crying and making unnecessary compromises because of the expulsion of few aid agencies. Again, I still maintain the believe that it is quite possible for the existing INGOs and local NGOs in Darfur to fill the current gab provided that the international community scales up the support for them rather than insist on healing its wounded pride. I have visited Darfur and in each of the IDPs camps I was able to see tens of INGOs competing to provide the same sectoral services. Effective coordination, scale up of support and use of efficient cluster systems, could lead to smooth delivery of the services to all the IDPs. I just think that there is a lot of exaggeration and political agenda in the recent claims that one million people in Darfur will not have access to the basic services because of the expulsion of these aid agencies. And again, once we bring peace, all expelled agencies could come back to operate in the region, but we need to put first things first.
I am also a Sudanese living in Khartoum now, and I sympathize with Ahmed Hassan views. I hope Security people don’t read this. But the fact is when the ICC started to investigate this government, a boom that had started here in 1999, had ceased. The results now we have 40 million Sudanese lives are placed in serious danger instead of only 2 million; economically and even may be direct threat to their lives. Is that what the international community wants?
Bashir and his government will not leave through an ICC â€œhopefulâ€ scenario except by taking millions of life with them. They have entrenched themselves in the last 20 years. The only way is through little gains by opposition groups in another 20 years to change this government.
I think little gains through democracy and negotiation is better than confrontation with this government by either the local opposition groups or the International community.
I’m a week late on this post, and I know you’ve moved on, but I think it’s asinine to assert that the “international community no longer has any leverage through using established instruments.” So, the whole of international realpolitik has been trumped by a statement from The Hague? The Court is not so powerful, and the warrants (which your long opposition may lead you to overestimate) not so talismanic. I agree with you that ratcheting up the situation is not a great idea, but I disagree with your belief that there is only one counter-move, and that it’s military. Let’s just hope the diplomats are a little more creative than you assume them to be!