What should be done to stop the mass killings in the Darfur region of Sudan? All progressives should be trying to answer this question.
The scale of the mass murder in Darfur boggles the mind. Africa Action, one of the foremost groups in the United States working on issues related to that continent, has compiled numbers on the tragedy. An estimated 400,000 people have died since 2003, when the Sudanese regime started unleashing its Arab militia proxies on the inhabitants of the area as a way of putting down a local rebellion. More than 2 million people have been made refugees either within their own country or have had to flee to neighboring Chad.
“As many as 6,000 people are dying each month in Darfur,” Africa Action’s website says. “Unless there is an urgent multinational intervention to protect the people of Darfur, the death toll will continue to rise dramatically in 2006.”
Now the conflict threatens to spill over into neighboring nations, affecting a whole swath of North-Central Africa. The Sudanese regime has sponsored rebels to overthrow Chad’s government, apparently in retaliation for Chad giving refuge to hundreds of thousands of Darfurians. And the Central African Republic has closed its border with Sudan, alleging that these rebels used its territory in transit on the way to Chad. A broadening of the conflict would add to the already horrific death toll.
The culpability of the Sudanese government in arming, training, and organizing the militias carrying out the carnage in Darfur has been well documented by various reporters, including The Progressive’s Benjamin Joffe-Walt in the December 2004 issue. Though the roots of the conflict are complex, at the heart is a battle over Sudan’s resources, and the Arab-dominated ruling clique’s determination to ride roughshod over the country’s other ethnic groups. (The mass murder is not motivated by fundamentalist Islam, since the Darfurians are Muslim, too, though it’s not clear if the regime regards them as such.)
An enormous outpouring of international opprobrium seems to have had almost no effect on the Sudanese regime. The government has been condemned at global forums. Colin Powell and Kofi Annan have made visits to the refugee camps. Threats of sanctions have been repeatedly made. But the government just eases things for a while and then starts right up again. Concrete measures are needed to stop the regime from repeatedly engaging in this on-again off-again travesty.
So what can be done?
Currently, there is an ineffectual African Union peacekeeping group in the region. There have been efforts to replace this with a more robust U.N. force. Unfortunately, France, China, and Russia have been foot-dragging as a way to curry favor with the group ruling oil-rich Sudan. The Bush Administration needs to make a serious effort to get the troops on the ground. After all, it has been more than a year since it labeled the situation over there as “genocide.” (The Bush Administration has also been soliciting cooperation with the Sudanese regime in the “war on terror,” and invited its intelligence chief, Salah Abdallah Ghosh, to Washington last year. This has been extremely unhelpful.)
If an effective U.N. contingent is not on the ground soon, the occasion may come for NATO intervention.
“NATO deployment would immediately begin to improve security in Darfur and save lives,” writes Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College who has provided Congressional testimony on the subject and has written about the topic in numerous publications ranging from The Washington Post to In These Times. “For example, while the impracticability of a ‘no-fly zone’ over Darfur has heretofore been all too conspicuous, the introduction of NATO forces on the ground would quickly and significantly change military realities. Such forces in Darfur would certainly have excellent intelligence, transport, and communications capacity—and the aerial military resources, including tactical aircraft, that would see a rapid grounding of Khartoum’s helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers.”
In his typical disingenuous way, President Bush in February indicated a possible role for NATO, while declining to give specifics. He needs to stop this two-facedness.
I can anticipate objections to my support for NATO intervention. But if Security Council members impede the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers, what else can be done to stop the slaughter? I am a big admirer of Gandhian nonviolence and of peaceful resolution to conflicts, but in this particular situation, reality has shown over the past three years that such approaches will get us nowhere in saving innocent lives.
Another way to deter the Sudanese regime is to try to bring those responsible to justice. There was a fascinating cover story in the New York Times Magazine earlier this month on the attempts of the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to do this, and how even his preliminary efforts are striking fear in Sudanese government officials. Disgracefully, the Bush Administration has been trying to undermine the ICC since it came into office, and is completely confused as to whether to lend a hand to Moreno-Ocampo. It must stop this ambivalence.
There are no easy ways to stop the butchery in Darfur. But unless something is done fast, we run the risk of losing many, many more lives.
“‘Now, we see an increase in mortality; we see an increase in war deaths; we see an increase in displacement again,” Jan Egeland, the top U.N. humanitarian official, said a few days ago. “I think it is again becoming, perhaps, the worst crisis in the world, because I know of few other places where we have lost access to so many people and where we have had so large displacements of late.”
The time for procrastination is over.