Darfur: Is the war over or is the world losing interest?
It’s more than six years since mostly non-Arab rebels in Sudan’s western Darfur region revolted after accusing Khartoum of neglecting their remote corner of Africa’s biggest country. Khartoum’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, declared in New York this week that the “war in Darfur is over.”
But Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, disagrees. Although levels of violence in Darfur have fallen, he told the Security Council that crimes “are continuing.” He said those crimes include indiscriminate bombings of civilians, creation of inhumane conditions for displaced people in order to “exterminate” them, rapes and sexual violence, and the use of child soldiers.
The ICC has already issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, another government official and a former Janjaweed militia leader for war crimes in a government-led counter-insurgency campaign that drove more than 2 million from their homes. The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have died since the conflict erupted in 2003, but Khartoum rejects that figure.
The ICC has also charged three rebels in connection with an attack on African Union peacekeepers in 2007. One rebel showed up in The Hague to defend himself but Bashir and the others remain at large. Western diplomats say Bashir’s arrest is not a top priority now since it could destroy the stalled Darfur peace process. Khartoum refuses to cooperate with the ICC and its chief prosecutor, whom Abdalhaleem branded a “mercenary of death and destruction.” (Moreno-Ocampo countered by declaring that Sudanese officials who deny that crimes were committed in Darfur could themselves face prosecution.)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his latest report to the Security Council that U.N./African Union peacekeepers in Darfur were being harassed and threatened by Sudanese government forces and rebels. (As if to illustrate the point, two Rwandan peacekeepers were shot dead in an ambush in North Darfur on Friday.) Ban said that civilians in Darfur remain at risk of violence as the Sudanese military continues to clash with rebel groups. The world body has also warned that the population of Darfur may be left out of next year’s nationwide elections, the first in 24 years, due to mass displacement of the population and volatile security.
But Khartoum and the rebels determined to topple Bashir’s government may not be the only problem. The former head of a U.N. panel charged with investigating violations of a 2005 arms embargo for Darfur accused the United States and other members of the Security Council of “selling out” the Darfur sanctions.
“Many member states of the U.N. Security Council that … imposed coercive measures on those responsible for the violence in Darfur now seem unwilling to fight back against those who let the abuses continue,” Enrico Carisch, a Swiss finance expert and former head of the U.N. Panel of Experts on Sudan, said in testimony to the U.S. House of Representative sub-committee on Africa and global health.
“Increasingly, it looks like poorly understood and under-enforced U.N. sanctions are being sold out in favor of mediation whose success is far from ensured,” said Carisch, who stepped down as chairman of the panel in October.
Carisch implied that the record of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration on Darfur was worse its precessor’s. “In contrast to that leadership of 2004 and 2005, the United States appears to have now joined the group of influential states who sit by quietly and do nothing to ensure that sanctions work to protect Darfurians,” Carisch said.
What the United States should be doing, he said, is encouraging China, which has close business ties with Sudan and is the origin of many of the weapons and most of the ammunition used by government and rebel forces in Darfur, to help enforce the arms embargo. (He also accused the United Nations of delaying the Panel of Experts’ access to Sudan and Darfur but a U.N. spokeswoman said that was because peacekeepers couldn’t guarantee the panel members’ security in certain parts of Darfur at a particularly volatile time.)
The U.S. special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force General Scott Gration spoke to the same sub-committee. He defended Obama’s policy of stepping up engagement with Khartoum to seek peace and put an end to the “genocide in Darfur.”
Darfur activists in the community of non-governmental organizations are becoming increasingly critical. John Prendergast, a former U.S. State Department and National Security Council official and co-founder of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group, said the strategy of the U.S. and its allies “to prevent all-out war in Sudan is failing.” Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, spoke of “a big hole at the center of the (Obama) administration’s strategy” since it remains unclear what criteria are being used by the administration to measure Khartoum’s progress in bringing peace to Darfur and the rest of Sudan.
(Posted by Louis Charbonneau)