Sudan’s Strife

If it has learned from Rwanda, the West should act to stop mass killings in Sudan.


The Arab-Muslim-dominated government of Sudanese
President Omar al-Beshir is expected to sign a peace deal today
with the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which
has demanded independence for the southern regions populated
by black animists and Christians. The 21-year conflict has cost more than 2 million lives. But just as the “southern deal” comes within reach, al-Beshir is being condemned by the international community for sponsoring the ethnic cleansing of black — in this case, Muslim — communities in a separate conflict in the western region of Darfur.

Human rights groups and the U.S. government
estimate that
750,000 people
have been internally displaced, 110,000
have fled to neighboring Chad, and up to 10,000 have been killed.

The ethnic cleansing has been a response to a year long
uprising by two black rebel groups: the Sudan Liberation
Movement/Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement
(JEM). They accuse the government of neglecting the
region

in favor of Arab-dominated ones. Last week, a 45-day
cease-fire was reached, providing for prison exchange
and unfettered access to the region by humanitarian workers, who have been continually obstructed by the government.

An
April report by

Human Rights Watch paints an appalling picture: entire
communities slaughtered; bodies dumped in wells to
contaminate water supplies; women
and girls raped; mass looting. Human Rights Watch has
pinned the blame on the government, saying it has
trained, armed, and financed nomadic Arab militias known as the “janjaweed.” The raids by the janjaweed are often preceded by aerial bombings, presumably by government forces.

The Human Rights Watch report came out on April 2, just days
before the 10-year anniversary commemorations of the
Rwandan Genocide. The U.N. and Western powers — no doubt
concerned that Sudan could become another
Rwanda if the international community again does nothing
to exert pressure on the perpetrators — sharply criticized the
Sudanese government. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan drew
the parallel between Rwanda and Sudan, saying that reports out of Sudan “leave me with a deep sense of foreboding,” and that “the international community must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action” if the Sudanese government continues to obstruct aid efforts in Darfur. Annan clarified
that the U.N. may go as far as military intervention in Sudan if diplomatic efforts fail.

The E.U.’s top military official Gustav Hägglund, in an interview with the
Financial Times (subscription), said that:

“Sudan is on the list of the U.N. [for some
form of peacekeeping mission]…There is no reason why the E.U.
could not go to, for instance, Sudan. I see it to be very
possible…”

Last year, the E.U. deployed a military mission to Congo; it
was the organization’s first mission outside of Europe. In
the future, rapid deployment of 1,500 person

“battle groups” may become more widespread in E.U.
peacekeeping operations — the scope of which is a matter of
debate within the E.U. The U.S. State Department has so far
only offered
“logistical support” to the African Union.

President Bush, in a statement, said:

“I condemn these atrocities, which are
displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians, and I have
expressed my views directly to President [Omar al] Bashir of
Sudan…”

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan
Egeland has called the events in Darfur “ethnic cleansing”
(as did Annan) and will head a U.N. mission to Darfur on April
18-21. The UN says it needs

$115 million in humanitarian aid for Darfur and $30 million to aid the refugees stranded in Chad.

Human rights
groups have cautiously welcomed the 45-day ceasefire but
are skeptical of the government’s commitment to its terms.
Roger Winter of the U.S. Agency for International
Development estimates that

100,000 people will die in the coming months because of
malnutrition and disease, even if all fighting ceases. The
ethnic groups driven out — the

Fur, Masaalit, and Zaghawa — had their
lands destroyed and their water supplies contaminated. Even
those who fled to Chad are not safe from attacks by the
janjaweed, who have raided the refugee camps. The attacks threaten
the “spillover” of the ethnic violence into Chad, which is
home to populations from all the ethnic groups to which the Sudanese refugees and their attackers belong. Human rights groups also note
that the international community must not allow the
government to make permanent the displacement of the refugees. As

Human Rights Watch said in a statement:

“Human Rights Watch is concerned that the
Sudanese government has entered into the ceasefire only
because it has largely completed the forced displacement of
the targeted ethnic groups from rural areas. It is feared
that the government will manipulate humanitarian aid so that
displaced people are forced to stay in the
government-sponsored camps and be prevented from returning
home to farm their lands. Some reports indicate that rival
ethnic groups of Arab extraction are settling the villages
and lands from which African residents were violently
evicted.

Human Rights Watch confirmed that government
janjaweed militias continue to control much of the rural
area, imposing checkpoints and demands for payment on
civilians or refusing them passage to their villages. They
also block the paths of civilians trying to flee to Chad as
refugees for safety.”

The U.S. has leverage over the Sudanese government. Under the Sudan Peace Act, which Bush signed in October 2002, the president has the authority to impose sanctions against Khartoum and boost U.S. aid to the rebels should the government be found not negotiating in good faith.The
“southern deal” is expected to be reached before April 21st, by which date the U.S. will decide whether or
not the parties have been negotiating in good faith and if
sanctions on Sudan are warranted. The
rebels have dropped their demand that Sharia law not be
applied to non-Muslims in the capital, Khartoum. There will be a six-year period of
autonomy before a referendum on independence.

The U.S. should use its leverage as a broker in the southern
talks, to force the Sudanese government to account for its
abuses in Darfur. Unlike Rwanda, Sudan and Chad have oil,
surely another reason — besides shame over the inaction in
Rwanda — for the West’s alarm over the atrocities in
Darfur. Whatever the reason, the international community’s
concern must now be backed up with continued pressure on
Sudan and the delivery of humanitarian aid. As New York
Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof puts it:

“I’m not suggesting an invasion of Sudan.
But it’s a fallacy to think that just because we can’t do
everything to stop genocide, we shouldn’t do anything. One
of the lessons of the last week is how little it took — from
Washington, the U.N. and the African Union — to nudge Sudan
into accepting a cease-fire and pledging access for
humanitarian workers.”

If the West has truly learned the lessons of
Rwanda and is sincere in its pledges of “never again,” it will act to
prevent further atrocities in Sudan. If it does not,
Sudan will become another shameful monument to Western inaction.