Sudan: Inaction will now allow meltdown of Darfur
Are we going to wait for a movie about Darfur - and then wish we did something to help? asks John O'Shea. On the third anniversary since conflict first ripped through Sudan's cursed Darfur region, the United Nations has finally acknowledged the need for a robust military UN-led force. But it's a decision taken three years too late, and caused untold suffering.
The UN merry-go-round held discussions, meetings, and more discussions and more meetings, on how the 7,000-strong African Union (AU) Darfur force could possibly protect a region seven times the size of Ireland.
Grossly outnumbered, naive, ill-equipped, underfunded, and outgunned, the AU failed to quell the bloodshed and protect civilians, and now looks an embarrassment.
We've had the ridiculous time-consuming and unproductive scenario of UN frontman Kofi Annan having to beg the US to intervene. And still more time was wasted seeking the views of aid agencies in the region on the way forward, despite their unified stance from day one.
But it seems the UN merry-go-round has finally ground to a halt, forcing the international community to face up to the unpalatable but undeniable fact that they have failed to protect the hapless people of Darfur.
The international community looks on at the meltdown of Darfur as it sinks further into an abyss, spiralling out of control. With 400,000 dead, some 2.4 million displaced people continue to swell the already strained camps, where the Janjaweed and the Sudanese government continue to brutalise, terrorise and kill with impunity.
Darfur needs fixing. Butchery and carnage now characterise the region. Brutalised women are being gang-raped. Society has broken down in the overcrowded and under-resourced hastily-erected refugee camps, run by aid agencies in the zone. Created to provide safe havens for those attacked and driven from their land in the conflict, fear now prevails in many of the camps. Meningitis and cholera outbreaks are routine here, where death characterises life. But the displaced stay on, paralysed by fear.
The plummeting security situation coupled with increasing violence has dramatically hampered aid operations. Aid agencies report that their compounds have been looted and offices ransacked, and parts of the region are awash with landmines. Such is the level of havoc wreaked in the region that several aid agencies, including GOAL, have been forced to "pull the plug" on essential aid operations, putting vast swathes of Darfur off limits to the region's 8,000 aid workers.
It is the most vulnerable who are being left to rot, cut off from essential life-sustaining supplies. With suffering colossal in scale, aid agencies are being forced to observe the unfolding genocide from the sidelines, gagged by diplomacy, and handcuffed and constrained by the UN's inaction. The similarities to Rwanda's genocide over a decade earlier are haunting.
It is time for the international community to stop taking the easy way out. We need to dump the meaningless platitudes and soundbites on Darfur. Stop talking about debt relief. Stop talking about trade. Stop talking about doubling aid. These are all the easy options - shameful in the context of inaction in Darfur.
Protection is the hard option; protection to provide the kind of security for the people of Darfur which is so critical to mitigate conflict, enable humanitarian access and ease human suffering - protection that the African Union has not been able to provide. Without which neither the level of aid the West sinks into the region nor the level of rhetoric spouted on the issue will make a single bit of difference.
Yet there remains an appalling lack of political will on the part of the international community to do the real job in this terror zone.
This criminally negligent inaction is down to one fact: the security council of the UN remains pitifully inadequate, and lacks the courage to stand up to stop the slaughter of entire peoples.
UN envoy Jan Pronk this week called on the council to strengthen the presence of peacekeeping forces in Darfur to preserve the lives of the people, days after the African Union's decision to support a transition to a UN operation. But the ball remains in the court of the council.
It alone must show real moral courage by taking on the Sudanese government, a government that is steadfastly refusing to allow UN troops in Darfur, insisting that a UN presence would see Darfur descend into a bloodbath on a par with Iraq. "Darfur will be a graveyard for any foreign troops venturing to enter," Sudan's president Omar al-Bashi is on the record as saying this month.
There has been increased speculation that Nato would step in to operate the transition between AU and UN peacekeepers, an option supported by Darfur rebels but implacably opposed by Khartoum.
Ultimately, without Sudanese government approval, one of the only ways to send in a UN peacekeeping mission is for the troops to shoot their way in, and few countries are prepared to commit troops to such a treacherous environment.
Faced with this recipe for stalemate, the international community must seek out the lesser of the two evils: do we take on the Sudanese government, rescue the people and honour our obligations under international law to prevent genocide? This option risks the lives of some troops.
Or should we sit on the sidelines and wait for the screening of the movie on Darfur before the international community asks itself where it was when the people of Darfur needed it most?
John O'Shea is chief executive of GOAL
Von: Date: 30 Mar 2006 http://www.reliefweb.int, by John OShea,