The madness and uncertainty has gone on far too long already, and done too much irreparable damage. If there isn’t some serious movement by the end of the month, all hell will break loose.
At a meeting last night organised by the Euston Manifesto Group, Hratche Koundarjian of the Aegis Trust warned that if things carry on as they are – both on the ground in Sudan and across the ‘international community’ – then in ten years or so, we’ll be able to watch Hotel Darfur in the cinema. We’ll step, blinking, into the daylight, wondering how such a horror could have happened and vowing: ‘never again’.
The Sudanese government, which has been coordinating the slaughter, starvation and mass eviction of civilians in Darfur since 2003, with a death toll in six figures and millions driven from their homes, has rejected last week’s UN Security Council resolution 1706.
This authorises replacing the painfully limited African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur with a larger UN force that has a more robust mandate, including authorisation to use “all necessary means… in order to support early and effective implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, to prevent attacks and threats against civilians”. The AU mission will expire on 30 September, and so the UN force needs to be moving into place before then. It will no doubt have limited success even if adequately resourced, but without it there will be disaster.
The Darfur Peace Agreement signed in May by the Sudanese government and some of the rebels is imperfect, but encompasses a ceasefire as well as promoting the dialogue and power-sharing necessary as part of a longer-term political settlement.
But now President Omar al-Bashir has refused to accept a UN-mandated force, claiming it would be “part of a comprehensive conspiracy for confiscating the country's sovereignty”. If the UN went in without Sudanese acceptance, chances are there would be carnage; it’s most unlikely that there’s the political stomach for a de facto invasion. But if the AU leaves and the UN can’t or won’t go in, then there’ll be carnage of a different sort, as Bashir’s government, its proxy militias and the least compromising of the rebel groups ramp up their violence.
And, as Kofi Annan says: “The international community has been helping about 3 million people in camps and elsewhere and if we have to leave because of lack of security, lack of access to the people, then what happens?”
Even if powerful, Western countries won’t be supplying troops for political reasons, they will need to provide funding and logistical support; most immediately, they must maximise the diplomatic pressure on Sudan to accept the UN force (perhaps via China, which has huge oil contracts with Bashir and has been notable for its foot-dragging in the Security Council).
The government’s brutality in Darfur is based on the pretext of putting down armed rebel groups, and indeed atrocities are certainly not limited to the one side. But the massive and deliberate targeting of civilians is disproportionate in a way that dwarfs what recently happened in Lebanon. So where the hell are the protests?
On Sunday 17 September, there will be an international Day for Darfur. Demonstrations are being organised across the globe, including at the Sudanese Embassy in London, in support of a stronger peacekeeping force, increased humanitarian aid and implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement. You could do worse things than go along.
In late spring and early summer 1994, the Labour Party was too busy worrying about its leadership to get angry about Rwanda. The government of the day had no such excuse; it just had the knowledge that there was no public or media interest.
Now a terrible choice approaches. Hotel Darfur: salt or sweet popcorn?