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Darfur: What Next?

Keynote Address by Gareth Evans to International Crisis Group/Save Darfur Coalition/European Policy Centre Conference, Towards a Comprehensive Settlement for Darfur, Brussels, 22 January 2007

The suffering of the people of Darfur goes on and on. This is not ‘a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing’ - as latter-day Chamberlains might want to characterize it – but a man-made disaster of catastrophic dimensions of which the international community knows all too much, yet a solution for which it continues to do desperately little to provide.

We know that since early 2003, when the Government of Sudan began its ugly counter-insurgency campaign against the newly active rebel groups in Darfur, more than 200,000 have died violently or from war-caused disease and starvation, more than two million remain displaced and homeless with another two million dependent on international assistance, and untold numbers of women have been raped, and adults and children grievously injured. The government-supported janjaweed militias, responsible for most of the atrocity crimes, have been neither disarmed nor controlled.

And the overall situation is now again getting worse: clashes between government and rebel groups are escalating, one million of those in need are now out of reach of the humanitarian agencies, and the violence and misery has already crossed the border into Chad and threatens to engulf Central African Republic as well. Just last week, on January 17, the UN Country Team in Sudan warned that relief operations in Darfur, on which more than two million people are currently relying to survive, are in danger of total collapse due growing insecurity in the region.

The situation cries out, as it has from the beginning, for intense international engagement – not least from the EU and its key member states - to help reach a solution. This is a case, unquestionably, for the application of the responsibility to protect principle, embraced unanimously by the world’s heads of state and government at the 2005 World Summit of the UN, and subsequently by the Security Council. The essence of the ‘R2P’ principle is that state sovereignty is not a license to kill, and that if a state – through ill-will or incapacity – fails to protect its own people from the threat, or reality, of mass slaughter, ethnic cleansing or other atrocity crimes, then that responsibility shifts to the wider international community.

It has unquestionably been the case that the governing regime in Khartoum has abdicated its responsibility – not in this case through incapacity but through ill-will – to protect its own people, and has by its behaviour in this respect placed itself outside the community of decent nations. In this context it seems inconceivable that Sudan’s continuing aspiration to take over the chairmanship of the African Union should be taken seriously by anyone. This is an issue coming up again at the AU Summit to be held later this week,: it is to be very much hoped that the continent’s leaders find a way of avoiding what would be a deeply damaging blow to the organisation’s international credibility.

But what does the international responsibility to protect a people at risk from its own government mean in practice? Here as elsewhere, everything depends on the circumstances. R2P is a responsibility that extends to prevention before the worst has happened; reaction when prevention has failed and the worst is happening; and rebuilding – after the worst is over, to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. ‘Reaction’ doesn’t have to mean all-guns-blazing coercive military intervention, although there will be circumstances - most obviously in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1995, and (most would also agree) Kosovo in 1999 – when anything less than that would be hopelessly inadequate. There are situations where a full-scale ground invasion, even if the will and resources for it could be found, would actually do more harm than good - and this may be the case in Sudan, given the probability that it would lead both to the immediate collapse of life-saving relief operations in Darfur, and of the whole laboriously constructed but very fragile north-south peace process.

But that still leaves a great deal of scope here for the R2P principle to apply in reaction to what has been happening. To stop the present carnage, and its extension into neighbouring countries, there are political and diplomatic and legal and coercive economic levers to be engaged, and a whole range of military measures: peacekeeping forces that are armed with strong and effective civilian protection mandates and actually carrying them out, and – more coercively, but still falling short of outright ground invasion - the enforcement of no fly zones. And to secure any kind of sustainable peace, there has to be not only a more credible and comprehensive peace agreement negotiated by all the relevant players - with strong international engagement and support – but a far-reaching and effective post-conflict reconciliation process set in train.

These are exactly the themes that this high-level gathering has come together today to discuss. We will be debating what is needed to achieve:

  • a secure environment and a return to law and order that allows the displaced to return to their homes;
  • a sustainable political agreement that is embraced by all armed groups and that deals with the root causes of the conflict; and
  • a process for reconciliation and accountability that allows the people of Darfur to live at peace once again.

These three large questions form the structure of today’s conference, and it is our hope that we can brainstorm our way to some sharp-edged answers that will translate at last into effective international action.

We have to frankly acknowledge that, for all the efforts over the last three years or more of many of those gathered here today, the international community has failed to act decisively and effectively since the Darfur crisis began. There has been much talk - both at the level of high-blown rhetoric (of which we have had too much), and hard, slogging, hands-on negotiation (of which we have had rather too little) - but almost no effective action to show for it, both at the political settlement and physical civilian protection levels.

The situation cries out, as it has from the beginning, for intense international engagement to help achieve a fully observed ceasefire, a sustainable political settlement, and, above all, to provide effective civilian protection, immediately and through the long transition back to normality.

From time to time all these objectives have seemed within reach. A Ceasefire Agreement brokered by the African Union was signed in April 2004, and the Security Council demanded in July 2004 that the Government of Sudan disarm the Janjaweed militias and bring to justice their leaders. But ever since the ceasefire has been systematically violated, and the Security Council directive ignored.

In May last year, under immense pressure from the U.S. and others, a Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was negotiated and signed by the government and one key rebel group. But it has since become clear that the gambit of pressuring Minni Minawi to sign has comprehensively failed. The agreement left unresolved critical local grievances (especially as to compensation and power sharing), won no effective local support, and has been followed by an intensification rather than a cessation of the fighting. And local and international efforts to bring the splintering rebel groups together into some kind of united negotiating front have so far borne zero fruit.

The failed DPA has left a political vacuum that still has yet to be filled. And so long as it remains unfilled there seems little point in pursuing the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation (DDD-C) provided for under the DPA. Crisis Group’s view (though some others think differently on this) is that the political agreement and reconciliation processes are a natural continuum, with the latter premised on genuine support for the former: looked at this way, pushing forward with the DDD-C in the current environment, as the NCP wants to do, will not only not succeed but tend to poison the credibility of the whole process.

Effective civilian protection is another crucial objective which looked achievable for a time. After the African Union’s 7000-strong African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) force was first deployed in August 2004, at least in and around the displaced persons camps a significant measure of security was provided, and a huge humanitarian relief operation (now involving some 14,000 personnel) was able to be mounted. But the shortcomings of the AMIS mission - in terms of troop numbers, mandate, command and control, logistic support and general capacity to sustain the protective effort month in and month out - had became increasingly obvious by late 2005.

As a result, efforts have been directed for the last thirteen months efforts at getting the AU force replaced, or at least supplemented, by a new UN force which would bring the numbers on the ground up to at least 20,000: not very many for a region the size of France, but with the right professionalism, equipment and mobility maybe just enough.

Those efforts have, however, been constantly frustrated by President Bashir and his government allies. He has refused point blank to comply with UN Security Council resolution 1706 of August 2006 which ‘invites the consent’ of the Government of Sudan to the deployment to Darfur of 20,600 military and civilian personnel as an extension of the existing UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), established to monitor the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which brought to an end the disastrous 20 year North-South conflict.

Under pressure to compromise from the African Union and Arab League among others, the UN agreed in Addis Ababa on 16 November to abandon the UNMIS extension proposal in favour of a ‘hybrid’ AU-UN force – built up over three phases, ‘of a predominantly African character’, with ‘backstopping and command and control structures provided by the UN’, and an ultimate force strength of 17,000 peacekeepers and 3,000 police. But President Bashir and his government continue duck and weave on what new international protective force, if any, they will accept. He sent a letter to Kofi Annan on 23 December 2006 accepting the ‘hybrid’ force, along with whatever force parameters were decided upon by the UN and AU. Yet since that time the President and senior government officials have continued to publicly refuse any significant UN involvement in Darfur, once again directly contradicting Bashir’s earlier commitment.

It has been clear for a long time that President Bashir is simply toying with the international community. All attempts to persuade and engage him have manifestly failed. Governor Bill Richardson’s claimed some success in Sudan earlier this month (in a visit sponsored by our co-host today, the Save Darfur Coalition) in getting President Bashir to agree to a 60-days ceasefire to enable preparations for a political settlement to advance, and also to some other concessions on humanitarian aid and media access. But this new ceasefire commitment seems to be already going the way of those of the past, with no noticeable change on the ground and attacks continuing, including a reported lethal government bombing raid in North Darfur two days ago, on 20 January. It seems unlikely that ad hoc diplomatic or individual initiatives of this kind will ever bear much fruit. .

What we do know is that the international community has not been good at matching persuasion with hard pressure. Persuasion without such pressure is only rarely successful, and it’s time for the screws to be really tightened on Khartoum.

Over and again, when it has come to reining in the Janjaweed or ceasing aerial assaults or cooperating with international protective efforts, the Security Council has until now said ‘do this or else’ - and then not delivered on the ‘or else’. The US government spoke of a 1 January 2007 deadline for Khartoum’s acceptance of the hybrid force, which Bashir’s 23 December letter arguably accommodates. But the continued public denials, and continued government attacks and aerial bombing raids in Darfur throughout the month of January paint a very different picture. It is now crystal clear that the threshold for more robust measures against the government has been passed.

In addition to the International Criminal Court continuing to pursue and extend its investigations, and threatening robust action against any future atrocity crimes, there are a range of strong economic measures which, if implemented or even credibly threatened, could fundamentally change the cost-benefit calculation of the National Congress Party leadership in favor of cooperation. For the most part they have been flagged already, at least in general terms, by earlier Security Council resolutions. They include:

  • extension of targeted sanctions (involving primarily travel bans and asset freezes) on all the individuals named in the UN’s own Commission of Inquiry and Panel of Experts reports;
  • measures specifically targeting revenue flows from the petroleum sector, and foreign investment in and supply of goods and services to that and associated sectors; and
  • authorization by the Security Council of an investigation of the offshore accounts of government majority party-affiliated businesses, to pave the way for sanctions against the regime’s commercial entities, the main conduit for financing militias.

Thus far the Security Council has been largely unwilling to implement these steps. Not surprisingly, the governing NCP regime’s behavior in Darfur remains the same, based on its belief that it can continue to get away with murder without consequences from the international community. EU countries in the Security Council (the UK and France, with Belgium and Italy as the current non-permanent members) must take the lead, together with the U.S. (which has been talking for some time now – darkly but not very specifically its ‘Plan B’ if Khartoum remained resistant) to push for the implementation of these kinds of measures, particularly the targeted sanctions that have already been recommended by the UN appointed bodies.

The EU can certainly do much on its own, or in partnership with other willing countries, to hold the Government of Sudan accountable through targeted punitive measures. If tough new measures are to be applied against Khartoum, it is critically important that they be as broad-based as possible. Here, the EU can lead effectively in reversing the international apathy. The EU must move beyond its pattern of public condemnation for active government recruitment and support of armed militias, continuing bombing campaign, and double-talk on the deployment of a hybrid force, to more meaningful steps.

EU Foreign Ministers should set out a clear and detailed set of public benchmarks for the Sudanese government to comply with, including:

  • full Sudanese cooperation with all aspects of the deployment of the hybrid force;
  • immediate cessation of its military offensive in Darfur;
  • immediate cessation of aerial bombardment;
  • the lifting of bureaucratic obstacles to humanitarian relief and the AU; and
  • steps showing re-engagement in good faith in a revamped peace process.

Failure to achieve these benchmarks should trigger EU wide travel bans against NCP leaders; bans on European companies operating in or facilitating operations in Sudan’s oil sector; and a freeze on any NCP controlled assets or NCP owned companies operating within the EU.

Military measures remain far more problematic. As I have already indicated, there is a real difficulty with any more robust application of non-consensual military force – a full ground-based ‘humanitarian intervention’ of the kind that some have been calling for - although that is not to say that contingency planning should not take place (and be seen to be taking place) for such an eventuality. There are five prudential criteria, or criteria of legitimacy, that should always be satisfied before any military force is applied against a country’s will: the seriousness of the harm being responded to, right intention, last resort (with lesser measures manifestly inadequate to redress the harm), proportionality of response, and balance of consequences. In the case of Darfur, the last of these – the need to be absolutely sure that the application of military force will not do more harm than good, is the hardest to satisfy. On all available evidence, a ground invasion would not only be a nightmare to effectively implement, but would lead to the collapse of the extremely fragile north-south CPA, and make impossible the work of the humanitarian agencies in Darfur, in both cases with devastating human consequences.

All that said, there is one coercive military measure for which the EU and others should be pushing hard, one falling well short of full-scale ground invasion, and as such not quite so problematic, though clearly much more intrusive than the extended peacekeeping force – AU, UN or hybrid – that has been the focus of the debate so far. And that is for the Security Council to back its 2005 demand that the Sudanese government cease ‘offensive military flights’ over Darfur with the immediate establishment of a No Fly Zone if aerial attacks on civilians again intensify.

As I and a number of former foreign ministerial colleagues from around the world – including Madeleine Albright and Joschka Fischer – said in a statement published in the Financial Times on 18 December, the 'Darfur conflict is more complex than often characterized. It does not simply reflect, but rather cuts across tribal, Arab v.African ethnic, and farmer v.herder stereotypes. It is coloured by local grievances and aggravated by greed, which takes the form of banditry and competition for scarce resources.'

But we were very clear about the bottom line: ‘The primary cause of the ongoing crisis, however, remains the callousness of the governing elite, intent on preserving its own privileges and indifferent to its population.’

The suffering and misery of the people of Darfur have gone on too long. The excuses of Khartoum and those who would support it have long since exhausted credibility. It is time for Sudan to rejoin the community of nations respected for their commitment to the highest standard and values, and for the international community, once and for all and without further excuses of its own – and with the EU and its key member states playing a leading role - to act decisively and effectively to persuade it to do so.