This is not a sophisticated geopolitical analysis, but in the four years I have been campaigning against the genocide in Darfur, I have realised that the rules of the schoolyard apply to international relations. Unless nations come together to call the bullies’ bluff, the thugs will continue to divide and rule, to terrorize, and to make the rest of us look like irresolute fools.
In Darfur, the ‘international community’ allows the Sudanese junta to run rings around it. Time and again the West’s diplomats refuse to acknowledge the true nature of the Khartoum regime, patronisingly assuming we can ‘manage’ them.
It has been five years since the systematic destruction and ethnic cleansing of Darfur’s black African tribes began. The mainly Arab military junta ruling Sudan has destroyed ninety per cent of the mostly black Africa villages in Darfur, aided by their proxies, the Janjaweed militias.
An estimated 200,000 to 450,000 civilians have died as a consequence, and four million people have been affected by the ongoing genocide.
The United Nations Security Council has expressed concern, but very few of its resolutions have been enforced. When nations refuse to stand together in the face of Sudan’s violations on international law, they signal to the Khartoum dictatorship their lack of serious intent.
The same ruthless, oppressive, extremist and totalitarian Sudanese regime used similar tactics to kill an estimated two million black Africans in southern Sudan over the last two decades. Again, the lack of political will to confront Khartoum assured the junta that they could kill with impunity.
Consequently two million people are in refugee camps where they have no security, and a quarter of a million have fled to neighbouring Chad, pursued by the Sudanese and their proxies. The brave work of humanitarian agencies is hindered by rebels and militia who steal supplies, kidnap, kill and terrorize.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese regime has played the world’s diplomats and politicians for fools. For instance, in 2007 the International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted a top Khartoum official, Amhed Haroum, on twenty-two counts of crimes against humanity. Sudan promptly appointed Haroum as Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs. Shortly after, Sudanese officials met UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, fully expecting him to object. They were, reportedly, astonished when he did not even comment.
In February this year, Khartoum finally signed a watered-down agreement allowing a hybrid African Union-UN peacekeeping force into Darfur. Within three days, Sudanese officials were rewarded with a top level trip to Washington for ‘discussions of mutual benefit.” At the same time, their armed forces unleashed a ferocious and sustained attack in west Darfur, killing hundreds and displacing thousands.
Rather than calling for talks to be suspended, Lord Malloch Brown, the Foreign Office minister, urged more “constructive engagement” with Sudan. Ignoring a UN resolution authorising a no-fly zone over Darfur, Gordon Brown insisted it would be impractical, despite its proven success in Kurdish Iraq since 1991. At just the time when Khartoum should be scrambling for diplomatic cover, it senses our lack of backbone, and is pushing aggressively to be dropped from the US State Department’s list of sponsors of terror.
In the latest Orwellian twist, when the Sudanese shot dead a French peacekeeper on March 3rd, the European Union apologised to Sudan for accidentally crossing their border.
Meanwhile, the people I have met in refugee camps in Darfur live each day filled with terror, incredulous that when we say ‘never again’ about genocide, we don’t actually mean it.
The most pitiful aspect of our appeasement is that whenever we speak with one voice, the Sudanese give in immediately. When will our diplomats learn from the simple rules of the schoolyard?
Becky Tinsley is director of Waging Peace