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Seven deadly trends in Darfur
It is still happening. Nearly a year after all the usual alarms were sounded heralding the inferno engulfing Darfur, the fire is still raging. Last week, the day after we left Darfur, the killer Janjaweed militias, supported by the Sudanese government, launched an attack on a nearby village, reportedly killing more than 100 people.
Attacks like this are just the tip of the Darfurian volcano. Despite all the noise made by the United Nations Security Council and the Bush administration, and despite the recently signed deal between the Khartoum regime and south-based rebels, the trend lines for Darfur are getting uglier. The international response remains confused, inadequate, timid and criminally negligent.
The story of the massive ethnic-cleansing campaign orchestrated by the Sudanese government has been well-documented. But the current mop-up operation is less well understood. The regime is calibrating its tools of death and destruction to the level and sophistication of international concern. There are seven deadly trends at play.
First, the ceasefire is in tatters. Violations are routine and occur without any consequence. The fighting has spread eastward toward the oil facilities, thus raising the stakes and provoking even more draconian responses from the regime.
Second, rape and pillage are on the increase since September, reflecting the steady deterioration of security in Darfur. This was always part of the regime’s plan, as it stoked smoldering inter-communal tensions and deliberately abdicated the state’s monopoly of violence in favor of semi-autonomous militias, which enforced the regime’s will but which maintained a degree of separation that appears to have fooled much of the international community.
Third, the regime has again turned to the Janjaweed to do its dirty work. Militia attacks are on the rise again. Refugees told us that the attacks are usually reinforced by aerial bombing by the regime’s air force and provided ground support by its army. As yet, not one Janjaweed has been disarmed and not one has been arrested for the atrocities that have been committed.
Fourth, the government has embarked for the last few months on a massive arms build-up, even initiating a limited offensive launched on the first day of the last round of peace talks with the rebels, demonstrating the breathtaking disregard the regime has for the “pressure” the Security Council has generated thus far. This weapons-buying spree is facilitated by the fact that the Security Council has yet to embargo arms sales to the regime.
Fifth, and also part of the regime’s brutal master plan, humanitarian access is again being restricted. Killing and abducting aid workers have replaced bureaucratic restrictions as the regime’s tools of choice, and they are much more effective at disrupting life-saving aid than red tape ever was.
Sixth, the rebel groups are fragmenting, with repercussions in the form of increased cease-fire violations, human rights abuses and inability to deliver at the peace table. And seventh, the peace talks themselves are rudderless, marked by a lack of commitment by the parties and a lack of leverage by the mediators.
This catalogue of unchecked death and destruction must be confronted much more effectively by the international community. Two priorities must become focal points for action: accountability and protection.
In the two years since the atrocities began, the U.N. Security Council has not imposed one punitive measure on the regime that orchestrated the killings. Since hortatory appeals and constructive engagement have not restrained regime excess, it is now time to set aside the carrots and bring out the sticks. Available sticks are small but effective. A travel ban on senior officials, an arms embargo on the government, and an asset freeze against ruling party businesses would pressure the regime to stop butchering its own people and start arresting Janjaweed ringleaders. And a referral by the U.N. Security Council to the International Criminal Court would finally end the cycle of impunity that feeds the killing.
The 1,000 African Union forces that have already been deployed to Sudan — and the 2,000 additional forces that were supposed to have been deployed by the end of 2004 — have little chance of reversing the deterioration in Darfur. There must be many more, and the mandate must be strengthened to one of civilian protection, so that the troops can focus on stopping the raping, the attacks on villages and the intimidation of aid workers.
The bullies and butchers must be confronted directly, both on the ground in Darfur and in the government’s air-conditioned offices in Khartoum. If we continue to stand idly by, the culpability for the continuation of the atrocities will be all of ours.
Actor Don Cheadle is nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in “Hotel Rwanda.” John Prendergast is an adviser to the International Crisis Group. They both visited Darfur and the refugee camps in Chad in late January.
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