Questions On The Humanitarian Crisis In Darfur
by Sophie Gore Browne


Recently the Darfur Conflict has slipped the notice of predominant U.S. media attention, pushed to the backbench of U.S. foreign affairs, among many other humanitarian crises, due to the persistent concern with the Iraq war. But for those of you who are involved in Darfur aid groups and those who recently saw the film The Devil Came On Horseback, it is clear these war atrocities are still continuing and the number of those displaced only increasing. The question still remains who is behind this? What is the root of the problem? And most importantly, when and how is the problem going to be resolved.

Sudan is the largest country in Africa and the worlds third largest resource of oil, rich in uranium, copper, iron and minerals, with vast water reserves from the White and Blue Nile.

Darfur is a region in the west of Sudan, bordering the Sahel which has been gradually subject to desertification since the 1970’s which the UN declared as the first major crisis of global warming.

The present U.N. resolution to bring peace to the area is to send a hybrid of 26,000 U.N./A.U. (named UNAMID  – Union-United Nations African Mission in Darfur) peacekeeping troops to replace the 7,000 AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan). They are proposed for deployment by the deadline December 31st according to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1769.

Yet on the 2nd of this month, the BBC reported that only a maximum of 9,000 of the hybrid force will be on the ground by January 1st, “the barest minimum of what is required” said General Agwai of the A.U./U.N. force. This is evidently not sufficient to help bring about a ceasefire amongst the rebel groups and government militia in order to begin sustained political negotiations towards a peace agreement.

Whilst the general consensus amongst the U.N., state governments, aid groups and specialists of the Darfur conflict is that the solution to end the conflict must be political not military, there is still some contention with the form of action being taken, that is hindering the peace effort.

The U.N. resolution states that the majority of troops should be recruited from African countries, “the Hybrid operation should have a predominantly African character and the troops should, as far as possible, be sourced from African countries.” On the list submitted by the U.N. in October there were 14,000 troops from African countries and 4,000 from non –  African countries, Amnesty International reports, whilst command and control structures and backstopping will be provided by the United Nations.

“The contention has been over who has political control over the troops in Darfur. And there is a concerted attempt being made to shift the political control of any intervention force inside Darfur from inside Africa to outside Africa,” said Mahmood Mamdani, a prominent African scholar, interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. He wrote the book The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency.

Economic sanctions enforced by the U.S. in October in the divestment of U.S. banking systems from Sudan and the fact intervention will be internationally operated has meant the Sudanese government have remained hesitant to agree to all the terms under which the U.N. troops demand access, stalling U.N. deployment of troops.

Primarily, it is important to be aware of the politics surrounding how this conflict in Darfur is defined. There still remains some discrepancy over whether it should be called “genocide.” Despite being declared genocide by the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2004 it was denied by the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General in January 2005.

To name the Darfur conflict “genocide” over-simplifies the situation, to one perpetrator and one victim, the Islamic Arab government militia against the Black African Darfurians. The danger in this is to demonize one group of people due to their race or religion, in this case Muslim Arabs, who hold the throttle of power in Sudanese government under ruling President Al Bashir and the National Congress Party.

“Darfur Arabs are black, indigenous, African Muslims, “ just like Darfur’s non – Arabs’ ” clarifies anti-government human rights activist, Alex de Waal.

In the region there are at least three different major ethnic groups in the region, the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa and at least 12 different armed rebel factions, with in-fighting power struggles over territory, as well as against government militia. Medicins Sans Frontier, a credible aid group as one of the first to establish a presence in Darfur of 2,000 staff, state there is no evidence of systematic targeting and ethnic cleansing of one group or another, “Our teams have not seen evidence of the deliberate intention to kill people of a specific group.”

The UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian affairs Mr John Egeland stated

“We have more reports of a scorched earth policy. It doesn’t fit the definition of ethnic cleansing. The same tribes are represented both among those who are cleansed and those who are cleansing.” ‘Scorched earth’ is to scourge the land of people, anyone in the way is a victim. It is not systemized attacks from one side, but indiscriminate mass slaughter on all sides, equally if not even worse than “genocide,” and has led to an estimated 200,000 deaths.

It is a multi-faceted civil war rooted in the plight of competition over land due to desertification, which made the area a convenient proxie for rebel groups to build up their numbers and for the government to defend themselves.

“When the rebel movements began in 2003 in Darfur, the Khartoum government responds in the same way, which is it looks at the scene, and it picks the weakest, the most vulnerable, the ones that they can bring under their wing, it arms them and says, ‘Go for it,’ and they go for the land.” says Mahmood Mamdani.

The most significant issue in Darfur being labelled “genocide” is that it gives the “international community” justification to act without the consensus of the Sudanese government, “What is required is not Khartoum’s consent but the international will to accept unambiguously the “responsibility to protect” civilians threatened by genocide, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity – a responsibility unanimously accepted by the UN at its World Summit in September 2005 and explicitly reaffirmed by the unanimous passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1674 (April 2006).” states Eric Reeves, Sudan researcher and professor at Smiths College (Massachusetts). The BBC reports in his debate with Gamal Nkrumah, the foreign editor of leading Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, who disagrees, paralleling this sort of action with the disastrous consequences of foreign intervention in Iraq, “It is an act of aggression that infringes on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sudan. The only way forward is to strengthen the African Union peacekeeping contingency in Darfur in both financial and logistical terms.”

The ideal solution would be that the U.N. peacekeeping force enters Sudan under A.U. leadership, but this is unlikely. What is important for us to do is to support those local aid groups working desperately to raise funds to bring food, water and health care to the 2.5 million who have been displaced and are living in refugee camps, under increasingly dangerous conditions.

Berj Parseghian, the Chair for STAND, the group who have organized the Darfur Fast on campus said, “Whether it be in Darfur or in Iraq, it is the responsibility of students to demand an end to the use of violence.”