Genocide in Sudan? An open letter to world leaders

Gareth Evans
6 June 2004

Genocide may be taking place – not in Iraq, but in Sudan. The warning is clear. A re-run of Rwanda could be unfolding. How can we be sure, what can be done if we are?

During 2002-03, when the major powers assessed whether there should be armed intervention in Iraq, there were broadly three positions:

  • to oppose any action that was spearheaded by United States forces, on the grounds that nothing good could come of it

  • to argue that whatever the balance of argument once the United States decided to move, it had to be supported

  • to argue that intervention needs a framework of justification independent of the national interests of any one country.
David Held is one of those articulating this third position; openDemocracy is publishing this week his overview of a new global security doctrine. But persuading the world of any such argument takes time. What happens now?

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has played an admirable role in documenting conflicts and changes around the world and providing much-needed understanding of their historical and political context. It has just seen the head of its Indonesian office, Sidney Jones, expelled for her research into continued human rights abuses in the country, including in the separatist conflicts of Aceh and West Papua. It has provided consistent and persuasive documentation of a massive humanitarian disaster in Darfur, western Sudan.

Now, we reproduce the open letter by the ICG’s president Gareth Evans to the leaders of the G8, who are meeting in Sea Island, Georgia, United States from 8-10 June. I’m sorry he didn’t also address it to the heads of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Will the summit leaders respond? One problem is that the discussion over “humanitarian intervention” is now deeply marked by the Iraq experience. It can be argued – it was indeed predicted – that by intervening in Iraq in a reckless, mendacious and unilateral way, Washington and its supporters have made it more difficult to build “coalitions of the willing” for intervention even when (as in Sudan) most agree that it may be essential and that American reach and might may be the best means to achieve it.

The “Iraq effect” may also make western publics more reluctant to support any new intervention, because they are likely to mistrust the evidence leaders provide to justify it and regard any such campaign to persuade them as an excessive burden on their attention.

Will those hundreds of thousands forcibly displaced in western Sudan by the Janjaweed militias die because they are “a problem too many”?

Anthony Barnett

Editor, openDemocracy

World leaders must act on Darfur

To heads of government and foreign ministers of the G8 and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council:

The International Crisis Group urges G8 leaders meeting in Sea Island, Georgia, on 8-10 June 2004 to push for immediate and strong action to protect hundreds of thousands of lives now at risk in Darfur in western Sudan. If the promises of the international community since the Rwandan genocide a decade ago are to have meaning, the international community must act now to protect these people.

The crisis in Darfur has been developing since February 2003. During this period government-backed militias (Janjaweed) have conducted a scorched-earth campaign in the region, killing many thousands of civilians and forcing over one million from their homes. The majority of the latter are in poorly-run government-controlled camps for internally displaced persons within Darfur, where they remain vulnerable to attack by the militias and have inadequate access to desperately needed relief supplies.

The international community must recognise that the government of Sudan bears primary responsibility for this crisis. If that government fails to take immediate steps to rein in the militias and facilitate relief, the international community, through the Security Council and the G8, must make it clear it will act. As the Security Council has acknowledged in a presidential statement on 25 May 2004, “hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of dying from starvation and disease” over the coming months; more will die if the direct killing is not stopped.

The signing on 26 May 2004 of the last three protocols necessary for a peace agreement between the government of Sudan and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) rebel group will hopefully mark a turn from the past violence in the south, but this will require continued international monitoring and support to implement. However, this development does not in any way alter the real threat of massive numbers of dead in western Sudan if there are not fundamental changes in the policies of Sudanese government in Darfur, if international humanitarian access is not guaranteed to that region and if there is not movement toward a negotiated peace there as well. There is much that still can be done to try and avoid the worst consequences of the ethnic cleansing which already has occurred.

It is imperative that the Security Council, and the G8 at its summit, build on the momentum generated by signing of the protocols. The opportunity exists – if adequate leverage and leadership are exercised – to bring that process to closure, to construct a similarly serious effort to resolve the political issues driving the Darfur crisis, and (in addition) to create a diplomatic and military strategy to end the insurgency in northern Uganda. All three objectives require international pressure on the Khartoum government.

The International Crisis Group believes that a rapid and robust international response is needed to address the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and its causes.

Accordingly, we urge the Security Council to take four steps:

Prevent starvation

The Security Council should pass a resolution demanding that the government in Khartoum immediately implement its promise to provide instant, full access for aid operations. The Sudanese government has repeatedly allowed full access only in response to multilateral, public pressure. If the government continues to manipulate humanitarian access in Darfur, more robust measures must be considered as a last resort. The Security Council should authorise planning now for the deployment of military assets in support of the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Stop further fighting and atrocities

The Security Council should urge the deployment of additional observers both to monitor the ceasefire and provide protection for internally displaced populations that wish to return home, thus reversing the ethnic cleansing campaign. Sixty African Union observers are inadequate to cover a landmass the size of France. If government bombing recurs, the council should consider urgently establishing a no-fly zone; if the Janjaweed militias are not neutralised, military force should be authorised to achieve this objective.

Press for sustainable peace

The momentum of the Naivasha signing on 26 May should be built upon, with the Security Council supporting internationally facilitated political negotiations between government and rebels in Darfur. Concerted international attention is necessary to end once and for all the interrelated wars in the south and west of Sudan and in northern Uganda.

Build leverage for the achievement of these objectives

The Security Council should consider imposing targeted sanctions against officials in Sudan’s government most responsible for the ethnic cleansing campaign, sending a high-level panel to investigate the commission of war crimes in Darfur, deploying human rights monitors, and authorising an arms embargo. Multilateral pressure is needed now if Khartoum is going to move on the peace and humanitarian access fronts.

For more information, analysis and links on the Darfur crisis, see the International Crisis Group’s Darfur page and the reports of Human Rights Watch

In addition to your support for Security Council action, ICG requests that you place Darfur on the agenda at Sea Island and ensure that the G8 adopt a strong statement in their closing declaration reflecting their determination to ensure that sufficient resources are available for relief of the victims of ethnic cleansing, that the relief will reach the victims, that the ethnic cleansing will not stand and that the government of Sudan will be held accountable.

As the UN itself has noted, Darfur represents the most acute humanitarian crisis in the world today. ICG urges you to act immediately to prevent possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths over the coming months.

Yours sincerely,

Gareth Evans

President, International Crisis Group

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