Sunday, April 17, 2005
"Humanitarian intervention in Darfur?"
By Eric Reeves | April 17, 2005
EXTANT MORTALITY data strongly suggest that genocide in the Darfur region of
western Sudan has now claimed approximately 400,000 lives. Ethnically targeted
human destruction, directed by the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum
against African tribal populations of the region, has also displaced well over 2
million, and left 3 million in need of humanitarian assistance.
Though shamefully deferred, the question of international humanitarian
intervention in Darfur can no longer be avoided. Without such intervention---including
all necessary military support and a robust mandate for civilian
protection---extreme insecurity amid rapidly accelerating famine conditions will push the
genocidal death toll much higher. UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland has predicted
that mortality rates could climb to 100,000 people a month if insecurity forces
humanitarian organizations to suspend work.
The present partial contingent of 2,200 African Union cease-fire monitors and
protection forces has taken six months to deploy (the original target figure was
3,500). A proposed increase to 6,000---still far from adequate for the security
tasks in Darfur---could not be completed until late summer, even accepting an
optimistic African Union assessment. Moreover, African Union forces have serious
deficiencies, not only in numbers but in transport capacity, communications,
intelligence, as well as logistics and administrative resources.
Most consequentially, the African Union has been unable to secure from Khartoum
a mandate for civilian protection. The mission is tasked only with monitoring a
cease-fire that has virtually no meaning and doesn't include the Janjaweed,
Khartoum's now notoriously brutal militia proxy in Darfur.
The African Union force alone is all too clearly vastly inadequate to the
urgent needs for civilian protection in Darfur. But because the UN is so unlikely to
provide auspices for an effective intervening force, the international
community has expediently allowed the African Union to serve as a default policy.
Recent Security Council resolutions on Darfur, as well as comments from the UN
political leadership, only highlight the improbability of UN-mandated humanitarian
But the current African Union deployment can't conceal the continuing
deterioration of security for both civilians and humanitarian operations. Moreover,
there is now compelling evidence that Khartoum has begun to organize more targeted
attacks on humanitarian aid workers, part of an ongoing policy of hindering
relief operations in this immense region. The recent shooting of a worker for the
US Agency for International Development grimly highlights the regime's tactics.
Humanitarian intervention in Darfur should be defined by security needs, not
the capacity of the African Union or the political limitations of the UN. Scores
of large camps for displaced persons must have secure perimeters that allow
women and girls to search for firewood, water, and animal fodder without fear of
rape by the Janjaweed; humanitarian corridors and convoys must be provided all
necessary protection; safe passage must be created for hundreds of thousands of
Darfuris trapped in inaccessible rural areas and beyond humanitarian reach;
those wishing to return to the sites of their former villages and resume
agriculturally productive lives must have security; and the Janjaweed militia must be
cantoned and eventually disarmed (as futilely demanded by UN Security Council
Resolution 1556, July 30, 2004).
There are clear risks to such intervention, and to the Western military
resources and personnel that alone can enable African Union forces to become truly
effective. There are highly credible reports of Saudi, Yemeni, Jordanian, and
Iraqi nationals in training camps in Darfur---certainly with Khartoum's knowledge.
Attacks on civilians and humanitarian workers in the early stages of
intervention present a clear risk, and a highly mobile, well-armed early contingent of
troops must be deployed to counter such threats. Khartoum must also be put on
notice that it will be held fully and immediately accountable for attacks on
civilians by its own forces and its paramilitary allies. Similarly, the Darfuri
insurgency groups may attempt to take military advantage of any intervention; they,
too, must be put on notice that any actions impeding efforts to protect
civilians and humanitarian workers will be met forcefully.
There are other risks to what would be a large, expensive, and long-term
deployment in a forbidding region. But as the third year of genocidal conflict grinds
on, let us be clear about the costs of inaction or further pretense that the
African Union alone can respond adequately to this vast episode in deliberate
human destruction. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians will die. They are
as vulnerable to the consequences of insecurity, famine, disease, and the
Janjaweed as the Tutsis and moderate Hutus of Rwanda were vulnerable to the violence
inspired by the Interahamwe. The 11th anniversary of the terrible events of
1994 only makes more conspicuous our failure, again, to intervene.
[Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College]
Northampton, MA 01063