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Blocking a Solution in Darfur

Blocking a Solution in Darfur

By Georgette Gagnon

Published in Moscow Times

This article was published Thursday, July 13, 2006 on Page 8

A Sudanese farmer named Atahar nailed it in simple words: "We want to return to our village, but if they see us, they will kill us," he said quietly to me as we talked in a displaced persons camp in Darfur in 2004. "We have a government, but no protection. We want security and rescue from the international community and we want justice."

Atahar had fled an attack on his village by his own Sudanese government and its Janjaweed militia, and his statement struck at the root of the crisis in Darfur: Only intense international pressure on the government can compel Khartoum to end its campaign of murder and ethnic cleansing.

But almost three years on, despite expressions of concern from Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the United States, that pressure has not been brought to bear. The situation for Atahar and millions of others displaced alongside him has not changed. Instead, Darfur's agony has only worsened. For the third straight year, Darfur will be on the agenda at a G8 summit. But will the leaders at this weekend's meeting in St. Petersburg, including President Vladimir Putin, finally act?

Three million people, half the population of Darfur, have survived only because of international food relief. Two million people forced from their homes by the widespread killings, rapes and attacks by Sudanese government forces and the Janjaweed are confined in camps and preyed upon relentlessly by their government and militia persecutors.

The Darfur Peace Agreement, barely three months old, is already in tatters, victim of a flawed process, the recalcitrance of Sudan's government and rebel groups and a dearth of international support for its implementation. The conflict is bleeding into neighboring Chad, where Janjaweed militias and Chadian rebels in the volatile border zone have displaced some 50,000 Chadians from their homes.

After almost three cruel years of human suffering and loss, the tragedy of Darfur could actually get worse. Humanitarian agencies, reeling from increased attacks on their staff and convoys, are losing access to hundreds of thousands who need their assistance. Fears are mounting that Darfur's crisis could spread beyond eastern Chad and into the Central African Republic, sparking a truly regional disaster.

All of this is well known to the G8 leaders. But despite strong words from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and some Western leaders, the group has done little to end the crisis and has entirely failed to put sufficient pressure on Khartoum to end its scorched earth campaign against the people of Darfur. In fact, precisely the opposite is happening: The Sudanese government continues to receive backing from a number of countries, including Russia.

As a major supplier of arms to Khartoum and an ally on the UN Security Council, Russia's political cover permits the Sudanese government to pursue its abusive military and political agenda in western Sudan with impunity. If Darfur's civilians are to be rescued, Russia must stop facilitating the Sudanese government's war crimes and throw its full weight behind measures to help the people of Darfur.

Most urgent is the transition of the 7,000-member African Union force now in Darfur into a larger, more robust UN force, with African troops forming the core. Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir has repeatedly refused to give Khartoum's consent to a UN force, despite requests from the African Union, the Arab League and the Security Council.

As chair of the G8, Russia can and should intervene with Khartoum with a very clear message: G8 leaders want Sudan to accept the urgent deployment of a UN force in Darfur. Russia should step up and ensure Sudan's leadership hears, understands and complies with that message.

Putin must loudly and clearly affirm the assessment of the UN under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations that the situation in Darfur requires at least 17,000 troops with the rapid response capabilities, military air assets and resources to stop attacks on civilians.

These UN troops must have a muscular mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to use "all necessary measures" to protect civilians. Without this robust mandate, the UN mission may prove ineffectual.

Finally, Russia must tell Khartoum it will no longer block strong measures by the Security Council against Sudan, such as tougher and broader sanctions and an arms embargo expanded to cover all of Sudan, not just Darfur, if Khartoum continues to block the deployment of a UN force.

Khartoum has resisted every effort to stop the killing in Darfur. But if Khartoum knows Russia will no longer provide it with a diplomatic shield, el-Bashir's objections to a UN force will disappear. Almost three years of failing to confront Sudan has wrought unbearable damage on civilians in Darfur and eastern Chad and cost the lives of many. Further delay will only serve to drive the death toll higher. It's time for Moscow to stop letting Khartoum get away with murder.

Georgette Gagnon is deputy director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch

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