The Answer to Darfur

“The Answer to Darfur,” an event last week from ENOUGH, an initiative co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress and International Crisis Group, made a cogent yet forceful call for intensified U.S. and international engagement in Darfur to resolve the ongoing crisis.

ENOUGH is a new campaign working to prevent mass atrocities, moderator and Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Gayle Smith explained. The campaign is currently focusing on the crises in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and northern Uganda and advocating solutions to these crises based on what it calls the “3 Ps” of promoting the peace, protecting the people, and punishing the perpetrators.

In the immediate term, ENOUGH will focus in three particular areas: Darfur, eastern Congo, and northern Uganda. ENOUGH will concurrently work to build a permanent constituency that remains active on this issue and works for institutional change in the U.S. and key countries to ensure robust international response to mass atrocities wherever and whenever they occur.

The panel continued with a presentation by Colin Thomas-Jensen, Africa Advocacy and Research Manager for ICG, who had recently returned from a nine-day trip to Chad where he met with Sudanese rebel leaders, Chadian government officials and humanitarian workers.

Thomas-Jensen emphasized how instability and violence in Darfur continue to spread to neighboring Chad and Central African Republic. He described how security has deteriorated on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border, with rebels from both Chad and Darfur targeting the civilian population in the south and up to 100,000 Chadian civilians displaced in the north. He argued that achieving stability in the broader region will depend on resolving the crisis in Darfur, and that attempts to contain the conflict from across the border in Chad and CAR are unlikely to succeed.

Explaining the complicated alliances between governments and rebel groups in the region, Thomas-Jensen said that the main Chadian rebel group, the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development, is known to be fully backed by Khartoum. He emphasized that although the UFDD is not currently able to pose a major threat to Idriss Déby’s regime in N’Djamena, with prolonged backing by Khartoum it may acquire the capacity to do so.

Meanwhile, the Chadian government and military continue to support rebel groups in Darfur, including the Justice and Equality Movement which Thomas-Jensen said now appears to be the major security presence in the town of Abéché in eastern Chad. JEM’s increased ties to Déby’s regime mean that the international community will have to take its newfound influence into account when negotiating a peace deal, he said.

Thomas-Jensen also underlined the need for the international community to intensify efforts to unify Darfur’s rebel groups—efforts which to this point, he said, have been “sporadic, uncoordinated and unlikely to work.” He called for a joint approach on the part of the United States, European Union, United Nations and African Union to create a diplomatic team in Chad with the goal of unifying the rebels, as a counter to Khartoum’s attempts to divide them. Thomas-Jensen also called for the UN Secretary General to appoint a Special Representative for Chad to coordinate humanitarian and peacebuilding operations, and said that USAID should increase its presence in Chad to reflect the growing human security crisis there.

Following Thomas-Jensen’s presentation, ICG Senior Advisor John Prendergast outlined a comprehensive strategy for resolving the conflict in Darfur. While noting that there is no single solution, he argued that “a mixture of appropriate policy and activist initiatives—when pursued simultaneously—could bring about an end to the horrific crisis” there.

Prendergast detailed three previous cases in which the regime in Khartoum was persuaded to change its course of action as the result of international pressure: its transformation from a state sponsor of terrorism in the early 1990s to a key partner in the Bush administration’s war on terror, as the result of multilateral sanctions and international condemnation; its acceptance of a peace agreement with rebels in Southern Sudan in 2005, after a period of intense U.S. and multilateral diplomatic effort; and its almost total abolition of slave-raiding in the 1990s thanks to sustained pressure by the U.S. and EU.

Prendergast argued that these examples demonstrate that intensive high-level diplomacy coupled with credible threats and punitive measures can achieve a favorable outcome with the Sudanese government. Policies which have not worked in the past and are continuing to fail today, he said, include haphazard “part-time diplomacy;” “constructive engagement” with the regime whereby carrots are unaccompanied by credible sticks; and a stove-piped approach to Sudan which deals separately rather than comprehensively with issues such as counterterrorism, the Southern Sudan peace process, and Darfur.

Prendergast then outlined a six-sided “Rubik’s cube” of policy options which, he said, must be employed in tandem if the crisis is to be resolved.

1. Support rebel unity so that a common rebel negotiating position is achieved, without which no peace agreement can be brokered or sustained.

2. Build an effective peace process led by high-level U.S., UN, EU and AU officials and supported by coordinated, multilateral diplomatic efforts. The peace process must focus on resolving the root sources of the conflict, and would necessarily address issues of wealth- and power-sharing, individual compensation for Darfur’s victims, and guarantees that the janjaweed militias are disarming.

3. Secure full-time, high-level U.S. diplomacy to support the peace process, modeled on the diplomatic effort which successfully negotiated a peace agreement in Southern Sudan.

4. Impose punitive measures now and lift them only when the Sudanese regime complies with international demands, rather than continuing with the present tack of threatening consequences and then failing to impose any when Khartoum refuses to cooperate. Such measures could include targeted sanctions, support for ICC investigations and indictments, and pressure on international financial institutions to cease doing business with the government of Sudan.

5. Accelerate military planning and action. Even if the plans are never carried out, serious discussion of military options will provide major leverage to the diplomatic process. Plans should be drawn up for peacekeeping missions which, unlike the current AU mission, will have a robust enough mandate to protect civilians; and for coercive military tactics such as enacting a no-fly zone, strategic bombing, and non-consensual force deployment.

6. Ramp up global activism which, though to date very effective at raising awareness of the situation in Darfur, now needs to advocate specific, focused measures governments can take to reach a solution to the crisis.

Both Prendergast and Thomas-Jensen emphasized that deploying peacekeepers—AU, UN or otherwise—will be ineffective at best and “a recipe for disaster” at worst without a peace process in place, according to Thomas-Jensen. He addressed the need for a structured yet inclusive peace process in which a multitude of voices could be heard, particularly those of women and civil society groups. Yet ultimately, Thomas-Jensen pointed out, the international community will have to accept that “the deal will be made with the guys with the guns.”

During the question and answer period, Smith responded to the question of whether there was sufficient interest or political will in the U.S. to make a solution in Darfur possible. Smith argued that there is a constituency which cares about the issue and will ultimately hold U.S. politicians accountable for their actions (or inaction) in Darfur. She noted that the region is one in which hard-core national security concerns about terrorism and political instability may prompt increased engagement.

Smith added that many Americans are concerned that the U.S.’s moral authority is rapidly diminishing, and said that in the approach to the 2008 elections candidates will have to outline a new vision for U.S. national security and its role in the world. Such a vision, she said, may allow for preventing mass atrocities such as those occurring in Darfur. Smith also pointed out that the Bush administration desperately needs a foreign policy success, and may come to view Darfur—like the peace agreement it reached in Southern Sudan—as an important and potentially redeeming part of its legacy. She encouraged private citizens to make a difference by promoting divestment from Sudan and pressuring politicians to be proactive on the issue

Ultimately, Prendergast concluded, with the right policies and increased levels of engagement on the issue, there is potential for Darfur to be stabilized within a year. If not, he said, it is almost a foregone conclusion that “hundreds of thousands more will be killed on our watch in 2007.”

For more information about the event, see:

Event video: