Bush Resists Pressure to Meddle in Sudan – for Now

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Bush administration continues to refrain from calling a campaign of ethnic cleansing against black Africans in Sudan’s western Darfur province “genocide,” although both houses of the U.S. Congress approved non-binding resolutions last week that used the term to describe the situation.

Such a determination would require signers of the Genocide Treaty, including the United States, to do what they can to stop the action – possibly including military intervention – but many experts have said recently the international community must not wait to act until the term is adopted.

Washington and its main allies in Europe are urgently pressing the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions against leaders of the Arab militias (Janjaweed or “men on horseback”) and their government supporters in Khartoum. A vote on a U.S. resolution is expected in the council this week.

On Monday, the 25 foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) indicated they were ready to sign on to the draft resolution, which would impose diplomatic and financial sanctions unless Khartoum acted immediately to stop the militias, whose raiding has killed as many as 50,000 people over the past 18 months and forced more than one million more to flee for their lives.

The EU ministers said they were “alarmed by reports of massive human rights violations” perpetrated by the militias, including the “systematic rape of women.”

“The risk is very high for a potential catastrophe,” said the EU’s chief foreign policy official, former NATO chief Javier Solana.

Aid groups and the United Nations are reporting that access to camps, where many of the Africans who were forced from their homes are now being held, has improved over the past several days as the government pledged greater cooperation in the wake of steadily mounting pressure from abroad.

But at the same time, some Sudanese officials struck a defiant pose against the threat of sanctions, or even possible military intervention, which is being demanded by some humanitarian groups who have said the situation in Darfur amounts to “genocide.”

“We don’t need threatening; we don’t need sanctions,” said Sudanese Foreign Minister Osman Ismail during a trip in Turkey. He also assailed the pending UN resolution as “unbalanced,” and stressed that the government has already pledged to disarm the militias and has arrested more than 100 militia members.

In addition to sanctions against yet-to-be-named Janjaweed leaders and Khartoum officials, the draft UN Resolution calls for an arms embargo.

The violence in Darfur has its roots in the competition for land and resources between Arab tribes that are mainly herders and the African population that consists mostly of peasants living in settled villages and towns.

In 2002, the Janjaweed stepped up raids on the African population. Angry that the government was not protecting them against such attacks, two African rebel groups retaliated against a government garrison, killing more than 70 soldiers.

At that point, Khartoum launched its counter-insurgency campaign, much of which was carried out on the ground by the newly supplied Janjaweed, who were also backed by government forces and warplanes.

More than one million people were forced to flee their homes; more than 200,000 of them have crossed the border into neighboring Chad, while the rest were internally displaced. Most of the latter have now been herded into overcrowded and unsanitary camps that lack adequate medical care, food supplies and even physical security.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) warned in May that even if humanitarian agencies are granted complete and unimpeded access to the camps and those who remain displaced, at least 300,000 people are almost certain to die by the end of the year.

The United Nations announced last weekend that it thought as many as 50,000 people have died already, both as a result of government-Janjaweed attacks and starvation and disease.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) echoed the urgency of the situation Monday, calling death rates “significantly above the emergency threshold.”

“Hardly anyone is getting the care civilians should get in a conflict,” said Dr. Rowan Gillies, MSF’s international director, who just spent a month working in Darfur. “There are pockets of real disaster, where people are at grave risk of dying in large numbers.”

“I am particularly concerned about the food situation,” continued Gillies. “For example, in one big camp around El Geneina, only 35 percent of the displaced people even have a card entitling them to food from the UN And the last time they received any was at the end of May – over seven weeks ago.”

The U.S. Congress’ assessment that genocide is occurring in Darfur has been echoed by the U.S. Committee for Refugees, Africa Action and the Committee of Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Several human rights groups that have called for stronger international pressure, including sanctions, exerted on Khartoum have said they have not yet concluded the situation qualifies as “genocide.” But they say serious war crimes and crimes against humanity have taken place in what has been, at least, a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”

Some analysts believe Khartoum is itself divided on how to respond to the pressure, with hardliners arguing that neither the United States nor the EU is prepared to do much more than impose sanctions.

“At the current level of pressure, Sudan’s government will only go so far,” John Prendergast, a Sudan specialist and former U.S. National Security Council aide, told the Christian Science Monitor. “They don’t believe Washington or the UN Security Council have the political backbone to take it any further.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has suggested he is willing to send troops to Darfur if necessary, while France has sent its foreign minister to Darfur and Chad, where several thousands French troops are already based.

France also has troops stationed in nearby Djibouti, where a former French base currently houses some 4,000 U.S. troops deployed there after the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.