- Nov 22, 2003
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Taking responsibility seriously
One year after pledging to protect civilians around the world, the UN must back its strong words with even stronger action in Darfur.
September 16, 2006 11:29 AM
Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the United Nations' pledge to provide protection for civilians around the world. After the Holocaust and the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, member states acknowledged their "responsibility to protect" (R2P) and vowed to banish the sorry lament of "never again" for good. One year on, only a few weeks after the international community looked the other way in Lebanon, and we are bracing ourselves for another potential genocide in Darfur. Already, the pledge is starting to sound hollow.
For some time, UN officials have been warning of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe in this war-torn region of Sudan. Since 2003, thousands of people have been killed, two million others forced to flee their homes and nearly three million now depend on humanitarian aid for food, shelter and health care across Darfur. A "peace" agreement signed in May between the government and one of the rebel groups only appears to have exacerbated the conflict. The Sudanese government is reported to have amassed 16,000 troops ready to begin a new wave of attacks on civilians in the region.
Just over two weeks ago, on 31 August, the UN security council agreed to deploy a peacekeeping force of more than 17,000 troops and as many as 3,300 civilian police officers to Darfur to try to end the spiralling violence. Resolution 1706 expands the mandate of the existing UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) from southern Sudan to cover Darfur as well. The UN force is mandated to take over the role of the African Union's (AU) current operation - known by the acronym AMIS - by no later than 31 December (although the AMIS mandate runs out at the end of this month).
The resolution's achilles heel is that it "invites the consent" of the Sudanese government to the UN deployment, and Khartoum is refusing to give it. Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, has said it would violate the country's sovereignty and has warned that his army would fight any UN forces sent to Darfur. So far, international condemnation has been widespread from world leaders, including President Bush and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, from leaders-in-waiting, such as David Cameron, and from Nobel laureates and cultural messengers, such as Elie Wiesel, and George Clooney.
So what should be the response if Khartoum continues to rebuff the demands of the international community? More hand wringing and inertia will simply not do. Ambassador John Bolton of the United States, one of the sponsors of the UN resolution, said it was imperative to act now to stop the violence. "We cannot afford to delay," he stressed, asserting that every day lost only extended the genocide in the region.
For once, I find myself in agreement with him. First, the AU peacekeeping force must be strengthened. AMIS is under-funded, undermanned, outgunned and needs immediate reinforcement to enable it to protect the people of Darfur until a stronger UN force can be deployed. And if international diplomacy is unable to bring a change of mind and action from the government of Sudan, then the use of "non-consensual force" must also be on the table. Initially, this would include French-led enforcement of the no-fly zone over Darfur (which was agreed in successive UN resolutions) and a blockade of Port Sudan, together with broader economic sanctions.
And if the situation deteriorates any further there must be a readiness to apply non-consensual military intervention: the R2P pledge demands nothing less. The concept was first comprehensively outlined in a 2001 report by the Canadian-led International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which aimed to reconcile sovereignty and the international concern for gross human rights violations.
In short, it sought to provide a legal and ethical basis for "humanitarian intervention": the intervention by external actors (preferably the international community through the UN) in a state that is unwilling or unable to fight genocide, massive killings and other massive human rights violations. This intervention should be the exercise of diplomatic and then, if necessary, coercive (including forceful) steps to protect civilians.
The 2005 World Summit outcome document endorsed the R2P concept, and in April 2006, the UN security council unanimously adopted resolution 1674 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Resolution 1674 contains the historic first official security council reference to the responsibility to protect: it "reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity".
In Darfur these strong words must be backed up by even stronger action. If the Sudanese government continues to refuse to accept the decisions of both the UN and the AU, then a UN peacekeeping force must be deployed without its consent. Preferably this should be preceded by a new security council mandate, especially as peace enforcement rather than peacekeeping will be likely, with any UN force having to face down possible aggression from Sudanese forces.
However, if a UN force had both the moral authority of a genuinely united UN and was robust enough to look after itself, then the Sudanese government might think twice about a military entanglement. In theory, the Nato response force (NRF) could form the main component of the UN force. Nato claims that it is a highly ready and technologically advanced force made up of land, air, sea and special forces components that the alliance can deploy quickly wherever needed. It is said to be capable of performing missions worldwide across the whole spectrum of operations, including evacuations, disaster management, counter-terrorism, and acting as "an initial entry force" for larger, follow-on forces.
At present, the force numbers about 17,000 troops, but it is set to reach full operational capability in October this year, when it will number some 25,000 troops and be able to start to deploy after five days' notice and sustain itself for operations lasting 30 days or longer if re-supplied. General James Jones, the Nato military commander, said earlier that if the alliance was asked to play a peacekeeping role in Lebanon, it would be up to the job. Presumably, it would also be up to the job in Darfur.
There are several difficulties with such a deployment (there always are). First, the US is unlikely to contribute troops and the alliance already has a major out-of-area mission in Afghanistan, where it has 24,000 troops committed and a reluctance to send more. Poland has just agreed to send 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan but not until February 2007.
This raises question marks over the real readiness of the NRF. Second, if the mandate authorises the use of force to protect civilians (which didn't happen in Rwanda), the UN force could end up becoming an unwitting party to the wider conflict in Sudan and open up another "Islamic front". But these are precisely the sorts of risks that are justified in a humanitarian intervention.
And if the gap between the fine words in the UN, White House and Downing Street and the reality on the ground in future crises like Darfur is to be bridged, it does mean the west narrowing its ambitions in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq (as suggested by Max Hastings, Comment, 11 September 2006) and investing in more infantry and field armour (as suggested by Simon Jenkins, Comment, 13 September 2006). An immediate draw down in Iraq, for example, would free-up troops for service in Afghanistan and Sudan, where there is more support and moral authority to act. But there is another dimension to the R2P agenda.
If we are asking our men and women of the armed services to undertake such dangerous missions, then they need to be given much improved kit, pay and conditions. Our political leaders (and armchair pundits alike) also have an R2P our soldiers on the ground. This will require difficult decisions in defence ministries. Britain, for example, already faces an estimated funding gap of nearly £12bn in its defence equipment budget in 2011-20. If David Cameron and presumably Tony Blair's successor are truly committed to pragmatic humanitarianism, then expensive White Elephants like Eurofighters and Trident submarines will need to be scrapped in favour of well equipped boots on the ground, and on scores of other fronts where pledges have not fully been honoured, such as in police training.
Tomorrow, on the anniversary of the responsibility to protect agreement, campaigners in more than 50 countries will be calling on their governments to deliver on this agreement and deploy a UN protection force to Darfur. Britain, the United States and their Nato allies could play a key role in making sure this happens.