Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Opinion | Another genocide is brewing in Darfur. Here are some options to stop it.

Opinion | Another genocide is brewing in Darfur. Here are some options to stop it.


The fighting in Sudan that erupted in mid-April between warring generals in Khartoum has spilled over into the country’s Darfur region — and threatens to reignite the area’s brutal ethnic cleansing of 20 years ago, which left an estimated 300,000 people dead. The United States, the International Criminal Court and Sudan’s neighbors in Africa and the Middle East need to intervene quickly, and use all their leverage, to prevent this senseless conflict from turning into a new genocide.

Speed is essential, if it’s not already too late. Reports in recent days tell of mass killings, rape, kidnapping and forced displacement of civilians. More than 1,000 civilians in the Darfur region have reportedly been killed, in El-Geneina and other towns and cities.

The most prominent casualty was the governor of West Darfur state, Khamis Abakar, who was abducted and killed hours after he went on a Saudi-owned television channel to decry the violence and blame one of the warring factions, the Rapid Support Forces, for targeting civilians based on their ethnicity. Video circulated reportedly showed men in RSF uniforms detaining the governor before he was killed, but RSF officials denied involvement and said the killers might have been outlaws impersonating their fighters.

The Darfur region has become a humanitarian disaster zone, with civilians running out of food and unable to reach hospitals, camps for displaced people burned to the ground, aid warehouses being ransacked and bodies lying uncollected in the streets.

The first Darfur War, which began in 2003, was deemed the first genocide of the 21st century. It began when the Sudanese army dispatched the Arab Janjaweed militia to repress an uprising by the region’s Black African tribes, who said they were rebelling against a de facto apartheid system. The Janjaweed, often on horseback or camelback or riding in open-top Land Cruisers, embarked on a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing, burning villages, looting or destroying food stock, raping women and murdering civilians. The Janjaweed were often assisted by the Sudanese air force, which followed up the ground raids with airstrikes. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell declared it a genocide in 2004.

The crisis was the first test of the newly named African Union and its mantra “African solutions to African problems.” By almost any measure, the African Union failed the test as badly as it is failing today. The African Union has an African Standby Force but is often reluctant to become involved in a country’s internal affairs absent a U.N. Security Council mandate.

The International Criminal Court in 2009 indicted Sudan’s then-president, Omar al-Bashir, along with other members of his regime, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, making Mr. Bashir the first sitting head of state indicted for war crimes. But the African Union advised its members to ignore the indictment, with some African leaders claiming the ICC was biased for unfairly targeting Africans first.

That lack of accountability — impunity aided by the African Union’s willful disregard of international law — helped set the stage for the atrocities being carried out today in Darfur.

In 2013, the Janjaweed were re-formed as the Rapid Support Forces, ostensibly under the Sudanese army. After Mr. Bashir’s ouster and arrest, the RSF leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, entered a power-sharing deal with the Sudanese army commander, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, currently the de facto head of state. Hemedti was once an active Janjaweed fighter in Darfur. Under the internationally sponsored agreement, Hemedti was supposed to bring his paramilitary forces under army control, but he reneged, and that’s when the fighting erupted in April between him and Gen. Burhan.

The conflict has continued mostly unabated since then, with periodic announcements of cease-fires that have quickly fallen apart. Thousands of people have been killed across the country, and more than 1 million have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

The failure to disband the Janjaweed fighters early on — bringing them into a power-sharing deal instead of disarming them — is what led to the current crisis. But there is plenty of blame to go around, as outside powers have long meddled in Sudan’s affairs. The Russian paramilitary Wagner Group is widely reported to be assisting and supplying the Rapid Support Forces, which reportedly control lucrative gold mines and smuggling, giving them an independent line of financing for the conflict. China, for its part, welcomed then-President Bashir, indicted as a war criminal, to Beijing on two occasions, and President Xi Jinping greeted him as “an old friend.”

After repeated episodes of widespread ethnic cleansing — Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Rakhine state in Myanmar — the world pledges never again, but little action is taken until it is too late. Now we are seeing again the beginnings of what could become a new genocide, and the question is whether there will be any preventive action besides statements of concern and condemnation.

One idea recently floated is for the ICC to immediately open new cases of war crimes for the atrocities unfolding in Darfur. That should be done immediately, as a deterrent to future crimes. The U.N. Security Council should also take more forceful action, starting with declaring an emergency. Humanitarian corridors need to be opened to allow badly needed food and medical supplies to get to trapped civilians. And Sudan’s influential neighbors, specifically Egypt and Saudi Arabia, should exert all their leverage to bring the warring generals to heel. Time is running out, for the people of Sudan and of Darfur.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; Mili Mitra (public policy solutions and audience development); Keith B. Richburg (foreign affairs); and Molly Roberts (technology and society).



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