Accommodating Genocide

By Eric Reeves
Sunday, September 3, 2006

In the face of ongoing genocide in Darfur, the international community's failure to accept the "responsibility to protect" (that's United Nations language, officially adopted) innocent civilian lives has taken its last, abject form. The National Islamic Front (NIF) regime in Khartoum, made up of the very men who have for more than three years orchestrated the systematic destruction of Darfur's African tribal populations, has been told directly and unambiguously that there will be no U.N. peacemaking force without its consent.

In the revealing words of British U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, Khartoum's agreement to U.N. deployment "is quite crucial" to taking any meaningful action. Jones Parry's words have been repeated explicitly by U.N. and U.S. officials, as well as officials of other countries possessing the military resources that are the only possible source of protection for approximately 4 million people in Darfur and eastern Chad -- people whom the United Nations describes as "conflict-affected" and in growing need of humanitarian assistance.

In short, the international community has conferred upon the genocidaires the power to veto deployment of the very force that might halt an accelerating slide toward catastrophic human destruction.

Given present trends (Khartoum has launched a major military offensive in northern Darfur) and the woeful inadequacy of the present African Union monitoring force -- and presuming no intervention to protect civilians or the humanitarian efforts upon which they depend -- mortality in Darfur over the next year could exceed the present death toll of about half a million human beings, some 10,000 people a week.

This is a moment that requires the utmost clarity, both moral and political. Secretary General Kofi Annan, on the basis of a detailed U.N. assessment, proposed a robust force of some 24,000 troops and security personnel. In turn, the Security Council has just passed a U.S.-U.K. resolution guided by Annan's proposal. But despite the rapid deterioration of security throughout Darfur, Khartoum has been assured that there will be no actual deployment of U.N. forces without its consent.

The Sudanese regime has been powerfully encouraged by these repeated assurances. Moreover, the NIF has diplomatic backing from the Arab League in opposing any U.N. deployment, along with expedient support from countries such as Eritrea.

These circumstances force a question that has been skirted not only by governments but by human rights and policy organizations, as well as advocacy groups, newspaper editorials and American politicians (including all in Congress who voted in July 2004 to declare that the situation in Darfur constitutes genocide): With the clear prospect of humanitarian collapse and massive civilian destruction, will the world continue to defer to Khartoum's claims of national sovereignty? Has the grim shadow of Iraq, and fallout from the crisis in Lebanon, paralyzed the Western democracies in responding to a terrible "genocide by attrition" among the African tribal populations of Darfur?

Further, does the fact that Sudan is regarded as Islamic and Arab protect its government from being held responsible for the ultimate crime? All too much evidence suggests that the answer, on all counts, is yes.

This is obscured by the continuing pretense that Khartoum's stubborn resistance will somehow collapse simply because the Security Council has passed an essentially hortatory resolution. Ten previous, and essentially ineffectual, resolutions should disabuse all but the most naive of this notion. The continually invoked threat of sanctions has proved thoroughly empty: To date one mid-level (and retired) member of the NIF military and security apparatus has been subjected to sanctions. China and Russia are adamantly opposed to further sanctions, and Khartoum is thoroughly inured to such vacuous threats.

Moreover, continual assurances by U.N. and Western officials that no deployment of forces is contemplated without Khartoum's consent are mirrored in the advocacy posture of human rights and policy organizations that refuse to ask the difficult but essential question: Will the world intervene to stop genocide if the genocidal regime refuses to accept such intervention?

The U.N. World Summit of September 2005 produced an "outcome document" (unanimously endorsed) that commits the international community to a "responsibility to protect" civilians who are victims of genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity. This "responsibility" was explicitly framed as superseding claims of national sovereignty such as Khartoum continues to assert. If the world fails to intervene in Darfur, with or without the consent of Sudan's government, the fleeting ideal of an international "responsibility to protect" civilians at the most acute risk will have collapsed -- another consequential casualty of Darfur's genocide.

The writer is a professor at Smith College.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company