Why the Darfur Tragedy Will Likely Occur Again

A Sudanese boy at Bredjing refugee camp in eastern Chad, on July 26, 2004. (Photo: Desirey Minkoh/AFP-Getty Images)

The unfolding tragedy in the western region of Sudan, known as Darfur has gained the attention of the international community for the last several weeks. According to news reports, at least 50,000 black Africans of Darfur have died from a systematic orgy of bloodletting conducted by an Arab government-backed militia known as Janjaweed. The well-armed militia is reportedly conducting a government-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign to drive away their black-skinned neighbors from their ancestral farming and grazing lands. More than one million people have fled their homes and are now nervously huddled in rain and wind swept makeshift refugee camps in Western Sudan and Chad.

As the usual wheels of continental and international diplomacy kick in to end the tragedy in Darfur, I am afraid that nothing is in the offing to prevent another Darfur occurring in Sudan or any part of Africa in the immediate future. The high profile visits by world leaders to Darfur have done nothing to address key fundamental issues about this unfolding tragedy.

The role of the government of Sudan
Is the Sudanese government supporting an ethnic cleansing campaign of its citizens? Providing an immediate answer to this question is as important as rushing food aid to the refugees since you cannot rely on a complicit government to solve an inhumane condition it created in the first place. If the government is culpable, what are the specific consequences for its leaders and supporters?

The role of the African Union
If the Sudanese government is conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign, should the African Union have a dialogue with this government and its leaders? What level of killings and population displacements will trigger deployment of military forces by the African Union to Darfur?

Western countries, especially the United States and Britain
Should America and Britain have a dialogue with a government that is widely believed to be waging a war of ethnic hatred and murder against its citizens? Should the U.S. and Britain continue to explore mineral resources – especially oil – and possibly enrich/strengthen the leaders of a government waging a murderous campaign against selected citizens of its country? Should the U.S. and Britain rule out forceful intervention in Darfur to end a possible, unfolding genocide?

The United Nations and Multilateral Agencies
If a government decides to eliminate a select group of its citizens, should the UN and its agencies deal with that government on an “as usual” basis? When will the UN decide that the government has failed its people? What form of government-sanctioned atrocity will trigger the UN to seek alternative ways of managing a very grave humanitarian situation without passing though a complicit host government? Besides selective or “smart” economic sanctions targeted at elites of developing countries, what else should the UN do to stop a culpable government from selectively killing its own people?

Why Darfur will occur Again
Darfur is likely to occur again because of the inability of African leaders and Western governments to develop and implement specific safeguards against ethnic cleansing and genocide. Ten years after the Rwanda genocide, the inability of African and Western leaders to develop and enforce safeguards against future ethnic cleansing and genocide have come full circle. What are these possible safeguards?

First, is to punish those that conceive, design, refine, implement and execute ethnic cleansing campaigns and genocide. If the leadership of the Sudanese government is found liable in the Darfur ethnic cleansing campaign, they must be brought to justice whether they pledge to turn over a new leaf, cooperate with the war on global terrorism, or voluntarily leave office. Sudanese academics, technocrats and religious leaders that provided support for ethnic cleansing must face justice. The leaders and backers of the Janjaweed militia (political, financial and technical) must also be brought to justice.

If rebels that support the black African population of Darfur committed acts of ethnic cleansing, they should be brought to justice as well. There should be zero tolerance for ethnic cleaning or genocide no matter the scale or attempted justification.

Second, African leaders and the African Union must demonstrate in very clear, unambiguous terms, the end of any form of political and economic sanctuary for any government that by acts of omission or commission allow ethnic cleansing to occur within its jurisdiction. African nations and the Africa Union should act decisively on reports of ethnic cleansing and genocide, including but not limited to using military force to save lives. The Darfur tragedy is a litmus test for African leaders and the African Union.

Third, Western governments, especially the G-8 nations, should pay special attention to conflict and post conflict states in Africa. Within the G-8 nations, U.S., Britain and France wield considerable influence in Africa and should lead this effort. G-8 nations can assist these states by investing significant human and material resources to seek political solutions to conflicts; to strengthen democratic principles and practices in these states by investing substantially in democratic and legal institutions; and to drastically reduce the economic burden of these impoverished states through debt forgiveness or drastic debt reduction, investing savings from debt relief on health, education and other social programs, and creating enabling environments for private enterprises. Western governments should also stop supporting governments that oppress their citizens in Africa.

Fourth, the UN and its agencies must now think the unthinkable – how to bypass murderous governments in any part of the world and reach its suffering citizens in a timely fashion. This will require a drastic review of how the UN and its agencies conduct business. If the government of Sudan is directly or tacitly encouraging ethnic cleansing in Darfur, the UN must devise ways of saving lives, isolating the leadership of that government, and seeking justice for the thousands of dead Sudanese whose only crime is the color of their skin. Rather than “smart” sanctions that makes everybody feel good but is often a slap on the wrist of the elite in developing countries, the UN may have to consider expelling countries whose governments are implicated in ethnic cleansing and genocide. The expelled country may be readmitted when the perpetrators of the ethnic cleaning and genocide leave office and face justice.

Fifth, the international community must support freedom of press and the free operation of civil society in developing countries. Without the constant news reports by the media, ethnic cleansing may have gone unnoticed in Darfur. To stop ethnic cleansing and genocide, it is crucial for the international community to support press freedom and an active civil society in developing nations as watchdogs of government activities.

As we ponder the next steps regarding Darfur, it is important to remember the young mothers in the refugee camps in Western Sudan and Chad. Some of these mothers are keeping vigil over surviving children who are gravely ill with diarrhea or other diseases. These mothers may have lost their husbands, their children, their in-laws, and their own siblings. They may have lost their lifelong friends. Their only crime is the color of their skin and the murderous intentions of powerful people in positions of responsibility.

We must ensure that the sufferings of these mothers will not be in vain. Those responsible for the avoidable plight of these young mothers must never escape the long arm of justice. The Darfur tragedy should never happen again. However, we can only prevent a future Darfur with the development and enforcement of verifiable safeguards against ethnic cleansing and genocide. It can no longer be business as usual.