Early on Monday morning, some 60 vehicles filled with Sudanese forces, reportedly in search of smuggled weapons, surrounded the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons in South Darfur. When the camp residents tried to block the Sudanese forces from entering, government forces opened fire. Against a wall of gunfire, some civilians tried to defend themselves with ‘sticks, knives, and spears.’
Kalma is home to more than 90,000 people, making it one of the largest camps for internally displaced people in the world. The Sudanese military’s attack left some 64 people dead and more than 115 wounded. Victims ranged from 11 to 60 years old, and the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders treated 65 patients with gunshot wounds in the camp. Joint United Nations-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeepers stationed near the camp did not intervene, and, with Sudanese forces still surrounding the camp, the threat of further atrocities is acute.
In the wake of this attack, the U.S. Department of State expressed its “concern [over] indiscriminate weapons fire” on civilians by Sudanese government forces and preposterously called on the Government of Sudan to “thoroughly investigate this incident and ensure that such actions are not repeated.” The United States has accused Sudan of genocide. Would the Justice Department, I wonder, call on a serial killer to investigate his own crimes?
The fecklessness of the State Department’s response to the Sudanese government’s latest atrocities is all the more conspicuous in the context of the administration’s forceful condemnation of Russia’s aggression in Georgia. President Bush and other cabinet officials have, on numerous occasions since the conflict began on August 7, “deplored” Russia’s actions in Georgia and threatened “consequences” for Russian aggression. Yes, the Russia-Georgia conflict has major geopolitical ramifications, and so the Bush administration has adopted a tough tone in its response. The question, then, is why the State Department puts on kid gloves in response to atrocities, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Sudan.
While the State Department’s limp rhetoric is deplorable, the world’s failure to protect civilians in Darfur remains indefensible. Activists have spent much of the past four years lobbying for a United Nations peacekeeping mission with a mandate to protect civilians in Darfur, and nearly 10,000 of a planned 26,000 peacekeepers are on the ground. Where were the peacekeepers while Kalma was under siege? The reasons are not entirely clear, but UN forces stationed just kilometers away did not get to Kalma until hours after the attack. UNAMID reported that their team was “delayed by a checkpoint and protracted negotiations with Sudanese security authorities.”
Although UN forces certainly could have acted more boldly in response to the attack on Kalma, the finger of blame for the UN’s deficiencies in Darfur rests squarely with UN member states, as troop contributing countries have deployed a force with no deterrent capabilities. No matter how brave, peacekeepers armed with AK-47s, riding in a Toyota pick-up, and lacking air support are no match for a national army with armored personnel carriers and the latest heavy weapons from China. While diplomats come up with excuses why not to send troops and equipment to bolster UNAMID’s strength, how many more Kalmas before they stand up and say “enough is enough”?
This post orginally appeared in the Wonk Room at the Center For American Progress Action Fund.