The European Union has just announced it will withdraw its election monitors from Darfur, four days before elections are set to begin, in a move that represents the international community’s first public recognition that holding elections in Darfur is impossible. According to the E.U., the decision was made because credible monitoring could not be conducted in light of the violence the region continues to face.
The security situation in this western region of Sudan has only become worse in the last month, with the Sudanese government launching a major aerial and ground offensive that displaced 100,000 and killed hundreds. The situation remains so bleak that even peacekeepers have not secured access to vulnerable areas.
Reuters quoted the head of the EU’s election mission as saying, flatly:
"In some parts of Darfur the violence is terrible. The humanitarians cannot access this area. And if aid cannot access, we cannot access. We can only have a very partial view, so how can we observe properly in Darfur? The credibility of the mission is at stake. People have been asking how can you observe in Darfur, and this is a question I have to answer."
This pragmatic assessment veers sharply from the rhetoric still coming out of the Obama administration. Just Monday, a State Department official said, hopefully, “The Government of Sudan must also ensure that all voters are able to participate in the election by improving conditions on the ground, including in Darfur and elsewhere, and by providing meaningful access to polling places.”
Elsewhere, statements from the U.S. special envoy and other officials have conveniently forgotten the problem of holding elections in a region where the majority of the population lives in displaced camps, where the most vulnerable barely have access to humanitarian aid, and where people have to deal with the daily stress of widespread banditry, harassment, and attacks from their own government. Before we talk about getting the Sudanese government to ensure that all voters in Darfur can participate, let’s talk about holding them accountable for establishing peace and security for Darfur, first.
The E.U.’s decision today represents a very rare acknowledgement by the international community that all is not well in Darfur. The deputies would do well to consider this acknowledgement, and the fact that E.U. election monitors don’t even feel safe on the ground in Darfur, when they look at the administration’s Sudan benchmarks during their quarterly review of the situation on the ground.
Photo: Burnt hut in Darfur.