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Violence in Darfur Today: Gration Misses the Mark

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Violence in Darfur Today: Gration Misses the Mark

Posted by Maggie Fick on July 31, 2009

Speaking at yesterday’s hearing, Special Envoy Gration agreed with sentiments from Committee Chairman Kerry (D-MA) that the situation in Darfur had "changed" from the height of the genocide. Gration noted that the levels of violence in Darfur are "getting significantly better," but that "this doesn’t mean our efforts will stop," because "one death is too many." He also noted that although it is "very clear" that the Sudanese government armed and supported the Janjaweed militias as proxies "in the beginning" of the genocide in 2003 and 2004, he now believes that "some [of the rebel movements] have some autonomy [from the Sudanese government], but [that] there are still linkages." [Emphasis mine] On the question of how the situation affects U.S. efforts to build a new peace process for Darfur, Gration said that his team is "working with the Sudanese government to disarm the militias," describing his strategy as a "law enforcement type of plan."

It is true that the conflict in Darfur has changed and that levels of violence are significantly lower now than they were in 2005 and 2006, but it is incredibly worrisome that Gration would even mention "law enforcement" as part of the strategy at this point for discussing peace in Darfur with the Sudanese government. Establishing security in Darfur is essential to enabling the returns of an estimated 2.7 million displaced Darfuris to their homes. But this cannot happen until the Sudanese government commits to negotiate in good faith to end the conflict in Darfur. This does not start with law enforcement; it starts with a commitment from Khartoum to not only work to disarm the proxy militias, but also to cease supporting these militias. As Gration noted, although "some" militias may be operating with "some autonomy" from Khartoum, there is no evidence that all of the Janjaweed militias have ceased to be supported by Khartoum (just as it would be impossible to prove that the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, the largest rebel movement in Darfur, is not receiving any support from the Chadian government; there are financial and logistical "linkages" and these are undisputed).

Special Envoy Gration appears to be pursuing an approach–which, as Senator Russ Feingold noted at the hearing, has been undertaken by the envoy before the administration’s Sudan policy review has been finalized–that gives the Sudanese government the benefit of the doubt. However, the idea that the U.S. would "work with" the Sudanese government to "help them" disarm the militias in Darfur ignores the fact that some of these militias continue to be supported by Khartoum. And although Gration did emphasize the deplorable conditions of life for the millions of Darfuris living in displaced persons camps, it is a disservice to Darfuris to suggest that Darfur can be made safe for them to return through a "law enforcement" plan enforced by Khartoum.

Regardless of the present situation in Darfur, any political negotiations with Khartoum by the U.S. must incorporate the notion of accountability for past crimes by this regime. If justice is set aside – whether in the interest of initiating a "law enforcement" program in Darfur or in an attempt to resolve a North-South dispute over the recent census, then the people of Sudan will undoubtedly continue to suffer. As Enough’s Executive Director John Norris noted today when he testified in front of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House, "If justice is not part of the solution in Sudan, it probably is not much of a solution at all.”