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Human Rights Caucus Hearing Testimony

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Human Rights Caucus Hearing Testimony

Posted by John Prendergast on October 4, 2007

Human Rights Caucus Hearing Testimony

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of this esteemed Committee, for the opportunity to share my views on the deepening crisis in Darfur and what our role should be in pursuing a coordinated and comprehensive approach to resolve it.

In the last couple of months, mounting attacks have been reported on all sides of the conflict in Darfur, with rebel groups jockeying for power, infighting between various Arab tribes, deadly attacks on African Union peacekeepers, and continued government bombings and ground attacks against rebels and civilians. The question then becomes: Is what is happening now in Darfur a matter of anarchy, chaos, and "inter-tribal" warfare? In other words, is the genocide in Darfur over?

Clearly, the violence in Darfur has escalated –- but suggesting that the crisis there is now a free-for-all, with the moral equivalency that phrase implies, ignores the political logic driving a catastrophe that appears, on the surface, to be defined by armed chaos. The reality is far different –- and for the recently-authorized UN/AU peacekeeping force and upcoming peace negotiations to be successful, that reality must be understood.

Descriptions of Darfur as demonstrating a definable transition "from genocide to anarchy" and a "murky world of tribes-in-arms and warlords who serve the highest bidder" is precisely what the architects of genocide in Khartoum had in mind when, beginning in mid-2003, Sudan's government set forth to destroy and displace the civilian support base for Darfur's rebel groups. The promotion of anarchy and inter-communal (or, popularly, "inter-tribal") fighting is part and parcel of Khartoum's genocidal counter-insurgency campaign. The conditions in Darfur and eastern Chad today are not evidence of an end to genocide and the onset of an entirely new and different war –- they are the echoes of genocide.

The regime's behavior is unswerving. Khartoum employed a similar divide-and-destroy strategy during its war with the Sudan People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, during the 1990s. Having sown the seeds of divisions between various southern Sudanese ethnic groups, government officials in Khartoum sat back and watched as inter-communal violence tore southern communities to pieces. Some of the worst violence occurred when Dinka and Nuer commanders in the SPLA fought in Upper Nile, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Only when the SPLA reunified and communities began to work toward reconciliation did a peace deal for southern Sudan become possible.

Who is Primarily Responsible?

In Darfur, the same government officials lit the match to ignite the genocide and fuel the chaos we are witnessing today. As the government’s divide and destroy policy envisioned, there is indeed increased fighting between and among communities, including among Arab groups which previously had worked together to destroy non-Arab villages. But this masks the more intentional, better-resourced, and well-camouflaged strategy of the Sudanese regime, within which many of those leading the fighting on the ground today in Darfur are but pawns.

With varying degrees of intensity, the regime and its assortment of militia allies and turncoat rebels continue to employ multiple tactics to achieve its objectives to destroy the Darfurian opposition, to permanently alter the demographics of Darfur, and to deny Darfurians a meaningful role in national politics, including:

  • killings resulting from direct attacks against non-Arab civilians by Sudanese armed forces and allied militias;
  • rape and sexual violence;
  • forced displacement of civilian populations into camps;
  • systematic destruction of livelihoods;
  • aerial bombardments;
  • resettlement of Arab civilians (including citizens of Chad and Niger) onto land belonging to the displaced; and
  • anarchic conditions that prevent displaced persons from returning home and relief workers from saving lives.

Violence is unrelenting in Darfur, but "tribes-in-arms" do not have a monopoly on violence against civilians. More than 500,000 people have been displaced in the last 15 months, most often from attacks by government army and air force, the former rebels under Minni Minawi's command that have joined the government, or other government-backed militias. In June 2007, a large-scale government offensive in the Jebel Marra region displaced 30,000 civilians. In August, another 25,000 civilians fled from government-sponsored attacks and inter-communal violence. Recent heavy fighting between Darfur rebel groups and government forces spilled into Western Kordofan state. And the brutal September 29 attack which left 10 African Union peacekeepers dead is a testament to the effectiveness of this strategy at stoking violence and instability.

The phenomenon of Arab militias turning on each other fits neatly into the government's strategic agenda as well. Having cut deals and granted impunity to various Arab militias to kill, rape, and loot non-Arab civilians, the government now derives strategic benefits from watching its former allies attack each other over the spoils. First, these agreements guarantee that no stakeholder in Darfur can assume military, strategic, or economic control of Darfur, and thus ensures itself an upper hand in peace negotiations. Second, they intensify the disruption of relief programs in Darfur.

The Human Toll

As a direct result of policy decisions made at the highest levels in Khartoum, humanitarian conditions continue to deteriorate. Chronic insecurity generates a steady flow of displaced civilians into large camps, putting further strain on UN agencies and non-governmental organizations already caught in the line of fire. In the last 12 months attacks against humanitarian workers have increased by 150 percent. What better way to restrict access than by fomenting violence and lawlessness? The regime learned much from its 20-year war with southern Sudanese rebels about how best to undermine humanitarian operations through helping to create conditions of insecurity that then prevent relief agencies from regular access. Unsurprisingly, despite some of the press accounts, malnutrition rates are increasing substantially for the first time since the end of 2004. Many of the largest camps in all three provinces of Darfur, are reporting a significant spike in the number of malnourished children and adults. For the first time in the last three years, malnutrition rates are climbing above emergency levels. Contrary to what some authors have recently suggested, Darfur is not "saving itself."

The recent uptick in violence has come at the worst possible time. Darfur is at the tail end of its rainy season, exacerbating the hunger gap; humanitarian access is already restricted and surplus food supplies are depleted. Weakened by hunger, the victims of Khartoum's policies are even more susceptible to cholera, malaria, typhoid, and other communicable diseases that increase during the rainy season. Strangely, some "analysts" have focused on the uncertainty surrounding how many people may have actually died so far in Darfur. Without any remotely comprehensive mortality study, such an argument is counter-productive and not based on any empirical evidence. The real issue is not some abstract number-crunching debate, but significant pressure on the Khartoum regime to stop blocking aid agencies from conducting the kind of comprehensive mortality and morbidity studies that help inform their work and help create more realistic estimates of the number of lives lost in this tragedy.

With its presence in the field, the humanitarian community is best placed to determine the facts on the ground, and the Darfur they describe in confidence is a place where civilians continue to die in large numbers. Yet aid groups are walking a tightrope: speaking out publicly about the worsening situation would almost certainly elicit a strong reaction from Khartoum and jeopardize the only lifeline for 4 million people in need of assistance. In late August, the government of Sudan expelled the country director of the non-governmental organization CARE, which provides assistance to nearly 525,000 Darfurians (and implements humanitarian and development projects to assist millions more Sudanese citizens). The message is clear: Khartoum is in firm control of the humanitarian community in Sudan, and can expel anyone, at any time, for any reason. In this case, the regime had obtained an internal CARE email outlining security conditions on the ground and various scenarios for maintaining the security of CARE staff.

The government also expelled Canadian and European Union diplomats. Why is the government of Sudan stepping up its intimidation of humanitarians and diplomats now, so soon after it agreed to the deployment of the hybrid AU-UN peacekeeping force? The answer is very simple: The pragmatic and survivalist policy-makers in the ruling National Congress Party constantly calculate how much they can get away with. And with the hybrid force's deployment foremost in the minds of the international community, Khartoum believes that the international community will respond meekly to these expulsions for fear that strong condemnation could jeopardize the hybrid agreement. (The purpose of course is to strengthen the regime's hand in dictating the terms of the hybrid force's deployment and in influencing the next steps in the peace process.) Evidently the government of Sudan is correct; the EU apologized, and their representative was allowed to stay on in Khartoum. (Canada, on the other hand, responded appropriately — condemning the Sudanese government and expelling a Sudanese diplomat from Ottawa.)

While a violent free-for-all between numerous armed groups — rebel factions, Arab militias, and organized criminals — has consumed parts of Darfur, the ruling National Congress Party in Sudan has managed, for the most part, to contain the chaos in Darfur and export it to Chad with minimal disruption to its main business: Hoarding Sudan's growing oil wealth while it undermines the landmark 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the SPLM.

The Need for a Coordinated and Sustained Diplomatic Front

Three years ago, the U.S. Congress harangued President Bush about not calling the Darfur crisis "genocide" until he finally did so. His administration then spent the next few years using the term repeatedly, bird-dogging other nations about their lack of action, issuing vague statements about the use of force for which the Pentagon has not done serious planning, strong-arming one of the rebel groups to sign a peace deal that made matters worse on the ground, imposing unilateral sanctions that had no impact on the culprits, and sending millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to substitute for effective political action.

During this timeframe, the U.S. could be forgiven for being disappointed in China and Europe. Beijing ran interference for the Khartoum regime in the UN Security Council while pumping Sudanese oil and selling arms to the government. France and the UK provided no direction to the European Union and sat on the sidelines, despite a reservoir of leverage in Paris from its relationship with Chad, and high octane speeches from former Prime Minister Blair about no-fly zones.

However, in one of those kairos moments, everything is suddenly changing. China has come under intense pressure from activists for its support for the Sudanese regime, which it wants to shake off so it can host a controversy-free 2008 Olympics. France elected a president who wants to work with the U.S. on Darfur. Britain's new prime minister has been actively working with the new French president to press for forward movement on the peace process in Darfur.

This quartet could work together and through a wider contact group to do the following:

  • support the resumption of a serious peace process for Darfur;
  • press the Government of Sudan to facilitate the unconditional and full deployment of the AU/UN hybrid peacekeeping mission;
  • demand that the rebels and government stop attacks against civilians and allow unimpeded and full access for humanitarian aid operations;
  • press for the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) — the blueprint for a democratic transformation in Sudan — between the regime and southern-based rebels; and
  • ensure that Khartoum continues to cooperate on counter-terrorism issues.

All four will have different styles of engagement and different comparative advantages in promoting solutions. China can't be expected to publicly condemn the Khartoum regime or actively support punitive measures. France has limitations within the European Union (EU) and inherits regional alliances that complicate its diplomacy. The U.S. carries baggage from other global entanglements and its counter-terrorism cooperation with Khartoum.

What is needed isn't exactly rocket science. Perhaps the single most influential action that could be taken now to end the horrors in Darfur would be for the U.S., France, the UK and China to convene an informal quartet similar to the "troika" of countries — U.S., UK and Norway — that helped bring an end to the North-South war in Sudan. All four countries now have Special Envoys focused on Darfur. All four have leverage with either the Sudanese regime or the rebels, or both. All four are permanent members of the UN Security Council. All four have compelling political reasons to invest more heavily in supporting solutions in Sudan. All four need to find global issues where common ground on ultimate objectives will allow them to work together and rebuild international cooperation in the midst of global division. And there is no better way for the U.S. to improve bilateral relationships with France and China than to work closely together toward a common goal on something like bringing peace and stability to Sudan.

With this "quartet," the U.S. and the greater international community must take immediate and significant action on the three following fronts to end the cycle of death and destruction once and for all in Sudan.

1. Promote the Peace: To create the missing and essential point of coordinated leverage on the parties involved in peace efforts, the quartet countries should send senior diplomats to the region to assist in the development of benchmarks and a clear end state vision as needed by the UN/AU mediation team. This sustained support is critical to garnering forward movement in the buildup to the Tripoli discussions that will start on October 27.

2. Protect the People: The United States should work with the United Nations and African Union to ensure that hybrid force is fully funded and equipped, and is on track to be deployed as quickly as possible. Troop contributions surprisingly are not the problem. Rather, it is insufficient support from the most important donors, including the U.S., that threatens to delay the deployment and hinder the force’s ability to protect civilians. As a leading member of the UN Security Council and a vocal supporter of the hybrid force, the U.S. has a particularly important role in ensuring these obstacles are overcome. Specifically, the U.S. should work with NATO and the European Union to provide the necessary equipment and logistics, press other nations to contribute essential hardware, and fund the U.S. share of the mission.

3. Punish the Perpetrators: To build leverage for peace and protection, it is crucial that any party who undermines efforts to promote peace and protect civilians face repercussions. Specifically, the U.S., France and the UK should be prepared to lead efforts in the United Nations Security Council to impose immediate and specific measures against any government, militia or rebel official who obstructs the deployment of the hybrid force, undermines the forward movement of the peace process or is responsible for attacks against civilian populations. Additional assistance should also be given to the International Criminal Court to execute indictments, support the prosecution of those indicted, and help accelerate the Court's preparation of additional cases against senior Sudanese officials responsible for crimes against humanity.


The world has done little over the last four years but condemn Khartoum’s actions while granting its wishes. It should be no surprise to any observer that the violence has increased, that rebel factions have splintered, that militias have turned against one another, or that Darfur’s civilians are paying the price. If this administration can set aside all its posturing, roll up its sleeves, send a diplomatic team to the region, and start working multilaterally, it could, finally, help drive a durable solution.