Today's date:
Fall 2006

Don’t Forget Darfur

Wole Soyinka is an author and recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature. He is a member, along with Elie Wiesel, of the newly formed Darfur Commission of Nobel Laureates. David L. Phillips is executive director of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.

Petra , Jordan — Prospects for peace in Darfur are slipping away because the government of Sudan is sabotaging international efforts to assist and protect victims of the conflict.

Not only has President Omar Hassan al-Bashir refused to allow the United Nations to deploy a peacekeeping operation, but his government has stonewalled a request by Nobel laureates to visit Sudan. It is in the Sudanese government’s interest to allow international observers into Darfur. If not, it will be justly blamed for the ongoing atrocities, as well as a coverup.

The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity recently convened a group of Nobel laureates in Jordan, where it launched a Darfur Commission of Nobel Laureates. The commission will focus on the protection of civilians, humanitarian access and seeing that the perpetrators of genocide are held accountable for their crimes.

Elie Wiesel, recipient of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, has called Darfur “the center of human suffering today.” Since 2003, the Darfur conflict has resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, thousands of rapes and the displacement of 2.5 million people.

The Darfur Peace Agreement was heralded as a breakthrough when it was signed in Abuja, Nigeria, on May 5. Despite high hopes, the agreement began unraveling almost immediately.

The accord is flawed. Not only does it lack implementation guarantees, but it relies on the goodwill of the Sudanese government to protect and assist internally displaced victims of the conflict when the government is itself a major cause of the problem.

Despite the agreement, violence is still widespread. The Janjaweed, government-backed militias responsible for ethnic cleansing of non-Arab tribes, have refused to lay down their arms. The mid-May ceasefire deadline has come and gone. So has the timetable for creating the Darfur Reconstruction and Development Fund and setting up the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation on reconciliation. Implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement is further complicated by distrustful factions boycotting the accord.

Stopping Darfur’s spiral of deadly violence must be the top priority. Despite its valiant efforts, the 7,000-man African Union force lacks the infrastructure and equipment to effectively protect civilians or create conditions for displaced persons to return home.

Sixty-two Nobel Prize recipients recently wrote President George W. Bush and other world leaders endorsing a UN peacekeeping operation with a robust mandate and the tools to do the job. The appeal calls on the UN Security Council to quickly deploy such a peacekeeping operation under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes the use of force.

The deployment should be large enough to serve as an effective deterrent and have a mandate to intervene. In addition, peacekeepers should have close air support, ground-based radar to monitor movement of forces and the capacity to enforce a no-fly zone. They will also need adequate transportation as a rapid-reaction force responding to trouble spots.

President Bashir has vowed to block UN deployment. He is perfectly satisfied with the status quo. To prevent effective international action, he is playing on fears arising from America’s occupation of Iraq. President Bashir asserts that peacekeepers are a Trojan horse for the United States to occupy Sudan and control its oil reserves.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The UN does not envision US troops joining the international peacekeeping force. Mindful of cultural sensitivities, the Darfur Commission of Nobel Laureates recommends a role for NATO but suggests that peacekeepers be drawn primarily from African as well as Muslim countries.

In addition, funds are urgently needed for humanitarian, resettlement and development assistance. The UN Mission in the Sudan, one of the world body’s largest humanitarian aid operations, suffers from a scarcity of resources. The World Food Program was recently forced to halve its caloric contributions to displaced Darfurians. The commission asks the European Union and Gulf states to increase their financial contributions.

Humanitarian action requires more than money. The Sudanese government should stop obstructing UN agencies. It should also facilitate humanitarian access by private international relief organizations. The Norwegian Refugee Council was recently evicted from Darfur and then suddenly notified that it could resume field operations. Private aid groups should be treated as an asset, not a nuisance.

In Darfur, there can be no peace without justice. The commission calls on the US and other permanent members of the UN Security Council to pursue accountability for perpetrators of atrocities through the International Criminal Court.

Vigilance is required now more than ever. The international community must not use the Darfur Peace Agreement as an excuse for inaction, as was the case in Bosnia and in so many other conflicts. Simply signing an agreement does not mean that peace prevails, nor does it signal an end to human suffering.

The Darfur Commission of Nobel Laureates is committed to bearing witness. We hope that the government of Sudan will welcome international monitors and issue visas to our delegation. If Nobel laureates do not raise their voices in support of defenseless people, who will?