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Responses to Genocide: Political and Humanitarian Strategies

Info: 11443 words (46 pages) Dissertation
Published: 3rd Nov 2021

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Tagged: Human RightsInternational RelationsPolitics

This dissertation examines the humanitarian crisis in the Sudanese region of Darfur during 2003-2004, a situation that has continued through to 2005. Recent reports from the World Food Programme estimate that the violence carried out by the tacitly government-supported militias against the non-Arab civilian population in the region has left 3.5 million people hungry, 2.5 million displaced by the violence and 400,000 dead. 

The Darfur crisis has been a humanitarian disaster unseen since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It has been a situation that ultimately foreign governments and international organisations have been unable to ignore.

Chapter two examines firstly the theoretical questions behind humanitarian intervention. The realist theory of international affairsis at the heart of the debate – realism suggests that states should puttheir own security and self interest before any moral obligation to intervene. Set in the context of Darfur, there was nothing within the individual national interest of other individual states to intervene, yet at some point in the crisis the common assumption moved towards afeeling that intervention on the basis of humanity was required.  The Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the international response at the time isused as an example of realism dictating the initial response of theinternational community, only to be overtaken by a more moral based response once the sheer scale of the crisis and human rights abuses became apparent.

Chapter three looks at events in Darfur in detail, from the beginnings of the crisis to the current situation. Using media sourcesas well as reports from organisation such as the UN and Human Rights Watch, this chapter summarises the main events of the crisis, with examples of the indiscriminate violence used by the government-backed Janjaweed militias against the civilian population in Darfur. The response of the Sudanese government along with the steps it took to prevent humanitarian intervention are describes, as are the actions, or in many cases, the inaction of sections of the international community.   The actions of the Sudanese Government would appear to be driven by the state centric realism that Webber and Smith term “acentral driving force for human motivation, namely a quest for power”

Chapter Four attempts to analyse events in Darfur against the theoretical frameworks detailed in chapter two. Realist assumptions continue to carry a certain weight in international politics, but there are examples of some more ethical policy making within the international community. The roles of the Sudanese Government, the UN, the US and other Western nations are looked at against theoretical positions.

Chapter Five offers some conclusions on the international response to Darfur.

At the heart of any analysis of the international response to thecrisis in Darfur lies the question why should anyone care about Darfur.Whilst theories supporting just wars and humanitarian intervention from the likes of Kaldor and Walzer argue that there is a basic human morality that requires states that are able to intervene to stop the suffering of oppressed people, a realist perspective, one thatrepresented the initial international response to Darfur, is that the key value of national interest is independence and security.  It is a question that has been at the crux of international relations for centuries – intervention in the affairs of another sovereign state is an issue that has generated much debate.

State sovereignty has long been a fundamental pillar of international society and non-intervention has ensured that individual states can maintain their political independence and territorial integrity. International organisations have generally supported this principle with, for example, Resolution 2131 of the UN General Assembly in 1965 stating:

“No state has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly in the internal or external affairs of any other state. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political,economic, or cultural elements are condemned”. Regional organisations have taken a similar stance – the Organisation of American States totally prohibits direct or indirect intervention in the affairs of another state. A wide range of political theory also supports the view that sovereignty is all-important and one state should not interfere in the affairs of another.

Nonetheless, international affairs since the establishment of the nation-state have seen intervention by states in the affairs of other for a number of reasons. The earliest interventions were for economic and strategic reasons and to secure territorial security – nineteenth century European interventions in Africa and Asia to establish colonies serve as an example of this. In the early twentieth century the US began to utilise a different type of intervention, intervening in the affairs of Central American states such as Nicaragua to encourage domestic political order, reduce economic corruption and reinforce its own influence in the region. Such action drew the attention of realist critics who have influence US foreign policy thinking more recently. Realists have alleged that the adherence to moral principles and the failure in the past to understand the “power essence” of interstate relations has led to unwise and unsuccessful policies , for example to failed humanitarian intervention in Somalia. Certainly, the memories of Somalia will have effected thinking on a political and humanitarian response to Darfur.

The Cold War saw intervention across the globe by the two superpowers either to enhance their own strategic security or to advance ideological goals, for example the USSR moving to strengthen communismin Czechoslovakia in 1968 or the US challenging anti-democratic forces in Grenada in 1983.

It is however, humanitarian intervention that is most relevant to the situation in Darfur, an type of intervention that according to Jack Donnelly is foreign intervention that seeks “to remedy mass and flagrant violations of the basic rights of foreign nationals by their government”   The failure of states and subsequent abuses of human rights in the latter stages of the twentieth century have presented other governments with numerous scenarios where they have to make decisions as to whether military intervention for humanitarian reasons is justified. It is a complex issue that poses a number of legal and moral issues.

Amstutz argues that humanitarian intervention presents a legal challenge to the accepted systems of state sovereignty along with a moral challenge to the right of self-determination. Whilst the demand for order, justice, stability and human rights may override these concerns, politicians are also faced with the decision as to whether,how and when their country should instigate humanitarian intervention. Such interventions can generally be justified if two criteria are met:

firstly that humanitarian intervention be in the interests of the intervening state, i.e. that it perceives the human rights abuses in the foreign state as a general threat to the order, legitimacy and morality of global society, or as a particular threat to its own economic prosperity;

secondly that the intervention must be in the interests of the civilian population of the intervened state and that the legal and moral issues around military intervention can be justified by the overall good that is accomplished. NATO intervention in Bosnia can be seen as an example of a situation that met the former criteria, the situations in both Rwanda and Darfur would appear to meet the latter.

Michael Walzer who has written extensively on just war theory and intervention argues that humanitarian intervention should be seen as different from instigating a military conflict. As well as the legalist argument against intervention in the affairs of another state, there is also the difficulty of intervention in a country that has not committed aggression against another state – there is a danger that intervening states can be seen as portraying the message treat your people the way we believe you should or be subject to the threat of armed punishment. Walzer nonetheless believes that even if intervention threatens the territory and political independence of another state, there are times when it can be justified. The onus of proof of justification however lies with the leader of the state that intervenes and this can be a heavy burden, “not only because of the coercions and ravages that military intervention brings, but also because it is thought that the citizens of a sovereign state have a right, insofar as they are to be coerced and ravaged at all, to suffer only at one another’s hands”.

Arguments that states should, regardless of how they are governed, should be left to deal with own affairs and influenced by the thoughts of John Stuart Mill who argued from a utilitarian viewpoint strongly for the right of a single political community to determine its own affairs – whether or not its political arrangements are free is not an issue for other states – members of any political society must cultivate their own freedom in the way that individuals must cultivate their own virtue, self-help rather than intervention from an external force must be the way towards a just society. Such arguments do not stand up when applied to some of the systematic and well-documented human rights abuses of the twentieth century – foreign governments make decisions based on a realist perspective not to intervene, but non-intervention based on the idea of self-determination is to avoid the issue and hide behind outdated ideas. There is a point at which realism has to be put aside and some form of moral stance must be taken. For Walzer, there are three situations in which the international resistance to boundary crossings can be ignored:

  1. when a particular set of boundaries clearly contains two or more political communities, one of which is already engaged in a large-scalemilitary struggle for independence; that is, when what is at issue is secession or ‘national liberation’
  2. when the boundaries have already been crossed by the armies of a foreign power, even if the crossing has been called for by one of the parties in a civil war, that is, when what is at issue is counter-intervention; and
  3. when the violation of human rights within a set of boundaries is so terrible that it makes talk of community or self-determination or ‘arduous struggle’ seem cynical or irrelevant, that is, in cases on enslavement or massacre

His criteria present a realistic scope for intervention. For all the ideas of ethical foreign policies there has to be some realism in international relations in that states cannot simply intervene in every dispute between neighbours or outbreaks of political unrest in other states. Walzer’s criteria, particular his third, limit intervention when serious abuses of human rights appear to be taking place. At this point, political expediency and national self-interest should be put aside.

Ultimately, Walzer’s thinking lead him towards an ethical theory of peace on the basis of sovereignty and other widely accepted states’rights. His values form the basis of a legalist paradigm, which providethe moral and legal structure for maintaining international peace. His legal paradigm also outlines the criteria for use of force to intervene. Its six key principles are:

1. An international society of independent states exists;
2. The states comprising the international society have rights,including the rights of territorial integrity and political sovereignty;
3. The use of force or threat of force by one state against another constitutes aggression and is a criminal act;
4. Aggression justifies two types of action: a war of self-defence by the victim and a war of law enforcement by the victim and any other members of the international society;
5. Nothing but aggression justifies war
6. After the aggressor state has been militarily repulsed, it can be punished.

Irrespective of the situation in a particular state and the legal or moral issues around any form of intervention, the realist view of international affairs can lead statesmen to decide against intervention. Realists from Thucydides, Hobbes and Machiavelli throughto the likes of Kissinger and Waltz remain strictly sceptical about moral concepts within international relations and assume that states going to war or engaging in any form of intervention are more motivated by power and their own national security than any moral issues. The phrase “all’s fair in love and war” is often applied to the realist perspective with Walzer writing “referring specifically to war, realists believe that it is an intractable part of an anarchical world system, that it ought to be resorted to only if it makes sense in terms of national self-interest”  – in effect there are no moral consideration in regard to military intervention, the human rights abuses occurring in another state are of little importance to realists, intervention will only be considered if it is considered to be economically or strategically of value to the intervening state or itsleaders. This value can be political on occasions. There is little doubt of the power of modern media to put pressure on politicians. The US intervention in Somalia and NATO action in Bosnia were to some extent related to public pressure on politicians to do something about scenes being broadcast into the homes of the electorate.

Thinking on humanitarian intervention has had to adapt more recently to the new type of wars that have proliferated across the globe since the end of the Cold War, for example the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia driven by ancient ethnic hatreds. Certainly with the demise of the stand off between two military superpowers there has been greater scope for the UN and individual states to become involved in conflict resolution and throughout the 1990s the UN has found itself constantly involved in providing humanitarian aid, establishing safe havens, disarmament and demobilisation operations, monitoring and maintaining ceasefires.

New wars have involved a blurring of the distinction between war (usually defined as violence between states or organised political groups), organised crime (violence undertaken by privately organised groups for private purposes, usually financial gain) and large-scale violations of human rights (violence undertaken by states orpolitically organised groups against individual).  Some of the ethnic hatred that has fuelled new wars has in particular led to terrible human rights abuses; events that put moral pressure on others states to consider intervention. Mary Kaldor suggests that there are two types of response to new wars – one is to draw on the old war idea of the nation state and look for solutions along the lines of intervention and peacekeeping whilst the other response is a more negative and fatalistic outlook: “because the wars cannot be understood in traditional terms,they are thought to represent a reversion to primitivism or anarchy and the most that can be done therefore is to ameliorate the symptoms. In other words, wars are treated as natural disasters.”

Kaldor’s view rightly challenge the realist assumption that states should not involve themselves in humanitarian intervention unless there is some advantage to be gained in a self-interested pursuit of power. What is required is a more political response to new wars and the attacks on human rights that accompany them. The international community should be looking towards politics of inclusion that capture the hearts and minds of protagonists and any such political mobilisation should override traditional geopolitics or short term domestic concerns. This type of thinking moves closer to a type of neo-realism which places more of an emphasis on the structural features of the international system and avoids the stress on the often anarchic striving for power that reflects traditional realism.  The drawback tothe neo realist approach is that its reliance on the determining impact of the structure of the international system allow policy makers relatively little discretion. This can be seen to some extent in Darfuras representative from various states struggled to find a solution to the crisis that met with consensus.

There have of course been embarrassments for individual states and international organisations with attempts at humanitarian interventionin the 1990s, setbacks that will give weight to realist theory that sovereign states should on the whole be left well alone. Kaldor concludes that humanitarian intervention has had mixed success:

“at best, people have been fed and fragile ceasefires have be enagreed….at worst the UN has been shamed and humiliated, as, for example, when it failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda, when theso-called safe haven of Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serbs, or when the hunt for the Somali warlord Aideed ended in a mixture of farce and tragedy”.

Nonetheless, the arguments for humanitarian intervention remain strong. Darfur is as good an example as any for this. As Orend writes “why should foreign states, which themselves respect human rights, be barred in principle from intervening in such illegitimate regimes?” 

Rwanda in particular serves as an example of both foreign states and international organisations initially taking a realist stance only to eventually to be spurred into action by the sheer scale of the genocide taking place. In France’s case, the links between the powerful elites in the two countries had long been established – not only had France long supported the Hutu regime but Francois Mitterand and Rwandan President Habyarimana were personal friends, whilst their sons, Jean Christopher and Jean-Pierre were also friends and business associates.The two countries had mutual economic interests and there is evidence that Jean Christopher was one of France’s biggest arms dealers to Rwanda.

The French response to the developing crisis, when it came, was far from glorious. Rather than intervene to provide further killings it decided to pull out its troops. In the previous week, the first of the genocide they had evacuated as many as 1361 people including 450 French nationals and 178 Rwandan officials and their families. No other Rwandan nationals were evacuated, not even Tutsi personnel from the French embassy or well-known opponents of the regime who had already been targeted by the militia. 

The role of the United Nations mission (UNAMIR) has received considerable criticism in analyses of the genocide. The UN had its own internal politics to contend with and its policies on Rwanda were in turn determined to some extent by realist self-interest. As an organisation it was largely reliant on the support of its most powerful members on the Security Council. These nations, mindful of the disastrous US intervention in Somalia were wary of investing troops and finances into another African conflict. Realism came to the forefront of the early decision making process. Human Rights Watch, in addition to criticism of the UN for not taking heed of Dallaire’s warnings, is also critical of the scale of the mandate itself.  It describes the details of the mandate as follows:

“Not only was the UN slow, it was also stingy. The United States, which was assessed 31 per cent of UN peacekeeping costs, had suffered from the enormous 370 per cent increase in peacekeeping expenses from 1992to 1993 and was in the process of reviewing its policy on such operations.

Quite simply the UN was not equipped to keep the peace in Rwanda. Members on its influential Security Council did not have the political will to get involved, nor were they willing to take on the financial burden. The US and the UK, although less involved in Rwanda than France, were similarly guilty of happily ignoring warnings of possible genocide and working towards the maintenance of the status quo. Both had sold arms to the Hutu regime and had trading links with Rwanda. Both also had little desire to see their own troops caught up as part of an UN force in Rwanda. The theory of non-intervention, as opposed to realism is another view that opposes humanitarian intervention. The key assumptions and values for this concept are:

  • the existing anarchic international system is morally legitimate
  • peoples have a right to political self-determination
  • states have a juridical right to sovereignty and territorial integrity
  • states have an obligation to resolve conflicts peacefully
  • force is a illegitimate instrument for altering the existing territorial boundaries

Non –intervention theory argues in favour of an international legitimacy of states in which existing states are entitled to autonomy and domestic legitimacy which assumes that states are entitled to respect and support when they fulfil their core obligations as states. In terms of domestic legitimacy, in the light of the fact that there are wide disparities in conceptions of human rights, this can essentially be interpreted that whether a state is entitled to non-intervention depends largely on its subject’s approval of the regime itself.

The counter-arguments of realism and moral intervention continue to play a major role in international politics and are likely to continue to do so. It is a sad fact that the list of oppressive governments and massacred populations is lengthy. Walzer points out that for every Nazi holocaust or Rwanda there will be a number of smaller examples of injustice and abuse – so many that the international community cannot hope to deal with. On a small scale at least, Walzer’s suggestion that “states don’t send their soldiers into other states, it seems, only to save lives. The lives of foreigners don’t weigh that heavily in the scales of domestic decision-making”  rings true – humanitarian intervention in smaller-scale situations is simply not realistic. A greater test for the moral resolve of NGOs and wealthier nations is their response in the face of large-scale humanitarian disasters and human rights abuses, again using Walzer’s words, when dealing with acts “that shock the moral conscience of mankind”.

Ethical questions around the issues of international moral obligations towards nations suffering from oppressive regimes and human rights abuses are not easily resolved. Whilst humanitarian aid or intervention is generally seen as a morally correct route of action, political expediency quite often takes precedence. Whilst it is generally accepted that, as Grotius believed, war ought not to be undertaken except for the enforcement of right and  when once undertaken it should be carried on  within the bounds of law and good faith, national self interest does not always allow for a strategy led by such moral incentives. In Darfur, the action of the Khartoum Government could certainly not be described as driven by moral incentives whilst elsewhere early responses to the crisis were driven by political expediency  Major states have to ask themselves which moral values should influence their foreign policies and which international value is more important – sovereignty or human rights? The answer should be human rights, yet there is a fine line between using these values from a moral perspective or manipulating them into a realist opportunity to indulge the national interest with intervention elsewhere. There are other difficult questions – do human rights violations justify foreign intervention and at what scale?  Does international political morality require the removal of illegal military regimes and the restoration of democracy?  There are countless regimes around the world to which the world might turn its attention and ask itself these questions. For the most part, small conflicts and small-scale abuse of human rights are,rightly or wrongly, ignored. The situation in Darfur from 2003 onwards however gave the international community a scenario that it could not ignore. The world had to make decisions upon hundreds of thousands of lives would rest.

Chapter Three – The crisis in Darfur

The current situation in Darfur can be traced back to February 2003 when fighters from the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) launched joints attacks against government garrisons in protest at what they saw as decades of political oppression and economic neglect by the Sudanese government. The attacks came at the same time that there had been high hopes of a peace settlement to the war in southern Sudan that had been ongoing between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) since independence in 1965.

The government’s response was unequivocal. Citing the rebels as an aggressive force against the state it set out to crush the rebellion by force and utilised the powerful force of Arab Janjaweed militias to attack not particularly rebel soldiers but the civilian populations from where the rebels would have originated.  The government expected to crush the revolt, partly as it had done so in 1991 when a SPLA unit infiltrated Darfur, and partly as it expected a lack on international interest as Darfur was an internal Northern Sudanese issue with no Christian population and no oil interests involved. Khartoum –led military activity in late 2003 to early 2004 was brutal (“a counter-insurgency of extraordinary ferocity”)  and carried out whilst the government prevented any humanitarian aid reaching the civilian population. It was an action led by political expediency with absolutely no regard for the human rights of an innocent civilian population. Hugo Slim describes the military action as completely disproportionate to the targeted guerrilla warfare of the two Darfur insurgent groups and states that “systematic and widespread government and Janjaweed assaults on civilians, their villages, their infrastructure and their livelihoods along with forced displacement and land-grabbing, intended to make it impossible for the terrorised and evicted populations to return. As this went on, the Government also enforced what was almost a complete ban on humanitarian aid accessing the country between October 2003 and February 2004.

Early talks on the crisis saw the Khartoum Government deliberately stonewall on major issues. It objected to upgrading the small AU observer force from 300 to 3500, with an increase in its mandate to include protecting civilians, and was then forced to accept this measure by the UN Security Council. It was a realist approach – looking solely after its own interests and using delay in an international response to move along with its aim to displace the population of Drafur.

Government and Janjaweed Cooperation

There is little real doubt that the government has worked closely with the Janjaweed militias. Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigations concluded that government forces and militia troops have taken part in massacres and summary executions of civilians, burnings of towns and villages and forcible depopulation of areas across Darfur. ”We are the government” has been a common response of Janjaweed at checkpoints and when entering villages and HRW reports that “the government and its Janjaweed allies have killed thousands of Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa – often in cold blood, raped women and destroyed villages, food stocks and other supplies essential to the civilian population.”.

In the early stages of the conflict, the Sudanese government barely attempted to conceal its close working with the Janjaweed. Mans writes that “the Janjaweed militias are said to be of largely Chadian origin and finance themselves through plunder and pillage, reportedly enjoying implicit support from the Government in Khartoum.” But this is understating the relationship between the two. In April 2004, the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, admitted a common cause with the Janjaweed stating “the government may have turned a blind eye to the militias…This is true. Because these militia are targeting the rebellion.”  President Bashir also had spoken on 31 December 2003 of the government’s determination to defeat the SLA rebellions and warned darkly that “the horsemen” would be one of the weapons it would use.

There is other clear evidence of well established links between the government and Janjaweed leaders. Many of the militia leaders are established emirs or omdas from Arab tribes who have previously worked in government. For example, Abdullah abu Shineibat, an emir of the Beni Halba tribe is a Janjaweed leader in the Habila-Murnei area, whilst Omar Saef, an omda of the Awlad Zeid tribe is leader of the Janjaweed from Geineina to Misterei. Other evidence pointed to a similar conclusion of complicity between government and militia: Janjaweed brigades were organised along army lines with forces wearing similar uniforms and officers using the same stripes; militia forces used the same land cruisers and satellite phones as army personnel and there is evidence that Janjaweed members were given assurances that they would not face local prosecution for crimes, with police forces being instructed to leave them alone. Again, the prevailing issue here is political expediency overcoming any possible humanitarian response. Both the Government and Janjaweed had interests in devastating Darfur – there was political gain for the Government and financial gain for the Janjaweed. Both took the realist option of looking after themselves.

Government and Militia forces attack civilians

One of the mostnotable traits of the crisis in Darfur has been the fact that both government and militia forces have largely ignored rebel forces, preferring to use their weapons against the civilian population in areas that rebels may have originated from. HRW investigations uncovered 14 incidents in Dar Masalit alone between September 2003 and February 2004 in which 770 civilians were killed. It also gathered witness testimony to mass executions in the Fur areas of Wadi Salih province over the same period. 

Aerial bombardment of civilians has also been commonplace. The Sudanese Government has made extensive use of attack aircraft, dropping bombs loaded with metal shards to cause maximum injury and also utilising helicopter gun ships and MiG jet fighters. Bombing has also been deliberately targeted at villages and towns where displaced citizens have gathered – for example on August 27 2003, aircraft carried out an attack on the town of Habila which was packed with displaced civilians from surrounding areas. 24 were killed.

Government and Janjaweed forces have also systematically attacked and destroyed villages, food stocks, water sources and other essential items essential for the survival of villages in West Darfur. Refugees in Chad have confirmed a sweep south east of Geneeina in February 2004 saw the destruction of a number of villages including Nouri, Chakoke, Urbe, Jabun and Jedida.

The International Response

The international response to the situation in Darfur has been mixed, characterised by a willingness to condemn the Sudanese Government alongside a dragging of heels in actually intervening to stop what the US Government has labelled genocide. Alex De Waal suggests that political repercussions for the Sudanese Government were grave writing:  “International attention and condemnation exceeded all expectations, culminating in Darfur being brought before the United Nations Security Council in July 2004” This analysis however fails to mention the scale of the crisis in the preceding months and suggests a more positive and effective response by the international community than was actually the case.. The international community may eventually have come around to taking Darfur seriously – but much later than was required. As Hugo Slim concludes: “the international community has not denied, but it has delayed and dithered. Once engaged it fumbled and took far too long to achieve a united and sufficiently assertive response.” 

There was a notable reluctance from the UN in particular to use the word genocide in relation to Darfur, a similar pattern to that had been followed in Rwanda a decade earlier. It was in fact US Secretary of State Powell that announced on September 9th 2004 that the US government’s conclusion was that “genocide had been committed in Darfur…and may still be occurring”  The US stance may have been influenced by domestic political considerations. According to a senior US official who had served as ambassador to the UN, the Bush administration described the Darfur atrocities as genocide in order to please the Christian right ahead of the American presidential elections. John Danforth, made the admission in an interview in which he confirmed that the Bush administration's stance was dictated by domestic considerations and had aligned its position with that of the US Congress, which urged President Bush in a vote in July 2004 to call the mass killings and ethnic cleansing in western Sudan 'by their rightful name: genocide'.  Again, this serves as an example of political expediency at the fore – US policy was being influenced by public opinion and therefore its own self interest. In this case, arealist perspective may actually have helped to instigate action, but nonetheless from the administrations viewpoint, policy was not beingled by its own moral incentives. 

Foreign policy decision making in the US was also affected by other theoretical factors. Clinton’s administration had attempted to introduce a new doctrine of ‘enlargement and enlargement’  that was linked to the enlargement of the democratic world and the expansion of international cooperation. The policy was based on the precept that international cooperation would reduce the need for the US to intervene abroad (in situations such as in Darfur). In addition to this was a realisation that gaining consensus for intervention in the US was very difficult. Following the like of Vietnam and Somalia, realism prevailed over humanitarian motives and the perception was that during the 1990s, the use of force by the US was only possible in clear cut situations,where the moral force of arguments for intervention was very strong (as strong as the practical need to defeat the enemy) and casualties could be kept to a minimum.

UN fortnightly situation reports painted a worrying picture about Darfur from 2003 onwards, again listing evidence of attacks on civilians, displacement of populations and famine. Its report for Feb10-19 2004 focussed on the ongoing difficulties that NGOs were having in gaining access to the region.  The report stated that high-level UN delegations had to exert pressure on the Sudanese government for unimpeded access so that meaningful humanitarian programmes could be delivered . Security incidents across West Darfur were logged, as were reports of militia looting cattle from resident populations and entering camps at night, raping women and looting property. 

Rape has become a hallmark of the crimes against humanity in Darfur. It has proven one way for the Janjaweed militias to continue attacking Darfurians after driving them from their homes. Families must continue to collect wood on a daily basis, fetch water or work in their fields, and in doing so, women put themselves and their children at repeated and genuine risk of rape, beatings or death as soon as they are outside the relative safety of the camps, towns or villages (even being inside population centres however does not guarantee safety). It is assumed that the hundreds of rapes actually reported and treated grossly underestimate the actual number committed, as victims of rape in Darfur are often too scared or too ashamed to seek help. In a culture where rape draws heavy social disgrace, victims will often be ostracised by their families and communities. Women and children have been forced from their communities and even punished for illegal pregnancy as a result of being raped.

Months later, situation reports for September, whilst concentrating on camp management and humanitarian aid for displaced people, still referred to attacks on civilians. In South Darfur: for example an INGO reported armed Arab militia attacks on Amdur, 16km north east of Nyalaand Mummu villages, along the route to Ta’asha on 16-17 September.  The INGO reported that Arab militias, for the past three days had been burning villages along Wadi Amdur. The report also referred to attempts to alleviate malnourishment – in West Darfur there were reports that since mid-August NGOs had established a number of CTCs (CommunityTherapeutic Care) covering five sites around El Geneina including Dorti, Riyad, Ardamata and Abuzar School. The program at that time had registered approximately 2,000 children about 250 of which are severely malnourished.   UN situation reports for the whole of 2003-04 would consistently refer to food shortages in camps and malnutrition amongst children. It was clear that was what happening in Darfur was a large-scale humanitarian disaster.

July 2004 saw the issue of a Joint Communiqué between the UN and the Government of Sudan following visit by Secretary General Kofi Annan.The communiqué registered the fact that the UN was deeply concerned with the grave situation in the region and was aware of the urgent need to stop Janjaweed attacks on the civilian population and to ensure security in the region as per the humanitarian ceasefire agreement that had been signed by the Government and rebel groups in May. By this stage, the UN was able to recognise some improvement in achieving humanitarian access to Darfur for UN and African Union officials and welcomed an increase in the provision of assistance to the internally displaced and other vulnerable groups by both local and national authorities as well as from international agencies and NGOs. The fact however that the Government had obstructed humanitarian aid to its own civilian population gives some indication as to the severity of oppression in Darfur.

The communiqué included some assurances, verbal at least, from the Sudanese Government. It committed to:

  • Implementing a ‘moratorium on restrictions’ for all humanitarian workin Darfur and the removal of other obstacles such as visa restrictions for aid workers
  • Freedom of movement for aid workers and suspension of restrictions for the importation and use of all humanitarian assistance materials, transport vehicles, aircraft and communication equipment
  • Ensure that individuals and groups accused of human rights violations are brought to justice
  • Allow deployment of human rights monitors
  • Establish a fair system, respectful of local traditions, that will allow abuse women to bring charges against alleged perpetrators 

On many occasions, the Khartoum Government would be stalling for time to continue its programme of ethnic cleansing when agreeing to concessions. Its denial of links with the Janjaweed also gave it the opportunity to claim that Government forces were complying with agreements whilst in reality the Government-backed Janjaweed could continue its work with relative impunity.

It has to be understood that the international response to Darfur was dictated to some extent by tensions between bilateral and multilateral approaches. Peace talks to end the lengthy conflict in Southern Sudanwere at a critical stage and few diplomats wished to see this process affected by Darfur. Hugo Slim confirms as such, stating: “there were competing political priorities within Sudan, within the region and in the world at large which acted to distract and inhibit political response to what was happening in Darfur”
There are however, a number of positive aspects that can be found in the international response. Early fact-finding work carried out on the ground in Chad and Darfur was impressive, humanitarian and human rights organisations also provided solid field reports on the situation and the public display of satellite images offered by the US gave clear evidence as to patterns and the actual extent of destruction and displacement. Other individual nations, in particular Chad, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK maintained a consistent diplomatic pressure on the Sudanese Government. Criticisms of a lack of funding in Darfur once access for humanitarian missions had improved has also been levelled at the international community. Despite the UN calling for a donor’s conference in June 2004, the amount given has consistently fallen short of what is needed. Oxfam has pointed out the discrepancy between international funding in Sudan and in Iraq. In the first three months of 2003, the appeal for Iraq had raised US$2 billion whilst the appeal for the whole of Sudan had only raised US$200 million out of an appeal for US$639 million. The donors conference asked for US$236million, yet only raised pledges of US$126 million.  Political expediency must be seen as a factor here – war in Iraq is a policy carrued out with a strong commitment by the US Government – the same cannot be said to apply to Darfur.

The response of the European Union to Darfur, like the UN has been mixed and uncoordinated. In February 2004 it expressed its “serious concern” and that it was “alarmed at reports that Janjaweed militias continue to systematically target villages and centres for IDPs in their attacks”  The EU condemned such attacks and the European Parliament followed suite with strong statements and resolutions on the crisis. Individual states, particularly the British and the Dutch continued to lobby the Sudanese Government about its human rights record.

Despite strong words however, and condemnation from the EU as a body, there was relatively little in terms of public condemnation of the Sudanese Government from individual member states during 2003-04. The likes of the British, Dutch and French all had embassies in Khartoumand, whilst willing to use private diplomacy, shied away from public comment for fear of upsetting the ongoing peace talks in Naivasha regarding Southern Sudan. The talks had been going on for some time,and, as the crisis in Darfur broke out, were reaching a crucial stage.The Government feared that an ongoing insurgency in Darfur could develop into a widespread movement in the North that would ultimately threaten the regime. The international community was equally aware of this and so, whilst horrified by the situation in Darfur, had to consider alternatives – if the insurgents in Darfur eventually brought down President Bashir, a totalling unravelling of the country might occur and a situation of near anarchy that might grow into a worse tragedy than in Darfur alone.  In effect, and perhaps without making a conscious decision to do so, the vast majority of the international community settled for what can be described as a tacit sequencing strategy that involved dealing with one war after another. Such apolicy would eventually get around to dealing with Darfur, but would beunable to prevent further atrocities in the meantime.

Competing political strategies amongst individual states also hampered practical resolution to the Darfur crisis. All states privatelycondemned what was going on, yet all had different relationships with the Sudanese Governments, or their own domestic or regional issues that effected their actions. China for example took a noticeably softer line with the Khartoum Government, partly due to its close economic ties with Sudan and partly due to fears of drawing attention to its own poor human rights record. From the US, there came strong words and accusations of genocide, yet a reluctance to involve the International Criminal Court – a reluctance undoubtedly influenced by concerns that its own actions in Iraq could be open to similar charges. The process of aligning such a wide range of positions was time consuming and time was a commodity that displaced civilians in Darfur did not have. An ongoing antagonism over who is and who is not prepared to back any agreement with financial aid also creates tension and delays.
The African Union and its member states, Chad in particular, gave some impressive support to the Western powers in looking for a response to Darfur. The AU had not long prior to the crisis developed its own Peace and Security Council and through this channel was able to issue a number of informed and critical communiqués about the violence and human rights abuses in Darfur. The AU gave strong support to the initial N’djamena peace talks through its envoy and its offices in Addis Ababa and followed this by successfully taking on the role of official mediator in the Abuja peace process, indicating that as a rational organisation, it has the will, the expertise and the technical capacity to deliver critical diplomatic results. 

In contrast, multilateral support and cooperation with the international community from the Arab league and the Organisation of Islamic Countries was notably less forthcoming. Again, other political issues overshadowed the situation at hand – for example the Arab League was at the time focussed on US military action in Iraq and Israeli military action against the Palestinians and paid little attention to Darfur. The League played little part in the N’adjamena process other than turn up to sign the agreement in May and its main role in the Ajuba process appears to have been to support the Khartoum Government in its efforts to avoid US and European intervention. It did not offer any of its own troops to support an international response.

The real beginnings of an international response, as delayed as it was, came in April 2004, led by the US, Chad and the AU. The US has exerted political pressure on the Sudanese Government during the N’adjamena talks and leading members of the US administration backed this up with phone calls. A June visit by Secretary of State Powell also emphasised the strength of US determination to instigate some form of humanitarian action, even if this would not entail a commitment of its own troops. US funding, along with donations from EU and Britain was able to secure the ceasefire commission process. The UN Security Council on the other hand, remained quiet and ineffective during 2004. Its statements remained statements of concern rather than of action and focussed onthe protection of civilians, humanitarian access and the Khartoum Government’s responsibility for both. There was little in the way of threatening or sanctioning UN measures against the Sudanese Government. It was a poor response from the UN, giving weight to the theory that in terms of strong political leadership, it is the US that leads the way in international politics.  The Security Council, in particular has looked divided and ineffective over Darfur, with self-interest seemingly influencing the Russian and Chinese positions.

It is easy to underestimate the scale of the atrocities in Darfur. Certainly it is a humanitarian and human rights disaster unparalleled since Rwanda. It will take many years for the international community to repair the damage done to the region. Even before this can begin, itis vital that Janjaweed are brought completely under control. Even at present they continue to launch attacks on civilians whilst many have been officially integrated into the police and army, something that cannot fill the population of Darfur with confidence for the future.The whole infrastructure of the region has been severely damaged. Populations are displaced across the region and tens of thousands have fled into neighbouring Chad. It is unlikely that many of the displaced population will return to their land by the next planting season, thus ensuring that the cycle of food shortages goes on. Above all else however, it should be recognised that events in Darfur were not an accident. They were not sparked by some form of natural disaster, but controlled by a Government set on a policy of ethnic cleansing against its black African population. For all the dithering of the UN about definitions, by all intents and purposes, what happened in Darfurduring 2003-04 was genocide.

Chapter Four – Darfur in the context of theoretical perspectives on humanitarian intervention

Assessing the Darfur crisis against the theoretical framework of international relations is not an easy task. The sheer diversity of viewpoints and incentives held by key players entails that a generalisation is impossible. To suggest that realism or particular moral values drive the response of the international community is too simplistic. Some states and NGOs appeared to be switching from action to inertia almost on a monthly basis, clearly unable to decide between policies of intervention, non-intervention or a detached realism. The motives of the various actors need to be analysed separately.

Firstly it is clear that the scale of the crisis in Darfur is one, which by Walzer’s definition should ‘shock the moral conscience of mankind’ . By March 2005, estimates varied but the most conservative speak of around 80,000 dead, in addition to the 180,000 who have been killed by hunger and disease during the past 18 months. Close to 2million people have been displaced. The situation in Darfur is one that demanded humanitarian intervention from 2003 onwards yet failed to receive it. Regardless of any theoretical analysis of the international response, the clear fact is that the international community has to be morally obliged to intervene in a disaster of such magnitude.

Realism at its most basic and cynical can be seen in the attitude ofthe Sudanese Government towards Darfur, both rebel forces and its civilian population. Walzer uses the phrase “inter arma silent leges –in time of war the law is silent” to describe the inhumanity that manwill sometimes attempt to justify in times of conflict. Within the conflict in Darfur there are hints of Thucydides classic tale of Athenian generals Clemodes and Tisias in dialogue with the magistrates of the island state of Melos – instead of talking of glory and justice, they spoke of what was feasible and necessary. They knew that they had the power to crush the island’s population and would do so to show the strength that they possessed. The Sudanese Government decide upon its policy in Darfur with a similar realism. It knew that it had the military might to crush the population in Darfur and that it had an opportunity to do so whilst the international community focussed on other world issues and peace talks in other parts of Sudan. Even as the international community woke up to the true scale of the horror in Darfur, its initial indecision gave the Sudanese Government a few more months to continue with its ethnic cleansing. Quite simply, Khartoum put any moral issues aside and sanctioned widespread atrocities in the belief that this course of action best served its own interests.
The US Government combined realism with some degree of morality and a commitment to the value of human life. For the US, the concept of real politik lies at the heart of its foreign policy and this is seen in its handling of the situation in Darfur.

As the world’s major superpower, the US has to ask itself certain questions whenever it is expected to intervene across the globe on humanitarian grounds.   Is intervention morally warranted? Given famine and suffering across the world, how does it make a compelling case for intervention in one particular country? Should national interests or global values guide the US? What is the long term picture – does humanitarian intervention carry with it the moral obligation to then attempt to remedy the underlying conditions behind such suffering? Should the US, following a humanitarian intervention look to disarm and demobilise warring factions?  Perhaps the most difficult question is to distinguish between different disasters. Why did it intervene in Somalia and not Rwanda? How does Darfur compare to the two of them? Such questions border on the imponderable.  In reality the US is unable to devise a strict set of criteria to apply as humanitarian crises emerge. It has to treat each situation on its merits and make judgements on its action and policies according to circumstances. For people suffering at the hands of oppressive regimes, the hope has to be that moral imperatives rather than a self-serving realism will prevailin their instance.

At the outset of the Darfur crisis, Iraq was the main foreign policy concern for the US, but by the spring of 2004 its own satellite photography was providing indisputable evidence of a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur generated by systematic atrocities. The situation was that “international interest and self-interest began to coalesce around Darfur….something had to be done. Key players in the international community started to push for talks to restart”.  With public opinion at home, led by the Christian Right increasingly calling for action, the US administration had to be seen to be doing something.

The US response showed realism in its reluctance to use a military intervention force – there was little in terms of its own national interests that would have been achieved by humanitarian intervention, despite the scale of the crisis suggesting that there would have been a fairly compelling moral argument to do so. Walzer’s just war theory contends that war can be morally justified, provided it is for the right reasons and adheres to a code of conduct. The US took a moral stance in its diplomacy in regard to Darfur but was unwilling to extend this moral stance to military intervention. A military intervention in this case may have saved tens of thousands of lives. The war in Iraq obviously raises serious questions about the justification of US intervention abroad yet Darfur remains a completely different situation. The scale of the humanitarian crisis through 2003/04 would justify intervention by most criteria, certainly those set out by the likes of Kaldor and Walzer. Nonetheless, its diplomatic and financial intervention seems to have more ethical motives at heart. There may have been some self-interest in terms of appeasing domestic pressure groups that wanted to see action in Darfur, but the overall tone of the US in diplomacy around Darfur has been a positive force. Its reluctance to support any use of the ICC of course injects a further note of realism into its actions. The Bush administration regards the ICC aspart of a covert agenda to put US soldiers on trial, and has repeatedly blocked moves to bring it into play. Again, political consideration override what should be an option to prevent human rights abuses,
The UN, although guilty over indecision and delays in its response to Darfur can at  least be said to have taken a moral stance towards the situation. Slim sums this up stating: “despite the very late responseof the international political community to the atrocities in Darfur, there seems little doubt that key states, UN organisations and NGOs did respond with this post-Rwanda sense of responsibility. They were never in denial about Darfur. They never downplayed the violence ormis represented it as something other than it was.” This can be seen in the language of much of the UN documentation on Darfur – terms such as civilian protection, humans rights violations, war crimes and international responsibility feature highly in the vocabulary. Whilst the UN in particular was keen to avoid use of the word genocide, the experience in Rwanda alerted it to the fact that Darfur could come into this category – certainly other pressure groups in the US and UK were willing to use the term genocide. 

One view is that the UN’s reluctance to use the word ‘genocide’ has played into the hands of those committing atrocities in Darfur. As recently as February 2005 the UN has met and decided the Darfur did not meet the criteria of genocide. This cannot be understated as had it ruled the other way, there would have been an automatic obligation on the rest of the international to intervene to stop it. In effect, the non-interventionist argument would have been void. Of course the UN has used other strongly worded statements. It has said that ethnic cleansing, war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity have occurred in Darfur. This of course still leaves the rest of the international community with a dilemma. As Freedland asks: “so where does this leave us, ‘the rest of the world’? Are we happy to stand by while the killing, maiming and village burning continues?” His view is that for the UN and Western states, a realist view takes precedence – our direct concerns, that is our own people or economic being are not affected by events in Darfur, so why bother? The war in Iraq can also be an argument for realists – both Britain and the US are simply too committed to Iraq to do anything practical elsewhere. Even though the US has branded the Darfur calamity “genocide", it remains in no hurry to act. It just does not have the men or kit to spare.

This type of philosophy is a product of the of the anti- interventionist conservative
right - a philosophy embodied by the Balkan lethargy of Douglas Hurd in the
1990s. There is also a negative type of realism on the left, which,since Rwanda, has concentrated on the disastrous effects of previous interventions and argued against Western intervention from this angle..So, for example, the Rwandan genocide was
partly the product of a Belgian colonial legacy that left the society
divided between Hutus and Tutsis. British meddling in Sudan pitted the north
against the south, a conflict that endures to this day.

In the UK, a further factor also causes Government to hesitate more recently when considering humanitarian intervention – the lack of trustin Prime Minister Blair following the invasion of Iraq. Intervention in Kosovo back in 1999 seemed to herald the dawn of an era of liberal interventionism to provide humanitarian assistance when needed. It was the era of an ethical foreign policy by the British Government. Blair spoke at the time of an end to realpolitik inertia that had allowed the slaughter in Rwanda and the Balkans to go unheeded for so long. Following the invasion of Iraq however, the high moral ground has been lost for the British Government at least. The public would be deeply sceptical about any future intervention on humanitarian grounds,cautious of believing any Government information about human rights abuse. In the words of Peter Wallward: “Fresh from an illegal anddeceitful war of aggression, Anglo-US forces now have only one moralresponsibility: to stay at home”.

Other commentators have been less positive about the UN response. A leading article in the Independent wrote scathingly:

”The UN has floundered pathetically in the face of this growing emergency. It initially allowed considerations about a peace accord in another part of Sudan to distract it from the atrocities of Darfur. Countries sympathetic to Sudan on the Security Council - China, Russia, Pakistan and Algeria - buried attempts to impose sanctions.”   Such a conclusion is harsh on the UN overall. Certainly, some individual states, notably Russia and China have looked at Darfur from very much a realist perspective, decided to protect their own economic and strategic interests and thus voted on the Security Council accordingly.This may cast some aspersions on the overall effectiveness of the UN, but still it would appear that the vast majority of those within the organisation looked to take a moral stance towards Darfur, yet were hindered by its cumbersome bureaucracy and the cynical realism of aminority of member states.. China, in particular seems to have put all moral considerations aside in protecting its own national interest. An eager customer of Sudan's oil output, it appears to have blocked an oil embargo, which would have bought unequivocal economic pressure on Khartoum.

International responses to Darfur show an international community torn between realism and a nagging moral imperative to do the right thing.The fact that major states and organisations such as the UN can be driven by moral incentives has to be seen as positive but clearly this commitment to the value of human life runs into problems when it has to be converted into action. Realism kicks in when the time for action arrives, perhaps inadvertently but in such a fashion that there are delays in formulating a response to a crisis that costs lives.

As Slim succinctly concludes: “tensions arising from other areas of international politics like Iraq, potential oil deals and concerns overspheres of influence are always played out in the immediate business of building and configuring an international alliance and shaping a strategy….the time it takes to form a coherent and assertive international response when people are being killed is always surprising. And, once again, over Darfur it took far too long”.

Sadly, it is likely that there will be another crisis such as that in Rwanda. In the age in ‘new wars’ with their ferocious ethnic hatred, atrocities and wide scale abuses of human rights are likely to resurface across the globe. The fate of the civilian populations affected will be in the hands of other major states and international organisations. For a successful intervention to be put in place these states and organisations will have to weigh up moral considerations against their own interests and competing priorities and then work together to find a common response. Its has to be hoped that the balance between realism and moral prerogatives tips the way of those inneed of help.

When set against the two often conflicting ideas of political expediency and humanitarian imperative, Darfur falls somewhere in the middle. A realist approach held by many in the international community saw political expediency prevail in the early stages of the crisis, to be replaced by more humanitarian imperatives as the crisis evolved.There does appear to still be a concept within the leading actors in the international community that they should be led by moral incentives. There challenge, as it remains in Darfur is to translate these moral incentives into a realistic coordinated approach that will achieve its purpose.

Chapter Five – Conclusion

Whilst conclusions following a humanitarian crisis on the scale of Darfur are easy to make with hindsight there are clearly some steps that should have been taken earlier by the international community. The peace talks regarding other areas of Sudan should have been treated as a separate issue and from when it became apparent what was happening in Darfur, regardless on peace initiatives elsewhere, serious and coordinated political pressure should have been placed upon the Sudanese Government  to cease the campaign of ethnic cleansing and put an end to Janjaweed militia attacks on civilians and civilian property.The Government should have been instructed to disarm and disband the Janjaweed and withdraw from occupied areas of Darfur. There should have been impartial and thorough investigations into abuses by militia with prosecution of alleged perpetrators.

Both the Sudanese Government and rebel forces should have been instructed to facilitate full and unimpeded access to Darfur for humanitarian personnel, measures should have been put in place to allow the voluntary return of displaced persons and refugees and a UN human rights commission should have, from an early stage, been put in place to investigate crimes against humanity.

The African Union should have added stronger action to go along with some of its fine diplomacy and negotiation and been quicker in deploying ceasefire observers to the region. It should have taken amore active role in monitoring and providing humanitarian assistance to affected civilians. Other UN member states should also have been more forthcoming in contributing personnel, equipment, other resources and funding to aid AU operations. There should have been greater and quicker financial contributions to the social and economic reconstruction of Darfur and to efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and human rights monitoring.

Recent reports show that for all the efforts on 2003-04, situation in Darfur is still one of crisis. Security has deteriorated since the end of 2004, there remains a credible threat of famine, and a faltering ceasefire has led to further civilian casualties. Chaos and a culture of impunity are taking root in the region. The humanitarian situation is still extremely worrying – state-sponsored violence continues, as does obstruction to aid. Refugees and displaced civilians are weak, they do not have enough food, they do not have adequate shelter and are subject to sexual abuse and attack. Infection diseases and dysenteryare rife.

The international community has made attempts to meet its responsibilities but in practice has failed. On the whole it has moved away from a self-interested realist approach and shown some realisation as to the intrinsic value of human life, but its response has not been effective enough. The response was too slow, and, as Slim concludes: “this was not a problem of knowledge or denial but a failure to confront the Sudanese Government forcefully, effectively and immediately”  A decade after Rwanda, some lessons had been learned and there was a more positive response from the international community, yet the displaced populations, hungry civilians and those who have been killed are testament to the fact that action rather than a moral concern from the rest of the world is what is needed in time of crisis.


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