While the Group of Eight (G-8) leaders meet this week to discuss challenges to peace, security and development in Africa, the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, continues unabated.
The international community's response so far to the tragedy of Darfur - where at least 200,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in western Sudan and more than 2 million others have been driven from their homes by government-backed Janjaweed militias - has been largely confined to a small African peacekeeping force with a limited mandate that will take months to deploy fully.
Despite repeated pledges to stop the violence, the Sudanese government has utterly failed to do so. Political negotiations have stalled and, despite the presence of African Union (AU) troops and the U.N. Security Council's demand for accountability and sanctions, Darfur's civilian population continues to be the target of indiscriminate killing, looting, mass rape and displacement.
Washington, D.C. — Already notorious as the world’s only state without a functioning government, Somalia may be about to deteriorate even further. The country is rapidly sliding back toward war. As an Islamist militia, the Council of Somali Islamic Courts, consolidates control over large swathes of southern Somalia, neighboring Ethiopia has sent thousands of troops over the border, and both sides are preparing for a showdown. A return to war could bring about the same horrific famine conditions that precipitated a US military intervention 14 years ago, and damage rather than advance US counter terrorism objectives in a vulnerable region.
Negotiating the end of a war is tricky enough. But in the case of Darfur, mediators were also faced with the implicit task of ending what the Bush administration calls genocide, and what nobody can deny have been gross crimes against humanity.
Such a tall order, coupled with an abrupt negotiating deadline, produced an agreement that leaves more questions than answers. And unless a United Nations force is deployed immediately to guarantee its implementation, it will also leave over two million homeless Darfurians vulnerable to further exploitation.
Sitting around a pot of sweet tea in a small residential compound in eastern Chad, the Sudanese rebel leaders merely grinned and shook their heads when we mentioned the ceasefire.
"Ceasefire? " one of them remarked incredulously. "We don't need a new ceasefire. We signed a ceasefire in April 2004 but no one has bothered to enforce it."
He had a point. The date was Jan. 13, just three days after Sudanese President Omar al Bashir had met with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in Khartoum, Sudan and agreed to a 60-day ceasefire. Then again, as the rebels pointed out, the government had also agreed to a ceasefire in April 2004, a second in November 2004, and another one in May 2006 as part of the over-hyped Darfur Peace Agreement . Moreover, the most important rebel commanders did not actually meet with Richardson or agree to the conditions of the ceasefire. So what, then, was the purpose of all this?
John Prendergast, Enough co-founder, and Omer Ismail, Enough advisor
For the first time in a quarter-century, Sudan has a chance for peace throughout the entire country. On the face of it, this assertion seems counterintuitive – even preposterous. Darfur is burning, and the historic 2005 agreement that brought peace between northern and southern Sudan is at risk of collapse. Sudan scholars throughout the world busy their days penning academic dirges, and diplomats despair. We've seen that many of California's anti-genocide activists are losing hope as well.
We beg to differ. The expected International Criminal Court arrest warrant tomorrow for President Omer al-Bashir and shifting international sands provide an unprecedented opening, making Sudan's prospects for peace riper than they have been in memory.
What in the world could a policy wonk have in common with a movie actress? As it turns out, a lot. Every day we both use electronic devices that wouldn't work without raw materials from a country halfway around the world in central Africa. That country, Congo, has been torn apart by the deadliest war since World War II, where 5.4 million have perished. Its war is fueled by our inexhaustible thirst for cell phones, laptops, video games, digital recorders and other products that owe their existence to Congo's contribution to the world's mineral supply.
On our last few trips together to visit the refugees and internally displaced on the Sudan-Chad border, nearly everyone we interviewed in the squalid camps identified the Sudanese regime as the main reason for their suffering. As the rainy season was ending in the fall of last year, camp residents warned us of a coming attack from across the Sudan border, in which Chadian rebels -- backed by the Sudanese government -- would try again to overthrow the government in Chad.
As we went to various embassies to warn of the coming attack, and then back home in Washington, officials told us that the threat was overstated, the Chadian rebels were too disorganized, and the European Union -- led by the French -- would rapidly deploy a force on the border that would by itself deter any attack.
Of course, they were wrong. Why?
Officials from governments all over Europe, Africa and North America did what they continuously have done for the last 20 years: They underestimated the regime in Khartoum and how far it is willing to go to maintain power.
Let's review the evidence:
A rebellion in southern Sudan since the 1980s led the regime to conduct a brutal scorched-earth campaign in which many of the genocidal tactics it has deployed in Darfur were perfected.
More than 2 million southern Sudanese civilians perished. Now a peace deal brokered in part by the U.S. is at risk, as the regime chooses to not implement key aspects of the agreement and to promote divisions in the south. In neither case were there consequences for the regime.
For six years in the 1990s, the Sudanese regime hosted Osama bin Laden and helped incubate the al Qaeda network. When there was finally a consequence from the international community, the regime booted bin Laden out. After 9-11, the regime intensified counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S., buying itself room to go after internal opponents with no consequence.
The Sudanese regime commits genocide in Darfur and is manipulating the deployment of a U.N.-led force to protect civilians and undermining peace efforts by further dividing rebel groups. Again, no consequences.
The regime has provided military backing to the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army, infamous for brainwashing kidnapped children to become cold killers. Now Sudan prepares once again to rescue the LRA from near-oblivion, as Khartoum will use the LRA's child soldiers in its efforts to disrupt Uganda's own peace process. Recently, reports emerged of a vicious LRA attack on civilians in southern Sudan. Yet again, no consequences.
Now, the latest exhibit in Chad.
The Sudanese regime seeks a military solution in Darfur; one element of its strategy is to cut off the supply lines through Chad to the Darfur rebels and to obstruct the deployment of a planned European Union force to the Sudan-Chad border. Overthrowing the Chadian government is the easiest way to do that. The result is another African capital on fire. With no consequences -- yet.
But this time there must be consequences. African governments won't countenance the toppling of one government by another. France will not sit idly by while its client government in Chad is under proxy attack. China, targeted by "Genocide Olympics" campaigners worldwide and stung by Steven Spielberg's resignation as artistic advisor to the Olympics, is rethinking its blind support for its commercial ally in Khartoum.
Even more important, the U.S. campaign season provides an opportunity for the remaining presidential candidates to elaborate on their more muscular approaches toward Sudan, influencing President Bush as he seeks to define his legacy. Remember, it was the pressures of the 2004 presidential campaign that in part led Bush to name what was happening in Darfur "genocide." The potential for the candidates to influence action in the White House on this issue is enormous, and Sens. John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama should use the bully pulpit of the campaign trail in the president's home state of Texas to call for more assertive action by the U.S.
What would that more assertive action look like?
The missing ingredient in the international approach to Sudan and its spillover in Chad is the imposition of consequences.
If the U.S., France and the U.K. can overcome Chinese and Russian objections and work with Beijing and Moscow to impose a series of targeted U.N. Security Council sanctions on responsible Sudanese officials, progress would be swift. If the U.S. and others can provide information to the International Criminal Court so that it can accelerate the bringing of indictments against orchestrators of the violence, and demand the arrest of those already indicted, this will provide leverage for the peace process and the deployment of the U.N.-led protection force.
If there is no cost to the Sudanese regime for attempting to overthrow neighboring governments, committing genocide, supporting child-abducting rebels, reneging on peace deals and blocking U.N. peacekeeping missions, it would be irrational for this regime -- using all these tactics to maintain power by any means necessary -- to change its behavior.
However, if the international community can finally stiffen its spine and create real consequences for the destruction of a country and the defiance of international norms, peace suddenly will have a chance in Sudan, Chad and northern Uganda.
Andrew Natsios' article in Outlook illustrates in stark terms much of what has been wrong with U.S. policy since the Darfur genocide began to unfold in 2003. He unwittingly highlights three crucial ingredients of U.S. failure: a misunderstanding the problem; an exaggeration of the importance of the response; and poor execution, particularly on the peacekeeping front.
As we await the NCAA basketball tournament brackets and prepare to make our picks for the Final Four, we realize that over the past year we have been to or been in contact with most of the 65 schools likely to be in the tourney. But it wasn't the great hoops teams that led us to their campuses. Rather, it was their students' inspiring commitment to ending the 21st century's first genocide.
While tremendous credit and acclaim will accrue to each of the schools for making the tourney, we ought to pause for just a second and recognize another kind of March Madness that is sweeping college campuses throughout the United States, with little media attention: a fledgling anti-genocide movement, dedicated to ending the atrocities being committed against the people of Darfur in western Sudan.
Unlike the fervor for their schools' basketball teams, driven by pep rallies and a media frenzy, this March Madness runs on the fumes of principle (it is our responsibility to stand up against genocide whenever it occurs) and conscience (we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers). Unlike the thousands of die-hard fans who are preparing to follow their teams across the country, most of these anti-genocide students will never visit the place they are defending. At the same time as the wins have mounted and fans have leapt on bandwagons going into the tournament, the anti-genocide activists' numbers have also been expanding. Inspired by the desperate situation in Sudan and the lack of action by governments around the world, they keep joining the movement. There are more than 1,000 STAND chapters on college and high school campuses dedicated to standing up against genocide in Darfur. Their members keep writing letters. They keep badgering their elected officials. They keep calling the White House.
In Palo Alto, Calif., Stanford students anticipate a trip to the Final Four while many of the same students prepare a massive protest of the Beijing Olympics' torch arrival in San Francisco. As the Drake Bulldogs were clinching a tournament berth, members of the campus STAND chapter were hounding presidential candidates to make Darfur a priority as they campaigned throughout Iowa.
Activists gather at Chapel Hill
The talented University of North Carolina Tar Heels might be all alone at the top of the national rankings, but they share the local limelight with classmates who recently hosted in their dorm rooms hundreds of Darfur activists from Southern states who are turning up the heat on their members of Congress.
Just before the University of San Diego blasted into the tourney with a dramatic conference title, a committed group of students organized a "die-in" to commemorate those who have lost their lives in Darfur.
This burgeoning spirit of selflessness and awareness among students all over the U.S., manifested in concern for people half a world away, is starting to have an impact. In the last year, the anti-genocide movement, driven as most social movements are by student activism, has succeeded in influencing:
• President Bush to name a senior peace envoy for Sudan.
• The U.N. Security Council to unanimously authorize for Darfur the largest U.N. protection force ever.
• The ICC to begin indicting Sudanese officials for crimes against humanity.
• 60 universities and 22 states to divest their endowment and pension funds of stocks of companies doing business with the Sudanese regime.
• Fidelity and Berkshire Hathaway to sell their Chinese oil company stock.
• Stephen Spielberg to quit as creative director for the Beijing Olympics.
• The Chinese government to start pressuring its commercial ally in Khartoum to stop killing its own people.
Give them a reason to cheer
That is -- in moral terms -- the equivalent of a Final Four appearance. With a stronger response from President Bush, President Hu of China and other world leaders, the genocide could end and all these university students would really have something to cheer about.