Activists held rallies in several cities across the United States Tuesday to call for peace in Sudan's western Darfur region. Meanwhile, experts gathered to discuss continuing roadblocks to implement a peace deal signed by the Sudanese government and one rebel group in May.
As people rallied near the White House for strong U.S. action to stop the war in Darfur, a panel of experts gathered across town to discuss the crisis.
Kenneth Bacon, a former assistant secretary of defense and president of Refugees International, describes the current situation in Darfur as a series of paradoxes. "We have made a very large diplomatic and humanitarian investment. And yet the diplomatic efforts have produced a peace agreement and yet the peace agreement has not brought peace. In fact, the situation has gotten worse in many respects," he said.
Bacon emphasized the situation has deteriorated rather than improved ever since the signing of the peace deal on May 5 in Abuja, Nigeria. He called the agreement imperfect and only a starting point. "We've actually had a deterioration of humanitarian conditions for two reasons: one, the World Food Program does not have enough money. It announced it was cutting rations in half. It got some more money and food after it made its announcement. It's now providing 84 percent of its ration goal this month ... but it's unclear what it's going to be able to do for the rest of the year. Second, the delivery of humanitarian materials has gotten much more difficult in vast parts of Darfur because the security has declined," he said.
While Bacon praised the strong diplomatic intervention by the United States government, he called on the audience to press for more action to protect civilians, stop the killing and end the war. "We have to be more involved. Nothing has happened here without U.S. involvement. U.S. involvement is crucial to making progress here," he said.
There has been some movement toward approving a United Nations peacekeeping force to augment the beleaguered and underfunded African Union operation already on the ground in Darfur. But the U.N. cannot deploy a single soldier until the Sudanese government agrees to such a force, something Khartoum rejects.
Tuesday, Sudanese state media reported that President Omar al-Bashir vowed he will never allow U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur, saying his country would not be "recolonized."
Nurradin Mannan, a retired Sudanese diplomat, said Khartoum is afraid of a Chapter Seven mandate that would accompany such a U.N. operation, a mandate that has the power to use armed force to protect civilians and to confront combatants accused of committing atrocities. "These people are worried about chapter seven because this is going to drag them to the International Criminal Court. There are 51 [people] accused of war crimes in Sudan and this will give the U.N. the power, the right, to investigate those who are accused," he said.
Ann-Louise Colgan, the acting co-executive director for the group which organized Tuesday's rallies, Africa Action. She says following the signing of the Darfur accord in Abuja last month, there was a sense of optimism. But she echoed her co-panelists, saying the deal is now clearly unraveling. And she criticized the United States and the international community for not working harder to protect civilians and humanitarian workers. "We have heard from the U.S. a lot of rhetorical commitment to standing by what happened in Abuja and to protecting the people of Darfur and ensuring that peace takes hold in the region. We've also seen some action on the part of the United Nations. But there really has not been sufficient concrete actions to address this deteriorating security situation on the ground," she said.
Even though the situation in Darfur has worsened, Ms. Colgan says she remains hopeful. "We have this poster in our conference room at Africa Action and it has this anonymous quote on it. And the quote simply says 'you have no idea how many lives can be saved if you end the violence one month earlier,' " she said.
But as analysts discuss and activists try to apply pressure, an estimated two million people in Darfur are displaced, living in vast camps. And more than 180,000 others have been killed over the course of three years of conflict.