The Save Darfur Coalition, a group of international organizations based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to peace in the western Sudanese region, has warned of “death on a massive scale” in Darfur as rebel groups fragment and become “uncontrollable.”
Human Rights groups say at least 200,000 people – and as many as 400,000 – have been killed since 2003, when an Arabic militia known as the janjaweed, allegedly supported by Sudanese government troops, began attacking Darfuri villages inhabited by black ethnic groups.
About two million refugees have fled to humanitarian camps in Darfur and in neighboring Chad and Central African Republic.
Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has consistently refused to allow thousands of United Nations peacekeepers to join a strained force of African Union troops in Darfur.
In an interview with VOA, the coalition’s senior international coordinator, Larry Rossin, warned that the humanitarian situation in Darfur was worsening because of “twin vacuums of diplomacy and political action.”
“With that fragmenting (of the rebel groups) you’re seeing an increase in violence against peacekeepers, but also violence against humanitarian workers and violence against ordinary people of Darfur by some of these fragmenting rebel groups, as well as by government forces. What’s needed is a much more dynamic political process, much more dynamic diplomacy by the UN and the AU, much more cooperation from Sudan itself in order to turn the corner and to really come to a durable settlement of this crisis.”
Rossin welcomed the United States government’s labeling of the Darfur situation in its recent annual human rights report as “the world’s worst human rights abuse” and was particularly satisfied that the American authorities had once again termed the violence in western Sudan “genocide.” But Rossin warned that unless “adequate pressure measures” were brought to bear on the government of Sudan and, where necessary, on rebel groups, the US human rights report would be of “relative insignificance.”
“Particularly with President Bashir - it’s clear that he doesn’t want to have UN peacekeepers in Darfur. He doesn’t want to let journalists and others in so they can see what’s going on; he blocked the UN Human Rights Commission delegation last month from visiting Sudan,” Rossin said.
The activist, a former diplomat who has vast experience in conflict resolution throughout the world, including in the former Yugoslavia, said Save Darfur is demanding that “stronger measures” be taken against Sudan.
“We believe that a no-fly zone that would prevent Sudanese government aircraft from bombing villages would be appropriate at this stage. Without some kind of stronger measures by governments – and not only by the American government, but also by European governments and by the governments of the African Union – this situation is not going to get better. It’s going to get much, much worse.”
According to Rossin, the Coalition will not relent until a “full range of targeted economic sanctions” is instituted against President al-Bashir’s government.
“The UN has on its books provisions for targeted sanctions against both members of the government and rebel leaders who are responsible for human rights violations, for war crimes and so forth. These have largely not been implemented,” he explained.
“We also believe that the United States and the European Union have in their grasp economic measures, travel bans, asset freezes, freezing transactions in dollars or euros benefiting those who are responsible for the genocide, that have not been implemented and are long overdue. They should begin now.”
Rossin maintained that African pressure on Sudan was also essential.
“We think that African Union member states should be looking at restrictions on Sudan in the same way, and also ensuring that there’s not arms trafficking to parties to the conflict in Darfur.”
He said Save Darfur would continue to urge the US government to implement the much-vaunted Plan B, which President Bush approved last year. Under the plan, the US Treasury Department would block American commercial bank transactions connected to the government of Sudan, including those involving oil revenues, if the al-Bashir government did not take decisive action to end the atrocities in Darfur.
President Bush had initially set a deadline of January 1 for the Sudanese government to take decisive action to stop the Darfur crisis, failing which Plan B would begin. Yet full implementation of the plan continued to stall, said Rossin.
“We are urging every day in our advocacy work that the government move to Plan B, and that Plan B be something that’s really vigorous and likely to have the desired impact of changing Sudanese government behavior and reinforcing diplomacy. We know that there’s been a lot of discussion within the US government about various strong, targeted sanctions. We believe it’s time to move from government talk to government action.”
Former UN envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk recently welcomed the announcement by the International Criminal Court that it had filed war crimes charges against two senior members of the Sudanese government. Pronk said it had created a “new political reality” in Sudan.
Rossin commented, “I think the referral for indictments is a big step forward. It’s the first step in accountability for the crimes that have been committed during this genocide. It sends a message to all of those in Sudan who are engaged in this genocide – particularly on the government side, but also in the janjaweed and eventually also in rebel groups – that they will be held accountable for their crimes.…”
Rossin did not foresee that the filing of the war crimes charges against the Sudanese officials would lead to more intransigence on the part of the al-Bashir government, thereby failing to stop the violence in Darfur.
“It’s hard to see how they could become much more uncooperative in ending this conflict that they created than they already are. The blockage of UN forces, the non-respect for ceasefires, the impediment to political processes; the interference with humanitarian assistance – all of these things predate even the referral by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court. So I don’t think that it would be correct to attribute Sudanese government obstruction to the ICC process.…”
Rossin said Darfur was at a “very, very critical point.” He warned: “If strong steps are not immediately taken in Darfur, there will be a humanitarian breakdown” and a “resumption of death on a massive scale.”