Last month the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although during his presidency at least 300,000 people have died in the Darfur region in western Sudan, the ICC claimed there was “insufficient evidence“ to prosecute him for genocide.
In retaliation for the ICC’s actions, al-Beshir expelled three local and 13 foreign aid organizations representing 40 percent of the relief workers in Darfur. These organizations had provided medical care, distributed food and supplied fresh water for the countless people displaced by the war.
If these aid organizations are not allowed to return or an alternative source for humanitarian aid is not found soon, then thousands, if not tens of thousands, will die in the coming months.
But this is just the latest installment in the sad saga that is the crisis in Darfur.
The ICC’s arrest warrant seems like a step in the right direction, but without the will to act on it, the warrant is just another example of the international community’s indifference toward African affairs.
It’s difficult to say which is worse; the genocide and widespread humanitarian crisis in Darfur or the fact that so many “civilized” nations idly stand by while thousands of innocent people are either slaughtered or are slowly starved to death.
Now, I don’t mean to imply the best course of action would be to storm Sudan, guns blazing, and replace President al-Beshir with a pro-Western puppet. The situation is much more complicated than that; it is not a Manichean battle of good against evil, but a Hobbesian nightmare of everyone against everyone. Overthrowing Beshir would not guarantee peace or stability in the region.
But the world cannot continue to turn a blind eye to Darfur either. Here are a few things the international community should do to properly address and eventually rectify the tragedy.
First, the United Nations should negotiate an agreement with the Sudanese government, short of withdrawing the ICC’s ruling, to allow foreign aid organizations to return to Darfur. Thousands will perish in the upcoming months if foreign aid does not continue to flow into the war-torn Darfur region. President al-Beshir will no doubt require the ICC to reverse its decision before any agreement can be made, but the United Nations must stand behind the ICC’s ruling and pursue other methods of negotiation.
Second, the Obama administration must act on its promise to pursue a multilateral foreign policy and renew the United States commitment to upholding international law by signing the Rome Statute, which would make the United States a party to the ICC, thus binding the superpower to the court’s decisions.
Third, the United Nations should pressure China to break off its economic relationship with Sudan. China currently receives about 10 percent of its oil from Sudan and is also Sudan’s chief weapon’s supplier. The Sudanese government continues to receive most of the weapons it uses to murder Darfur civilians from China. Cut off from Chinese weaponry, the Sudanese government would find it harder to operate.
Fourth, the United States and the European Union should use their advanced resources to empower the United Nations to do more than just talk and actually act. All hostile parties involved in the Darfur crisis would be much more likely to cooperate if they knew the U.N.‘s words could be effectively acted upon.
Fifth, the United Nations needs to develop a comprehensive strategy for resolving the multiple internal conflicts that fuel the Darfur crisis. Even with al-Beshir behind bars, the many autonomous militias and armed tribal and ethnic groups must eventually be disarmed so that a reformed central government can restore order.
With the humanitarian crisis undoubtedly worsening in the coming months, the international community cannot afford to continue do nothing. Too many innocent people have already died and if any nation hopes to call itself a “civilized society“, then it must always act to fight injustice and uphold human dignity.
Edmund Burke said it best: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.“
MIKE HOWER urges you to learn more about the ongoing crisis in Darfur by visiting crisisgroup.org. Tell him what you think needs to be done at firstname.lastname@example.org.