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Sudan Tribune

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Why not re-invoke the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Darfuri IDPs?

Dr. A. Adam

March 30, 2009 — Following great concern at the appalling decision by the National Congress Party (NCP) that led to the expulsion of 13 national and international NGOs and the slowly unfolding humanitarian disaster in the troubled region of Darfur it is high time that UNSC re-invoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Darfuri IDPs as a matter of urgency. A report of the House of Commons Committee admitted in 2005 that the world’s response to the plight of Darfur IDPs was shamefully slow and piece-meal. We would hasten to warn that another lackadaisical response to the current crisis in Darfur could trigger-off a repeat of a humanitarian disaster that reached proportional dimensions between 2003 and 2005, with hundreds of thousands condemned to avoidable death. Portentously

1. The Government of Sudan (GoS) is already acting in bad faith in its duty to implement the provisions of Doha Good-will agreement banning the interference with the smooth flow of relief aid to IDPs.

2. The humanitarian crisis in Darfur is deepening as the security situation fails to improve as a result of the vacuum left by the untimely departure of INGOs.

3. The assumption by the international community that the NCP would reverse its decision to go for full Sudanisation of the NGO sector is being openly challenged by the GoS.

Therefore, the international community is morally bound to take action to pre-empt deterioration of the situation, meet immediate survival need’s and save human lives. Recall that the Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (2004) produced an impressively wide-ranging report which maintained, inter alia, that “States have the primary responsibility for their citizens, but in circumstances where states commit crimes against their own citizens, the international community has an obligation and a duty to those citizens – a ‘responsibility to protect’. Most importantly, “Sovereignty does not give states the right to commit gross human rights violations and war crimes against their citizens. The responsibility to protect includes the responsibility to prevent, the responsibility to react and the responsibility to build and develop”. Thus the GoS’s argument that the decision to expel international NGOs from Darfur is a legitimate exercise of its sovereignty holds no water as sovereignty has been overridden once the NCP has relinquished its right to protect its own citizens.

It was UNSC’s Resolution 1674 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (April 28, 2006) which first brought hopes to civilians in Darfur that the international community would soon do something meaningful on their behalf to halt a crisis called by the ex-UN General Secretary Kofi Anan as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. Without equivocation, this resolution outlaws the intentional denial of humanitarian assistance, and demands that all parties put an end to such practices; it further reaffirmed the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” and committed the Security Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflicts (Responsibility to Protect: Engaging Civil Society). Denying IDPs of their basic rights to shelter, food and medicine certainly falls under the ‘crimes against humanity and violations of human rights’ category.

Again, on March 2007 the UN High-Level Mission on the situation of human rights in Darfur, having been alarmed at the worsening humanitarian situation in this region, issued a report calling upon the international community to act, invoking the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P).

Last but not least, only a year ago on February 2008, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Edward Luck as his Special Adviser for the R2P. This plainly means that we do not lack the mechanism or personnel to act on behalf of the beleaguered IDPs in Darfur. Does the international community have the will to do so?

The international community now has a duty to publicly press for a prompt implementation of the R2P clause, as the government of Sudan has transgressed on the freedom of international NGOs to provide relief according to humanitarian principles (the notion of ‘humanitarian space’). The Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) advisedly emphasized the need to start the Doha talks last February with the crucial issue of confidence building measures such as refraining from intimidation of civilians, forced repatriation of IDPs to insecure villages and the smooth flow of humanitarian aid. JEM adopts a zero-tolerance policy as regards the non-fulfillment of basic human needs of food, shelter and medicine to the needy. Hence it was not surprising that the Movement took its historical decision to suspend the forthcoming peace talks at Doha until the GoS reverses its twin decisions to expel international NGOs and to go for full Sudanisation (read ‘NCP-isation’) of the NGO sector in a year’s time. The UNSC has already passed enough resolutions (including the mighty chapter seven) which it can legitimately use put into effect the R2P clause.

Ameerah Haq advised that what is needed in Darfur now is some ‘stop-gap’ measure to prevent a deterioration of the humanitarian situation. This does not go far enough. A stop-gap measure is by definition short-term. When it comes to matters of survival, as the case now shows in all IDP camps, we cannot afford to gamble with so-called ‘stop-gap’ measures. We need to first use the same chapter 7 to enforce a no-fly zone to create a semblance of a ‘safe heaven’ for the beleaguered IDPS in Darfur. This would guarantee the smooth flow of humanitarian assistance as well as more security to IDPs. Humanitarian aid must also be allowed from neighbouring states as a contingency measure. Given that the NCP amasses sizeable revenue from oil exports the bulk of which is spent on the purchase of arms, we deem it prudent that a UN escrow fund be established to manage the oil proceeds (in other words, an ‘Oil for Food programme’) in favour of IDPs and the marginalized Sudanese population in general. Such a project should ensure that the share of southern Sudan from oil sales remain intact (i.e. the full 50 percent afforded by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement).

Failure to act now is untenable and is more likely to saddle the international community and the UN with a costly and even more difficult problem later.

Whilst it is acknowledged that the present situation is complex (with the additional influences of China trading in oil and arms, interlinking problems of the South and East Regions, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism etc.) the UN must acknowledge its responsibility for moving things forward, in the long-term self-interest of everybody. The excuse that it is best to give the GoS more time is untenable given that the GoS is hardening and not softening its position.

The author is an academician and political activist who can be reached at: [email protected]