Monday, April 02, 2007

International response in crisis situations: the Darfur case

Maastricht, 30 March 2007. Around 200 people participated in the third event of the Maastricht debates series, 'International Responsibilities - What Darfur teaches us'. Moderated by James Mackie from the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), the debate saw Jan Pronk the former Special Representative to the UN Secretary General in Darfur, and David Mepham, Associate Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research in London, illustrating facts, lessons and options for the ongoing crisis in the Darfur region.

According to Jan Pronk (whose experience is also well documented through his highly disputed weblog, that he kept during his stay in Sudan 'everything went wrong from the beginning and everyone is responsible'. Defining the escalation of violence in the region since 2003 not as a religious clash, but as a conflict for scarce resources, Pronk's speech in particular focussed on the role of the international community, which completely neglected the erupting violence in Sudan and only in 2004 asked the African Union (AU) to act. A local African force may be considered in general as a better peacekeeper than an international UN force; unfortunately in the case of Darfur, the AMIS forces (African Union Mission in Sudan) did a good job in the beginning, but became seriously hampered by a lack of resources.

Analysing these facts, some key lessons and suggestions can be drawn. First, every conflict has its specific roots and circumstances, which cannot be tackled with a uniform approach. Second, the discussion on 'peace-making' becomes crucially difficult since Iraq and it seems almost impossible to reach a consensus on such interventions. In other words we are facing an erosion of the UN's possibilities to implement its own mandate. Third, reflecting on the possibilities of intervention listed under Chapter 6, 7 and 8 of the UN Charter, Pronk praised the potential of the latter option, with the UN only financing and advising an operation led by others, such as the AU. More in general, a peace-keeping operation should be strong, big and long enough to be effective. Finally, Pronk drew the attention to the international climate, which should not be underestimated. The Security Council suffers a lack of credibility due to the unilateral intervention of the US in Iraq. In this climate, the UN are not seen anymore as a neutral protection force representing every nation, but a biased power. Therefore, a reform of the UN and the purification of motivation of the USA and its allies in the Iraq war are urgently needed. In this process, the crucial role of the EU is undeniable.

Without a weblog but having published a lot on the issue, David Mepham comments complemented Pronk's presentation, focussing on the concept of 'responsibility to protect', presenting options for the crisis and sharing some of 'the greater lessons' that Darfur should teach.

According to Mepham, the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty commissioned by Kofi Annan in 2000, has re-conceptualized 'sovereignty as control' into 'sovereignty as responsibility'. This responsibility includes the areas of protection, reaction and rebuilding, whereby Mepham pointed out the obligation to protect as the most important one. The concept of international responsibility to protect was endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in September 2005. It refers to the obligation to protect civilians in the face of war crimes or genocide, where governments are perpetrating these abuses or are unable or unwilling to stop them. However, there has been a great gap between rhetoric and action, the ‘clearest instance of that being Darfur, where the international community has yet again made a mockery of their responsibility to protect'.

In terms of options for Darfur, Mepham gave priority to the re-stimulation of the peace process. This should happen simultaneously to the deployment of an international peace force, with a better mandated and more resources for the protection of civilians. Like Pronk, he stressed that a non-consensual intervention is not feasible. As other options for intervention in the Darfur crisis, smart economic sanctions could be useful and feasible: freezing assets and travel bans for example do not necessarily have to be authorized by the UN and could consequently be within the scope of the European Union.

As for lessons to be learned, Darfur clearly shows the importance of acting early, before the conflict polarizes. More important, the EU's role is crucial in backing the African Union's efforts and plans, especially in terms of strengthening African capabilities to deal with conflict situations. Further, the responsibility to protect is a collective global obligation; therefore there needs to be a deeper diplomatic engagement on this with actors such as China, India and the Arab League. Besides, he acknowledged that 'military force matters and counts', but stressed the critical importance of political measures to have lasting solutions. Finally as the general precondition for these 'lessons' is the political will for decisive international action, he acknowledged the importance of civil society involvement, since 'it's not only a problem of people over there but also over here'. Civil society is therefore a key actor and has to use its influence.

Story contributed by Lena Kampf and Birthe Paul.