The international community has a last chance to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from dying in a man-made catastrophe in Sudan's western region of Darfur, the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank warned on Sunday.
"Urgent action is required on several fronts if Darfur 2004 is not to join Rwanda 1994 as shorthand for international shame," said ICG in a new report entitled: "Sudan: Now or never in Darfur". The humanitarian situation was likely to get much worse before it got better, ICG warned.
While it was too late to prevent "substantial ethnic cleansing" in Darfur, provided the UN Security Council acted decisively, there was "just enough" time to save hundreds of thousands of lives now directly threatened by Sudanese troops and militias, as well as by looming famine and disease, said ICG.
The Sudanese government has repeatedly rejected allegations by a number of rights groups and the UN that it is implementing a policy of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur. Government-allied militias, known as the Janjawid, and troops are said to be implicated in the ongoing attacks on civilians.
The one million-plus internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been driven off their farmlands into urban centres are now facing imminent famine, say human rights groups.
Addressing a rally in Southern Darfur State last week, President Umar Hasan al-Bashir said the government, the armed forces, the police forces and the justice and executive organs were ready to help Darfur "come out of its current crisis".
He reiterated that the government wanted the displaced people and refugees to return to their home areas before the rainy season begins this month.
According to the UN, there are numerous reports of local authorities trying to coerce the IDPs to return to their farms. But the IDPs say they cannot return until the Janjawid have been disarmed and held to account for their atrocities.
Kutum town, in Northern Darfur State, is a typical example: Roughly 124,000 IDPs from surrounding areas were reportedly there in mid-May, relying on a 20,000-strong host population. One of the largest Janjawid camps in Northern Darfur is also near Kutum, and serves as a base for ongoing attacks.
According to ICG, the international response to the Darfur conflict has been "slow and ineffectual". The renewable 45-day ceasefire signed on 8 April between Khartoum and Darfur's two rebel groups was not working in either military or humanitarian terms, while the political process the ceasefire was supposed to facilitate was "still-born", it said.
The ceasefire negotiations had been poorly handled by all sides, while the inexperienced rebels were pushed into signing an agreement by the Chadian mediators, said ICG. "The final version [of the ceasefire agreement] did not include a number of points previously agreed to, including several [rebel] Sudan Liberation Army/Justice and Equality Movement amendments. When the parties brought this to [Chadian] President [Idriss] Deby's attention, he reassured them the draft would be fixed after the signing ceremony, but pleaded with them to sign immediately because the media was waiting," it said.
ICG added that the draft was not changed, and serious discrepancies remained between the signed English and Arabic versions. The English version stated that the "Sudanese government shall commit itself to neutralise the armed militias", while the Arabic version had an additional precondition attached to it, ICG noted: "Forces of the opposition shall be cantoned in locations that shall be identified. The Sudanese government shall commit itself to neutralise the armed militias."
According to ICG, Khartoum's strategy for "neutralising the militias" has been to incorporate them into its formal police and security structures.
Compounding matters, the African Union (AU) international monitoring commission - to be set up under the terms of the ceasefire agreement - has yet to be deployed, six weeks after the signing of the agreement.
An AU spokesman, Desmond Orjiako, told IRIN on Monday that a decision on when the mission would be deployed would be taken "soon", but could not specify exactly when.
According to ICG, the UN Security Council should immediately authorise planning for a military intervention in Darfur, focusing on the creation of half a dozen internationally protected concentrations of IDPs, the means of delivering assistance to them and the means of protecting the deliveries.
The report is available at: www.crisisweb.org
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
We uncovered the sex abuse scandal that rocked the WHO, but there’s more to do
We just covered a report that says the World Health Organization failed to prevent and tackle widespread sexual abuse during the Ebola response in Congo.
Our investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation triggered this probe, demonstrating the impact our journalism can have.
But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking.
We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone.
The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and do more of this.