As much of the Western world busies itself with merriment in preparation for the celebrations of Chanukah and Christmas, the light is fading rapidly in the scarred vastness of Darfur. In the latest indication of how bleak the situation is, the United Nations recently evacuated its staff from El Fasher, capital of northern Darfur, one of the two major centers for its relief operation to what the world body itself has termed "the world's worst humanitarian crisis."
Armed forces of the Islamist Arab regime in Khartoum, acting in close coordination with roving bands of camel- and horseback-mounted Janjaweed militiamen, are closer than ever to completing their grisly undertaking. Up to half a million black Africans have now perished in a three-year-old orgy of rape, torture, mutilation, and killing. Another 2.5 million, driven from their homes, are dying a slow death in miserable camps for refugees like the ones surrounding the El Fasher base which the UN has just abandoned.
Those who have followed the unfolding of this tragedy have taken a sickening roller coaster ride: every announced "breakthrough" has been followed by a plummet into depths of ever-greater despair. In 2004, not long after violence erupted, the United States took the lead in condemning it. In rapid succession, a congressional resolution, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and then President George W. Bush, speaking before the UN General Assembly, called the slaughter by its name, genocide. Thus pushed, the Security Council moved with uncharacteristic dispatch to impanel an International Commission of Inquiry. But the UN commission, headed by Italian jurist Antonio Cassese, returned a lengthy report best remembered for its legalistic conclusion that while specific "acts of genocide" had occurred, no evidence of "genocidal intent" could "generally" be found "as far as the central government authorities are concerned." At least to these worthies, deliberately raping, killing, and starving civilians does not "generally" indicate any intent to annihilate them.
Since then things have continued to seesaw. The African Union managed to deploy some 7,000 military monitors—far too few to actually cover an area two-thirds the size of Texas—and they are saddled with a deficient mandate whose short expiry time renders them little better than lame duck observers.
The UN was shamed earlier this year into passing a Security Council resolution authorizing a more robust UN peacekeeping force to replace the AU monitors. But the world body backed down when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir refused to let UN forces into his country. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recent triumphant announcement of agreement strengthening the AU mission through the creation of a "hybrid force" was promptly nixed by Khartoum. As Richard Williamson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for special political affairs, noted succinctly in a recent commentary: "The diplomatic minuet to end this catastrophe has been long. The resolve insufficient. The results anemic."
Now the carnage has spilled beyond Sudan's borders. Chad, despite its own poverty, is playing host to a quarter-million refugees from Darfur. Chadian villages that sheltered Darfuris have come under attack from Janjaweed units, displacing 50,000 Chadians according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. Guterres warns that the situation now risks destabilizing a region extending well beyond Sudan's borders, telling the Voice of America, "There is an earthquake in the area. The epicenter is Darfur but the effects can be felt quite far away." There are troublesome indications that the tremors have already begun. Chadian rebels trying to overthrow that country's president with help from Khartoum have built a base in the Central African Republic (CAR), whose northeast frontier abuts Darfur. These Chadian fighters have recently aligned themselves with local dissidents trying to overthrow the CAR's government, thus conflating three different conflicts. The situation has become so dire—over 100 villages have been burned this year and about 220,000 forced to flee their homes—that as he was evacuating his personnel from El Fasher, outgoing UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egelund made an appeal for $50 million to provide food, shelter, and healthcare for up to one million people in the CAR.
In a September 27, 2006, speech to the Africa Society, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice described her heartbreaking meeting with Darfuri women who had been raped by Sudanese forces and Janjaweed fighters as they ventured outside refugee camps to gather firewood. She went on to declare that the Khartoum regime "faces a clear and consequential decision...a choice between cooperation and confrontation." Nearly three months later, it is clear what choice Bashir and his minions have made. If the combined diplomatic efforts of the U.S. government (including the tireless shuttles of presidential envoy Andrew Natsios) and the United Nations (including last ditch efforts by Annan) cannot deter the Sudanese from their determination to finish off Darfuris, then the time for diplomacy is over. Someone must act.
Ideally, the UN Security Council, noting the impact on Chad that the Darfur crisis has already had, would invoke its Chapter VII authority to deploy international peacekeepers without Khartoum's leave—rescuing the world body's tattered credibility in the process. Failing that, a "coalition of the willing" or one courageous nation should speak up for our common humanity in what is apparently the only language Omar al-Bashir and his colleagues understand, that of force. Given the primitive nature of the Sudan regime's military forces, it would not require much to degrade its genocidal capacity at minimal risk through an escalating campaign aimed at airfields, military bases, armaments factories, and ultimately the ports through which it ships its only significant foreign exchange earner, oil. Such steps may violate Sudan's notional national sovereignty, and would therefore offend "experts" wedded to state stability—even when it means accommodating undeniably evil regimes—at all costs. But what is that in contrast to the blazing firestorm of genocide?
J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. Both are adjunct fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.