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UN Chief Tackles Darfur

Prepared by: Stephanie Hanson
January 29, 2007

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the African Union summit and reiterated his call to send a joint UN-AU peacekeeping force to Sudan's Darfur region. After months of diplomatic feints, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir seems to have accepted the idea of the so-called hybrid force, yet the Sudanese government continues aerial bombing of villages (BBC). Bashir was slated to assume the AU presidency this year, but on Monday the group awarded the position to Ghanaian President John Kufuour (Reuters) due to outrage over Darfur. At least 250,000 people have died and over three million have been displaced by the conflict, which many are calling genocide. Humanitarian access to the region has fallen significantly in recent months, as this Backgrounder explains.

Diplomatic efforts have focused on getting UN peacekeepers into Darfur, authorized by Security Council Resolution 1706. The failure of this approach has provoked increased calls for military intervention, but no country appears willing to take the political lead. The international community should avoid the “stark options of ‘Doing Nothing’ and ‘Sending in the Marines,’” writes CFR Senior Fellow Lee Feinstein in a new Council Special Report on preventing mass atrocities. He suggests bolstering the AU mission in Sudan, readying an international force now to send a signal that the world is united on sending peacekeepers, and enforcing UN flight bans. Travel bans and sanctions on the petroleum industry present other options, suggests an International Crisis Group report.

Yet these measures all remain contingent on the political will of individual countries, especially the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council. The United Nations—by adopting the responsibility to protect—has agreed on the need for genocide prevention, even if it entails violating an individual state's sovereignty. But the principle has not translated into practice. Ban Ki-moon must start to build the capacity and the political will to enforce a genocide prevention strategy, argues Feinstein. “The goal is to build a sustainable program that operates like an insurance policy,” he writes.

Any reform program will need to increase international peacekeeping capacity. The United Nations has seen a sixfold increase in peacekeeping operations since 1998, and the demand for peacekeepers shows no sign of slackening. Some, including CFR Senior Fellow Max Boot, have suggested hiring mercenaries that could be quickly deployed, a controversial proposal that has drawn criticism for legal and financial reasons. The world “has moved a long way towards the privatization of war. But for many, the privatization of peacekeeping is still a step too far,” writes the Economist. In Darfur, the African Union—a young institution without stable funding or sufficient capacity—carries the burden of peacekeeping.

In a sign of how desperate the diplomatic process has become, China—long criticized for its failure to pressure Khartoum on Darfur—is now a candidate for this position. Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit Sudan in early February, a move Chinese analysts call a turning point (NYT) in the China-Sudan relationship, in which Beijing imports more than 64 percent of Sudan ’s oil. China’s oil interests in Africa have soared in the past three years, as discussed in this Backgrounder.

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