Ten Years after Rwanda, International Community Unprepared to Deal with Crises like Darfur, Says New Council Special Report

September 27, 2004

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Peacekeeping Forces Urgently Needed to Protect Refugee Camps

September 27, 2004—Ten years after the Rwandan genocide, the tragically slow global response to Darfur shows that the international community still lacks the capacity to deal effectively with humanitarian crises, says a new Council Special Report on Darfur. “The crisis in Darfur reveals that despite all the promises since Rwanda that such a catastrophe would not be allowed to happen again, the international community still lacks the institutions, procedures, and often the political unity necessary to respond in a timely way.” The report also calls for urgent deployment of international forces to guard refugee camps, stating that “peacekeepers in the region can best be used to guard the camps of the displaced, and in the context of a political agreement, provide security for the repatriation of displaced villagers.”

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Written by Cheryl O. Igiri and Princeton N. Lyman of the Council on Foreign Relations, the report, Giving Meaning to “Never Again”: Seeking an Effective Response to the Crisis in Darfur and Beyond, looks at Darfur in the context of lessons learned from Rwanda, and recommends how to end this crisis and avoid future ones.

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In the short term, peacekeepers can be deployed to protect camps, as the African Union (AU) is offering. The United Nations will have to assume responsibility for the cost. Proposals for a large U.N. peacekeeping force to disarm the militia and pacify the region are unrealistic and could lead to further turmoil. Simultaneously, “Every effort must be made to re-engage the parties in political negotiations. It may be necessary to broaden the discussions, to include representatives of other regions in Sudan and a broader set of political parties, because the issues are so fundamental to the future of the Sudanese state itself.”

In the long term, and to avoid new Darfurs, there must be one credible entity: an independent, international ombudsman. “The primary international instrument for political and military reaction, the U.N. Security Council, cannot be counted on to respond to such a crisis free of conflicting political interests, thus paralyzing the international community when it comes to imposing sanctions or other harsh measures.” The international community should therefore “establish and empower a new entity that can assemble the relevant reports of an impending crisis— from governments, NGOs, and international agencies— and be able to bring it to the attention of the international community as a credible and virtually unassailable report.” That entity, as independent as the U.N. inspector-general, might also be authorized to convene the parties to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide to deal with an emerging crisis and take early, preventive action on the basis of the information assembled.

Among the report’s additional recommendations for Darfur:

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  • The U.S. government must be prepared to be flexible. “The United States must therefore signal its readiness to hold back on punitive actions if a serious political process begins.”
  • “Disarming the janjaweed should not be the first order of business, as it is in the current U.N. Security Council resolutions, simply because it is beyond the capacity or will of the Sudanese government outside of the prospects of a broader political agreement. It is better to focus on stopping the attacks and increasing aid than insisting on what is not now feasible.”
  • The African Union has a critical role to play. The United States and Europe must “work more closely with, and provide more support to, the African Union. This includes diplomatic support in continuing, or when necessary, restarting negotiations under AU auspices, and logistical and financial support for the deployment of African monitors and peacekeepers.”

Additional recommendations for “beyond Darfur”:

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  • Because such catastrophes will happen again, “Various humanitarian and relief agencies must, in conjunction with donors, establish thorough plans for responding to major humanitarian catastrophes of this kind.”
  • If the U.N. Security Council is unable to act effectively, rapid use of regional and other mechanisms are needed. “Individual countries or regional organizations should consider imposing their own sanctions when U.N. Security Council authorization is lacking.”
  • Leadership counts in crises, and the U.N. secretary-general must be prepared to take a more forceful and active role in an emerging crisis. “In the future, the secretary-general should be prepared to call an emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly or an urgent meeting of world leaders to address the situation.”

Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.


For more information contact Marie X. Strauss, Communications, 212-434-9536, mstrauss@cfr.org

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