Is Obsessing Over Genocide in Sudan Preventing a Peace Deal?

by Julian Ku

Former Bush Sudan envoy and USAID chief Andrew Natsios has a clearheaded, wise, and knowledgeable op-ed today on the prospects for peace in Sudan.  He makes a couple of points that lawyers who only think of Sudan as a proving ground for the ICC should keep in mind:

1) Sudan is a tragedy, but it is probably not an ongoing genocide:

First, let’s consider the situation. Some policymakers continue to call Darfur an ongoing “genocide,” but in fact, the conflict has descended into anarchy. “Darfur today is a conflict of all against all,” Rodolphe Adada, the joint African Union-United Nations special representative, told the U.N. Security Council in April. Between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, he found some 2,000 fatalities from violence, one third of them civilian. The death of some 700 innocent civilians over a 15-month period, while morally repugnant, is not genocide. It is a low-level insurgency. More civilians died in southern Sudan during the past six months than in Darfur over the past 15 months. Despite such facts and extensive U.N. Security Office reports showing that genocide is not an accurate description, President Obama continues to use that weighted term.

Indeed, it is striking that President Obama, who is pretty cautious (perhaps way too cautious) in criticizing human rights practices of certain regimes he wants to make a deal with, like Iran, has no problem casually referring to Sudan as an ongoing genocide. It probably reflects the fact that he has relatively little interest in getting involved in Sudan.

2) The US position that there is an ongoing genocide is undermining efforts to reach a peace deal

The Obama administration should consider reducing sanctions on Sudan only in exchange for concrete Northern government concessions on critical issues. The North, of course, has a mixed history in carrying out its commitments, but its cooperation is key to securing peace. Yet U.S. use of the term “genocide” is reducing our diplomatic options. In the face of genocide, the United States could hardly act as a neutral mediator. No politician wants to explain why he or she remained complacent in the face of slaughter.

3) The ICC arrest warrant for Sudan’s leader is also risking a renewed war, and even worse atrocities.

Using the term “genocide” feeds the International Criminal Court’s indictment of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir — which has made meeting with him politically explosive. Some advocates insist that no American diplomat talk with him. How do you mediate a peace agreement if you can’t speak to one side’s leader? At this crucial moment, the long-suffering Sudanese people need unified American leadership behind a pragmatic policy of engagement. Instead, they have campaign rhetoric and diplomatic paralysis. We, and they, are headed toward disaster if we do not change course.

“We” are not headed for a disaster, if “we” means everyone outside of Sudan.  Since outside military intervention is not going to happen, the only way to begin to end the ongoing tragedy in Sudan is a peace deal.  And a peace deal will happen despite, rather than because of, efforts of many international NGOs and the U.S. government.

http://opiniojuris.org/2009/06/23/is-obsessing-over-genocide-in-sudan-preventing-a-peace-deal/

6 Responses

  1. Remind me, what was Bashir’s excuse for not seriously negotiating peace in the decade before the ICC’s warrant?  It will be different this time, I’m sure.  Really it will.  Maybe he will even throw the Brooklyn Bridge into the deal.

  2. Whilst I agree with your point, KJH, I’m not sure it  really addressing the point Julian is relaying (except perhaps no 3), which seems to be more about the ongoing framing of the situation as genocide – with the moral imperatives that implies – as opposed to anarchy with the very different imperatives that implies.

    ie, about unhelpfully inflammatory rhetoric that doesn’t match the facts on the ground…a theme which I would have thought you would empathize with :)

  3. Regarding Point 1, Sudan may not be an “ongoing genocide,” but how would you then characterize the murder, persecution, and uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Darfurians? Does the fact that genocide is no longer occuring because the bulk of the population no longer exists somehow make it more palatable to negotiate? I find that the author’s focus on deaths in the last year as merely “morally repugnant” somewhat morally repugnant.

    I very much agree with how the characterization of genocide creates a foreign policy “wall,” over which the US can lob pronouncements but never fully engage. But even if we remove that wall and call ongoing genocide something else, there is no escaping from the fact that we would be engaging in peace talks with a man who employed Janjaweed militants to destroy a particular group of people. I think any politician worth his weight would recognize little difference between someone who no longer commits genocide and someone who probably did a few years ago. I find that Point 2’s semantic argument likely presents no real barrier to peace talks.

    Lastly, having briefly worked for the ICC, I find it difficult to understand how and when the rest of the world would like the ICC to intervene. If the situation in Sudan doesn’t warrant prosecution by the Court, then what does? I agree with KJH’s point on the sheer facts that show Bashir’s unwillingness to enter into peace talks over the last few years. Bashir was not engaging in peace talks before the arrest warrant. What has changed besides a formal recognition of his culpability?

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  1. [...] First, let’s consider the situation. Some policymakers continue to call Darfur an ongoing “genocide,” but in fact, the conflict has descended into anarchy. “Darfur today is a conflict of all against all,” Rodolphe Adada, the joint African Union-United Nations special representative, told the U.N. Security Council in April. Between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, he found some 2,000 fatalitRead more at http://opiniojuris.org/2009/06/23/is-obsessing-over-genocide-in-sudan-preventing-a-peace-deal/ [...]

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