Is Obsessing Over Genocide in Sudan Preventing a Peace Deal?
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.