The World Food Program’s warning that insecurity might force it to suspend food distributions in Darfur would be a tragedy for the people there—and for the credibility of the United Nations. Yet the UN Security Council doesn’t seem ready to act in a way that would increase the chances that the WFP can continue food deliveries to three million people in Darfur or to send a message that attacks against UN agencies in Darfur are simply unacceptable.
In a weekend statement, the WFP said that “repeated and targeted attacks of food convoys are making it extraordinarily difficult and dangerous for us to feed hungry people….Should these attacks continue, the situation will become intolerable—to the point that we will have to suspend operations in some areas of Darfur.”
The WFP blamed the attacks on banditry, refusing to single out rebel groups or government forces for attacking food convoys.
Security of UN operations in Darfur is first and foremost the responsibility of the government of Sudan, which is supposed to have sovereignty over the area. However, the UN has accused government forces of attacking members of UNAMID, the UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. And government-backed attacks against villages throughout Darfur are responsible for displacing an estimated 2.5 million people and leading to the deaths of an estimated 400,000. Recently, government forces attacked a major camp for displaced people in North Darfur. In the midst of a civil war that the government has been unable to win and unwilling to settle, security has gone from bad to worse.
You would think that persistent and continuing attacks against UN agencies should be a matter of grave concern to the Security Council and that the Council would move to strengthen the UN’s hand in Darfur. One option would be for the Security Council to order UNAMID troops to protect convoys, but the peacekeeping force has been hobbled by shortages of troops and equipment.
Even as security conditions deteriorate further, the independent Security Council Report predicts in its September issue that the Security Council will adopt a “wait and see approach”, meaning that it will do nothing this month.
A primary reason is that the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council—The U.S., China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom—can’t agree on what to do. China and Russia supply arms to Sudan, resent efforts to contain Khartoum’s sovereignty and resent charges by the International Criminal Court that the president of Sudan, Omer Hassan Al-Bashir, is guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
The U.S. is the largest provider of aid to Sudan and in the past has worked hard—although unsuccessfully—to produce a Darfur peace agreement. The UK and France also supply generous amounts of aid and have worked diplomatically to end the fighting.
Even an aggressive Security Council couldn’t do much, but it could certainly do more than “wait and see.” The Security Council Report suggests, for example, that the Council could increase pressure on all parties to the Darfur conflict by expanding the list of people, businesses and agencies subject to sanctions, such as travel bans, and enforcing the sanctions. It also suggests that the Council could convene an international conference to generate momentum for a ceasefire.
People ask me all the time: Why is the UN so weak in the face of evil and humanitarian suffering around the world? One reason is that the UN has no army or police force, so it can’t compel countries to act. Instead, it depends largely on persuasion, trust and reason to secure its goals, and these virtues are often in short supply. Another reason is that the structure of the Security Council makes forceful action difficult, particularly when members of the veto-wielding five permanent members of the Security Council conflict.
The UN is only as strong and effective as its members want it to be. Still, it’s hard to see how anybody’s interest is advanced by the Security Council’s refusal to do all it can to protect the UN’s humanitarian workers and peacekeepers.
Labels: Darfur, President's Corner
January 13, 2009
| Tagged as: Sudan, United Nations