The need for peacekeepers in Darfur

In the Darfur region of Sudan, 200,000 people are dead, 2.2 million have been displaced and there are 7,000 people there to protect them. Does that sound wrong to anyone else? This month, militia soldiers

In the Darfur region of Sudan, 200,000 people are dead, 2.2 million have been displaced and there are 7,000 people there to protect them.

Does that sound wrong to anyone else?

This month, militia soldiers killed five African Union soldiers who were sent to protect the people of Darfur as part of a peacekeeping mission. All five soldiers were from Senegal. It marked the largest number of peacekeepers killed in a single day since 2004, when the troops were sent.Despite the recent deaths, the resolve of the AU troops is respectably strong. Col. Antoine Wardini, an army spokesman in Senegal, told the Associated
Press: “This will not make us pull out. No way.”

Their resolve is noble, but the fact remains that the AU is grossly under-funded and outnumbered. Finally, after months of negotiations, the Sudanese government agreed to allow the United Nations into the country to give the AU the support it desperately needs. The plan calls for about 3,000 U.N. troops, police and equipment. There is a second phase that calls for a heavier U.N. presence. Only this time, they had better mean it.

Back in November, the U.N. and Sudan agreed on a plan to develop a joint AU-U.N. force of 20,000 security personnel. However, Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, later changed his mind about the agreement. He decided that he would only agree to AU troops, with technical assistance from the U.N.It is a good thing that the Sudanese government is allowing U.N. troops and supplies into the Darfur region. The world is finally getting involved in a conflict that began roughly four years ago.

The “better late than never” adage doesn’t work with this scenario. It is great that the global community is doing something concrete to end the genocide, but if this had happened in 2003, perhaps the genocide would be over by now. In 2003, the U.N. declared that it was a humanitarian crisis and appealed to U.N. members for money. Soon after, there were many declarations condemning the violence in Darfur. Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked al-Bashir to disarm the Janjaweed (the militia responsible for the genocide).

In these past four years, while the U.N. has explored options to stop the genocide, the AU was trying to negotiate a peace agreement with the Sudanese government.

This illustrates two fundamental flaws of peacekeeping: When al-Bashir did not disarm the Janjaweed, the U.N. should have been able to go in and disarm them.

Unfortunately, the U.N. cannot do that because the country’s government has to agree to allow entry to peacekeepers. That is why al-Bashir can change his mind about the number of troops he can allow into his country and why four years have passed.

A peacekeeper’s job is to maintain the peace, not create it. Therefore, peacekeepers are of little use until a peace agreement has been reached. The nature of peacekeeping has evolved over the years and, hopefully, it can evolve beyond these two rules.

The arrival of 3,000 U.N. troops brings the number up to 10,000. This may not seem like much, but for a peacekeeping genocide operation, particularly in Africa, it is huge. In Rwanda, where 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were killed, there were at one point only 270 troops. After about a month of violence, the U.N. sent 5,500 troops.

Peacekeeping missions as a whole have always been impotent. They are marred by too few troops, too little commitment and not enough power to control the situation. Often it seems that U.N. peacekeeping is more of a nice theory than a practical solution.

It is great that the Sudanese government
is allowing peacekeepers to enter. Now we must hope that the Sudanese government does not back down and that the peacekeepers can do their jobs with the funding and the number of troops that are needed.

After every major genocide, starting
with the Holocaust, the world community
says: “never again.” It is time for the world to live up to that promise.

Carolyn Steeves can be reached at

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