A Perilous "Fragile Calm" in Darfur

January 6, 2010
Sean Brooks is the International Advocacy and Outreach Manager at the Save Darfur Coalition. This post originally appeared on the Save Darfur Weblog and is republished with permission.

ChadPHOTOS-182-of-193-300x200.jpgThe New York Times on Saturday ran "Fragile Calm Holds in Darfur After Years of Death," an article that discusses in detail the profound changes in daily life in Darfur since the early days of the genocide that began in 2003. This depiction of a Darfur that perilously hangs between war and peace may be front page news for the Times, but certainly not for those in the advocacy movement calling for a peaceful resolution to the seven-year old conflict, as well as immediate protection and justice for all Darfuris.

Jeffrey Gettleman writes:

The rebel groups that started the war in Darfur in 2003, catalyzing a conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, almost seem to have gone into hibernation. So, too, have the infamous janjaweed, the marauding bandits who raped, killed and terrorized countless civilians.

And this planting season, for the first time since 2003,United Nations officials say that tens of thousands of farmers who had been seeking refuge in squalid displaced persons camps returned to their villages to plant crops, a journey many Darfurians would have considered suicide until recently.

Gettleman quotes Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba, the Rwanda commander of the African Union/United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID): "Frozen. That is a good word for the situation. It is calm, very calm at the moment, but it remains unpredictable." While this does appear to be the case, as I wrote in August 2009, with or without active warfare though, Darfur remains a human rights crisis of the first order.

The article also fails to probe deeply into the ongoing obstructions by primarily the Sudanese government - but also the rebel movements - of the peacekeeping force. Nyamvumba states casually, "Yes, we have obstructions from time to time. But it's not as bad as I thought it would be." However, as my colleague C.R. pointed out last month, such a claim from the new commander belies the U.N. Secretary General's findings in his most recent report to the U.N. Security Council and the conclusions of the most recent U.N. Panel of Experts Report. It also contradicts recent statements from Rwandan officials following the death of their members in the force.

On another topic, it's nice to see the efforts of Darfuri civil society leaders finally gaining some attention. Gettleman writes:

But one glimmer of hope is that camp elders, religious figures and women's leaders are being given prominent roles in peace talks for the first time.

"Will it be the big breakthrough?" Mr. Augstburger [the director of UNAMID's humanitarian liaison office in Darfur] said. "I don't know. But the movements are starting to get concerned. It's a brand-new dynamic."

So overall Gettleman provides a pretty good snapshoot of the challenges ahead for Darfuri civilians as they strive for peace, protection, and accountability in the new year. The Darfuri rebels and janjaweed have gone into hibernation, but the primary agent for the mass killings - the Government of Sudan - remains a foreboding threat to Darfuris with still the capability of re-igniting the war at anytime.

The Bashir regime's decision to freeze the conflict relates directly to the most glaring omission of the article: a failure to discuss the possible impact of the government's hell-bent efforts to hold elections in Darfur in April 2010. As we have repeatedly warned, the heavy military and intelligence presence in Darfur - as well as the lack of even the most basic freedoms - make it impossible for the people of Darfur to participate in a credible elections process. The government's insistence, therefore, over the next four months on rushed elections will not help the peace process and could prove to be a dangerous flashpoint for renewed mass violence.

So even though the security situation is relatively calm, no one should declare the conflict and human rights tragedy over until a just and durable peace agreement is signed and  millions of Darfuris are able to return safely home.

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