Darfur and the Responsibility to Protect

Tasneem Jamal

Letter from Project Ploughshares to members of Parliament.

2 October 2006

To Members of Parliament:

As you prepare for a debate on Darfur, Sudan, in Ottawa on 3 October 2006, the importance of the international community’s increasing commitment to the responsibility to protect vulnerable populations should guide your deliberations.

Project Ploughshares joins with others in Canada and around the world in calling for an immediate, credible and effective United Nations intervention in Darfur to protect and save civilian lives and set the stage for longer-term peacebuilding in this troubled region, and for Canada to increase its efforts and resources to those ends.

Internationally verified reports tell us that, since 2003, the ongoing tragedy in Darfur has resulted in more than 200,000 civilian deaths; the displacement of upwards of 2 million people from their homes; the employment of systematic human rights abuses, including rape and sexual assault, as instruments of war; and the restriction of humanitarian aid.

The Darfur Peace Agreement signed in May 2006 raised hopes that this negotiated process would begin the complex but necessary task of addressing the immediate situation of threatened civilians and the underlying grievances in this armed conflict. Unfortunately the situation in Darfur has become worse since May.

On 31 August 2006 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1706 calling for a United Nations mission in Darfur that explicitly makes reference to the relevant paragraphs (138 and 139) of the United Nations World Summit outcome document (September 2005) that affirmed the responsibility of “[e]ach individual State to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” Where a State is unwilling or unable to protect its people, the international community should take collective action. Despite reassurances in Resolution 1706 that the sovereignty and unity of Sudan will be respected, the President of the Government of National Unity in Sudan has so far rejected the expansion and deployment of the United Nations Mission to Sudan (UNMIS) to Darfur.

Canada provided leadership in the articulation of the responsibility to protect through the initiation and resulting report in 2001 of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. On 21 September 2006 Prime Minister Harper affirmed Canada’s commitment to the responsibility to protect with reference to Darfur in his inaugural speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

Prime Minister Harper reiterated this point in his speech to the Francophonie Summit in Bucharest on 28 September 2006 where he is quoted as saying that “the world body has to take over the responsibility to bring peace to the area, over the objections of the Sudanese government.”
Project Ploughshares is an ecumenical peace centre of the Canadian Council of Churches and affiliated with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo.

While we welcome the Prime Minister’s affirmation that a UN force led by Africans should be deployed in Darfur, it is not clear what, if any, strengthening of Canada’s role the Canadian Government is committed to at this point. The Prime Minister’s speech in Bucharest mentions four areas in which Canada will take initiatives in Sudan: reforming the justice system, rebuilding a security system, reducing the traffic in arms, and reinforcing the institutions of government and community life. Each of these is praiseworthy. They are also best understood as part of a post-conflict response to the Darfur tragedy, rather than participation in the intervention to arrest the human rights abuses still widely reported there.

While the responsibility to protect doctrine encompasses a before, a middle and an after—prevent, react, rebuild—the time is well past in Darfur for preventing the current tragedy, and the rebuilding will not take place until the UN reacts under an appropriate mandate in Darfur. To date Canada has provided an array of technical and financial assistance to the current African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS) and humanitarian aid. These efforts are commendable. But Canada and others clearly must rise to the even more demanding challenge of concretely supporting an effective UN intervention to stop the atrocities in Darfur.

In particular, this moment now demands that Canada expand and extend its diplomatic and other resources to ensure that the UN intervention in Darfur takes place immediately, is credible in its make-up, and is effective in preventing systematic violations of human rights. UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (paragraph 12) calls for action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, providing authorization “to use all necessary means” to support the Darfur Peace Agreement and to “prevent attacks and threats against civilians.” Under the responsibility to protect, this fulfills the obligation for an international intervention to have the right authority.

The fate of civilians in Darfur is the first and foremost concern. Also at stake, however, is the broader motivation behind the responsibility to protect, which responded to the world’s post-Rwanda anguish cry of “Never Again.” Unfortunately, “again” has been taking place in Darfur for several years. Implementation in actual situations such as Darfur is the real test of the world’s resolve to move the responsibility to protect vulnerable populations from its current status as a candidate for recognition as an international norm to full recognition in international law.

John Siebert
Executive Director
Project Ploughshares
Tel 519 888-6541 x702

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