Darfur and the Responsibility to Protect

John Siebert

John Siebert

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2006 Volume 27 Issue 4

A parliamentary debate on 3 October 2006 on the situation in Sudan illuminated the difficulties in implementing the international community’s growing commitment to protect vulnerable people in Darfur. It also revealed the challenge for Canada and other UN member states that are advancing the “responsibility to protect” as a recognized legal obligation.

Documented reports tell us that, since 2003, the ongoing tragedy in Darfur has resulted in more than 200,000 civilian deaths; 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 May Darfur Peace Agreement raised hopes that parties would address the immediate situation of threatened civilians and underlying grievances. Unfortunately, the situation in Darfur has only become worse.

On August 31 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1706, calling for a UN mission in Darfur, with explicit reference to the 2005 UN World Summit outcome document that affirmed the responsibility of “each 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 would be respected, the President of Sudan has continued to reject the deployment of the UN Mission to Sudan (UNMIS) to Darfur.

Canada supported Resolution 1706. On September 21 Prime Minister Harper affirmed Canada’s commitment to the responsibility to protect in Darfur in his inaugural speech before the UN General Assembly. On September 28 he reiterated this point at the Francophonie Summit in Bucharest, where he was 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.”

References to the responsibility to protect were noticeably absent from the speeches and comments by Foreign Minister Peter MacKay and his Conservative colleagues in the House on October 3, although Opposition MPs tried to link the Government’s stance to the Prime Minister’s words on the responsibility to protect.

Instead, MacKay said, “Canada has a ‘whole of Sudan’ policy, meaning that Canada recognizes that all of Sudan’s regions, and therefore the various conflicts in those regions, are inter-related.” MacKay was signaling that Canada would not engage in actions in Darfur that could jeopardize the fragile peace of January 2005 that ended a decades-long civil war.

While MacKay acknowledged that a “rapid and full deployment of a UN mission to restore stability” is required in Darfur, he would not commit Canadian troops: “There has been no specific request.” Also crucial to the Government’s response is the issue of permission: “We also very much believe that the government of Sudan must provide its consent at this point for the transition [from the African Union Mission to UNMIS] to occur. To date that has not happened.”

The Prime Minister’s earlier expression of support for a UN force led by Africans also was not tied to a commitment of Canadian Forces for a UN intervention in Darfur. Mr. Harper took an interesting turn away from the crucial aspect of the responsibility to protect related to intervention when he said in Bucharest that there were four areas in which Canada would 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 initiatives is praiseworthy, but they can take place in Darfur only after the current atrocities have been stopped, and only a UN intervention is likely to do the stopping.

Canada is providing technical and financial assistance to the current African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS), which is too small, under-funded, and has a weak mandate to protect civilians. Canada is also giving financial, developmental, and humanitarian assistance throughout Sudan, which is also commendable.

But clearly Canada and other countries must rise to the even more demanding challenge of concretely supporting an immediate and effective UN intervention in Darfur.

Resolution 1706 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.” It is also true that 1706 “invites the consent of the Government of National Unity [of Sudan] for this deployment.”

The wording invites consent but does not commit the international community to waiting for it. While diplomats should continue to seek the consent of the government of Sudan, the immediate fate of civilians in Darfur must be the chief concern.

The articulation in 2001 of the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect,” a process in which Canada played a key role, was a response to the world’s post-Rwanda 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 Canada’s and 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.

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