Over the past three years, government-backed militias have been terrorising the Sudanese region of Darfur in a campaign which can only be described as genocide. More than 2 million people have been driven from their homes, and up to 400,000 have died from direct violence and starvation. The suffering is appalling - and the international community has not been able to do much about it. The logistics and geography effectively rule out military intervention (however justifiable it may be), which means that any solution - whether it be the admission of UN peacekeepers to replace the present AU force, or the Sudanese government accepting its responsibility to protect its own people and reining in the militias themselves - has to be slowly and painfully negotiated. To speed this process, the UN has agreed that such negotiations should be prodded along by the threat of personal travel bans and ICC prosecutions against Sudanese government officials and others who
impede the peace process, constitute a threat to stability in Darfur and the region, [or] commit violations of international humanitarian or human rights law or other atrocities
But these threats so far hadn't borne fruit. So, last week, the US and the UK decided to sharpen some minds, naming four individuals targetted for such sanctions, and beginning a "silence process" which, if no-one objected, would lead to the sanctions becoming official in a matter of days.
When I began thinking about this post, I was expecting to heap abuse on these two countries for protecting war criminals and putting their (substantial) trade interests with Sudan ahead of human rights and genocide. But their reason for objecting is that imposing sanctions now runs the risk of interfering with peace talks currently being conducted in Nigeria between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government - and I have to admit they have a point. The purpose of these sorts of personal sanctions is to push negotiations along, not pre-empt them. The negotiations have a deadline of April 30th - a mere two weeks away - and it seems foolish to risk interfering. After all, we've waited three years for action - what difference does two more weeks make?
("About five thousand more dead people", says a small voice somewhere).
So, rather than heaping abuse on Russia and China, I think it is better to take them at their word - and call their bluff. The Security Council should refrain from imposing sanctions now in order to allow negotiations to proceed. But the flip side of this is that they should be meeting on May 1st to assess the progress of those negotiations - and be ready and willing to impose sanctions if that progress is unsatisfactory.
But while I'm happy to delay sanctions to allow negotiations to proceed, there's an obvious corollary: the Security Council should be meeting on May 1st to assess the progress of those negotiations, and be ready and willing to impose sanctions if they are dissatisfied with that progress. After all, the point is to help push negotiations along...