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'Darfur: The Genocide the World Got Tired of'

08/16/2014 11:12 am ET | Updated Oct 16, 2014
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

On August 5, 2014 the displaced persons of El Salam camp in South Darfur were brutally assaulted by military and security forces of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum. Tens of thousands of civilians, mainly women and children, were terrorized during this ferocious operation; a great many were beaten, humiliated, and robbed. Dozens were arrested, only to be released when no evidence could be adduced to justify the arrests. Lack of evidence, however, is not always sufficient to guarantee release, and a number of those arrested remain in custody and subject to torture.

The force that assaulted El Salam camp was large in number -- they came in a reported 140 vehicles -- and heavily armed. Photographs that have come to me from a confidential source at the location bear out what had been earlier reported by Radio Dabanga, virtually our only news source about violence in Darfur, once the a cause célèbre among American and European civil society. If not for the Radio Dabanga dispatch, El Salam would have been another in a long list of assaults on unarmed civilians in camps for displaced persons -- displaced by the very militia and military elements that are now attacking them.

The UN/African Union "hybrid" mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was nowhere to be seen on the occasion of the attack on El Salam, despite the fact that the camp is only a few miles from Nyala, capital of South Darfur and the largest town in all of Darfur. For despite its large size and cost, UNAMID is rarely able to protect civilians, either in camps, towns, or rural areas, even though civilian protection is the primary mandate of the mission. It is hardly surprising that such deficiencies are only very rarely reported by UNAMID itself, since it is routinely denied access to the scenes of atrocity crimes. We learn of the failures of this vast and immensely expensive mission only from Darfuris themselves, and chiefly by means of Radio Dabanga. The Khartoum regime permits no human rights or news reporting presence in Darfur, and the UN and international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations operating there live in constant, all too well justified fear of expulsion; they are silent about what they see.

In turn, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon -- in his mandated quarterly reports on Darfur and UNMAID -- relies on the UN/AU mission itself for reports about sexual violence, murders, assaults, land appropriation, extortion sites on major highways, robbery, kidnapping, and wholesale military and militia assaults on towns. But very little of what occurs is actually reported by UNAMID, both because of access limitations as well as lack of land and air transport capacity, and a relationship with Khartoum that has become increasingly cozy over the years. This is partly a response to Khartoum's primary responsibility for the killing, by means of its Arab militia forces, more than 50 UN peacekeepers during the time of deployment.

Throughout its six-year history, UNAMID has been badly led by the likes of Rodolphe Adada (Congo) and the wholly incompetent Ibrahim Gambari (Nigeria). It has been hampered by a lack of trained personnel (a great many units operate significantly below minimum UN peacekeeping standards), and a lack of required equipment, especially helicopters; here militarily capable Western nations have been unforgivably stingy, compromising a mission they nominally supported but refused to supply when there were key shortages. Morale is disastrously low within UNAMID, and recent investigative reporting makes clear that reports on Darfur are too often exercises in expediency and mendacity.

The mission as it stands has failed in its primary purpose, and that failure has been growing steadily for more than two years. And yet there are no voices calling for a response to this failure: not the UN, where the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations simply wants to get rid of this embarrassing and resource-consuming failure; not the AU, many members states of which benefit financially from UN stipends and payments (which are often generous by country states), or the U.S. Indeed, the Obama administration several years ago "de-coupled" Darfur from the primary issues in its Sudan policy, and has had almost nothing to say about what was once characterized by candidate and President Obama's repeated characterizations of Darfur as the site of genocide. In 2007, invoking Rwanda and Bosnia as justification for humanitarian intervention in Darfur, Obama declared:

The United States has a moral obligation anytime you see humanitarian catastrophes... When you see a genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia or in Darfur, that is a stain on all of us, a stain on our souls .... We can't say "never again" and then allow it to happen again, and as a president of the United States I don't intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.

Sadly, "turning a blind eye" to Darfur is now a central feature of the administration's bilateral relationship with the genocidal regime in Khartoum.

To be sure, the Arab League has been useless for the entire course of the Darfur catastrophe; and Russia and China -- primary weapons suppliers to Khartoum (and thus to the regime's regular and militia forces in Darfur) -- have been relentless obstructionists within the UN Security Council. The European Union has no coherent policy or plan to relieve the suffering or end assaults on displaced persons in Darfur.

Two days after the attack on El Salam displaced persons camp, Dereig camp was similarly attacked. Radio Dabanga today reports that another displaced persons camp, in North Darfur near Shangil Tobaya, has been surrounded and assaulted; women were raped and at least one many was murdered. Displaced persons camps have been attacked since 2005, but there has been a clear and extremely dangerous increase in such attacks for more than two years; and as always been true, those responsible enjoy complete impunity.

Despite the vague inertia of previous efforts to bring security to the region, despite the contrived and unworkable "Doha Document for Peace in Darfur" -- virtually unanimously rejected by Darfuri civil society and the consequential rebel groups -- Darfur has been abandoned by the international community. But attacks on unarmed and innocent civilians continue to be a daily reality, without any end in sight. Humanitarians may soon be compelled by growing insecurity to withdraw.

It's difficult to escape the conclusion that Darfur is the genocide that people got tired of. A terrible epitaph in the wake of so many impassioned declarations of "never again."