By Winny Chen
U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman will head to the Sudan this week in an effort to stem renewed fighting between northern and southern forces. As the United States works with international partners to prevent the current crisis from escalating into another full-fledged civil war, it would do well to also focus its efforts on third-party entities that have enabled years of violence against civilians in Sudan.
China, one of several enablers, has for decades served as a leading proponent of Khartoum. It has provided the government of Sudan political aegis at the United Nations, bountiful investment and economic aid, and a steady supply of arms that continues to fuel deadly campaigns in Darfur and beyond. In return, China receives more than 60% of Sudan's oil output.
In Abyei, the disputed border town that both North and South Sudan claim and are now fighting over, China has obvious economic interests. The China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), a state-owned entity, leads an oil consortium with investments in Abyei's Defra oil field. With this and other oil investments put at risk by recent clashes between North and South, China has called for both sides to "adhere to peace and [to] restrain themselves..."
But if China is genuinely interested in "regional peace and security," as it asserts, it should immediately suspend its financial, material, and practical support to Khartoum, which continues to defy UN Security Council calls to withdraw its troops from Abyei. And China must, as Sudan's largest trading partner in the world and a prime supplier of military materiel, leverage its economic and political clout to put an end to the recent clashes.
However, if history is any indication, the likelihood that that will happen without sustained international pressure is slim, which is why the United States should focus its attention on putting an end to China's enabling role in Sudan in addition to pressuring the leaderships in Khartoum and Juba.
Halting an escalation of current tensions and preventing mass atrocities from happening in Sudan again will require cutting off the goods and services that combatants need to perpetrate further violence. In Abyei and in other areas where the threat of atrocities is high, targeting enablers such as China and cutting off their supply of goods and services to perpetrators could help prevent mass violence from occurring.
Addressing enablers can happen only through well-coordinated U.S. action, but the current absence of a standing interagency process in the U.S. government to prevent atrocities -- in part by taking into account all actors, not just the perpetrators -- means that policymakers have to scramble for available responses each time a new threat of mass atrocities arises. This wastes valuable time and diminishes the range of effective options.
Identifying, targeting, and successfully neutralizing enablers requires building a standing interagency process. Because addressing enablers needs a wide range of action -- analysis of intelligence on enablers, strong diplomacy, and options from relevant agencies such as the Treasury, Commerce, and Defense Departments, for example -- it will need coordination and strong leadership. An interagency process can provide both and could potentially cut down on the valuable time needed to marshal an effective response to ongoing violence and end the killing of civilians.
Winny Chen is Senior Associate in the Crimes Against Humanity Program at Human Rights First.