May 5 should have been a milestone in the chronicles of the genocide taking place in Darfur. Instead it was a tragic marker of the world's continuing failure to bring an end to the murder, displacement and devastation inflicted by the Sudanese government, and the Janjaweed militias they support, on the people of Darfur. May 5 marked the one-year anniversary of the Darfur Peace Agreement, a now futile pact negotiated with the active involvement of then-U.S. envoy Robert Zoellick, a key provision of which was the Sudanese government's pledge to disarm its brutal militias.
This month, however, as Chair of the U.N. Security Council, the Bush administration has the opportunity to revisit policy towards the five year scourge of genocidal violence in the region, now home to 400,000 displaced Sudanese and an unprecedented number of attacks on aid workers and on African Union "peace-keeping" forces.
Since the signing of the agreement, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has not taken any steps to disarm the Janjaweed, who continue to terrorize civilians with impunity. A United Nations panel recently reported that the government, in addition to continuing its random and deadly bombing of Darfur villages, is now operating military planes painted white, brandishing "U.N." stenciled in telltale blue to look like U.N. aircraft. These decoys exemplify the duplicity with which the Sudanese government operates.
In spite of a U.N. arms embargo, heavy weapons continue to flow into the region to both the Janjaweed and to the rebels who are themselves responsible for numerous human rights violations. Banditry and lawlessness prevail; danger is so high that humanitarian access is at its lowest point since the armed conflict began in 2003, leaving many Darfuri with no access to water, health care or witnesses to the violence which may unfold in their camps at any minute. The 7,000 African Union troops tasked with monitoring a non-existent ceasefire and ensuring safe passage for humanitarian aid have been essentially abandoned; they are under-equipped, under-funded and, as a result of their vulnerability, have suffered significant casualties.
The May 5 agreement was one in a string of false promises for peace from the Sudanese government. In August 2006, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution to transform the existing African Union force into a much larger and more effective U.N. peacekeeping mission. The Sudanese government, however, refused to accept the deployment of such a force. In November, Khartoum instead consented to the phased deployment of a smaller joint U.N./A.U. peacekeeping operation but, characteristically, Bashir is stalling on the final agreement governing the number of troops, their mandate and a timetable for their deployment.
Throughout, President Bush has either blustered or not acted at all. In protest of Sudan's continual delay tactics, the Bush administration threatened to implement a "Plan B" -- the specifics of which were not spelled out; they set a January 1, 2007 deadline for Sudan to cooperate with peacekeeping efforts, but did nothing when the deadline came and went without action from Khartoum .
Just a few weeks ago, President Bush warned Khartoum yet again, calling it the government's "last chance" to comply, finally announcing the steps the administration claims it is prepared to take, including tightening existing U.S. sanctions and working to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution with new sanctions, but not yet implementing any of them and not providing a date certain for their enactment.
As president of the U.N. Security Council this month, the U.S. can make good on its preaching and build multilateral support for renewed and inclusive peace negotiations, and to implement a robust peacekeeping force. In order to achieve this, the U.S. must get the commitment of Sudan's allies ¾especially China, the largest consumer of Sudanese oil. Thus far, Hollywood has been more successful at pressuring China than the Bush administration. Steven Spielberg's recent exhortation of President Hu Jintao to force the Sudanese government into compliance with the Security Council resulted in China's dispatch of a high-level official to Sudan. Spielberg, who is an artistic advisor to the Beijing 2008 Olympics, was brilliantly prompted to take this action by a letter from Mia Farrow, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, calling these the "Genocide Olympics" and equating Spielberg's role with that of Leni Refenstahl who made propaganda films for the Nazis.
Now is the time for a new resolution imposing tough sanctions on Sudan's government and holding al-Bashir responsible when he fails to act. While the government of Sudan continues to stall, time is running out for the millions of Darfuri whose lives are on the line. It is critical for the U.S. to use its influence this month by demonstrating to Khartoum that there is international resolve to end the status quo destruction, and that severe consequences will ensue if it continues to violate peacekeeping pacts and pursue genocide.