Background Briefing

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International Responses to the Darfur crisis

Over the past few months, international media response to the crisis in Darfur has grown considerably following a total dearth of attention during the first fifteen months of the conflict. In turn, this has provoked belated but far greater international political attention to the situation. 

Under multilateral pressure from the U.S., the U.N., and the European Union, the Sudanese government opened up access to Darfur for humanitarian agencies, easing the rigid restrictions on visas and travel permits for humanitarian workers, and permitting an increased number of agencies to operate in the zone.  For instance, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which in March 2004 had stated that it was “not in a position to carry out a meaningful humanitarian operation”101 in Darfur, had approximately 90 expatriate staff and over 300 national staff working in Darfur by mid-July,102 a testament to both the improvement in humanitarian access as well as to the scale and gravity of the needs.

Pressure on the government of Sudan from certain quarters, such as the United States and European Union members grew throughout June and July amid increasing popular awareness of the situation in Darfur, calls to describe the violence as genocide, and appeals for international intervention to address the crisis. Khartoum and Darfur saw a steady stream of visits from prominent political figures, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who paid simultaneous visits to Darfur at the end of June and beginning of July. Despite the high profile given to the crisis and the improvements in humanitarian access, however, protection of civilians remained minimal, with continuing attacks on civilians reported by numerous aid agencies and visiting delegations of diplomats, U.N. staff and others.

By mid-July, both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolutions condemning the violence in Darfur as genocide.103  The U.S. also began circulating a draft UN Security Council resolution invoking Chapter VII and proposing arms and travel sanctions on the Janjaweed militias in early July. The threat of the UNSC resolution stirred considerable international debate in late-July; with some of Sudan’s allies on the Security Council—Pakistan, China, and Russia in particular—insisting on a more moderate approach. Under the threat of U.N. sanctions, the Sudanese government ratcheted up its anti-American rhetoric both domestically and internationally, invoking the potential for a unilateral U.S. intervention as in Iraq and a supposed Western conspiracy to invade Sudan and topple the Sudanese government.104  A slightly toned-down version of the UNSC resolution was voted upon on July 30, 2004.

France, increasingly concerned by the militarization of the border and the potentially de-stabilizing impact of the Darfur conflict on region, particularly Chadian political stability, deployed French troops to the Chadian-Sudanese border in early August to patrol the fraying border zone.105

In May 2004, the Arab League took the unusual step of publishing a report of a commission of inquiry sent by the organization to assess the situation in Darfur.  The report apparently condemned the “massive violations of human rights” taking place in Darfur and specifically named the “pro-government militias” as responsible for the abuses.106 Following the Sudanese government’s protest at the Arab League summit in Tunis on May 22 and 23, however, the report was quickly withdrawn from the public domain. Human Rights Watch was told that the public version was still being finalized when a researcher requested a copy from an Arab League representative in June, but to date the report is still publicly unavailable. 

Since these events, however, the Arab League has publicly maintained a fairly consistent stance towards the Sudanese government’s actions in Darfur, refusing to condemn the atrocities taking place—in which Muslims are the victims--or to place Sudan under serious international sanctions, and preferring to maintain a policy of constructive dialogue.  The Sudanese government’s rhetoric invoking the specter of a non-consensual, unilateral U.S. military intervention, despite being an unrealistic prospect, has clearly found a receptive audience among both public and government circles in the Arab world that are increasingly suspicious of U.S. motives post-Iraq.

This manipulation of the conflict for political purposes obscures the very real tragedy of more than a million people—Muslims—who have suffered massive atrocities due to the Sudanese government’s policies in Darfur. For instance, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit downplayed the situation in early August, “To talk about…grave violations of human rights or massacres or other such accusations, I don’t think it is that way.”107 Arab-League Secretary-General Amr Moussa also stated that it was unacceptable for Sudan to become a “playground to accept troops from tens of thousands of miles from a country which is hostile to the Arabs.”108

Initially quiet on the events in Darfur, the African Union has become an increasingly important actor, particularly given the Sudanese government’s refusal to permit significant Western involvement in the crisis.  African Union officials helped mediate the ceasefire agreement of April 8, 20 04 and took leadership of the ceasefire monitoring framework.  For African Union member states, success in Darfur was an important step to establishing the credibility of the new regional body109 and also claming responsibility for dealing with crises on the continent.

The African Union ceasefire monitoring mission got off to a slow start, however, and by the end of July, four months after the ceasefire agreement was signed, they had only established three of six planned sectoral bases in the region.110 Despite this, the organization proposed in a July 27 African Union summit to significantly increase its presence and turn the ceasefire monitor monitoring force into a full-fledged peacekeeping force with an increased size that would include within its mandate the protection of civilians, disarmament and neutralization of the Janjaweed militias, and facilitation of the delivery of humanitarian assistance.111

As of early August, the Sudanese government continued to pledge improvements and make commitments to improve the situation that it is highly unlikely to fulfill. In the wake of international concern and offers of assistance to improve protection of civilians, the government continues to deny any need for assistance to protect civilians and ensure security.  As this report went to press, Nigeria and Rwanda were among the troop-providing countries offering three battalions of troops to help protect civilians in Darfur.  The onus remains on the Sudanese government to prove that is it is genuinely concerned about the fate of Sudanese civilians and accept a greatly increased international presence in Darfur. 

[101] “ICRC president ends visit,” International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, March 6, 2004.

[102] “Sudan Bulletin No. 6, 6 August, 2004,” ICRC, at

[103] Asociated Press, “Congress declares Sudan atrocities are ‘genocide,’ July 23, 2004.

[104] Tsegaye Tadesse, “Sudan says US using Darfur to topple Government,” Reuters, July 27, 2004.

[105] Agence France Presse, “France mobilizes troops in Chad for Darfur humanitarian work,” July 30, 2004.

[106] Agence France Presse, “Darfour: le Soudan proteste après un rapport arabe sur des violations,” May 26, 2004.

[107] Nima Elbagir, “Sudan rejects Darfur deadline,” Reuters, August 1, 2004.

[108] Ibid.

[109] The African Union (A.U.) replaced the Organization of African Union (OAU) which had been heavily criticized for inaction on a number of levels. 

[110] The three sites are Nyala, Kebkabiya, and Abéché, Chad.  See African Union, “Talking Points for the Deputy Chairperson,” 13th Meeting of the Peace and Security Council, Addis Ababa, July 27, 2004.

[111] Communiqué, Peace and Security Council, African Union, July 27, 2004.

<<previous  |  indexAugust 11, 2004