Darfur desperately needs help – but not just to repair damage from the horrific conflict that erupted in 2003, which killed 300,000 people, destroyed hundreds of villages and pushed 2 million people to camps inside Darfur and across the Chadian border. Darfur also desperately needs to overcome the marginalization and underdevelopment that helped fuel the conflict.
So why are many Darfuris – and Darfur activists – queasy about this coming week’s international donors conference in Doha, Qatar? Donor countries and financial institutions are expected to pledge support for an ambitious development strategy in Darfur.
First, the armed conflict is not over. The Sudanese government is still using its army, air force, and still-intact militia – including janjaweed – in its counter-insurgency operations against rebel groups and its abusive attacks on the ethnic communities they accuse of supporting the rebels. Lawlessness and the proliferation of arms have made communal conflicts, in which government forces often participate, more lethal. These have resulted in hundreds of deaths and displaced more than 100,000 people this year alone.
Second, vast parts of Darfur are not accessible to peacekeepers or aid workers. The African Union/United Nations peacekeeping mission, UNAMID, cannot visit the majority of areas where violence has occurred to help protect civilians and monitor the abuses. This isn’t just because of security problems, but also because the government restricts access for independent monitors and observers. Although Sudan recently said it has streamlined access requirements, many observers are dubious that it will truly open up.
The third problem is the Sudanese government’s repressive policies. The government uses national security laws to harass and detain suspected rebels and their presumed supporters, including students, for long periods without judicial review or charge.
And then there’s accountability. The government has done nothing to provide justice for victims of the most serious abuses during the conflict – including for any of the government’s own attacks on villages. With a few exceptions, the authorities shield members of government forces from prosecution, and have ignored the warrants for arrest of President Omar al-Bashir and others from the International Criminal Court.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to see how the 155-page Developing Darfur: A Recovery and Reconstruction Strategy, which includes everything from building roads, schools, and clinics, to agricultural schemes, to the tune of US$7 billion, can be meaningfully implemented. As the World Bank itself has noted, countries mired in violence are where people face the worst failures of development. In a 2011 report about development in conflict areas, the Bank notes how crucial security, justice, and jobs are to break the cycles of violence.
The aims of the conference are, of course, admirable. In addition to supporting recovery and development projects, it will draw attention to Darfur, which has slipped out of the limelight, and could breathe life into the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, the 2011 peace agreement signed by the government and one rebel group. Support for the development strategy, it is hoped, will attract more support for – and signatories to – the peace deal.
Long-suffering Darfuris deserve the international solidarity and generosity, but there are real concerns that funds will not improve human rights. Money can’t buy the reforms needed to make the strategy’s vision of respect for human rights and the rule of law come true. Only Sudan’s government can rein in its forces, disarm militia, hold abusers accountable, stop bombing and attacking civilians, and end its repressive policies. Only the government can grant the UN and aid groups the unfettered access they need.
All of those steps are set out in countless Security Council Resolutions and incorporated into benchmarks such as those the UN Group of Experts put forward to improve the human rights situation. But Sudan has repudiated external efforts to change its behavior, and implemented almost none of them.
International donors rightly want to see sustained development and respect for basic rights in Darfur. They should not accept partial, politicized development, nor should they ignore ongoing rights abuses or the pressing humanitarian needs that still exist. Instead donors should lean hard on their beneficiary government and insist on long-demanded reforms and better human rights conditions.
They should insist on full access to Darfur, transparency in the management and oversight of the funding, and independent monitoring to ensure that funds promote real improvement sin the human rights situation and don’t contribute to continuing repression.
Jehanne Henry is a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch who has long focused on Darfur.