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Building a better Unamid

For years, the activist community has bemoaned the limited support to which the international community is giving the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  The mission deployed at a snail's pace, has been hobbled by onerous restrictions placed on it by the government of Sudan, and lacks critical force "multi-pliers" like long-requested helicopter assets.  Still, a new report from a broad coalition of NGOs on the two-year anniversary of UNAMID shows that despite these limitation, UNAMID has been able to make a difference in critical situations.  EG:

In January and February 2009, Muhajeria in South Darfur was the focal point of intense fighting between Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) forces and Sudanese Armed Forces, endangering tens of thousands of civilians. As the fighting escalated, the Sudanese government informed UNAMID that it was preparing to use "all means possible" to drive out JEM elements.[1] The government then officially requested that UNAMID withdraw its troops from Muhajeria and the surrounding area in order to "prevent any unnecessary loss of life."[2]

In a rare move, UNAMID leadership refused to pull out its troops. High level diplomatic efforts ensued, and UNAMID did not concede to the government's demands. UNAMID's refusal to abandon the civilians in Muhajeria no doubt prevented a large-scale attack which would have caused extensive casualties.

Less than a month later, on March 4, 2009, the Sudanese government callously expelled 13 international humanitarian organizations and shut down three local human rights and humanitarian agencies in a flagrant rejection of international humanitarian principles. Less highlighted was the fact that the Sudanese government had already been systematically targeting humanitarian protection monitoring and reporting programs for many months, including closing down women's centers and gender-based violence programs.

Following Khartoum's March 4 decree, UNAMID stepped in to help fill the gaping hole in protection programming and re-establishing humanitarian access. A large gap still remains and there is substantially more UNAMID could do stabilize access and fill new gaps in human rights and security information-sharing in the wake of the expulsions. But the force notably increased its presence in some areas, making more consistent patrols to certain camps and proactively trying to secure humanitarian access in a heightened security environment. According to the Secretary-General's June report, "UNAMID is currently providing 24-hour protection of four warehouses previously managed by an expelled NGO and 67 vehicles belonging to United Nations partners."[3] In early July 2009, UNAMID's civilian Gender Advisory Unit worked to reopen women's centers in Abu Shouk camp which were previously closed by the government. The centers will offer critical livelihood and literacy training, as well as raise awareness about reproductive health and sexual violence for the first time in almost a year.[4]

Just imagine what UNAMID could acheive if it received the full backing of key member states. 

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The declining utility, and enduring legacy, of a Save Darfur movement

My post on the declining utility of a Save Darfur movement has sparked some debate.

John generally agrees with Newcomb and Norris, saying that the movement's next challenge is, in fact, pushing the Obama administration to take a hard line approach on Sudan.   Similarly, a movement leader writes me,  "can't we generate noise on this so Hillary and others push back [on the more conciliatory approach favored by Sudan Envoy Scott Gration]?"

Again, I think both sentiments place unrealistic expectations on the movement's constituency to get into the weeds of an inter-agency policy debate.  The movement has been a singular success in making Darfur a household name and infiltrating the White House with its members.   But as I wrote earlier, it now up to the movement alumni in the White House to see that their policy options are implemented.  Outside activism has brought us to this point--but change is now dependent on the ability of vanguard policy makers to press their case to their colleagues.  

That said, I don't think the movement should just dissapear. One of the best things to emerge from the Save Darfur movement are new institutions and organizations that nurture an activism beyond Darfur to the problem of genocide and mass atrocity more broadly.  The Genocide Intervention Network and the Enough Project are two sterling examples of organizations that are directing the energy of the Save Darfur movement to places and issues that are not yet household names.  

For example, the Enough Project just announced a video contest to show the connection between minerals used in the manufacture of cell phones and conflict in the Congo. A year ago, I'd bet only a handful of experts would have known this is an issue. By the end of this contest, many thousands will have a passing familiarity with it, and of those thousands, a certain percentage will want to do something about it.   Pretty soon "conflict minerals" from Congo may be as familiar to Americans as "conflict diamonds."     

Ultimately, I'd argue that the results of these sorts of efforts are a better way to judge the success of the Save Darfur movement than the outcome of the inter-agency debate on Sudan policy.  

pic from flickr user onthedecline

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Where’s the Social Web Revolution for Abused Women and Starving Children? (Boiling Frog Syndrome)

It's worth noting that with all this triumphant talk about the Twitter revolution in Iran - especially when it's about a lesser-of-two-evils candidate - we can't summon a fraction of the energy and passion to save abused, raped and battered women across the globe. Nor can we muster the same attention and will to deal with the plight of children who are dying of hunger, deprived of the bare necessities of life.

Here are the brutal facts:

* There are four million new hungry people every week, over a billion total. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes - one child every five seconds.

* Millions of women and girls (our mothers, sisters and daughters) endure one or more of the following: intimate partner violence; sexual abuse by non-intimate partners; trafficking, forced prostitution, exploitation, debt bondage, sex selective abortion, female infanticide, and rape.

Perhaps it's boiling frog syndrome, the fact that global hunger and women's rights are ongoing tragedies/travesties without sudden spikes of interest. Or perhaps it's the futility of confronting these intractable issues, a sense that we're powerless to change such pervasive problems.

That's not to say that there aren't many courageous and dedicated people working to alleviate hunger and protect women's rights. There are. But where is the massive outrage, the worldwide focus, the grainy images, the Twitter-mania, the color-coded avatars? Most importantly, where is the urgency, the immediacy?

Clearly, something is happening in Iran with technology that signals a new era in global activism. This is the first period in human history when so many individuals, friends and strangers, can speak to one another simultaneously, on equal footing; there's never been a time when ten million people could converse at once, on the same topic, using the same platform.

That also means they can shout and raise the alarm about injustice together. And as we're seeing with CNN, those millions of impassioned people can pressure the media to get on board, further increasing the level of attention.

So why isn't this happening for oppressed and abused women or hungry and starving children, when their aggregate pain and suffering is far greater and the threat to them more severe than to the (brave) Iranian demonstrators? Where's the intense coverage, the excitement over the potential of Twitter and Facebook to alter the course of history?

I'm not calling for less focus on Iran, but more, much more, on the mortal threat so many women and children face.

I'll conclude with a clip from Channel 4 News in the UK, where I was asked to comment on Gordon Brown's statement that because of the Internet, there will be no more Rwandas. My answer: what about Darfur?

Cross-posted on CTN

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Where is the White House on Darfur (II)?

I noted yesterday that the President's Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration seemed to speak off a different set of talking points than UN Ambassador Susan Rice when it came to addressing the "genocide" question. Well, John Norris notes that this was not the only miscue from Gration during his first press availability.
The second linguistic thicket into which Gration wandered was the expulsion of humanitarian aid groups. Gration noted that we have “three new aid groups returning to Sudan” – something of an oxymoron. Are they new aid groups, or are they returning aid groups? As has always been clear, Khartoum was willing to let three of the 13 groups return to work if they were rehatted under new names, a charade the international community apparently was willing to accept. Now Khartoum is expecting credit for its willingness to partially address a humanitarian crisis which it manufactured itself. Gration also insisted that aid capacity in Darfur was back up to nearly 100 percent of what it had been before Khartoum put so many lives at risk through its callous decision to expel aid groups. Lots of analysts, including the humanitarian chief at the U.N., have suggested that we are still well short of restoring previous aid capacity, and most aid groups still face a maze of restrictions that allow Khartoum to turn aid on and off at will.
For more on how the message on Darfur is being hashed out in the inter-agency process, see Colum Lynch in today's Washington Post. He reports what I speculated yesterday: the National Security Council has yet to reach a consensus decision on what to do about Darfur.
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For Darfuri Women, Nowhere to Hide

A distressing report from PHR and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative:

The report -- titled "Nowhere To Turn: Failure To Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women" -- is based on interviews with 88 female refugees living in Chad's Farchana refugee camp.

"Many Darfuri women refugees live in a nightmare of memories of past trauma compounded by the constant threat of sexual violence around the camps now," said Susannah Sirkin, the physician group's deputy director.

"Women who report being raped are stigmatized, and remain trapped in places of perpetual insecurity. There's no one to stop the rapes, no one to turn to for justice for past or ongoing crimes, and little psycho-social support to address their prolonged and unimaginable traumas."

Imagine escaping one conflict zone to then be targeted again. "Perpetual insecurity" doesn't capture the horror that these women endure.

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Air Strikes for What?

Dianne Marie Amann offers a useful corrective to calls by Nick Kristof and others for U.S.-led air strikes against Sudanese military targets.
As all international lawyers know, for a country to enter another's air space and destroy its property likely violates the pledge, contained in Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, that it shall "refrain in [its] international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."
In the comments, Kevin John Heller retorts.
Do you believe that Obama's cross-border use of Predator drones to attack terrorists in Pakistan qualifies as aggression? If you don't, what is the (legal) difference between such attacks and cross-border attacks on Sudanese military aircraft?
To which Amann replies:
In the latter case there are arguments that [sic] the United States acts in self-defense and/or pursuant to an armed conflict that has won some sanction from the Security Council. One may ultimately determine that neither argument is valid, of course, but as advanced both arguments cor/respond [sic] far more to the existing, Charter-based use of force framework than does the Kristof scenario.
And so we have a battle of the internet's best blogging international lawyers. Lost in this conversation -- and as far as I can tell, lost in most Darfur related commentary of late --is any serious discussion of the strategic purpose of a U.S.-led bombing campaign in Sudan. That is, what do advocates of bombing Sudan believe it will accomplish?
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Time for Airstrikes on Sudan?

General Merrill McPeak (Ret.) and Kurt Bassuener advise the Obama administration to consider enforcing a no-fly-zone in Darfur by attacking Sudanese air assets. (McPeak, for the uninitiated, is a former air force general and a co-chair of the Obama campaign.) Whenever this kind of suggestion comes up, humanitarian relief organizations generally protest. They argue that 1) a no-fly-zone would hinder their access to the most vulnerable, 2) they would be the likely target of Sudanese government retribution. Well, now that aid groups are being summarily expelled from Darfur these objections are somewhat less relevant. Still, I'm wary of this kind of logic.
By taking away the Sudanese government's freedom to use air power to terrorize its population, the West would finally get enough leverage with Khartoum to negotiate the entry of a stronger U.N. ground force.
While it's true that Khartoum has not been the most cooperative of host countries, the main problem in standing up UNAMID is that member states have not been willing to pony up the troops or equipment needed to make the mission a success. Still. STILL! UNAMID does not have adequate equipment, like transport helicopters, that the mission requires. This has little to do with Omar al Bashir and a lot to do with the apathy of key UN member states.
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Throughout the day we will keep a running tally of international responses to today's announcement that the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al Bashir. Posting to the Enough Project's blog Rebecca Bracato captures a Q and A with State Department spokesperson Gordon Dugiod, who struggles to explain how the United States can support ICC action against Sudan when the United States is not itself a member of the ICC. Doctors Without Borders takes another hit in Sudan as Khartoum orders the French section of MSF to back its bags. "The decision to expel the French section of MSF, brutal and sudden, follows the expulsion yesterday of the organization’s Dutch section. MSF is appalled by this order, which clearly holds the needs of the population of Darfur hostage to political and judicial agendas. The organization protests the order in the strongest of terms and appeals to the government to repeal these decisions and allow MSF to resume independent and impartial humanitarian assistance immediately."