The International Response to Darfur

Roberta Cohen
Roberta Cohen Former Brookings Expert, Co-Chair Emeritus - Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

May 26, 2005

Darfur is regularly debated by the UN Security Council, African Union forces have been deployed and some 9,000 humanitarian workers are trying to help over two million displaced people. Clearly, Darfur cannot be described as a ‘forgotten emergency’. Why, then, does fighting persist and the needs of many of the uprooted go unmet?

Hundreds are still dying each day in Darfur from starvation, disease and violence. With fighting continuing between rebel forces and government troops, more and more people are being driven from their homes, joining the ranks of the 2.4 million already internally displaced and the 200,000 refugees in Chad. Government military attacks continue on black African farming communities and on IDP camps, supported by the Janjaweed militia. Women and girls continue to be raped searching for firewood outside the camps while those inside remain totally dependent on international aid.

Being on the world agenda has not yet led to meaningful steps to end the fighting or even adequately to address the needs of those uprooted. So what is it that has impeded the international response, and what positive elements can be identified that can be built upon in responding to this and future emergencies?

One reason the international community finds the Darfur problem difficult to address is that state reliance on excessive force against ethnic or racial groups seeking greater autonomy is not unique to Sudan. Other governments bent on maintaining the dominance of a particular ethnic group have also waged brutal wars against their own populations. The Russian Federation, for example, has conducted a scorched earth campaign against the Chechens. A veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, Russia has opposed diplomatic pressure or sanctions against the Sudanese government for fear of setting a precedent.