The Rwandan genocide left the world in shudders not only due to its intensity and the tens of thousands that were subjected to gruesome deaths, but rather by the international community’s failure to prevent the eminent catastrophe despite the daily news feed on the escalating violence and massacres.
The Rwandan Genocide has been said that it was not in vain; it represented a turning point and would evoke timely responses of future catastrophes. Never again would the world watch as tens of thousands of innocent children and women get killed and maimed over their ethnic compositions; this was the glaring message. Today however, the world faces a similar catastrophe; hundreds are being subjected to indiscriminate deaths by the Sudanese government backed rebels as the world watch.
Though the response of the international organizations has been swift to condemn these massacres and timely provided international peacekeepers, nothing much has been achieved and most analysts are pointing an accusing finger at the UN Security Council for its failure to curb the violence and provide a solution, the recent issuing of an ICC arrest warrant has backfired and is not seen as having any meaningful effect. This paper provides a critical analysis of the failure of the UN to stop the violence in Darfur region of Sudan.
To understand the failure of the United Nations to arrest the situation in Darfur, it is important to provide a timeline of events and the various responses. The Darfur crisis can be traced to 2003 when a rebellion began forming in the western part of Sudan over what they termed as neglect by the Arab dominated government. The government is alleged to have responded swiftly by arming the dreaded Janjaweed rebels and commissioning it to retaliate on its behalf.
These are charges that the Sudanese government has continually denied. The attention of the world to the ongoing conflict and into the massive killings and suffering in Darfur was captured by the alleged evidence tabled by the human rights groups. (Alexander 2007) It is this that would trigger a flurry of activities and missions by the United Nations with even calls of economic and political sanctions on Sudan. Despite these calls however, the end of 2004 had not yet seen fruits yet and it was being blamed on the lackluster response and lack of commitment by the United Nations. The resolutions passed over the conflict were not being followed.
This was despite the fact that there was evidence that “between early 2003 and 2004, the Sudanese government and government backed Arab militias destroyed hundreds of African villages, killed and raped thousands of their inhabitants, and displaced more that a million and a half others.” (Human rights watch 2005, p26)
The current row between the Darfur and the Sudanese government is said to be fuelled by the claims of exploitation and neglect and lopsided development that is skewed to the disfavor of Darfur. However, it is the lackluster response of the international community that has added more fuel into the fire and cultivated a culture of impunity in the government’s backed operations (United Nations Security Council 2009).
The first response into the issue by the United States was in December 2003, after one of its key officials described it as one of the most serious humanitarian crisis. This reporting paved way for a flurry of media and human rights groups’ attention into the region, it was now apparent that the Darfur crisis would escalate and “the government of Sudan had purposefully sought to remove by violent means the Masalit and Fur population form large parts of Darfur in operations that amount to ethnic cleansing.” (Human rights watch 2005, p29). This is what signaled for intervention from the United Nations Security Council.
While the failure of the United Nations can be discerned from its failure to maintain peace on the ground, its lackluster response is the key culprit behind its failure; there was a delay in its response. It is crucial to observe that the Darfur conflict commenced during the time when the international community’s attention was on the raging conflict between Southern Sudan and the Sudanese government.
Indeed the United Nations had its eyes trained on this conflict and although the Darfur conflict was beginning to take shape, the situation was driven by the false optimism that the peaceful settlement and the successful outcome of the negotiations would change the prevailing political environment in the country. This lackluster initial response was also driven by the fears that a mention of the Darfur crisis before the end of the then current crisis would complicate the situation further and the Sudanese government would have opted to halt the Naivasha Talks.
It is for this reason that the June 2004 Resolution 1547 by the Security Council establishing a United Nations mission into Sudan failed to recognize the Darfur issue. With a crisis that began in early 2003 and that by then had resulted to thousands of death and displacement of million others, a year and half later in May 2004, the only response from the Security Council was on urging the government to disarm the militias without itself promising to play any active role (Samuel & Eric 2006, 26).
The failure of the United Nations to avert the humanitarian crisis in Darfur can be seen as being fuelled by the discordance between the secretariat and the Security Council. The United Nations through the secretariat is understood to have commissioned findings on the crisis, it is these findings that prompted the then United Nations Secretary General to react and urge for action, the Security Council however did not see the urgency in this and it was not made a priority.
The only notable response was in the disarmament of the rebels through the Resolution 1556 with the promise of further sanctions. This resolution has not been fully implemented to date and the futile attempts by the AU/UN sanctioned peace forces have not borne any fruits (Samuel & Eric 2006, p23).
The failure of the United Nations can also be explained by the lack of unanimity amongst the United Nations Security Council’s members. The permanent members to the Security Council wield veto power which they use to safeguard their interests; this can be done at the expense of important priorities. An analysis of the situation on the ground indicates that china has been a big impediment. It has to be understood that the United States has been vocal in its criticism of the situation in Sudan and proposed a number of approaches including sanctions aimed at derailing Sudan’s oil sector, but this has been continually impeded by the complicity of china into the issue.
In these sessions, “China regularly abstained in the votes in the Security Council and thus nothing was agreed.” (Kenneth 115) Chinas actions are largely seen as being driven by economic interests rather than by principles. China has been able to make inroads in most of the third world countries especially those endowed with oil. It is fast becoming a preferred economic partner especially as it has taken a see no evil hear no evil attitude. It has failed to condemn the actions and also failed to support the calls for sanctions (Agnes 2007, p43).
A proper response into the crisis is also compounded by the principle of state intervention and respect for states sovereignty. Even if there was unanimity in the Security Council, the United Nations could not have effectively responded and taken measures to tackle the violence due to safeguards against such actions by the principle of the sovereignty of state. However, the Security Council can still go ahead and adopt the principle as proposed by “the international commission on intervention and state sovereignty and the high level panel on threats” (Simon 2007, p132).
This holds that a state has a mandate to protect its citizens from avoidable catastrophes. In recognition of such a responsibility which in this case Sudan has been unable to uphold, the Security Council could have initiated a decisive response to the crisis. Such a resolution however has not been passed due to the fact two permanent members of the council; china and the Russia have conflicting interests (Harvey, Boris & Alan 2006, p385).
Indeed the United Nations has failed to bring back peace and sanity in Darfur, the United Nations/African Union mission to Darfur (UNAMID) has not borne any fruits but instead has been a soft target of heavy fire from militias resulting to huge casualties.
The refusal by Omar Bashir to allow foreign western troops into the country has further jeopardized the situation; the recent issuing of an arrest warrant has not helped much and is indeed being criticized as likely to be counterproductive as there have been a number of powerful nations that have come out openly in criticism of the warrant. The United Nations in addition to its lackluster response at the beginning of the crisis is still engaging on a tug of war among the Security Council permanent members, greatly impeding on any efforts to reach a unilateral agreement on sanctions.
The past resolutions passed by the council have failed in their implementation and it remains crucial to witness how the situation will progress. The current expelling of the aid workers will exacerbate the situation further. The continuation of unabated killings in the intertribal fighting is a testament that indeed the United Nations has failed.
Agnes A. 2007. Explaining Darfur: four lectures on the ongoing genocide. Amsterdam University Press
Alexander S., 2007. Un Mission to Sudan: Failure Looms for Darfur Peacekeepers. Spiegel Online. Retrieved on April 28, 2009 from
Harvey, Boris, Alan. 2006. International Peacekeeping: The Yearbook of International Peace Operations. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 385
Human Rights Watch World Report 2005: Events of 2004. 2005. Human Rights Watch
Kenneth O. 2008. Extractive Economies and Conflicts in the Global South: Multi-Regional Perspectives on Rentier Politics. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.,
Samuel T., Eric M. (2006) Genocide in Darfur: investigating the atrocities in the Sudan.