The Humanitarian Catastrophe in Darfur

Rose - Chevy Chase, Maryland
Entered on April 15, 2008
Age Group: 65+

I believe the United Nations should do more to end the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur.

My first encounter with the problems in Darfur was at a talk given by an American relief worker who just returned from Darfur. His description of the camps for displaced persons and the atrocities that occurred there touched my heart. I donated money to help the refugees and I went to a rally to urge our government to do more to end the violence and human rights abuses in Darfur. Since then, I have learned a lot.

I learned that while the conflict in Darfur was escalating, the U.N. Security Council passed three resolutions to disarm the rebels and bring to justice those leaders who incited and carried out human rights abuses. It also endorsed the deployment of an African Union force to monitor the rebels and militias and imposed a ban on the sale of arms to the rebels and militias. These measures were not adopted because either China or Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, vetoed any resolution that included sanctions against the Sudanese government or any U.N. intervention. China is an impediment to stronger action by the Security Council because it owns 40% of Sudan’s main oil-producing fields. Russia is thought to be the main producer of arms to the Sudanese Government.

I learned that, because the United Nations is an association of sovereign states, where there is conflict the principle of state sovereignty trumps all other principles. Few norms are more fiercely defended. Khartoum used sovereignty, first as a veil to hide its brutal campaign against Darfurans, and later as a shield to fend off calls for international action to protect its victims.

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, as well as the High-Level Panel on Threats, recommended the principle that all states “have a responsibility to protect civilians faced with avoidable catastrophes.” These include mass murder, rape, deliberate starvation, and exposure to disease. I believe that the United Nations should accept this principle. Otherwise, Darfurans and other victims of state terrorism will continue to die. Recognizing this principle would provide the Security Council with the basis it needs to act in the face of a determined refusal by a sovereign state to protect its own citizens.

I believe the U.N. must act.