The mass killings and genocides in the Balkans and Rwanda during the 1990s were met with little concern from the international community. Following this event, the United Nations adopted the resolution named the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) which defines a moral obligation for intervention from other countries in the face of human rights abuses.
The materialization of this intervention, however, was not clearly defined and can range anywhere for military intervention to aid programs. In recent crises, this ambiguity within the R2P resolution has led to a lack of action from other international actors in the face of consisting humanitarian crises.
One of these crises is taking place in Sudan, a country with a history of division under a longstanding totalitarian regime. The country gained its independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt in 1956 and was seized by Lieutenant General Omar al-Bashir who led Sudan from 1989 until April 2019, when he was overthrown by a wave of protests due to the genocidal events against the Darfuri regime that took place under his rule.
The most recent crisis in Sudan can be seen as a result of the lack of accountability that Bashir was held to by the international community during his rule. In December 2018, Bashir drastically cut bread and fuel subsidies to the Sudanese people. With these extreme changes, the Sudanese people began protesting the rule of Bashir and called for the military to force him to step down in February of 2019.
In response to this, Bashir began trying to remove his supporting governing bodies, such as governors and the cabinet and declared a state of emergency in Sudan. Following this, the military arrested Bashir and a transitional military council is set to rule the country for before democratic elections will be held which has been a point of contention amongst the continuing protests.
The main resistance against the transitional military council is the lack of unity that has existed within the military as much of the military was composed of military tribunals, such as the Janjaweed from the Darfuri genocide. Members of the Janjaweed were recruited into Sudan’s Rapid Support Force (RSF) to help the police further suppress the pro-democracy protestors.
The June 3rd massacre on Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, continued the legacy of violence from the Janjaweed. The military forces stormed protests in the capital, and the aftermath left horrific scenes of bodies in the Nile River and throughout the city.
Estimates from the massacre say that at least 101 people were killed and 326 people were left injured. While this marked the beginning of the violence, this transitional military council has continued to violate the human rights of the Sudanese people. Since early June, the transitional military council has almost entirely restricted internet access which poses serious threats to emergency communications during this fragile state.
In response to this, a new wave of protests from university students began at the end of July who marched saying “No education!” until Sudan was returned to a more peaceful state and the violence came to an end. One day later, five of these protestors were killed, four of which were teenage students. Currently, the situation is still extremely unstable and the future of the country is a question with no obvious answer.
This recent crisis has made waves in the media as protestors seek to institute civilian rule instead of the totalitarian rule that has held the country for decades. Given the international community’s failure to help the people of Sudan in the genocide in Darfur, the recent continued displacement of civilians has given the international community to come to the aid of the people of Sudan.
Other countries have not remained entirely silent on the issue, but their responses are still doing little to help the Sudanese people and some going as far as to bolster the military regime. Saudia Arabia and the UAE announced in April to send $3 billion worth of aid to bolster the new military leaders, with $500 million going directly to the central bank account and the rest coming in the form of food, medicine, and petroleum.
However, these two powerhouses in the Middle East did not revoke support or condemn the military when their actions became increasingly violent against the Sudanese people. While this aid does help stabilize the economy of Sudan and their exchange rate, it is crucial for other countries to secure human rights and not simply promote economic growth for the high ranking officials of Sudan.
Further analysis of the food and medical aid indicate that this will only bring short term relief to the Sudanese people but will do little to help bring peace to the country. The response from the United States has also fallen short to support the democratic askings of the people of Sudan.
Originally, the plan from the United States was to utilize the state and treasury departments to construct a plan to sanction Hemeti, the leader of the RSF in Sudan. In late July, the US tabled these discussions as to “not to upset the fragile peace talks between civilian leaders and figures in Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC).” On August 21st, a civilian-majority ruling council replaced the TMC for three years until democratic elections are set to take place.
While this step represents hope for Sudan to switch to democratic elections in the future, it does not excuse the fact that the TMC will not be held accountable for the massacres against the Sudanese people in the most recent months.
The current situation in Sudan can not be fully understood without looking at the full history of the totalitarian regime which was the focus of the current protests. In 2003, the Janjaweed militia and the Sudanese military began the systematic killing against the Darfuri people. The African Muslim groups were the targeted group during the genocide due to their criticism of the authoritarian regime and their desire for a more democratic Sudan. Estimates from the United Nations put the death toll of the crisis as high as 300,000 with another 3 million people displaced as a result of the violence of the militia.
These killings happened under the rule of Bashir and was supported by the military under his rule. As a result of the events in Darfur that took place under Bashir’s rule, he was charged with five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the genocide that took place in Darfur.
While the ICC condemned the actions against Bashir and filed the counts aforementioned, little was done to hold this regime and its leader accountable for the Darfur Genocide. This lack of accountability can partially be attributed to the fact that Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute, which establishes the jurisdiction of the ICC.
The genocide in Darfur was yet another instance in which the international community failed to institute an effective response as Bashir remained in power despite the events that took place under his regime.
During the crisis in Darfur, the steps of the international community were defined by disorganized measures which reflected consistent neglect of the severity of the issue. International actors claimed that the situation was “too fragile for legitimate action” as it would further disrupt previous ceasefire agreements that were already being violated by the Janjaweed during the genocide.
Much of the international community, especially Western actors such as the United States, saw the crisis as “yet another African conflict” and thus, failed to implement adequate responses.
The United States Secretary of State Colin Powell labeled the crisis as a genocide in 2004, but with the executive branch occupied with the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration denied this labeling. Even when plans were implemented, they continuously fell short of an adequate response for the Darfuri people.
The UN Security Council and the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council implemented steps that were more of “ad hoc steps rather than a systematic or strategic approach to the crisis.” The Chad-led 2004 N’djamena Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement is perhaps the best reflection of the ineffective responses. The N’djamena agreement sought to institute a 45-day ceasefire for a peace deal between the Sudan government and the region of Darfur to be brokered.
This agreement existed in two disagreeing texts and represented a messy, rushed, and unestablished response to the crisis. The agreement allowed the AU to dispatch forces for intervention, an unachievable task without the establishment maps for ceasefire monitoring, but the creation of these maps was never even discussed.
The undeveloped responses from the international community can be attributed to the lack of political will in countries to prioritize issues of human security. These discussions among international actors were largely focused on questions of whether to intervene rather than determining what a practical intervention plan would look like.
However, under the agreements of the R2P resolution, the question of whether to intervene should have been obvious. The lack of decisive planning and coordination from the international community meant that, once again, the responsibility to protect required much more than a signature on a resolution.
The Enough Project, a non-profit with the mission to end mass atrocities, recently released policy suggestions for how the US should respond to the current crisis in Sudan. The policy argues that “U.S. policy should aim to strengthen the hand of reformers in the civilian government while limiting the influence of the spoilers of reform and peace, principally those associated with the military and security services.” To achieve this goal, The Enough Project suggests targeted sanctions on government officials, their companies, and their international partners. They also stress diplomatic efforts such as removing Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list to promote efforts of peace in the country and allow other countries to send aid to the people of Sudan.
Just as the international community failed to hold Bashir accountable for his genocidal actions against the Darfuri people, the international community must learn from these past mistakes and hold the military officials from this massacre accountable. Without this accountability, the international community should be wary about how these previous failures can prevent longstanding peace in Sudan.