Perceiving Darfur

“To perceive evil where it exists is, in my opinion, a form of optimism.”

Roberto Rossellini

“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”

Hans Margolius

“There are things that are known, and things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”

Aldous Huxley

Four stories dominated international news in the U.S. in April and early May: Iraq’s political struggle ­ accompanied by a return to widespread violence ­ to form a transitional government, the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the travels of Bush, Rice, and Rumsfeld, and the British elections.

Most everything else ended up in “World in Brief” or on page twenty-something, below the fold: multinational tsunami relief, the start of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, and bloody intra-state conflicts such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

But if the sketches drawn by the children of Darfur mean anything, the lives ­ and the dreams ­ of most people in this part of Sudan were dominated by fear, fear of Arab militias on camels and horses and of Khartoum’s helicopters and planes firing into villages or dropping bombs.

Entering May, Sudan drew renewed coverage via an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor calling for greater effort ­ including “the added might of Western powers,” an opinion piece in the Washington Post, and an article from Agence France Presse. So where do the U.S. and other main players stand, and how should the historic peace community interpret and respond to proposals to resolve the crisis?

Sudan had drawn quite a bit of attention earlier in the year from the UN Security Council and the U.S. Congress.

-The UN on February 1 released the Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General which found “widespread and systematicviolations of international human rights laws and international humanitarian law, including crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

-The UN Security Council on March 31 approved Resolution 1593 (2005). Drawn up under Chapter VII (peacemaking) provisions, the resolution:

-referred the “situation” in Darfur to the International Criminal Court;

-charged the Court to work with the African Union and the Government of Sudan in investigating and disposing of allegations of complicity in crimes against humanity;

-called for “healing and reconciliation” among all parts of Sudan’s society, employing “truth and/or reconciliation commissionsto complement judicial processes and thereby reinforce the efforts to restore long-lasting peace, with African Union and international support as necessary.”

Earlier in March, “Sense of Congress” legislation was introduced in each chamber ­ Senate S.495 “Darfur Accountability Act of 2005” (March 2) and House H.R. 1424 “Darfur Genocide Accountability Act of 2005” (March 17). With some variations in detail, both measures called for:

-implementing fully the January 9, 2005 peace agreement between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (the North-South Agreement);

-strengthening the mandate of the African Union (AU) Monitoring mission to include protecting civilians from attacks by the government-sponsored Janjaweed militias;

-dispatching of up to 10,000 troops under UN or NATO auspices to complement AU forces, and urging more troops from AU countries;

-holding accountable, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, those individuals responsible for atrocities in Darfur by freezing their assets worldwide and withholding visas (51 individuals were named in a sealed addendum to the UN report);

-extending the UN embargo on military equipment for government forces and imposing a no-fly zone for government planes and helicopters over Darfur;

-accelerating U.S. support to AU forces with regard to transportation, communications, command and control training, and intelligence;

-ending armed attacks by any belligerent, party or faction against other parties, individual civilians, or communities;

-renewing peace talks, mediated by the AU, on the basis of the April 8, 2004 N’Djamena Ceasefire Agreement.

However, the House bill goes further ­ much further. It authorizes the president to “use all necessary means, including use of the United States armed forces, to stop genocide in Darfur, Sudan, consistent with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to enforce United Nations Resolutions 1556 and 1564 [which threatened sanctions] and in response to the Comprehensive Peace Act of 2004.” The House bill also authorizes use of U.S. forces in the Horn of Africa or in NATO to enforce the no-fly zone whereas the Senate version calls for discussions with the AU and other international organizations on how best to enforce the zone.

Overall, the stance taken by Congress, particularly the House, is much more militant than that of the Bush administration, which has been chided for its seeming reluctance to take on what both President Bush and his first Secretary of State, Colin Powell, labeled “genocide” last year. In late April, following a NATO ministerial meeting in which NATO declined a more robust intervention in support of the AU monitors, the current Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, could only say that ministers discussed over lunch “what support NATO could give in the form of planning and logistics to support the AU-led effort, should a request be forthcoming or should it be necessary to help.If there is a request, I would hope that NATO would act favorably.” (During a May 12, 2005 appearance before Senate appropriators, Rice echoed Powell’s characterization of events, adding that she had urged that NATO respond should the AU make a request.)

Moreover, on April 26, the State Department issued a Fact Sheet on “Sudan: Death Toll in Darfur” which argued that “insufficient data are available to determine Darfur’s death toll.” The Fact Sheet argues that the actual “excess mortality” due to violence and subsequent malnutrition and disease-related causes was mitigated by better humanitarian responses and a moderate rainy season. Thus, rather than the 78,000-400,000 estimates put forth by some, available data suggest the range is 63,000-146,000 “excess deaths”

Meanwhile, the AU itself decided in late April to double its contingent in Darfur from its planned late May force of 3,320 to7,713 by the end of September. Nongovernmental organizations with people on the ground are calling for more action to protect refugees (estimated at two million) and relief agencies themselves and for greater involvement in promoting a peace process in Darfur.

All the activity ­ it is too much to term it pressure ­ finally compelled the White House in mid-May to publicly agree to provide airlift for the AU forces. It was a hard-won concession, about the only one since John Danforth left as U.S. Special Envoy for Peace to Sudan in June 2004 to become U.S. ambassador to the UN. The White House left the Special Envoy post vacant despite the need to closely monitor the new North-South peace agreement as well as events in Darfur. (The administration has not even filled the post of U.S. ambassador to Sudan.) During her May 12 testimony, Rice was almost dismissive about this vacancy: “There may come a time when we need a special envoy in Darfur.”

When would be a more urgent time than now?

For some, the operative principle of the historic peace churches might be summed up in the medical profession’s pledge, “Do no harm.” Obviously, this obligation applies in the aggregate of activities pursued for each patient; otherwise, surgeons could not operate because they perforce have to cut healthy tissue as the first step in their art.

For others, however, a foundational principle of human relations is the end can never justify the means. Thus employment of any violence is wrong, even if in the aggregate one can predict with relative assurance that more “good” will result from using force than any “evil” that might be committed in pursuit of the “good.” Those who adhere to this view see compassion as the proper response to violence, compassion both for the victim as well as the perpetrators.

While accounts of individual acts of compassion by small groups probably can be found in written and oral traditions going back into the mists of time, especially in the Eastern religious systems that stress harmony with one’s surroundings, the dominant rule governing the evolution of societal institutions was violence, not compassion. Outside the traditional Western “peace churches” ­ Mennonites, Friends (Quakers) and Brethren ­ which go back only to the 16th century, religious injunctions about the desirability and the duty to be compassionate were not translated into action. Secular movements devoted to compassionate caring for the victims of war (e.g., International Committee of the Red Cross) emerged even later, in the mid-19th century. And while concerted pressure brought limitations on the conduct of war in the Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions, the concept of forcibly intervening before or during a conflict to protect potential or actual victims of violence probably would not have gained traction without the Holocaust.

Even so, while compassion may, in part, underlie public support for this 20th century “right to protect,” sheer pragmatism ­ preventing terrorists from establishing safe havens from which to launch attacks ­ has induced more and more governments to support armed interventions between warring groups. Such geo-political rationale has no place in the thinking of those who reject the use of violent means to stop violence. From their perspective, all this does is re-balance the level of violence, usually without achieving the intended political ends.

Those who advocate the absolutist “no-force” position rightly point to the failure of regional or global bodies to preclude creation of conditions giving rise to or fueling violence and atrocities that often lead to the evolution of an aura of criminal impunity. (One need not return to the Holocaust to find an example of such behavior: Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Congo (Kinshasa) in the 1990s and Sudan in the early 2000s are doleful instances of such an aura.) In other words, by failing to act in a timely manner to prevent atrocities, the international community is complicit in the actions and must expiate its guilt. This reduces the “right to protect” to a first step on the slippery slope toward offensive actions intended to destroy those conducting predatory attacks or, worse, those who might conduct attacks in response to non-military penalties (e.g., economic sanctions against rulers) applied by countries or multilateral organizations

It may be that this need to expiate guilt unconsciously influences many to agree that (morally approve of) the “right to protect” allows the use of deadly force, if necessary, by a properly constituted, internationally sanctioned UN or regionally based intervention force to repel attacks on innocent civilians (noncombatants) as well as relief workers and in self-defense ­ all on the premise that fewer lives will be lost overall than should attacks continue unopposed. What gets lost in this line of reasoning is the important “non-violent” basis for exercising the “right to protect”: that the sheer presence of a strong force of armed peacemakers ­ together with the knowledge that the intervention force has a mandate to protect noncombatants ­ would be sufficient to stop predatory attacks.

(There is within the historic peace churches a parallel, strictly non-violent approach to halting depredations like those in Darfur, one that holds that even the threat of force is a form of violence. Adherents of this position argue that non-violent intervention by really large groups of unarmed civilians willing to risk violence against themselves would so focus international attention and generate effective engagement that the net result would be similar to what armed peacemakers could achieve. And should the unarmed civilians be attacked, the empathy generated would overwhelm the attackers, ultimately inducing remorse and transformation of the oppressors themselves ­ e.g., Gandhi’s “victory” vis-à-vis the British in India.)

Since the start of the 21st century, and largely in reaction to the Rwandas and Bosnias of the post-Cold War 20th century, the “right to protect” has morphed into a more insistent “responsibility to protect.” While acknowledging that a sovereign state has the primary duty to protect those residing within its borders from mass murder or other avoidable large-scale grievous harm, the responsibility to protect requires the international community to intervene on behalf of the population should a state be unwilling or unable to halt the harm. Those supporting this more imperative interpretation, while granting the primacy of sovereignty in inter-state relations, regard the intra-state relationship between governed and governing (a social contract) as the source of sovereignty and its ultimate legitimacy on the world stage.

What has changed during the last five years is less de jure ­ changes in or to international, humanitarian, or national law and treaties ­ than de facto ­ actual practices of the UN Security Council and regional security organizations in the face of widespread violations of human rights beyond the control of or condoned or led by rulers. Even so, this stronger approach has not been taken as an endorsement of early armed intervention in a state. If anything, it is a call for greater vigilance with respect to identifying early the emergence of trends and the unfolding of events that historically have led to widespread social upheaval. As the “Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty” concluded, the “responsibility to prevent” ­ examining the systemic and immediate causes of impending human-induced catastrophes ­ is the cornerstone of the responsibility to protect. (Introducing effective remedies, beginning with the least intrusive, constitutes a secondary “responsibility to react,” which in turn is followed by the “responsibility to rebuild.”)

Whether forceful intervention is justified under the “right to protect” or the more imperious “responsibility to protect,” the decision to intervene with force should never be made by one country only, for this would be too prone to subjective self-interest, passion, or even vengeance. Rather, intervention needs to be weighed collectively, on a case-by-case basis, starting with the premise of nonviolence, but not employing that as a justification for never taking action, even after all other means of addressing the climate of impunity have been tried to no avail.

Here another caution is in order. Even ostensibly non-violent actions such as severe economic sanctions can have “violent” ­ albeit not induced by or imposed in support of active combat ­ effects on a population. Arguably, such draconian economic sanctions as were imposed on Iraq after Operation Desert Storm in 1991 could be perceived as a continuation of that war “by other means” and thus have legal and moral implications arising from their indiscriminate effects on masses of innocent Iraqi civilians.

Legally, there seem to be two questions: “Can economic sanctions imposed by an international organization (regional or the UN) to compel or dissuade actions by a country constitute a state of war?” If a state of war does exist, “At what point, if any, does the toll from economic sanctions constitute a ‘war’ crime?”

Morally, the issue is clear. Economics, if it ever did, no longer exists as a separate discipline. In fact, until the end of the 19th century ­ in the same time-frame in which the laws of warfare were being formulated ­ there really was not a discipline called economics separate from politics (and its extension, war) and the view of what constitutes a just and compassionate society. Even Adam Smith thought of himself as a moral philosopher.

In the end, what is done in cases like Darfur hinges on an evaluation of what is better for the world: “peace” at any price (strict non-violence), or “victory” at any price (eliminating armed predators). “At any price” undercuts a “just peace” as surely as a “just war.” Having failed to prevent armed conflict, and having judged that large-scale evil is being encouraged if not perpetrated by Sudanese officials in Darfur, the international community is left with the responsibility to intervene. The middle ground would seem to be to

(1) deploy enough civilian monitors to observe and report conditions on the ground;

(2) back the monitors with quick-reaction military units with a mandate including the “right to protect”;

(3) provide pragmatic rules of engagement calling for case-by-case evaluation of facts that prompted dispatch of the reaction force in the first instance; and

(4) engage the Sudanese authorities in planning for and position resources to jump-start rebuilding once security is restored and the displaced population returns to their homes.

What must never be forgotten is that the objective of intervention is not to defeat a state or regime change but to protect a population at extreme risk.

Being engaged in the world, we are bereft of what Hans Margolius terms the quiet waters or the quiet mind through which to see the world undistorted either by violence or misplaced compassion. Still, the effort must be made.

How else to avoid more violence?

How else to confront the drawings and the dreams of those children of Darfur traumatized by war?

Col. Daniel Smith, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, is Senior Fellow on Military Affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby in the public interest and a commentator for Foreign Policy in Focus. He can be reached at: