Twelve months after the UN Security Council passed a historic resolution authorizing a peacekeeping force for disaster-ridden Darfur, 10 months after the Sudanese government denied access to those UN troops, nine months after it again agreed to accept them before again rejecting them-the UN Security Council has again passed a historic resolution on Darfur.
The circular response to what aid groups believe is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world has critics wondering if the latest UN effort-however historic-can succeed.
If it is successful, it will mean a multinational force of up to 26,000 peacekeepers, the largest UN force in the world, in Sudan by 2008-including an African Union force of 7,000 currently policing a region that is larger than Iraq. They may pry open access for food, clean water, and other humanitarian aid desperately needed by well over 2.5 million Darfurians displaced by the conflict. They could also hinder fighting between rebels and government-backed militias.
If it fails-as did last year's resolution when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir rejected UN forces-Darfurians will continue to die, according to Sudan expert Eric Reeves, at a rate approaching 3,000 per day (see interview, p. 42).
Success or failure will hinge on the rules of engagement and the command structure of a "hybrid force" called for in the resolution, a force that must be of "predominantly African character" and "as far as possible, be sourced from African countries."
Permanent Security Council members agreed to the hybrid language as a way to win the support of China, a Sudanese ally, and of Sudan itself. The United States did not sponsor the resolution, as it has previous Darfur declarations, but did vote in favor of it.
"We will have to see this as a good step," said U.S. ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad after the vote. "We will have to see, of course, what happens on the ground."
Former UN ambassador John Bolton, who left office earlier this year but was central to negotiations over the 2006 Darfur resolution, told WORLD: "I would not have accepted this resolution. I would not have gone down this hybrid road."
Bolton said an African-led force is "inherently risky" because of Sudan's dominance in the region. While one of the parties to genocide, Khartoum can through its leadership in the Arab League and its seat at the UN manipulate whatever rules of engagement are ultimately agreed upon.
Khartoum's Islamic regime has since 2004 publicly resisted pressure to disarm its militias in Darfur, and in closed-door, emergency sessions, Arab League foreign ministers have stood by it, rejecting calls for sanctions or disarmament. The latest UN resolution is ambiguous when it comes to granting UN forces authority to seize illegal weapons.
"Once you put UN forces in, the temptation will be to say, 'Problem solved,' and to go away. This resolution changes the nameplate of a peacekeeping force and increases its size but does not ensure it can be fully operational," said Bolton.
Permanent Security Council members concede they had to trade away a lot to get any resolution. British ambassador to the UN Emyr Jones Parry, speaking on Arabic television in Dubai after its July 31 passage, admitted, "The resolution was closely negotiated with my Sudanese colleagues and not all its original points were kept, but the resolution we adopted agrees with the Sudanese government's position."
Just days prior to bringing the resolution before the Security Council, negotiators dropped a paragraph that would have "strongly" condemned "the continued violations" of the Darfur Peace Agreement signed last year between Khartoum and the main Darfur rebel group.
According to French deputy UN ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix, "This is the price to pay so that we can really make a difference on the ground."
According to Bolton, the resolution represents "another marginal improvement. At some point you have to ask whether going through the Security Council is the way to bring security to the region. So far nobody is willing to go outside of the Security Council." But if the resolution cannot take effect, it will send diplomats back to the drawing board again.