News reports have been busy celebrating Tuesday's passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1769, authorizing the deployment of a "hybrid" U.N./African Union force to the Darfur region of western Sudan. Particular note has been made of the Chapter 7 mandate for parts of the mission, an essential provision that gives this hybrid force the authority to intervene militarily, rather than just sit back and observe. On these points, the resolution appears to echo Resolution 1706, which the Security Council passed last August. That resolution similarly authorized a large and robust--if "unhybridized"--U.N. peacekeeping operation for Darfur under Chapter 7 authority.
So what has changed? Last year, China abstained from voting on the resolution, signaling to the Islamist regime in Khartoum that it could resist its implementation without fear of isolation. As a result, within weeks of the resolution's passage, the U.N. Secretariat and its special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, capitulated, arguing instead for more assistance to the hopelessly inadequate African Union force. This year, by contrast, the vote for Resolution 1769 was unanimous. In the end, even China came on board.
But this should not be counted as a decisive or unqualified victory for Darfur advocates. Winning China's support came at a significant price. Khartoum's staunchest ally voted for the resolution only after it had helped to secure the elimination of key provisions.
First, the hybrid force will have no authority to seize weapons from belligerents. This will make it impossible to control the brutal Janjaweed militia or other armed elements. Second, the resolution does not condemn Khartoum for its well-documented obstruction, harassment, and abuse of humanitarian workers and operations over the past four years. And third, there is no provision for sanctioning the Khartoum regime in the highly likely event of non-compliance, making the entire document something of an empty threat.
But China isn't the only one to blame for the watered-down resolution. In June, the African Union demanded changes in the terms of reference for the hybrid force. And since the AU will be critical in securing the manpower for the mission--which Khartoum still insists must be essentially African in character--the U.N. chose to accept the changes, including ambiguous language for command-and-control. As a result there will constantly be the potential for tension between the African commander on ground and the "control structures" of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York.
And then, some weaknesses in the current resolution are simply inexplicable. No mention is made, for example, of the destabilizing ethnic violence that has spread from Darfur into eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic. Resolution 1706 specified an active monitoring of Darfur's borders with these two poor and weak countries; 1769 merely exhorts the governments of Chad and Sudan to abide by an absurd agreement cobbled together in Tripoli in early 2006 that merely urges respect for an unmonitored "cease-fire." But this is short-sighted in the extreme. Perhaps a mooted EU force will indeed be mustered for eastern Chad, but both sides of this volatile border need effective monitoring.
Resolution 1769 also contains no provisions for halting aerial assaults by Khartoum's helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers. While an Iraq-style "no fly zone" is certainly militarily impracticable, a force on the ground should have the authority to disable those aircraft implicated in attacks on civilians or found to be in violation of any cease-fire agreement. Monitoring and enforcing a ban on offensive military flights from the ground in Darfur would be militarily straightforward and would not risk instigating reprisals by Khartoum, as an aerial enforcement of a no fly zone certainly would.
Most frustrating, however, is the fact that what little good may result from Resolution 1769 won't come quickly. The resolution's time frame speaks of an "initial operational capability for the headquarters" by October 2007. But this will do nothing to protect people. The resolution then sets a December 31, 2007 deadline for the transfer of authority from the African Union to the AU/UN hybrid. But such transfer of authority will likely be merely symbolic, with little significant new deployment of security personnel.
Of even greater concern is the inability of the African Union to solicit enough trained troops and civilian police for the hybrid force, or the technical personnel for the antecedent stage of deployment known as "the heavy support package."
This package is supposed to include the critical contingent of logisticians, communications and engineering personnel, and other technical experts required to make possible deployment of the large follow-on hybrid force. Given the heavy footprint of such a large force in an extremely arid land, without infrastructure, and far from any navigable body of water, this preparation is essential. But it hasn't deployed. Indeed it hasn't been fully assembled or committed to. And if Khartoum cleaves to its insistence that both the heavy support package and the hybrid force be "predominantly African in character," progress toward meaningful deployment will be even slower, stretching well into 2008.
Given the urgency of the security crisis on the ground, the UN should reconsider its timetable and deployment strategy, and move as rapidly as possible to send additional civilian police--with all necessary military protection--to the most insecure areas of Darfur: the vast camp at Gereida in South Darfur, where 130,000 people are presently served only by the International Committee of the Red Cross because of insecurity; the highly endangered camps near Tawilla and Kutum in North Darfur; the most unstable of the vast camps around the three Darfur state capitals. Of course trained civilian police are in short supply within the AU, which augurs poorly for a "predominantly African character" to the 3,772 civilian police authorized by Resolution 1769--as well as the 19 "formed police units" (another 2,800 personnel). Non-African civilian police must be sought on an urgent basis, and African candidates trained on an emergency basis.
Protection for Darfuris simply can't wait for the dilatory time-frame of Resolution 1769. If those who voted for this resolution are serious, Khartoum should be tested early and often on its willingness to accept authorized personnel. This will entail continual pressure on China, which surely hopes that it won't be required to do more that might offend Khartoum's génocidaires or risk its immense stake in Sudan's large petroleum sector. But unless advocacy pressure remains high, and international actors of consequence stay resolutely engaged with Beijing, we may be sure that Khartoum will construe the current U.N. resolution as no more than yet another small hurdle to the success of a grim genocide by attrition. It is not enough for China's strongmen to have voted for this resolution out of political expediency: They must be held responsible for its urgent implementation. The people of Darfur can't afford more delays.
By Eric Reeves