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Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has demonstrated he will act only in what he perceives to be his own best interests. If the international community is to protect the people of Darfur, it must therefore convince Mr Bashir that his best interests are served by allowing deployment of an effective international peacekeeping force. For several years, skilled diplomats have attempted, in vain, to persuade him that this is the case. Obviously more effort is needed; it is time to increase the pressure on Khartoum. 

The surest way to save lives in Darfur would be through a fully observed ceasefire leading to a sustained political settlement that allows refugees and the displaced to return to their homes. In the interim, the under-manned and under-equipped African Union peacekeeping force must be enlarged and strengthened. In meetings in Addis Ababa and Abuja last month, a broad diplomatic coalition recommended a hybrid force that would combine AU personnel with financial, logistics and other support from the United Nations. In the past, President Bashir has claimed that outside efforts to save lives in Darfur were a ploy to mask western interference in Sudan’s internal affairs. The Addis-Abuja proposal clearly negates that claim, coming as it does with support from the AU, Arab League and UN Security Council (including China). This is an African and Arab-supported plan to save Sudanese lives. Mr Bashir has no more excuses.

As former diplomats, we support one last effort to persuade Khartoum to accept the proposal for a hybrid force. If by the year’s end Mr Bashir still refuses or, more likely, continues pretending to agree one day and saying no the next, he should pay a stiff price. That price should include, first, targeted multilateral sanctions (such as travel bans and asset freezes) directed at military and civilian leaders who are responsible for the violence; second, measures to target revenue from Sudan’s oil sales, coupled with an embargo on the sale of equipment to that country’s petroleum industry; and third, steps to close offshore accounts affiliated with the government-majority party, including militias. The price should also include intensified investigations by the International Criminal Court into those who order or commit crimes against humanity in Darfur. Will such sanctions suffice to change Mr Bashir’s mind and Sudan’s policy? We believe the answer is yes, provided the sanctions are sufficiently comprehensive and multilateral.

If tough new measures are to be applied against Khartoum, they must be as broad-based as possible, at least extending beyond the US and UK to the whole European Union, and with maximum support from the Security Council. It would help if a broad coalition, such as the actors at Addis Ababa last month, led the diplomacy. A standing contact group might foster co-ordinated efforts of the international community.

Determined international action in Darfur is essential for humanitarian reasons and is fully consistent with the “responsibility to protect” principle unanimously endorsed by world leaders last year. Under this principle, the rights of sovereignty – though otherwise unimpaired – do not include a license to kill (or allow to be killed) masses of unarmed human beings. Urgent action is required also because Darfur demonstrates the reality that conflict is contagious. The widening strife requires an international diplomatic effort to put in place a protective UN peacekeeping mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, Sudan’s troubled neighbours. Diplomacy is also required to find a permanent political solution to the Darfur conflict. To this end, there should be a renewed effort to unite the splintered rebel groups there into an effective negotiating body; dialogue among local leaders should be encouraged; and representatives of all sides in Darfur should be included in future talks.

The Darfur conflict is more complex than often characterised. It does not simply reflect but rather cuts across tribal, Arab v African, and farmer v herder stereotypes. It is coloured by local grievances and aggravated by greed, which takes the form of banditry and competition for scarce resources. The primary cause of the ongoing crisis, however, remains the callousness of the governing elite, intent on preserving its own privileges and indifferent to its population.

President Bashir must be convinced that his best interests will be served by allowing a hybrid international force to deploy in Darfur – not for the purpose of occupation but for humanitarian goals. He must be convinced it is in his interest to participate constructively in a diplomatic process that will guarantee security for the region and enable a lasting settlement. It appears unlikely at this point that he will come to these realisations based on efforts to convince him through persuasion alone. Well-chosen words must be reinforced by carefully-designed and rigorously-enforced sanctions. Sudan has a responsibility to protect its people. The world has a responsibility to see that it does.

Madeleine Albright (US); Lloyd Axworthy (Canada); Ismail Cem (Turkey); Erik Derycke (Belgium); Lamberto Dini (Italy); Gareth Evans (Australia); Joschka Fischer (Germany); Bronislaw Geremek (Poland); Rosario Green (Mexico); Niels Helveg Petersen (Denmark); Surin Pitsuwan (Thailand); Hubert Védrine (France); Ana Palacio (Spain); Lydie Polfer (Luxembourg); Jozias van Aartsen (The Netherlands)

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