Finally, small steps to end Darfur's horror
As the humanitarian tragedy has unfolded in Darfur, an indifferent world has looked on. The passage of three separate resolutions on the conflict by the United Nations Security Council over the past week has provided a glimmer of hope that the tide may be turning.
These include a decision to send Darfur's worst human-rights abuse cases to the newly established International Criminal Court and imposing sanctions on government officials found to be involved.
A third resolution will send 10,000 UN peacekeepers to the country, but largely to police a peace accord reached in a separate conflict. It is unclear whether they will be sent to Darfur.
Clearly, these steps fall well short of what is needed to stop the ongoing occurrence of murder, robbery and rape in Darfur. But they do represent an end to the security council deadlock that has for months prevented even minimal action being taken.
Most of the moves were passed after key opponents withheld their vetoes. China did not stand in the way of sanctions and the US did not stand in the way of sending the cases to the International Criminal Court. Perhaps this sudden pragmatism is a reflection of a growing consensus that the time has come for an end to collective hand-wringing and inaction.
For months, members of the body have indulged in haggling over nuances between genocide and other crimes against humanity. There have been disagreements about which courts should try those responsible. In the meantime, the death toll has risen and the militia has been able to act with impunity. The death toll could be as high as 300,000, according to the latest comprehensive report from British observers.
Two million people have been pushed out of their homes, forced to take refuge in camps along Sudan's western border and in neighbouring countries. Farming and other normal economic activities have been made impossible under the circumstances, raising the possibility of large-scale famine.
Clearly, serious human-rights violations are being committed and the Sudanese government is unwilling to end them. A rebel uprising among the mainly black African Darfuris that began two years ago has been used as a pretext for a campaign of extreme and systematic violence waged by armed Arab mobs.
Government claims that it cannot stop or disarm those responsible are not credible, while eyewitness accounts point to collaboration by the army, including aerial cover from helicopter gunships.
Restoring order and justice after so much destruction will not be simple. An immediate end to the atrocities should be the first priority. In order to achieve that, a substantial foreign presence needs to be considered.
The 2,000 African Union troops there now, under a confusing mandate to act when civilians are in immediate danger, have been ineffective. The 10,000 promised peacekeepers, meanwhile, are being deployed mainly to enforce a north-south peace agreement and have yet to receive clear orders allowing them to operate in Darfur. The international community must do better.
The other resolutions are by no means ideal. The decision to send Darfur cases to the International Criminal Court means the court can finally take action, but the exemption granted for the US and other countries not signed up to the treaty is worrying.
As could be expected, this has led to charges of double standards and will make it harder to get co-operation from the Sudanese government in handing over suspects. But it can only be hoped that the passage of all three, albeit imperfect, resolutions brings the security council and the world closer to doing something to stop the horrors visited upon Darfur.