“Many people tell me, ‘never again,’ but still, again and again”: the case of Sudan and the Central African Republic

These words were uttered by a survivor in Darfur, a region where populations are still prey to human rights abuses committed by the Janjaweed militias backed by the government of Sudan. The genocide of 2003, which claimed the lives of 400,000 people, already constitutes a textbook case of the international community’s failure to intervene but the violence also continues to be largely overlooked. The UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) fails to fulfill its mandate but this is largely ignored by the Security Council. Not only do violence and human rights violations persist in Darfur, Abyei and South Kordofan but those displaced by conflicts also still lack food, water and shelter.

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On Wednesday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) accused the UN Security Council of prolonging the conflict in Sudan by failing to arrest Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who is under an arrest warrant since 2009. Rightfully so, Fatou Bensouda criticized the Security Council for turning its back on Sudan, thereby allowing Al-Bashir and other alleged perpetrators of human rights violations to remain at large and commit more crimes. Since 2005, Al-Bashir has been allowed to travel to several countries without being arrested. Bensouda sees the inaction of the Security Council on Sudan as “a serious indictment on this council” and as an “insult to the plight of Darfur’s victims.”

U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud, the current Security Council president, argued that the “the council is blocked, by some countries.” Particularly under the radar is China, which continues to block any council action. China has repeatedly said that pressing war crimes charges against the Sudanese president would have disastrous effects in Sudan and invited Al-Bashir to China in 2011. China has also long been Sudan’s biggest arms supplier (25% in 2010) and has major economic investments and interests in the country. China purchases more than half of Sudanese oil output!

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Further south west on the African continent is the Central African Republic, another country where the UN’s inaction attracted biting criticism this week.

Looking at the gravity of the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), it is clear that most of the world remains indifferent to the plight of CAR’s population. In the past week alone, sectarian violence has killed 600 people and since the beginning of the crisis, tens of thousands of people have had to flee their homes, according to Unicef. Not only has the UN Security Council failed to take preventive actions against foreseeable violence, but the UN humanitarian aid system has failed as well. On Friday, international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) addressed an open letter to the UN Under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs denouncing “the unacceptable performance of the United Nations humanitarian system” in CAR.  This scathing critique is largely justified. Since July NGOs such as MSF have repeatedly urged the UN to provide adequate humanitarian action and resources but food, water, shelter and hygiene technologies still fail to meet minimum standards.

The failure of the UN system to fulfill its responsibilities towards civilians appears even graver in the case of CAR. Although challenging, humanitarian assistance is supposed to be impartial and neutral. Thus, the general expectation is that humanitarian agencies will deliver aid solely based on the needs of populations, whatever the circumstances. With few exceptions, this has not been the case of UN agencies in CAR. If MSF and other NGOs have been able to deliver, why not UN agencies?

The UN Security Council’s inaction in Sudan and Syria already discredited and delegitimized the international community. Now humanitarian inaction of the UN is having the same result.

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