What lessons can we learn from international engagement in the conflict in Darfur? This paper from Minority Rights International analyses events in the terms of structural and operational conflict prevention. It argues that the catalogue of political and institutional failures before and during the civil war indicates a need to address minority rights issues at every stage of conflict prevention. Institutional improvements in conflict prevention and early warning mechanisms will help avoid repeating the mistakes of Darfur in the future.
Conflict prevention is a set of strategies to address factors that lead to and sustain conflict. Structural prevention measures address pre-conflict conditions through economic development, governance programs and targeted interventions. In conflict conditions, operational prevention measures seek to prevent more conflict or de-escalate current conflict. The incorporation of minority rights’ issues is vital in both stages of conflict prevention.
There have recently been institutional developments to improve conflict prevention within both the United Nations and African Union. Since most of these developments occurred after the Darfur conflict began, Darfur must be analysed in terms of what failed in the past and what can be learned by existing, new and future institutions.
The political and institutional failures that contributed to the civil war in Darfur are:
- Systematic violations of minority rights by the Government of Sudan, including marginalisation and discrimination, inequitable land management, socio- economic under-development and an abdication of its responsibility for law, order and security.
- The plight of minorities in Darfur and conditions of conflict were known to international actors throughout the 80s and 90s. But donor interest in the region had waned since the famine in the 80s and structural conflict prevention in Darfur was limited in the 90s.
- By 2002, violence had escalated and alarms were raised, but did not result in preventive action. International attention to Darfur was distracted by the peace process for the North-South Sudan War led by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD);
- During 2003 and early 2004, the IGAD peace process became the regional priority for key Western governments, marginalising the escalating conflict in Darfur. By excluding minority groups from negotiations, the IGAD peace process further motivated these groups to resort to conflict. For fear of jeopardising advances in the North-South peace effort, little or no operational conflict prevention occurred in Darfur.
The following is recommended by Minority Rights Group to better incorporate minority rights into conflict prevention in the future:
- Structural conflict prevention: National governments and international and non-government organisations need to acknowledge the link between the prevention of conflict and the promotion and protection of minority rights.
- International and regional early warning systems must have adequate resources, exhibit strong leadership and emphasise rights-focused analysis. The UN should establish early warning analysis mechanisms that include input from experts in operational prevention and human/minority rights, treaty organizations, NGOs and the media.
- Operational prevention: Systematic, coordinated and accountable UN leadership must formally link early warning to early action and be sensitive to the concerns of minorities.
- The development of the post of UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide has the potential to improve early warning and operational prevention, but it needs greater resources to fulfil its agenda.
- Peace-making efforts must be rights-based and inclusive of all communities (including women). Conflicts must be approached in a holistic manner and include a country/regional approach and all peoples affected.