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Overcome ‘Darfur fatigue’ and take action in Sudan

Remember Darfur? The conflict-laden region in western Sudan that gave rise to the first genocide indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC), inspired popular advocacy campaigns, and garnered celebrity attention from the likes of George Clooney and Don Cheadle? Heard anything about it recently? Probably not much.

Darfur has been saved, right? Crisis over? Sadly, no – the conflict in Darfur rages on. Since the end of February alone, fighting forced more than 50,00 Darfurians to flee their homes, adding to the millions already displaced and the hundreds of thousands killed.

So why has Darfur not been saved?

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First, "Darfur fatigue" has set in. It has been more than 11 years since the conflict began; more than five years since the ICC indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide; and almost three years since the latest peace agreement was signed. In the interim, events like the "Arab Awakening" and unrest in Ukraine shifted attention away from Darfur, where we have witnessed the evaporation of diplomatic pressure and resources to alter the status quo.

Second, international diplomats prefer to characterize the crisis in Darfur as a regional rather than national conflict, thereby avoiding uncomfortable debates regarding state sovereignty and the need for regime change. This view fails, however, to recognize the obvious commonalities with the ongoing clashes in several other regions of the country, namely South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and obfuscates the real cause of conflict in Sudan – the genocidal regime of President Bashir. This piecemeal approach to peace has not worked, as regional efforts have only ever offered partial solutions to a national problem.

Finally, and very counter-intuitively, the lack of peace and stability in Darfur is a direct result of the signing of a peace agreement – the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD). The DDPD is technically flawed, incomplete, and unrepresentative of the people of Darfur. For the past two and a half years, unsuccessful efforts to implement the DDPD have distracted and placated the international community, legitimized President Bashir and his regime, tied up valuable resources, and artificially influenced the power dynamics of the region. The DDPD has failed to bring Darfur any closer to peace and impeded other efforts to tackle the root causes of the conflict at a national level .

So how can we finally help save Darfur?

First, politicians and diplomats need to back away from the DDPD. Though it may serve as a useful basis for future nationwide negotiations, continuing efforts to implement the DDPD are futile, and will not lead to sustainable peace in Darfur. Instead, peace efforts should focus on a national document that comprehensively addresses power, wealth-sharing, justice, and accountability for all constituencies of Sudan.

Second, the present approach to peacekeeping in Sudan must be overhauled. Currently, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is operationally limited to Darfur and functions with an outdated mandate to, inter alia, implement a now defunct 2006 peace agreement and liaise with the nonexistent UN-AU Mission in Sudan (UNAMIS). Further, UNAMID is often criticized for its passive approach to peacekeeping and acquiescence to President Bashir's obstructionism. UNAMID should be reconstituted, authorized to operate throughout Sudan, and deployed in a manner that enables it to use force when necessary for civilian protection.

Third, a new international mediation team, independent of the peacekeeping mission, should be mandated to undertake a national peace process. Designing such a process will be no easy task, as the government of Sudan vehemently opposes any genuine national peace initiative. Further, the diversity of marginalized groups throughout Sudan, the flawed and partial solutions resulting from prior regional negotiations, and the historical antagonism between some factions make bringing together the affected constituencies very difficult. However, it is not impossible. A new mediation team, with strong public support from key international partners, should design a sophisticated, inclusive, and holistic peace process, consistent with international best practices – and one that empowers the participation of stakeholders throughout Sudan.

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Finally, public engagement must be recalibrated to combat Darfur fatigue and refocus diplomatic pressure. Advocacy groups and civil society organizations should focus their attention on the national issues, acknowledging the linkages among the conflicts throughout Sudan and demanding comprehensive solutions that address the root causes of the conflict. Moving from a regional to a national peace framework means altering a status quo demanded by President Bashir and endorsed by the international community, and will require strong leadership from the United States, United Kingdom, and other international stakeholders. Only robust and sustained public engagement can compel such leadership.

As President Bashir's regime continues its campaign of violent repression, succumbing to Darfur fatigue and endorsing a piecemeal approach to peace will save neither Darfur, nor the other marginalized regions of Sudan. The cause of the conflict is, and always has been, in Khartoum – and too many Sudanese have lost their lives and livelihoods while the international community ignored this obvious reality. The time has come for sustained political will and vision to establish a national framework for peace throughout the country. The time has come to Save Sudan.

Canadian Matthew T. Simpson is a U.S.-based attorney who served as the principal legal advisor to the Darfur Delegation at the United Nations-African Union–sponsored Darfur Peace Negotiations; Megan E. Corrado is an international attorney that previously advised and provided technical assistance to the Darfur Delegation at the United Nations-African Union-sponsored Darfur Peace Negotiations.

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