"International Responsibility to Protect Darfurians," Remarks by Kole Shettima, National War College, Nigeria
October 13, 2006 | Speech | Human Rights


I want to begin by thanking Julie Sanda for extending this invitation to give a lecture on the "Responsibility to Protect" to participants in Course 15 of the National War College. I was reluctant to accept the invitation and promised to get a better speaker in the person of His Excellency David Angell, the Canadian High Commissioner for Nigeria. Regrettably, HE Angell is not available due to prior commitments outside the country.  I, therefore, had no option but to hurriedly prepare for this presentation. I am also mindful that I declined a similar invitation last year. I want to assure you that I have the highest regard to our most prestigious military institution.

Permit me to anticipate some of your questions by saying a few words about the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation is a private foundation, headquartered in Chicago, providing approximately $200 million in grants annually to universities, charitable and non-governmental organizations and talented individuals in the United States and 65 other countries around the world.  Our mission is to help improve the human condition.  The Foundation is not affiliated in any way with the United States government or any international agency, religious organization, or commercial firm, nor do we engage in fundraising.  Our assets derive entirely from the estate of John D. MacArthur, a wealthy businessman who died in 1978.  An independent board of private citizens oversees the Foundation’s work.  We have offices in India, Mexico, Moscow and here in Nigeria.

Our work in Nigeria has three programmatic thrust: population and reproductive health, higher education and human rights and international justice. We have made an investment of over $68 million since 1989 in Nigeria.

The rest of my presentation will be in the following order. The first part is on the tragedy in Darfur as a case study of humanitarian crisis. The second part is an outline of the principles of the Responsibility to Protect. I will then challenge you to apply the principles to Darfur to come to your conclusions. 

Darfur as Open Wound

We should thank the maiden edition of the Sunday Trust of October 1, 2006 for a generous coverage of the situation in Darfur. The coverage of the conflict in our print and electronic media is poor despite the many similarities between the people of Darfur and Nigerians.  Many Darfurians share similar language, religious and cultural traditions with Nigerians. Indeed there are ethnic groups such as Borno which clearly indicate an affinity with northeast of Nigeria. Many of our people settled in Darfur as a result of the trans-saharan trade route and hajj-by-road. In addition, more than a quarter (about 2160 out of 7700) of the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) is Nigerian. It is not a mere coincidence that Ambassador Babagana Kingibe was appointed as the AU representative in Darfur.

This conflict has been on going for long time although for some commentators it began with an attack by rebel forces of government institutions on February 26, 2003 . The condition has completely deteriorated. Government forces in collusion with the Janjaweed and the Popular Defense Forces are on rampage killing, maiming, raping and plundering. More than one third of the population of Darfur is displaced; about 200,000 people are said to have been killed. Millions of children are malnourished living in refugee camps. The Kalma Internally Displaced Persons camp in Darfur is the largest in the world. Women live in perpetual fear of gang rape.

The United States described the situation in Darfur as genocide; France characterized it as crime against humanity; Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, referred to it as the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world; the Liberian President charged the UN to intervene militarily to protect the helpless. In June 2005, the International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor said there is “significant amount of credible information” to show that grave crimes have taken place in Darfur. In late March 2005, the Security Council referred to the Court 51 persons alleged to have committed war crimes.  

After two years of a protracted negotiation under the leadership of Salim Ahmed Salim, on May 5, 2006, the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed by two of the four warring factions, the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Liberation Army, under the leadership of Minni Minnawi. The other rebel factions, Sudan Liberation Army led by Abdulwaheed Al-Nur and the Justice and Equality Movement refused to the sign the document.

No doubt there was a negotiation fatigue and pressure was put on the warring factions by the international community and the African Union to reach a deal. Since then the peace agreement being implemented by the Darfur Ceasefire Commission is faltering. 

The African Mission in Sudan of 7700 troops is helpless to play its protection and monitoring roles. It is grossly inadequate to take care of an area the size of France compared to the proposed UN force of 22,000. It is poorly equipped. Its funding is less than 50 percent of its requirement. Many security and political aspects of the agreement are not being implemented. For example, the AU police are unable to keep law and order in the IDP camps, and the military are unable to patrol demilitarized zones between the camps.

It is not surprising that the AU Peace and Security Council gave notice that it was not renewing the mandate of AMIS from the end of September, and instead recommended the UN to take responsibility for the region. The UN supports the case for an international peacekeeping. Expectedly, the Government of Sudan described the call for a UN force as “a Zionist plot” despite its  endorsement by the 1st Vice President of Sudan, Lt General Salva Kiir Mayardit of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement and opposition leader former Prime Minister Sadiq Mahdi. It is instructive to note also that the Government of Sudan initially supported the idea of a UN force. Meanwhile fresh fighting has been reported between Government forces and its militia allies and that of the rebel forces that have not signed the Abuja Agreement of May 5. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees had to move some IDPS to Chad because of the deteriorating security condition. The on set of movement of nomads from the north to the south in search of pasture and water is further undermining communal relations. Also the humanitarian crisis has continued to deteriorate because of the inability of organizations to reach the IDPs. President Obasanjo declared the situation as “developing genocide”.

If the AMIS cannot fulfill its role of monitoring and protection in Darfur and the Government of Sudan is unwilling to allow deployment of a UN force, is there the possibility of invoking an emerging humanitarian value and norm known as the Responsibility to Protect?

The Responsibility to Protect


The international community was confronted with similar, even though not identical situations, in Kosovo, Rwanda and Bosnia.  In the West Africa sub region, we had bitter experiences of Liberia and Sierra Leone. We may face a similar situation in Cote d’Ivoire. 

Kofi Annan aptly posed the question: 

..if humanitarian intervention, is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to Rwanda, to a Srebrenica-to gross and systemic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?  

The Government Canada with support of foundations such as MacArthur in September 2000 funded the establishment of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) under the distinguished leadership of Gareth Evans and Mahamed Sahnoun. 

The report of the Commission which is widely cited as the `Responsibility to Protect’ was completed in 2001. It is an emerging norm in international discourse. In 2005, heads of states and governments at the General Assembly of the UN accepted it unanimously; the Security Council in April 2006 endorsed it in general terms.

The major thesis of the report is that states have the responsibility of protecting their citizens from “avoidable catastrophe-from mass murder, and rape, from starvation-but when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states” .

Although the ICCIC report did make only one reference to the experience in West Africa, those of us in this region can claim that we were the first to anticipate the development some of the elements of the responsibility to protect. Our process started with the bitter experience of the devastating conflict in Liberia which led to the development of the ECOWAS Protocol relating to the Mechanism on Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security 1999 and the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance of 2001 . The next major endorsement was the AU Action Plan which mirrors some of ECOWAS concerns and that of the ideas of responsibility to protect. 

I want to rely extensively on the report of the Commission to highlight the key elements of the recommendations . Two basic elements of the recommendation are that state sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself. Secondly, where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.

The responsibility to protect embraces three specific responsibilities. First, the responsibility to prevent, which is to address both root causes and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk. Second, the responsibility to react, which is to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, which may include coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecution, and in extreme cases military intervention. Lastly, the responsibility to rebuild which is to provide, particularly after a military intervention, full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, addressing the causes of the harm the intervention was designed to halt or to avert.

Prevention is the single most important dimension of the responsibility to protect where by prevention options should always be exhausted before intervention is contemplated, and more commitment and resources must be devoted to it. If reaction is contemplated, it should always involve less intrusive and coercive measures being considered before more coercive and intrusive ones are applied.

The second responsibility of reacting militarily must be under extreme and exceptional circumstance. Hence, a number of principles must be considered as summarized by Richard Goldstone : 

  1. Seriousness of the threat – Is the harm sufficiently serious to justify the use of military force? In the case of internal threats, does it involve genocide and other large-scale killing, ethnic cleansing or serious violations of international humanitarian law, actual or imminently apprehended?
  2. Proper purpose Is it clear that the primary purpose of the proposed military action is to stop or avert the threat?
  3. Last resort – Has every non-military option for meeting the threat been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing that other measures will not succeed?
  4. Proportional means – Are the scale, duration and intensity of the proposed military action the minimum necessary to meet the threat?
  5. Balance of Consequences - Is there a reasonable chance of the military action being successful in meeting the threat with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction?

If AMIS is incapable of protecting Darfurians and the Government of Sudan is vehemently against a UN peacekeeping force, can we invoke the Responsibility to Protect? Can we satisfy the five thresholds for military intervention? Gareth Evans, one of the co-chairs of the ICCIC, in my view has made a cogent analysis of the situation. He argues that the first, second and fourth thresholds could be met but not the third and fifth . Garth opined and I agree that the situation in Darfur is a very serious threat to our collective humanity; that the purpose of intervention has no ulterior motive; and that a proportional response could be arranged. However, he thinks that there are other measures that must be taken before military intervention and these include targeted sanctions and prosecution. Also, in light of the belligerence of the Government of Sudan, any attempt to intervene could lead to more harm being done than intended to avert. I should also add that the lack of cohesion and the decentralized nature of the rebellion as well as the difficulty of the terrain in Darfur may make it more difficult to succeed militarily.


If the criteria for international protection of Darfurians are not met, the AMIS is inadequate to protect them and the UN is prevented from deploying in Darfur, are there other options? The first point to stress is that the problem in the region should be approached from a political ecology perspective. Environmental crisis coupled with political marginalization is the root of the problem. The Abuja agreement has tried to respond to some of these concerns although it should be seen as the starting point. In the first place, it is important for the AU to go the extra mile to ensure that all the main warring factions sign the agreement. I appreciate the negotiation fatigue in the AU but failing to do so will only prolong the conflict and further exacerbate the humanitarian situation. The AU should consider the possibility of involving a second track diplomacy involving religious leaders in the region. There are prominent religious leaders in Nigeria, Tchad and Sudan who have followings that cut across the political divide in Darfur. The unity of the warring factions is sine qua non.

The Government of Sudan must also realize that it cannot militarily win the war in Darfur. It must agree to enter to a further discussion with all the rebels.

In light of the fact that the UN cannot deploy without the consent of the Sudanese government; threat against the government is not likely to work; many countries will not participate in Darfur operation without the consent of the government; and even extending the UN force in the south to Darfur is not likely to be an option; the only option seem to be also to go back to the AMIS. AMIS is capable of doing the work if it is adequately funded, its number increased and it has the necessary operational logistics. The how is a matter of detail that the international community must workout.     

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