Roughly the size of France, Darfur lies in western Sudan. In 2003, two Darfuri rebel groups took up arms against the Government of Sudan, which they blamed for decades of political and economic neglect of the region. In response to the insurgency, the Government of Sudan armed its own militia from the local population. The conflict led to a humanitarian catastrophe that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Nearly two million people remain displaced in camps, thousands of villages have been razed, and overlapping conflicts continue, including rebel-government fighting, general banditry and lawlessness, and tribal disputes over natural resources.
In July 2011 the government signed a Qatar-brokered peace deal with the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), composed of a number of smaller rebel factions. The agreement lacked the support of the main rebels, some of whom refused to participate in the peace process. U.S. Special Envoy Princeton Lyman and Senior Advisor for Darfur Dane Smith have led American efforts to build peace in the area, and starting in August 2010, CSO engagement officers provided them day-to-day support. (CSO was created in November 2011, replacing the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, known as S/CRS. So the original work was carried out by S/CRS.)
One of these officers, Sean Brooks, has had seven extended visits to Darfur with Ambassador Smith. “The people of Darfur have endured unspeakable violence over the last decade,” Brooks remarked. “Everyone has been affected and, therefore, everyone demands a voice in the peace process and the implementation of any agreement.”
Following the signing of the Doha agreement, CSO staff worked with the envoy’s office and USAID to develop strategies for assisting the signatories in implementing the agreement. Brooks played an active role in devising and carrying out strategies to provide technical and diplomatic assistance to the newly created Darfur Regional Authority. This authority, mandated by the peace agreement, is responsible for implementing critical provisions related to land reform, the return of internally displaced persons and refugees, transitional justice and reconciliation, and other goals.
“With Ambassador Smith, we consistently engaged with the new DRA leadership to find ways to support the implementation of the agreement,” Brooks recalled. “Brainstorming began even before the rebel leaders returned to Sudan, and we were even there to meet with them in Khartoum the evening they returned to the capital for the first time.”
While there have been some limited signs of progress since the agreement was signed, overall the results of the agreement have been disappointing. As his two-year assignment drew to a close in December 2012, Smith cited the following problems:
· Inadequate funding by the Government of Sudan for reconstruction and development,
· The government's failure to disarm militias, as the agreement requires, resulting in militias "more and more seemingly out of control," particularly in North Darfur,
· An absence of the rule of law, and no implementation of the provisions of the agreement related to justice and reconciliation, and
· Regular attacks on the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), killing 43 peacekeepers over the last four years, and the government’s failure to seriously investigate these crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.
"My biggest disappointment, a year and a half after the signature of the Doha agreement, is that we have seen very limited implementation, particularly of those provisions that bring tangible benefits to the IDPs (internally displaced people) and refugees," Smith told Reuters in Sudan.
Although poor implementation has been a major reason why other rebels continue to reject the Doha agreement, Smith said that the U.S. still considers the agreement a "good basis for peace." The U.S. has repeatedly told Sudan’s leaders that if they began to implement the agreement, the impact on the ground could persuade other armed movements to negotiate and ultimately sign on. Unfortunately, donors, including the United States, face an "increasingly difficult" time getting staff into Darfur to assess and supervise their aid projects, Smith said. These policies by the Government of Sudan jeopardize plans for an international donors’ conference to raise funds for the implementation of the agreement.
Brooks stated, “Efforts by the Darfur Regional Authority to implement the Doha agreement demonstrate that the main problems, as well as the solutions, are known to almost all Darfuri leaders. One of the chief challenges, during both political negotiations and the implementation of the subsequent agreements, is developing mechanisms to build trust among polarized segments of the population and the government. The last 10 years of conflict has made almost everyone in Darfur skeptical of the motivation of others, which has undermined efforts to tackle complex policies, like land reform and compensation for victims, in an inclusive and participatory manner.
“Nevertheless,” Brooks continued, “the U.S. Government will continue to support mediation efforts that lead to a more inclusive peace agreement, as well as policies that promote justice, civilian protection and humanitarian assistance, in Darfur. These objectives are directly linked to an overall policy of supporting an active and fruitful dialogue on conflict-resolution and non-violent democratic transformation across Sudan.”