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Briefing on the Situation in Darfur

Part of the extraordinarily informative UN Study Tour, which our Delegation was lucky to have the opportunity to attend, was a briefing on the situation in Darfur. The briefing was delivered with much passion by Mr. Peter Jackson, Chief Editor of the UN Yearbook, who managed to remain the focus of our attention throughout the session.

This was only partly due to his energetic mode of presentation, however. The timeliness of the topic of his talk certainly also had its share in exciting our interest and, talking to a representative of the United Nations, we had a unique chance to get our information directly from those most acquainted with the situation as it is dealt within the inter-national community.

During the briefing, we learned about the complexities underlying the crisis in Darfur which are often neglected in media reports calling for quick and decisive action. Among those complexities are the spill-over effects of the conflict which destabilize not only Sudan but the region as a whole with Chad being drawn into the conflict. Furthermore, one cannot talk about resolving the conflict without also addressing the root causes of the crisis, among which the scarcity of resources, foremost among them water, ranks high. This problem abundant in the region is caused by a history of ecological degradation which led to a fierce competition over access to already strained resources. Furthermore the destabilizing effects of the conflict are feared to contribute to tensions in other parts of Sudan, particularly in South Sudan where the North-South peace agreement only recently ended one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in Africa.

This intricacy of the conflict in Darfur is a challenge even to an experienced organization in the field of conflict resolution, such as the United Nations. After massive efforts to create the political will necessary for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, adopted its resolution 1769 of 31 July 2007 which includes a mandate for the United Nations and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) with the protection of civilians at its core. The deployment of UNAMID is a new development in the history of UN peacekeeping efforts as it is the first hybrid mission to be endowed with a peacekeeping mandate. At full deployment, the mission will become one of the largest missions in UN peacekeeping history. It will then be composed of almost 20,000 troops, more than 6,000 police and a large civilian component. Thus far, however, there is still a significant lack of political will in Member States to provide the UN with troops to fulfill its mandate.

The activities of the UN are not constrained to peacekeeping efforts, however. The effort of UN humanitarian agencies is currently the largest relief effort in the world. The aim is to assist the approximately 4.2 million conflict-affected people in the Darfur crisis.

These vast effects of the crisis are what called worldwide attention to what is happening in Darfur. In addition an estimated 2.45 million are internally displaced, and the flow of refugees into neighboring Chad brought an additional 238,000 Sudanese refugees in the eastern regions of that country. In 2007, the budget allocated by the UN and its partners for humanitarian efforts alone surpassed US$ 650 million, and among the more than 12,000 humanitarian staff from 13 UN agencies can be found.

But peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts alone cannot end a conflict and bring peace to a region, Mr. Peter Jackson reminded us. What is needed in the long run is a political solution to the conflict. Keeping this in mind, high hopes have to be placed on the diplomatic efforts undertaken by the UN and others. In spite of all the obstacles, it is not too late for an inclusive peace-agreement among the parties.

The hope that such an agreement can be reached and that the United Nations will have played its part, when the conflict will eventually end, is what drives the work of so many parties concerned with finding a solution to the conflict. Above everything else, it is this hope that Mr. Jackson managed to communicate.

Martin Ebeling