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The responsibility to protect Darfur

The UN should send a peacekeeping force to Darfur – even without Sudan's consent.

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The UN Security Council's recent passage of a resolution to establish a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur could mark an important break with the past, one largely overlooked in the commentary following the resolution's adoption. Most news stories and analyses have focused on whether the government of Sudan's "consent" is required before any UN troops may enter Darfur.

Little noticed, however, is the resolution's reference to paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 United Nations World Summit outcome document. These paragraphs describe what is known as the "responsibility to protect," which world leaders at last year's UN General Assembly unanimously endorsed.

The responsibility to protect means that if a country cannot or will not protect its citizens from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or ethnic cleansing, then it must accept support or assistance from other nations to end the violence. While the sovereignty of countries to regulate their own internal affairs is respected, it is conditional and not absolute. When peaceful means are exhausted and leaders of a UN member state are "manifestly failing to protect their populations," then other states have the responsibility to take collective action through the Security Council.

Resolution 1706 is the first time that the Security Council has referred to the responsibility to protect in a specific country situation where armed UN peacekeepers are to be deployed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. This chapter allows the council to take whatever military means necessary to restore international peace and security.

In the case of Darfur, the Security Council has "invited" Sudan to consent to the deployment of UN troops which will take over from the beleaguered, demoralized force established by the African Union. The Security Council, however, is not required to gain the government's consent before sending in troops. By inserting the reference to the responsibility to protect, the Security Council is giving notice to Khartoum that while it seeks the government's cooperation, others will have to step in and substitute if Sudan cannot fulfill its sovereign responsibilities. This is one of the reasons that three Security Council members abstained from the vote: China, Russia, and Qatar.

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