It was an awkward reminder of the world’s failure to hold to account a president accused of war crimes: A group photo from Egypt’s economic summit over the weekend shows U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry standing just behind Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.
Even as the International Criminal Court scolds the U.N. Security Council to make sure a defiant al-Bashir faces trial on charges of orchestrating genocide in Sudan’s western Darfur region, the United Nations appears to be easing away from the conflict. Under pressure from al-Bashir, the U.N. opened talks this month with Sudan on a plan for a large peacekeeping mission to leave Darfur.
The Security Council on Tuesday will discuss the troubled mission and how its eventual departure will affect a civil war that once drew the world’s outrage.
The idea alarms observers of the chaos in Darfur, where nearly half a million people were displaced last year, the most in a decade. The U.N. has blamed the spike in violence largely on a new rapid action force backed by Sudan’s government, which has been fighting rebels across the vast region since 2003. More than 300,000 people have been killed overall.
Some suggest that al-Bashir, who is running for re-election this year, is just posturing and doesn’t really want to lose the benefits of a $1.3 billion-a-year peacekeeping mission. But last year he ordered the expulsion of top U.N. officials and the closure of the mission’s human rights office in the capital, Khartoum, and called for an “exit strategy” for the joint U.N.-African Union force, which numbers more than 20,000.
Adding to the tension was the mass rape of more than 220 women in a Darfur village last October by Sudanese army troops. The peacekeeping force, called UNAMID, has been blocked from entering the village after a brief and inconclusive visit shortly after reports of the mass rape emerged.
But Human Rights Watch pieced together details of the attack through more than 100 interviews with local residents, calling it “a new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur.”