Reports of chemical weapons being used by the Sudanese military in Darfur are a dire development.
Since the 2003 rebel uprising in the region, it is estimated 300,000 people have died in the conflict and 2.7 million have fled their homes. If this week’s reports are true – and there does appear to be evidence backing up the allegations of Amnesty International – then we face the awful realisation that the genocide which began 13 years ago has continued to the present day, irrespective of international sanctions and the charges facing Sudan leader Omar al-Bashir over alleged atrocities.
In such circumstances, the usual means of attempting to bring dispute to an end, or at least to a halt, is out of reach. There is a long way to go before negotiation, or at least dialogue, could even be attempted.
The estimated 200 deaths from chemical weapons began in January this year, but the warning sign that the situation was grave came last month when the Sudanese government asked the African Union and United Nations peacekeeping mission to shut down its human rights office and get out. There is disdain for humanitarian agencies, and for the international community.
President Bashir says the West has misunderstood him, and peacekeepers have “no role to play” in the region because he has it under control.
If the allegations are true, the international community has to decide how to respond. Direct action increasingly looks like the only option, and even that last resort may not be the answer. Halting genocide is one thing, achieving lasting peace is another. But the omens suggest that without further intervention, the bloodshed is set to escalate.