Darfur has been described by the United Nations as "the world's worst humanitarian disaster". Now it threatens to become one of the most devastating crimes against humanity of our time. Sudan is moving thousands of troops into the region in pursuit of - what a chilling phrase - a "final solution" to the years of conflict there.
Khartoum wants to oust the 7,000 African Union troops who have been endeavouring, however inadequately, to protect the civilian population crowded into Darfur's squalid refugee camps. And it is refusing to allow a more effective UN peacekeeping force to take its place. Instead, it wants to send in its own troops to "take responsibility" for the 2 million internal refugees.
We all know what that means. Sudan's Arab government has killed at least 200,000 of Darfur's black Africans who compete with their Arab neighbours for the meagre resources of that godforsaken land. It has done this by dropping bombs, but mainly through the scorched-earth terror of its stooges in the Janjaweed militia. And President Bashir has a history of lies, promise-breaking and reneging on his commitments as soon as the gaze of the international community is turned elsewhere.
It is a decade since the world looked on as hundreds of thousands died in the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. A year ago, almost to the day, at the UN World Summit, the international community signed up to the principle that it has a "Responsibility to Protect" people threatened with genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity - and that the principle overrides respect for national sovereignty. Darfur is the first test of that commitment.
Today, thousands of ordinary individuals in 30 nations will join a protest against the Sudanese government in a Day for Darfur. Meanwhile, world leaders and diplomats are engaged in attempts to bring the maximum united pressure of Europe, Africa, the United States, China, Russia and the Arab states to bear upon Sudan.
This is what they should demand. First, that Sudan drop its ban on the arrival of 20,000 UN peacekeepers for Darfur. Second, the Darfuri rebels should sign up to the Abuja peace accord. Third, that until the UN troops arrive, the African Union troops now on the ground - who are underfunded, undermanned and outgunned, but who are the only game in town - should be given additional funding by the international community. They also need logistical support to improve the quality of their chain of command, operating procedures and equipment. AU troops at present do not just lack night-flying equipment - to allow helicopters to ferry forces in the pre-dawn hours when most violence occurs - they even lack sufficient fuel. It is important that they are better resourced if their mandate is to be extended.
Finally, if Sudan persists in its obdurate refusal, the proposed UN forces should be stationed in the east of Chad, whose President has already indicated consent to the idea - so that the UN protection force will be hours, not months, away from Darfur. This would minimise the violation of Sudan's sovereignty and yet demonstrate the resolve to take action if need be. From there it could also enforce a no-fly zone in accordance with last year's two UN resolutions outlawing offensive military flights in Darfur.
Those same resolutions referred atrocities in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (a move which, amazingly, the United States did not veto). But that will be of small comfort to the 2 million people now facing Sudanese government bombs, the murderous janjaweed, or death by starvation. Such a "final solution" is unconscionable. We must all act now, before it is too late.Reuse content