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Protecting civilians or preserving interests? Explaining the UN security council's non-intervention in Darfur, Sudan, 2003-06.

Mickler, David (2009) Protecting civilians or preserving interests? Explaining the UN security council's non-intervention in Darfur, Sudan, 2003-06. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The UN Security Council is the preeminent multilateral decision-making body and has the legal authority to initiate military interventions if it first determines a threat to international peace and security, including from civil wars or widespread state repression. While traditional norms of non-intervention and the politics of the Cold War curtailed the body’s ability to fulfil this role, evolving understandings and practices of sovereignty and security in the post-Cold War era have led to the apparent emergence of a new norm permitting ‘humanitarian intervention’ and an in principle acceptance that the body has a ‘responsibility to protect’ vulnerable civilians residing inside the borders of their own state, including through military means.

In this context, the thesis argues that the situation in Darfur, western Sudan, has represented a quintessential case for the Council to fulfil its ‘responsibility to protect’. According to a number of authoritative investigations, since 2003 the Sudanese government and government-allied Arab militias have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity on a widespread and systematic basis against Darfur’s non-Arab population. As a result, over 200,000 people died either directly from violence or indirectly from conflict-induced disease and malnutrition, while a further two million fled from their homes and villages in fear. A number of nonmilitary measures were attempted by the Council but failed to create adequate security on the ground.

As such, there was a compelling legal-institutional, normative and moral case for the Council to coercively deploy a military intervention in Sudan to protect vulnerable civilians in Darfur. However, during the 2003-06 period of study, no such intervention was deployed. The thesis argues that intervention by the Council was precluded by the national interests of its permanent members, including a lucrative economic relationship between China and Sudan, and because of valuable Sudanese intelligence cooperation in Western counter-terrorism operations in the region. The thesis concludes that the Council’s members chose to preserve these national interests at the expense of protecting civilians in Darfur.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
United Nations SDGs: Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Supervisor(s): Makinda, Samuel and Ganguly, Rajat
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