It might not sound very sophisticated, but the longer I campaign against the genocide in Darfur, the more I realize that the rules of the schoolyard apply to international relations. Unless nations come together to call the bullies’ bluff, the thugs will continue to divide and rule, to terrorize, and to make the rest of us look like irresolute fools.

In Darfur, the “international community” allows the Sudanese junta to run rings around it. Time and again we refuse to acknowledge the true fundamentalist nature of the Khartoum regime.

It has been five years since the systematic destruction and ethnic cleansing of Darfur’s black African tribes began. The mainly Arab military junta ruling Sudan has destroyed 90 percent of the mostly black African villages in Darfur, aided by their proxies, the Janjaweed militias.

An estimated 200,000 to 450,000 civilians have died as a consequence, and 4 million people have been affected by the ongoing genocide.

The U.N. Security Council has expressed concern, but very few of its resolutions have been enforced. When nations refuse to stand together in the face of Sudan’s violations on international law, they signal to the Khartoum dictatorship their lack of serious intent.

The same ruthless, oppressive, extremist and totalitarian Sudanese regime used similar tactics to kill an estimated 2 million black Africans, many of whom were Christian, in southern Sudan over the last two decades. Again, the lack of political will to confront the Islamic extremists in Khartoum assured the junta that they could kill with impunity.

The tactics in both southern Sudan and Darfur are sickeningly predictable. First the Sudanese armed forces attack villages with Antonov planes and helicopters, bombing and strafing civilians. They are followed by militia on horse or camel, paid for and armed by Khartoum, who kill men and boys, throw children onto fires, burn homes, steal livestock, and rape women and girls.

Consequently 2 million people are in refugee camps where they have no security, and a quarter of a million have fled to neighboring Chad, pursued by the Sudanese and their proxies. The brave work of humanitarian agencies is hindered by rebels and militia who steal supplies, kidnap, kill and terrorize.

The Sudanese regime has played the world’s diplomats and politicians for fools. In February 2007, a top Sudanese official, Amhed Haroun, was indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for 22 counts of crimes against humanity in Darfur. He has since been appointed Sudan’s Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs, and in September he was promoted to head the committee investigating human rights complaints in Darfur. In other words, Haroun is responsible for the well-being of the very tribes that have been displaced because of his actions.

Shortly after the appointment, Sudanese officials met U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Afterward, the Sudanese expressed astonishment that Moon did not even mention the appointment, let alone disapproved of it.

In early February, after months of fighting over each and every clause, Khartoum finally signed a watered-down agreement allowing a hybrid peacekeeping force of U.N. and African Union troops to enter Darfur. Within three days, Sudanese officials were rewarded with a top-level trip to Washington for “discussions of mutual benefit.”

At the same time that the officials from Khartoum were traveling to the United States, their armed forces unleashed a ferocious new assault on western Darfur, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Yet, as the aerial bombardment intensified, the U.S. and British governments called for an improvement of diplomatic relations with Khartoum. Sudan is now lobbying aggressively to be taken off the State Department’s list of sponsors of terror, and to have long-standing sanctions dropped.

Throughout February and March, the violence has escalated to levels last seen in 2005, and yet the international community remains silent. Instead, British Foreign Minister Mark Malloch-Brown speaks of the need for “constructive engagement” with Sudan. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted that a no-fly zone, already approved by a U.N. Security Council resolution, would be “impractical.” This is despite evidence to the contrary from northern Iraq, where Kurdish areas were very effectively protected by a U.S.-led NATO no-fly zone during the 1990s.

In other words, the international community continues to treat the architects of the Darfur genocide as its partners in the search for peace. This is hardly novel approach; Slobodan Milosevic used the same game plan when he was destroying the former Yugoslavia, constantly tying up diplomats in futile peace talks. When NATO did finally stand together, and the United States launched a mere 18 cruise missiles toward the Serbs, they literally ran away. Sadly, we did not learn from this lesson.

Most famously, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain convinced himself, his government and the media that he had single-handedly persuaded Adolf Hitler to stop trying to take over Europe, at a meeting in Munich in 1938. History turned out somewhat differently.

In Sudan for the past 20 years, as they slaughtered Christians and animist black Africans in the south, Khartoum officials have made similar promises, signed peace deals, and attended hours of peace talks with international diplomats, only to break their word on every occasion.

The absence of international criticism over Darfur has emboldened Sudanese officials like Nafi Ali Nafi, a presidential assistant and deputy leader of the ruling National Congress Party.

“We have no problem fighting those who fight us,” he said. “The U.N. Security Council will not stop us even if the whole world screams.”

Early last month, a French peacekeeper from the European Union was shot dead by the Sudanese army in Chad. The Defense Ministry in Paris said its soldier strayed across the border and encountered a Sudanese checkpoint. He quickly declared his identity, but was fired on without warning.

Responding to news of the death, the commander of the EU’s mission to Chad, Lt. Gen. Patrick Nash, apologized to the Sudanese government and expressed regret for the troops accidentally crossing the remote unmarked border.

In the absence of any negative reaction from the international community, the Sudanese government has demanded reparations for the losses incurred as a result of the incident.

Throughout the genocide in Darfur, international diplomats have urged the small, fractious and disorganized Darfur rebels to join peace talks. Often the same representatives have suggested that the tiny and badly equipped rebels are equally to blame for the casualties in Darfur, although all reputable studies show that the Sudanese armed forces and their Arab militia proxies are responsible for 95 percent of the killing and destruction.

On March 9, the rebel Justice and Equality Movement heeded the West’s calls and attended a meeting with representatives of UNAMID, the body controlling the hybrid peacekeeping force. As the meeting began at 10 a.m., the Sudanese army bombed them. Although the attack came close to destroying a UNAMID plane, UNAMID failed to even comment on the incident, so reluctant is it to ruffle Sudanese feathers.

The most pitiful aspect of our appeasement is that whenever we speak with one voice, the Sudanese give in immediately. When will our diplomats learn from the simple rules of the schoolyard?

British journalist and part-time Santa Barbara resident Rebecca Tinsley is director of Waging Peace, a London-based nongovernmental organization. Click here to contact her.