Darfur Humanitarian Overview: The Consequences of International Silence

UN mendacity and weakness bring millions of Darfuris closer to destruction—and the world looks on with indifference
By Eric Reeves
January 23, 2011
January 24, 2011 (SSNA) — What has become most notable about the human catastrophe in Darfur is its invisibility, a direct consequence of the decision by senior UN officials to shut down access to information about human suffering, deprivation, and destruction in this vast region—and to acquiesce before Khartoum’s determination to expedite the return of displaced persons, even as this vulnerable population continues to grow at an alarming rate and security conditions simply do not permit safe returns. To be sure, recent international news attention to the Southern referendum has worked to obscure the situation in Darfur. But for more than a year I have emphasized the consequences of the UN suppression of humanitarian data and reports, especially those bearing on malnutrition. This information would reveal a great deal about true conditions in Darfur, but Khartoum’s actions and threats have succeeded in intimidating the humanitarian community, preeminently the UN.

Recently I’ve been joined in these concerns by a consortium of seventeen distinguished human rights organizations, finally speaking out forcefully about the implications of this deadly UN silence. The groups have a decisive central claim: “There are clear signs that the situation in Darfur is getting worse. But the international community is failing to monitor and respond properly to what is happening in Darfur.” Even more forceful in its conclusions is an extraordinary study from Tufts University (“Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur”), recently cited and analyzed in great detail by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Since the Tufts report is not yet publicly available, the comprehensive IWPR account (“UN Accused of Caving In to Khartoum Over Darfur”) is for the present essential in understanding the ways in which both the UN—including the peacekeeping force known as UNAMID—and international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations (INGOs) have become complicit in obscuring Darfur’s agony. The conclusions of the Tufts study as reported are of the greatest consequence and provide a devastating portrait of callousness, deceit, and cowardice on the part of the UN and those with power to influence UN decisions:

“Amid growing levels of malnutrition, illness and instability in Darfur displacement camps, United Nations aid and peacekeeping agencies are being accused of capitulating to pressure and interference from the Sudanese government and failing in their duty to protect civilians. Human rights and civil society activists are joining the region’s internally displaced people, IDPs, and Sudanese opposition politicians in calling on UN agencies not to duck their responsibilities in order to keep Khartoum on side. This comes as conditions in IDP camps deteriorate, with the government delaying food and medical supplies and many children often too hungry to go to school. One Sudanese opposition politician interviewed for this report claimed that some of the weakest camp inhabitants have started to die because of the shortages.”

“‘International humanitarian capacities have been seriously eroded and impaired to a point that leaves Darfuris in a more vulnerable position now than at any other time since the counter-insurgency operations and forced displacements in 2003,’ reads a recent paper, ‘Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur….’” This central characterization is supported in compelling detail by IWPR, using hundreds of interviews with a range of actors: Darfuri displaced persons; Nils Kastberg, head of UNICEF for Darfur; a number of other UN officials speaking confidentially; diplomatic sources in Sudan; Sudanese health workers; human rights experts (particularly Jehanne Henry, an especially resourceful Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch); a lawyer for an international relief organization; Richard Williamson, former U.S. special envoy for Sudan; a leading (unnamed) Sudanese political figure; and Salih Osman, a Khartoum-based lawyer. On the basis of these interviews and other research IPWR concludes: “According to UN officials who spoke to IWPR, the Sudanese government is actively preventing UN agencies which operate on the ground from accessing information necessary for compiling much needed reports on the humanitarian situation in the region.” Fearing expulsion by Khartoum—the fate of 13 of the world’s finest humanitarian organizations in March 2009—“UN agencies feel they must tread very carefully”: "‘We try to produce very credible reports based on impartial information,’ one UN source told IWPR. ‘But this requires us to be careful not to describe all access problems as the government deliberately trying to obstruct humanitarian aid.’ ‘We don’t have the access we’d like into camps in Darfur, or the knowledge we need.’ UN and diplomatic sources who spoke to IWPR say Khartoum is deliberately undermining humanitarian efforts.” (emphasis added) The implications of a regime—the National Islamic Front/National Congress (NIF/NCP) regime—“deliberately undermining humanitarian efforts” require serious moral and legal assessment. What is being described is “genocide by other means,” given the characteristic ethnic profiles of those most in need of humanitarian assistance and the overwhelmingly non-Arab/African character of displaced populations The means of destruction may be subtle, given the acute vulnerability of the distressed populations—requiring no more, for example, than compelling aid agencies to struggle in determining where food and other relief supplies are most needed: “UNICEF reported early last year that as many as 21 nutritional surveys were conducted since June 2009, but only seven have been released by the humanitarian affairs commission [HAC]. Six of those showed [Global Acute] malnutrition rates of between 15 and 29 per cent, the report stated.” The threshold for a humanitarian emergency is Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) at a rate of 15 percent or higher; thus locations with a GAM rate of 29 percent are experiencing double the malnutrition threshold rate for a humanitarian emergency. And yet Khartoum has decided to suppress these data, even as they suggest an extremely serious and widespread malnutrition problem. The deliberate and consequential nature of this suppression has been made explicit by the courageously outspoken Nils Kastberg, head of UNICEF in Darfur:

“Nils Kastberg [said in October 2010] that Khartoum is preventing his agency from releasing reports about malnutrition in IDP camps. ‘Part of the problem has been when we conduct surveys to help us address issues, in collaboration with the ministry of health, very often other parts of the government such as the humanitarian affairs commission [HAC] interferes and delays in the release of reports, making it difficult for us to respond [in a] timely [manner],’ he said.”

In an earlier interview with Radio Dabanga, Kastberg had also declared:

“‘Sometimes it is security services that hinder access or delay access, sometimes it is the humanitarian affairs office [HAC] that delays the release of nutritional surveys. Sometimes it is delays in granting permissions and visas. It is different sections of different [government] institutions which interfere in our work.’”

Here it is important to note the rather different view of chief UN aid official for Darfur, Georg Charpentier—Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan:

“‘UN humanitarian agencies are not confronted by pressure or interference from the Government of Sudan,’ [Charpentier said in a written statement to IWPR].”

This is a distinctly minority opinion; indeed, it is perversely singular, excepting the propaganda coming from the Khartoum regime that is itself responsible for the humanitarian crisis. The consensus view among Darfuris is overwhelming:

“[P]eople in IDP camps say the situation is deteriorating but no alarm bells are being raised. ‘Children don’t have enough food to eat,’ a Sudanese health worker in one of the Darfur camps told IWPR. Since early 2009, both UNICEF and the UN aid coordination agency OCHA have failed to regularly publish key humanitarian updates, relied upon by various actors to gauge need in Darfur. [The Tufts report finds that] ‘crucial information about the humanitarian situation is lacking. There are serious issues with the proper validation of the nutrition survey reports and their immediate release—without such data neither the government nor the international community can properly understand the severity of the humanitarian situation or the efficacy of the response.’”

For its part IWPR concludes, on the basis of extensive research, that Khartoum “has consistently worked to thwart the distribution of food, restrict access of relief workers, and control the movements of peacekeepers.” Quoting from the Tufts report, IWPR notes, “Where humanitarian access has been maintained there have been serious delays and blocking of key information, for example, the failure to release regular nutrition survey reports, which contain the vital humanitarian indicators that enable the severity of the humanitarian crisis to be judged.” “Crucial information about the humanitarian situation is lacking. There are serious issues with the proper validation of the nutrition survey reports and their immediate release—without such data neither the government nor the international community can properly understand the severity of the humanitarian situation or the efficacy of the response.”

This was the decisive view of the recent UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, in his final (August 2010) briefing of the Security Council:

“[Holmes] said that the humanitarian situation is worsening ‘again this year,’ and added that pressure by the Sudanese government at the local and national levels is restricting humanitarian aid… ‘The background is that the humanitarian situation in Darfur has been steadily deteriorating again this year, in the context of [renewed violence]. The level of restrictions imposed on humanitarian operations, and of harassment, threats, and violence directed at humanitarian personnel, is once again becoming unacceptable. All this renders the civilians we are trying to help even more vulnerable.”

There could be no more explicit rebuttal of Charpentier’s claims than these words by the senior UN humanitarian official at the time. They are echoed in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) plan for Darfur needs assessment for 2011:

“In Darfur, the deterioration in the overall security situation and limited humanitarian access throughout 2010 has been a worrying trend and is likely to continue, unless there is a breakthrough in trust and cooperation between the government authorities and the humanitarian community.”

The UN and humanitarian community in Darfur have been awaiting such a “breakthrough” since July 3, 2004, when then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the regime, guaranteeing humanitarians freedom of access. (The same Memorandum committed Khartoum to disarming the Janjaweed—a disarming that was subsequently “demanded” by UN Security Council Resolution 1556, July 2004 and in many successive Security Council resolutions.) Six and a half years later, waiting for a “breakthrough” in Khartoum’s attitude seems not patient but naïve.

Sudan expert Jehanne Henry offers the perspective of Human Rights:

“‘[The attempt by Khartoum to keep international attention focused on the Southern referendum] is part of an attempt to stifle information coming out of Darfur at a very critical time when the government is under a lot of pressure to make the world believe that Darfur is no longer a problem and the conflict is over. We know from our own investigations that this is simply not true.”

Despite the mendacity of Georg Charpentier—for which the people of Darfur have no defense, except the outrage of those who are willing to hold the UN accountable—there is simply overwhelming evidence of Khartoum’s deliberate effort to undermine, obstruct, and compromise humanitarian assistance to a highly distressed population of more than 4 million human beings. This evidence is voluminous, detailed, and widely sourced.

What Do We Know?

In addition to the broader conclusions reached by human rights organizations and IWPR about UN responses to the Darfur crisis, there is a good deal of evidence available either anecdotally or buried within publications often only indirectly concerned with present humanitarian conditions in Darfur. We may also infer a great deal from the accounts of increasing insecurity in Darfur and the growing inability of humanitarians to move and operate freely. Even the UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, UNAMID, has been increasingly disabled by Khartoum through denial of access and flight restrictions; this is so much the case that UNAMID now cannot respond even to the most conspicuous atrocity crimes (e.g., the Tabarat massacre in early September 2010).

On this and other security issues, the lead UN prevaricator is again Georg Charpentier—Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan. Beyond his dangerous distortions and misrepresentations, Charpentier is reported by highly reliable sources in the region to insist on the silence of all who are subordinate to him within the UN system. And because INGOs have felt unable to move ahead of the UN in reporting on realities they see and encounter (fearing individual vulnerability to expulsion by Khartoum), Charpentier’s assessments—infrequent as they are—stand virtually alone as the voice of the UN (Valerie Amos, the new UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, has said little of use, offering only boilerplate commentary). These assessments are echoed chiefly by the feckless claims of Ibrahim Gambari, the incompetent and widely despised head of UNAMID. Gambari told IWPR that “I’ve continually engaged the government [in Khartoum] at the highest levels to increase access to UNAMID and the humanitarian community, to ensure full freedom of movement. We are making some progress.” But access continues to be severely attenuated, fewer international personnel are able to work in country, kidnapping of aid workers has increased sharply in the past two years, and violence against civilians is also increasing: there is simply no evidence for the “progress” Gambari claims. Khartoum regards him with disdain.

A telling example of Khartoum’s contemptuous denial of humanitarian access is reported by UNAMID on December 2, 2010:

“A humanitarian assistance mission planned by a UN agency to the east Jebel Marra areas of Golobai, Jawa and Deribat could not be conducted for the third time in recent weeks. Lack of timely security clearance from the Sudanese authorities and logistical constraints for the airlifting of the necessary protection force are the cause of these successive delays.”

This obviously deliberate denial of access to one of the most distressed regions in all of Darfur should be a matter for outrage and protest. Instead we have only this neutral and acquiescent account from UNAMID and Charpentier’s insistence that “UN humanitarian agencies are not confronted by pressure or interference from the Government of Sudan.”

Even so, there are humanitarian data and reports that Charpentier and Gambari simply cannot suppress, so massive and sustained are the realities represented. In particular, Radio Dabanga continues on a daily basis to give us glimpses of the character of suffering in the camps and rural areas, and the consequences of a badly faltering humanitarian project.

For the sheer scale of what is occurring in Darfur, perhaps our best guide is human displacement, which has been reported annually in crude but fairly effective fashion:

[1] Displacement, typically the direct consequence of violence, is ongoing and has driven some 3 million Darfuris from their homes and lands over the past eight years; they languish either as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), as refugees in Chad and Central African Republic, or as dependents within host families. This large-scale displacement proceeds at a rate that far exceeds returns or resettlements by those who have previously been displaced, despite claims by Charpentier that would suggest otherwise:

(a) The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 317,000 people were newly displaced in 2008 (up from 300,000 in 2007);

(b) The figure for 2009 seems less certain; the Canadian “Peace Operations Monitor” found evidence that suggested “over 214,000 people were newly displaced between January and June [2009] alone.” Given the reports of violent displacement that followed June 2009, a total for the year of 250,000 seems conservative;

(c) Internal displacement for 2010 is still being calculated, but as of the end of November, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated that “268,000 [Darfuris were] newly displaced in 2010.” This will surely rise, as the OCHA Sudan Bulletin (January 7 – 13, 2011) reports that the “overall number of people displaced during the December 2010 fighting in the area of Khor Abeche stands at 43,000.”

(d) These figures only partially capture human displacement in Eastern Jebel Marra, which has endured a yearlong humanitarian blockade and relentless military assaults by Khartoum. Estimates of how many have actually been displaced by violence and humanitarian distress run to the many tens of thousands, but Khartoum’s denial of humanitarian assessment makes any figure a guess. Human Rights Watch reports that,

“In the first week of October, government forces bombed numerous villages on the road from Deribat to Soni, and a cluster of villages south of Soni, including Feina, destroying hundreds of homes, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Government troops in the area have prevented civilians from returning to their farms. On October 25, [2010] government soldiers stationed in Soni allegedly killed a woman while she was returning to her farm near Soni with her two daughters. The attacks, which continue to date, caused tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, mostly to scattered settlements in rebel-controlled areas that the government has made off-limits to UN and humanitarian organizations. Sources on the ground told Human Rights Watch that the health conditions of displaced populations are deteriorating. The total number of casualties in the recent attacks is not known.” (“Halt Waves of Attacks on Civilians in Darfur,” November 11, 2010) (emphasis added)

What this statistical overview of displacement strongly suggests is that since January 1, 2008, when UNAMID officially took over the civilian protection mandate from the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), well over 800,000 civilians have been newly displaced, in many cases for the second or third time. Any assessment of humanitarian conditions in Darfur simply must take account of the extraordinary trauma of violent displacement, as well as the deeply dispiriting—and dangerous—lives that most displaced people lead in camps that far too often provide inadequate services. The account by Human Rights Watch of Khartoum’s violence against civilians in Jebel Marra provides a useful context for noting the views on human security of Georg Charpentier:

“The United Nations said Thursday [January 20, 2011] the security situation in Darfur is improving and that Sudan’s government is cooperating on the return and resettlement of people displaced by conflict. ‘We are seeing a trend of decreasing overall violent incidents in Darfur,’ Georg Charpentier, the head of the UN humanitarian mission in Sudan, told reporters in Khartoum. ‘There are pockets of insecurity clearly… But there are large areas where there are security conditions that can promote a return’ of internally displaced people (IDPs), he said.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], January 20, 2011) (emphasis added) I return below to Charpentier’s assessment of the chances for safe returns of displaced persons. What is notable here is his total failure to appreciate the findings of not only Human Rights Watch, but many other human rights investigators and on-the-ground observers who are not intimidated by the Khartoum regime, as well as the recent, deeply researched reports from Tufts University and IWPR. It is as though Charpentier is oblivious to the constant reports of major fighting since Khartoum’s offensive in Eastern Jebel Marra began in early 2010—and to ongoing reports of major fighting between Khartoum’s forces and the rebel groups in the Shangil Tobaya/Khor Abeche region and elsewhere. Near Shangil Tobaya the regime’s regular and militia forces have battled fiercely with various rebel groups—including most recently that of Minni Minawi, the lone signatory to the Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja, Nigeria; May 2006). These are the violent encounters that have displaced some 43,000 people in the last month alone. There has also been large-scale intra-Arab tribal fighting for over a year now, and this has become a major source of violent mortality. Further, the huge movements of armaments, military aircraft, and other military materiel into Darfur over several months is nowhere acknowledged by Charpentier; nor does he comment on the nearly constant reports of aerial bombardments of civilian targets by Khartoum’s military aircraft, or the daily overflights by Antonov bombers—every flight a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005). His is a highly determined ignorance and denial. But as French ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud declared very recently to the UN Security Council (January 18, 2011): “While we welcome the successful conduct of the [Southern] referendum, we cannot fail to note the deterioration of the situation in Darfur. What is taking place is not a case of sporadic attacks; it is a war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and rebel groups that is also being waged against civilians, sowing death and creating tens of thousands of newly displaced persons. We are also very concerned about the Bulgarian pilots abducted on 13 January [2011].” It may be that Charpentier feels that it is not his responsibility to report on such military activity—but then he has no business characterizing either the level of violence or the extent of insecurity in Darfur. In doing so, he is deeply hypocritical—whatever his motives (including ingratiating himself with the Khartoum regime). Security in the camps and rural areas Predictably, we have no comprehensive UN or other humanitarian survey of the conditions and services within particular camps, or distressed rural areas—something that was provided regularly by the UN’s “Darfur Humanitarian Profiles,” which ceased publication following the Khartoum regime’s expulsion of thirteen vital INGOs in March 2005 (as well as the closing of three key Sudanese NGOs). Nor do we have any systematic or comprehensive account of violence, civilian deaths, and the specific security conditions obtaining in most areas of Darfur. UN mortality “totals” are nothing more than the violent deaths that UNAMID is able to confirm during its highly circumscribed movements; these say nothing about the deaths that are a function of displacement and inadequate humanitarian assistance, or violent deaths in areas to which UNAMID has no access. Thus the dozens of people killed in early September 2010 at the Tabarat market do not figure in UNAMID’s total for that month, since Khartoum prevented investigation of the scene for many days. There is still no public UN report on this notorious massacre. [My own effort to quantify total deaths since 2003 from all causes—in Darfur and eastern Chad—can be found at http://www.sudantribune.com/test/spip.php?iframe&page=imprimable&id_article=35911 ]

Most of the delays and denials of access imposed by Khartoum for “security purposes” are nothing more than the regime’s determination to keep prying international eyes from observing the regime’s actions and the often deadly consequences of antecedent violence. But despite this determination we continue to get snapshots from Radio Dabanga, which tirelessly—and ever more effectively—chronicles the realities of Darfur, in the camps as well as rural and urban areas. A representative selection of headlines and lead sentences from the past few months contrasts starkly with Charpentier’s account of how “the security situation in Darfur is improving.” These examples include only a couple reports that come solely from rebel groups; and they do not include reports from Darfuri refugee camps in eastern Chad, or from the many other highly reliable accounts (both public and confidential) of violence directed against civilians. In their range—geographically, in character, and in the number of victims—these recent dispatches provide an all too persuasive portrait of large-scale, often systematic violence that continues to cause unalleviated human suffering and destruction:

[1] “[Regime] security authorities burnt parts of the market [in] Nertiti on Saturday [January 15, 2011] morning and briefly detained at the same time more than 200 civilians. The events followed the killing of one of the members of the security service who had been guarding the service’s headquarters in Nertiti Friday Night.” [2] “A 13-year old girl was kidnapped Sunday in North Darfur. She was taken by an armed group from Koro Koli village in Seraf Omra areas. One of her relatives said the region is plagued by kidnappings.” (January 11, 2011) [3] “An armed group raped six girls between the ages of 14 to 20 in [the area of] Dorma near Tawila in North Darfur.” (January 17, 2011) [confirmed by UNAMID] [4] “A government aircraft on Sunday conducted an air raid in Darfur that killed 10 people, including at least five children, and wounded many more [in the Khazan Jadeed areas].” (December 28, 2010)

[5] “Dozens of university and high school students were injured in el-Fasher yesterday [January 18, 2011] when elements of the Central Reserves opened fire on them” [the Central Reserves are an especially notorious paramilitary organization, with many former Janjaweed militia members—ER]. (January 19, 2011)

[6] “New settlers are living in the Wadi Saleh area, south of Zalingei, on land claimed by conflict-displace persons. The influx of dozens of Arab settlers who are heavily armed is causing insecurity in the area….” (January 11, 2011)

[7] “Gunmen opened fire on WFP distribution point in Darfur: An unidentified armed group on Wednesday night opened heavy fire on the headquarters of a distribution point of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Darfur. [ ] A refugee source argued that the attack was linked to the speech of President Al-Bashir during his visit to Nyala, when he said that Darfur does not need any camps or relief. The coordinator of camps around Zalingei told Radio Dabanga that the goal of the attack on the WFP distribution headquarters was to intimidate humanitarian organizations and force them to leave. This step would be followed by the eviction of refugees from the camps, he speculated.” (January 7, 2011) (emphasis added)

[8] “Government forces stationed in the area of Rwanda camp in Tawila in North Darfur raped two girls, 15 and 19 years old. A witness said that the forces entered Rwanda camp on Saturday, firing heavily in the air, then began breaking into shops and looting.” (December 28, 2010)

[9] “The witness [told Radio Dabanga] that government forces are still besieging the IDP camps [around Shangil Tobaya, North Darfur] and preventing affected people from leaving, especially young men in the three camps around Shangil Tobaya (UNAMID-North, Naivasha, and Shaddad). The witness appealed to the humanitarian organizations and the United Nations to speed up efforts to protect them.” (January 7, 2011)

[10] “A woman farmer over 70 years old was injured when she was assaulted by pastoralists on her farm in Tawila on Sunday. A leader of displaced people in the area told Radio Dabanga from Tawila that the assailants were armed and have been driving their livestock onto farms. He noted that citizens in the region cannot stop the shepherds and he described UNAMID peacekeepers as ineffective.” (January 5, 2011) (UNAMID has a significant base in Tawila)

[11] “Three soldiers belonging to the Border Guards severely beat two girls using sticks and batons at Al Salaam Camp in el-Fasher yesterday. The two girls were transferred to the city hospital in critical condition.” (January 4, 2011)

[12] “Sudanese security authorities abducted three people from Gereida Camp on the Sudanese border and placed them in the prison in Seleia area, north of Jebel Moon in West Darfur. The three persons are Saddam Yagub Aissa, Hafez Gimr and Al Saidg Yahia. A relative of the abductees told Radio Dabanga that the three persons were arrested on Monday because they had objected to suggestions of ‘voluntary return.’” (December 21, 2010)

[13] “Four armed men on camels and wearing military uniforms shot dead a woman near Hassa Hissa Displaced Camp in Darfur. Khadija Abu, 45 years old, was shot dead on Saturday in area by Mount Kono near Zalingei. Witnesses said that about 11 woman from the camp had gone out that day to collect firewood and harvest crops. The witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the militants tried to rape the women, but the women ran away.” (December 21, 2010)

[14] “Gunmen killed a farmer in Darfur on Wednesday. The late Fadl Abubakr Atem had a farm at Abata, north-east of Zalingei. Witnesses said that four gunmen came there on camels. They were wearing military uniforms. Witnesses said the gunmen came to the farm on Wednesday [December 15, 2010] night, looted all of his possessions, caused damage to the farm and then shot him dead on the spot.” (December 17, 2010)

[15] “Eight refugees were killed and 28 others injured, on the night of 3 September 2010, when they were attacked at Hamadiya Camp for internally displaced people, which is near the town of Zalingei in West Darfur, Sudan. The attackers came and left from the town of Zalingei.” (December 17, 2010)

[16] “Six women from Zamzam displaced camp were raped by government soldiers during the last week. The perpetrators were guards of the so-called ‘city gate’ south of Zamzam. Witnesses said that the last rape cases occurred four days ago, when three girls under the age of 18 were raped by those guards. Witnesses said one of the victims was a 12-year old girl whom six soldiers took turns in raping.” (December 11, 2010)

[17] “Security agents threaten delegates ahead of meeting with Darfur mediators [in el-Geneina].” (December 1, 2010)

[18] “Citizens in Kabkabiya complained that herders grazed their livestock on farms, destroying them. The damage to the farms could lead to friction with dire consequences, farmers said. One farmer told Radio Dabanga from Kabkabiya that plots of corn and vegetables, as well as orchards, were damaged deliberately in both Wadi Bari and Wadi Kirko. The farmers fear the loss of the fruit harvest this season.” (November 29, 2010)

[19] “One man was killed, and two women were wounded by an aerial attack at Amruba in the Bahr Al Arab region. A witness told Radio Dabanga that government planes bombed the area yesterday afternoon.” (Bahr el-Arab, November 18, 2010)

[20] “The Sudanese air force launched massive air raids on large areas in North Darfur on Kariyari, Boba, Furawiya, Wadi Howar and up to Alkhaim, according to a rebel official. Abubakr Hamid Nour, Secretary for Management and Administration of the Justice and Equality Movement, said the air strikes extended night and day for more than a week. The bombing was carried out by Antonov and MiG planes and led to the destruction of pastures, livestock and water sources in those areas.” (Wadi Howar, November 23, 2010)

[21] “Suleiman Jamous, JEM humanitarian affairs official, said government forces today raped three women and arrested seven people in a reprisal visit to Bia Kida near Boba, North Darfur where the rebels clashed with the army last week.” (November 9, 2010) (Suleiman Jamous is the most reliable of all rebel interlocutors)

[22] “Unidentified gunmen last night unleashed heavy firing on Al Salaam Camp in el-Fasher, which created a state of panic and fear among the displaced. The camp leader informed Radio Dabanga that random shooting lasted from 9:00pm at night until early in the morning hours.” (November 16, 2010)

[23] “Three armed men raped two young women, aged 19 and 21 years old, at Ardamata Camp in West Darfur yesterday morning after beating them and stripping them of their clothes. A source told Radio Dabanga that the two girls were harvesting a bean crop at a farm near the camp when the three gunmen came on horses.” (November 9, 2010)

[24] “A man was assaulted yesterday in a dispute between farmers and herders in West Darfur. Musa Omar Juma’s injuries were described as serious after he was shot yesterday in Mornei Camp for displaced persons. A source said that an armed group had surrounded the camp and pastured livestock on farms, destroying them. This prevented the farm owners from harvesting their crop.” (November 8, 2010)

[25] “Wounded survivors of the most recent militia attack in central Darfur have arrived at the hospital in el-Fasher. The 18 people were wounded by gunmen dressed in military uniforms and riding on camels. The attack occurred on Monday in Tina, three kilometres northwest of Tawila in central Darfur.” (November 3, 2010)

[26] “Security authorities yesterday arrested a leader in Al Salaam Camp in North Darfur. The omda Mohamed Taban Dai El Nur was taken yesterday from the camp to an unknown location. In Darfur omda is a title of higher rank than sheikh. It is sometimes translated as ‘mayor.’ Witnesses said that the omda was arrested by six uniformed people. He had been busy distributing relief supplies to residents in the part of the camp were he lives.” (November 3, 2010)

[27] “Two Sudanese humanitarian workers are still being held by security forces weeks after allegedly speaking to delegation members of the UN Security Council.” (October 27, 2010)

[28] “A group of gunmen raped a 13 year old girl yesterday in the region of Tamar Bul north of Zalingei. A source told Radio Dabanga from Zalingei that the armed group was composed of five members wearing military uniform. They entered a farm where the girl was working, then hit and raped her. The girl has been transferred to a hospital in Zalingei for treatment.” (October 18, 2010)

[29] “Masked gunmen opened fire on a 16 year old boy in central Darfur yesterday. The attack occurred near the town of Deribat located in eastern Jebel Marra.” (October 11, 2010)

[30] “One woman was killed and two others injured in an armed attack on a village west of Mertuga west of Kass. Many have fled from the village to Kass town. The village, located about 15 kilometres from Kass, was looted and the market was plundered.” (October 15, 2010)

[31] “Two women were raped at midday on Saturday, north of Kassab camp. Sources said the victims were on their way to collect firewood when they were detained by an armed group on the road, who beat them and raped them.” (October 26, 2010)

[32] “Members of the Chadian armed opposition in areas around Al Shakur north of Kutum are accused of raping four women during this past week, two of them on Wednesday. Witnesses who spoke to Radio Dabanga from the region said that one of the girls who was raped was transferred to receive treatment in Kutum. Witnesses explained that the Chadian opposition has occupied this area for six months without government interference. They said the Chadians have prevented Darfuri farmers in these areas from harvesting their produce, terrorized the farmers and threatened people with weapons.” (October 1, 2010)

[33] “The refugees in Kassab camp complained about the escalation of rape around the camp, especially after Eid Al Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. According to sources in the camp, a large number of women have been raped including even a woman in her seventies. Displaced women living in the camp are in a state of panic and fear because of these incidents. A woman in the camp spoke about the issue on Radio Dabanga’s broadcast on Saturday.” (September 20, 2010)

[34] “Witnesses who are ethnically Fur described atrocities and hardships facing inhabitants of eastern Jebel Marra. They said their villages were destroyed by aerial bombardment by Antonov planes and ground offensive by government forces, killing large numbers of civilians and displacing thousands of people. Witnesses who spoke to Radio Dabanga described what happened in the area of Bom Boli in East Jebel Marra. They said their region was subjected to a campaign of mass rapes by government forces described as Janjaweed. A witness who managed to escape and access a safe area after marching for days on foot described what happened for the Saturday broadcast.   The witness affirmed that all areas and villages destroyed by aircraft in East Jebel Marra had no presence of fighters from the armed movements.” (October 16, 2010)

[35] “Fifty-seven (57) people were killed and 86 injured in an attack Thursday [September 2, 2010] afternoon on a market southwest of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur State, Sudan, according to initial witness reports. Gunmen came and began randomly shooting in the market in the area of Tabarat while it was crowded with customers who had come from several villages to do their shopping, which resulted in the high number of dead and wounded. Witnesses said the gunmen were wearing military uniforms and arrived at the market on Land Cruisers, horses and camels.” (September 4, 2010)

[36] “Witnesses said on Wednesday that government forces killed 4 people, raped six women, and arrested 15 others. They burnt five villages: Hila Jadeed, Gudu, Jibla At-Teen, Aman-alla, and Kandibu. Thousands fled the attacking forces; Shadid IDP Camp in Shangil Tobaya was nearly wholly deserted. Soldiers looted in both the camp and town. Witnesses reported aerial bombardment in some areas, especially Khosus in the are of Jibla At-Teen.” (December 23, 2010)

Countless other examples could be adduced from this same period of several months (see an excellent summary of violence and military conflict in December by Laura Heaton at http://www.enoughproject.org/blogs/laura-heaton ). Most violence of course is unreported, even by the relentless and resourceful Radio Dabanga. This has created an environment in which impunity reigns, which in turn breeds even more violence—a vicious circle that seems to elude entirely the callously complacent Charpentier. All too clearly, UNAMID—the UN peacekeeping force with a civilian protection mandate—simply can’t protect the civilians of Darfur, indeed can’t even report on most attacks against civilians that it learns about. It is a mission that is failing, and failing ever more consequentially. Gambari’s absurd prediction of improvement in the new year (2011) is merely self-serving assertion, and has nothing to do with an honest assessment of the force he nominally heads—its substantial equipment needs, its insufficient numbers of effective troops and police, and its critical lack of political support internationally.

Moreover, in the eyes of uncomprehending Darfuris, the UN is also burdened now with its viciously expedient decision to allow Ahmed Haroun, governor of South Kordofan State, to be transported in a UN helicopter. In his previous role within the regime, Haroun was responsible for massive atrocity crimes in Darfur; in 2007 the International Criminal Court indicted him and a notorious Janjaweed leader (Ali Kushayb) on 51 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. For Darfuris, this UN facilitation of transport for Haroun—no matter what the purpose (and certainly alternative methods of transport were available)—will become emblematic of how the organization thinks of their suffering and destruction.

Humanitarian realities

Despite the lack of systematic reporting on humanitarian conditions in Darfur, a range of sources has also provided countless examples of particular sites of privation and inadequate humanitarian response. Though some of the most cynical will say that these complaints are simply efforts to get more food or supplies (and thus a kind of wealth), this “explanation” can’t begin to account for most of has been reported.

Some information is available from the UN and other humanitarian organizations. In its appeal for 2011 funding (January 2011 to December 2011), UNICEF reports that:

“The majority of localized surveys in Darfur continue to show global acute malnutrition rates over the emergency threshold of 15%, the range seen in 2010 is 11.1% to 29.8%. The nutrition situation needs to be closely monitored in areas of conflict and food insecure areas to ensure that there is no further deterioration of the situation.”

Relief International, in its advertisement for a position in Kabkabiya (North Darfur), reports:

“Routine Anthropometric Surveys conducted in Kabkabiya reveal that the population is vulnerable to malnutrition and most surveys over time show malnutrition levels above the emergency thresholds [15 percent GAM—ER].” (emphasis added)

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in the third quarter of 2010 that it did not reach 435,000 targeted beneficiaries “due to insecurity.” At the same time it claimed that it had reached “89 percent of the targeted food beneficiaries”; since the figure targeted was 4 million (up from 3.75 million in 2009), it’s unclear how OCHA’s arithmetic works (435,000 is 11 percent of 4,790,000, not 4,000,000). But the idea that 435,000 people did not receive the food they required should be sobering, and Charpentier’s celebration of this grim statistic, and its putative implications for “security,” makes for a shameful disingenuousness.

What has been nowhere reported, but comes to me from an especially well-informed member of the Darfuri diaspora, is Khartoum’s new strategy of exacerbating the food crisis in the region as a means of engineering returns of displaced persons and closing down the camps—the latter an ambition of the regime since 2004, when the scale of Darfur’s catastrophe first came to be appreciated by the international community:

“The dangerous trend taking place now across the IDP camps in Darfur is the Government of Sudan is using aid (food and medicine) to dismantle some camps, and to silence outspoken Darfuris in other camps. In Kalma camp, IDPs complain that the food ration is drastically reduced and pro-[Khartoum] government NGOs keep telling the IDPs that if they listen to the government officials and relocate, the can get full rations and medical care…. These government NGOs have been given contracts and access to the IDP camps following a deal between [U.S. special envoy] Gration and the Government of Sudan after the government expelled the 13 INGOs in March 2009.” (email received January 17, 2011; lightly edited for clarity)

There is certainly precedent for the use of food and humanitarian aid to determine the movements of desperate Sudanese: the Nuba Mountains and the associated Khartoum-run “peace camps” (during the 1990s) represent one terrible episode in the regime’s genocidal history. African people of the Nuba, many starving to death because of the humanitarian blockade imposed by Khartoum, were promised food, but only if they abandoned their lands. In the end, hundreds of thousand of Nubans died or were permanently displaced. A recent report from a highly informed source in Eastern Sudan (about which we hear virtually nothing) indicates that something similar is occurring there, with almost no international attention.

And while Charpentier and a few other UN officials claim that they are “managing to get adequate food to people in the camps,” the IWPR offers a much grimmer picture:

“Children interviewed by IWPR and Radio Dabanga in the camps say that they are often too hungry to go to school, or have to go out to work to get money to feed their families. One camp leader told IWPR and Radio Dabanga, ‘There is a big shortage in the food supply, and this is affecting children. Babies who depend on their mothers breastfeeding are suffering mostly because their mothers don’t have enough food, and in turn they are not getting enough milk.’”

“Medical workers in the camps say that clinics for children have been shut down since the expulsion of NGOs, and that medical supplies, as well as food, are subject to delays at the hands of the government. ‘There were special centres to treat malnourished children in camps, but they’ve been shut down and there are now hundreds of children who are malnourished and need urgent help,’ another camp leader said. [Khartoum-based lawyer Salih] Osman said that inside the camps millions are in severe need. ‘I’ve been there, and I can assure you that children and women and elderly people have started to die due to the absence of basic needs like medicine.’”

Inflation in food prices is always an ominous sign in food-insecure regions so soon after the harvests—especially in light of the December 2010 Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNet) prediction for Northern Sudan: “Grain prices have indicated a downward trend in most markets.” And yet Radio Dabanga reports (January 15, 2011): “Grains are increasingly scarce at the markets in el-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur. Traders said that deliveries of some grains to the market have completely stopped, especially millet and maize” (Millet is a preferred grain in Darfur). Food inflation has also been reported in Nyala, South Darfur; and in West Darfur Radio Dabanga reports: “The displaced people camped around Garsila in West Darfur are facing a deteriorating humanitarian situation because of deteriorating security and rising food prices.”

We catch terrifying glimpses of camp life as reported without the filter of UN expediency, most often again in reports from Radio Dabanga. Kalma camp, which Khartoum has ruthlessly tried to close for years, presents one of the worst humanitarian profiles:

“The displaced in Kalma Camp in Nyala complained of the deteriorating food situation, health and shortages of drinking water. A source in the camp ascribed the decline to the reduced presence of humanitarian organizations. He noted that food distribution was delayed from its usual time, besides also a big shortage in sheets and blankets. The displaced people in Kalma camp, some of whom have been living there for upwards of six years, also asked for help to physically maintain the camp’s schools, which can no longer protect children from the cold this time of year. They said that there is a big shortage of drinking water because most water pumps are broken. A resident of the camp told Radio Dabanga that Kalma is nearly devoid of health services.” (January 5, 2011)

Recently, reporting on Shangil Tobaya (scene of heavy fighting in December), Radio Dabanga cites witnesses from the surrounding camps, “where the humanitarian situation is very bad, [and where] disease has seemed most prevalent among children, women and the disabled. The witness said that since the events of December, so far they have gotten very little food…. ‘They have been sleeping in the open, with no shelter or bedding, in temperatures as low as ten degrees Celsius at night.’” IDPs in camps near Seraf Umra (North Darfur) have said “the rations provided them are not enough”—which is not surprising, given the UN World Food Program’s reduction in general food distributions in Darfur to 50 percent of the daily kilocalorie minimum (from last year’s 70 percent).

The food needs of refugees in eastern Chad and Central African Republic have all but disappeared from the humanitarian relief map:

“More than 2,800 Sudanese refugees at Sam Ouandja Camp in Central African Republic are facing an acute shortage of food and clothing. One of the refugees told Radio Dabanga they did not receive any food for four months after they refused to transfer to another camp located in a remote area. He noted that the majority of camp residents are children, women, elderly and infirm.” (January 7, 2011)

The UN’s “Weekly Humanitarian Bulletin” (December 28, 2010 – January 3, 2011) reports on Zamzam camp in North Darfur (again, near the recent heavy fighting): “Zamzam IDP camp remains overcrowded and is presently unable to provided adequate services for new arrivals.”

Oxfam/Great Britain published an assessment on the situation in Darfur a year out from the expulsions (March 2010), and found that areas in which they had formerly worked were suffering badly:

“In Shangil Tobai where Oxfam GB was providing water and sanitation, around 8,000 mainly women and children have arrived in the past few months, fleeing new fighting and attacks on villages. The UN warned that many of them faced ‘desperate shortages’ of water, food and other basic services—aid that would previously have been provided quickly by the expelled agencies.”

Recently, in nearby Khor Abeche, Radio Dabanga reports (January 22, 2011):

“Refugees in the area of Khor Abeche, South Darfur, said the region has been relatively calm, but expressed fear of renewed fighting, [and were] cautious due to the almost daily flights of Antonov aircraft in the region’s skies. The displaced persons said they also fear the spread of diseases due to lack of food rations and the deteriorating health environment and crowding of 12,000 people.”

Another report, from the Darfur diaspora (December 2010), highlighted the ethnic targeting of Zaghawa in the Khor Abeche region by a Birgid militia leader, Musa Galis:

“On December 10th and 11th of this month, government’s jets, Antonovs, and helicopters bombed Khor Abeche. Targets included anything that sustains the life of the local people: water sources, food storage huts, livestock, and the market. On the 12th [of December] and the following days, Musa Galis and his militia entered the town market looting and destroying crops and goods. The town just finished harvest after the farming season. Eyewitness said the destruction was deliberate. Many huts contained harvest of peanuts, sesame, and sorghum, and were set on fire.” (lightly edited for clarity) (email received December 17, 2010)

Clean water is a key human requirement—as important as food—and movement into the dry season has brought a number of reports of shortages. Indeed, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in his grim report on Darfur last July that “the scarcity of water in Darfur is growing, with reports of a significant number of wells drying up.” Khartoum has for many years deliberately targeted water sources in arid Darfur, both during ground attacks and aerial bombing attacks. Countless wells have been poisoned with corpses, animal and human. And the campaign continues: this past November, a highly reliable Darfuri source reported that during heavy fighting between Khartoum’s forces and rebel groups well to the north in North Darfur,

“The khazan of Doba (khazan means water reservoir) was bombed 24 hrs ago. This is one of large reservoirs of water in North Darfur. The rainy season has just ended last month, the rainwater accumulated in this reservoir that expected to last till May. Now by this damage, the civilians and their livestock are expected to migrate to other places, probably to Chad for water and security reasons.” (email received November 6, 2010)

[For an extensive overview of longer-term problems with provision of clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, see my July 3, 2010 overview of humanitarian conditions in Darfur, at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article266.html ]

Other humanitarian shortcomings are less visible, but enormously consequential. For example, no international humanitarian organization has sought a presence in Darfur with a mandate to respond to Gender-Based Violence (GBV)—not since organizations such as Doctors Without Border/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Rescue Committee were targeted for expulsion in March 2009, primarily because of their large capacity and their provision of GBV treatment. It was at this time that Khartoum also shut down the Amal Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture (and sexual violence). There is now virtually no treatment for the trauma of rape anywhere in Darfur, even as there are no prosecutions for rape despite its terrible prevalence; in turn, these realities are denied by Khartoum and rarely mentioned by the UN (see above numerous examples of girls and women raped with impunity).

Mental illness is also an issue that is rarely discussed and less often treated. It is a marginalized medical problem in Darfur and eastern Chad, even as the toll of living in the camps has created in many Darfuris a deep and debilitating sense of despair. Suicide is not uncommon, even in this deeply Muslim society; Djabal Camp in eastern Chad reports a significantly increased incidence among young adults 18 – 25 (Radio Dabanga, November 30, 2010). Much other evidence comes from eastern Chad, and no individual study is more revealing than the May 2009 report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) (“Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women”). The effects of seven years of displacement by genocidal counter-insurgency warfare have left civilians suffering from a wide range of severe mental disorders, particularly the tens of thousands of girls and women who have been victims of rape. In its meticulously researched study, PHR chronicled in soul-destroying detail some of the devastation among Darfuri refugee girls and women in eastern Chad:

“Researchers asked women to rate their physical and mental health status in Darfur and now in Chad on a 1-5 scale with 1 being ‘very good’ and 5 being ‘poor.’ Women reported a marked deterioration in their physical health status since leaving Darfur, with an average ranking of 3.99 for health in Chad versus 2.06 for Darfur.”

Even more alarmingly,

“The study indicated a marked deterioration in self-reported mental health, where the average score in was 4.90. ‘I am sad every day (since leaving Darfur). I feel not well in my skin,’ explained one respondent. [ ] Women who experienced rape (confirmed or highly probable) were three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than were women who did not report sexual violence.” (page 5)

Although Khartoum would never allow such a study to be conducted in Darfur, we should expect comparable results.

Forced Returns of Displaced Persons The greatest threat to Darfuris presently surviving in the displaced persons camps is Khartoum’s ambition to “return” them to their villages, or new locations (villages have in thousands of cases been burned to the ground, with all that might sustain agricultural life destroyed). This ambition is announced clearly in the regime’s “New Strategy for Darfur,” a strategy that entails not only “domesticating” the peace process (and thereby abandoning the Doha negotiations, which have indeed floundered badly), but also compelling humanitarian organizations—UN and nongovernmental—to become complicit in a move from relief aid for desperate populations to “development.” The reason for a move to “development” is easily discerned: this becomes the key means by which returns of the displaced can be compelled, and international humanitarian workers in turn rendered “unnecessary” (see my analysis of the “New Strategy for Darfur” at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article281.html ).

But it is important to remember that although the “New Strategy for Darfur” was formally promulgated by the regime this past September, the underlying determination to compel the return of displaced persons has been clear for seven years. In a crude effort at making something so by declaring it so, Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, then Minister of the Interior and the regime’s special representative on Darfur, claimed preposterously on Sudanese regime-controlled radio (July 9, 2004) “that 86 percent of the Internally Displaced Persons had already returned to their villages” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004). Hussein further declared that “it was ‘most important’ to get people to return to their villages.” Of course, such returns were not “most important” to the displaced—they were still in the midst of the most intense phase of genocidal violence—but to the regime, which desperately wanted, and still wants, to remove the raison d’être for an international humanitarian presence.

This is as true today as it was in 2004. Last August Ghazi Salah al-Din, the senior regime official responsible for Darfur, declared that “the current priorities of the government’s strategy to address the Darfur problem are first security to accelerate the voluntary, safe return of the displaced” (Radio Dabanga, citing Ghazi’s remarks in a meeting in Nyala, August 4, 2010). But Ghazi is merely paying the necessary lip service in using the criteria “voluntary” and “safe”; the operative word here is “accelerate”—and by any means necessary.

This is certainly the view of aid workers and Darfur displaced persons:

“Civil society leaders and aid workers in camps across Darfur say that food shortages and malnutrition have become worse since the government expelled foreign NGOs in early 2009, following the Bashir arrest warrant. They say the government is undertaking a deliberate policy to clear the camps in Darfur. Methods included stopping agencies providing enough support, thereby putting pressure on IDPs to go back to their villages. But observers warn that their lands are often now occupied by armed militias, putting IDPs at risk if they were to return. ‘We think that the humanitarian affairs commission [is preventing the supply of] enough food because the government wants people to leave camps,’ one camp leader from Darfur said. ‘This is a government policy. This is death by another policy.’” (“Khartoum Under Fire for Desperate Camp Conditions,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting, November 19, 2010)

All humanitarian and human rights reporting on security in Darfur—excepting those coming from the mendacious Charpentier—makes clear that returns at this point, for the vast majority of Darfuris, would not be safe. In a great many cases their lands have been seized by Arab militias (often from Chad, Niger, and other countries outside Sudan); in most other cases there are simply no adequate security guarantees. Some returns have occurred, and the number seems to be rising. But this is still a very small percentage of the total, and many “returns” are seasonal, and directly related to efforts to plant, tend, and harvest crops. The “returns” are not permanent. (U.S. special envoy Gration has taken a particularly unfortunate stance on returns, including “enthusiastically” endorsing the “New Strategy for Darfur”; see my September 2009 account of aid workers’ views of Gration’s understanding of this immensely consequential subject at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Topic12.html .)

Darfur researcher Laura Jones put the matter well in an interview with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (December 13, 2010):

“Although the UN is currently cooperating with Khartoum to help some 1,600 people leave Kalma to return to their homes in West Darfur, humanitarian agencies are acutely aware of the dangers of any kind of forced return, warning that many IDPs simply have nowhere secure to go. ‘You have to be really careful with returns in Darfur,’ Jones said. ‘The government of Sudan and the armed Arab tribes which subsequently became janjaweed – nomads who wanted to take the land – are now occupying the fertile land. Talking about return is well and good in theory but where and to what land? The government understands the lexicon of human rights and has included the language in their new strategy. But these actions will have serious consequences if the government is trying to orchestrate forced movement on a massive scale.’”

Jones declares that, “‘I worry most that the international community is going to let Khartoum get away with implementing a new Darfur strategy without oversight.’”

And this fear is all too well founded. Khartoum’s “New Strategy” has again been enthusiastically endorsed by US special envoy Scott Gration, the African Union’s Thabo Mbeki, and UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari, even as it has been resoundingly rejected by both Darfuri civil society and the rebel groups. So despite the appropriate noises from the UN about insisting that all returns must be safe and voluntary, the voices that matter most are giving a strong endorsement to a policy of “accelerated” returns that simply cannot meet the appropriate criteria under present circumstances. Here we should recall as well that the two organizations most responsible for the return of displaced persons—the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM)—saw several of their senior officials expelled by Khartoum last summer. Both UNHCR and IOM were understaffed for the task of returns even before these expulsions; now the task, if it is to abide by international humanitarian law, is simply impossible—even if there were secure lands to which the displaced might return. (Other aid organizations have been, in effect, expelled; the Norwegian Refugee Council, for example, pulled out of Darfur this past summer, declaring Khartoum had made their humanitarian work “impossible”.)

The IWPR reports that “scores of Darfuri IDPs” have made it clear that “they want to return home only when their safety and security can be guaranteed”:

“The government, they say, has so far made no effort to ensure their safe return to their villages, or ensure their safety once they have gone back. Little effort has been made to rebuild destroyed villages, or to provide clean water supplies or education or medical services, they say. As such, [Salih] Osman, the lawyer and opposition politician, said the UN’s cooperation with the government amounted to collusion and was part of the international failure of the people in Darfur.  The Sudanese government, meanwhile, sees the cooperation of the UN as an endorsement of its strategy for Darfur – namely the return of IDPs to their villages.”

Such “collusion” and the accompanying silence concerning humanitarian conditions in Darfur are apparently justified by the claim that they prevent Khartoum from further expulsions of aid groups. But the expulsions and withdrawals have not ceased; humanitarian space continues to contract; violence is accelerating, not diminishing; and most dismayingly, Khartoum becomes only more convinced by the accommodating UN posture that it may do as it wishes in Darfur.


“The UN should at the very least provide regular, thorough and independent public reports on the humanitarian and human rights situation,” declares the recent coalition of 17 human rights organizations. And yet the same regime that is preventing countless humanitarian actions in Darfur, as well as powerfully intimidating humanitarian and human rights reporting, is now reaping ample and numerous rewards for having allowed the Southern referendum to be conducted (as it was formally obligated to do under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement). Yet by playing a deadly game of brinksmanship with the Southern leadership over conduct of the referendum, Khartoum has persuaded the Obama administration to “de-couple” Darfur from bilateral negotiations over the regime’s past—and perhaps ongoing—support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas. (On this issue in particular, special envoy Gration has proved himself much less than honest.)

Despite northern Sudan’s rapidly deteriorating economy—with serious inflation, an unplanned but de facto devaluation of the Sudanese pound, serious shortages of foreign currency reserves, and the prospect of radically diminished oil revenues—Khartoum feels unconstrained in Darfur. Indeed, beyond obstructing humanitarian work, exacerbating insecurity, creating a climate of impunity, and systematically attacking civilians on an ethnic basis, the regime has shamelessly extorted many millions of dollars from humanitarian organizations expelled in 2009, and has on many occasions confiscated or destroyed humanitarian supplies. The thinking of the regime seems to be that as long as there are outstanding issues between Khartoum and Juba—Abyei most conspicuously and dangerously, but citizenship, oil revenue-sharing, other border disputes, division of external debt, and a military stand-down—Darfur will not command sufficient international attention to reverse the present decline in humanitarian capacity and human security.

Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, puts this issue bluntly: “The Sudanese government should not get away with attacking Darfur civilians again because everyone is paying attention to the referendum in the south.” By “again” attacking civilians, Peligal is clearly referring to the world’s failure to respond to Darfur in 2004—when genocidal violence was at its height—in order to secure final agreement on the North/South “Comprehensive” Peace Agreement. In this same vein, Enrico Carisch of Switzerland, formerly head of the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur (charged with monitoring the arms embargo on Darfur) declared with evident anger during U.S. Congressional testimony a year ago that when it came to Darfur, “The United States appears to have now joined the groups of influential states who sit by quietly and do nothing to ensure that sanctions [on arms deliveries] work to protect Darfurians” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], December 4, 2009).

Coupled with the weak and dishonest performance by the UN humanitarian leadership in Darfur, this lack of focused international attention (especially by the U.S.) is certain to sustain ongoing human suffering and destruction—on a scale that this same UN leadership refuses to specify. The killing fields of Darfur will relentlessly continue to claim new victims.


Previous analyses of humanitarian conditions in Darfur may be found at:

“Darfur Humanitarian Update,” August 31, 2010 (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article273.html )

“Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: An Overview (Part 1),”
June 19, 2010
(http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article264.html )

“Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: An Overview (Part 2),” July 4, 2010(http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article266.html )

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

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