Increasing violence, rapidly declining security, and severely deteriorating humanitarian conditions—all are accelerating in the wake of the South Sudan self-determination referendum. Khartoum Foreign Minister Ali Karti feels that “we have delivered,” and wants to hear no more about Darfur from international actors—who obligingly deny current realities.
By Eric Reeves
February 16, 2011 (SSNA) — Last week U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration offered his overall assessment of the situation in Darfur during a press conference with Foreign Minister Ali Karti, who had recently met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Karti is a brutal, hard-line Islamist within the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime; his résumé includes an extended stint as coordinator and leader of Popular Defense Forces (PDF) during the 1990s. The PDF served as a “Janjaweed-equivalent” during the North/South war, and recent reports indicate that the PDF are ominously moving into Darfur in large numbers.
So what did General Gration declare about conditions in Darfur during his press conference with Ali Karti? Reuters reports from Khartoum:
"At a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Ali Karti this week, Gration praised government cooperation with UN peacekeepers (UNAMID) in Darfur and defended the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commission’s restrictions on aid agencies. ‘The Government of Sudan has taken great steps to lift restrictions on UNAMID,’ he said. ‘We’ve seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs.’” (emphasis added) (February 11, 2011)
“We’ve seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs.” We might describe this assessment as “mendacity by force of habit,” for the key assertion offered here comports in no way with the realities in Darfur—realities that have been regularly reported by a wide range of sources in recent weeks. There is an alarming disconnect here between what the U.S. envoy said and what is the case, as has been true throughout Gration’s disastrous tenure.
Following presumed Senate confirmation, Gration will soon be headed to Kenya as U.S. ambassador to this critical East African country. But his time as Sudan as President Obama’s special envoy is Gration’s only diplomatic experience of note, and his repeated errors of judgment and disingenuous ways in Sudan make him a poor choice, despite his long-reported wish for the Nairobi post. The Senate should carefully examine his performance of the last two years before moving to confirmation. No doubt General Gration wishes to leave with “good news at hand” about Darfur; but the dishonesty of his claims about “great improvement of access” for humanitarian and peacekeeping operations works to deny the vast human suffering and destruction that continue in the region. A serious reckoning is called for.
THE REAL DARFUR
What is actually the case on the ground in Darfur? Just how “great” is the “improvement of access” for UNAMID and international relief organizations? I offer here a survey of very recent reports—from a wide range of sources—either coming from the region or are based on research in the region. I have added emphasis liberally in a number of the lengthy citations.
A key part of this context is the resumption of hostilities between Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the rebel faction led by Minni Minawi, the only signatory to the disastrous 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja). A brief but authoritative narrative account of the breakdown in the relationship between Minawi and Khartoum, focusing on the period October 2010 – December 2010, is offered by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS): “Rendered Invisible: Darfur Deteriorates as International Pressure Shifts to the Referendum Process” (February 2011). Notable among the findings, and copiously documented, is the targeting of Zaghawa civilians (Minawi is an ethnic Zaghawa): “Attacks have been ethnically targeted and an attempt to eradicate perceived Zaghawa support to the SLA/MM [Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi faction] through destruction of villages and property. All of the victims of attacks, except for one, were members of the Zaghawa tribe” (emphasis added). There follow in the ACJPS report many pages listing the names, ages, gender, and location of Zaghawa civilians murdered, raped, and targeted for savage pillaging. This counter-insurgency targeting of African ethnic groups perceived as supporting rebel groups was the origin of the Darfur genocide in 2003. Members of the Fur tribe are being similarly targeted in and around the central Jebel Marra region.
Current violence severely restricts humanitarian access, both because of actual insecurity and because of deliberate obstruction by Khartoum; the regime has no wish to have international eyes surveying the aftermath of what ACJPS has reported on the basis of a great many interviews. Human Rights Watch, with investigators on the ground, corroborates much of the brutality and ethnic targeting that ACJPS reports (see “Sudan: New Attacks on Civilians in Darfur,” January 28, 2011).
HUMANITARIAN ACCESS: INTIMIDATION, ARRESTS, AND EXPULSIONS
The denial of humanitarian access has taken dramatic new forms, a development that seems not to have registered with special envoy Gration:
“At least twelve staff workers of Médecins du Monde working in central Darfur, have been arrested [by Khartoum officials] today in Nyala. Two international staff members fled the scene and are in hiding at the compound of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. According to a police source, the staff workers are accused for collaborating with the rebel leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), Abdel Wahid al Nur. The French-based NGO was almost the last NGO present, providing services for the mountainous area of Jebel Marra.”
“Médecins du Monde has been supporting five health centers providing primary healthcare and offering curative consultations, pre- and post-natal care, assisted deliveries, nutritional monitoring, vaccination and health education. In 2010 it prepared to expand its programme after the work in and around Deribat became almost impossible, due to attacks of the government. The organization started to develop an additional programme around Feina and Golumbai with an estimated population of 160,000 people. The arrest comes shortly after the organisation started to develop a programme for providing institutional support to the South Darfur health authorities in the government controlled areas.” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [Nyala], February 11, 2011)
On February 14, 2011, Médecins du Monde was formally expelled from Darfur by Khartoum’s officials, who accused the organization of “spying on the government and helping rebels” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], February 14, 2011).
Given the acute needs of the highly distressed populations that have now been left without medical assistance, these arrests and expulsions of medical relief personnel are, at the very least, war crimes. They represent decisions by the same “Humanitarian Affairs Commission” that Gration praises—decisions that ultimately reflect directives from Military Intelligence. The human consequences are immediate and enormous:
“The UN Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan said the latest developments came at a time when humanitarian work was already failing to meet local needs. ‘We’re very concerned about the loss of capacity of the humanitarian agencies. We’re already facing a situation where we fail to meet the humanitarian needs in Darfur,’ said OCHA spokesman Christophe Illemassene.” (emphasis added) (Agence France-Presse, February 14, 2011)
And despite Gration’s claims about “great improvement” in humanitarian access, relief workers and organizations say just the opposite:
“Workers from four humanitarian organisations, who asked not to be named, told Reuters there had been a recent increase in travel restrictions and worsening security conditions.” (emphasis added) (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], February 14, 2011)
The security situation continues to deteriorate largely because UNAMID—despite posturing claims by UN/AU Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari—has become even less, not more, effective in reaching and protecting civilians and humanitarians, as well as in investigating threats and attacks against these populations:
“The World Food Program stopped distribution of monthly food rations to Hamadiya displaced camp in Zalingei yesterday after receiving threats. Staff received orders from their safety and security department that gunmen had threatened to attack the WFP office in Zalingei. Radio Dabanga learnt that staff involved in the planned distribution were withdrawn. Consequently, the distribution of relief to the displaced, which began yesterday in Hamidiya Camp, was stopped. Program staff and officials were prevented from going to their offices today in Zalingei. For their part, displaced people in Zalingei reacted with fear that the World Food Programme would suddenly halt distribution of food.” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [Zalingei, West Darfur], February 2, 2011)
Certainly WFP fears were well-founded: on January 7, 2011 Radio Dabanga reported on an attack that was almost certainly orchestrated or condoned by Khartoum’s officials:
“An unidentified armed group on Wednesday night [January 5, 2011] opened heavy fire on the headquarters of a distribution point of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Darfur. There were no casualties reported. The attack in Hassa Hissa in Zalingei Locality, West Darfur, prompted anger from displaced persons in the camp, who blamed elements of the government. 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.” (emphasis added)
Such tactics are used with increasing frequency by Khartoum’s agents in Darfur, especially West Darfur: engineering threats of armed attacks, contriving such insecurity that relief organizations either shut down of their own accord—or are told by Khartoum that “their safety cannot be guaranteed,” and that they must evacuate. The tactic was first deployed consequentially this past summer but has been very recently used against Catholic Relief Services, a large and important humanitarian presence in West Darfur. Khartoum’s actions are humanitarian expulsions in all but name:
“More than a dozen Catholic Relief Services aid workers were evacuated from a remote area of Western Darfur to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum January 21 with the help of the United Nations after receiving ‘indications of threats.’ In all, 13 international and national aid workers were escorted out of outlying sections of El Geneina near the border with Chad at the request of Sudanese officials, John Rivera, CRS director of communications, said from the agency’s Baltimore headquarters. A statement from the Africa Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur said the government asked the U.N. to step in January 20 to protect the workers after hearing of ‘possible security risks.’ The nature of the threats was unknown. ‘We have heard reports of accusations regarding our work in Darfur,’ Rivera said in a statement. ‘We have not received an official notification about this from the government of Sudan.’” (emphasis added) (Catholic News Service [dateline: Washington, DC], January 26, 2011) (this dispatch was confirmed by a UNAMID press release of January 22, 2011
“We have heard reports of accusations regarding our work in Darfur”—precisely the same preposterous “accusations” made by Khartoum against the arrested aid workers of Médecins du Monde. A similarly preposterous accusation was made against the 13 distinguished international humanitarian organizations that were expelled by Khartoum in March 2009 (the charge then was espionage).
Guided by the longstanding intent to weaken or destroy the perceived civilian base of support for rebel groups, Khartoum continues to bar nearly all humanitarian assistance to the populous Eastern Jebel Marra and many other locations. In its report of January 28, 2011 on Darfur, Human Rights Watch noted that, “[The Government of] Sudan has continued to restrict UN and humanitarian agencies from accessing conflict-affected areas, including Tabit, the site of the January 25  clash.” In its annual report on Sudan for 2010, Human Rights Watch also declares forcefully: “The UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was unable to access most of the areas affected by violence, despite its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence” (emphasis added) (Human Rights Watch, Sudan report for 2010; released January 2011).
“Unable to access most of the areas affected by violence”—hardly the development that General Gration suggests (“We’ve seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs”). The UN itself reported very recently that “UNAMID officers have been prevented from entering the area [near Tabit] by Sudan Armed Forces officers, invoking security concerns” (emphasis added) (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Nairobi], January 28, 2011). Tabit has been the scene of very heavy military fighting. And yet Ibrahim Gambari, the UN-AU Joint Special Representative for UNAMID, declared the very same day that, “UNAMID forces have maintained a robust presence and have increased patrolling in the villages affected by the recent fighting so as to create a security environment that would allow for the early, safe return of the recently displaced people” (UN News Center, January 26, 2011).
UNAMID IS A DISASTER, BUT NO MAJOR ACTOR WILL SAY SO OPENLY
Like Gration, Gambari is simply lying in order to mask UN and international failure. Gambari’s refusal to speak honestly about Darfur, his cozy relationship with the regime, and his desire to claim some sort of “victory” for his efforts in Darfur (or at the very least blame others for an increasingly conspicuous failure)—all mark him as a disastrous choice for this key position, the same verdict that was universally rendered by human rights observers of his previous UN performance in Burma. He is despised by Darfuris, both in civil society and within the rebel groups; his continuing presence in this key position works to convince Darfuris that the UN and AU have sided with the regime against them.
How “robust a presence,” one wishes to ask Gambari, was there on January 26, 2011, when Reuters reports:
“UNAMID spokesman Kemal Saiki confirmed the bombing was by ‘the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) air force.’ Later on Wednesday [January 26, 2011], a group of 200 Sudanese government soldiers in 40 vehicles arrived at UNAMID’s camp in the nearby settlement of Shangil Tobay, UNAMID said. ‘(The soldiers) surrounded the team site’s exit as well as the adjacent makeshift camp, where thousands of civilians recently displaced by the December 2010 clashes have settled,’ read the statement. The Sudanese army detained four displaced people at the camp, said UNAMID. ‘The SAF commander at the scene … then threatened to burn down the makeshift camp and UNAMID team site, if the peacekeepers continued to interfere.’” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], January 27, 2011)
Commendably, the UNAMID contingent did not acquiesce; but the very fact of such an outrageous threat is hardly testimony to a “robust presence.” Going forward, such acts—if not confronted vigorously—will encourage Khartoum to be more aggressive, and thus have a chilling effect on UNAMID’s willingness to investigate the scenes of atrocity crimes and to protect civilians. Next time the SAF or Janjaweed forces may not stand down, and blue helmets alone clearly will not protect UNAMID personnel (in fact, both the SAF and Janjaweed have already attacked UNAMID). Even on this occasion, as Agence France-Presse reports, “‘when [the SAF forces] left, they arrested or snatched four IDPs,’ [UN sources] said” ([dateline: Khartoum), January 27, 2011). This was not unusual: there are reports of scores, if not hundreds, of individuals—particularly civilian leaders—being arrested in the camps, but these arrests typically violate the Status of Forces Agreement between Khartoum and UNAMID. Further, many of these people are tortured or even executed, despite the “robust presence” of UNAMID. Some very recent examples of such arrests:
“The government arrested 20 citizens in the area of Abu Zereiga south of El Fasher. The security forces also confiscated at the same time three cars during house-to-house searches. Abu Zereiga is located approximately in the area where government troops clashed with rebels since Monday.” (Radio Dabanga [Abu Zereiga, North Darfur], January 27, 2011)
Again, in addition to arresting civilians in violation of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the regime has demonstrated patent hostility and contempt UNAMID:
“The head of the [Khartoum-controlled] Transitional Darfur Regional Authority (TDRA) Ja’afar Abdel-Hakam issued a warning to the joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) that they should stick to their mandate, a day after Sudanese authorities raided an IDP camp without notifying the peacekeeping force. UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari and UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator Georg Charpentier met with Abdel-Hakam and the state’s security committee on Monday.”
“The government-sponsored Sudanese Media Center (SMC) website quoted Abdel-Hakam as saying that TDRA rejects implementation of hidden agendas by foreign groups operating in Darfur. The West Darfur governor also said that UNAMID must adhere to its mandate and support the government’s domestication strategy [“New Strategy for Darfur,” see below] put in place. He underscored that relations between the governorates of Darfur states and UNAMID is that of a partnership.” (emphasis added)
The linking of UNAMID to “hidden agendas by foreign groups operating in Darfur” is deliberate and a means of issuing a clear threat: “we will determine the ‘status of your forces in Darfur!’”
“On Sunday [January 23, 2011], UNAMID said that Sudanese authorities conducted an extensive cordon-and-search operation in the Zamzam IDP camp located on the outskirts of El-Fasher. The mission said that the raid violated the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) requiring notification and consultations prior to any actions regarding IDP camps. Thirty-seven were arrested in the process….” (Radio Dabanga [Khartoum], January 24, 2011)
A subsequent dispatch from Radio Dabanga (January 25, 2011) reported that displaced persons who witnessed the assault on Zamzam said “at least two people were killed in the recent events in Zamzam Camp…. The number of people injured is variously reported to be about 17, while 80 people are detained….” Police and armoured vehicles surrounded Zamzan, blocking all access to nearby el-Fasher. Camp residents were said to be “living in a state of terror”—and this civilian “terror” was experienced approximately 10 miles south of UNAMID’s primary base of operations.
Reuters reported (January 25, 2011) on the same incident, noting that the UN had confirmed that “Sudanese soldiers fired warning shots when they saw a UNAMID patrol on Saturday [January 22, 2011] near the north Darfur settlement of Dar el-Salam and stopped it from entering the area, a UN source said” (emphasis added) (dateline: Khartoum). Attacks on camps have occurred over the past half-year in both Kalma Camp (outside Nyala) and Hamadiya Camp in West Darfur (a “death squad” entered Hamadiya in September 2010, killing at least eight people, including three camp leaders that the regime’s security forces were seeking to arrest [Radio Dabanga, February 2, 2011]). The attacks also recall the August 2008 assault by Khartoum’s security forces on Kalma, when more than 30 people were killed, and a great many injured by indiscriminate gunfire against unarmed displaced persons.
Another recent example, one of dozens, of Khartoum’s obstruction of UNAMID patrols and investigative missions:
“Two UNAMID patrols from the Mission’s Graida [South Darfur] team site, located 100 kilometers south of Nyala, South Darfur, were denied access yesterday by Sudanese Government Forces at two different check points. [A UNAMID statement of January 26, 2011 noted]: ‘The first team was travelling to Assafaya Sufa, situated 32 km northwest of Graida, when it was prevented to enter the village at a Government check point. Negotiations with the Military officers were not successful and the patrol returned safely to its base. A similar restriction affected another patrol en route to Dito village, located 41 km northeast of Graida.’” (emphasis added) (UNAMID text from Radio Dabanga dispatch, January 27, 2011)
Actions that violate UNAMID’s nominal “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA) with Khartoum have become increasingly brazen, clearly as part of the regime’s plan to empty the displaced persons camps and compel civilians to return with or without appropriate security (or simply to be displaced elsewhere: most have no village or lands to return to). This is a key part of what Khartoum is describing as its “New Strategy for Darfur,” officially promulgated by the regime in September 2010; its largest goal is to eliminate IDP camps and thus the raison d’être for an international humanitarian presence. U.S. special envoy Gration “enthusiastically” supports the “New Strategy,” increasing the outrage of Darfuri civil society over Gration’s stubborn alliance with a genocidal regime.
Another part of Khartoum’s strategy for closing the camps seems to be arson. There are a growing number of reports of suspicious fires in camps that seem tactically designed to make camps unlivable. An especially suspicious example was reported by Radio Dabanga (February 8, 2011):
“A fire in Riyadh Displaced Camp in Darfur killed one refugee and resulted in serious burns to another three. The huge fire broke out on Monday afternoon in part C of the camp, which is located near the West Darfur capital of El Geneina [West Darfur]. At least 150 houses were devoured in the blaze. The fire brigade did not arrive until after the fire, which refugees quelled using primitive means. When a car from the fire brigade arrived late, it was surrounded by angry people. The firemen were later accused of beating protesting children and firing warning shots in the air. The Riyadh Camp fire is the latest in a series of fires without explanation. (emphasis added) (“Fires rage in Riyadh and Sakali camps in Darfur”)
Sometimes there is no difficulty in assigning responsibility for the fires:
“Security authorities burnt parts of the market Nertiti on Saturday morning and briefly detained at the same time more than 200 citizens…. Witnesses said that security agents were deployed in the morning in the market and undertook a large-scale operation of arrests against citizens living near the headquarters of the security service, in the area of the old council and the house of the town emir. The witnesses said that the campaign was accompanied by severe beating and abuses, and raids into homes of the citizens. The security men burnt more than 13 stands in the market and then started asking citizens who had set fire in the market, arresting and beating those whom they asked.” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [Nertiti, West Darfur], January 18, 2011)
And sometimes the means of dispersing displaced persons and humanitarian workers is even more brutally direct, as in the armed attack on the World Food Program distribution center:
“The coordinator of camps around Zalingei told Radio Dabanga that the goal of the attack [heavy gunfire] 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.” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [dateline: West Darfur], January 7, 2011)
The camp coordinator’s conclusions about Khartoum’s efforts to “intimidate humanitarian organizations and force them to leave” are borne out by a great deal of evidence, as is the corollary conclusion: if relief groups are forced out, “eviction of refugees from the camps” will be a simple matter. This is the significance of the very recent dispatch reporting that, “The World Food Program stopped distribution of monthly food rations to Hamadiya displaced camp in Zalingei yesterday [February 1, 2011] after receiving threats” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [Zalingei, West Darfur], February 2, 2011; see above).
Since many actions by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), including camp clearances, constitute war crimes under international law, UNAMID is being kept away from many critical scenes of violence and camp displacement. Perhaps the most scandalous example of such obstruction of UNAMID occurred following the massacre in the market area of Tabarat village in North Darfur on September 2, 2010. More than 50 men and boys were killed, most by gunshots at point-blank range. Despite desperately urgent reports carried by survivors to the UNAMID force stationed at nearby Tawilla that evening, UNAMID refused either to intervene or to evacuate the scores of wounded, many of whom subsequently died of their wounds.
On September 8, 2010 UNAMID issued a terse statement confirming that Khartoum’s forces were blocking all access to Tabarat: “On 7 September, a UNAMID [mission] on its way from El Fasher to Tarabat [sic] was stopped by an SAF convoy and were informed by the commanding officer not to return before two days due to ongoing SAF operations in the area” (emphasis added) (UNAMID press release [el-Fasher], September 8, 2010).
The "ongoing operations" certainly included sanitizing the scene of the massacre by moving bodies and other evidence, and doing all that was possible to obscure the nature of what had occurred. The newly appointed UN Expert for Human Rights in Sudan, Chande Othman, called on the Khartoum regime to conduct "as a matter of urgency a thorough and transparent investigation into the attack on civilians in [Tabarat] North Darfur. This incident should be investigated thoroughly and impartially and those responsible should be brought to justice” (emphasis added). But Othman was well aware that there would be no such investigation, and that no one would be brought to justice—as indeed no one has. Given his lack of follow-up, it’s difficult not to conclude that Othman was simply going through the required UN motions.
To this day, there is no public UN report on the events of Tabarat, even though many of the witnesses have spoken at length to Opheera McDoom of Reuters (September 17, 2010). No one has been held accountable, let alone “brought to justice.”
ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS
Tabarat is far from the only recent military attack on unarmed and defenseless civilians, attacked for their lands, their possessions, and because of their ethnicity. Already this year there has been a wide range of attacks, both from the ground and air, by regular and militia forces, near military targets and against targets with no military presence. Violence displaced more than 40,000 people in December 2010, and 2011 has begun in the same fashion. Radio Dabanga reports (February 9, 2011):
“A government force consisting of 20 vehicles backed by local militias on Thursday launched attacks against villages in Dar es Salaam locality in North Darfur. Affected villages included Eid Al Beid, Hilat Agaba, Hila Bein, Hila Wadi, Hilat Arab, and Jara. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the attacking forces killed the brothers Jumatallah Yagub Abakr Kabir and Daoud Yagub Abakr Kabir, and Zekaria Arja, Yagub Adam Bakhit, and Mohamed Al Zein Hammadi, and wounded Ramadan Hussein Yahia. One witness said that the forces carried out searches, beatings, torture, pillage, looting and widespread destruction in the villages. They looted 200 head of sheep, 120 cattle and 130 camels. They also took jewelry of women and 20 thousand pounds in cash from citizens in the area.”
“Witnesses said that three vehicles of the same forces resumed their attack in the area on Monday, assaulting the civilian Adam Abdelkarim Jumaa, who was severely beaten. Witnesses said that not less than 3,000 people fled to the city of El Fasher. Witnesses appealed for humanitarian aid from organizations and protection from UNAMID.” (emphasis added) (Dar es Salaam, North Darfur)
The following day Radio Dabanga reported:
“An armed group of twenty people on camels conducted a cattle raid in the area of Khor Abeche, South Darfur. They seized 420 head of cattle and sheep and equipment from the aid organization World Vision. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the armed group that attacked the region came on Monday from the region of Shearia and Kornaji.” (Khor Abeche, February 10, 2011)
And the day following this Radio Dabanga again reported:
“Hundreds of people who fled fresh fighting around Tukumarre and Tabit are living in the open in North Darfur camps. Sixty-six (66) families are living in Argo and Dali camps in Tawila in North Darfur without shelter, food or clothing since their arrival to Tawila on 20 January.” (emphasis added) ([Tawilla, North Darfur] February 11, 2011)
Two weeks earlier the report was from Jebel Haraz (January 30, 2011):
“More than 200 people, including women and children, are stranded on Jebel Haraz north of Shangil Tobaya [North Darfur]. A witness on the mountain told Radio Dabanga on Friday that the people were stranded there for two days. He said that they had fled on foot to the mountain from villages neighboring Shangil Tobaya. They were fleeing from aerial bombardments and violent house-to-house searches by government forces, he said. Witnesses described the searches as humiliating and accompanied by looting and confiscation of property. The witnesses said they had contacted yesterday the UN – African Union Mission in Darfur by phone, but the peacekeepers replied that they were unable to come to their assistance.” (emphasis added)
The callousness of some of the attacks seems unfathomable:
“An armed group killed a woman last Friday at Kandibei Camp in Sirba Locality in West Darfur. A relative of the victim told Radio Dabanga that woman was attacked by the armed group while she was on her way to cut firewood. She was found dead with three stab wounds on her abdomen after being raped and thrown into the bottom of a wadi (dry river). The relative noted that the murdered woman, Simeinj Yahia, was the 28-year old mother of two children. (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [Sirba, West Darfur], January 25, 2011)
“Gunmen yesterday in Darfur ransacked a school, taking everything. The group of armed men, mounted on a Land Cruiser, targeted Khalta school in Daba district, in Garsila in western Darfur.” (Radio Dabanga [Garsila, West Darfur], February 7, 2011)
“An armed group raped six girls between the ages of 14 to 20 years old in area Dorma near Tawila in North Darfur. Omda Atim, the coordinator of IDP camps in North Darfur, told Radio Dabanga that the girls went out last Thursday to collect firewood. They were accompanied by two men. A number of gunmen came on camels. They attacked the men, tied them up and beat them severely. Then they raped the girls.” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [Tawila, North Darfur], January 17, 2011)
“An group of armed men raped two girls in Kutum Locality in North Darfur. One girl was 18 years old and the other was 21 years old, according to a relative of the girls. The source told Radio Dabanga that someone was accompanying the girls as they were on their way from their village of Diliba to the town of Kutum. They were intercepted by an armed group made up of more than 11 uniformed men. The group severely beat the girls’ escort and then alternately raped them.” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [Kutum, North Darfur], February 5, 2011)
And it becomes more difficult to discount in any significant way reports from rebel spokesmen, at least when they are partially confirmed by UNAMID:
“Government soldiers and militiamen killed five civilians in north Darfur on Friday, said Adam Saleh Abakar the spokesperson of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) led by Minni Minnawi. According to the rebel spokesperson, Sudanese army troops and militiamen looted 200 head of sheep, 120 head of cattle and 1,300 camels from civilians in Id Bayda village located south of El Fasher on Friday. Adam further said the assailant force killed five men and wounded another they met outside the village in the road to Tabit, 37km north of Shangil Tobaya, North Darfur. He underlined that the five victims are from the Zaghawa ethnic group. A verification team from the hybrid peacekeeping operation (UNAMID) confirmed two days ago the growing violence in Tabit and nearby villages.” (Radio Dabanga [Khartoum], January 4, 2011)
The assessment by Human Rights Watch of January 28, 2011—offered even before many of the most recent attacks—is especially authoritative:
“Sudanese government and rebel attacks on civilians in Darfur have dramatically increased in recent weeks without signs of abating, Human Rights Watch said today…. ‘While the international community remains focused on South Sudan, the situation in Darfur has sharply deteriorated,’ said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. ‘We are seeing a return to past patterns of violence, with both government and rebel forces targeting civilians and committing other abuses….”
“[The government of] Sudan has continued to restrict UN and humanitarian agencies from accessing conflict-affected areas, including Tabit, the site of the January 25  clash. The government also still bars access to much of eastern Jebel Mara where, since early 2010, government forces and militias have clashed with the SLA faction led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur, and attacked civilians from the majority Fur ethnicity. Humanitarian agencies have also been denied access from the Wada’a and Khazan Jedid areas, between North and South Darfur.” (emphasis added)
Speaking specifically of the behavior of the Khartoum regime, Human Rights Watch declares:
“Attacking civilians and preventing them from seeking safe haven are serious violations of international humanitarian law. Blocking civilians from entering the UNAMID compound is also a violation of the Status of Forces Agreement between the Sudanese government and the UN. Human Rights Watch urged UNAMID to press Sudan to guarantee the security of peacekeepers and the civilians who seek their assistance.” (emphasis added) (New York, January 28, 2011)
How likely is it that Khartoum will respond to UNAMID pressure when this same regime is being celebrated by the US special envoy, as well as the UN/AU special representative to UNAMID? “The Government of Sudan has taken great steps to lift restrictions on UNAMID…. We’ve seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs,” says Scott Gration. One wonders whether he has any idea about how this is heard in Khartoum, and what inferences are drawn.
Meanwhile, Khartoum’s grim “genocide by attrition” proceeds, with evermore encompassing and indiscriminate human destruction:
“Renewed fighting in North Darfur state during the last two months, between government and opposition groups, has forced thousands of families [many thousands of people—ER] to flee from their villages, according to the international medical humanitarian organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF teams are now providing medical humanitarian assistance to the newly displaced people who are living in precarious conditions in several camps in Shangil Tobaya, Dar Alsalam, and Tabit. ‘People fled suddenly and arrived with nothing but their clothes. Initially they set up makeshift shelters made out of their clothes and grass, to help protect them from the cold nights,’ explained Cristina Falconi, MSF head of mission in Sudan.”
“Elsewhere, in South Darfur state, fighting in early December 2010 also displaced thousands of additional families. Currently, an MSF team is finalising an assessment to determine the most urgent needs of hundreds of displaced families in Shaeria locality. MSF is also setting up a nutrition program, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, to address serious levels of malnutrition for people that have been suffering from continuing violence and poor access to health care.” (emphasis added) (MSF press release, February 7, 2011)
As MSF suggests here, and as many reports from Darfuris make explicit, there is a direct correlation between violent displacement and deteriorating humanitarian conditions and ultimately mortality. For example, Radio Dabanga reports on the situation in Zamzam camp (now actually two camps) outside el-Fasher:
“Leaders of the newly displaced people estimated that their numbers have reached 16,000 at Zamzam as of last Thursday. Dozens more arrivals were also reported Friday. Some arrivals reported that all their property had been taken by government forces that were recently deployed in the region. They also claimed three villages had been burned. One leader of the newly displaced people told Radio Dabanga that they face a water crisis in Zamzam due to a lack of water pumps. He added that filling up jerrycans of water requires standing in a long line from the morning to the end of the day. In general the humanitarian conditions are bad and nobody has yet come to assess the situation of the new arrivals.” (emphasis added) (January 30, 2011)
Two weeks later and little has improved:
“Hundreds of people who fled fresh fighting around Tukumarre and Tabit are living in the open in North Darfur camps. Sixty-six (66) families are living in Argo and Dali camps in Tawila in North Darfur without shelter, food or clothing since their arrival to Tawila on 20 January .” (emphasis added) ([Tawilla, North Darfur], February 11, 2011)
As part of the international celebration of the regime in Khartoum for allowing the Southern self-determination referendum to be held on time, there is a growing willingness to look away from Darfur’s agony, to allow the regime to finish its business, and merely to give lip service to diplomacy through the increasingly pointless Doha talks. Whatever rebel representation there may be (and this is far from a settled issue), whatever nod to Darfuri civil society participation in the “peace process,” the truth is that Khartoum has sent an explicit signal that with the “New Strategy,” the Doha process is “secondary”; the regime is determined to end the Darfur insurgency on its own terms—“peace from within”—however grim or destructive the process. Rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions, collapsing access for relief efforts, and Khartoum’s relentless war of attrition against UN and nongovernmental organizations—all ensure that for a growing number of Darfuris, this will be the “peace” of the dead.
THE CURRENT HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN DARFUR
(see January 23, 2011 “Darfur Humanitarian Overview”) for a detailed recent account of what we know about a range of indicators)
Silently, many humanitarian operations are closing down in Darfur. There is no incentive for organizations to make public their decisions, which publicity will only anger Khartoum and further demoralize Darfuris, as well as other organizations. But they are leaving, or being forced to depart by the regime—or by targeted “insecurity.” One expatriate humanitarian worker on the ground recently communicated to me the news that a number of medical clinics are being quietly closed, and others that had been planned are not going forward. No organization publicly dares to offer medical services or even counseling for victims of rape, knowing that this would result in immediate expulsion. Expatriate workers in the deep field are exceedingly rare now, and increasingly the same is true for Sudanese aid workers.
Defining the humanitarian crisis is the relentlessness of new human displacement. Overall, the displaced population in Darfur and eastern Chad exceeds 2.7 million human beings. Since UNAMID assumed its civilian protection mandate on January 1, 2008, more than 800,00 Darfuris have been newly displaced, many for the second or third time. In December 2010 alone, the UN reports that more than 40,000 people were displaced in the Shangil Tobaya region. These people are the victims who present the most acute challenges to aid organizations, and where Khartoum’s denial of access—to humanitarians and to UNAMID—is most consequential. The UN itself does a very poor job of reporting regularly on this displaced population, but both Radio Dabanga and the Sudan Tribune refuse to allow them to become invisible. In addition to the many dispatches cited above from a range of sources (including MSF), these additional grim reports come from the past six weeks of the new year:
“Internally Displaced Persons from Darfur told Sudan Tribune that the recent violence displaced thousands of people as the government troops and militias continue to harass the civilians and burn their villages. A female teacher from Tabit reached by Sudan Tribune after their arrival to Zamzam IDPs camp near El-Fasher said since the bombing of 25 January , the villagers, 17,000 families [perhaps as many as 100,000 people—ER], fled to Zamzam, and Rwanda camps near Tawilla. ‘People are homeless in the valleys and roads as the army block the roads,’ she said, adding ‘this is the new policy of peace’ [i.e., “the New Strategy for Darfur”—see above]. A local chief from Al-Salam IDPs camp told Sudan Tribune that the Sudanese troops burnt down seven villages in the area located southwest of El-Fasher on the period of Saturday [January 22, 2011] to Tuesday [January 25, 2011] of this week.” (emphasis added) (Sudan Tribune, January 27, 2011)
This figure of “17,000 families” is in addition to the more than 40,000 displaced persons the UN reported for December 2010.
The connection between displacement and poor humanitarian conditions is made explicit in many of the dispatches:
“Refugees in the area of Khor Abeche, South Darfur, said the region has been relatively calm, but expressed fear of renewed fighting, 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.” (Radio Dabanga [Khor Abeche, South Darfur], January 22, 2011) (All such Antonov flights are violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1591, March 2005: we must wonder why UNAMID’s response is so feckless.)
“About 73 families fleeing from recent attacks, especially around Tabit and Tarne, have reached camps around Tawila, which include Argo Camp and Rwanda Camp. One of the witnesses in the camps around Tawila told Radio Dabanga that those who arrived are in a bad situation. The man said that Antonov airplanes had bombed near the villages of the people, causing panic and forcing them to flee. He added that there are about 250 more families coming from Tabra and Funga in very bad condition. One of their leaders reported that there has been no assistance for them.” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [Tawila, North Darfur], January 28, 2011)
This represents perhaps another 2,000 displaced persons in extreme need. They are likely unimpressed with General Gration’s declaration that, “We’ve seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs.” In Jebel Marra, which has endured a humanitarian blockade by Khartoum for over a year, the consequence of displacement may be death:
“Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also documented a series of attacks by Sudanese government forces on civilians in Jebel Marra in central Darfur since August. It said the bombing of towns had forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee, mostly to rebel-controlled areas that the government has made off-limits to UN and humanitarian organisations. ‘The Sudanese government should not get away with attacking Darfur civilians again because everyone is paying attention to the referendum in the south,’ said Rona Peligal, Africa director at HRW.” (emphasis added) (Reuters AlertNet [dateline: Nairobi], January 18, 2011)
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (London) estimates in a February 2011 report that approximately 100,000 people have been displaced in Jebel Marra; without humanitarian assessment, however, there can be no way of knowing. Reports on military ground and air attacks, as well as figures from a range of humanitarian organizations speaking publicly (Médecins du Monde, Médecins Sans Frontières) and confidentially, suggest that this is now a conservative figure.
Humanitarian conditions for Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad and Central African Republic (CAR) are almost never reported, but we catch occasional grim snapshots of life for these homeless and bereft people:
“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.” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga [dateline: Sam Ouandja Camp, Central African Republic], January 7, 2011)
It remains the case that the UN continues to suppress data and reports representing humanitarian conditions in Darfur, this in response to intimidation and threats by Khartoum officials. These extraordinary actions have been frankly admitted by Nils Kastberg, head of UNICEF for Darfur:
“[T]he Sudanese government ‘very often’ bars the release of data on child malnutrition in Darfur. Sudanese security services have also hindered or delayed UNICEF’s access to camps in Darfur, [Kastberg said]: ‘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 humanitarians affairs commission interferes and delays in the release of reports, making it difficult for us to respond timely.”
“UN cooperation with the Khartoum ministries like the Ministry of Health has failed to secure publication of the reports. [ ] Kastberg also pointed out that certain government agencies hinder the entry of UNICEF staff into the camps. ‘Sometimes it is security services that hinder access or delay access, sometimes it is the humanitarian affairs office that delays the release of nutritional surveys.
Sometimes it is delays in granting permissions and visas. It is different sections of different institutions which interfere in our work.’” (emphasis added) (Radio Dabanga, October 20, 2010, at http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/4997 )
This honesty and forthright account are directly at odds with the comments of the repressive and tyrannical head of UN operations in Sudan, Georg Charpentier. Charpentier continues to do all he can, evidently in deference to Khartoum, to suppress broader circulation of critical humanitarian data and information. And he shamelessly lies about Khartoum’s behavior, declaring—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that "UN humanitarian agencies are not confronted by pressure or interference from the Government of Sudan” (emphasis added).
But there is interference, on a massive scale, and the consequences are precisely those Kastberg describes. More recently, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting assessed a December 2010 analysis from Tufts University (“Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur”). IWPR did a great deal of interviewing in connection with this analysis, and offers a broad sense of how extensive the suppression of reports and data has been:
“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.” (emphasis added) [ … ]
“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. Six [sic—the figure is “five” in the Tufts report] of those showed malnutrition rates of between 15 and 29 per cent, the report stated.” (emphasis added) (IWPR, January 7, 2011)
U.S. special envoy Gration declares that “We’ve seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs.” And yet under the leadership of Gration, UNAMID’s Gambari, and the UN’s Charpentier, humanitarians seeking to prepare reports for dissemination must be “‘careful not to describe all access problems as the government is deliberately trying to obstruct humanitarian aid.’ ‘We don’t have the access we’d like into camps in Darfur, or the knowledge we need.’” This directly contradicts the assertions of Gration and Charpentier. IWPR continues: “UN and diplomatic sources who spoke to IWPR say Khartoum is deliberately undermining humanitarian efforts” (emphasis added).
Again, the consequences of such suppression of reports and data are human suffering and destruction. The Tufts report is explicit:
“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.” (emphasis added) (“Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur,” January 2011)
The Tufts report also notes that the limited data we have reflect “an extremely poor nutritional situation with implications for functional outcomes of mortality and morbidity risk.” Put more simply, people are becoming ill and dying because they don’t have enough food to eat. The report notes as well “several causes for concern with regard to the reporting of humanitarian indicators,” especially in the context of “frequent claims [that] the situation is stable”:
“The regular occurrence of emergency levels of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) on a seasonal basis, which are ignored by the international community. If the emergency benchmark of 15% is felt not to apply to Darfur, this needs to be properly explained and justified based on evidence.” “The poor reporting by UNICEF on the available malnutrition estimates, which buries GAM estimates by scattering them about within the report, thus making it harder for readers to evaluate.” “The reported blocking of the release of nutrition survey reports….” “What little data was available is subject to spin and obfuscation. A closer look at the data reflects an alarming situation about which there is no clear commentary or analysis by the UN technical agencies concerned.” “The problems with the nutrition data illustrate wider problems of the potential for manipulation of data….”(“Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur”) (emphasis added)
The human consequences have a ghastly predictability, again chronicled by IWPR and Radio Dabanga:
“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,’ he said.” (emphasis added) (IWPR, January 7, 2011)
Such data as we have strongly supports these conclusions. UNICEF results indicate extensive malnutrition, in some cases almost double the level for a humanitarian emergency. Anecdotal evidence is equally compelling.
And other statistical data, while ambiguous, offer clear warnings, as the Tufts report emphasizes. Despite indications of harvests much improved over last year, food production and effective humanitarian distribution are two different things. And the destruction of crops and foodstocks by militia groups in particular areas should not be underestimated. The most recent Darfur Food Security Monitoring issue (Round 8, November 2010) finds:
• “Among the resident communities there is a serious deterioration in food security compared to the last round of August  as well as the same month of last year.” (emphasis added)
• “In children less than 5 years of age [MUAC data indicate] that some 5 percent of resident children are in need of therapeutic care….” 15 percent “have a low MUAC and are therefore regarded as malnourished.” (The need for “therapeutic care” among children is a sign of “Severe Acute Malnutrition” (SAM), which will result in a very high mortality rate if untreated; MUAC refers to measurements of “middle upper arm circumference.”—ER)
• “One quarter of households can’t afford the minimum basket among the IDPs…. Among the households of resident communities, some 24 percent cannot afford the [minimum] food basket in this round. This is more than double compared to November 2009.” (emphasis added)
Here we should bear in mind that the UN’s World Food Program cut general food distributions to Darfur populations from 70 percent of daily minimum kilocalorie needs to 50 percent. Unsurprisingly, the “proportion of households who are not faced with food shortage or lack of money to buy food” is increasing.
• The percentage of children “not consuming an adequately [diverse] diet” may be as high as “82 percent.” (emphasis added)
• With malnutrition comes disease, and the WFP survey finds that, “when looking at child illnesses among children 6 – 23 months of age in the two weeks prior to the assessment, more than one in two have been sick….” (emphasis added)[ Another WFP statistical assessment, looking at this year’s good harvests, estimates that (a) “a possible 650,000 metric tons of sorghum may be available for export” and that (b) “some 3.2 million people require humanitarian assistance in the 15 Northern states of Sudan during 2011. These are mainly conflict-affected populations including IDPs, refugees, and vulnerable resident. Food need requirements are estimated at 410,000 metric tons, which will be provided by various programmes….” Much of this will be sorghum “provided” [i.e., imported] at great cost, by the U.S. as well as other internationally funded “programmes.” The great beneficiaries of all this are Khartoum’s cronies in large agribusiness enterprises. In this flow of sorghum into and out of Sudan there could hardly be a better snapshot of how Khartoum sees its priorities in controlling and directing the country’s agricultural economy. ]
The WFP statistical accounts about food shortages are reflected in reports from displaced persons, often speaking directly to Radio Dabanga:
“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.” (Kalma Camp, January 5, 2011)
Some camps are better off than others, but we learn too much from this account of Kalma about the future of all who remain displaced in Darfur.
With the disappearance of the Darfur Humanitarian Profiles formerly generated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (the last Profile reflected conditions as of January 1, 2009—over two years ago), we have almost no useful global data on key sectors: clean water, sanitation, hygiene, primary medical care, education. We do know, as the Tufts report finds, that
“…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 counterinsurgency operations and forced displacements in 2003 and early 2004.” (emphasis added) (“Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur”)
Part of the reason for this vulnerability, the Tufts report concludes, is that the international community has shifted to a “rhetoric of ‘war is over’” that is in turn “linked with [ambitions for] recovery and returns, which ignores and undermines humanitarian principles.” Public and widely reported statements by UNAMID officials such as former military commander Martin Agwai, former Joint Special Representative Rodolphe Adada, current JSR Gambari, and U.S. special envoy Gration have all encouraged such irresponsible claims, and play directly into the deceitful assessment guiding Khartoum’s “New Strategy for Darfur.” It is hardly accidental that the “New Strategy”—with its emphasis on the return of displaced persons, and the substitution of “development” for immediate and massive humanitarian needs—has been enthusiastically endorsed by Gambari and Gration.
Despite the presumptuous claim by the Tufts report that it is breaking new ground in its findings, the “erosion of humanitarianism in Darfur” has been consistently in evidence for almost two years for all who would look with any care; it is a central topic in my own analyses going back to the time of the March 2009 expulsions (all but the most recent analysis appear in The Sudan Tribune, as well as my website). These include:
•January 23, 2011: “Darfur Humanitarian Overview”
•August 31, 2010: “Darfur Humanitarian Update”
•June 19, 2010: “Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: An Overview” (Part 1)
•July 4, 2010: “Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: An Overview” (Part 2)
But it is the current situation that matters, and the most basic truth is that the deterioration of humanitarian conditions is rapid and relentless. In the words of the all too aptly titled ACJPS report (“Rendered Invisible”), “No one gets enough food…. Children, women, and elderly people have all begun to die.” (emphasis added)
The shameful and conspicuous truth is that despite protestations in various quarters, Darfur has been betrayed yet again by the international community; and in the unseemly haste to secure a credible South Sudan self-determination referendum, this vast arena of suffering and destruction is increasingly ignored. A recent update from the Small Arms Survey on the Darfur Peace Process (January 2011) offers an especially astute political assessment of how Khartoum perceives its negotiating position with respect to issues in the North, and Darfur in particular:
“In the ‘framework negotiations’ for post-referendum arrangements that began in Khartoum in July 2010, the NCP has made clear that it would set the price of Southern secession very high, and part of that price would be limitations on the international community’s role in and access to the North. Sources close to the [Darfur] mediation in Doha say Djibril Bassolé, joint chief mediator for the United Nations and African Union, is concerned that any [Darfur] agreement that may be reached will be impossible to implement in the shrinking political space that is expected to follow the referendum.” (emphasis added)
A very high price indeed, and all evidence suggests that the UN, the U.S., and other international actors of consequence are prepared to pay it. Indeed, Khartoum’s threat was, perversely, anticipated by General Gration last March, when he took the extraordinary step of threatening Darfuris himself, declaring that there would be less U.S. attention to the crisis and peace negotiations—less diplomatic “bandwidth”—if “a full-fledged peace agreement is not reached before Sudan elections scheduled for mid-April. [ … ] ‘There are going to be a lot of things that are keeping us from focusing on Darfur,’ [Gration] told reporters here.” In the run-up to what would be hopelessly compromised elections—an electoral travesty that saw an indicted génocidaire easily win re-election as president—Gration’s response was to set an absurd time-table: “‘In the next two weeks I think we are going to see a real big focus on the election. There is not going to be a lot of bandwidth to be doing Darfur and negotiations’” (emphasis added) (Washington Post [dateline: Nairobi], March 10, 2010).
Revealingly, before the elections—which were clearly fraudulent on a massive, nation-wide scale—Gration had declared that they would be “as free and fair as possible.” Yet more mendacity.
The real issues of U.S concern appear increasingly to be counter-terrorism and security—a finally narrow view of self-interest that includes trading out Darfur for what the Obama administration considers to be our need for help from northern Sudan, a highly dubious prospect. As Aly Verjee of the Rift Valley Institute observes:
“‘There’s a loss of balance,’ [Verjee] said. ‘In Sudan they’re making the same trade off (as elsewhere in the region [an obvious reference to Egypt—ER]) that stability is important and if that comes at the cost of democracy then so be it.’” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], February 11, 2011)
But the “loss of balance” only grows. For also part of Khartoum’s “price” is a deferral of the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir brought by the International Criminal Court—an indictment for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The Rome Statute that is the basis for the ICC stipulates that the UN Security Council may defer an indictment in the interests of “international peace and security,” criteria that clearly are in the eye of the expedient beholder. The highly authoritative journal Africa Confidential reports in its February 4, 2011 edition:
“France and the United States are seriously considering the African Union (AU)’s requests to defer the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of six Kenyan officials and Sudan’s President Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir, senior African and Western officials have told Africa Confidential. Support from those two Western states would almost certainly guarantee a vote in favour of deferrals at the United Nations Security Council.” (emphasis added)
It is difficult to imagine a decision that could do more to damage the credibility and even the viability of the Court. The distinguished Sudanese lawyer, human rights expert, and Africa Director of the International Center for Transitional Justice, Suleiman Baldo, makes the essential point: such a deferral would “reward Khartoum for undermining the ICC and for persuading other African governments to defy the Court’s rules,” rules that
“…make it mandatory to arrest indicted suspects in any country that has ratified its membership of the ICC. [Baldo] adds that those pushing for a deferral for not sabotaging the Southern referendum have misread the law: deferrals can only be granted to avert a future threat to peace and security. ‘A deferral of the Sudanese President’s case,’ says Baldo, ‘would be a serious blow to accountability and send the wrong message to regimes that abuse human rights, such as Côte d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.’” (emphasis added) (Africa Confidential, February 4, 2011)
To be sure, there can be no matching the expediency and hypocrisy of the African Union on the issue of the ICC indictment of al-Bashir—ultimately a measure of how fully the AU has sided with Khartoum in responding to genocide in Darfur:
“At a meeting on the implications of Sudan’s partition, African heads of state issued a ‘solemn declaration.’ Noting the ‘personal and unwavering commitment of President Al Bashir to sustaining peace between northern and southern Sudan and do all he can for the early resolution of the crisis in Darfur, we, once again, call on the United Nations Security Council immediately to invoke Article 16 of the Rome Statute and suspend any actions against President Al Bashir by the International Criminal Court.’” (emphasis added) (Africa Confidential, February 4, 2011)
Noting the “personal and unwavering commitment of President Al Bashir to…do all he can for the early resolution of the crisis in Darfur.” At least Gration, the UN’s Gambari, and the African Union are all on the same page in dealing with the Darfur “crisis”—and they are all deeply despised by Darfuris for their supreme expediency.
THE FINAL REASONING
The Obama administration has decided to take Gration’s view—“We’ve seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs”—despite all evidence to the contrary, indeed despite an abundance of highly credible reports that directly contradict Gration’s assertion. What could prompt this policy of expediency and mendacity? What is the trade-off that is being made? What does the administration think it’s getting for trading out Darfur?[For a brilliant dissection of how deeply these tendencies to prevarication run in State Department pronouncements on Darfur, see Rebecca Hamilton’s account of the language and video used to describe Gration’s recent visit to the cruelly ravaged town of Deribat, near Jebel Marra; The New Republic, February 9, 2011.]
Negotiations for a just peace in Darfur have proved maddeningly difficult, largely because of Khartoum’s success in dividing international attention between the ethnic conflagration in the west and the North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It is now an historical truism that in order to secure the January 2005 agreement, Darfur was allowed to endure—without political support or military protection—the years of the very worst genocidal violence. When attention finally shifted to Darfur, implementation of the CPA fell by the wayside. Then, late this past summer, awakening to the diplomatic catastrophe that would be their responsibility should Khartoum block the CPA and its key self-determination referendum for the South, Obama administration officials finally moved into an appropriately high gear of engagement.
But frustrations and impatience over the lack of progress in Darfur peace negotiations—reflected so destructively in the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA)—had earlier brought special envoy Gration to a point where he would issue threats against the people of Darfur—“no diplomatic ‘bandwidth’ for you if peace isn’t made by April (2010).” The leadership of the various rebel groups—fractious, selfish, and increasingly distanced from the suffering of the people in Darfur—made matters easy for Khartoum; but there is no indication that the regime has felt nearly enough international pressure to move significantly beyond the terms of the DPA. Thus Darfur has become part of the very high price for the Southern referendum, and Khartoum is now expecting payment:
“The United States should look beyond the Darfur issue and quickly normalize ties with Sudan to build on progress from its successful secession referendum, Foreign Minister Ali Karti said on Wednesday. ‘The Sudanese have fulfilled an essential obligation. As far as world expectations go, we have delivered and thus our commitment to peace should never be in question.’ ‘Normalization of relations should not be held hostage by Darfur.’” (Reuters [dateline: Washington, DC], January 26, 2011)
The view from Khartoum—influenced by readily observable expediency and disingenuousness on the part of the Obama administration—is that the U.S. has made its deal, and creating any serious “trouble” on outstanding North/South issues would be reneging on Washington’s part. Certainly Khartoum has further ambitions and expectations, including debt relief, removal from the list of terrorism-sponsoring nations, and a lifting of sanctions. And for its part Khartoum is prepared to continue with its putative role in counter-terrorism activities, even as it’s unclear what the U.S. actually receives in return for this “cooperation”—former Senator Russ Feingold, who served as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, was certainly deeply skeptical. There is also evidence, as Aly Verjee suggests (see above), that the recent events in Egypt have pushed the Obama administration closer to seeing the Khartoum regime as a source of “regional stability,” and thus to see any move toward democracy as potentially threatening (even as there are crucial differences between the regimes in Cairo and Khartoum). But of course all this leaves no room for Darfur, a “crisis” that will evidently be ended on the regime’s terms—by means of the ominous “New Strategy.”
Darfur was first “de-emphasized,” then “de-coupled,” and now surrendered entirely in the grand bargain over what Ali Karti calls “normalization of relations.” Crediting this characterization, offered by one of the most ruthless men in the regime, is to deny the unspeakable fate that awaits Darfur. With such “normalization” Scott Gration and the Obama administration have betrayed Darfur, and American ideals, in deepest consequence.
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.