Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 15 January 2005

Darfur and the Completion of the Naivasha Negotiating (II)


By Eric Reeves

Jan 14, 2005.


Beyond the violent destruction of civilian life in Darfur, what
humanitarian issues are currently defining of the larger crisis? UN
IRIN reports recently on an outbreak of an especially virulent form of
the highly contagious disease meningitis in several overcrowded Darfuri
refugee camps in eastern Chad:

"[Doctor Gregoire Batakao, the head of WHO emergency operations in
eastern Chad] warned that the high concentration of refugees in the
overcrowded camps and precarious health conditions in the arid region
where water is always scarce, made for a dangerous situation. He also
noted that a particularly virulent strain of meningitis had been
detected, which had not previously been recorded in Chad. The ’A’ strain
of meningitis is the most common in Africa, but Batakao said the new
cases were of the ’W135’ variety which is much more virulent." (UN IRIN,
January 12, 2005)

And of course Darfuri civilians continue to stream into the already
overburdened camps in Chad, despite Khartoum’s claims that people are
repatriating themselves. Claire Bourgeois, the head of the UN High
Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the eastern (Chadian) town of Abeche,
"said that on the contrary, new arrivals were continuing to trickle into
the semi-desert of eastern Chad to join the 200,000 who have sought
sanctuary there already. Many of the new arrivals had fled to the
mountains following fighting inside Darfur, but were now crossing the
border to camps near Iriba and Bahai because they had run out of food,
she added." (UN IRIN, January 13, 2005)

Moreover, the 200,000 refugees registered by the UNHCR reflects only
those who have indeed been located, accessed, and registered. The true
number of refugees may already be 250,000 and is poised, according to
UNHCR projections, to increase by between 100,000 and 200,000 civilians
in the coming year. The Darfur catastrophe is genuinely international.
And of course internal displacement in the region is again accelerating
with intensifying violence; Oxfam International, for example very
recently reported that:

"In late December, over 5,000 people arrived at Kalma camp in South
Darfur and another 5,000 at Mellit in North Darfur after their villages
were attacked and burned. Security remains precarious and tensions are
high; civilians throughout Darfur continue to be targeted." (Oxfam-UK
press release, January 12, 2005)

These are some of the people that Khartoum’s Foreign Minister Ismail
claims to be protecting with the use of aerial military assets.

Polio also remains an extremely potent disease threat in Darfur and
elsewhere in Sudan. Though an effort was made this past week to
immunize millions of children for polio, the results are likely to be
far from fully successful, even with a brief military stand-down. The
claim made by the UN’s World Health Organization---that the three-day
vaccination campaign reached "more than 95 percent of the targeted
[population]" (Associate Press, January 13, 2005)---is nothing but UN
propaganda. As humanitarian physicians with extensive experience during
these rapid vaccination campaigns will attest, there are often in such
difficult circumstances more "phantom" than real vaccinations, and this
would certainly be true in rural Darfur.

Many child populations are simply unknown and unlocatable in Darfur.
Moreover, Khartoum’s highly successful hindrances of vaccination
campaigns is now notorious. For example, Doctors Without
Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland (MSF) reported in October 2004
on Khartoum’s hindrance of measles vaccinations (the same MSF report
notes that 33.7% of deaths among children under 5 in the huge Kalma camp
for the displaced were due to measles):

"Measles has been a major killed of malnourished children in the past
months. UNICEF supported the [Khartoum regime’s] Ministry of Health to
vaccinate---but coverage was so low that the epidemics continued with
disastrous effect. MSF has repeatedly asked to carry own measles
vaccination campaigns but the Ministry would not allow [international
humanitarian organizations] to vaccinate, as they claimed they had
already done the job." ("Persecution, Intimidation, and Failure of
Assistance in Darfur," MSF-Holland, October 2004)

Khartoum’s Ministry of Health would have been involved in calculating
the percentages of vaccinated children in this most recent polio
vaccination campaign.

In addition to preventing humanitarian organizations from carrying out
critical vaccination tasks, Khartoum is increasingly using its local
authorities to intimidate, harass, and even arrest humanitarian

"The senior United Nations envoy for Sudan today voiced concern that
local authorities [directly under Khartoum’s control] in the country’s
war-torn region of Darfur are increasingly harassing staff working for
non-governmental organization (NGOs)."

"Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan,
told a meeting of the Joint Implementation Mechanism (JIM), the body set
up last year by the UN and Khartoum to deal with the crisis in Darfur,
that Sudanese nationals working for NGOs were particularly likely to be
harassed. In the latest example, three Sudanese nationals (two men and
one woman) working for a 12-member CARE food distribution team in the
West Darfur town of Zaleingi were arrested while returning from the
market to their office on Monday. The three staff members were charged
with adultery and jailed overnight, where the men were assaulted and the
woman was verbally abused before they were released." (UN News Service
(New York), January 7, 2005)

Sudanese nationals are of course far and away the largest part of the
humanitarian effort in Darfur. Indeed, according to the UN’s most
recent Darfur Humanitarian Profile [No. 9, December 1, 2004 page 9,
Chart 5], Sudanese nationals make up 7,556 of the 8,447 aid workers in
Darfur. Intimidation, harassment, and arrest of these essential workers
has the potential to cripple some operations and severely deter future

Agence France-Presse reported (January 6, 2005) that "five aid workers
have been arrested in the troubled Darfur region," suspected by the
Khartoum regime of "having shot a documentary inside rebel camps to back
up allegations of genocide and rape in the west Sudanese province." AFP

"Sources in Sudan said their controversial equipment comprised a
computer, a digital camera and 11 CD-Roms. The allegedly recorded
testimony by women who said they bad been raped and pictures of a mass
grave." (AFP [Oslo], January 7, 2005)

We may be sure that Khartoum will act similarly in the event that it
discovers any other such documentaries: the regime has made painfully
clear for months its determination to suppress or obliterate evidence of

Meanwhile, security continues to attenuate severely the reach of
humanitarian operations. A recent headline from the UN News Service
gives the essential story-line from a number of dispatches:

"UN Mission Reports Fresh Round of Attacks By Armed Militias in Darfur
Region of Sudan" (UN News Center, New York, January 13, 2005)

This more than anything accounts for the grim figures and percentages
in the most recent UN Darfur Humanitarian Profile (No. 9, December 1,
2004; available at
While acknowledging that 2.19 million people are now "conflict-affected"
(page 2), this figure still does not include the more than 200,000
refugees in Chad or the huge numbers of people trapped in inaccessible
rural areas of Darfur. In a recent interview, John Prendergast of the
International Crisis Group, one of the most knowledgeable observers of
Sudan, was asked what most surprised him during his trips to Darfur (he
has now made three such trips). His answer tells us much about what
does not appear in the UN Darfur Humanitarian Profiles:

"In the context of Darfur, we didn’t realize how many people were
actually trapped in rebel-held areas. The assumption by all the
agencies, and the U.N., was that all the Darfurian population had
largely been displaced, either into the refugee camps or the internally
displaced camps. We found that there were lots of individuals and
families still living in the rebel-held areas of Darfur. It was
shocking, actually." (Mother Jones [on-line], January 4, 2004)

If we make the assumption that this "shockingly" large population is in
the range of 500,000 (and many estimates are higher), then the overall
conflict-affected population is in the range of 3 million. This is the
context in which to understand the World Food Program’s claim to have
reached 61% of those in need in Darfur during November (page 12): in
fact the 1.3 million who received at least partial food rations in the
month represent less than half the population in need. Given the
collapse of Darfurian agricultural economy, and the consequently dire
prospective food assessments from the International Committee of the Red
Cross and the US Agency for International Development, a genocidal
famine is clearly in the making. The parallels with Khartoum’s
engineered famine in Bahr el-Ghazal in Southern Sudan (1998) grow more
disturbing by the day.

Within the camps for persons displaced by Khartoum’s orchestrated
violence and ongoing deployment of the Janjaweed, there continue to be
large sectoral gaps that will make the outbreak of disease all the more
likely (see page 12 of Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 9). 54% still
lack access to clean water; 42% lack sanitary facilities; 32% still lack
any shelter (and what shelter exists is often terribly inadequate to
current conditions in Darfur); and 36% lack any access to primary health

Huge numbers of surviving Darfuri civilians have been pushed to the
breaking point, even as humanitarian access continues to diminish
because of insecurity that is overwhelming the responsibility of the
Khartoum regime. There is in prospect nothing that will slow the
increasing violence and insecurity, and humanitarian operations will
continue to be confined to camp areas, with overland transport between
camps (as well as humanitarian transport corridors) subject to ever
greater shutdowns. The consequences of current international
hesitation, disingenuousness, and expediency will continue to produce
ever greater monthly mortality. The figure will almost certainly exceed
40,000 per month by the end of January, and may soon reach to the level
of 100,000 per month predicted by the UN’s chief humanitarian officer,
Jan Egeland.


Contrary to the claims made by Human Rights Watch---that "debating the
definition of atrocities in Darfur has detracted from a key issue:
action by the international community" in halting the violence and
bringing the culpable to justice---what is fundamental is international
failure to marshal the moral and intellectual resources, the necessary
courage, and the military means to halt what is clearly genocide by
attrition. This leaves us with the disgraceful spectacle of a world
wringing its hands, mooting politically impossible UN responses, and
failing to protect civilians and humanitarian operations in Darfur. As
the catastrophe continues to deepen, responsibility widens

- Eric Reeves
- Smith College
- Northampton, MA 01063
- Tel: 413-585-3326
- Email: ereeves@smith.edu
- www.sudanreeves.org

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