Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 7 March 2004

By blocking humanitarian access, Sudanese government acts to eliminate Darfur’s population

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By Eric Reeves

March 7, 2004 — Following an unprecedented trip to Khartoum, including a meeting with
National Islamic Front President Omer Beshir, the President of the
International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, has
declared that "under present constraints," the ICRC is "not in a
position to carry out meaningful humanitarian operations" in Darfur
(Press Release [Geneva], International Committee of the Red Cross, March
6, 2004). The organization that is the very embodiment of international
neutrality and integrity in humanitarian aid delivery has joined the
exceedingly long list of humanitarian actors decrying Khartoum’s
continuing denial of humanitarian access, its purposeful refusal to
grant travel permits, and its failure to halt the military actions that
make humanitarian aid delivery so woefully inadequate to the present
crisis.

How long will the international community allow Khartoum to make it
impossible for humanitarian organizations to gain access to Darfur? How
long will the more than 700,000 internally displaced persons and the 3
million people now classified as "war-affected" by the UN remain at the
mercy of Khartoum’s brutal war against the African peoples of Darfur?
Extreme food insecurity, the absence of emergency medical treatment, and
the effects of extended exposure will soon be taking an even greater
toll than at present. Even so, Doctors Without Borders has already
reported "catastrophic mortality rates" in Darfur (Press Release [New
York], February 17, 2004). Research from Sudan Focal Point (South
Africa) indicates that the casualty figure for Darfur is already likely
in excess of 30,000: how much higher must that figure go before civilian
destruction is judged intolerable? 50,000? 100,000? 200,000?
1,000,000?

Such numbers suggest an inhuman statistical madness, matched only by
the current moral delirium that has evidently determined the
international community on a course of acquiescence. There is no
planning for humanitarian intervention, even as it daily becomes clearer
that short of such intervention, many tens of thousands of innocent
human beings will die. More and more children, women, and men will die
the gruesome deaths that come with starvation, exposure, and
uncontrolled disease in weakened and debilitated populations. This is
in the near future.

To this point most casualties have come directly at the hands of
Khartoum’s military and its Arab militia allies (the "janjaweed").
Excerpts from a very recent UN "Situation Report on Darfur" (March 4,
2004) give some sense of how continuous is the violence by Khartoum’s
regular and militia forces against civilians:

"UN security assessed Tawilla town [North Darfur] on 3 March after
attacks on the town by militias on 27 February. The remaining residents
of the town gave a devastating account of a well-organised attack,
including gang rapes and kidnapping of school children. [The UN
assessment team] found about 100 people left in the town. Many more are
believed to be living in the wadi and other surrounding areas. The
remaining residents of Tawilla described the attack as a well-organized
attack by horsemen and military."

"Approximately 5,500 [internally displaced persons] which fled the
Tawilla Attack are now registered in El Fasher. They are concentrated
around the Meshtel area near El Fasher airport."

"[Reports received] indicate that military and Jenjaweed militia
activity is increasing in South Darfur. Villages are being burned,
livestock and possessions looted and villages driven into concentration
points. There have been disturbing reports of women and girls being
branded on the hand by the militia after being raped."

"A Jenjaweed attack on villages between 10-15 kms of Nyala was reported
on 2 March---15 people were reported killed and the 30 injured were
transported to the Nyala Hospital for treatment. The International
Committee of the Red Cross claims it was not granted permission to enter
the hospital to interview the victims."

"The inter-agency assessment team in Zalengi reports that [internally
displaced persons] in Deleij are from the surrounding 55 villages, 30 of
which were recently burned or damaged. Four villages around Deleij were
burned on 3 March, fleeing villagers were looted of their cattles, two
people were killed while others are in hiding."
(all excerpts from the UN "Situation Report on Darfur," March 4, 2004)

Murders, gang rapes, the branding of raped women (a terribly cruel and
destructive act in Darfur cultures), the abduction of children, the
displacing of noncombatant civilians, the burning of villages and
crops---all emphatically in the present tense, indeed increasing in
intensity in many places. By continuing to arm, supply, direct, and
incite the janjaweed militias, Khartoum is simultaneously destroying the
African populations of Darfur even as it is denying travel permits and
creating security conditions that make it impossible for humanitarian
aid to reach the vast majority of those most desperately in need.

Ominously, present humanitarian access continues to be primarily to
civilians in "concentration camps"---camps located near the larger towns
(such as El Fasher) under Khartoum’s military control (though often in
circumstances extremely dangerous for civilians). In large measure by
design, these camps have forced people from their land, crops, and
cattle, and made them dependent upon what international humanitarian aid
reaches them---all to ensure that they cannot aid in any fashion the
ongoing military insurgency. Khartoum’s denial of access to the
International Committee of the Red Cross, as it attempted to interview
civilians in the Nyala Hospital, is in itself a grave breach of
international humanitarian law, and no doubt was part of what led the
ICRC to declare it is "not in a position to carry out meaningful
humanitarian operations" in Darfur. It is obvious Khartoum did not want
the ICRC to hear what the wounded civilians in the hospital had to say
about how they received their injuries.

There can be no doubt about the Khartoum’s ongoing military campaign in
Darfur or the scale of the human catastrophe it has occasioned---only a
sickening certainty that the international community remains irresolute
in the face of this catastrophe. The language of various international
actors may have become more urgent, but this has been accompanied by
nothing that actually moves a humanitarian response beyond what the
Khartoum regime will permit. This, then, forces a question that is
nowhere being articulated: if Europe and the US could justify a
cross-border humanitarian operation in Kosovo---entailing massive
military action---in order to avert civilian slaughter of Europeans, why
is there is no comparable effort to avert the slaughter of African
civilians?

The military requirements for securing a humanitarian intervention into
Darfur from Chad would be minimal compared with those for Kosovo. There
would be no need for high-tech, stand-off bombing missions, no need for
a massing of ground troops---no more would be required than to secure
the safety of humanitarian road corridors, critical air strips, and
humanitarian operations themselves. The janjaweed militia, so bold in
attacking civilians, would scatter before any professional military
presence of the sort that was abundantly available in Kosovo.
Khartoum’s regular military forces, ill-trained and poorly
motivated---and without militarily threatening aircraft or ground
vehicles---would also not present a serious obstacle to securing those
sites necessary for an immediate and highly consequential increase in
humanitarian access. This would be, in short, a true humanitarian
intervention, with military operations serving only as a guarantee of
safety for humanitarian aid workers.

But all evidence suggests that such intervention is neither being
planned nor contemplated. The essential first step, France’s securing
of permission from Chad for operations, has not been taken and
diplomatic sources have confirmed that France has no intention of taking
such decisive action. Rather, in concert with the European Union,
France will attempt to convene---in Chad---negotiations between Khartoum
and the two insurgency groups in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army and
the Justice and Equality Movement. Earlier Chadian auspices for peace
talks between Khartoum and the insurgency groups have already proved
disastrously ineffectual; there is little reason to assume that more
will come from new talks under such auspices, even if augmented by a
fuller international "presence."

Moreover, we must recall that in early February Khartoum was in fact
offered meaningful auspices for the negotiation of humanitarian issues,
by the distinguished Henry Dunant Center for Humanitarian Dialogue
(Geneva); the regime refused to attend, even as the insurgency groups
agreed. Similarly, a senior official at the US Agency for International
Development announced last week that an American offer to mediate a
humanitarian cease-fire had been rejected by Khartoum after agreement
had been secured from all the relevant groups in Darfur.

Many months into vast human destruction and displacement---characterized ever more insistently as "ethnic cleansing" by various UN officials, diplomats, the US Agency for International
Development, and others---nothing is being done that holds real promise
for reversing the accelerating slide into utter catastrophe. We must
hear again the voice of the African tribal leader who declared to the
UN’s Regional Information Networks in early December of 2003:

"’I believe this is an elimination of the black race,’ one tribal
leader told IRIN" (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks,
al-Geneina [Darfur], December 11, 2003)

The genocide so explicitly invoked here has only accelerated. But
those enduring this horrific fate are cursed with the burden of being
remote, African, and geopolitically inconsequential. Their fate may
well have been sealed.

- Eric Reeves
- Smith College
- Northampton, MA 01063

- Tel :413-585-3326
- email: ereeves@smith.edu



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