Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 26 January 2007

Understanding Genocide in Darfur: The View from Khartoum


Why the regime remains so confident the genocidal status quo is unthreatened

By Eric Reeves

January 26, 2007 — In understanding why Khartoum remains resolutely opposed to significant numbers of UN peace support personnel in Darfur, it is first of all critical to make sense of just what the National Islamic Front regime sees as it surveys the international scene. What is there, we must ask, that convinces these brutal génocidaires that they will pay no price for the ongoing, indiscriminate bombing of civilians in North Darfur? for the large-scale, violent displacement of thousands of civilians in West Darfur reported by humanitarian organizations in recent days? Which diplomatic realities secure this racist security cabal in its belief that it can continue to re-mobilize and heavily re-arm the Janjaweed without consequence---despite the UN Security Council “demand” of July 2004 that these brutal militias be disarmed and their leaders brought to justice? What forms of diffidence and cowardice among African and Western nations convince Khartoum’s thugs that despite the direst of warnings coming from UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations in Darfur---speaking bluntly about intolerable levels of insecurity---they may continue to beat, intimidate, harass, and obstruct aid workers in Darfur?

This last question has as its context the reality of a staggering population of conflict-affected and increasingly vulnerable civilians: 4 million in Darfur itself, and another half a million in eastern Chad. More than 2.5 million Darfuris have been displaced, either internally or into Chad, where the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs now estimates that there are 234,000 Darfuri refugees. Even as this vast population grows weaker and more vulnerable to disease, the reach of courageous humanitarian organizations continues to contract dramatically in all three Darfur states. Violence from all sources---Khartoum’s regular military forces, the Janjaweed, and rebel groups, particularly elements of what was previously the Minni Minawi faction of the SLA---has brought humanitarian operations to the point of full-scale collapse. The “free fall” that former UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland again warned of last month continues. All that can avert a cataclysm of additional human destruction, far beyond the half a million human beings who have already died genocidal deaths, is a dramatic improvement in security.

Knowing precisely this about security in Darfur, the Khartoum regime continues to deny entry to the fully authorized UN peace-support troops, civilian police, and other personnel. In other words, the National Islamic Front military and political leadership refuses, without consequence, to allow the international actions that alone can halt the deteriorating security dynamic on the ground. What accounts for this obdurate defiance? Why does Omar al-Bashir, more powerful than ever within the National Islamic Front, feel so free to refuse bluntly the UN force that so many have argued he has already accepted? ---

"‘Our experience with UN operations in the world is not encouraging,’ al-Bashir told an Associated Press reporter Wednesday [January 10, 2007] at his residence. ‘There are sufficient forces in the Sudan from African countries to maintain order and they can provide order. All we need is funding for the African troops.’” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], January 10, 2007)

There could be no more explicit rejection of a UN/AU “hybrid force” for Darfur. And yet the world continues to pretend that al-Bashir and the NIF have somehow agreed to such a putative force, even when all evidence argues against such a conclusion. What accounts for this stubborn diplomatic blindness? Part of the answer lies in the conspicuous lack of professional diplomatic engagement with the regime. Al-Bashir made his declaration, not coincidentally, during the week in which he committed to an entirely factitious “cease-fire” negotiated expediently by US presidential aspirant Bill Richardson of New Mexico. With the assistance of the painfully naïve and irresponsibly ill-informed Save Darfur Coalition, Richardson and former Ambassador Lawrence Rossin secured from al-Bashir a paper commitment to a “60-day ceasefire.” But Rossin and Richardson didn’t bother to negotiate with, or even meet, any of the senior Darfuri rebel leaders during their quick-stop visit to el-Fasher (North Darfur); and thus while they produced headlines, they effected no change on the ground. Within days Khartoum’s heavy bombing of civilian villages had resumed, and continues relentlessly according to humanitarian workers in el-Fasher, adjacent to Khartoum’s major air force base in Darfur.

At the same time, Khartoum’s military bombing campaign in North Darfur is clearly designed to disrupt the effort by rebel groups to coalesce and create a unified negotiating front. In other words, Khartoum’s bombing campaign is both sustaining the insecurity that preserves the genocidal status quo, even as it works to prevent efforts to create a viable negotiating partner for peace talks. Reuters reports:

“The African Union has confirmed Sudan’s army bombed two villages in North Darfur, violating ceasefire agreements and jeopardising efforts to revive a stalled peace process. [ ] In the first independent confirmation of rebel reports that the government bombarded their positions in Anka and Korma on January 16 and 19, [2007] the AU condemned the attacks. ‘The (AU) ceasefire commission is once again calling on all parties to refrain from any activities that will jeopardize the peace process,’ the statement sent late on Monday [January 22, 2007] said.”

“Rebels are trying to hold a conference in Darfur to unify their position ahead of a renewed push for peace talks. They want government guarantees that the conference will not be attacked, but the army has three times bombed rebel positions in the past two months, the AU says.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], January 23, 2007)

Earlier (January 21, 2007) Reuters had reported the comments of rebel commander Jar el-Naby, perhaps the most principled of those fighting in the “Group of 19” (G-19) faction of what was formerly the SLA:

“Rebel commander Jar el-Neby also accused the government of bombing. ‘They bombed for about five hours (on Saturday [January 20, 2007]),’ he said. ‘I think they are trying to stop our commanders’ conference.’ Rebel commanders want to hold a conference in Darfur to unite their positions ahead of peace talks. There are more than a dozen rebel factions. Rebels say they want guarantees the army will not attack or bomb their meeting.”

But there will be no such guarantees: Khartoum’s continuous campaign of aerial bombardment makes clear the regime will do all it can to prevent the rebels from creating a cohesive negotiating front. A statement last month from the African Union speaks volumes about Khartoum’s intentions in Darfur (here by way of an Associated Press dispatch [dateline: Khartoum], December 31, 2006):

“Sudanese forces bombed two rebel locations in Darfur just days after the head of the African Union’s peacekeeping force visited the area to urge the rebels to join a cease-fire agreement, the AU said yesterday [December 30, 2006]. A Sudanese government aircraft on Friday [December 29, 2006] bombed Anka and Um Rai in North Darfur province where Gen. Luke Aprezi had met on Wednesday [December 27, 2006] with rebels, an AU statement said. ‘When a bombing is made after I have visited an area, my credibility is involved,’ Aprezi told The Associated Press by telephone from Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. ‘To that group, I don’t have any credibility anymore.’”

“The incident jeopardizes efforts to bring additional groups into the cease-fire that a single rebel faction and the government signed in May 2006, the AU said. [ ] The AU obtained consent from Sudanese officials in Darfur and the capital ahead of meeting the rebels, it said in the statement. It called Friday’s [December 29, 2006] attack ‘a seriously disturbing development.’”

Just as ominously, National Islamic Front junta leader Omar al-Bashir is preparing to assume the chairmanship of the African Union at the AU summit in Addis Ababa (January 29-30, 2007). This ensures that the rebels in Darfur will regard the AU as having taken sides in the Darfur conflict. The immediate result will be an end to any possibility of the AU’s providing diplomatic auspices for further peace negotiations: how can such auspices be provided by an organization that is led by the génocidaire-in-chief of the very regime that is a belligerent in the conflict? Even more consequentially, the AU forces on the ground in Darfur will be perceived as combatants aiding Khartoum. Indeed, they will almost certainly be attacked by Darfuri rebels and other armed elements, perhaps on a large scale. This in turn will lead to either AU withdrawal or a complete hunkering down in the Darfur state capitals, making el-Geneina, Nyala, and el-Fasher essentially garrison towns.

Such a retreat by the AU will eliminate the last vestiges of security for humanitarians seeking to reach rural populations and the large numbers of camps not in the immediate vicinity of the state capitals. Confidential reports from humanitarian organizations make clear that security cannot deteriorate any further without full-scale withdrawals from Darfur---not evacuations, but full-scale withdrawals. The provision of food, medicine, and resources for clean water will then come to a halt. Hundreds of thousands will die, even as the Janjaweed will continue their savage predations without international witnesses. The camps themselves will face wholesale destruction, with the clear prospect of massacres.

Who is working meaningfully to halt this unfolding scenario of vast human terror and destruction? Certainly not the Arab League, which serves as an extension office of the Egyptian foreign ministry. And there is no Egyptian pressure on Khartoum except as pro forma expressions of concern. Despite the conspicuous need for international forces in Darfur, Khartoum’s assertion of “national sovereignty” is backed by Egypt without qualification. The Organization of the Islamic Conference is no better---watching indifferently the ongoing genocidal destruction of Darfur’s African tribal groups, all of which are Muslim. And the African Union is tragically preparing to ratify its incompetence in responding to Darfur---morally, politically, militarily---with the election of Omar al-Bashir as chairman of the organization.

China is of course the most reassuring part of the international scene from the perspective of Khartoum’s génocidaires. China has provided Khartoum more than $10 billion in commercial and capital investments over the past decade, even as it has been the regime’s primary supplier of weapons, weapons technology, and weapons engineering expertise. Much of the weaponry in Darfur is from China, or is of Chinese design and manufactured in Khartoum. China is also the dominant player in oil development and exploration in southern Sudan, with the largest stakes in the producing consortia of both Eastern and Western Upper Nile; these are the regions where Khartoum-backed militia pose the greatest threat to the north/south peace agreement of January 2005. Some of these brutal militias have been hired to provide security for Chinese oil workers, even as all militia forces were to have been disbanded or incorporated into regular military forces by January 1, 2006.

And of course, China has offered Khartoum unstinting diplomatic cover at the UN, where it wields veto power on the Security Council. China abstained on UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 31, 2006), which authorized---under Chapter VII of the UN Charter---deployment of 17,300 troops, 3,300 civilian police, and 16 Formed Police Units. The forces deployed would have had robust rules of engagement, and a specific mandate to protect civilians and humanitarians. China effectively eviscerated the resolution by insisting on language that specifically “invites the consent of” the very génocidaires whose ethnically-targeted destruction had created the need for this huge force. In the event, despite language merely “inviting” Khartoum’s consent, this passage has been construed by the international community as conferring upon those responsible for the Darfur genocide the power to veto forces that might end or at least mitigate genocidal destruction. And no international actor has been more consequential in creating, and sustaining, this perverse state of affairs than China.

For the simple truth is that China views Sudan through the prism of petroleum needs---it consumes almost two-thirds of Sudan’s crude oil exports---and the growing value of trade and other economic ties with Khartoum. Of course the portion of Sudan that sees any rewards from Chinese investment is miniscule: a small sliver of the Nile River Valley (including Khartoum, Omdurman, and their suburbs) enjoys almost exclusive benefit from China’s presence and investment in Sudan.

China will not be moved from its present callous and unqualified support of Khartoum without a major investment of diplomatic and political energies by Western nations, preeminently the US. Such investment is nowhere in sight, and the recent trip to Beijing by Andrew Natsios merely confirms this geostrategic marginalizing of Darfur. Despite his august title---(part-time) Special Envoy of the President of the United States---Natsios extracted nothing of value from the Chinese regime. In fact, China went out of its way to make clear that it felt no pressure had been exerted by Natsios:

"‘Any solution to the Darfur problem should be made with the consent of the Sudanese government,’ said [Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister for Africa Zhai Jun], suggesting that the problem be resolved ‘politically and as soon as possible with the support of the international community.’”

“He denied any pressures being exercised by the United States on China to persuade Sudan to accept the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur. ‘There are no pressures on China,’ he said, adding: ‘Our relations with America are not at the expense of our relationship with other countries and do not contradict our ties with the Sudan.’” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], January 16, 2007)

Moreover, recent comments from China’s foreign ministry make clear just how patient the Chinese are prepared to be with Khartoum’s génocidaires:

“‘The Sudan issue should be resolved like any other---through peaceful negotiation,’ said [Beijing’s] spokesman, Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun, who spoke at a news conference in Beijing. ‘Using pressure and imposing sanctions is not practical and will not help settle the issue.’” (New York Times News Service [dateline: Shanghai], January 25, 2007)

Predictably, the US account was starkly different in tenor, reflecting an increasingly desperate desire within the Bush administration not to be seen as helpless in responding to the Darfur catastrophe, characterized unambiguously by former Secretary of State Colin Powell on September 9, 2004: “genocide has been committed in Darfur, and the government of Sudan and the Janjawid bear responsibility.” Special Envoy Natsios, far less committed to honest assessments, declared following his meeting with the Chinese that, “China has pushed the Sudanese government recently to help resolve the bloody Darfur conflict and ease the plight of the region’s nearly 3 million refugees”:

“The Chinese intervention marked a shift from past policy under which Beijing seemed reluctant to use its influence in Sudan, according to the envoy, Andrew S. Natsios. ‘I think they’re engaging much more aggressively,’ Natsios said at a news briefing after four days of talks here with Chinese officials.” (Washington Post [dateline: Beijing], January 12, 2007).

This assessment---flying directly in the face of what China has consistently said and done---has the same credibility as Natsios’ earlier warning of a coercive US “Plan B” that would be deployed in the event of continued intransigence on Khartoum’s part after a January 1, 2007 deadline. This proved a thoroughly vacuous bluff. And in fact there is simply no present evidence or reason to believe that Natsios has moved the Chinese to “engage aggressively” on Darfur. Indeed, this assertion is pure expediency, of a piece with the disingenuousness that has marked the public comments of every senior Bush administration official working on Darfur over the past two years. And certainly Khartoum, seeing the US reduced to such patent and self-serving distortion, senses an ever more certain victory.

Confident that there will be no “pressure” and no “sanctions,” and that Chinese support will be unstinting, Khartoum has every reason to engage in an extended peace negotiating process leading to nowhere. To be sure, Beijing has come in for sufficient criticism over Darfur that it has learned to mouth the diplomatic noises that seem to deflect a good deal of the harshest language, as in the language cited here. But the blunt truth is that China hasn’t begun to use any of the irresistible diplomatic, economic, and political leverage it has with the Khartoum regime. And until it does, there will be no change in the genocidal status quo in Darfur---no halt to the intolerable deterioration in security for civilians and humanitarians. As Human Rights Watch forcefully observed of China and Africa earlier this month:

“Human Rights Watch yesterday [January 11, 2007] accused China of putting its own economic and political interests above concern for mistreated people around the world by ‘showering aid’ on countries known for widespread abuse.
While Chinese officials struck deals in resource-rich places like Sudan, Zimbabwe and Myanmar last year, Beijing ‘studiously avoided’ using the influence that comes with a booming economy to promote better human rights, the prominent independent rights group said in its annual report released yesterday.” [ ]

“[Human Rights Watch] was blistering in its view that China should be doing more. Chinese oil investments, the report said, spur Sudan’s economy, encouraging ‘Khartoum to pursue its slaughter in Darfur and leaving it flush with funds to purchase arms [sometimes Chinese] for the fighting.’ More pressure from China on Sudan would reverse the impression that China ‘is more interested in continuing the flow of oil to its growing economy’ than it is ‘in staunching the flow of blood in Darfur.’” (Associated Press [dateline: Washington], January 12, 2007)

Of course it is far more than an “impression” that China “is more interested in continuing the flow of oil to its growing economy than it is in staunching the flow of blood in Darfur.” This vicious outlook is, all human rights evidence suggests, the basic geostrategic view governing decisions in Beijing. If the Chinese have learned to cultivate for political purposes a more benign appearance, this does nothing to change the fundamental character of this supremely callous regime.

What, then, does Khartoum sees as it concludes its canny and diligent survey of the international scene? It sees, finally, that the Bush administration, for all its strident language on Darfur, is in the end feckless and disingenuous. A recent statement by Sean McCormack, State Department spokesman, is worth examining closely. A Reuters dispatch from Washington (January 24, 2007) contains the essential elements of the statement, which seeks to obscure the abject failure of the international community, including the US, to act with any force or conviction:

“‘There is of course a much larger phase three program [of military forces] that is out there on the horizon that the Sudanese have yet to agree to. And we would urge [the Government of Sudan] to agree to that,’ McCormack told reporters.” [ ]

“Sudan’s agreement on the final phase of the plan was even more urgent given the recent spike in violence in Darfur and mounting concern over attacks on aid workers, said McCormack. ‘I think that what is required of the international community is constant, consistent pressure---diplomatic pressure---as well as constant review of whether or not the Sudanese are living up to the commitments that they said that they were going to perform on,’ he said.”
(Reuters [dateline: Washington], January 24, 2007)

Here we are at the very heart of the duplicity and expediency that make up the Bush administration’s efforts to manage, rather than confront, the Darfur genocide. McCormack’s bland “urging” of Khartoum to accept the “much larger phase three program” that the regime has so explicitly and consistently rejected will have no more effect than the countless other “urgings” that are the boilerplate of every UN resolution on Darfur to date, every public pronouncement by the US and other Western nations, and any number of other statements by international actors and organizations. Khartoum is so completely indifferent to such “urgings,” so inured to their vacuous repetition, that reiteration serves only to reassure these brutally cynical men: so long as they must deal only with “urgings,” they know that they are triumphing in a grim genocide by attrition in Darfur.

McCormack’s further words---

“I think that what is required of the international community is constant, consistent pressure---diplomatic pressure---as well as constant review of whether or not the Sudanese are living up to the commitments that they said that they were going to perform on”

— -is simply garrulous disingenuousness: the US has failed abysmally, along with the rest of the world, in holding Khartoum to its many “commitments,” both on Darfur and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in southern Sudan. “Constant review” of Khartoum’s reneging has had no discernible effect, and to suggest otherwise is pure mendacity. Khartoum has, for example, “committed” to disarming the Janjaweed on many occasions---most notably in the July 3, 2004 Joint Communiqué signed in Khartoum by the regime and then Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Subsequent reiterations of this “commitment” have meant absolutely nothing, even as there is nothing that does more to create insecurity in Darfur than continuing Janjaweed attacks on civilians and humanitarians.

The issue is not “constant review” but what actions will follow upon Khartoum’s conspicuous refusal to uphold commitments---and here the US has been reduced to mere bluster. Again, Special Envoy Natsios in December threatened Khartoum with some unspecified coercive “Plan B” if the regime did not meet various benchmarks by January 1, 2007. Khartoum has done no more than it committed to prior to Natsios’s threat of “Plan B” and yet we hear nothing more of “coercive” US actions. Such empty bluffs, and all they imply, are not lost on Khartoum’s ruthless survivalists: if the world’s most powerful country is reduced to vacuous threats and unctuously reiterated “urgings,” then there is nothing to fear. Combined with the silence in Europe---interrupted only by very occasional spasms of moral indignation---the international scene offers nothing to trouble Khartoum’s génocidaires.

We are likely to see an even more spectacular example of this dismaying confidence if the International Criminal Court issues indictments and arrest warrants in February, as chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo indicated would be the case last month, and again this week (January 22, 2007). Of course we must wonder first whether Moreno-Ocampo is prepared politically to indict those most responsible for the atrocity crimes in Darfur, i.e., the most senior members of the National Islamic Front political and security hierarchy. There are strong indications that he is not, including the dilatory time-frame that has already defined the ICC investigations in Darfur.

But even if indictments are issued for senior NIF officials, we may be quite sure that they will not extradite themselves. What, then, will be the meaning of these “indictments” except to reveal again that Sudan’s tyranny faces no meaningful challenge from the international community? What are those who so eagerly sought referral of the Darfur atrocity crimes to the ICC prepared to recommend as a strategy for seeing justice done? What may we expect beyond an energetic new round of “urgings”? Khartoum has already made clear its response to impending ICC action:

“Speaking to reporters late last year, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said the ICC, ‘will never intervene in Darfur.’ ‘We are not part of the Rome convention, so we do not take part in this court,’ he added, referring to the treaty that set up the court.” (Associated Press [dateline: The Hague], January 22, 2007)

Certainly the language of “urging” and “obligation” and “concern” will be in high gear. But at the same time the US and others are positioning themselves rhetorically to divest various responsibilities. The State Department’s McCormack, “urged the United Nations to come up with the resources and logistical support for Darfur [ ]. ‘It’s incumbent upon [the UN] to do it,’ he said. ‘Certainly we are encouraging countries to make whatever contributions they can to make sure that phase one and phase two proceed’” (Reuters [dateline: Washington], January 24, 2007). The familiar language of “urging” attends here the judgment that securing forces for Darfur is “incumbent upon” the UN; this means only that the US is defining the obligation to protect Darfur as that of the very organization that refuses to challenge Khartoum’s self-serving claims of “national sovereignty,” primarily because of China’s unwavering diplomatic support for the regime.

What goes unsaid in McCormack’s claim that the US is “encouraging countries to make whatever contributions they can” is that the Bush administration itself has made only minimal commitments of logistical, transport, intelligence, and medical/medevac resources---the very US military resources that will be most needed by any international force deploying effectively to Darfur. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made amply clear at the end of his tenure that no US assets would be spared for Darfur; and there has certainly been no sign of a change in policy as the Bush administration pushes for a military “surge” in Iraq. The world’s militarily most powerful nation has been reduced to cheerleading in the effort to secure and deploy the resources that might provide protection for millions of civilians and many hundreds of essential humanitarians amidst the growing violence of Darfur.


There is an extraordinary international pretense about just how thoroughly Khartoum has triumphed in shelving UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 31, 2006) and its provisions for civilian and humanitarian protection. Part of this pretense takes the form of disingenuous misrepresentations of the so-called “hybrid operation” the regime agreed to during the “High Level Consultation on Darfur” in Addis Ababa, November 16, 2006. But the simple truth is that the Addis “Conclusions” document (it was most certainly not an “agreement,” as Kofi Annan and others have declared) did not offer a more palatable version of Resolution 1706. Rather, the “Conclusions” document was a vague exhortation, with key terms undefined and with hopelessly unspecific language about mandate, about security in eastern Chad, and about the role of the UN.

But even before the Addis “Conclusions” document was produced, and subsequently ratified by the AU Peace and Security Council (Abuja, November 30, 2006), Jan Pronk, Kofi Annan’s special representative for Sudan, had led the way in abandoning Resolution 1706. This disastrously ill-considered decision earned Pronk a stern, if fatally belated rebuke from UN officials following his widely reported comments of September 28, 2006. The BBC dispatch of September 29, 2006 (“UN ‘must drop’ Darfur peace force”) highlights the key quote from an earlier Associated Press report (September 28, 2006):

“Mr Pronk has meanwhile told the Associated Press news agency he does not expect Khartoum to accept UN peacekeepers any time soon. ‘The international community should instead push for the African Union’s mission to be prolonged and reinforced,’ Mr Pronk is quoted as saying. He said the AU force’s mandate should be extended indefinitely to ensure relief continued to reach Darfur’s refugees. Mr Pronk is quoted as saying he was certain Khartoum would allow the AU force to stay on in Darfur.”

This marked the end of any possible use of Resolution 1706 as a benchmark for negotiating the terms of international deployment to Darfur, and ensured the indefinite continuation of a hopelessly inadequate AU force. To be sure, the Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document speaks of 20,000 troops and civilian police (compared with the 22,500 troops, civilian police, and Formed Police Units stipulated in 1706). But paragraph 28 of the “Conclusions” document declares that a “hybrid operation (Phase 3) is also agreed in principle, pending clarification of the size of the force.” This “clarification” has taken subsequent form in Omar al-Bashir’s suggestion of December 2006 that only two additional battalions are needed in Darfur (between 1,200 and 1,400 troops). There has been on Khartoum’s part a steadfast and deliberate refusal to accept the phrase “hybrid force” (as opposed to the thoroughly indeterminate phrase “hybrid operation”) to describe the role of the UN in any deployment to Darfur, and this was emphasized in al-Bashir’s letter to UN Secretary-General Annan (December 23, 2006). But more ominously, al-Bashir also fashioned in this letter a cripplingly effective means of determining how this “hybrid operation” would function:

“Within the context of the above, I would like to reaffirm the readiness of the Government of Sudan to start immediately, through the Tripartite Committee, the implementation of the Addis Ababa Conclusions and the Abuja Communiqué.”

As many have already remarked, Khartoum’s participation in the “Tripartite Committee” would effectively confer veto power on the very regime responsible for genocidal destruction in Darfur. Those reaching this conclusion include not only Sudan analysts but also UN officials, according to Reuters:

“UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, welcomed [the opening statement in al-Bashir’s letter], which they said appeared to provide a legal basis for UN troops in Darfur. But they expressed concern about Bashir’s statement that deployment of the hybrid force [sic] would be carried out through the Tripartite Committee, a body on which Sudan served alongside the United Nations and the AU. UN officials have in the past warned that empowering the Tripartite Committee in this way appeared to give the Khartoum government veto power over AU-UN moves.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], December 26, 2006)

It seems, then, a peculiar demand that was made recently by an unnamed UN official:

“Another UN official put it more bluntly: ‘We want unambiguous commitment on the schedule of the deployment. ... (The Sudanese) need to give us firm dates.’ The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], January 23, 2007)

But why would Khartoum commit, let alone “unambiguously,” to a “firm” set of dates? The point of all Khartoum’s diplomatic efforts since passage of Resolution 1706 has been to render this international decision irrelevant. The regime’s success is best measured in al-Bashir’s defiant words of January 10, 2007:

“‘There are sufficient forces in the Sudan from African countries to maintain order and they can provide order. All we need is funding for the African troops.’” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], January 10, 2007)

Of course if left to the AU, security in Darfur will of course continue to deteriorate. Morale, according to humanitarian workers on the ground, has plummeted, and all too many of the AU troops have simply hunkered down, refusing to incur the risks associated with escorting humanitarian convoys, providing security for humanitarian operations, or protecting civilians, either in camps or rural areas. In the event that Khartoum assumes the chairmanship of the AU, there may well be a further precipitous fall-off in security, as the AU becomes the target of rebel groups throughout Darfur. This would of course play directly into Khartoum’s hand, and certainly discourage non-African nations from joining any “hybrid” or other force in Darfur.

The simple fact is that Khartoum has signed no specific “agreement” on security in Darfur, nothing that has clear benchmarks for troops and civilian police, an explicit specification of mandate, a clear response to the cross-border violence in Chad, and the other key features of UN Security Council Resolution 1706: there is only the sketchy and incomplete Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document (ratified without change by the AU in Abuja) and al-Bashir’s letter to Kofi Annan of December 23, 2006, which implicitly claims veto power over all deployments and operations in Darfur by means of Khartoum’s participation in a “Tripartite Committee,” along with the UN and AU.

It is meaningless, then, when a UN official, speaking confidentially, asserts that “Sudan has jumped at every opportunity to distance itself from the agreement” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], January 23, 2007). There simply is no “agreement,” and to pretend otherwise only invites more confusion about any possible response to the radical security crisis in Darfur. Moreover, because of the confused and unprecedented nature of such a “hybrid operation,” informed sources at the UN are predicting that it will run into severe funding difficulties in various parts of the UN bureaucracy.


The signal event of the past few weeks with respect to the security crisis in Darfur took the form of a powerful and highly unusual joint statement by fourteen UN humanitarian organizations operating in the region. The desperation of this statement, overcoming the entrenched political obstacles within the various UN bureaucracies, is nothing short of astonishing, both in its frankness and its extraordinary implications for the people of Darfur:

“In the face of growing insecurity and danger to communities and aid workers, the UN and its humanitarian partners have effectively been holding the line for the survival and protection of millions.”

“That line cannot be held much longer. Access to people in need in December 2006 was the worst since April 2004. The repeated military attacks, shifting frontlines, and fragmentation of armed groups compromise safe humanitarian access and further victimize civilians who have borne the brunt of this protracted conflict. In the last six months alone, more than 250,000 people have been displaced by fighting, many of them fleeing for the second or third time. Villages have been burnt, looted and arbitrarily bombed and crops and livestock destroyed. Sexual violence against women is occurring at alarming rates. This situation is unacceptable.”

“Nor can we accept the violence increasingly directed against humanitarian workers. Twelve relief workers have been killed in the past six months---more than in the previous two years combined. Their loss has had direct consequences on the Darfur humanitarian operations.” [ ]

“In the last six months, 30 nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] and UN compounds were directly attacked by armed groups. More than 400 humanitarian workers have been forced to relocate 31 times from different locations throughout the three Darfur states, including from the capitals El Fasher and El Geneina and from rebel-controlled areas. Assets have been looted and staff threatened and physically harassed. In the town of Gereida (South Darfur), targeted attacks against six humanitarian compounds on 18 December forced the NGO staff to withdraw, seriously compromising the delivery of vital assistance such as food, clean water and health care for 130,000 displaced persons, the largest IDP gathering in all Darfur. Ten days earlier, in the town of Kutum (North Darfur), the staff of four NGOs and WFP were forced to withdraw to El Fasher, after an attack on a clearly marked humanitarian compound. These are but two examples of the types of incidents which have taken place throughout Darfur.”

“If this situation continues, the humanitarian operation and welfare of the population it aims to support will be irreversibly jeopardised. Ongoing insecurity negatively affects access to health care for the population of Darfur, as many NGOs providing primary health care have had to suspend or minimize their activities. This reduction in services is leading to a deterioration of the hygiene in IDP camps, reflected by the cholera outbreak that struck 2,768 and killed 147 people during 2006. Global malnutrition rates are edging perilously close to the emergency threshold, while some 60 percent of households in need of food aid cite insecurity as the main barrier to cultivating their land, raising livestock and taking part in other income-generating activities.”

“The humanitarian community cannot indefinitely assure the survival of the population in Darfur if insecurity continues. [ ] Solid guarantees for the safety of civilians and humanitarian workers is urgently needed. At the same time, those who have committed attacks, harassment, abduction, intimidation, robbery and injury to civilians, including Internally Displaced Persons, humanitarian workers and other non-combatants, must be held accountable. If not, the UN humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations will not be able to hold the fragile line that to date has provided relief and a measure of protection to some four million people in Darfur affected by this tragic conflict.”

This statement has been endorsed by the following members of the UN Country Team in Sudan:

-  International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
-  Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
-  United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
-  United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
-  United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
-  United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
-  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
-  United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
-  United Nations Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC)
-  United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)
-  United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)
-  United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
-  World Food Programme (WFP)
-  World Health Organisation (WHO)

(Joint Statement on Darfur, January 18, 2007; source: UN High Commission for Refugees)

The security crisis for humanitarian operations in Chad also remains critical. Ethnic violence continues to spread from Darfur throughout eastern Chad, sponsored by Khartoum in a great many cases. Janjaweed incursions are extending further west, even as Khartoum also provides support and sanctuary for the Chadian rebel groups. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reports (January 18, 2007):

“Aid agencies in eastern Chad that had scaled down during heavy fighting in mid-November are still operating at minimum levels, despite a lull in hostilities because of lingering fears of hijackings and armed attacks. A rebel attack on the region’s aid hub, Abeche, from where United Nations agencies and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations run operations for some 330,000 Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians, forced a hasty evacuation of staff in late November.”

“Fighting from Darfur had spilled over the border earlier that month, and there had been combat close to several of the 12 refugee camps the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) runs in eastern Chad. Although there have not been major skirmishes between the army and rebels in Chad for at least six weeks or repeats of the spillover, Nick Ireland, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator, said access is still ‘really tough,’ especially in the north where the heaviest fighting took place in November, and the south of the region where inter-communal violence has forced some 100,000 people to flee their homes, including 50,000 in the last six months.” (UN IRIN [dateline: N’Djamena, Chad], January 18, 2007)

Civilians are also continuing victims of violence orchestrated by Khartoum and its Janjaweed militias. Although severely reduced news coverage and humanitarian access combine to blind us to much of what is occurring in Darfur, it is not a difficult task to infer larger realities from specific reports. The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks reports (January 24, 2007) on attacks in West Darfur, virtually certainly by the Janjaweed, who are most unconstrained in this part of Darfur:

“Recent attacks on villages in the Sudanese state of West Darfur have forced up to 5,000 people to flee their homes and seek refuge in two camps around El Geneina, a nongovernmental organisation working in the volatile area said.”

“Medair-Switzerland said about 500 households were reported to have arrived in Ardamatta Camp, and another 300 in Durti Camp, having fled their homes with very little during the peak of the cold season. Many of the displaced civilians, it added, had spent nights huddled inside rough shelters made of leaves and grass, without even blankets to protect them from the elements. Some suffered injuries while fleeing their villages.” [ ]

“Another agency, Terre des Hommes, was registering the new arrivals and distributing essential non-food items while Save the Children USA and Catholic Relief Services were providing food rations, assisting in repairing hand-pumps and providing temporary shelters. The new arrivals, Medair reported, said some of them had been beaten and others had walked for two days to reach the camps.” (UN IRIN [dateline: Nairobi], January 24, 2007)

More Janjaweed attacks seem imminent, as Amnesty International has recently reported:

“The government-backed Janjawid militia have threatened to attack three villages in West Darfur which they apparently believe are supporting anti-government forces. On 15 January, Janjawid gunmen reportedly warned villagers out searching for firewood that if they did not leave their village within 72 hours they would be attacked. As they fled to neighbouring villages, carrying their valuables, the Janjawid robbed some of them. The Janjawid are now reportedly also planning to attack two other nearby villages, and have been gathering near each village. An attack will likely result in civilian deaths.”

“Although the African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Darfur have a mandate to protect civilians, they have frequently failed to do so even when informed of impending attacks on civilians.”

“The villagers under threat belong to the Erenga ethnic group. In the past three months they have been repeatedly attacked by the Janjawid, seemingly because the government believe most people in the area support the armed opposition groups that have rejected the Darfur Peace Agreement.”

“Over the past year Amnesty International has reported on a series of attacks in this area of West Darfur. On 14 December 2005 the Janjawid attacked three villages, killing 11 people. On 29 October 2006, and again on 11 and 12 November, they attacked another village, killing a total of 67 people, both adults and children.”
(“Fear for safety: Three villages in West Darfur: Bir Dageeg, Sirba and Abu Suruj,” Amnesty International Index: AFR 54/003/2007, January 17, 2007)

This is but a single glimpse of the ethnically-targeted violence that continues everywhere in Darfur, if largely invisibly.


There remains only one issue before the international community: will it provide security for the vast population of innocent children, women, and men who have the misfortune of being the targets of Khartoum’s ongoing genocide by attrition? For there can be no mistake about the consequences of present security conditions in Darfur: humanitarian organizations daily come closer to total collapse. And when they are forced to exit from Darfur---or operate exclusively within the major towns---hundreds of thousands of these innocent human beings will die. Without a major change in the current security dynamic in Darfur, the total mortality figure a year from now could exceed 1 million—more than were slaughtered in the Rwandan genocide on 1994.

There can be no gainsaying the claim that ultimately security in Darfur must derive from a peace agreement. But such an agreement is nowhere in sight, and Khartoum gives every sign of wishing to forestall meaningful peace negotiations with the non-signatory rebel groups. This is the real significance of the relentless bombing campaign in North Darfur that the African Union has confirmed on a number of recent occasions.

In turn, all that can persuade Khartoum to allow in the international forces that might have the ability to provide security for civilians and humanitarians is a fundamental shift in the diplomatic dynamic at the Security Council. Here, given current strategic equities, all necessary pressure must be brought to bear on China, which alone has the power to force a re-thinking on Khartoum’s part. This is the significance of the unfolding campaign to hold Beijing accountable for its callous indifference, and ultimately for its complicity in the Darfur genocide. Indeed, China’s complicity is even now beginning to be highlighted by advocacy groups around the world, with a rapidly sharpening focus:

The message will be at once simple and utterly unrelenting: unless China’s uses its unrivalled influence with Khartoum to secure consent for an international peace support operation in Darfur, the 2008 Olympic Games will become the relentless platform to expose and excoriate Beijing’s complicity in the Darfur genocide. China may have selected its own Olympics motto, “One world, one dream.” But until the dream of peace is realized, until Darfur is also part of this “one world,” China will confront a very different motto---at every turn, on every occasion, on every continent, and indeed in China itself:


* Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has published extensively on Sudan. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu; website : www.sudanreeves.org

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