Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 29 October 2008

Humanitarian efforts in Darfur face escalating war by Khartoum


The long, brutal war of attrition directed at humanitarian aid efforts
in Darfur is again accelerating, as Khartoum seeks to effect a
permanently destructive status quo prior to further UNAMID deployment.
These immensely destructive efforts are also meant to deter the ICC from issuing an arrest warrant for National Islamic Front regime head Omar al-Bashir.

By Eric Reeves

October 28, 2008 — The UN recently issued yet another report on humanitarian conditions in
Darfur, noting in a long catalog of obstruction and harassment that for
more than four months the Khartoum regime refused to allow entry to
5,000 metric tons of sugar bound for Darfur. What is the role of sugar
in food aid to Darfur? Why is this obstruction of particular note? There
is tremendous fear within the humanitarian community of expanding
malnutrition, especially among children. In a desperate attempt to
sustain children under five through the rainy season that ended earlier
this month, UN World Food Program and nongovernmental humanitarian
organizations focused with extraordinary intensity on this most
vulnerable population group. A key part of their effort was a "Blanket
Supplementary Feeding Program," using as its primary tool a specially
designed "premix" of foods. What goes into this "premix"? Corn-soya
blend, dried skimmed milk…and sugar.

For those assessing the present motives and character of the National
Islamic Front (NIF) regime in Khartoum, it is important to recognize
that this brutal cabal knew perfectly well that an exceedingly dangerous
"hunger gap" was approaching last spring, largely coinciding with
Darfur’s rainy season. The regime also knew full well the purpose of a
Blanket Supplementary Feeding Program, and the key ingredients of the
particular "premix" designed to sustain children, many of whom were
above the emergency malnutrition threshold early in the "hunger gap."
And still Khartoum’s génocidaires---fully aware of the consequences of
their actions---refused entry to 5,000 metric tons of sugar for more
than four months (page 9, UN Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 33
[hereafter DHP 33], representing conditions as of October 1, 2008).

This delay in releasing a large quantity of a key ingredient in
sustaining the lives of young children, largely from non-Arab or African
tribal populations, was a direct assault on their ability to live---it
represents another in a long and continuous history of genocidal actions
by the NIF regime, going back to well before the outbreak of organized
rebellion in Darfur in early 2003. The present analysis focuses on some
of the current features of Khartoum’s deadly war of attrition against
humanitarian workers and operations in Darfur, as well as some
significant antecedents that provided ample indication of what the
regime is moving toward.


As DHP 33 reports (page 3), the humanitarian stakes could hardly be
higher. 2.7 million civilians in Darfur are now internally
displaced---300,000 of them forced to flee this year alone according to
the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. They are the
newest victims of accelerating violence and diminishing humanitarian
access in rural areas and remote camps. Another 250,000 Darfuris are
refugees in Eastern Chad, surviving tenuously with more than 180,000
internally displaced Chadians. 4.7 million human beings in Darfur are
now described by the UN as "conflict-affected" and in need of
humanitarian assistance. Mortality rates have also been climbing since
the heaviest period of the seasonal rains, although we have no official
accounting and are not likely to have in the near- or medium-term. A
tremendous numb
er of these affected people were early victims of
Khartoum’s weakened and demoralized for years, and their spirits are being crushed.

Indeed, incredibly, disgracefully, the regime’s savage campaign of
civilian destruction is set to enter its seventh year in a few months.
Darfur’s people have lost their families, their homes, their lands, and
increasingly their cultural history and connection to traditional
agricultural ways of life. For many displaced persons, life in the camps
is an ongoing nightmare of violence, severe deprivation, and chaos. Few
have hope of security or peace anytime soon. The Janjaweed, Khartoum’s
murderous militia allies, still roam threateningly outside many of these
camps, raping women and girls who are even now often forced to leave to
gather firewood necessary to cook food. More than three million people
are in need of food aid, but continue to receive food rations that are
only 65 per cent of the minimum daily kilocalorie diet recommended by
the UN World Food Program. These cuts in rations were first imposed in
May of this year---more than five long months ago.

This shortfall in rations---which has inevitably increased malnutrition
and mortality---is partly a result of emergency diversion of food
resources to children under five. But much more consequential is
Khartoum’s refusal to provide protection for convoys of the UN World
Food Program (WFP), either on journeys from Port Sudan to Darfur
or---most consequentially---within Darfur itself. As a consequence, in
September, WFP again renewed its threat to suspend food delivery if
security does not improve for its convoys:

"’Should these attacks continue, the situation will become
intolerable---to the point that we will have to suspend operations in
some areas of Darfur,’ the WFP’s Deputy Representative in Sudan, Monika
Midel, said. WFP spokesman Rachid Jaafar told Reuters the agency had not
decided which delivery routes would be cut. ’But large numbers will be
affected,’ he said. The WFP currently delivers food to more than 3
million people in Darfur, he added." (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum],
September 7, 2008 at

Attacks on WFP convoys and personnel---as well as assaults on other
humanitarians, their vehicles, compounds, and equipment---must be
understood for what they are: actions that are the clear responsibility
of the Khartoum regime. As an experienced and particularly well-placed
humanitarian official recently told this writer, in areas controlled by
Khartoum nothing happens that is not implicitly or explicitly sanctioned
by the regime. This is true for the vast majority of assaults on
vehicles, resources, living compounds, and personnel of nongovernmental
humanitarian organizations, which are located primarily in or near urban
areas that are controlled by Khartoum’s regular military and police, as
well as the feared Military Intelligence.

Certainly numbers tell a good deal of what is so badly hobbling
humanitarian efforts. The UN reports that as of October 20, 2008, 234
humanitarian vehicles had been hijacked this year alone, 183
humanitarians were abducted, and 153 humanitarian premises assaulted
and/or destroyed. Eleven humanitarian workers have been killed. Again,
the vast majority of these attacks occurred either in state capitals or
in main towns under regime control; the failure to take responsibility
for humanitarian operations in areas under its control is but another
violation of international law by Khartoum.

Unsurprisingly, the number of humanitarian organizations that are
withdrawing from Darfur or seriously contracting their operations
continues to grow. In addition to earlier withdrawals by a number of
organizations, more recently (August) Doctors Without Borders/Medecins
Sans Frontieres was forced by insecurity to withdraw its staff from
Tawilla and Shangil Tobaya in North Darfur, leaving 65,000 civilians,
mainly displaced persons, without any medical assistance. The extremely
violent and dangerous military campaign that Kharalso continues in much of North Darfur and eastern Jebel Marra.
Confidential sources report that several humanitarian organizations have
been forced to withdraw staff from Jebel Marra back to el Fasher. The
German humanitarian organization Welthungerhilfe (German Agro Action)
has also been forced to withdraw from North Darfur after threats against
its staff, thereby suspending food deliveries to 450,000 human beings.

At the same time, the threats of humanitarian expulsions by Khartoum are
relentless and explicit. The Sudan Tribune, which closely watches
domestic pronouncements by the regime, reports:

"Salah Gosh, the head of Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence
Services said that laws governing the work of humanitarian organizations
will be reviewed. ’Any organization that does not adhere to its mandate
will face accountability measures and any that refuses to sign an
agreement must leave’ Gosh said at a forum organized by the ministry of
humanitarian affairs. ’The governments wants aid and not for these
organizations to play around’ he added." (Sudan Tribune, August 29,

There can hardly be any doubt about the seriousness of these threats
from the regime. Yesterday (October 27, 2008) the Nobel Peace
Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)
declared in a headline article from its website that "Sudanese
authorities threaten to suspend MSF activities in South Darfur":

"MSF is extremely concerned about recent comments made by Sudanese
government representatives that the aid organization’s activities in
South Darfur may be suspended after October 31 [2008]."

"In February 2008, based on the health needs of displaced people and
local residents, the Dutch branch of MSF signed an agreement with the
state government of South Darfur for medical activities to be carried
out through the year. The agreement was sent to Khartoum for national
endorsement. For months, MSF has been engaging with the Sudanese
government in an attempt to obtain the final signatures, but without
success. The government has since asked MSF to reduce its personnel, to
stop certain medical activities and to limit staffing numbers."

These threats against the world’s most distinguished nongovernmental
humanitarian organizations and UN agencies are astonishing not simply
for the fact of their being made, but because they go unrebuked (see my
Boston Globe op/ed on this failure to respond,
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article226.html). Nor are they merely
threats. In a particularly telling example, the senior and highly
experienced UN humanitarian coordinator for South Darfur, Wael al-Haj
Ibrahim, was expelled in November 2007. His "offense"? He opposed the
violent removal of hundreds of civilians, primarily women and children,
from Otash Camp near Nyala (see
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article199.html). Sir John Holmes, UN
humanitarian coordinator, reported at the time that Khartoum used trucks
protected by machine-guns, security personnel wielding rubber hoses and
sticks, as well as other threats to force people to leave. These highly
vulnerable displaced persons were moved to undisclosed locations, and
many were never unaccounted for.

Certainly the overall effect of Khartoum’s threats, intimidations,
expulsions, and orchestrated violence can hardly be doubted. An August
8, 2008 map from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs reveals that virtually all of the populated areas of Darfur
outside urban centers are now either totally without UN humanitarian
access or have only limited access:


To be sure, in many uncontrolled areas opportunistic bandits, Janjaweed,
and small rebel breakaway factions (especially from the Minni Minawi
wing of the "Sudan Liberation M
ovement") also take a fearsome toll on
humanitarian opeel-Geneina, Kass, and Zalingei—with a large percentage of the camps,
especially the larger camps, in their immediate environs---violence
against humanitarians is in effect sanctioned by Khartoum. Such violence
is a way of undermining the morale of aid workers as well as the
effectiveness of their assistance projects. Fear of retribution by
Khartoum prevents humanitarians from speaking publicly of this
debilitating reality, but it is certainly the prevailing view of those
on the ground. That such motives animate Khartoum’s actions is clearly
illustrated by one of a series of telling observations made in the
current Darfur Humanitarian Profile, speaking about the regime’s
"Humanitarian Aid Commission" (HAC). In fact, HAC is little more than an
extension of the Interior Ministry and Military Intelligence (tellingly,
Hassabo Abdelrahim, the relatively new head of HAC, has a national
security background):

"In July [2008] in North Darfur, HAC informed international
nongovernmental humanitarian aid organizations of a new set of strict
regulations before they can obtain travel permits when travelling in
rented vehicles. Travelling in rented vehicles is one of the mitigating
actions taken by humanitarians to reduce the debilitating effect of
highjackings." (DHP 33, page 6])

Khartoum is of course well aware of the disruptive and costly effects of
these and other new restrictions on humanitarian vehicles and travel.
Indeed, this disruption is precisely the point. These may not be the
most consequential of actions, but in their transparent motives they are
of a piece with the pattern of obstruction, impoundment of food and
resources, harassment, arrests, even violent assaults on aid workers.
These have defined Khartoum’s response to humanitarian efforts since
late in 2003 (see my December 2003 account of the selective denial of
food aid to areas where African tribal populations were concentrated,

Khartoum also continues to paint its military aircraft the white color
that is exclusively for use by UN and humanitarian organizations. This
extremely dangerous tactic of course puts legitimately white
humanitarian aircraft at risk, and a number of humanitarian and UNAMID
aircraft have indeed been shot at recently. This is a tactic that goes
back years, and has been repeatedly reported by the UN Panel of Experts
on Darfur (appointed by and tasked with reporting to the Security
Council). Recently, a September 28, 2008 report from the ground in
el-Fasher (site of Khartoum’s largest military base in Darfur) notes
that three white helicopter gunships were flown north toward current
fighting by the regime’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).

In yet another example of Khartoum’s campaign of humanitarian
obstruction and harassment, confidential accounts from humanitarian
organizations on the ground make clear that Khartoum’s security forces
are impounding the hard drives of computers, demanding computer
passwords, stripping out extremely sensitive information, and copying
private emails. Threatening interrogations have sometimes followed these
completely illegal electronic searches, with Sudanese nationals
especially vulnerable. DHP 33 reports:

"Of serious concern was the forceful interference by local and
Khartoum-based HAC officials who visited several NGO premises in Nyala
and Kass (South Darfur) at the end of August, and interrogated, harassed
and bullied staff. NGOs were forced to disclose their computer
passwords, and sensitive files especially in the fields of protection
and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) were searched, copied and taken away."
(page 6)

Given Khartoum’s intense propaganda efforts to deny the massive
realities of rape in Darfur, the focus of these coerced collections of
confidential data is hardly surprising. At the same time humanitarian
organizations report that several women’s health centers run by
nongovernmental organizations have been closed by Kha
rtoum’s security
forces. These are among the very few resources in Darfur for the tens of
thousands of women and girls who Closing these centers will leave traumatized victims without any
resources, in a cultural environment in which rape is deeply
stigmatizing and isolating. Many of these women and girls will suffer
severe health complications; many will ultimately die.


There are countless other tactical efforts by Khartoum to compromise the
effectiveness of humanitarian efforts, and thereby deny the targeted
people of Darfur food, medical care, and water. DHP 33 reports that this
summer Khartoum’s security forces deliberately denied fuel to Kalma
camp---the very fuel necessary to pump water for the roughly 90,000
people confined in unbearably close quarters:

"Fuel restrictions into Kalma camp led to the temporary complete
disruption of water supply in several sectors. Fuel restrictions
continued until mid-August." (page 6)

The regime’s larger strategy within the camps is to make them gradually,
or perhaps precipitously, uninhabitable---to force relocation, even if
into insecure and inaccessible regions. Violent attacks meant to terrify
and destabilize the camp populations are part of this strategy. Attacks
against displaced civilians by Khartoum’s regular forces and its
Janjaweed militia allies began at Aro Sharow, West Darfur in September
2005 (see http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-article530-p1.html). Many
such attacks followed. More recently, Otash camp near Nyala was attacked
in October of last year (see
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article192.html). Nearby Kalma camp was
attacked this past August, with more than a hundred civilians killed or
wounded by Khartoum’s security forces (see Wall Street Journal op/ed at,
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article223.html). And Zam Zam camp near
al-Fasher offers a very recent example of the kind of violence that
occurs ever more frequently in camps and urban areas, though rarely with
a news reporting presence. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
([dateline: Zam Zam Camp, North Darfur], reports on October 22, 2008)
the story of "Adam," a man who had fled his village of Um Hashaba in

"’Four vehicles entered the camp filled with men wearing police khaki
uniforms. They didn’t say a thing. They just entered and started
shooting. They called to me. I started running. They shot me in the back
before I got the chance to escape. The shooting went on for an hour and
15 minutes. No one could raise their heads.’"

Adam saw his meager livelihood selling odd items wiped out in a matter
of minutes, and now contemplates his plight: "’The bullet remains in my
back. To remove the bullet, I need money for surgery. They took all my

For years, going back to summer of 2004, humanitarians have worried in
particular about Khartoum’s announced policy of returning people to
their "homes" and villages, even if these no longer exist, or are
hopelessly insecure, or have been taken over by Arab tribes for grazing.
Once the camps are empty, Khartoum reasons, there will be no further
justification for an international humanitarian presence. Darfur’s
victims will no longer represent the conspicuous moral disgrace that
matters to Khartoum only insofar as it interferes with the regime’s
international "charm offensive" and weakens efforts to "normalize"
relations with the outside world.

But the campaign against civilians and humanitarians has certainly
accelerated this year, beginning with Khartoum’s brutal military
campaign against civilians north of el-Geneina
(http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article204.html). The challenge facing
humanitarians is to convey how much more threatening the situation on
the ground has become. The period from earlier 2005 to later 2007 looks
relatively stable in retrospect, as humanitarian access was less hobbled
in several respects. But 2008 marks the return of high levels of
military conflict, massive civilian displacement (again, over 300,000
people to date this year), huge areas
that are inaccessible to
humanitarians, and a new brutality and determination in Khartoum’s war
on humanitarian effortsincreased since the beginning of Khartoum’s August offensive, with the
effect not only of scattering the civilian population but making their
villages too dangerous for humanitarian access.

Complementing this broad strategy of compromising humanitarian
assistance throughout Darfur is an utterly shameless official mendacity
on the part of the regime---both the obdurate denial of humanitarian
realities, and promulgation of the grossest fabrications concerning
civilian conditions on the ground and the activities of humanitarians.
By threatening and coercively silencing UN agencies and international
humanitarian organizations, Khartoum means to have its voice take on a
default significance domestically, but also among its allies in the Arab
world, the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference,
and other international groupings (see my discussion of Khartoum’s
selection as chair of the "Group of 77" developing nations, at

A few recent examples speak volumes in light of the authoritative
dispatches and humanitarian reports cited above:

[1] "Last week, Hassabo Abdelrahim, head of Sudan’s humanitarian
commission [HAC], told an audience of diplomats and rights campaigners
that ’99 percent is going well’ in the aid sector and that the mortality
rate in Darfur is now ’normal.’ He said government forces were attacking
rebels in Darfur to ’protect the humanitarian workers’ in the western
region." (Associated Press [dateline: Geneva], September 16, 2008)

Some of these outlandish lies are primarily for domestic consumption and
the Arab-speaking world; but precisely because other voices are so
relentlessly censored, Khartoum enjoys some success even with its most
preposterous claims:

[2] "Presidential Advisor Abdallah Masar shouldered the humanitarian
organizations working in Darfur [with responsibility] for aggravating
the conflict in the region. Masar stated that the said organizations are
many and most of them are intelligence arms for international forces
taking the humanitarian aspect as a cover for its activities." (Sudan
Vision [state-controlled] [dateline: Khartoum)], September 7, 2008)

Appealing to a domestic audience and the Arab and Islamic world,
Khartoum doesn’t hesitate to deploy the grossest anti-Semitism.
Recently, Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, the most powerful "presidential advisor" in
the regime, made clear his views of French efforts to address the issues
at stake in ICC investigations of atrocity crimes in Darfur:

[3] "’The French role in supporting the charges against Al-Bashir is a
result of the growing Zionist influence in France. I see no taste or
smell or use from the so called French initiative,’ [Nafi’e] said." (The
Sudan Tribune [Paris], August 17, 2008)

The final part of Khartoum’s strategy is resumption, on a selective
basis, of the scorched-earth tactics deployed in 2003-2005. This creates
new civilian victims and a greater humanitarian burden for operations
already stretched to the breaking point. Khartoum’s military campaign
attenuates both humanitarian reach and capacity. This is what is
militarily at stake in the North Darfur campaign, as well as in military
confrontations developing elsewhere (e.g., eastern Jebel Marra;
Muhajiriya, east of Nyala in South Darfur; and the desperate case of the
Tawilla area, west of el-Fasher). These will be discussed in a
forthcoming analysis.


One might imagine, certainly if doing so from the vantage of Darfur’s
long suffering civilian population, that these fearsome realities and
the evil sustaining them would be attended by significant news coverage
and persevering outrage. And in fact, the world’s human rights
organizations, as well as several "think tanks," have done a superb job
keeping pace with events in Darfur and Sudan more broadly. We have
recently been w
arned with impressive authority about the threats to
peace posed by Khartoum’s actions in South Kordofan State and the Nuba
Mountains (see especially "The Drift Back to War: Insecurity and
http://allafrica.com/stories/200808260530.html). There have also been a
number of important analyses of the slow, but apparently inexorable
drift back to war Southern Sudan.

On the other hand, it hardly helps that Khartoum is determined to keep
Darfur out of the news as much as possible, and has greatly tightened
travel restrictions for journalists and other investigators. The
regime’s security officials are often peremptory, harassing, and
destructive in their treatment of journalists and their equipment; there
are as a consequence many fewer journalists filing dispatches with
datelines from Darfur. And UN and international nongovernmental
organizations---those best positioned to report on Khartoum’s actions
and tactics in Darfur---often feel compelled to impose on themselves a
stifling self-censorship, which at times become excessively deferential
(see http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article221.html). The fundamental
situation is so compromised that some humanitarian organizations are
questioning, with increasing seriousness, the viability of their
missions in Darfur in the absence of any ability to speak out honestly,
even as they are severely constrained in the delivery of humanitarian
services and supplies.

But ultimately, it is the international community---as has been true for
some six years---that refuses to see, truly see, the realities of
Darfur, and what these realities represent of the power and ghastly
ambitions of the Khartoum regime. The powerful nations of the West, the
UN Security Council, the Arab League, the African Union, the
Organization of the Islamic Conference, China, Russia---none has been
sufficiently moved by Darfur’s agony, and collectively they have
inevitably failed to undertake the actions that might lead to the
protection of Darfuris and their increasingly tenuous humanitarian
lifeline. The catalog of failure is immense, and the arc of that failure
illuminates the radical inability of the UN Security Council to take
seriously its nominal responsibility for "international peace and
security" in Darfur and Eastern Chad:

- The UNSC has for more than four years refused to see that Council
demands are met---e.g., Resolution 1556, July 31, 2004, "demanded" that
Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice;

- The UNSC has refused to ensure that humanitarian agreements signed by
Khartoum are respected. On July 3, 2004, in a Joint Communiqué signed by
Khartoum and Kofi Annan, the regime committed to: "Ensure that no
militias are present in all areas surrounding Internally Displaced
Persons camps";
"Immediately start to disarm the Janjaweed and other armed outlaw
groups." ("Joint Communiqué between the Government of Sudan and the
United Nations," July 3, 2004 [Khartoum], Section 3);

- The UNSC has failed to compel Khartoum to abide by the arms embargo
imposed on all combatants in March 2005 (UN Security Council resolution

- The UNSC has failed to support effectively the UN/African Union force
(UNAMID) authorized by the Council in Resolution 1769 (July 31, 2007);

- Militarily capable UN member states, in the West and elsewhere, have
failed to provide the essential resources necessary for UNAMID to
succeed: logistics, essential equipment (particularly helicopters and
ground transport), and an adequate intelligence and communications

- UN Security Council Resolution 1593 (March 2005) referred the
investigation of atrocity crimes committed in Darfur to the
International Criminal Court. And yet at the moment of truth, among
Security Council members only the US (which under the Bush
administration opposes the ICC in principle) openly embraces the
workings of the Court, along with Costa Rica. France and the UK seem to
be awkwardly ambivalent, with the effect that Khartoum presses on with
its international
campaign to gut the Court’s work on Darfur.

Where will the international leadership come from to mitigate our
failure in Darfur? How can we prevent a final cataclysm of human
destructiosoul-destroying existence?

In the short run all that matters, with so many lives at risk, is
whether or not we can provide adequate food, water, and medical care to
those who are increasingly without---and whether we can protect those
courageous individuals providing humanitarian aid. The "Darfur peace
process" at this moment is purely notional, in part because of
apparently hopeless divisions within the rebel factions, and because
Khartoum seems currently bent on returning to its familiar habit of
creating multiple peace forums and negotiating interlocutors, to be
shopped among later as the times dictate. The people of Darfur cannot
wait for peace to break out, particularly when peace is looking so
fragile in other regions of Sudan.

How are we to reverse the recent successes of Khartoum’s war of
attrition against humanitarian relief in Darfur? There must be
unrelenting and increasing pressure on the regime to abide by its
commitments: on security issues---including UNAMID deployment---and on
unfettered humanitarian access. These are the only tools we have at the
moment, and yet much that might be utilized, pressures that might be
wielded---especially by Europe, the US, regional organizations, and
China---are ignored or deemed "too difficult." In this ignorance and
laziness lie the real answers to why Darfur’s agony continues.

* Eric Reeves is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu. www.sudanreeves.org

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  • 1 November 2008 11:38, by tayeb M. Alhassan

    simply you can say Khartoum has to pull out of the region!!!

    repondre message

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