Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 5 March 2009

Darfur enmeshed within Sudan’s broadening national crisis (3-3)


On the eve of the ICC announcement of a warrant for the arrest of Omar
al-Bashir, charging him with atrocity crimes, security in Darfur reaches
a nadir; humanitarians continue to evacuate and their operations to
contract amidst growing evidence that UNAMID cannot protect them, or

By Eric Reeves

March 3, 2009


This analysis appears immediately prior to a much anticipated
announcement (scheduled for March 4, 2009) by the Pre-Trial Chamber of
the International Criminal Court. The Court will almost certainly issue
an arrest warrant for National Islamic Front/National Congress Party
President Omar al-Bashir---charging him with atrocity crimes in Darfur,
including crimes against humanity. The consequences of this
announcement are uncertain, though alarm on the part of al-Bashir and
his regime has become increasingly conspicuous over the past several
months. This alarm has been reflected in a wide range of threats
against the international community, including supporters of the ICC,
humanitarian workers in Darfur, the UN/African Union peacekeeping force
in Darfur, as well as the linchpin north/south Comprehensive Peace
Agreement (2005).

The most recent and revealing threat came from the head of the National
Security and Intelligence Service, the powerful Saleh Abdalla Gosh.
Gosh ominously threatened supporters of ICC actions with the resurgence
of Islamic fundamentalism in Sudan; he declared that the ruling National
Congress Party (NCP) would again become, in effect, the National Islamic
Front (NIF)---the name for the current regime when it came to power by
military coup in 1989, deposing an elected government, and deliberately
aborting Sudan’s most promising chance for peace since Independence in

“If [ICC supporters] press us to return to our past position [as
“Islamic fundamentalists”], we will no doubt return. And if they
want us to return into hardliners anew, that is a simple thing to do.
And we are capable of doing it." (Associated Press [dateline: The
Hague], February 20, 2009)

Among other things, this is an implicit threat that Khartoum will again
support or facilitate terrorism. Here we should recall that when
Khartoum hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda from 1991 to 1996,
formative years for the organization, Gosh was bin Laden’s minder and
primary contact with the regime; moreover, Khartoum continued to offer
substantial support to al-Qaeda for years following bin Laden’s
departure for Afghanistan. Gosh is threatening not only a return to
radical Islam, including support for terrorism, but a more aggressive
pursuit of the Arabizing agenda now conspicuously on display in Darfur.

Some of Khartoum’s threats may be carried out immediately, though
likely with initial restraint so as to allow the regime time to gauge
the seriousness of international responses. With dismaying belatedness
and vagueness, some within the international community and the UN
Secretariat have begun to warn Khartoum not to engage in reprisals or
follow through on its threats. Moreover, the regime certainly knows that
its behavior will be under the closest international scrutiny at any
time since the outbreak of major rebellion in Darfur in 2003, and will
act with this in mind. But since no credible consequences for reprisals
or other threatened actions have been articulated, Khartoum will
certainly engineer early tests of whether there is international resolve
to act rather than merely condemn. Large, regime-orchestrated
demonstrations will occur in Khartoum, with a decidedly anti-Western and
anti-Semitic character; violence seems assured with the reported
presence of the paramilitary Popular Defense Forces. Security
crackdowns in the Darfur displaced persons camps will follow any
demonstrations by Darfuris celebrating the ICC announcement; harsh
treatment of humanitarian organizations is also likely, and some may be
expelled on contrived charges. A growing number of humanitarian
organizations are already accelerating the evacuation of their
personnel, which will soon cause further suffering and death in Darfur.

[The analysis below is part 3 of a three-part overview extending back a
number of weeks (part 1, January 1, 2009 at
http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article29742; part 2, January
22, 2009 at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article29948). In these
earlier analyses I focused on the potential for intra-state conflict in
Sudan, particularly in South Sudan, Southern Kordofan and the Nuba
Mountains, the East, and of course Darfur. The analyses highlighted the
National Islamic Front regime’s growing dependence on an oil-sustained
economy, and the current budgetary, finally political crisis that
declining oil prices have precipitated. They also highlighted the
growing threats to national elections scheduled for this year (yet
looking increasingly impossible before 2010), and to the Southern
self-determination referendum (scheduled for July 2011). These analyses
also discussed the Qatari-hosted Darfur “peace process,” as did a
more focused and extended piece published at The Sudan Tribune on
February 9, 2009, at


Still, there are countervailing forces at work. Long-time supporters
China and Russia, during diplomatic missions to Khartoum, privately
urged restraint upon the regime. Moreover, the regime knows that
large-scale reprisals in Darfur or Southern Sudan would squander much of
the support that still exists within the Arab League and the African
Union, if in more qualified terms. Egypt in particular has made clear
to al-Bashir its unhappiness with the way in which the regime has
responded to the ICC, as well as its dismay at the increasingly
imperiled north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The ICC
warrant will continuously corrode the legitimacy of al-Bashir’s
presidency, and make Sudan a less reliable regional partner, including
during currently stalled negotiations over the Nile waters. Moreover,
Egypt is well aware that without a serious international effort to
resuscitate the CPA it will fail because of Khartoum’s continuing
refusal to implement its terms. This guarantees that Southern Sudan
will either vote or fight for secession; unity with northern Sudan,
which was to have been made “attractive” during the interim period
specified by the CPA, has already been overwhelmingly rejected by

Egypt’s dominant strategic concern is the water of the White Nile,
which passes through Southern Sudan and carries about 20 percent of the
Nile waters reaching Egypt (about 80 percent comes from the Blue Nile,
which does not pass through Southern Sudan). Concerns over the White
Nile waters were the reason the Egyptians so adamantly opposed the
Machakos Protocol agreed to by Khartoum and the Sudan People’s
Liberation Movement in July 2002; the Protocol guaranteed Southern Sudan
the right to a self-determination referendum after a six-and-a-half-year
interim period following a final peace agreement. Although the Protocol
was the indispensable starting point for peace talks that were to have
any chance of success, it was nonetheless viciously excoriated
throughout the summer of 2002 in Egyptian news accounts and by Egyptian
officials, including by the office of President Mubarak. This is one
measure of how seriously Egypt regards Southern Sudan, and indirectly a
measure of how angry Cairo is with Khartoum.

In addition to pressure from Russia, China, Egypt, as well as other
international actors of consequence, Khartoum faces intense internal
pressures and divisions. Speculation is rife about whether a formally
indicted al-Bashir will be deposed in a “palace coup d’état,”
exiled to Saudi Arabia, or perhaps simply step down. Or he may feel
strong enough, especially with the support of the armed forces, to hold
onto the reins of power. This presumes that he and the regime can ride
out any international backlash, or the growing stench of illegitimacy
that will inevitably attach to rule by al-Bashir’s National Islamic
Front (NIF)/National Congress Party (NCP).

If al-Bashir is replaced, willingly or otherwise, the candidates to
replace him are all deeply problematic. Indeed, the thuggish al-Bashir
himself has no special talent or qualities to recommend him as
president, a position he has held for 20 years: he continues to head the
regime simply because the status quo in Sudan has been so successful for
the NIF. Al-Bashir’s powerful rivals, who may have already concluded
that he has become a liability and should be replaced, include a roster
of future targets for indictment by the ICC---something these men are
well aware of. Saleh Abdalla Gosh, head of the National Security and
Intelligence Services; Ali Osman Taha, former first vice-president,
current second vice-president, and primary architect of genocidal policy
in Darfur beginning in early 2004; Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, the
increasingly powerful senior presidential advisor who has held the
Darfur portfolio since 2007. Other players include Abdel Rahim Mohamed
Hussein, currently defense minister and former interior minister; Awad
al-Jaz, the powerful finance minister; presidential affairs minister
General Bakri Hassan Saleh; and several senior army officials.

But none of these men is acceptable to all other cabal members, and
several are unacceptable to the army, Taha in particular. Although
there is clearly growing tension within this group over al-Bashir’s
fate and his potential successor, the NIF remains opaque in its most
consequential decisions. We have no way of knowing at present the full
reaction by members of the regime to the impending indictment. But
certainly al-Bashir is feeling vulnerable, and this may be one reason
that following the ICC announcement, and initial public reactions, he
will attempt to retain the presidency by keeping as low a profile as
possible internationally, even as he cultivates loyalty among those
constituencies that can keep him in power. With sufficient
international pressure, this may create opportunities to negotiate a
cease-fire for Darfur and extract concessions that will lead to an
improved security environment for civilians and humanitarians.

Some within the international community have sent signals that with
sufficient improvement in the security situation in Darfur, and progress
toward a peace agreement, the ICC prosecution of al-Bashir might be
suspended for a year or more (under Chapter 16 of the Rome Statute,
which gives authority for such suspension to the UN Security Council in
the interest of “international peace and security”). This would be
an extremely dangerous precedent to set in matters of international
justice, and may seriously damage the ICC. It is also far from clear
that the relevant countries---permanent Security Council members France,
the UK, the US---will hold Khartoum and al-Bashir to a sufficiently high
standard of improved security and progress toward peace. Indeed, the
requirements for France and the UK seem deliberately very modest.
Chapter 16, if it is in fact invoked, should command a very steep price
in the form of commitment by al-Bashir to an enforceable cease-fire, an
end to harassment and obstruction of humanitarian aid, and decisive
engagement with a serious Darfur peace process.

If any such quid pro quo is being contemplated, the regime’s record
of reneging and bad faith should be borne carefully in mind.
Improvements in Darfur must be irreversible, with international
guarantors for these changes. A significantly enhanced UN/African Union
Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) would be the obvious candidate as primary
guarantor of both security promises and a cease-fire agreement that must
precede any successful peace process. But UNAMID is failing to fulfill
its protection mandate, despite the encouraging words offered by some
within the UN and the AU; the force is in no position to guarantee
anything with its present or foreseeable strength and capabilities.

The balance of this analysis examines UNAMID’s weaknesses, and
assesses security conditions currently prevailing in Darfur. Notably, a
number of humanitarian organizations have begun to evacuate significant
numbers of personnel, including nearly all expatriate staff (who are the
most likely target for Khartoum’s actions). Operations in Darfur have
continued to contract as access has grown steadily more limited for more
than two years. UNAMID itself shows signs of simply hunkering down in
the face of violence it cannot control and a complete lack of restraint
shown by many of the combatants, including Khartoum’s regular Sudan
Armed Forces (SAF), its Janjaweed militia allies, and the Justice and
Equality Movement. The latter indeed has matched Khartoum in issuing
provocative statements and threats for the occasion of the ICC
announcement. Coupled with the diplomatic and political paralysis of
the other two primary rebel movements---the Sudan Liberation
Movement/Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM/AW) and the Sudan Liberation
Movement/Unity (SLM/Unity)---insecurity seems destined to deteriorate
yet further, as it has since the beginning of UNAMID deployment.


Nineteen months after passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1769
(July 2007), authorizing a large UN/African Union “hybrid”
peacekeeping force to Darfur, the mission is failing badly, and may be
in an irretrievable decline in capability. This is due to poor
command-and-control, woefully inadequate logistical capacity, gross
deficiencies in military equipment, including communications and
transport (particularly helicopters), and a dramatic shortfall in the
numbers of qualified and well-trained troops, police, and other
personnel. There has been no improvement in security in Darfur since
the UN took over the mission on January 1, 2008 from an even more
impotent African Union mission in Darfur (AMIS), in the process
incorporating most of the 7,000 soldiers from this ill-equipped and
hopelessly ineffective force.

There is much blame to apportion, between the African Union, the UN
leadership, and militarily capable nations that have refused to provide
critically needed equipment. Most consequential in the first half year
of deployment, and continuing today, are Khartoum’s obstructionist
policies, its many delays of UNAMID deployment, and its refusal to abide
by a belatedly signed comprehensive Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
But the grim truth is that Khartoum need only make modest efforts now to
impede the operations of UNAMID, though the regime does continue to
prevent the free movement of UNAMID troops and investigators, a clear
violation of the SOFA. Deployment is so far behind schedule, and
deployment throughout Darfur so limited, that Darfuris---with some
exceptions---have largely lost hope in UNAMID. And there have been
troubling signs that many of the personnel in UNAMID are demoralized and
no longer prepared to fulfill the mission mandate, with Chapter 7
authority from the Security Council, to protect civilians and
humanitarians (see below).

Excerpts from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “Report of the
Secretary-General on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations
Hybrid Operation in Darfur” (February 10, 2009) offer some glimpses
into UNAMID’s weaknesses, even as it passes silently over some of the
most critical problems:

“As at 31 January 2009, the total strength of UNAMID military
personnel stood at 12,541, including 11,893 troops, 387 staff officers,
181 military observers and 80 liaison officers. This figure represents
64.13 per cent of the mandated strength of 19,555 personnel.” (§2)

Again this figure of 64 percent comes nineteen months after the UN
authorized a peacekeeping mission with a mandate to protect critically
vulnerable civilians and humanitarians in Darfur. Far from a figure to
celebrate, it is a measure of UNAMID’s ongoing failure. Many of these
troops are not properly trained, or effectively tasked when they arrive
in Darfur. Morale among many of the troops is reported to be dismal,
even among troops from such militarily capable countries as South
Africa. The actual functioning force is much less than 50 percent of the
target figure of 19,555. And even the part of the force that is capable
of functioning effectively is deeply constrained by the lack of
transport, especially helicopters. Communications and reconnaissance
capability is extremely weak. The current mission doesn’t begin to
have the ability to monitor a cease-fire, were one negotiated, even as
this is the essential first element of any meaningful peace process. It
is deeply hypocritical for members of the international community to
call for peace talks and a cease-fire without firm and timely
commitments to provide the resources, equipment, and personnel required
to make of UNAMID a truly capable force. Celebrating “agreements”
signed under the auspices of the Qatari peace process is disingenuous
without a willingness to provide a guarantor for any security
arrangements that may eventually be negotiated (the absence of such a
guarantor was only the most conspicuous failure of the Darfur Peace
Agreement of May 2006).

Ban Ki-moon also notes in his Report:

“The strength of UNAMID police personnel stood at 2,639 (1,940 police
advisers and five formed police units totalling 699 personnel),
representing 41.02 per cent of its mandated strength of 6,432.” (§3)

This is an especially disturbing set of figures, particularly the lack
of Formed Police Units (FPU). Nineteen such armed police units were
called for in the authorizing UN resolution, and yet only five have
deployed (and two Nigerian FPU only very recently). These FPU are
essential tools in providing patrols and stability in the more volatile
camps for displaced persons, especially those near larger urban areas.
The threats to these camps that are posed by reprisals following the ICC
announcement might well have been substantially mitigated with a full
deployment of FPU, as well as regular (and unarmed) police advisors.

Civilian staff necessary to run a mission as logistically complex as
UNAMID have also been exceedingly slow to deploy: currently only about
half the civilian personnel required are actually in Darfur.

It is hardly surprising that Ban’s Report concludes:

“Despite the arrival of additional troops and enabling units, the
mission’s actual operational impact has been limited by logistical
constraints, inadequate supply of critical equipment and the continued
absence of key military enabling units such as the medium transport
units, an aerial reconnaissance unit, a level-II hospital and 18 medium
utility helicopters. In this context, the offer of five tactical
helicopters by Ethiopia represents a welcome development.” (§9)

[These Ethiopian tactical helicopters were first “promised” a full
year ago (see report from the Security Council, 5849th Meeting, March
10, 2008); one may be forgiven for wondering if they will ever actually

Increasingly, “operational impact”---as opposed to numbers of
troops and police---is how the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations
(DPKO) and other UN and AU officials wish to speak of UNAMID. But
Ban’s admission that there has been very limited increase in such
impact suggests that the two cannot be separated. Moreover, there are
few potential African troop-contributing nations that have the present
capacity to do more or contribute more: here the folly of acquiescing
before Khartoum’s demand that UNAMID be “predominantly African” in
make-up is all too glaring. Without referring directly to African
countries, Ban’s report notes:

“One area of particular concern relates to the readiness to deploy
personnel by troop- and police-contributing countries. A wide range of
contingent-owned equipment still needs to be procured by a number of
these countries. In addition, personnel need to be adequately trained
and prepared prior to deployment and capacity, systems and materials for
maintaining contingent-owned equipment in Darfur must be put in place
and remain fully operational for units to sustain themselves. In this
regard, the state of maintenance of contingent-owned armoured personnel
carriers is of particular concern and needs to be improved to provide
robust mission force mobility.” (§10)

In short, most countries simply aren’t ready to send more personnel
who meet UN peacekeeping standards for training and equipment. By
limiting itself to African countries---already severely over-stretched
by peacekeeping demands elsewhere on the continent---and a few Asian
countries, UNAMID has ensured that it will never reach its mandated
strength. The best the UN DPKO can offer now is an assurance that 80
percent of the force will deploy by November (this represents another
significant slippage: March was to have been the target date for 80
percent deployment).

And even when deployed, UNAMID personnel continue to face obstruction
by Khartoum and attacks on the ground. A number of attacks have been
authoritatively established as Khartoum’s direct or indirect
responsibility (e.g., the July 8, 2008 attack on a large UNAMID convey,
which killed seven and wounded more than twenty, was certainly the work
of heavily armed militia allies of Khartoum). Many of the attacks on
UNAMID, especially in urban settings, Ban attributes to “criminal
activity” (§19). But as one especially well-informed and experienced
relief official has insisted repeatedly to this writer, Khartoum
deliberately allows this “criminal activity,” and certainly has the
capacity to curtail it (at least in and around urban areas) if the
regime wished. But by giving virtually free rein to opportunistic
banditry---indeed, SAF troops are often engaged in such
activities---Khartoum is able to compromise the effectiveness of both
UNAMID and humanitarian organizations. (Ban reports that SAF troops
were responsible for more than two dozen rapes in the two-month
reporting period; given the reticence of rape victims in Darfur’s
traditional Islamic culture, the actual number of victims is very likely
much greater.) Certainly, at the very least, Khartoum could in short
order dramatically improve security where it is in control; it chooses
not to.

Khartoum’s most consequential obstruction of UNAMID takes the form of
denial of access, something Ban is obliged to note and catalog in his

“During the reporting period, UNAMID continued to face restrictions
on its freedom of movement. On 10 December 2008, a UNAMID patrol was
blocked by Arab militia near Kile Kile (30 kilometres south of
Muhajeria, Southern Darfur), who asked to be informed in advance of any
patrols in the area. On 31 December, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF)
denied a UNAMID patrol access to Abu Surug (30 kilometres north-west of
El Geneina, Western Darfur) and prevented it from undertaking a routine
assessment mission. On 28 January 2009, a UNAMID water escort patrol in
Shaariya, Southern Darfur, was stopped at an SAF checkpoint and was not
allowed to proceed. It was accused by the SAF commander of providing the
Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) with equipment and weapons. In
another serious development, on the same day a UNAMID patrol was stopped
by members of a Chadian armed opposition group in Manzula village, near
El Geneina, Western Darfur, and was told that UNAMID must seek
permission from the Government of the Sudan to move through the
territory.” (§23)

This forms a clear and deliberate pattern; such obstruction also marks
out unambiguous violations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), yet
another agreement the regime has had no compunction about violating.
Indeed, the SOFA is explicitly invoked by Ban in his reporting on the
violence around Muhajeria in late January/early February (the town had
fallen to the Justice and Equality Movement in mid-January, seized from
the SLM forces of former rebel Minni Minawi). Khartoum had engaged in
massive and indiscriminate bombing for many days, killing a significant
number of civilians (the bombings were confirmed by UNAMID, which had a
200-man contingent present at the time). The bombing continued even
after the JEM had withdrawn some 30 miles from the beleaguered town.
Eventually as many as 100,000 fled from Muhajeria and surrounding towns
and villages, including Labado and Shereia. A number of reports of
Janjaweed presence in the area does not augur well for the non-Arab
populations, most of which still have no access to humanitarian
assistance, or have fled to desperately overcrowded camps near Nyala or
el-Fasher (see an excellent Christian Science Monitor dispatch [March 3,
2009] from Otash Camp outside Nyala, at

In this context, Ban notes, UNAMID sought to assess security:

“[I]n a disturbing development [on February 3, 2009], a senior
delegation led by the UNAMID Deputy Force Commander was prevented from
travelling to Muhajeria by Government security officials on the ground
that the security situation was dangerous. The delegation aimed to
assess the security situation and reinforcement needs of the UNAMID team
site. This represents a clear infraction of the status-of-forces
agreement between UNAMID and the Government of the Sudan, which
guarantees UNAMID full and unrestricted freedom of movement without
delay throughout Darfur.” (§43)

And yet there are and have been no consequences for such clear
“infractions” of the Status of Forces Agreement, which ensures
that violations will continue to impede UNAMID in critical situations
(the fighting in the Muhajeria area was the most intense since the
violence north of el-Geneina at the beginning of 2008).

Ban also reports that Khartoum continues to restrict humanitarian
movement, in yet another clear violation of a signed agreement with the
international community:

“At the same time, restrictions on air operations prevented the free
movement of life-saving assistance, including on 28 December 2008 when
all flights of the World Food Programme were cancelled for the day by
the Government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission. In Southern Darfur,
state authorities continued to hinder the delivery of fuel needed to
power water pumps in camps for internally displaced persons. At the
federal level, many non-governmental organizations and United Nations
organizations continue to struggle to get visas for their staff within
the time agreed under the Government’s General Directorate for
Procedures.” (§50)

This deliberate war of attrition on humanitarian operations has taken a
severe toll, now over the many years; it has compromised the extent and
quality of aid, and inevitably occasioned gratuitous suffering and
significant human mortality. And yet again, Khartoum pays no price for
violating an agreement signed with the UN.

Ban also discusses the acute security threats to humanitarians:

“The humanitarian community also continued to be a frequent target of
violent acts during the reporting period, when 22 vehicles were
hijacked, 4 humanitarian workers were abducted and 11 humanitarian
premises were broken into. It is of deep concern that 2008 figures show
an almost doubling of the number of violent attacks on humanitarian aid
workers compared with the previous year. In 2008, a total of 277
humanitarian vehicles were hijacked (compared with 137 in 2007), 218
humanitarian personnel were abducted (147 in 2007), 192 humanitarian
premises were attacked (93 in 2007) and 36 staff members were wounded
(24 in 2007). In 2008, 11 staff members were killed, with four still
missing (13 died in 2007). (§51)

Here again we must bear in mind the role that Khartoum plays in these
grim statistics: not only does the regime continue to arm the Janjaweed,
who perpetrate a number of these attacks, but also allows insecurity to
flourish in areas under its control, especially Nyala, el-Fasher, and
el-Geneina and their surroundings. SAF troops brazenly engage in
criminal activities in the very presence of UNAMID forces. The level of
insecurity, the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of crimes against
humanitarians, and the official harassment of aid workers are all part
of this war of attrition on humanitarian operations.

In the course of his summary “Observations” Ban against “urges”
Khartoum “to refrain from the use of offensive military flights”
(§61). Scores of such “offensive military flights” occurred
during the two-month reporting period of Ban’s report, some noted by
the Secretary-General and confirmed by UNAMID (lack of capacity prevents
UNAMID from investigating most bombing reports). Ban also mentions in
passing that UNAMID observed an aircraft painted white bombing
Muhajeria. White is the color of UN aircraft, and Khartoum’s
disguising of its aircraft is meant to deter increasingly effective
anti-aircraft weapons in the rebel arsenal. In fact, such disguising is
a violation of international law, and has previously been reported to
the Security Council by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur. Khartoum’s
illegal actions seem likely to produce a tragic mistake that could
easily result in the accidental shooting down of a UN or humanitarian

And yet Ban makes no mention of the explicit language of UN Security
Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005) or Resolution 1841 (passed
unanimously, October 2008):

“[The UN Security Council, acting under the authority of Chapter 7 of
the UN Charter] Demands that the Government of Sudan, in accordance with
its commitments under the 8 April 2004 N’djamena Ceasefire Agreement
and the 9 November 2004 Abuja Security Protocol, immediately cease
conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region.”
(Resolution 1591, §6)

“[The UN Security Council demands] that there should be no aerial
bombings nor the use in Darfur, by any party to the conflict, of white
aircraft or aircraft with markings resembling those on United Nations
aircraft, and demanding that the parties to the conflict exercise
restraint and cease military action.” (Resolution 1841)

Khartoum has flagrantly violated these two UN Security Council
resolutions without consequence; inevitably, UN “demands” are
perceived as meaningless, loosing all credibility as a source of
potential sanctions against the regime. This has been true for almost
five years, certainly since Resolution 1556 (July 2004):

“Acting under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations, [the
Security Council]…

Demands that the Government of Sudan fulfill its commitments to disarm
the Janjaweed militias and apprehend and bring to justice Janjaweed
leaders and their associates who have incited and carried out human
rights and international humanitarian law violations and other
atrocities, and further requests the Secretary-General to report in 30
days, and monthly thereafter, to the Council on the progress or lack
thereof by the Government of Sudan on this matter and expresses its
intention to consider further actions, including measures as provided
for in Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations on the Government
of Sudan, in the event of non-compliance.”

“Non-compliance” seems a grotesque understatement as a
characterization of Khartoum’s continuing use of the Janjaweed as an
instrument of military destruction and civilian terror. International
failure to compel Khartoum to take Security Council resolutions
seriously is highlighted by the foolishness of making “demands” that
will be unctuously reiterated but never occasion action in the event of

We should hardly be surprised when Khartoum violates other agreements
with scornful confidence. In November al-Bashir announced an
“immediate and unconditional cease-fire” as a nod toward the
ill-fated Sudan People’s Initiative; the very next day, bombing
attacks were confirmed in North Darfur. On February 17, 2009 the regime
signed in Qatar an “Agreement of Good Will and Confidence Building”
with the Justice and Equality Movement, designed to “create a
conducive environment for reaching a lasting settlement of the [Darfur]
conflict.” The next day Khartoum again engaged in large-scale aerial
assaults, flouting the spirit of the agreement and, yet again, the
explicit “demands” UN Security Council resolutions.


Ban does not discuss in this report Khartoum’s actions in Southern
Sudan, but they show equal contempt for agreements made with the UN, in
this case the separate peacekeeping force known as the UN Mission in
Sudan (UNMIS). Here a more relevant report comes from Refugees
International (Field Report, January 7, 2009). A number of observations
on this mission, failing in its own way, are offered and comport with
assessments from other sources, public and confidential. RI
acknowledges first that the UNMIS mandate is different from that of
UNAMID with respect to civilian protection:

“The core priority of the mission continues to be the promotion of
the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). But the mandate also includes a
Chapter 7 element by the Security Council that gives the mission
permission, although not the capacity, to protect civilians under
imminent threat of violence. In spite of the severe limitations on the
mission’s protection capacity, the mere presence of large numbers of
international military peacekeepers creates expectations among the local
people that they will be protected if violence should erupt. In Sudan
this expectation has been compounded by a failure on the part of the
mission to communicate the UNMIS mandate and capabilities to people, and
by a general failure on the part of UNMIS forces to positively interact
with the communities in which they have been deployed.”

But while there are practical limitations to what UNMIS can accomplish,
these have been oversold by the mission:

“[There is] a prevailing attitude within the mission that protection
is not its responsibility. There is a widespread inclination to do less
rather than more, and an unwillingness to be proactive, although the
threat of a resumption of hostilities is widely acknowledged. Given the
probability of increased violence and the reality of civilian
expectations, UNMIS needs to take a more proactive, preventative stance
with regards to civilian protection.”

In Southern Sudan, as in Darfur, the party nominally responsible for
protecting civilians is the national government, particularly the police
and justice institutions:

“In southern Sudan, however, these institutions are weak at best, and
at worst non-existent in many places. In the long term it is essential
that international donor governments continue to invest in the reform of
security sector institutions like these to provide for sustainable
community-level security in the south. However, in the short-term it is
clear that international actors will continue to play a critical role in
the protection of civilians.”

The way forward, Refugees International argues, lies in a fundamental
change in attitude on the part of UNMIS, especially towards flash-points
such as Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and as recently demonstrated,
Malakal. Khartoum is provoking conflict in Southern Sudan and the
contested areas, with civilians the inevitable victims of renewed
violence (more than 50 people were killed when Khartoum last week
deliberately, provocatively sent to its Malakal garrison a former
militia leader who fought against the SPLM, and had previously fomented
deadly violence in Malakal in 2006). It is widely acknowledged the
UNMIS failed badly in responding to the Abyei crisis of last May, in
which more than 50,000 people were driven from Abyei town by
Khartoum-instigated violence. It certainly does not help that Khartoum
restricts the aerial movements of UNMIS north of Abyei, despite its
mandate to do so; however, there is vast room for improvement on the
part of a mission which has far too little to show for the very
substantial resources and personnel it has commanded:

“UNMIS, especially its military component, must overcome the attitude
that protection is not its job. While robust civilian protection of the
sort expected in places like the Congo or Darfur is not within the realm
of UNMIS capability, improved conflict prevention efforts and the
diffusion of tensions are roles that the mission can and should play
more effectively. In cases where violence cannot be prevented, there
needs to be context specific contingency planning to pool the creative
ideas of UNMIS military and civilian protection staff, as well as NGOs
with specific knowledge of communities at risk. UNMIS needs to
communicate its aims and capacities more effectively to moderate
unreasonable expectations and make its concrete protection strategies
clearer. Given high risks and limited resources, UNMIS must identify
areas where specific, targeted action can minimize the impact of
violence on civilians.”

The UN Secretariat “must insist that UNMIS concentrate on proactive
measures to prevent conflict and protect civilians, [and] the Department
of Peacekeeping Operations must establish clear rules of engagement to
empower UNMIS troops.” (Refugees International, “Sudan: UNMIS Must
Be More Proactive in Protecting Civilians,” January 7, 2009, at

Attention to the critical state of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement
has been slow in coming, fitful, and lacking in real commitment to
change the present slide toward renewed war (in this case, UNMIS is all
too representative). This has begun to change in recent months;
certainly the May 2008 fighting in Abyei was a resounding wake-up call.
But as with Darfur, securing peace in Southern Sudan cannot be based on
mere promises from Khartoum, but must entail direct and timely
engagement with the many outstanding issues, chiefly the regime’s
refusal to honor key terms of the CPA.


UNAMID at its present capacity offers little more than an international
presence in Darfur: a very partial deterrent but hardly the robust
protection force envisioned in Resolution 1769. And there are
disturbing signs that some UNAMID units are unprepared to fulfill their
mandate. Several reports from the ground indicate that the UNAMID unit
in Muhajeria was prepared to abandon the town along with its civilian
inhabitants and displaced persons. Khartoum had asked, in forceful
terms, that UNAMID withdraw, and commanders on the ground weakly
acquiesced. Only the decision by Alain Le Roy, head of UN peacekeeping
(supported by the Secretary-General), reversed this impulse to abandon
the very people UNAMID is mandated to protect. One organization on the
ground in Darfur reports that during the recent fighting and bombing
near the major town of el-Fasher, UNAMID military personnel were
observed simply hunkering down rather than seeking ways to assist
civilians in danger. Sheer ineptitude is also too often a problem, an
extended and painful example of which is narrated by a journalist
“embedded” within a UNAMID convoy (The Guardian Weekly, March 2,
2009 at

In this context it is hardly surprising that humanitarian organizations
are evacuating or preparing to evacuate if Khartoum follows through on
any its more violent threats. In fact, a number of organizations have
already withdrawn their expatriate staff, and have made transport and
security provisions for their Sudanese national workers, who in many
cases fear that when international organizations leave Darfur, they will
be exposed and suffer retribution simply for seeking to help their
fellow country-people. There could hardly be a better illustration of
the viciousness that informs Khartoum’s attitude toward international
humanitarian assistance.

It has been more than two years (January 2007) since both UN and
nongovernmental humanitarian organizations signaled in public letters
that they were at the end of their tether in withstanding the chronic
and deeply debilitating insecurity prevailing in Darfur. In those two
years security has only deteriorated further; this was true long before
the ICC Prosecutor made his announcement about seeking an arrest warrant
for al-Bashir. Indeed, no one was discussing the impact of the ICC on
security in Darfur at the time (despite a UN referral to the Court made
in March 2005); and yet security nonetheless continued to deteriorate
badly. Even in 2008 there was a continuing slide toward greater
insecurity that had little to do with the ICC and everything to do with
the failure of the international community to restrain Khartoum or make
of UNAMID an effective protection force (see my September 13, 2008
analysis “‘Chaos by Design’: Khartoum’s Patterns of Violence in
Darfur, 2008” at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article224.html).

Indeed, the greatest and most consequential violence in 2008 occurred
for the most part before the ICC Prosecutor’s July 14 announcement
that he was seeking an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. In early February
2008 Khartoum mounted a massive, scorched-earth campaign north of
el-Geneina, capital of West Darfur. Villages that had been seized by
the Justice and Equality Movement were abandoned by the rebel forces
before the regime’s onslaught, but that did nothing to mitigate the
ferocity of human destruction and displacement (see my account “Darfur
Enters the Abyss: Khartoum Renews Massive Assaults on Civilians,” at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article204.html). The January 2008
attack by Khartoum’s regular forces on a well-marked UNAMID convoy is
another telling example (see my account, “Khartoum’s Military Forces
Deliberately Attack a UNAMID Convoy,” January 14, 2008 at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article200.html). Yet another example,
referred to above, was the July 8, 2008 attack on a UNAMID convoy by
extremely well-armed Janjaweed militia (the attack occurred in
regime-controlled territory, was designed to kill personnel rather than
seize equipment, and entailed the use of sophisticated weapons not
previously seen in theater; see my account “Attack on UNAMID Forces in
Darfur: The Khartoum Regime is Responsible” at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article219.html). Khartoum’s use of
aerial bombing attacks against civilians waxes and wanes, but followed
no clear pattern following the Prosecutor’s announcement.

There is no clear evidence that with or without the ICC announcement of
July 14 security would not have continued to deteriorate, to the point
where humanitarian operations in Darfur would simply be too dangerous
for even the most intrepid humanitarian organizations. That is
certainly the direction in which the region has been headed for more
than two years now.

One notable example of violence that did occur after the July 14
announcement was the assault on Kalma Camp residents by the regime’s
security forces on August 25, 2008. Attacks on camps have occurred
regularly since September 2005, and this assault had long been
contemplated by the regime’s security forces. Ban Ki-moon announces
the results of a UN investigation in his February 10, 2009 report:

“On 23 January 2009, the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for
Human Rights and UNAMID jointly issued a public report on the
Government of the Sudan law enforcement operation at Kalma camp on 25
August 2008, which resulted in the killing of 33 civilians and the
wounding of 108 others. The report concluded that the indiscriminate and
disproportionate use of force by security forces of the Government of
the Sudan was in violation of international human rights and
humanitarian law.”

What will happen to the perpetrators of this attack on defenseless
civilians, witnessed by hundreds? What will happen to the men firing
automatic weapons into a crowd of displaced persons, none of whom was
armed with a firearm? Despite the UN finding, we may be sure that the
current UNAMID will not make any arrests, but will simply accommodate
Khartoum’s whitewashing of events, in a document evidently still in
the making.

The Kalma event may give us a picture of Darfur after the withdrawal of
humanitarian organizations. For what must be continually emphasized in
discussions of the potential impact of the March 4, 2009 ICC
announcement is how close these organizations have been to withdrawal or
evacuation for many, many months. Some indeed have already withdrawn,
and as noted above expatriate staff of many organizations have been
evacuated, a process that also extends back many months, if accelerating
more recently because of Khartoum’s threats. These expatriate or
international workers have been the critical eyes of the world in many
locations, and a more effective deterrent than UNAMID in many respects
(accounts of UNAMID minimalist “patrols” and weak interaction with
the populations they are to protect are often very unflattering). The
departure of international humanitarians, whether directly linked to
threats by Khartoum or the culmination of too many years of intolerable
insecurity, would vastly diminish the observational capacity on the
ground in Darfur and many of the camps for displaced persons.

More immediately and consequentially, the partial or total collapse of
humanitarian operations in Darfur would put not only camp residents at
risk, but a very large percentage of the more than 4.7 million human
beings the UN now estimates are “conflict-affected” and in need of
humanitarian assistance. In many camps, there is complete dependence on
international aid for food, clean water, and primary medical care. Need
is great not only among the 2.7 million internally displaced persons
(with an additional 300,000 refugees in Eastern Chad), but among host
families, who often have no access to their fields and have lost their
ability to live agriculturally productive lives. These are the people
most directly affected by Khartoum’s threats against aid workers and


The vulnerability of the people of Darfur---remote, largely invisible,
unprotected in an exceedingly harsh land---can hardly be overstated.
Humanitarian withdrawal would have catastrophic consequences, and yet
withdrawal seems inevitable without a strengthening of UNAMID.
Ultimately the only answer---for Darfur as for the rest of Sudan---is a
peace agreement that results in reform and democracy. But this is
precisely what the Khartoum regime resists, and why peace talks have to
date been so unproductive (the Darfur Peace Agreement of 2006 seems a
case study in how not to conduct peace negotiations).

We catch a glimpse of Khartoum’s obdurate refusal to countenance free
and fair elections in comments made with unintentional honesty by
Mandoor al-Mahdi, director of political communication for the National
Congress Party (National Islamic Front). Speaking of the national
elections scheduled for this year (though almost certainly to be
postponed until 2010), al-Mahdi declared: “If anyone wins this
[election] other than the National Congress Party or the Sudan
People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), then the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement (CPA) would be placed in the garbage can” (The Sudan
Tribune, January 27, 2009).

In other words, if the status quo were not preserved by the upcoming
elections, if the NIF/NCP were to lose its grip on power, then the peace
agreement that precariously keeps Sudan from plunging into country-wide
war would be trashed. Of course though al-Mahdi stresses that the
elections will be “free and fair,” this is a transparently
preposterous assertion, if only because of the threat the regime is
evidently prepared to make against the CPA. No doubt the real source of
NCP/NIF confidence in re-election is its ability to bribe, co-opt, and
threaten voters, as well as its long-entrenched control of what
electoral machinery exists in Sudan. Moreover, the results of the
national census have still not been announced, and the potential for
serious problems should not be underestimated. The SPLM is particularly
worried about an under-counting of Southern Sudanese, which might
potentially reduce their Parliamentary representation to a level where
they would not have the strength to hold off NCP/NIF efforts to change
the terms of the CPA, or even to declare a national emergency and
immediately suspend implementation of the Agreement.

March 4, 2009 will no doubt be a day of historic significance for many
reasons. But it is likely to be both less and more consequential than
some fear or hope. The international community has little choice now
but to assess Khartoum’s early responses, and respond in ways that
maximize protection of civilians, humanitarians, and peacekeepers. We
must see through the large, likely violent demonstration planned for the
capital city, for which the regime has apparently spared no expense in
working to turn out a supposedly representative range of “Sudanese”
opinion opposing the ICC announcement, as well as the paramilitary
Popular Defense Forces. We must see through the bombastic condemnations
that will echo and re-echo through state-controlled media. What we
should be looking for are any actions actually taken against
humanitarians, any changes in security on the ground in Darfur or in the
flash-points in Southern Sudan and the three contested areas (Abyei, the
Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile). We should look for any
significantly increased obstruction of UNAMID or humanitarian
operations, or reprisals directed against Darfuri civilians.

But all this must be seen in the context of the long, brutal history of
the National Islamic Front regime. Genocide in the Nuba Mountains
continued for over a decade beginning in 1992; genocidal destruction in
Southern Sudan during the “oil war” of 1997 to 2003 killed or
displaced many hundreds of thousands of primarily Nilotic tribal people;
and genocide in Darfur, now entering its seventh year, has claimed some
500,000 lives, from violence, malnutrition, and disease. In its twenty
years in power the regime has retained its character, even as the roster
of senior officials is largely unchanged (the sidelining of Islamist
ideologue Hassan al-Turabi a decade ago is the only significant
exception). In the end, there is no new threat contained in Saleh
Gosh’s remarks of two weeks ago about the once and future National
Islamic Front:

“If [ICC supporters] press us to return to our past position [as
“Islamic fundamentalists”], we will no doubt return. And if they
want us to return into hardliners anew, that is a simple thing to do.
And we are capable of doing it."

This is who the NCP/NIF are, and who they will be so long as they
retain their stranglehold on Sudanese national political power and
wealth. They long ago proved their “capability,” as Gosh puts it.
What some have described as a “moderation” of the regime, or the
ascendancy of “moderates” within the regime, is no more than an
increasingly cunning survivalism, and a better understanding of the
international community---what it is and is not prepared to do or

As this account argues, the international community has proved weak and
irresolute in responding to the atrocity crimes that have defined the
entire tenure of the NIF regime. That prosecution of those responsible
for these crimes will now begin offers belated promise that Sudan will
not endure the tyranny of génocidaires indefinitely. We are
disgracefully late; and there are those who would expediently capitulate
yet again before the outrageous threats of the NIF in the interests of a
merely notional peace process. But the International Criminal Court
indictment of al-Bashir offers a glimpse of hope to Darfuris and other
Sudanese who for two decades have seen impunity reign and have suffered
crimes beyond reckoning, endlessly destroying lives and livelihoods.
The moment of truth is at hand; but that truth will be determined by
actions that either support or undermine the actions of the Court.

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