Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 7 August 2004

The UN Assessment of Security in Darfur


Will this critical humanitarian task fall victim of Security Council politics?

- By Eric Reeves
- August 6, 2004


One week after the UN Security Council belatedly passed a weak and
dilatory resolution in response to the massive human catastrophe
unfolding in Darfur, there is good reason to believe that even this
exceedingly modest effort is doomed by Security Council politics.
Evidently anticipating that he may find it impossible to move the
Security Council (particularly veto-wielding China) beyond the
essentially hortatory effort of July 30, and that even the largely
meaningless "further measures" threatened in the resolution will not be
pursued, Secretary General Kofi Annan appears to be preparing to
forestall any humanitarian intervention in Darfur that might take place
without UN authorization.

No doubt this is justified in Annan’s own mind by what he feels is the
need to preserve the authority of the UN, even as nothing could more
rapidly squander whatever remains of UN moral authority than a failure
to intervene in Darfur. Indeed, humanitarian intervention is so clearly
long overdue that whatever can be lost in this arena is already very
much diminished. Present humanitarian capacity, on the part of UN and
nongovernmental humanitarian organizations, is conspicuously and
woefully inadequate to present humanitarian need; and even if Khartoum
permits deployment of an augmented force of 2,000 African Union troops
(an unlikely event), the security needs of the more than 1.3 million
internally displaced persons cannot possibly be guaranteed by such a
force. Many camps and concentrations of African tribal populations,
numbering in the hundreds of thousands, remain utterly at the mercy of
the Janjaweed and other armed elements in Darfur.

How will Annan work to forestall humanitarian intervention outside UN
auspices? The language of the Security Council resolution suggests an
obvious strategy. For the most part, the resolution "decides,"
"expresses," "welcomes," "urges," "calls on," and "emphasizes." But
it "demands" only one thing: that the Khartoum regime "disarm the
Janjaweed militias" and bring to justice those guilty of "human rights
and international law violations." So far, Khartoum’s entirely
predictable response to the latter "demand" has been a series of show
trials. A fine account (one of many) is offered in the lead paragraphs
of today’s New York Times dispatch from Nyala:

"Sudan’s government lined up 50 prisoners at the main jail here
recently and offered them as evidence to the world that it was cracking
down on the militias that have stained so much of the desert sand of
Darfur, the country’s western region, with blood."

"But when the men spoke and when their court files were reviewed, it
quickly became clear that many of them were not members of the militias,
which have displaced a million villagers in the last year and a half and
killed tens of thousands in what the United States Congress calls a
genocide. Among the group were petty criminals who had already been in
jail as long as four years. One man’s charge was drinking wine in a
country that forbids it." (New York Times [Nyala] August 6, 2004)

Certainly even the UN Security Council must realize the futility of
demanding that Khartoum criminally charge the very men whom it has
armed, supplied, and militarily coordinated with for well over a year.
Nothing short of an international tribunal can address the grim task of
meting out justice to those responsible for massive genocidal

But the "demand" that Khartoum "disarm the Janjaweed militias" is the
key, indeed the singularly meaningful element of the resolution. It is
all that can be done internally to change the increasingly desperate
situation on the ground in Darfur; and Khartoum’s fulfilling this demand
is notionally all that can forestall Security Council pursuit of
unspecified "other actions" (paragraph 6 of the July 30, 2004

Given the way in which the resolution has been framed, the critical
decision about whether to pursue "other actions" will be governed almost
entirely by the August 29 report from Kofi Annan on "the progress or
lack thereof by the Government of Sudan on this matter [of disarming the
Janjaweed]." If Annan gives the Khartoum regime a passing grade, the UN
will continue to be (in its savagely ironic self-description) "seized of
the matter" of Darfur; but the possibility for UN sanctions---let alone
UN authorization for the critically necessary humanitarian
intervention---will have been ended.

This in turn makes it is critically important that there be highly
authoritative assessments of security in Darfur leading up to the August
29 report of the Secretary-general. But the integrity and authority of
these assessment seems to be precisely what is endangered, and this is
the real meaning of the very recent and entirely extraordinary
pronouncements by Jan Pronk---Kofi Annan’s newly appointed special envoy
for Sudan.


Mr. Pronk, with a distinguished career but very little experience in
Sudan, has this week made widely reported comments suggesting, despite
massive current evidence to the contrary, that security is actually
improving in Darfur, specifically security in the camps for the
displaced. So consequential are these comments, and potentially so
destructive of Khartoum’s incentive to respond to the only meaningful
demand of the UN Security Council resolution, that it is worth surveying
fully the news-wire reports of Pronk’s statements:

"[Pronk] said that security in the Internally Displaced Persons camps
had generally improved." (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks,
August 5, 2004)

"Mr Pronk told the BBC there had already been positive progress in
implementing last month’s agreement between the UN and Sudan on
improving security in Darfur." (BBC, August 3, 2004)

"Asked what evidence there was that Khartoum was complying with the
U.N. resolution, Pronk said: ’They have deployed many more policemen in
the region and they have stopped their own military activities against
villages.’" (Reuters, August 4, 2004)

"[Pronk] said that Khartoum was making progress in dealing with the
crisis in Darfur. Mr. Pronk noted the Sudanese military was no longer
conducting activities against civilians there, and he says the
government has lifted all restrictions on humanitarian assistance, as it
promised to do after a visit to Khartoum by U.N. Secretary General Kofi
Annan in early July." (Voice of America [Nairobi] August 5, 2004)

"If the [detailed] plan [presented to Khartoum] is implemented, Mr
Pronk said, then he was ’very hopeful that the Security Council would
come to the conclusion that there was indeed substantial progress and
that there was no need to consider further action.’" (BBC, August 5,


It is almost impossible to overstate how much at odds these views are
with those coming from regional sources---people actually working on the
ground in Darfur, in a variety of capacities. A survey of very recent
assessments of insecurity in Darfur, including from the distinguished UN
Special Rapporteur for Internally Displaced Persons, Francis Deng,
suggests precisely the opposite of what Pronk offers. Deng declared:

"Contrary to official statements about improvement found a situation of
persistent insecurity and human rights violations as the paramount
concern of the displaced. I was particularly concerned about many
accounts and reports of persistent rape of women outside the camps." (UN
Integrated Regional Information Networks, August 3, 2004; Agence
France-Presse, August 3, 2004)

Agence France-Presse also reported just two days ago that, "In West
Darfur, aid groups have reported that growing numbers of Janajweed are
roaming near the camps for displaced persons and attacks on women and
cases of rape were reported in late July in Geineina, the regional
capital" (Agence France-Presse, August 4, 2004).

But before further juxtaposing Mr. Pronk’s assessment to available
evidence, it is necessary first to unpack his statements and to examine
the assumptions that underlie them---some demonstrably in error, others
unreasonably tendentious.

Pronk refers to improved security in "the camps," as if this
designation were somehow a known quantity, for which there is some
precise census and an effective means of collating reports, data, and
information on security issues coming from all "the camps." This is so
highly misleading as to be appropriately labeled an error. We simply
have no idea how many "camps" there are---how many concentrations of
displaced persons and villages swollen with the people who have fled the
Janjaweed. We don’t have anything but an undoubtedly low UN figure of
1.3 million Internally Displaced Persons, a huge percentage of whom are
not in "the camps."

Nor are camps---of various sizes, with varying degrees of UN and
humanitarian access, with various levels of security and communications
ability---functioning in any coordinated way to permit global
assessments of the sort the newly-appointed Pronk is offering. Nor do
we have any way of systematically or comparatively assessing security in
the immediate environs of the camps, where huge numbers of displaced
persons (some in transit, some relatively stable) can be found.

Moreover, Pronk’s assessment takes no account of ominous threats to
security from within the camps. The UN News Service reports:

"The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that
the level of anger and frustration among Internally Displaced Persons is
rising in many locations, escalating the risk of further disturbances
and clashes with local authorities." (UN News Service [New York], August
4, 2004)

Nor does he take into account the repeatedly reported violent
expulsions of displaced civilians from the camps, most recently:

"Aid groups accuse the Khartoum authorities, under acute pressure to
resolve the crisis in Darfur, of herding people out of camps and back
towards their home villages, despite the precarious security situation.
Several leaders of groups of displaced persons are reported to have been
severely beaten for refusing to guide their groups back home." (Agence
France-Presse, August 4, 2004)

The global generalization about security by Pronk simply cannot be
supported, and appears in context to be highly tendentious---a means of
offering "up-front incentives" to Khartoum to "continue" to "improve."
This dangerous game of diplomatic expediency might work in some
contexts, but not in Sudan, where the National Islamic Front regime has
developed an uncanny nose for the expedient and disingenuous.

Pronk also seems to take at face value the benefits of additional
"policemen" within the security forces in Darfur. In doing so he
ignores the numerous and authoritative reports from those on the ground
in Darfur, indicating that the police ranks have been swollen in large
part with Janjaweed---that the very people responsible for this
cataclysm of violence have been put in charge of security. As the New
York Times notes today, echoing scores of others reports:

"Janjaweed is a fluid identity, and diplomats here say the government
has exploited the ambiguity. First it armed the militias, rallied them
and set them loose in Darfur. Then it gave many of the same men uniforms
and declared them upholders of the law. Sometimes the Janjaweed have
served as law enforcement officers by day and reverted to pillaging at
night." (New York Times [Nyala], August 6, 2004)

An increase simply in the number of "policemen," in a context where
there is no meaningful scrutiny of the makeup or behavior of the police,
simply cannot be construed as evidence of increased security. This is
either ignorance or disingenuousness on Pronk’s part. The same is true
of Pronk’s erroneous claim that Khartoum "has lifted all restrictions on
humanitarian assistance." One example: Khartoum still demands
time-consuming and gratuitous testing of all non-Sudanese emergency
medical supplies entering the country. Other examples abound.

What is some of the most significant evidence that Pronk has ignored in
his assessment? He asserts that Khartoum’s leaders "have stopped their
own military activities against villages." But how is he in a position
to know this? What can he do to rebut very recent reports from the
ground of Khartoum’s use regular army and air force military assets?

"Sudanese government forces are continuing to help the Janjaweed
militia launch attacks on defenceless villagers in the Darfur region of
Sudan despite international condemnation and pressure from the United
Nations to bring an end to the bloodshed. Aid workers in Darfur say
that in the last ten days Sudanese Antonov aircraft, supported by
helicopter gunships, have killed a number of people in fresh attacks in
northern Darfur."

"They also reported that four people were killed one week ago when
Janjaweed militia and Sudanese government troops launched an attack on a
crowded market place in Abu Dilake, where they believed anti-government
rebels were present."

"In what would be an escalation of the problems facing the region,
Mousa Hillal, the leader of the Mohamed Janjaweed tribe, is believed to
have returned to the militia’s camp at Mistariya from Khartoum to plan
attacks on African Union peacekeeping forces. Reports from aid workers
in the area suggest that he was flown back to Darfur in a Sudanese
government helicopter."

"Paul Hetherington, from the UK-based charity Save the Children, said
that the most recent attack took place at the market in Abu Dilake a
week ago, about 30km to the south east of the main town of El Fashir in
northern Darfur. ’Four people were killed,’ he said. ’There were
Janjaweed and government soldiers and they were shooting at people from
all sides. People lay on the ground but they were still shot.’" (The
Scotsman [UK], [Darfur dateline], August 4, 2004)

What evidence does Pronk have that Khartoum’s leaders have indeed
"stopped their own military activities against villages"? Why should
we not credit the findings---from the ground---of an aid worker from
Save the Children? Why should we accept the bald and unexplained
generalization Pronk offers?

And does Pronk, as his comments seem to imply, really believe it is
possible to draw a neat line between the Khartoum regime’s "own"
military activities and the military activities of the Janjaweed? Here
we should bear in mind the recent findings of Human Rights Watch:

"Human Rights Watch said it had obtained confidential documents from
the civilian administration in Darfur that implicate high-ranking
government officials in a policy of militia support. ’It’s absurd to
distinguish between the Sudanese government forces and the
militias---they are one,’ said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of
Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. ’These documents show that militia
activity has not just been condoned, it’s been specifically supported by
Sudan government officials.’"
("Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support," July
20, 2004; http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2004/07/20/darfur9095.htm).

Scandalously, Pronk seems equally unaware of the previously reported
findings of Asma Jahangir, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial,
summary or arbitrary executions. Just today Jahangir declared in

"’It is beyond doubt that the government of the Sudan is responsible
for extrajudicial and summary executions of large numbers of people over
the last several months in the Darfur region,’ Jahangir said in a report
for the U.N. Sub-Commission on Human Rights, currently meeting in

"’The current humanitarian disaster unfolding in Darfur, for which the
government is largely responsible, has put millions of civilians at
risk,’ Jahangir said in her report, compiled after she visited the
region in June with a group of experts."

"’I have to conclude that there is overwhelming evidence that
extrajudicial killings of civilians in Darfur have been carried out,
with some exceptions, in a coordinated manner by the armed forces of the
government and government-backed militias,’ she said." (Reuters, August
6, 2004)

What evidence does Pronk offer that this fundamental alliance in evil
between Khartoum and the Janjaweed has changed in character? None


The most ominous of Pronk’s comments comes in a recent Reuters

"[Pronk said that Khartoum will] certainly will be able to meet the
30-day deadline to report substantial progress. That is what the
Security Council asked,’ he told BBC television. ’There was some
misunderstanding here in Khartoum that the council asked for a full
solution of the conflict (in that period). That is impossible.’"
(Reuters, August 4, 2004)

Pronk’s expansive confidence in the National Islamic Front must
presumably be understood as a sort of diplomatese, but we must certainly
wonder nonetheless just what he means by "substantial progress." The
language of the UN resolution is without qualification, or the
suggestion of benchmarks, or any specification of what partial success
will be acceptable. It says simply that the UN Security Council,

"Demands that the Government of Sudan fulfill its commitments to disarm
the Janjaweed militias and apprehend and bring to justice Janjaweed

There is no qualification stipulated, though it is clear that Pronk in
his negotiations with Khartoum has offered a detailed set of benchmarks
and expectations. While understandable in one sense, there is great
danger in such a procedure. This regime has learned, in fifteen years
of ruthless survivalism, precisely how to trim its behavior to meet the
minimal requirements of any agreement it signs---and artfully to renege
on "achievements" as soon as it receives credit for such. Pronk’s
confidence, if we take his words at face value, is deeply misplaced.
More ominously, his comments may be designed to prepare the way for the
UN to award a passing grade to Khartoum on August 29. Senior figures
within the UN political system, notably Under-secretary for Political
Affairs Kieran Prendergast, are reported to have determined on the
necessity of such a passing grade.


Are there other reasons to take such a skeptical view of Pronk’s
pronouncements on security issues and military action in Darfur? Why
assume that the Security Council will fail? And ultimately, why is
Secretary-general Kofi Annan likely to award a passing grade to

The simple answer to the second question is China, Russia, and the Arab
League (chiefly Egypt). These countries don’t want to see sanctions
imposed on Khartoum---China especially, given its immense stake in
Sudan’s oil development and production. China abstained from the
July 30 resolution, declaring with Pakistan that Khartoum hadn’t been
afforded enough time to respond to the only demand in the resolution.
We will very likely hear again the argument about "insufficient
time"---especially from China and Pakistan---if the Security Council
takes up the matter of Darfur for further action.

For his part, Kofi Annan desperately wishes to avoid a divided Security
Council, one unable to respond in any meaningful way to what is now
universally described as the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.
Rather than allow such a division to occur, and UN political paralysis
to become self-evident, Annan is likely willing to report that while
Khartoum has not made full "progress," it has made sufficient progress
that no further action is required "for the present." No matter that
according to data from the US Agency for International Development over
2,500 people will be dying daily: Annan gives evidence of preparing to
do all that is necessary to avoid a divided Security Council.

In fact, this disposition was already in evidence in remarks on Darfur
made by Annan over a month ago. Though describing the conflict in
Darfur as "bordering on ethnic cleansing," Annan went on to declare:

"’I don’t think we are ready to send in the cavalry, and I’m not sure I
have that many countries ready to go." (Associated Press, June 25,

The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis, growing more urgent by the
day, defined by what even Annan found to be "bordering on ethnic
cleansing"---and still the "cavalry" was not ready to be sent in. As a
result, Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia allies continued their
attacks without interference or consequence. But within roughly a
month’s time, despite Annan’s pessimism, the African Union had
ratcheted up its commitment of troops to over 2,000, the UK had made
clear a willingness to deploy a full brigade of 5,000 troops, and both
Australia and New Zealand had declared their willingness to participate
militarily in a humanitarian intervention. Was Annan’s a true
skepticism? or a political calculation about what sort of resolution
might make it through the Security Council?

Shortly thereafter, on the eve of his traveling to Darfur, Annan told
the Khartoum regime (June 30, 2004), "that he wanted to see progress
within the next 24 to 48 hours" (UN Integrated Regional Information
Networks, July 2, 2004). Of course there was no such "progress," and
yet this did not precipitate any act of decisive leadership on Annan’s

In the context of Darfur, we see Annan wishing to be titular world
leader without undertaking the actual difficulties of leading. He
wishes to enjoy the benefits of Security Council support for his
actions, but he is unwilling to show leadership in moving the Council
toward meaningful action. He has attempted to use the authority of his
office in making highly time-defined demands of the Khartoum regime, but
acquiesces shamelessly when deadlines are not met. He is simply
unwilling to take political risks at the UN for the sake of Darfur.

This should be clear to all by this point, and international response
to Darfur should be guided accordingly. There will be no UN Security
Council action, certainly not timely or robust enough to make a
difference for the many hundreds of thousands at acutest risk. In turn,
we must accept that there will be no humanitarian intervention unless
the international community shows a willingness to mount such an
operation without UN authorization. This of course does not mean that
such intervention will be undertaken outside international law: the
obligations of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide suggest an alternative justification under
international law and treaty.


In a highly significant move, the African Union (AU) has now committed
to a large augmentation of the 300 troops originally slated to have
deployed to Darfur this week. But the newly authorized 2,000 troops,
with a mandate to protect observers and serve as a peacekeeping force,
are unlikely ever to be effectively deployed, precisely because they
represent the beginning of the humanitarian intervention Khartoum is
desperate to avoid:

"The AU is proposing to send 2,000 armed troops with a mandate to
protect observers and serve as a peacekeeping force, but so far the
Addis Ababa-based organization had not made an official request to
Sudan. ’This is merely talk propagated by the media and we don’t have
anything official about it. [ ] It would be meaningless if it doesn’t
obtain our approval,’ Sudanese Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed
Hussein told London’s Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in an interview
published on Friday." (Reuters, August 6, 2004)

Interior Minister Hussein, notoriously one of the most brutal of the
senior National Islamic Front leaders, is in charge of the regime’s
"Darfur policy." His comments about the AU force thus take on
particular significance. Of course we might naively ask why the AU
force would be resisted by Khartoum, when insecurity in Darfur is so
great and there is such doubt about the ability of the regime to provide
protection. Why is Khartoum so eager to prevent humanitarian
intervention, when it is clear that hundreds of thousands of Sudanese
civilians will die without such?

But of course even the slightest familiarity with the situation in
Darfur, which sadly cannot be presumed of Mr. Pronk, makes an answer
overwhelming clear. The very regime that set in motion the genocide is
hardly prepared to allow a robust international presence in the region,
one that could easily assemble definitive evidence of the genocide. The
regime knows that however energetic its efforts to obliterate the sites
of the mass executions of the sort reported today by special rapporteur
Asma Jahangir (and which have been previously reported by Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch, and others), there is too much that
simply can’t be concealed.

In short, Khartoum is perfectly willing to include as a matter of
domestic policy an extension of genocidal destruction if it serves to
preserve power and obscure the regime’s direct role in massive civilian

The refusal to see this most basic truth about the current situation
has ensured that the UN will push for a policy of "incrementalism":
incremental improvements in security, incremental improvements in
humanitarian access, incremental improvements in humanitarian capacity.
But those who are pushing for such "incrementalism" seem unable or
unwilling to see the catastrophic free-fall into which Darfur has

The only short-term answer is massive humanitarian intervention; the
only long-term solution, the only solution that can preserve the
north-south peace agreement and prevent futures episodes of genocidal
destruction in Sudan, is a move to take Sudan’s governance into UN
receivership. That this is so exceedingly unlikely is, tragically, the
basis on which to judge the fate of the people of Darfur and the other
marginalized regions of Sudan.

- Eric Reeves
- Smith College
- Northampton, MA 01063

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

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