Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 10 August 2008

Victims of Genocide in Darfur: Past, Present, and Future

Deteriorating humanitarian conditions and access, amidst deepening
insecurity, present unprecedented threats to civilians previously
displaced or affected by ethnically-targeted violence

By Eric Reeves

August 9, 2008 — Despite what amounts to a humanitarian “news black-out” mounted by
UN officials in Khartoum, a host of indicators suggest that Darfuris
have entered the most perilous season of destruction since the advent of
major humanitarian operations in summer 2004. Significant malnutrition
is already in evidence according to numerous confidential reports from
the ground in Darfur and from well-informed humanitarian officials.
This occurs as the population in need of food grows by approximately one
million human beings during the current rainy season/hunger gap.
Prospects for harvests in the fall are gloomy, and this follows the
disastrous harvests of last year, especially in South Darfur and North
Darfur. Food prices have increased by 150% in some areas. Because
Khartoum refuses to escort UN World Food Program convoys in sufficient
numbers, WFP is still unable to provide full rations to individuals
weakened by more than five years of conflict. Other threats to civilians
include a growing lack of potable water, diminished access to primary
medical care, and a continuing climate of violence and impunity,
threatening not only vulnerable civilians but humanitarian workers.

The individual most responsible for this “news black-out” is
Ameerah Haq, the senior UN humanitarian official in Sudan and by all
accounts a person dismayingly fearful of offending the Khartoum regime.
She is consequently fearful of news reporters, and has continually
suppressed UN press statements bearing on urgent humanitarian issues.
In particular, Ms. Haq is the UN official most responsible for allowing
the Khartoum regime to quash publication and dissemination of numerous
reports on malnutrition, by both the UN and international
nongovernmental humanitarian organizations (INGOs). The result is that
the dangers to the civilian populations of Darfur are insufficiently
appreciated in many quarters. More dangerously yet, by failing to put
down clear “markers” for the extent of the deepening crisis, Haq
emboldens Khartoum. As one extremely well-informed humanitarian
official put it: “If we are silent, Khartoum’s account of the
situation is the only one being heard---and this is especially dangerous
as the regime is again pushing its agenda of forcibly returning
displaced persons from the camps that offer tenuous shelter and succor
to highly insecure rural areas.”

To be sure, Haq is not the only senior UN official responsible for the
disgraceful lack of clear representations of realities on the ground.
Ashraf Qazi, UN special representative of the secretary-general to
Sudan, has been no better in speaking with sufficient urgency about
humanitarian or political developments (and has not engaged effectively
with the challenges of implementing the north/south “Comprehensive
Peace Agreement”). Rodolphe Adada, AU/UN Joint Special Representative
for Darfur, has also been almost completely useless and is far out of
his diplomatic depth. This lack of UN leadership in Khartoum has been
deeply discouraging to committed humanitarian officials both in New York
and on the ground in Darfur.

Since spring these officials have been extremely worried about what
would happen to civilian populations in Darfur during the months of
August and September (the height of the rainy season, when overland
transport is impossible in many places). Well into August, we have far
too little information coming from the UN, which in turns works to
intimidate INGOs; they are acutely aware of their vulnerability (see
below), and deeply fearful of appearing to get ahead of the UN in
speaking honestly about humanitarian conditions in Darfur.

But the reality is that genocidal destruction continues, and that the
immense distress reflected in present humanitarian conditions grows
directly out of antecedent ethnically-targeted violence. People
continue to die because the National Islamic Front (National Congress)
regime and its Janjaweed militia allies have in the past and are today
“deliberately inflicting on [non-Arab/African tribal populations of
Darfur] conditions of life calculated to bring about [their] physical
destruction in whole or in part” (1948 UN Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2, clause [c]). An
appalling ignorance of this feature of the Convention is widely in
evidence in discussions of Darfur’s realities, even as such
“deliberate” destruction of livelihoods on an ethnic basis has
been authoritatively documented over several years by numerous human
rights organizations. (See, for example, Physicians for Human Rights,
“Darfur: Assault on Survival,” January 2006 at


Nowhere is this appalling ignorance, and even more appalling
disingenuousness, more evident than in the responses of a range of
international actors, including regional organizations, to the recent
announcement from the Office of the Prosecutor of the International
Criminal Court (ICC). Indeed, the stench of hypocrisy could hardly be
greater: the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the
Non-Aligned Movement, and even the African Union have, with alacrity and
vehemence, sprung to the defense of Khartoum’s genocidal National
Islamic Front (NIF) regime. The ICC Prosecutor’s announcement (July
14, 2008) that he will seek an arrest warrant for President Omar
al-Bashir—on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity---has
produced a torrent of hyperbolic outrage and indignation, for reasons
that are entirely political. Almost nothing in public commentary has
addressed the substance of the Prosecutor’s enormously serious
charges, whose nature we may easily glean from the scores of human
rights reports over the past five years. Nor does this outrage concern
itself with the unfathomable human suffering and destruction that are
ongoing in Darfur. Rather, it is energized simply by the fact that the
pursuit of justice through the ICC has led, ineluctably, to the gravest
of charges against a head of state who happens to be Arab, Muslim, and
geographically African. And even in this conspicuously political
support for al-Bashir there is a remarkable ignorance and lack of legal
acuity. Many of the statements made by representatives of these four
particular international organizations, some coming from spokesmen whose
countries are party to the Rome Statute that is the basis for the ICC,
are simply grossly in error.

Such fulsome outrage, and lack of precision in legal pronouncements, is
precisely what Khartoum has sought, and now will use of in making its
case for a UN Security Council deferral of ICC investigation and
prosecution against al-Bashir under Chapter 16 of the Rome Statute. The
fate of those already indicted for atrocity crimes in Darfur is unclear:
some are urging that Khartoum expediently surrender Ali Kushayb (the
“colonel of colonels” among Khartoum’s brutal Janjaweed
militia), and Ahmed Haroun, former junior Interior Minister, with
primary responsibilities for human destruction and displacement in
Darfur. But since both Kushayb and Haroun can easily point up the chain
of command to senior members of the NIF regime, it’s hard to see how
arguments for their surrender might be made persuasive to al-Bashir’s
fellow génocidaires---men such as Presidential Advisor Nafi’e Ali
Nafi’e (who now holds the Darfur portfolio), Vice President Ali Osman
Taha (who held the Darfur portfolio in 2004-2005), Saleh Abdalla
‘Gosh’ (head of the ruthlessly efficient security services),
Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein (former Minister of the Interior, and thus
directly senior to Ahmed Haroun), and a range of senior army and
Military Intelligence officials (see what remains an extremely important
study by Human Rights Watch of the various chains of military and
political command in the Darfur genocide: “Entrenching Impunity:
Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur”
[December 2005], at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/darfur1205).

Not content with this broader international campaign, Khartoum has
cynically made yet another “peace agreement” with neighboring Chad,
an effort to deflect attention from the massive atrocity crimes that
Khartoum has exported from Darfur into eastern Chad. None of the
international organizations jumping to al-Bashir’s defense has so much
as mentioned the vast humanitarian and security crisis that continues in
eastern Chad, even as the same human rights organizations that have so
authoritatively chronicled ethnically-targeted slaughter and destruction
in Darfur have also reported on eastern Chad. These include numerous
reports of cross-border violence by Khartoum’s Janjaweed proxies and
even its regular military forces, including aerial bombardment of
civilian targets and the use of deadly helicopter gunships:

“Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,” Human Rights
Watch, February 2006, at

“Violence Beyond Borders: The Human Rights Crisis in Eastern Chad,”
Human Rights Watch, June 2006, at

“‘They Came Here to Kill Us’: Militia Attacks and Ethnic
Targeting of Civilians in Eastern Chad,” Human Rights Watch, January
2007, at http://hrw.org/reports/2007/chad0107/index.htm

“Chad/Sudan: Sowing the seeds of Darfur: Ethnic targeting in Chad by
Janjawid militias from Sudan,” Amnesty International, June 28, 2006,
at http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/ENGAFR200062006

Knowing full well that the UN Security Council referred the
investigation of atrocity crimes in Darfur to the ICC in March 2005
(Resolution 1593), African, Arab, Islamic, and “non-aligned”
countries---a number of which have served on the Security Council
without objecting to the earlier referral or previous indictments---are
suddenly at arms. (Notably, Tanzania, Benin, and Algeria were all
members of the Security Council in 2005 when the vote on Resolution 1593
was taken, although Algeria abstained.) But what is most deeply
hypocritical in this burst of activity is that it has been energized by
nations and organizations that have done so little to acknowledge the
terrible human suffering and destruction in Darfur. Even the African
Union, which has bravely put its soldiers and other military personnel
in the field, has refused to confront Khartoum with a call for
accountability. By refusing to accept this challenging political task,
the African Union has made it all the easier for Khartoum to sustain
what UN, humanitarian, and human rights observers all describe as a
“climate of impunity” in Darfur.

In the case of the Organization of Islamic Conference, there has been a
remarkable silence on Darfur, even as the slaughter, displacement, and
suffering of their non-Arab co-religionists have continued for more than
five years. The Arab League, which is finally little more than an
extension office of the Egyptian foreign ministry on issues relating to
Sudan, has been a positively obstructionist force since the beginning of
the crisis: refusing to accept accounts of human destruction and the
terrifying humanitarian needs of Darfur; refusing to criticize Khartoum
for its role in attacking civilians on the ground and from the air;
refusing to accept the overwhelming evidence that Khartoum has used the
Janjaweed as its military proxy in destroying thousands of non-Arab, or
African, villages. Both Cairo and Tripoli have put their own regional
agendas ahead of any real pursuit of peace in Darfur; indeed, Libya has
over the years provided many of the weapons used on both sides of the
Chad/Darfur border. The Non-Aligned Movement has simply been silent on
Darfur before offering its current support for al-Bashir and his
murderous cronies.

Certainly nothing in the recent statements and demands by these various
international actors taking up the cause of President al-Bashir
contributes to the essential element of a re-started peace process:
concerted, unyielding pressure on Khartoum to move beyond the fatally
flawed Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja, Nigeria; May 2006). To be sure,
international pressure must also be directed toward the fractious rebel
groups, which by their actions continue to surrender their claim to be
representing the people of Darfur. A refusal to overcome differences of
personality, to resist the hardening of ethnic divisions, and to commit
unconditionally to the safety of humanitarian workers and
operations---all compromise their moral authority as negotiators of a
just peace for Darfur. The rebels must understand that the world sees
them engaging in infighting rather than protecting civilians, sees
personal and tribal ambitions trumping the common good for non-Arab and
Arab groups alike.


Despite the misconceived fears that an angry al-Bashir would lash out
blindly following the ICC announcement, the response of the National
Islamic Front has been predictably canny. After all, it is certainly
not the case that al-Bashir somehow faces international justice alone.
All the senior members of the regime named above face indictment, as do a good many others (in 2005 the ICC received from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Darfur a confidential list of 51 names of individuals to be investigated for atrocity crimes, most of whom are certainly part of the Khartoum regime and its Janjaweed militia proxy force). The fixation on al-Bashir by some commentators seems a peculiar ignorance, or the reflection of an equally peculiar tendentiousness.

A much more predictable response to the ICC announcement was
Khartoum’s attempt to create, yet again, a special “court” to
try crimes in Darfur:

“Sudanese Justice Minister Abdul Basit Sabdarat said on Tuesday
[August 5, 2008] that he had appointed a prosecutor to examine alleged
crimes in the war-torn western region of Darfur and to present cases to
courts. [ ] ‘I have signed a decision to name a prosecutor for crimes
in Darfur from 2003 until now,’ Sabdarat told reporters at his
ministry.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], August 5,

But Khartoum simply has no national laws governing crimes such as
genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. And previous
“court” actions against Kushayb, Haroun (see above) and a few
others have been little more than absurd parodies of “justice.” The
“prosecutor” and “courts” Sabdarat fabricates for this occasion
are simply the fig-leaf needed by countries and organizations willing to
say that there is no need for the ICC because Khartoum can prosecute
itself for the atrocity crimes it has committed. Those willing to accept
such a preposterous concept of justice might be equally inclined to
believe that the ICC Prosecutor is a “terrorist,” the description
offered by Khartoum’s UN ambassador, Abdel-Mahmood Mohamed (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], June 11, 2008).

Domestically, the political efforts are all too predictable. As
Suliman Baldo, Africa Director at the International Center for
Transitional Justice and a Sudanese human rights hero, recently wrote in
a July 23, 2008 web posting:

“The [Khartoum] regime has over the years perfected internal and
external mobilization techniques that have served it well whenever it
faced serious threats to its hold on power. One tactic is to persuade
the public that the threat is in fact aimed at core national values and
strategic interests rather than only the National Congress Party’s
[National Islamic Front’s] partisan interests. The state-controlled
mass media and Friday prayer sermons were used to send that message. The
NCP staged demonstrations objecting to the prosecutor’s request for an
arrest warrant charging Bashir with genocide.” (“The Politics of an
Arrest Warrant,” at

Regionally, the sudden and expedient decision by the regime to restore
bilateral relations with Chad and to halt its propaganda war is of
course designed primarily for African Union consumption. But nothing of
substance has changed between N’Djamena and Khartoum, and both
continue to wage a deadly proxy war on both sides of the Chad/Darfur
border. Escalating violence has put humanitarian workers and operations
in eastern Chad at intolerable risk. The terrible consequences of
almost three years of cross-border attacks by Khartoum’s regular
military forces and its Janjaweed militia allies (see above) are
spreading insidiously, helping to create a chaotic mélange of violence:

“International aid workers are expressing concern over what some
describe as the worsening security situation in Eastern Chad. Aid
workers say as the number of car thefts and armed assaults has
increased, so has the fear of banditry in a complex region filled with
rebel factions, refugees, and vulnerable communities.”

“Field workers from international humanitarian organizations have
expressed renewed worries over their personal security in Eastern Chad,
in light of what some call a severely deteriorating security environment
for the international agencies that provide aid to hundreds of thousands
of Chadians and refugees from neighboring Sudan.”

“Oxfam International, which supplies water and food to over 120,000
people in Eastern Chad, has been forced to pull out of one area because
of attacks on its workers, says spokeswoman Judith Enriquez-Ferrano.
‘We’ve seen through 2007 and 2008 a real increase in the insecurity
in Chad, slowly. It’s not a drastic change. But slowly it becomes more
violent and more difficult to work. Three or four years ago there wasn’t
this type of problem in Chad. You could move quite easily wherever you
wanted and quite freely. Now it’s not the case anymore,’ she said.”

“Oxfam pulled its workers out of the town of Kerfi in southeastern
Chad last week, along with Paris-based Doctors Without Borders, after
the compounds of each of the organizations were attacked by armed local
residents. Oxfam said in a press release the attackers had tried to burn
down the workers’ house with the workers still inside.” (Voice of
America [dateline: Dakar], July 18, 2008)

In Darfur itself, there have been no demonstrations of significance
around the ICC announcement, in part because even energetic efforts by
Khartoum’s local officials have been unable to generate any support.
Indeed, what has gone far too little remarked is the response of
Darfuris themselves to the ICC announcement and the ambitions of the
Court in its investigations. Thus the particular importance of a
recently published essay by Sara Darehshori, senior counsel in Human
Rights Watch’s International Justice Program:

“Last July [2007], I went to Chad to look into how the International
Criminal Court, which has a field office in Abeche and works with
refugees in the camps, is performing on the ground. As part of my
assessment, I interviewed dozens of refugees. Considering the hardships
the refugees faced daily, I was not sure how they would feel talking
about a topic as abstract as accountability in an international forum.
Thus I was surprised when their reactions to my questions were positive,
with even a hint of impatience because the ICC prosecutor had not yet
gone after the president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir. [ ] [ICC
Prosecutor] Moreno Ocampo’s actions will, no doubt, be greeted with
joy in the camps [for displaced persons].” (Los Angeles Times, July
15, 2008,

Darehshori concludes, “As one Darfur refugee put it to me, ‘There
is no justice in Sudan. If there was, we would not be here.’”

Darehshori also offers a critical response to those who would frame the
ICC announcement as forcing a choice between “peace or justice”:

“Yet some commentators outside Darfur have argued that this ‘moment
of jubilation’ can only be a symbolic victory for the long-suffering
people of that region. They contend that should the prosecution of top
officials---however terrible their crimes---go forward, it will
interfere with prospects for peace and security. Sudan’s history makes a
strong case for the opposite conclusion: The persistent lack of
accountability has instead undermined the prospects for peace and
stability. There has been little peace to keep.”

There could be no truer or more telling words about Sudan’s recent
history. It is the relentless policy of appeasement, the international
failure to hold the NIF regime accountable, the shameful ignoring of
massive atrocity crimes in the Nuba Mountains, southern Sudan, and other
marginalized regions that has made the Darfur genocide possible in the
first place. And yet the arguments for appeasement, for accommodation,
for deference continue.


The largest consequence of shamefully inadequate international action
is that insecurity continues to pose an ever-greater threat to
humanitarians and civilians, even as Darfur and eastern Chad have
entered the season of heaviest rains. Many areas are completely
inaccessible not because of insecurity, but because mud or torrential
floods in wadis (formerly dry river beds) make overland transport
impossible. But ultimately Khartoum knows that it can modulate the
level of violence to suit its larger genocidal purposes in any season.
The regime has refused for months to provide adequate military escorts
for UN World Food Program convoys traveling to and within Darfur,
resulting in a near halving of food rations for Darfuris since May.
Some of these food rations have now been restored, but the minimal
kilocalorie diet for sustaining human life is still far from being
provided---even for the present caseload. With severe deficiencies in
pre-positioned food, rapidly growing numbers of people in need of food
aid for the next several months, and serious malnutrition in many
pockets throughout Darfur, it is not difficult to understand the
comments made by retiring Darfur peace mediator Jan Eliasson as part of
an unconstrained assessment offered in June. Describing the situation
in Darfur as “extremely fragile,” Eliasson declared:

"‘We have said that [the humanitarian situation is precarious] many
times, but this time it’s really serious. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
The starvation is around the corner. It’s actually starvation in many
places already. And if we have an escalation of hostilities, at the side
of rampant banditry and hijacking of cars, and problems of insecurity,
we may have a large scale disaster at hand.’” (Voice of America
[dateline: Addis Ababa], June 12, 2008)

The primary cause for this desperate situation is not an absence of
food in country, but the insecurity that prevents it from reaching and
being distributed within Darfur. The insecurity is a function of
banditry, competition among rebel factions, Janjaweed attacks, and
violence by Khartoum’s own security forces. But Human Rights Watch is
all too accurate in describing Khartoum’s callous role in
orchestrating this insecurity as “Chaos by Design” (September 2007,
at http://hrw.org/reports/2007/sudan0907). And the deadly consequences
of this “design” continue to play out before international eyes.
One particularly well-informed humanitarian official reports that “the
massive majority of attacks occur in the main towns and state capitals,
where [the Khartoum regime] has absolute control. It is simply not in
their interest to improve security.” Elsewhere responsibility for
attacks is more difficult to assign, but the consequences are no less
destructive and Khartoum’s failure to protect no less conspicuous:

“The aid group Doctors Without Borders said Friday it has pulled
staff out of two locations in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, which the
United Nations said will leave 65,000 people without medical aid. The
group said in a statement it had been forced to evacuate its staff from
the Tawila and Shangil Tobaya areas of North Darfur after a series of
violent attacks against them.” [ ]

“‘The Sudanese government have a responsibility to ensure security
throughout their territory,’ John Holmes, under-secretary-general for
humanitarian affairs, said in a statement. He said this year, 180
humanitarian vehicles have been hijacked, 145 aid workers kidnapped and
nine killed. ‘Impunity for such attacks must end,’ he said.
‘Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the assistance these aid
organizations deliver and we cannot afford to have them absent from
Darfur.’” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], August 1, 2008)

But such threatening violence is too much a part of the very texture of
the Darfur that Khartoum has created. Indeed, the regime is capable of
using insecurity and violence to control humanitarian access and
response at any time and in any location. Tawila, for example, has been
the site of almost continual attacks since early 2004, when Musa
Hilal---the most notorious Janjaweed leader, and now a member of the NIF
regime---oversaw one of the most brutal episodes of human destruction
yet reported from Darfur:

"In an attack on February, 27 [2004] in the Tawilah area of northern
Darfur, 30 villages were burned to the ground, over 200 people killed
and over 200 girls and women raped---some by up to 14 assailants and in
front of their fathers who were later killed. A further 150 women and
200 children were abducted." (UN Integrated Regional Information
Networks, March 22, 2004)

[See below yet another report of a recent attack on Tawila]

The targets for particularly destructive violence are easily picked,
and complementary actions by Khartoum often deliberately exacerbate
humanitarian difficulties. Thus the UN reports that water sources are
increasingly frequent targets of violence, especially by the Janjaweed;
at the same time, Khartoum is increasingly limiting fuel to camps for
displaced persons, where it is used to pump life-sustaining water. In
an effort to force returns from the camps to rural areas, Khartoum
claims that the fuel goes to rebel groups and uses this as pretext to
force cutbacks on water supplies. At the height of the rainy season,
such actions make it much more likely that already malnourished
civilians come in contact with dangerous infectious diseases. This is
but one example of the extraordinarily dangerous combination of
violence, insecurity, and humanitarian obstruction that aid
organizations face every single day in Darfur.

Another deadly weapon in Khartoum’s war of attrition against
humanitarian efforts is its obscenely misnamed “Humanitarian Aid
Commission” (HAC). In fact, HAC is simply an extension of the
Ministry of the Interior and a constant source of obstruction and
harassment. Recently HAC requested a list of all UN and INGO movements,
and has blocked the movement of UN staff in Khartoum. A worker for a
nongovernmental aid organization recently reported to this writer on
other ominous actions by HAC, including interfering with emergency
evacuation plans. HAC is also making it extremely difficult for UN
officials to move freely from Darfur to Khartoum and back. The US
Agency for International Development reports in its Sudan “situation
report” Number 9 (August 1, 2008):

“During the month of July, bureaucratic impediments and insecurity
continued to hamper relief efforts and humanitarian access throughout
Darfur. Humanitarian agencies report regularly changing administrative
procedures, the non-issuance of visas to humanitarian workers, and
[government] refusal to allow humanitarian agencies to use rented

Of course the obstruction is not merely bureaucratic: there have been
more hijackings of humanitarian vehicles in the first half of 2008 than
in all of 2007. And as a well-placed UN official notes, “the large
majority of attacks on humanitarians occur in main towns and state
capitals, where the Government of Sudan has absolute control---it’s
not in their interest to improve security.”

Violence confronts both civilians and humanitarians in camp and town
settings. In a characteristic account, a humanitarian aid worker in
South Darfur reported to this writer that senior HAC officials often
supervise the interviews offered by victims of atrocities. If these
interviews are too revealing, both civilians and the humanitarian
organizations supporting them can pay a terrible price---including the
destruction of facilities, beatings, arrests, even extra-judicial
executions. By remaining silent about such actions, officials such as
UN humanitarian coordinator Ameerah Haq succeed only in convincing
Khartoum that it can continue its brutal ways with impunity.

To be sure, there are risks in speaking the truth and acting
courageously; but these risks only grow as UN officials refuse to speak
honestly about the difficulties, hostility, and obstruction that all
humanitarians face. UN fecklessness is one reason that last November
(2007), Khartoum-appointed officials expelled Wael al-Haj-Ibrahim, a
highly seasoned humanitarian who headed the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the town of Nyala, and was
responsible for coordinating aid for some 1 million people in South
Darfur. (His offense was to refuse to cooperate with Khartoum in the
forced relocation of displaced persons.)

More recently, Khartoum’s HAC expelled the Darfur head of Doctors
Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontiers (Holland). Citing an anonymous
humanitarian source, Agence France-Presse reports (June 25, 2008
[dateline: Khartoum]):

“Sudanese authorities have expelled the head of the Dutch branch of
the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) from the war-stricken region
of Darfur, a humanitarian source said on Wednesday. ‘Banu Altanbas,
who heads operations in Nyala (South Darfur), was ordered to leave
Darfur immediately’ by Sudan’s Humanitarian Affairs Commission (HAC)
on Sunday, the source told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.” [ ]

“Altanbas, who was declared persona non grata in Darfur by the
Sudanese authorities, left the vast western region of Darfur but she has
stayed on in Sudan, the source said.” [ ]

“[I]t is the first time such measures are taken against MSF, which
won the Nobel peace prize in 1999, in Darfur where five of its
branches---from Belgium, Spain, France, Holland and
Switzerland---operate.” [ ]

“After a report by MSF-Holland in 2005 that highlighted incidents of
rape in Darfur’s refugee camps, angry Sudanese authorities briefly
detained its head in Sudan, Paul Foreman, accusing him of crimes against
the Sudanese state. [ ] ‘It is obvious that since then MSF-Holland is
being watched. The matter is very serious,’ said the head of a
European NGO.”

“Other NGOs have been targeted by expulsions since the 2003 outbreak
of the Darfur conflict, including the US agency CARE in 2007, the
Norwegian Refugee Council in 2006, and Britain’s Oxfam and Save the
Children in 2004.
Two members of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) were also expelled in 2007.”

The Agence France-Presse dispatch concludes with an extraordinary

“Last week, an official with HAC urged international NGOs not to
collaborate with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs, accusing the UN agency of interfering in Sudan’s domestic
political affairs.”

This is an outrageous assault on a key part of the humanitarian
response to the Darfur crisis. But the appropriate response is not
acquiescence of the sort represented by Haq, but rather a highlighting
of Khartoum’s actions, and demanding political support from the UN
Security Council and key member states.

One effect of UN acquiescence and silence is that nongovernmental
organizations are highly reluctant to speak out publicly about what they
see, even when it bears directly on the humanitarian situation they seek
to address. Privately, however, some INGOs are saying insistently that
“hunger is significantly greater than last year” and that they
“are very concerned about high malnutrition numbers.” Some of
these observations are a function of where organizations work; but if
the UN is fearful of serving as a clearing house for humanitarian
reports, data, and information, then there is no chance of a global
picture of the humanitarian situation emerging. This is precisely the
situation at present.

There can be no doubt about Khartoum’s hostility to humanitarian
operations, as has been the case from the beginning of major operations
in July 2004, and even before (in December 2003, Tom Vraalsen---UN
special envoy for humanitarian affairs---reported Khartoum’s
“systematic” obstruction of humanitarian assistance to African
tribal populations). But without a real willingness to push back
against obstruction and interference, UN leadership will be meaningless
and indeed an encouragement of Khartoum’s immensely destructive war of
attrition against humanitarian efforts.


As noted above, former UN special envoy for Darfur Jan Eliasson, at the
close of his tenure, offered some of his most forthright assessments.
Of the camps for displaced persons he declared:

“The poverty is beyond description. The fear is physically palpable
when you move there. The suffering of the population has gone on for so
long now that if we have an escalation with this very small margin of
survival for people in Darfur that we may have the risk of a
catastrophic development." (Voice of America [dateline: Geneva], June 5,

Much of this fear derives from the ongoing threat of rape that
confronts both women and girls, within and outside the camps. This past
April Human Rights Watch issued a starkly damning report on this
terrible weapon of war:

“Five years into the armed conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region, women
and girls living in displaced persons camps, towns, and rural areas
remain extremely vulnerable to sexual violence. Sexual violence
continues to occur throughout the region, both in the context of
continuing attacks on civilians, and during periods of relative calm.
Those responsible are usually men from the Sudanese security forces,
militias [i.e., Janjaweed], rebel groups, and former rebel groups, who
target women and girls predominantly (but not exclusively) from Fur,
Zaghawa, Masalit, Berti, Tunjur, and other non-Arab ethnicities.”

“Survivors of sexual violence in Darfur have no meaningful access to
redress. They fear the consequences of reporting their cases to the
authorities and lack the resources needed to prosecute their attackers.
Police are physically present only in principal towns and government
outposts, and they lack the basic tools and political will for
responding to sexual violence crimes and conducting investigations.”
(“Five Years On: No Justice for Sexual Violence in Darfur,” April
2008, at http://hrw.org/reports/2008/darfur0408/)

In March, UN human rights officials accused the Khartoum regime’s
regular soldiers (the Sudan Armed Forces [SAF]) of engaging in rape and
looting during the brutal February 2008 campaign in the civilian
corridor north of el-Geneina in West Darfur. Indeed, the UN Office of
the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported (March 20, 2008) that,
“one eyewitness reported that she witnessed four girls being
escorted to an abandoned hut and raped at gunpoint by a group of
soldiers belonging to the SAF.” Khartoum of course simply denied the

There were other specific findings in the UNHCHR report, based on
first-hand investigation by the human rights officers of the UN/African
Union Mission in Darfur:

“Information gathered by UNAMID Human Rights Officers indicates that
‘these actions [by Khartoum’s regular armed forces and its Arab
militia allies] violated the principle of distinction stated in
international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between civilian
objects and military objectives. Moreover, the scale of destruction of
civilian property, including objects indispensable for the survival of
the civilian population, suggests that the damage was a deliberate and
integral part of a military strategy.’ The report also describes
extensive looting during and after the attacks, and catalogues
‘consistent and credible accounts of rape committed by armed
uniformed men during and after the attack in Sirba.’”

Of particular note is the finding that, “the scale of destruction of
civilian property, including objects indispensable for the survival of
the civilian population, suggests that the damage was a deliberate and
integral part of a military strategy.” Those who maintain a
factitious skepticism about whether or not genocide continues in Darfur
would do well to consider the implications of these unambiguous

The result of this campaign in West Darfur and other violence
throughout Darfur has been the displacement of more than 200,000
civilians so far this year alone—more than 1,000 per day on average.
Civilians on the move, even in convoys, are also targets of violence,
especially by the Janjaweed. On August 7, 2008 the BBC reported:

“Six people have been killed and 28 wounded after men on camels
attacked a civilian convoy in the Sudanese region of Darfur, the UN has
said. The convoy was traveling between Nyala and Fasher in northern
Darfur, according to UNAMID, a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping
mission. It said the attackers were suspected members of the Janjaweed

Deadly aerial bombardment by Khartoum’s air force continues to be
reported throughout Darfur (see my essay on the bombing of Shegeg Karo
[North Darfur] in the Christian Science Monitor, May 12, 2008 at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article214.html). Indeed, there seems
to be no restraint whatsoever on the part of Khartoum in employing
deadly and terrifying attacks on purely civilian targets. Agence
France-Presse reports (July 27, 2007 [dateline: Nairobi]):

“UN officials said Friday [July 27, 2008] that Sudan government
planes had bombed Darfur this week despite a highly publicised peace
pledge from Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir during a visit to the
[Darfur] region.”

Again and again, these attacks have been confirmed when investigated,
although the UNAMID force often declares it doesn’t have the resources
to check on all reported bombings---a grim measure of their frequency.


The primary result of President al-Bashir’s public relations stunt in
Darfur was to force the redeployment of police away from escorting UN
World Food Program convoys, already suffering from a severe dearth of
such escorts:

“A decline in the frequency of convoys and government escorts,
particularly with the re-deployment of the Police force during President
Al Bashir’s visit to the region, further worsened the turnaround time
for trucks delivering WFP food to Darfur.” (UN World Food Program
press release [Rome], August 6, 2008).

Here we should bear in mind that not only is Khartoum refusing to
provide protection to UN food convoys, it is exporting massive amounts
of food through regime-controlled agribusinesses. Instead of providing
food for its own badly malnourished people, who are also experiencing
severe inflation in food prices, the Khartoum regime is profiting
handsomely from agricultural exports that benefit regime members and
businessmen with ties to the regime. (See an excellent and timely New
York Times dispatch, “Darfur Withers as Sudan Sells a Food Bonanza”
[dateline: Ed Damer, Sudan], August 9, 2008, at

In the same vein, the US Agency for International Development reported
in spring 2006 that at the time, the Khartoum regime controlled a
national food stockpile of 300,000 to 500,000 metric tons of grain.
Instead of releasing this grain for humanitarian purposes, Khartoum kept
grain prices artificially high, thus making it impossible for the UN’s
World Food Program to buy food in-country. This added enormously to the
cost of food, and these increased costs ultimately diminished
humanitarian capacity. This represents yet another way in which the
Khartoum regime has undermined humanitarian efforts to save the very
people it claims to represent with its assertions of “national


The Darfur Consortium is a “coalition of more than 50 Africa-based
and Africa-focused NGOs dedicated to working together to promote a just,
peaceful and sustainable end to the ongoing humanitarian and human
rights crisis in Darfur.” The Consortium speaks of itself as
“reflecting the unique perspective of African civil society.” On
July 28, 2008 the Darfur Consortium released a report assessing the
UN/African Union “hybrid” Mission in Darfur (UNAMID): “Putting
People First: The Protection Challenge Facing UNAMID in Darfur”
The research for the report was “conducted by Darfur Consortium
partners through interviews carried out in 2008 with internally
displaced and/or conflict-affected Darfur civilians, humanitarian
workers based in Darfur, and UN/AU personnel based in Darfur, Khartoum,
and New York.”

While hardly a ground-breaking assessment, “Putting People First”
has both unique authority in its research and an important timeliness.
Its conclusions are all the stronger for building on the many
assessments that have preceded:

“Various bodies shoulder the responsibility for the shortcomings of
UNAMID. The Government of Sudan has effectively stalled deployment and
the United Nations Security Council and the African Union Peace and
Security Council have allowed it to do so. While supporting the mission
with the voice and votes at the UN, major donor countries have not
fulfilled their pledges to support the mission.”

Specifically, “Putting People First” reports:

“Despite the unanimous Security Council agreement on the need for
UNAMID, the force still lacks resources and capacity to operate at full
strength [i.e., more than 26,000 troops and civilian police]. To date,
it has just over 9,479 uniformed personnel, most of who are ex-AMIS
forces [i.e., part of the antecedent African Union Mission in
Sudan/Darfur]. The Government of Sudan continues to delay agreement
with troop- and police-contributing countries, and since January [2008],
only 600 troops have been added to the ex-AMIS forces.”

The report also highlights the critical lack of police within UNAMID:
fewer than a third of the authorized personnel have deployed, and even
this figure conceals glaring deficiencies:

“Approximately 70 per cent of the police donated to UNAMID are
assigned to local community policing centres in the IDP camps. But
there is a shortage of international police and Formed Police Units
(FPUs) (which are armed and have greater powers to arrest perpetrators)
thus leaving the mission overstretched. As of 18 June [2008] 1,661
police officers and only one formed police unity were deployed. Without
adequate police support, troops are left to assumes the roles of both
soldiers and policemen, conducting patrols inside camps and communities
without the proper training to do so.”

The significance of this fundamental shortcoming can hardly be
overstated. And because there are so few African Formed Police Units to
draw upon, it is extremely difficult to see how UNAMID will move from
the one (Bangladeshi) FPU currently deployed to the nineteen
authorized---unless the African Union supports the UN strenuously in
demanding that Khartoum respect the terms of agreement for the
deployment of UNAMID. As UNAMID force commander General Martin Agwai
has recently written, with appropriate insistence:

“We also need to look urgently at broadening the participation in
this peacekeeping force. Security Council resolution 1769, which gives
us our mandate in Darfur, speaks of the ‘predominantly African
character’ of UNAMID. It does not say the peacekeeping force must be
exclusively African. Given the understandable constraints among African
contributing nations we should now be able to turn to those non-African
countries willing and able to assist our mission at short notice.
Darfurians deserve nothing less.” (Mail and Guardian [South Africa],
July 21, 2008)

But this critical call for a change in behavior on the part of
Khartoum, which has resolutely resisted key non-African contributions to
UNAMID, has echoed emptily at the African Union’s “Peace and
Security Council.” Nor has the UN Security Council made the
appropriate commitment of political and diplomatic support. Nor for
that matter have the various nations that have spoken so urgently about
Darfur’s ongoing agony. Here again, the lack of action and firm
public declarations of specific commitments only encourages Khartoum to
believe that it can continue to deny non-African contributions to

More ominously, Khartoum also believes that it can severely constrict
the movements of UNAMID and its overall effectiveness. And the regime
has made its point with extreme violence on a number of occasions. Most
savagely, Khartoum’s Janjaweed allies, almost certainly acting at the
regime’s behest, attacked a UNAMID convoy at Um Hakibah (North Darfur)
on July 8, 2008. I offer an extended overview of the evidence
implicating Khartoum, provided originally to the Security Council by
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, until this month head of UN peacekeeping (some
additional confidential information comes from other highly informed
sources) (“Attack on UNAMID Forces in Darfur: The Khartoum Regime is
Responsible,” July 12, 2008 at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article219.html). Seven UNAMID
personnel were killed and twenty-two wounded in this extended,
well-planned attack that occurred in an area controlled by Khartoum---an
attack that was, in Guéhenno’s words, “designed to inflict

There have been a number of other highly revealing attacks on UNAMID.
On January 7, 2008, Khartoum’s regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF)
attacked, deliberately and with premeditation, a convoy belonging to
UNAMID. The convoy, comprising more than 20 well-marked cargo trucks and
armored personnel carriers (APC’s), came under heavy, sustained fire
near Tine, West Darfur. One truck was destroyed, an APC was damaged, and
a driver was critically wounded with numerous bullet wounds. The SAF
assault on the convoy lasted 10-12 minutes, during which time UNAMID
military personnel did not return fire. Again, I offer a sustained
overview of the contemporaneous evidence and accounts (“Khartoum’s
Military Forces Deliberately Attack a UNAMID Convoy,” January 14,
2008, at

In May it was the Janjaweed that attacked a well-armed UNAMID convoy.
The New York Times reported at the time (May 23, 2008 [dateline:

“Militiamen in Sudanese Army uniforms ambushed a convoy of Nigerian
peacekeepers in Darfur, robbing them of cash and weapons, United Nations
officials said Friday. No one was wounded in the attack, which took
place on Wednesday [May 21, 2008] near Geneina, the capital of West
Darfur State, but it was nonetheless a humiliating blow to the hybrid
United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force, which is struggling
to prove it can do better than the African force it replaced.”

And in an attack revealing remarkable contempt for UNAMID, Khartoum’s
security forces in el-Fasher (capital of North Darfur) assaulted a
UNAMID investigator in the course of his duties:

“The [UNAMID] security officer went to the market area in El Fasher
yesterday [May 21, 2008] to investigate a road accident involving a UN
staff member, a military vehicle, and a taxi, according to UNAMID. He
had just started taking pictures of the scene when a small group of
military personnel assaulted him, despite the intervention of UNAMID
civilian staff.” (UNAMID public statement [Khartoum], May 22, 2008)

Although UNAMID has performed well in a few places, the frank (if
typically confidential) assessments from INGOs suggest that the force is
ineffective, excessively cautious, unclear about its civilian protection
mandate, and rapidly losing any chance of gaining the support of
Darfuris. Here it hardly helps that militarily capable nations have not
provided the critical equipment necessary for UNAMID to maximize its
capacity as a force to protect civilians, humanitarians, and itself.
The July 8 attack on UNAMID in particular might have been sharply
curtailed if the tactical helicopters necessary had been provided.

The fact that none of the tactical or transport helicopters required by
UNAMID has been provided by UN member states---more than a year after UN
Security Council authorization of UNAMID, under Chapter Seven
auspices---is a scandal belying any real commitment to Darfur on the
part of a great many militarily capable nations. Indeed, a recent
report by aviation specialist Thomas Withington (“Grounded: the
International Community’s Betrayal of UNAMID,” July 31, 2008, at
identifies a number of particular countries that might contribute. The
report, endorsed by 36 human rights organizations and other
nongovernmental organizations from around the world:

“[S]ets out for the first time which states have the necessary
helicopters and estimates how many are available for deployment to
Darfur. It identifies a number of countries---including the Czech
Republic, India, Italy, Romania, Spain and Ukraine---that have large
numbers of helicopters that meet the required specifications and are not
on mission or mission rotation elsewhere. Many of these helicopters are
gathering dust in hangars or flying in air shows when they could be
saving lives in Darfur.” (Forward to “Grounded: the International
Community’s Betrayal of UNAMID”)

Most tellingly, in the Executive Summary, the report finds:

“Using conservative estimates, the report calculates that NATO alone
could provide as many as 104 suitable helicopters for the UNAMID force.
Among NATO countries, those countries best placed to provide helicopters
to UNAMID are the Czech Republic, Italy, Romania and Spain. In addition,
Ukraine and India---both countries that traditionally contribute to UN
peacekeeping missions---could together contribute 34 helicopters.
Between them, these six countries could provide an estimated fleet of
over 70 helicopters---four times the number required by UNAMID.
Countries with the ability to provide these helicopters must do so
immediately, and Security Council members---especially the five
permanent members---must engage in concerted diplomacy to make sure this

A cautionary note should have been included in what is otherwise a
highly authoritative report, and that is the tremendous maintenance time
required by helicopters operating in an environment as difficult as
Darfur---certainly if they are used on an aggressive, full-time basis.
The consensus among military experts consulted by this writer is that
keeping 24 helicopters continually at the ready (eighteen transport
helicopters and six tactical helicopters) would require approximately
three time this number of airframes. Even so, this new expert report
points out clearly the hypocrisy of many who have declared they are
unable to assist UNAMID with its critical need for helicopters.

Until there is a real seriousness about UNAMID, nothing will change.
The AU must be forceful in confronting Khartoum over its actions and
obstructionism, and the rest of the international community must ensure
that UNAMID is properly equipped. Absent such robust realism about what
is needed, a dispatch by The Independent (June 11, 2008 [dateline:
el-Fasher] offers a vignette we may expect to see replicated endlessly:

“For those who fled their village as long as five years ago, those
who have waited in camps for an international force to make it safe
enough for them to return home, UNAMID’s performance has been a crushing
blow. ‘We thought they would save us,’ said Zahara Khetir, a
60-year-old mother of 10 living in ZamZam camp, 16 miles outside El
Fasher. ‘But there is no change. We are just waiting for when we will
die.’ The town she fled from, Tawila, is still being attacked---the
most recent janjaweed offensive was last month. The UN troops stationed
there watched as the market was burned and homes were looted.”

But there seems to be little stomach for hard truths outside of Darfur.
The fatuously ill-informed Rodolphe Adada, AU/UN Joint Special
Representative for Darfur, continues to tout an 80 percent deployment of
UNAMID by the end of 2008. Of course it was Adada who predicted in late
April that “we are expecting one battalion from Ethiopia and one
battalion from Egypt…in June” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], April 30,
2008). In the second week of August neither battalion, or the necessary
equipment, has deployed to Darfur---only an Egyptian signals company.

UNAMID---the world’s last chance to offer humanitarian workers and
operations the security they so desperately require to remain and
continue their life-saving work in Darfur---is failing. It is not
gaining strength, but rather stagnating; incremental increases in the
force level cannot rescue this mission. And if it fails, we will
measure the consequences in additional hundreds of thousands of lives
lost for lack of humanitarian assistance (see my May 2006 mortality
estimate, “Current data for total mortality from violence,
malnutrition, and disease,” at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article102.html). We have been warned
of just such a possibility for years now, by both UN humanitarian
officials and humanitarian organizations on the ground. That large-scale
humanitarian collapse and evacuation have not yet occurred says nothing
about the possibility of its happening in the very near future if there
were, for example, a spike in the killing of expatriate workers. At any
moment Khartoum may recalculate the advantages and disadvantages of a
large international aid operation in its western province. When this
might happen is a question that can’t be answered, though the human
consequences of a collapse only grow more terrifying.

The real question remains one that Jean-Marie Guéhenno was asking
months ago, and which has no less obvious an answer at present than it
did last November:

“Do we move ahead with the deployment of a force that will not make a
difference, that will not have the capability to defend itself and that
carries the risk of humiliation of the Security Council and the United
Nations and tragic failure for the people of Darfur?"

We need to keep asking the question not because the answer is unclear,
but because we have done nothing to make the question less exigent in
assessing the UNAMID force currently in Darfur.