What Alternative to UNAMID Will Provide Security for Darfur? (Part 2 of 2)

Today marks the handoff of command from the African Union mission in Darfur (AMIS) to the UN peace support operation authorized by Security Council Resolution 1769 (July 31, 2007)—the “UN/African Union Mission in Darfur” (UNAMID). In fact, the UN operation is an unprecedented and dismayingly organized “hybrid,” comprising UN and AU forces and command structures. This dangerously timed and highly complex experiment represents an expedient accommodation of the genocidal National Islamic Front (National Congress Party) regime in Khartoum. The necessity for such an experiment derives ultimately from previous international failure to deploy the robust UN peace support operation authorized by Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 2006). For the first time in UN peacekeeping history, an authorized peace support operation did not deploy—a terrible precedent whose consequences continue to be felt.

This conspicuous lack of will by the UN and member states has left Khartoum convinced that deployment of any meaningful force, one truly capable of protecting civilians and humanitarians amidst accelerating violence in Darfur and Eastern Chad, can be delayed or impeded indefinitely. Seventeen months after passage of Resolution 1706, this brutal calculation has proved all too accurate.

Of the approximately 20,000 troops and 6,000 civilian police authorized for UNAMID five months ago, only about 9,000 personnel are on the ground today (and only about 1,500 civilian police, key to security in the camps for displaced persons). The vast majority of these are current African Union forces who will simply be “re-hatted” with UN blue berets and helmets (notably, Khartoum had previously objected even to this symbolic measure of UN presence). There has been no deployment of forces or resources capable of changing the security dynamic on the ground in Darfur. Indeed, security continues to deteriorate, and highly threatening military developments suggest that the environment in Darfur will become increasingly “non-permissive” for subsequently deploying personnel. Present African Union forces, primarily four Rwandan battalions and four Nigerian battalions (along with one each from Senegal and South Africa), cannot begin to take on the protection mandate articulated in Resolution 1769. A failure by militarily capable nations to provide the necessary helicopters and transport capacity (see below) has further demoralized the troops from African Union countries, leaving them feeling that very little has changed. They remain hunkered down, performing almost no policing or protection missions, and are thus despised by the vast majority of Darfuris. With little prospect of significant near-term augmentation, morale among troops and civilian police will likely continue to deteriorate.

Nonetheless, the “hybrid” UNAMID, for all its weaknesses, remains the only means for protecting civilians and humanitarians in Darfur (see Part 1 of this analysis, December 22, 2007, http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article198.html). If UNAMID aborts or fails, then it will only be a matter of time before humanitarian organizations are forced to withdraw—or desperately attenuate their operations in an effort to provide minimal aid to some of the more than 4.2 million civilians that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs describes as “conflict-affected” and in need of humanitarian assistance (“Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 29″ [DHP 29], UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, page 3; though the most recent Profile, DHP 29, represents conditions as of October 1, 2007, a number of subsequent reports suggest that the overall humanitarian situation has deteriorated significantly over the past three months).

Laurie Nathan, an advisor to the African Union during the ill-fated Abuja peace talks, has put the matter with such force and clarity that it seems important to repeat his largest conclusion:

“The UN and the AU insist there is no military solution to the Darfur crisis. They contend that any solution has to be political, in the form of a negotiated settlement. At the very least, the long anticipated deployment of a peacekeeping force requires a ceasefire agreement so that there is a peace to be kept.”

“While this argument might be correct in principle, it is tragically wrong in practice. A negotiated settlement for Darfur is out of reach. In the absence of clear political agreement, there are only two strategies that hold any prospect of providing relief to the people of Darfur: a robust peace operation that vigorously provides protection to civilians, and concrete pressure on Khartoum to abstain from violence.”

“This was obvious in 2006, it remains obvious today and it will be no less obvious in 2008. The question that matters most now is whether the UN and the AU have the stomach to pursue these strategies.”
(Globe and Mail [Canada], November 16, 2007; co-authored by Robert Muggah, research director of the Small Arms Survey)

THE HUMANITARIAN “CLOCK” IS TICKING TOWARD CATASTROPHE

How do we answer the question posed by Nathan and Muggah? Do the UN and its member states, along with the AU, “have the stomach to pursue” the required strategies? and on an urgent basis? Sadly, the Darfur genocide, in its various forms, has required robust responses for so long that there is apparently little left that can add to a sense of urgency. If more than 2.6 million displaced persons, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and tens of thousands of rapes of women and girls cannot create the international will to act, what can? If previous large-scale ethnically-targeted destruction and slaughter have not moved us, how can current human destruction—less violent, but savagely deliberate—move us now? Perhaps we must simply accept that there is no catalyst for any action other than more vigorously unctuous hand-wringing. But it must be clearly understood that in the absence of urgent, robust measures, cataclysmic human destruction becomes inevitable.

The most telling and alarming indicator of this impending cataclysm may come from humanitarian assessments in Darfur. Child malnutrition rates, the most sensitive barometer of overall humanitarian conditions, have recently spiked sharply upwards according to a new UN report, based on a survey of 30 clusters of 25 households from various locations in all three Darfur states. If there is a “clock” governing the larger fate of the vast population that is increasingly dependent upon humanitarian aid, we can hear it ticking most conspicuously in the figures for Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) in children under five years of age:

“The [UN] report showed that 16.1 percent of children affected by the conflict in Darfur, a vast, turbulent region in western Sudan, are acutely malnourished, compared with 12.9 last year. For the first time since 2004, the malnutrition rate, a gauge of the population’s overall distress, has crossed what United Nations officials consider to be the emergency threshold. Just as important, the increase has occurred despite the efforts of more than 12,000 relief workers in Darfur, drawing from an annual aid budget of about a billion dollars. Aid officials said that they were concerned that even with all these resources, the people in Darfur seemed to be getting worse.” [ ]

“The report seems to confirm what aid officials in Darfur have been saying for months: that the increasingly chaotic security situation, both inside the enormous camps of displaced people and in the desiccated rural areas that are very difficult to reach even in the best of times, has gotten to the point that it is hampering the delivery of much needed emergency food. The report said there was an ‘urgent need to improve security conditions.'” (New York Times [dateline: Nairobi], December 26, 2007)

An “urgent need to improve security conditions”—the unheeded mantra, going back three years, coming from UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations working in Darfur. Moreover, current assessments are more ominous than simply indicating declining food availability for the most vulnerable human beings in Darfur:

“As a result [of the delay in deploying an effective security force], people in Darfur are beginning to lose hope, and that may be another factor taking a toll on their health, several aid officials said. ‘There is a psychological effect here,’ said one aid official in Sudan who did not want to be quoted because he feared reprisals from the Sudanese government. ‘These people have been in these camps for years now, and the energy that was around a few years ago and the hopes that this situation might be over soon and people could go home—all that’s gone now.'” (New York Times [dateline: Nairobi], December 26, 2007)

Other conclusions of the UN report: “consistently poor infant and young child feeding practices” and a “deterioration in the overall food security situation”:

“The report also showed that the percentage of Darfurians growing their own crops had decreased this year compared to last. The people surveyed said that insecurity and a lack of access to their farms were the main reasons. [ ] Malnutrition was highest among young children, between 6 months and 29 months old, and in the North Darfur state.” (New York Times [dateline: Nairobi], December 26, 2007)

It was on the basis of a visit to North Darfur state, where child Global Acute Malnutrition is highest, that one opponent of UNAMID, Julie Flint, argued in her conclusion to a Washington Post op/ed (June 3, 2007),

“The people who will ‘save’ Darfur are the Darfurians. And they may do it under our noses—slowly, painfully and without our assistance, whatever we eventually choose to do.”

Half a year later, more than 20 percent of the children in North Darfur are acutely malnourished; there was a broad decline in crops planted and harvested in all Darfur states this past year; humanitarians cannot reach many of the populations most in need of food assistance because of insecurity; large-scale violence seems increasingly likely to resume. “Darfurians saving themselves” seems a ghastly fantasy, though one shared by the Khartoum regime, which predictably argued that the recent UN report was misleading and inaccurate: “The [humanitarian] situation [in Darfur] is better now [said Rabie A. Atti, a Khartoum regime spokesman]” (New York Times [dateline: Nairobi], December 26, 2007).

Once we leave the realm of propaganda, however, we also find the UN reporting that the displaced population continues to grow: almost 300,000 people were newly displaced in 2007 alone, bringing the total to well over 2.6 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees in Chad. And as access diminishes, humanitarian aid not only reaches fewer people, but the quality of assistance declines:

“[UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Stephanie] Bunker said the violence fluctuates across Darfur, making a particular area inaccessible to aid workers for one period, then open later, forcing humanitarian groups to sometimes drop food supplies by helicopter rather than having a constant presence on the ground.” (UN News Center, December 28, 2007)

The increasing need to move humanitarian supplies and personnel by helicopters has also added tremendously to the costs of the Darfur aid operation. Justifying such costs to donors will be increasingly difficult, given the severe humanitarian crises developing in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Chad, and elsewhere in Africa and around the world. Donor resistance to ongoing funding in Darfur will also be made more difficult by the inability of a number of humanitarian organizations to expend their budgets effectively in actual relief work, given the constraints imposed by severe insecurity. In a vicious circle of attenuation, Darfur may become in 2008 a more difficult humanitarian crisis to finance even as insecurity threatens to constrain aid efforts yet further.

THE INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE TO DARFUR: SUPPORT FOR THE I.C.C. AS BENCHMARK

The choice before the international community is stark: Is it prepared to see the UNAMID mission fail? Or will it rally the resources and exert the pressure on Khartoum, both of which are critical to the mission’s success? Details of deployment, and prospective deployment, are the opposite of encouraging. But sadly we may look at the international response to Darfur through other lens as well. Indeed, the case of Darfur and International Criminal Court (ICC) provides an all too illuminating example of the terrible mismatch between rhetoric and commitment on the part of various members of the international community.

In March 2005, UN Security Council Resolution 1593 referred to the ICC for further investigation massive “crimes against humanity” that had been documented by a UN Commission of Inquiry for Darfur. Last April the ICC handed down its first two arrest warrants, including one for Ahmed Haroun, formerly a junior minister of the interior, with primary responsibilities for conducting the Darfur genocide. Currently Ahmed Haroun is, perversely, the senior official for Khartoum’s “Humanitarian Aid Commission,” which serves primarily as a bureaucratic obstacle for true humanitarian work. Just as perversely, Haroun is also overseeing deployment, and thus obstruction, of UNAMID.

Three weeks ago Britain introduced a toughly worded Presidential Statement at the UN Security Council, demanding that Khartoum cooperate with the ICC, which has been hamstrung by a range of issues, including the regime’s refusal to extradite Haroun, along with Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb (known as the “colonel of colonels” among the Janjaweed). Khartoum has also refused to grant ICC investigators access to Darfuri witnesses and the sites of mass executions. But having referred to the ICC the crimes that have led to arrest warrants for these two brutally murderous men, the Security Council should at the very least have offered public support for the Court in the form of a non-binding Presidential Statement. Instead, China’s UN delegation threatened to veto the Statement unless its language was essentially gutted; and rather than force the issue, Britain, France, and the US—as well as the other Security Council members—quietly decided to drop the matter. This familiar capitulation was not lost on Khartoum, which now understands that the ICC has no real support at the Security Council, and that the regime may continue to block extradition of accused war criminals, and impede in all possible ways the ICC investigation of others responsible for the Darfur genocide

A general lack of international support for the ICC, including among the European nations that enthusiastically backed the Rome Statute that created the Court, takes other forms as well. For example, there is an acute shortage of funding for legal aid to those victims who wish to participate in ICC proceedings. An incisive overview of the current general situation at the ICC is offered by Katy Glassborow, Institute for War and Peace Reporting:

“It can take years for judges to make a decision over an individual’s eligibility to participate. Victims are given no financial assistance by the court until it grants them participant status, so those who cannot afford a lawyer have no one to represent them or guide them through this complex process.”

Approximately 500 victims, including from Darfur, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo, have applied to participate in proceedings at the court but determinations have been made in only about 20 cases involving Darfuris. Even so, there is no willingness to fund the legal efforts of those whose standing has not been determined:

“United States lawyer Raymond Brown said that while a high level of legal expertise is needed to successfully complete a victim’s application to be granted participant status, the court provides no resources to support applicants or the lawyers representing them. Brown and fellow lawyer Wanda Akin have been working free of charge to help Darfuris fill in application forms and deal with the extensive legalities needed to support applications.”

And even when victim achieves “participant” status, there is hardly a large source of revenue for their legal needs:

“According to the court’s proposed budget for 2008, 735,000 euro will be set aside to pay for legal aid for victims. However, only those who have been recognised by the court and approved for participation are eligible.” (“Victim Participation in ICC Cases Jeopardised,” [dateline: The Hague], African Report: Institute for War and Peace Reporting, AR No. 148, December 20, 2007 at http://www.iwpr.net/?p=acr&s=f&o=341564&apc_state=henh)

We might ask, given the penurious state of affairs at the ICC, just how concerned wealthy Western countries are about those victims for whom the ICC is the last avenue of justice. How serious are “crimes against humanity” if the “humanity” against which such “crimes” are committed happens to be impoverished black Muslims from western Sudan? How to assess the commitment of countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Spain; the Benelux and Norwegian countries; the US, which of course has yet to commit to the ICC and the Rome Statute; Canada, Mexico, the relatively wealthier countries of Central and South America; South Africa, Libya, Nigeria; Israel; Japan; Australia and New Zealand; the countries of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference? How strongly do they believe in the ideals and ambitions embodied in the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court? Strongly enough to provide adequate legal aid to victims? If we use Darfuri victims of genocide as our guide, the answer is obscenely revealing.

Again this lack of support is not lost on Khartoum’s canny survivalists: they are constantly assessing the international community and its willingness to support the ICC, to enforce UN Security Council Resolutions, and to accept a true “responsibility to protect.”

What are the stakes here? Is the ICC investigation simply a matter of justice? (As if justice could ever be shorn of context, could ever be “simply” rendered.) In fact, the ICC arrest warrants for Ahmed Haroun and Ali Kushayb reflect not only the first stage of a comprehensive investigation into responsibility for the worst atrocity crimes in Darfur, but inevitably point a finger of accusation at the senior gnocidaires in Khartoum. Lead ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has been blunt in his most recent assessments:

“The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced Wednesday [December 5, 2007] he was opening a new investigation targeting Sudanese government officials for alleged systematic attacks against 2.5 million civilians forced into refugee camps in Darfur. [ ] Ocampo urged the UN Security Council to demand that Sudan hand over acting humanitarian minister Ahmed Muhammed Harun, who was formerly in charge of security in Darfur and has been indicted for crimes against humanity.”

“[Moreno-Ocampo] said [he] would investigate ‘who is maintaining Harun in a position to commit crimes’—raising the possibility of indictments against higher-level Sudanese officials. Ocampo did not mention any names but made clear no one would be immune, not only for harboring Harun but for the latest attacks against civilians. ‘When will be a better time to arrest Harun? How many more women, girls, have to be raped? How many more persons have to be killed?’ Ocampo asked at a Security Council briefing. ‘You can make a difference, you can break the criminal system. What is at stake is, simply, the life or death of 2.5 million people.’ [ ] Ocampo said his office would investigate ‘a calculated, organized campaign by Sudanese officials to attack’ civilians in villages and refugee camps.” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], December 5, 2007)

It is to this plea that the UN Security Council turned a deaf ear after a feeble effort to produce a Presidential Statement in support of Moreno-Ocampo’s investigations.

Here it is especially important to focus, as Moreno-Ocampo does, on Ahmed Haroun. Haroun was been rewarded for genocidal work in Darfur with his appointment as Minister of Humanitarian Affairs. And to further underscore its contempt for the international community, the Khartoum regime subsequently put Haroun in charge of UNAMID deployment to Darfur, with the all too obvious task of maximizing the number of obstacles and logistical challenges confronting UNAMID.

Of course Haroun—by virtue of both past and present activities—could point directly to the most senior members of the National Islamic Front. He could delineate in very considerable detail the actions and responsibility of men such as President Omar al-Bashir; Saleh Abdalla ‘Gosh,’ head of the brutal security services and a primary architect of the Darfur genocide; Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, former Interior Minister, current Defense Minister, and perhaps the strongest supporter of forced returns of displaced persons; Zubeir Taha, current Interior Minister; former First Vice President Ali Osman Taha; Nafie Ali Nafie, the powerful Presidential advisor; and senior members of the military and security services.

In short, were Haroun ever extradited to The Hague, and were he to speak honestly, perhaps under the threatening pressure of a prosecutor’s ultimatum, he could name all the most consequential names and articulate the details of many of the worst atrocity crimes in Darfur. His testimony would leave the international community no place to hide from the realities of criminal responsibility that are even now conspicuous.

Why, we must ask, does the international community not stand solidly behind Moreno-Ocampo and his pursuit of justice for Darfuris? Why does the international community refuse to respond to his desperate plea for support? Why is there so little financial commitment to the victims of atrocity crimes in Darfur, as well as northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo? The answers are painfully obvious, and all too revealing.

It should be a truism in discussing the Khartoum regime that it will do nothing to compromise its stranglehold on national wealth and power. Submitting to the authority of the ICC is for the National Islamic Front nothing less than a form of self-decapitation: all the most powerful men within the regime would certainly face multiple life sentences if tried at The Hague—a fact these ruthless survivalists all understand with perfect clarity. In understanding the National Islamic Front’s genocidal conduct of war in Darfur we should not be surprised that the regime has engaged in conspicuous, consequential, large-scale, and ongoing obstruction of humanitarian relief efforts, even as it is now obstructing, in ways too frequently and authoritatively reported to need reiteration, the deployment of UNAMID. Both are a means of ensuring that even absent the large-scale violence of late 2002 through early 2005, the genocide will continue, rendering Darfur less and less threatening, militarilyand electorally.

DEMOCRATIZING SUDAN’S POLITICAL PROCESS?

National elections, under the terms of the January 2005 north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement, are scheduled for 2009. But such elections look ever less likely for a variety of reasons. Certainly Khartoum will not allow elections to proceed in free and fair fashion if the regime stands to lose power. Using its great wealth, and its vast control of the bureaucracies and security organizations necessary to rig election results, the National Islamic Front will prevail under any currently imaginable electoral process. Darfur is likely to be denied voting rights unless Khartoum is confident that Arab votes will go to them in large numbers, an increasingly unlikely prospect (see below). The southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) is uncertain how to proceed, where to focus its energies, and what electoral allies to cultivate in such circumstances. Khartoum has managed to delay for many months the southern census (critical for any meaningful elections), and there is good reason to doubt that a credible census, one not shaped to Khartoum’s electoral strategy, will ever be taken.

Although the SPLM has returned to participate in the perversely misnamed “Government of National Unity,” its recent suspension of many weeks should have been a sign to the international community of just how desperate the status of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has become.

Abyei, a large Ngok Dinka enclave on the border between Kordofan and Bahr el-Ghazal, remains the most likely flashpoint for renewed war between Khartoum and the south. And yet the regime still refuses to accept what was to have been a binding decision on Abyei’s borders, rendered by the distinguished Abyei Boundary Commission. The Commission’s authoritative report, completed in July 2005, has been resolutely rejected by the National Islamic Front leadership (for a superb and highly accessible account of the mandate and findings of the Abyei Boundary Commission by Douglas Johnson, a member of the Commission, see “The Abyei Protocol Demystified,” The Sudan Tribune, December 11, 2007 at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article25125). NIF President al-Bashir recently declared at a military rally in the town of Wad Medani that, “We will not give an inch [on Abyei], not so much as an ant’s body” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], November 17, 2007).

At the same time, very recent reports of fighting along the southern Kordofan/northern Bahr el-Ghazal border (thus near Abyei), while sketchy, strongly suggest significant—and perhaps escalating—levels of violence:

“Sudan’s former southern rebels on Saturday accused their northern partners of attacking them for the second time in a week in clashes which claimed dozens of lives in the volatile north-south border region. ‘There was a massing of militiasand Sudanese armed forces and they attacked (civilian) areas in Bahr el-Ghazal,’ Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) member of parliament for the area Garang Jiel Akwar told Reuters. He said the attack on Saturday killed 28 civilians, adding the SPLM’s military wing, the SPLA, had engaged the militias supported by local elements of the army to protect the citizens.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], December 30, 2007)

As further context for this ominous military development, Khartoum is moving troops into the oil regions (of which Abyei is a part) rather than withdrawing them per the terms of the security protocol of the CPA. The north/south boundary has been unilaterally moved southwards by Khartoum, even as the regime refuses to create a functioning boundary commission (also stipulated in the CPA). Although approximately 50 percent of revenues from oil produced in southern Sudan are designated for the struggling Government of South Sudan, Khartoum has used a variety of means to deny the south its fair share of oil wealth, even as Khartoum engages in a large-scale build-up of sophisticated weapons systems and an ominous general rearmament. Militia organizations in the oil regions were to have been incorporated into either Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) or the southern SPLA; instead, especially in the oil regions of Western and Eastern Upper Nile, militias continue to be funded by the SAF, with some militia commanders enjoying SAF rank. These militias, such as the forces of the notorious Gordon Kong, represent another flash-point for renewed conflict.

Al-Bashir’s decision to re-open recruitment and training camps for the brutal paramilitary Popular Defense Forces (PDF) is yet another signal that war may resume soon:

“In his belligerent televised speech, Bashir raised the political temperature and stoked the mutual suspicion between Khartoum and the SPLM. He called on the Popular Defense Forces ‘to open training camps and to gather mujahideen [cognate with the Arabic “jihad”] not for the sake of war but to be ready for anything,’ without giving details of their purpose. The militia, which fought the SPLM during a two-decade civil war, was accused of the mass abduction and rape of women and girls in Darfur, western Sudan, in a report published by the United Nations’ human rights office in August [2007].”

“In a statement handed to Reuters on Sunday [November 18, 2007], [SPLM Secretary-General Pagan] Amum said the SPLM was ‘for peace and not for a return to war, and deplored therefore the public statements threatening and calling for war by the NCP (Bashir’s National Congress Party) leadership.'”

“Two influential Darfur rebels—Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur, the founder of Darfur’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Suleiman Jamous of the powerful SLA-Unity faction—also condemned Bashir’s remarks. Jamous told Reuters that Bashir’s comments amounted to a ‘declaration of war.'” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], November 18, 2007)

Jamous, among all the Darfuri rebels, has shown greatest honesty in speaking about the various elements of the crisis, and his words should be highly alarming to those assessing Khartoum’s military planning. The most obvious and fundamental inference should be that in considering its military options, Khartoum is in full-on survivalist mode—an inference so conspicuous that to ignore it is to indulge in self-deception about the options the international community has in confronting the regime at this point in the Darfur genocide, now beginning its sixth year.

THE ABSENCE OF HELICOPTERS FOR UNAMID

For a year and a half, since a July 2006 comprehensive assessment by the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UN DPKO), the requirements of a peace support operation for Darfur have been fully known to all militarily capable nations. Yet despite this lengthy period of implicit forewarning, and five months after passage of a long-anticipated UN Security Council resolution authorizing a “hybrid” UN/African Union force for Darfur, the UNAMID mission today faces crippling deficits in trained manpower, ground transport, and other key resources. The most conspicuous of these is the absence of 24 tactical and transport helicopters, a number that represents the bare minimum required. What has gone insufficiently remarked is that to keep even 24 helicopters up and running on a full-time basis requires approximately three times as many total air-frames, i.e. approximately 72 helicopters.

A recent Reuters dispatch [dateline: Brussels] highlighted key challenges in deploying the requisite number of helicopters:

“Tim Ripley, defence analyst at Jane’s Defence Weekly, said the real cost of helicopters was in maintaining and operating them—especially in the hot and dusty conditions where many conflicts are played out. ‘Every 500 hours of flying time you have to take them apart, and put them together again. It is an open-ended cheque book issue and most countries have finite money to spend on this.’ Ripley estimated an eight-helicopter deployment for a year meant setting aside 24-32 machines because of a need to rotate machines every three months, not to mention a team of 150-200 personnel to maintain and run them.” (Reuters [dateline: Brussels], November 27, 2007)

Even so, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies notes in its 2007 survey of military capabilities that, “the US armed forces’ total helicopter fleet [is] 6,023 while defence analysts estimate NATO’s European members have around 2,100″ (Reuters [dateline: Brussels], November 27, 2007). But it is important to note that the issue is not merely one of numbers: helicopter capabilities are equally important, and the standards for Darfur deployment are high. Even those countries willing to contribute must, “have the machines that can pass the ‘hot and high’ test—that is, have the power to achieve sufficient airlift in areas such as Afghanistan, where the air is thinned by heat and high altitude.” Though relatively low in altitude, Darfur’s extreme heat and high levels of dust present severe challenges (and not only to helicopters, but all mechanized equipment). A NATO military analyst has put the matter to me in yet broader operational context:

“The offers [of helicopters] may not be viable in dribs and drabs—they would create a logistical nightmare, and [present opportunities] for the Government of Sudan to counter by adopting their usual obstructionist techniques.”

“The weather also affects operations: the rainy season keeps simple helicopters grounded for visibility reasons and the more technical aircraft require huge maintenance crews, a first priority issue. There are also no hard stands [in Darfur] to operate from, or hangars [in which] to perform maintenance (a whole new challenge for engineering planning, before the helicopters become operational). Helicopters are very complicated beasts.” (email to this writer, received December 27, 2007; lightly edited for clarity)

The “hybrid” nature of UNAMID has also given pause to various militarily capable nations:

“Diplomats say states that could contribute the 18 transport and six attack helicopters required have been reluctant either because they have none to spare or because they are unhappy about the new force’s command and control arrangements.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], December 14, 2007)

But the essential question, despite these difficulties and challenges, cannot be evaded. There are over 8,000 helicopters among NATO countries, a great many of them suitable as part of the contingent of 70-80 aircraft required for Darfur. Does ongoing genocidal destruction—along with the threat of a collapsing UN-authorized peace support operation—provide sufficient reason to interfere with the normal rotations of these aircraft, given their critical importance to the Darfur mission? Put differently, is there any reason to believe that refusal to provide the necessary helicopters is not of piece with the refusal to support the ICC in the Security Council, or the refusal to fund adequately the legal needs of victims of genocide and other atrocity crimes in Darfur? To ask the question is again to see all too clearly the answer.

Despite efforts by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, reaching out directly to every nation that might provide helicopters, he has received not a single offer. The best the UN can do is convene a meeting to talk about other options, all of them exceedingly compromised:

“The UK mission to the UN will convene a meeting of nations sending troops to Darfur to coordinate proposals for getting helicopters, British envoy Michael Hoare said yesterday. The UN is considering offers that don’t include pilots or maintenance crews, and ideas for purchasing helicopters from private contractors, none of which would fulfill mission requirements.” (Bloomberg [dateline: UN/New York], December 29, 2007)

Well-trained military pilots, fully capable aircraft, and skilled maintenance crews are essential to the success of any deployment of helicopters to Darfur. That the international community is reduced to considering options that include none of these integral elements is a measure of how contemptibly little real commitment there is to Darfur.

FORCED RETURNS OF DISPLACED PERSONS: A GROWING RISK

Seeing that UNAMID is either collapsing or deploying at a rate that will not change security conditions on the ground, Khartoum—and increasingly the rebel groups—are planning military strategy accordingly. This may be one reason the Justice and Equality Movement appears to be moving closer to seizing military control of el-Geneina, capital of West Darfur:

“In Darfur on Saturday [December 29, 2007] the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said it had taken control of the town of Suleia in West Darfur. ‘Today we have taken control of Suleia [also Silea and Silaiaa] town and have defeated the Sudanese army there,’ JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters from Darfur.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], December 30, 2007)

Additional detail was offered by the Sudan Tribune [dateline: Khartoum],

“The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) today said it had taken control of a Sudanese army garrison in West Darfur. ‘JEM forces have taken full control of control over Government of Sudan Silaiaa garrison at the outskirt of el-Geneina,’ the capital of West Darfur state, the rebel movement said in a military communiqu. [ ] The rebels said that the attack on Silaiaa, is a step towards the control of el-Geneina.” (Sudan Tribune [dateline: Khartoum], December 29, 2007)

Such an assault by JEM would have disastrous implications for the 250,000 displaced persons and members of host or resident families in the el-Geneina area. Humanitarian operations would almost certainly cease altogether as Khartoum’s response would inevitably be to shut down all transport and communications into West Darfur. Moreover, the airport at el-Geneina is much smaller and less capable of handling heavy aircraft than the airports at el-Fasher and Nyala; emergency evacuation of humanitarian personnel would be a harrowing endeavor (UN humanitarian personnel have been withdrawn from two towns near el-Geneina according to the BBC, December 30, 2007).

Rebel military planning appears to be guided by the enormously consequential movement of Arab militia forces, including former Janjaweed, to the side of the rebels. Nothing could tip the military balance more significantly than recently reported defections. Mohamed Ali Hamiditi, a former Janjaweed leader who was recently heavily re-armed by Khartoum, has joined cause with the unpredictable Abdel Wahid el-Nur, founder of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), bringing with him a potent militia force of some 20,000 fighters. Long on political support in the camps, but short on military force on the ground in Darfur, Abdel Wahid has evidently made a deal that gives him much needed muscle, and provides Hamiditi cover as a member of the insurgency resistance in Darfur:

“Mubarak al-Fadil, leader of the Umma Reform and Renewal told Sudan Tribune in an interview earlier this week that Hamiditi defected from the government along with his 20,000 heavily armed supporters. The opposition leader said that Hamiditi felt that the ‘government abandoned him after they accepted the peacekeeping force as well as the fact that they are not paying them as they are used to.’ Al-Fadil added that the Sudanese government used the air force against Hamiditi in South Kordofan to quell his rebellion.” (Sudan Tribune, December 11, 2007)

For its part, the Justice and Equality Movement—which has gained substantial military strength over the past few months, and has become correspondingly more aggressive—recently announced that a large group of Arab tribal leaders and commanders had joined its ranks:

“Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) announced today [December 25, 2007] that a large group of Arab tribal leaders and military commanders joined their ranks. The rebel group said that the defectors included ‘seven Arab Emirs (princes) and 22 top Arab commanders.’ There was no independent verification of the defection. The JEM statement described the event as a ‘breathtaking development,’ adding that the group included ‘some who previously acted as Janjaweed leaders or enlisted under the infamous Border Guards.'” (Sudan Tribune, December 25, 2007)

Such defections by Arab tribal leaders and militias would mark a sea-change in the military situation on the ground and Darfur, with unpredictable but immense implications, including for any future peace or political process.

We may in fact already be seeing Khartoum’s response to developments within the Arab population that have been evident for some months (a recent report by the International Crisis Group, “Darfur’s New Security Reality,” November 26, 2007, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5180, offers an especially timely and important assessment of the changing roles of Arab tribal groups in the Darfur conflict). Indeed, some Darfuris argue that Khartoum, given its military difficulties, has already begun a “final solution” to its Darfur problem. A key part of Khartoum’s strategy entails liquidating the camps for displaced persons in Darfur—what Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdalla, this year’s recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy human rights award, described as “the final phase of the Sudanese government’s plan to exterminate the African tribes of Darfur.”

Within Darfur’s scores of camps, forced returns of displaced persons by Khartoum’s military and security personnel represent an extremely dangerous and growing threat. This is reflected in a steady, ominously revealing stream of propaganda from the regime-controlled media organs, such as the following from the “Sudan Media Center”:

“Native Administration Urges IDPs in North Darfur Return to Villages”
Tuesday 27 November 2007, [el-]Fashir (smc) [Sudan Media Center]:

“Native administration leaders at Tawila area of el-Fashir locality in northern Darfur state urged IDPs of the locality to return to original villages and get involved in development process. Native leaders told Sudan Media Center that situation at Tawila areas is stable. They noted that there is big plan for development process but could not be achieved unless IDPs return from camps.”

Of course not a word of this is true, and Tawilla remains one of the most volatile and dangerous areas in North Darfur. There is no “big plan for development process,” and the suggestion that there is signifies only that Khartoum grows more committed to closing down the camps, which are not only an international embarrassment but a growing military threat. If this cannot be accomplished by lies and propaganda, recent events in Kalma camp and Otash camp near Nyala (South Darfur) make clear that force is a perfectly acceptable option.

In November Khartoum forcibly moved many hundreds of civilians (primarily women and children) from Otash camp near Nyala, capital of South Darfur. John Holmes, UN humanitarian coordinator, reported that Khartoum used trucks protected by machine-guns, security personnel wielding rubber hoses and sticks, as well as other threats to force people to leave. These highly vulnerable people were moved to undisclosed locations, and many are still unaccounted for.

Outrageously, for daring to object to this policy, the top UN humanitarian official for South Darfur, Wael al-Haj Ibrahim, was expelled from the region by regime officials and forced—on threat of physical seizure—to return to Khartoum. Al-Haj Ibrahim became the 11th humanitarian aid worker expelled from Sudan this year and the second from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

It is clear that the motive for al-Haj Ibrahim’s expulsion was his refusal to acquiesce in Khartoum’s policy of forced returns of displaced persons, which is the necessary first step in ultimately dismantling the camps altogether. With no prospect of effective UNAMID deployment in the near term, Khartoum’s ambition will be realized relentlessly in coming months.

Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdalla, on the occasion of receiving the Robert F. Kennedy human rights award for 2008, declared during a press conference:

“‘If these people are expelled from the Internally Displaced Persons camps [by Khartoum], they are going to die—either by starvation, dehydration, or malnutrition,’ said Ahmed at a press conference here on Monday [November 12, 2007]. ‘And the other thing is that the janjaweed will be waiting.'” (Inter Press Service [dateline: Washington, DC], November 15, 2007)

He spoke in greater detail about Khartoum’s strategy during his acceptance speech at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights:

“The government has used a two-part strategy to liquidate the IDP camps. First, it has targeted humanitarian organizations so that they will leave. These groups have been subjected to assaults and looting. Just in the town of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur where I work, 4 to 5 aid vehicles might be stolen in a single day. These groups cannot tolerate the deteriorating security conditions, and many have been forced to leave or halt their activities. Their withdrawal creates a disastrous situation, because the civilians depend almost completely on aid from these groups for survival.”

“The second part of the government’s strategy is to attack the people in the IDP camps. Within the past few weeks, government forces have killed people in several different camps. They kill people to intimidate the rest of the survivors in the camps, and also to test whether the international community will respond. In addition to killing, they are using violence or the threat of violence to force others to leave the camps. In the last two weeks, at a camp near Nyala [South Darfur], soldiers and police carrying sticks and rubber hoses threatened IDPs, while tents were destroyed and property was carried away in trucks.” [ ]

“This is a moment of great possibility and hope. The hybrid UN-African Union forces that are due to be deployed early next year are authorized with a strong mandate to protect civilians. But if the international community does nothing to provide the equipment they need to do their jobs, the result will be absolute disaster—we will have another Rwanda.” (http://www.rfkmemorial.org/legacyinaction/2007_Ahmed)

International condemnation of Khartoum’s actions against the camps and their exceedingly vulnerable populations has been tepid, consistent with the fitful and ultimately inconsequential condemnation of Khartoum’s four-year campaign against humanitarian operations in Darfur. Indeed, it was in December 2003—precisely four years ago—that Tom Vraalsen, UN special envoy for humanitarian affairs in Sudan, declared in a memo to the UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan at the time (Mukesh Kapila) that Khartoum was “systematically” denying access to areas in which non-Arab or African tribal populations were concentrated:

“Delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by systematically denied access. While [Khartoum’s] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas.” (Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)

The phrase “systematically denied access” was highlighted in Vraalsen’s memo. Too little has changed in the past four years, and it bears noting again that a critically important Moratorium on Restrictions governing the visas, travel papers, and movement of all workers for nongovernmental humanitarian organizations has yet to be renewed by Khartoum, even as it is of surpassing urgency in humanitarian planning. As Refugees International notes in a recent overview (“Humanitarian Action Still Under Fire in Darfur,” December 13, 2007):

“In 2007, the Government of Sudan extended the Moratorium for one year until January 31, 2008. Unless the Moratorium is now renewed for at least another year, all visas and permits for international NGO staff working in Darfur will expire at the end of January, and the humanitarian operation in Darfur will grind to a halt.”

The failure to deploy UNAMID in timely and robust fashion, the refusal of the international community to support ICC investigations of atrocity crimes in Darfur, along with Khartoum’s war of attrition against humanitarian operations in the region—all define the world’s failure to accept what is at stake in Darfur.

EASTERN CHAD: A MASSIVE AND GROWING CRISIS UNTO ITSELF

It is impossible in the scope of the present analysis to provide even a synoptic overview of the complex crisis that has developed in Eastern Chad in the wake of five years of genocidal warfare in neighboring Darfur. But it is critical that the international community attend to a series of ominous portents, particularly the growing use of rebel groups as proxy forces by both Khartoum and N’Djamena. Separately, but in some ways more consequential for humanitarian operations, is the proliferation of banditry and opportunistic violence of various kinds, often ethnically motivated.

As fighting intensifies, particularly between Chadian regular forces and the Khartoum-backed Chadian rebel groups, the perspective of humanitarian organizations working with more than 400,000 Darfuri refugees and Chadian Internally Displaced Persons is of particular importance. Oxfam’s head of country operations was recently quite explicit:

“The European Union must speed up the deployment of a force on a UN mission to protect several hundred thousand refugees and the aid workers caring for them in eastern Chad, a leading British aid agency said on Sunday. ‘We appeal to EU foreign ministers to live up to their commitments to the people of Chad and commit the needed troops and adequate equipment immediately,’ said the head of Oxfam in Chad, Roland van Hauwermeiren.”

“‘We’re very concerned by the severe deterioration in security across the east of the country in the past week,’ said Van Hauwermeiren. ‘We’re already struggling to meet people’s basic needs and this outbreak of fighting could mean even more pressure on limited resources.’ ‘If we are forced to suspend our work in the camps and areas of displacement in eastern Chad where we provide clean water and sanitation, the people living there will suffer severe consequences.'” (Reuters [dateline: London], December 9, 2007)

In late November 2007, Amnesty International underscored the urgency of deployment (as European Union planners well know, late October and early November mark the beginning of the “dry season,” the time when conflict is most likely to accelerate):

“Amnesty International warned today that the lack of technical support for peacekeeping forces in Chad, Darfur and the Central African Republic is endangering people’s lives and setting the international community up to fail in its efforts to resolve the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in the region. ‘The escalation of violence in Chad underlines the urgent need for a UN force to deploy to the eastern part of the country immediately,’ said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.”

“A UN force for Chad and Central African Republic, known as MINURCAT, was meant to deploy in November with a mandate to protect civilians, with support from the European Union force known as EUFOR. Over the last few days, fierce fighting between the Chadian national army and armed opposition movements resumed along the Chad-Sudan border. Despite this upsurge in violence, the deployment of EUFOR troops is being delayed due to lack of ground and air transport equipment. This mirrors the problems being faced by the joint UN-AU forces being deployed in Darfur, who are also woefully under-equipped for the job they have been tasked with.” (Amnesty International press release, November 29, 2007; AFR 20/012/2007)

And the problems in resources remain as constraining a month later. Despite heavy ongoing fighting near the Chad/Darfur border, rapidly increasing tension between N’Djamena and Khartoum, and a steady decline in security for humanitarians, there are still critical gaps in air transport (particularly helicopters), medical facilities, and other support assets. French Defense Minister Herve Morin recently “complained of other European countries’ reluctance to provide troops for a European Union peacekeeping force in eastern Chad”:

“‘You cannot at the same time ask to ensure part of the resolution of the Darfur crisis and be incapable of providing 3,000 to 3,500 men in a zone that, to be sure, is complicated on a logistical level but where the military risk is not so great,’ Morin said in an interview with French daily Le Monde.” (Reuters [dateline: Paris], December 20, 2007)

The unspoken truth here is that the response of European nations to the requirements for the European Union Force in Eastern Chad (EUFOR) has been just as meager as that for Darfur. The “3,000 to 3,500 men” Morin speaks of are, according to UN and other peacekeeping analysts, woefully insufficient in number given the enormous length of the Chad/Darfur border, and the complexity of the violence to be confronted. A force four times the size of EUFOR is required, with a much clearer concept of operations and rules of engagement. The tasks of protecting civilians and humanitarians amidst such chaotic violence will be as challenging as the equivalent tasks in Darfur. Ensuring that the French-dominated EUFOR is not perceived as a proxy for the corrupt Chadian government of President Idriss Deby is a major challenge, even as Deby himself is further charging an already politically volatile environment:

“Chad has warned the European Union that delay in deploying peacekeepers on its eastern border with Sudan risked ‘setting the region ablaze,’ and it accused its neighbour of arming Chadian rebels to block the EU mission. Europe hopes to send around 4,000 ‘EUFOR’ troops in the coming weeks to protect aid operations in eastern Chad and adjoining northeastern Central African Republic, complementing a much larger UN-African Union force planned for Sudan’s Darfur.” [ ]

“‘(This) new aggression on the greatest scale aims to destabilise Chad and block the deployment of EUFOR forces in Chad and Central African Republic as well as the formation of a hybrid UN-African force in Darfur,’ government spokesman Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor told state radio after the meeting. ‘Any delay in deploying the hybrid forces in Darfur and those of EUFOR in Chad and Central African Republic will inevitably result in the region being set ablaze,’ he said, warning Sudan-backed rebel attacks against Chad were imminent.” (Reuters [dateline: N’Djamena], December 27, 2007)

While much in this assessment is true, much is omitted. For inevitably deployment of EUFOR, no matter how scrupulously neutral, will militarily aid the Deby regime by providing a buffer on the Chad/Darfur border, making it more difficult for Chadian rebels, supported by Khartoum, to make their way back into Chad. Moreover, both Tripoli and Khartoum are deeply opposed, for partly congruent reasons, to the deployment of EUFOR, and have threatened Deby over the issue, making clear that if he allows for such deployment, they will arm Chadian rebels even more substantially. Khartoum also supports the Chadian rebels, at present levels, as a way of threatening Deby if he supports Darfur’s rebel groups, especially Zaghawa elements (Deby is himself Zaghawa, as are many in his regime). EUFOR is a highly risky political gamble for Deby, but one he is evidently prepared to take (see International Crisis Group, “Darfur’s New Security Reality,” November 26, 2007, pages 17-19).

What makes Deby’s gamble especially risky is that there are many signs that despite an originally scheduled late October deployment date, EUFOR will not deploy for many weeks, perhaps months. Fundamental limitations in the provision of security—imposed primarily by inadequate resources, the small number of personnel, and an inadequate concept of operations—ensure that even if it does deploy, EUFOR as presently conceived will not be up to the job.

DECEMBER 31, 2007: THE PRESENT AS FUTURE

As the year ends, it is clear that neither Eastern Chad nor Darfur will see a fundamental improvement in deteriorating security conditions on the ground any time soon. Civilians and humanitarians will become only more threatened. At the same time, large-scale shifts in the military equation in Darfur may precipitate extraordinarily destructive actions by the Khartoum regime. But having delayed for so long, having committed so partially, and having revealed such a fundamental lack of urgency, the international community—at least that portion still expressing concern about Darfur and Eastern Chad—can hardly profess to be surprised when the impending cataclysm of human destruction unfolds. We knew, and yet we deferred to the will of Khartoum’s gnocidaires. And now these brutal men control all too fully the lives of millions of innocent human beings. Given such shameful failure, a special opprobrium must attach to any invocation of “the responsibility to protect.” Like the phrase “never again,” “the responsibility to protect” can now be animated only by the ghastliest of ironies.