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

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

Eric Reeves | 9 August 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.)


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 gnocidaires—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

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

“Chad/Sudan: Sowing the seeds of Darfur: Ethnic targeting in Chad by Janjawid militias from Sudan,” Amnesty International, June 28, 2006, at

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 [Khartoum], August 5, 2008)

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 [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 mlange 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,,0,6345632.story)

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 [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 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 [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 vehicles.

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 revelation:

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 Geneva], June 5, 2008)

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

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 charges.

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 findings.

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 militia.

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 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 sovereignty.”


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 UNAMID.

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 Guhenno, 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 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 Guhenno’s words, “designed to inflict casualties.”

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: Dakar]):

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 happens.

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 Egyptin 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 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 Guhenno 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.