The UN recently issued yet another report on humanitarian conditions in Darfur, noting in a long catalog of obstruction and harassment that for more than four months the Khartoum regime refused to allow entry to 5,000 metric tons of sugar bound for Darfur. What is the role of sugar in food aid to Darfur? Why is this obstruction of particular note? There is tremendous fear within the humanitarian community of expanding malnutrition, especially among children. In a desperate attempt to sustain children under five through the rainy season that ended earlier this month, UN World Food Program and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations focused with extraordinary intensity on this most vulnerable population group. A key part of their effort was a “Blanket Supplementary Feeding Program,” using as its primary tool a specially designed “premix” of foods. What goes into this “premix”? Corn-soya blend, dried skimmed milkand sugar.
For those assessing the present motives and character of the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime in Khartoum, it is important to recognize that this brutal cabal knew perfectly well that an exceedingly dangerous “hunger gap” was approaching last spring, largely coinciding with Darfur’s rainy season. The regime also knew full well the purpose of a Blanket Supplementary Feeding Program, and the key ingredients of the particular “premix” designed to sustain children, many of whom were above the emergency malnutrition threshold early in the “hunger gap.” And still Khartoum’s gnocidaires—fully aware of the consequences of their actions—refused entry to 5,000 metric tons of sugar for more than four months (page 9, UN Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 33 [hereafter DHP 33], representing conditions as of October 1, 2008).
This delay in releasing a large quantity of a key ingredient in sustaining the lives of young children, largely from non-Arab or African tribal populations, was a direct assault on their ability to live—it represents another in a long and continuous history of genocidal actions by the NIF regime, going back to well before the outbreak of organized rebellion in Darfur in early 2003. The present analysis focuses on some of the current features of Khartoum’s deadly war of attrition against humanitarian workers and operations in Darfur, as well as some significant antecedents that provided ample indication of what the regime is moving toward.
As DHP 33 reports (page 3), the humanitarian stakes could hardly be higher. 2.7 million civilians in Darfur are now internally displaced—300,000 of them forced to flee this year alone according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. They are the newest victims of accelerating violence and diminishing humanitarian access in rural areas and remote camps. Another 250,000 Darfuris are refugees in Eastern Chad, surviving tenuously with more than 180,000 internally displaced Chadians. 4.7 million human beings in Darfur are now described by the UN as “conflict-affected” and in need of humanitarian assistance. Mortality rates have also been climbing since the heaviest period of the seasonal rains, although we have no official accounting and are not likely to have in the near- or medium-term. A tremendous number of these affected people were early victims of Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency war; they have been badly weakened and demoralized for years, and their spirits are being crushed.
Indeed, incredibly, disgracefully, the regime’s savage campaign of civilian destruction is set to enter its seventh year in a few months. Darfur’s people have lost their families, their homes, their lands, and increasingly their cultural history and connection to traditional agricultural ways of life. For many displaced persons, life in the camps is an ongoing nightmare of violence, severe deprivation, and chaos. Few have hope of security or peace anytime soon. The Janjaweed, Khartoum’s murderous militia allies, still roam threateningly outside many of these camps, raping women and girls who are even now often forced to leave to gather firewood necessary to cook food. More than three million people are in need of food aid, but continue to receive food rations that are only 65 per cent of the minimum daily kilocalorie diet recommended by the UN World Food Program. These cuts in rations were first imposed in May of this year—more than five long months ago.
This shortfall in rations—which has inevitably increased malnutrition and mortality—is partly a result of emergency diversion of food resources to children under five. But much more consequential is Khartoum’s refusal to provide protection for convoys of the UN World Food Program (WFP), either on journeys from Port Sudan to Darfur or—most consequentially—within Darfur itself. As a consequence, in September, WFP again renewed its threat to suspend food delivery if security does not improve for its convoys:
“‘Should these attacks continue, the situation will become intolerable—to the point that we will have to suspend operations in some areas of Darfur,’ the WFP’s Deputy Representative in Sudan, Monika Midel, said. WFP spokesman Rachid Jaafar told Reuters the agency had not decided which delivery routes would be cut. ‘But large numbers will be affected,’ he said. The WFP currently delivers food to more than 3 million people in Darfur, he added.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], September 7, 2008 at http://iht.nytimes.com/articles/reuters/2008/09/07/africa/OUKWD-UK-SUDAN-AID-DARFUR.php)
Attacks on WFP convoys and personnel—as well as assaults on other humanitarians, their vehicles, compounds, and equipment—must be understood for what they are: actions that are the clear responsibility of the Khartoum regime. As an experienced and particularly well-placed humanitarian official recently told this writer, in areas controlled by Khartoum nothing happens that is not implicitly or explicitly sanctioned by the regime. This is true for the vast majority of assaults on vehicles, resources, living compounds, and personnel of nongovernmental humanitarian organizations, which are located primarily in or near urban areas that are controlled by Khartoum’s regular military and police, as well as the feared Military Intelligence.
Certainly numbers tell a good deal of what is so badly hobbling humanitarian efforts. The UN reports that as of October 20, 2008, 234 humanitarian vehicles had been hijacked this year alone, 183 humanitarians were abducted, and 153 humanitarian premises assaulted and/or destroyed. Eleven humanitarian workers have been killed. Again, the vast majority of these attacks occurred either in state capitals or in main towns under regime control; the failure to take responsibility for humanitarian operations in areas under its control is but another violation of international law by Khartoum.
Unsurprisingly, the number of humanitarian organizations that are withdrawing from Darfur or seriously contracting their operations continues to grow. In addition to earlier withdrawals by a number of organizations, more recently (August) Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres was forced by insecurity to withdraw its staff from Tawilla and Shangil Tobaya in North Darfur, leaving 65,000 civilians, mainly displaced persons, without any medical assistance. The extremely violent and dangerous military campaign that Khartoum launched in August also continues in much of North Darfur and eastern Jebel Marra. Confidential sources report that several humanitarian organizations have been forced to withdraw staff from Jebel Marra back to el Fasher. The German humanitarian organization Welthungerhilfe (German Agro Action) has also been forced to withdraw from North Darfur after threats against its staff, thereby suspending food deliveries to 450,000 human beings.
At the same time, the threats of humanitarian expulsions by Khartoum are relentless and explicit. The Sudan Tribune, which closely watches domestic pronouncements by the regime, reports:
“Salah Gosh, the head of Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Services said that laws governing the work of humanitarian organizations will be reviewed. ‘Any organization that does not adhere to its mandate will face accountability measures and any that refuses to sign an agreement must leave’ Gosh said at a forum organized by the ministry of humanitarian affairs. ‘The governments wants aid and not for these organizations to play around’ he added.” (Sudan Tribune, August 29, 2008)
There can hardly be any doubt about the seriousness of these threats from the regime. Yesterday (October 27, 2008) the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) declared in a headline article from its website that “Sudanese authorities threaten to suspend MSF activities in South Darfur”:
“MSF is extremely concerned about recent comments made by Sudanese government representatives that the aid organization’s activities in South Darfur may be suspended after October 31 .”
“In February 2008, based on the health needs of displaced people and local residents, the Dutch branch of MSF signed an agreement with the state government of South Darfur for medical activities to be carried out through the year. The agreement was sent to Khartoum for national endorsement. For months, MSF has been engaging with the Sudanese government in an attempt to obtain the final signatures, but without success. The government has since asked MSF to reduce its personnel, to stop certain medical activities and to limit staffing numbers.”
These threats against the world’s most distinguished nongovernmental humanitarian organizations and UN agencies are astonishing not simply for the fact of their being made, but because they go unrebuked (see my Boston Globe op/ed on this failure to respond, http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article226.html). Nor are they merely threats. In a particularly telling example, the senior and highly experienced UN humanitarian coordinator for South Darfur, Wael al-Haj Ibrahim, was expelled in November 2007. His “offense”? He opposed the violent removal of hundreds of civilians, primarily women and children, from Otash Camp near Nyala (see http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article199.html). Sir John Holmes, UN humanitarian coordinator, reported at the time 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 displaced persons were moved to undisclosed locations, and many were never unaccounted for.
Certainly the overall effect of Khartoum’s threats, intimidations, expulsions, and orchestrated violence can hardly be doubted. An August 8, 2008 map from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reveals that virtually all of the populated areas of Darfur outside urban centers are now either totally without UN humanitarian access or have only limited access: http://www.unsudanig.org/library/mapcatalogue/darfur/index.php?fid=access.
To be sure, in many uncontrolled areas opportunistic bandits, Janjaweed, and small rebel breakaway factions (especially from the Minni Minawi wing of the “Sudan Liberation Movement”) also take a fearsome toll on humanitarian operations. But in places like Nyala, el-Fasher, el-Geneina, Kass, and Zalingei–with a large percentage of the camps, especially the larger camps, in their immediate environs—violence against humanitarians is in effect sanctioned by Khartoum. Such violence is a way of undermining the morale of aid workers as well as the effectiveness of their assistance projects. Fear of retribution by Khartoum prevents humanitarians from speaking publicly of this debilitating reality, but it is certainly the prevailing view of those on the ground. That such motives animate Khartoum’s actions is clearly illustrated by one of a series of telling observations made in the current Darfur Humanitarian Profile, speaking about the regime’s “Humanitarian Aid Commission” (HAC). In fact, HAC is little more than an extension of the Interior Ministry and Military Intelligence (tellingly, Hassabo Abdelrahim, the relatively new head of HAC, has a national security background):
“In July  in North Darfur, HAC informed international nongovernmental humanitarian aid organizations of a new set of strict regulations before they can obtain travel permits when travelling in rented vehicles. Travelling in rented vehicles is one of the mitigating actions taken by humanitarians to reduce the debilitating effect of highjackings.” (DHP 33, page 6])
Khartoum is of course well aware of the disruptive and costly effects of these and other new restrictions on humanitarian vehicles and travel. Indeed, this disruption is precisely the point. These may not be the most consequential of actions, but in their transparent motives they are of a piece with the pattern of obstruction, impoundment of food and resources, harassment, arrests, even violent assaults on aid workers. These have defined Khartoum’s response to humanitarian efforts since late in 2003 (see my December 2003 account of the selective denial of food aid to areas where African tribal populations were concentrated, http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-article296-p1.html).
Khartoum also continues to paint its military aircraft the white color that is exclusively for use by UN and humanitarian organizations. This extremely dangerous tactic of course puts legitimately white humanitarian aircraft at risk, and a number of humanitarian and UNAMID aircraft have indeed been shot at recently. This is a tactic that goes back years, and has been repeatedly reported by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur (appointed by and tasked with reporting to the Security Council). Recently, a September 28, 2008 report from the ground in el-Fasher (site of Khartoum’s largest military base in Darfur) notes that three white helicopter gunships were flown north toward current fighting by the regime’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).
In yet another example of Khartoum’s campaign of humanitarian obstruction and harassment, confidential accounts from humanitarian organizations on the ground make clear that Khartoum’s security forces are impounding the hard drives of computers, demanding computer passwords, stripping out extremely sensitive information, and copying private emails. Threatening interrogations have sometimes followed these completely illegal electronic searches, with Sudanese nationals especially vulnerable. DHP 33 reports:
“Of serious concern was the forceful interference by local and Khartoum-based HAC officials who visited several NGO premises in Nyala and Kass (South Darfur) at the end of August, and interrogated, harassed and bullied staff. NGOs were forced to disclose their computer passwords, and sensitive files especially in the fields of protection and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) were searched, copied and taken away.” (page 6)
Given Khartoum’s intense propaganda efforts to deny the massive realities of rape in Darfur, the focus of these coerced collections of confidential data is hardly surprising. At the same time humanitarian organizations report that several women’s health centers run by nongovernmental organizations have been closed by Khartoum’s security forces. These are among the very few resources in Darfur for the tens of thousands of women and girls who have been victims of rape and GBV. Closing these centers will leave traumatized victims without any resources, in a cultural environment in which rape is deeply stigmatizing and isolating. Many of these women and girls will suffer severe health complications; many will ultimately die.
There are countless other tactical efforts by Khartoum to compromise the effectiveness of humanitarian efforts, and thereby deny the targeted people of Darfur food, medical care, and water. DHP 33 reports that this summer Khartoum’s security forces deliberately denied fuel to Kalma camp—the very fuel necessary to pump water for the roughly 90,000 people confined in unbearably close quarters:
“Fuel restrictions into Kalma camp led to the temporary complete disruption of water supply in several sectors. Fuel restrictions continued until mid-August.” (page 6)
The regime’s larger strategy within the camps is to make them gradually, or perhaps precipitously, uninhabitable—to force relocation, even if into insecure and inaccessible regions. Violent attacks meant to terrify and destabilize the camp populations are part of this strategy. Attacks against displaced civilians by Khartoum’s regular forces and its Janjaweed militia allies began at Aro Sharow, West Darfur in September 2005 (see http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-article530-p1.html). Many such attacks followed. More recently, Otash camp near Nyala was attacked in October of last year (see http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article192.html). Nearby Kalma camp was attacked this past August, with more than a hundred civilians killed or wounded by Khartoum’s security forces (see Wall Street Journal op/ed at, http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article223.html). And Zam Zam camp near al-Fasher offers a very recent example of the kind of violence that occurs ever more frequently in camps and urban areas, though rarely with a news reporting presence. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks ([dateline: Zam Zam Camp, North Darfur], reports on October 22, 2008) the story of “Adam,” a man who had fled his village of Um Hashaba in 2003:
“‘Four vehicles entered the camp filled with men wearing police khaki uniforms. They didn’t say a thing. They just entered and started shooting. They called to me. I started running. They shot me in the back before I got the chance to escape. The shooting went on for an hour and 15 minutes. No one could raise their heads.'”
Adam saw his meager livelihood selling odd items wiped out in a matter of minutes, and now contemplates his plight: “‘The bullet remains in my back. To remove the bullet, I need money for surgery. They took all my money.'”
For years, going back to summer of 2004, humanitarians have worried in particular about Khartoum’s announced policy of returning people to their “homes” and villages, even if these no longer exist, or are hopelessly insecure, or have been taken over by Arab tribes for grazing. Once the camps are empty, Khartoum reasons, there will be no further justification for an international humanitarian presence. Darfur’s victims will no longer represent the conspicuous moral disgrace that matters to Khartoum only insofar as it interferes with the regime’s international “charm offensive” and weakens efforts to “normalize” relations with the outside world.
But the campaign against civilians and humanitarians has certainly accelerated this year, beginning with Khartoum’s brutal military campaign against civilians north of el-Geneina (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article204.html). The challenge facing humanitarians is to convey how much more threatening the situation on the ground has become. The period from earlier 2005 to later 2007 looks relatively stable in retrospect, as humanitarian access was less hobbled in several respects. But 2008 marks the return of high levels of military conflict, massive civilian displacement (again, over 300,000 people to date this year), huge areas that are inaccessible to humanitarians, and a new brutality and determination in Khartoum’s war on humanitarian efforts. Aerial bombardment of villages has sharply increased since the beginning of Khartoum’s August offensive, with the effect not only of scattering the civilian population but making their villages too dangerous for humanitarian access.
Complementing this broad strategy of compromising humanitarian assistance throughout Darfur is an utterly shameless official mendacity on the part of the regime—both the obdurate denial of humanitarian realities, and promulgation of the grossest fabrications concerning civilian conditions on the ground and the activities of humanitarians. By threatening and coercively silencing UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations, Khartoum means to have its voice take on a default significance domestically, but also among its allies in the Arab world, the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and other international groupings (see my discussion of Khartoum’s selection as chair of the “Group of 77” developing nations, at http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=8c211e73-7d48-4925-b7e0-5168b50987a7).
A few recent examples speak volumes in light of the authoritative dispatches and humanitarian reports cited above:
 “Last week, Hassabo Abdelrahim, head of Sudan’s humanitarian commission [HAC], told an audience of diplomats and rights campaigners that ’99 percent is going well’ in the aid sector and that the mortality rate in Darfur is now ‘normal.’ He said government forces were attacking rebels in Darfur to ‘protect the humanitarian workers’ in the western region.” (Associated Press [dateline: Geneva], September 16, 2008)
Some of these outlandish lies are primarily for domestic consumption and the Arab-speaking world; but precisely because other voices are so relentlessly censored, Khartoum enjoys some success even with its most preposterous claims:
 “Presidential Advisor Abdallah Masar shouldered the humanitarian organizations working in Darfur [with responsibility] for aggravating the conflict in the region. Masar stated that the said organizations are many and most of them are intelligence arms for international forces taking the humanitarian aspect as a cover for its activities.” (Sudan Vision [state-controlled] [dateline: Khartoum)], September 7, 2008)
Appealing to a domestic audience and the Arab and Islamic world, Khartoum doesn’t hesitate to deploy the grossest anti-Semitism. Recently, Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, the most powerful “presidential advisor” in the regime, made clear his views of French efforts to address the issues at stake in ICC investigations of atrocity crimes in Darfur:
 “‘The French role in supporting the charges against Al-Bashir is a result of the growing Zionist influence in France. I see no taste or smell or use from the so called French initiative,’ [Nafi’e] said.” (The Sudan Tribune [Paris], August 17, 2008)
The final part of Khartoum’s strategy is resumption, on a selective basis, of the scorched-earth tactics deployed in 2003-2005. This creates new civilian victims and a greater humanitarian burden for operations already stretched to the breaking point. Khartoum’s military campaign attenuates both humanitarian reach and capacity. This is what is militarily at stake in the North Darfur campaign, as well as in military confrontations developing elsewhere (e.g., eastern Jebel Marra; Muhajiriya, east of Nyala in South Darfur; and the desperate case of the Tawilla area, west of el-Fasher). These will be discussed in a forthcoming analysis.
One might imagine, certainly if doing so from the vantage of Darfur’s long suffering civilian population, that these fearsome realities and the evil sustaining them would be attended by significant news coverage and persevering outrage. And in fact, the world’s human rights organizations, as well as several “think tanks,” have done a superb job keeping pace with events in Darfur and Sudan more broadly. We have recently been warned with impressive authority about the threats to peace posed by Khartoum’s actions in South Kordofan State and the Nuba Mountains (see especially “The Drift Back to War: Insecurity and Militarization in the Nuba Mountains,” Small Arms Survey, August 2008 at http://allafrica.com/stories/200808260530.html). There have also been a number of important analyses of the slow, but apparently inexorable drift back to war Southern Sudan.
On the other hand, it hardly helps that Khartoum is determined to keep Darfur out of the news as much as possible, and has greatly tightened travel restrictions for journalists and other investigators. The regime’s security officials are often peremptory, harassing, and destructive in their treatment of journalists and their equipment; there are as a consequence many fewer journalists filing dispatches with datelines from Darfur. And UN and international nongovernmental organizations—those best positioned to report on Khartoum’s actions and tactics in Darfur—often feel compelled to impose on themselves a stifling self-censorship, which at times become excessively deferential (see http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article221.html). The fundamental situation is so compromised that some humanitarian organizations are questioning, with increasing seriousness, the viability of their missions in Darfur in the absence of any ability to speak out honestly, even as they are severely constrained in the delivery of humanitarian services and supplies.
But ultimately, it is the international community—as has been true for some six years—that refuses to see, truly see, the realities of Darfur, and what these realities represent of the power and ghastly ambitions of the Khartoum regime. The powerful nations of the West, the UN Security Council, the Arab League, the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, China, Russia—none has been sufficiently moved by Darfur’s agony, and collectively they have inevitably failed to undertake the actions that might lead to the protection of Darfuris and their increasingly tenuous humanitarian lifeline. The catalog of failure is immense, and the arc of that failure illuminates the radical inability of the UN Security Council to take seriously its nominal responsibility for “international peace and security” in Darfur and Eastern Chad:
The UNSC has for more than four years refused to see that Council demands are met—e.g., Resolution 1556, July 31, 2004, “demanded” that Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice;
The UNSC has refused to ensure that humanitarian agreements signed by Khartoum are respected. On July 3, 2004, in a Joint Communiqu signed by Khartoum and Kofi Annan, the regime committed to: “Ensure that no militias are present in all areas surrounding Internally Displaced Persons camps”;
“Immediately start to disarm the Janjaweed and other armed outlaw groups.” (“Joint Communiqu between the Government of Sudan and the United Nations,” July 3, 2004 [Khartoum], Section 3);
The UNSC has failed to compel Khartoum to abide by the arms embargo imposed on all combatants in March 2005 (UN Security Council resolution 1591);
The UNSC has failed to support effectively the UN/African Union force (UNAMID) authorized by the Council in Resolution 1769 (July 31, 2007);
Militarily capable UN member states, in the West and elsewhere, have failed to provide the essential resources necessary for UNAMID to succeed: logistics, essential equipment (particularly helicopters and ground transport), and an adequate intelligence and communications capacity;
UN Security Council Resolution 1593 (March 2005) referred the investigation of atrocity crimes committed in Darfur to the International Criminal Court. And yet at the moment of truth, among Security Council members only the US (which under the Bush administration opposes the ICC in principle) openly embraces the workings of the Court, along with Costa Rica. France and the UK seem to be awkwardly ambivalent, with the effect that Khartoum presses on with its international campaign to gut the Court’s work on Darfur.
Where will the international leadership come from to mitigate our failure in Darfur? How can we prevent a final cataclysm of human destruction? How can we rescue millions from their present soul-destroying existence?
In the short run all that matters, with so many lives at risk, is whether or not we can provide adequate food, water, and medical care to those who are increasingly without—and whether we can protect those courageous individuals providing humanitarian aid. The “Darfur peace process” at this moment is purely notional, in part because of apparently hopeless divisions within the rebel factions, and because Khartoum seems currently bent on returning to its familiar habit of creating multiple peace forums and negotiating interlocutors, to be shopped among later as the times dictate. The people of Darfur cannot wait for peace to break out, particularly when peace is looking so fragile in other regions of Sudan.
How are we to reverse the recent successes of Khartoum’s war of attrition against humanitarian relief in Darfur? There must be unrelenting and increasing pressure on the regime to abide by its commitments: on security issues—including UNAMID deployment—and on unfettered humanitarian access. These are the only tools we have at the moment, and yet much that might be utilized, pressures that might be wielded—especially by Europe, the US, regional organizations, and China—are ignored or deemed “too difficult.” In this ignorance and laziness lie the real answers to why Darfur’s agony continues.
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