EARLIER this month, Sudan’s National Islamic Front expelled 13 humanitarian organizations from Darfur and Northern Sudan. The expulsion order followed immediately the announcement by the International Criminal Court of an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, charging him with crimes against humanity and war crimes. All evidence points to a well-planned response by Khartoum to a judicial decision that was universally expected.
The consequences of these expulsions are enormous. All expelled organizations played key roles in humanitarian assistance; together they constituted more than 50 percent of total aid capacity. Now 1.5 million people no longer have access to primary healthcare, and a deadly meningitis outbreak threatens tens of thousands. General food distributions to more than 1 million people have been halted, including to children and the malnourished. More than 1 million people will no longer have access to clean water; shortages are already being reported, and will spread quickly.
On Monday, the regime went further and announced its intention to expel all international aid organizations within a year, despite being unable to replace the work or resources of these organizations. This amounts to genocide by other means. With many months to anticipate the inevitable ICC announcement, Khartoum was determined to make the most of the occasion, and elimination of an international humanitarian presence in Darfur had long been a central ambition. The ICC announcement was not so much the cause of the expulsions as a singularly opportune pretext.
Efforts to blame the expulsions solely on the ICC’s pursuit of justice ignore the broader context: For more than five years, Khartoum has engaged in systematic harassment, obstruction, and intimidation of humanitarian work. Insecurity has been deliberately engineered to become intolerable. Perversely, by attributing Khartoum’s long-contemplated actions exclusively to the ICC warrant, a number of commentators are playing straight into the regime’s hand.
The basic issue is clear: Many hundreds of thousands of lives are at acute risk, and the goal of the international community must be to secure re-admission for expelled organizations. The longer these expulsions continue, the more difficult it will be for organizations to resume operations. But so far there are no signs that the international community has made any progress in changing Khartoum’s thinking.
Despite months of warning that the regime might well target humanitarian efforts after the ICC announcement, neither the Obama administration nor the European Union nor the UN Secretariat or Security Council had done any serious contingency planning. All were caught flat-footed.
As a consequence, the future looks grim for some 4.7 million people in Darfur. As water, food, and medical care disappear, these desperate people will move to where resources seem greater. Many may move to Eastern Chad, which is already struggling with more than 250,000 Darfuri refugees. But wherever these populations move they will encounter fierce competition for steadily diminishing resources. Violence and further displacement are inevitable.
Are there any answers?
As the Darfur genocide enters its seventh year, the world confronts a regime emboldened by a trail of worthless Security Council resolutions, meaningless agreements, and a “peacekeeping” force that can barely protect itself, let alone civilians and humanitarians.
The one option that remains—a distinct long shot—is Security Council deferral of the al-Bashir prosecution for a year under Chapter 16 of the ICC’s Rome Statute, in return for re-admission of humanitarians with security guarantees. A Chapter 16 deferral has long been expediently supported by the Arab League and African Union; however, for Western nations–including Security Council permanent members France,
Great Britain, and the US–supporting a deferral now would be transparently succumbing to the ugliest form of blackmail. And yet given the inaction by the West and other international actors, are we in any position to invoke scruples about “deferring” international justice? Does anyone dare say that justice for Darfur must go forward, even at the expense of countless Darfuri lives threatened by humanitarian expulsions?
Before the ICC announcement, Darfuri sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of the al-Bashir arrest warrant, no matter what the costs. That may well be changing, however, as suffering and deprivation grow. Is anyone bothering to ask the people of Darfur?
[Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide”]