Khartoum extorts money and confiscates resources from humanitarian organizations .
Eric Reeves, 22 January 2011
The primary obstacle to increasing humanitarian capacity is the hostility to such efforts by the regime in Khartoum: it has deliberately created the present crisis with its expulsions and shutdowns. And with its decision to refuse re-entry to humanitarian organizations, the regime has ensured that no augmenting of capacity will be adequate to the immense needs of the people of Darfur and other regions of Sudan. We know full well that Khartoum had many months to prepare its “response” to the inevitable International Criminal Court announcement indicting President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. We know full well that the regime was aware of what the consequences of its expulsions would be; and yet these gnocidaires proceeded mercilessly, determined to use the indictment as a pretext for doing what it had clearly long wanted to do. This pervasive hostility to humanitarian presence in Darfur, as well as elsewhere in Sudan, is the obverse of the regime’s refusal to provide significant humanitarian relief to its own acutely threatened marginalized populations.
It should not be surprising that in addition to expelling international humanitarian organizations, Khartoum confiscated much of the material and resources belonging to these organizations. These included laptop computers with vital data, records, and accounts, and in some cases extremely sensitive information about victims of sexual violence. Also taken were cell phones, vehicles, and money, including bank account information. It is clear that a free hand had been given to local and national officials to take what they wanted:
“Some aid workers alleged government officials were driving their vehicles, wearing their clothes and selling their laptop computers. One aid worker said even curtains from a residential compound were taken.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Cairo], April 24, 2009)
At the same time Khartoum demanded that the expelled organizations pay its national workers six months severance pay—but to the regime itself, not to the workers (by law, severance pay in Sudan is one month, not six). This was nothing less than extortion, leaving several organizations facing enormously consequential debts:
“The extra [severance] pay-outs amount to $11.5 million for the 13 organisations, in addition to US$10.6 in usual termination-without-notice payments and $20.3 million in seized assets, NGO sources said.” [ ]
“‘They asked us to pay an exorbitant amount of money… [and said]: “We have your passports. Once you agree to pay, you can leave the country,”‘ said Jane Coyne, head of mission for Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF)-France, one of 13 aid agencies ordered to leave Sudan for their alleged provision of information to the International Criminal Court.” [ ]
“‘The word I like to use is extortionThat’s all money that at the end of the day has to come from donors that would have otherwise gone for programmes in Darfur,’ an aid source said on condition of anonymity. ‘It’s absolutely maddening that we would have to pay this and that the government is just going to get away with it. There’s no recourse. There’s no retribution. There’s no penalty for the government. There’s nothing.”
“MSF International said in a statement that the Sudanese authorities had confiscated departing staff members’ passports until just a few hours before they left. This ‘effectively put them in a hostage situation.’ Bank accounts were also frozen at times. Most of the expelled NGOs have agreed to the government’s demands so as to ensure their staff could leave Sudan and to avoid potential detention or physical attack by members of the public. Local media and government officials—as well as several speeches by the president—have repeatedly referred to NGO ‘spies’ and ‘thieves.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Cairo], April 24, 2009)
Extortion, hostage-taking, illegal confiscation of humanitarian assets: this is the face of the “humanitarian partner” for ongoing life-saving operations in Darfur. The is the “partner” to the “agreement” touted by Senator John Kerry—one notionally to have seen “100 percent” of humanitarian capacity restored by now:
“‘We have agreement [with Khartoum] that in the next weeks we will be back to 100 percent [humanitarian] capacity,’ said [Senator John] Kerry,” (Reuters [Dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], April 17, 2009)
Just as serious has been the seizure of warehouses that served as staging areas for humanitarian distributions. Early in the crisis, when John Holmes felt he might still have strong political backing, he spoke to this critical issue:
“In one case, warehouses full of food supplied to the NGOs for distribution by the World Food Organization (WFP) were being held, [Holmes] said. ‘This is not in line with the agreements we have with the Government of Sudan, nor indeed with the any of the normal tenets of behaviour in these kinds of circumstances,’ he emphasized.” (UN News Center, March 9, 2000)
And Khartoum continued to hold such warehouses instead of turning them over to the UN Joint Logistics Center (UNJLC) for proper humanitarian use. The approximately 700,000 people who will be without shelter this rainy season are destined to suffer precisely because of the regime’s actions:
“691,120 people out of 692,400 remain without NFI [non-food items, including sheltering material] distribution coverage as warehouses in El Fasher and El Geneina have not been handed over to UNJLC [by Khartoum].” (UN OCHA, “Expulsion of Key NGOs from Darfur,” April 16, 2009)
The painfully (and destructively) gradual return of the warehouses to UN control has taken over two months, and is yet another measure of how Khartoum continues to obstruct humanitarian operations.
Another example of this obstructionism is the regime’s refusal to grant land for the more the 42,000 newly displaced people displaced who have arrived at Zam Zam camp outside el-Fasher (North Darfur), having fled the bloody fighting in the Muhajeria area of South Darfur (tens of thousands of additional IDPs have fled to other already overwhelmed camps). Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his most recent bimonthly report to the Security Council (April 14, 2009), highlights the lack of adequate water supplies for the new arrivals, but also emphasizes the fact that Khartoum officials “have not yet allocated sufficient space to accommodate the newly arrived internally displaced persons, despite repeated requests by the United Nations” (page 5).
November 15, 2010: Radio Dabanga reports that $760 million dollars in Darfur relief aid received by the Khartoum regime from Arab and Islamic countries two years ago has not been dispersed. No one seems to know who runs the account into which this money was deposited.
December 20, 2010: Radio Dabanga reports on embezzlement of UN humanitarian funds by the Khartoum regime’s grotesquely misnamed “Humanitarian Affairs Commission” (http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/7284 ).