US Special Envoy Scott Gration on Returns of Displaced Persons in Darfur |
Eric Reeves | September 2009 |
Gration has recently claimed to have been misrepresented in his views on the issue of returns, as well as other issues to which he spoke before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (July 30, 2009). But in fact notes from two meetings Gration held in Darfur with UN and nongovernmental organizations in July 2009 clearly reveal a push for early returns, a position that caused such deep consternation that these organizations took the highly unusual step of allowing the notes to become public, thereby creating the opportunity to dissociate themselves from Gration’s comments and assessments.
In private conversations, humanitarian workers are even more harshly critical of Gration’s perversely limited understanding of the both the return issue and the dimensions of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Gration’s declaration that peace for Darfur would be achieved by the end of the year, and that consequently the IDPs should face up to the reality of return, is not only shockingly presumptuous, but implicitly gives a green light to Khartoum to begin a campaign of returns that would be immensely destructive of human life.
The notes, deriving from two meetings with the South Darfur “Inter-Agency Management Group” (IAMG) reveal both tact and alarm (there is no URL for these Notes, although they were reported by Colum Lynch of The Washington Post [New York], August 5, 2009 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/05/AR2009080503808.html ). But alarm certainly predominates and it is clear that humanitarians believe Gration holds disastrously ill-informed views about the challenges of returns in the present security environment. While the IAMG Notes allude to but finally pass over, as too political, Gration’s claim that peace will be achieved by year’s end, the comments from sheiks and traditional leaders make clear the political and humanitarian concerns of those who face return under present circumstances. There is also a strong sense, among both aid workers and Darfuris, that Gration does not sufficiently understand current humanitarian conditions in Darfur or the full consequences of the March 4, 2009 expulsion of thirteen critical international humanitarian organizations (and the forced closing of three national organizations providing important assistance in Darfur and elsewhere).
The IAMG Notes of July 21, 2009 come from Kalma Camp outside Nyala, South Darfur, and early on make a sharp distinction between the political and the humanitarian (again, these Notes have been very lightly edited for clarity, including proofreading lapses):
The mission was of a political nature more than humanitarian focused. The [US Special Envoy] was exposing his political plan rather than seeking feedback from the humanitarian community and/or looking into the facts presented.
The bluntness of the distinction and the politically one-sided character of Gration’s remarks put the aid organizations in an uncomfortable position, one they felt the need to clarify both for Darfuris in attendance and those who would politicize their humanitarian mission in any fashion:
Given the message sent by Scott Gration to the Humanitarian Community and the beneficiaries, i.e. peace will prevail in Darfur by the end of the year, and returns have to happen, the IAMG felt it has to take a common position.
Clearly the aid representatives felt a need to take a “common position” because the humanitarian implications of Gration’s political assessment are enormous—and certainly an end of the year time-frame, even if it should yield a nominal peace agreement (highly unlikely), is wholly irrelevant to the critical security issues that must be overcome if returns are to be contemplated. UNAMID has no capacity to enforce or even monitor a cease-fire, as the current standoff in Korma area makes clear. Gration’s version of reality on the ground in Darfur may resonate well in Khartoum, but nowhere else. Operationally, the IAMG Notes emphasize:
The Special Envoy emphasized his desire to see IDPs returning to their home as early as possible. Beyond the fact that this is linked to a success of the political process, the IAMG, whilst recognizing the possibility to returns as an ultimate goal and supporting it, want to emphasize that specific impediments need to be addressed before it is made possible. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that a large part of the IDPs might opt for staying in their new settlements over a return to their place of origin.
Even more consequentially, Gration fails to understand the complexity of returns and the lack of capacity to ensure that any such returns are indeed voluntary and secure. His factitiously optimistic account of humanitarian capacity, particularly in South Darfur, is indirectly but unmistakably criticized by the IAMG Notes:
The incapacitation of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and [the] UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in South Darfur is utterly limiting the capacity to deal with population movements and potential returns. IAMG emphasize that even if one of the Agency is granted access it will not be enough. The presence of the two is essential to work according to humanitarian principles and the UN framework for return.
[The UN] Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs does not have the human capacity to step up for IOM as provisioned for South Darfur.
The ad hoc mechanisms put in place by the IAMG to deal with population movements have to be seen as a bridging (patching) mechanism. Indeed the Agencies and partners do not have the human capacity to address all reported movements.
More specifically, the Notes emphasize that:
The human and logistic capacity required to assess and address return within the UN framework for return is absent;
No one can adequately and fully insure the verification process (voluntary and/or permanent nature of the returns, land tenure issues, adequate services on the ground, necessary security, etc.);
No capacity to deliver the assistance to all of potential new locations because of access, security, capacity limitation.
The problems of access remain particularly acute, severely constraining what humanitarian capacity is deployable:
The partners are facing daily administrative constraints. Decisions agreed upon in Khartoum are difficult to implement in South Darfur. [The] National Intelligence and Security Service, Humanitarian Aid Commission, and Military Intelligence take contradictory positions that incapacitate the [humanitarian] partners:
The lack of security. [The Government of Sudan] controls now most of [South Darfur state], therefore the Humanitarian Community should be able to move freely in those areas.
Of course there is anything but freedom of movement, and virtually all of Darfur is still inaccessible or has only limited humanitarian access. And even when in the field, humanitarians are limited to a small circumference around outlying helipads; the necessary oversight and assessment is impossible, one of the main reasons for a decline in humanitarian conditions and the quality of aid delivery. (See a UN humanitarian access map showing virtually all of Darfur as significantly insecure [search “darfur humanitarian access map”+july+2009 at http://www.unsudanig.org/])
One consequence of this limitation, for South Darfur in particular, is the inordinate burden placed on what logistics these humanitarian organizations have at their disposal:
Limited permanent presence of partners in the deep field. Therefore all missions have to be organized from Nyala, hence requesting heavy logistic.
In fact the problem of humanitarian capacity, though discussed in the IAMG Notes with reference to South Darfur, prevails everywhere. Special Envoy Gration, however, sees things through a lens that is much more likely to find favor in Khartoum. He declares in an interview with Radio Dabanga (September 16, 2009 at http://www.radiodabanga.org/?s=gration):
Since March 4, 2009 [the date 13 organizations—representing half the humanitarian capacity in Darfur—were expelled from northern Sudan—ER] the situation has improved. As we have four nongovernmental organizations [NGO’s] in, the capacity of the UN is increased, the capacity of the other NGO’s still remained [.] There has been a positive trend.
This is outrageous distortion, making disingenuous comparisons to humanitarian capacity prior to and following the expulsions, expulsions that threaten the more than 2.7 million who have been displaced, along with more than 250,000 refugees in Eastern Chad. Certainly the IAMG Notes offer a powerful correction to Gration’s disturbing misrepresentation. In addition to highlighting the complete lack of capacity to oversee returns in South Darfur, these Notes make the following points, tersely and unambiguously:
There are still gaps in the relief coverage, and this is not only the one caused by the expulsion of March 4. There were pre-existing gaps and new ones have appeared.
Overall, if the quantity of service have been maintained, the quality has suffered;
On returns [of IDPs] it is important to recall that International Organization for Migration and the UN High Commission for Refugees can’t fulfill their mandate.
The effort by Gration and others to seize on movements by some elements of the displaced populations as a sign of returns is simply expedient:
[The] volume of population movement registered now is not higher than previous years, hence suspicion of seasonal ‘returns’ [i.e., temporary returns for purposes of planting and agriculture];
If one sums up the reported population movement, it is less than 2% of the IDP population;
[The] South Darfur IAMG has put on place an ad hoc mechanism [to monitor returns]. This is not sustainable on the long term;
There is a clear need to separate Humanitarian from Political for issues such as returns and elections. In addition there is a need to clarify the limit of the mandates of UNAMID and of [the] Humanitarian Community.