“Darfur and Human Security: UNAMID’s failure forces the essential and inescapable question,” Sudan Tribune
Eric Reeves, 1 August 2014 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nF
The failure of the UN/African Union (“hybrid”) Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has become overwhelmingly conspicuous. The evidence of incompetence, ineffectiveness, mendacity, corruption, and a total breakdown in leadership and morale has been gathering for years, and with the revelations by Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy (April 7, 2014) and others, including Aicha Elbasri, former spokeswoman for this disastrous mission (Radio France Internationale interview, January 24, 2014), there can simply be no doubt of its failure to protect the civilians and humanitarians in Darfur—its primary mandate. An excellent summary of the evidence of UNAMID distortions and disingenuousness, coming from various sources, has been issued by Human Rights Watch and appears as Appendix One. Among its other observations the report notes that “the last public human rights division report on Darfur, by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was issued in January 2009.” The Human Rights Watch report goes on to note that UNAMID has “more than 50 human rights officers on the ground,” and yet collectively they generate only perfunctory reports. These in turn, predictably, figure only inconsequentially in Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s periodic reports on UNAMID and Darfur.
I indicated in a lengthy overview of the catastrophic, if almost invisible, refugee crisis in eastern Chad (8 July 2014) that this would be the first of a number of briefs looking at particular dimensions of the crisis in Darfur itself. These include:
• Human mortality over the course of the extraordinary violence of the past eleven years;
• Rape: sexual assaults on tens of thousands of Darfuri girls and women;
• Growing difficulty of providing adequate clean water in many displaced persons camps;
• Growing food shortages due to lack of humanitarian access and badly compromised farm production;
• Loss of primary medical care in many locations due to a much reduced and constrained humanitarian presence;
• Maintenance of sanitation—in particular latrines in camp areas—has deteriorated badly with the loss of key humanitarian sources of capacity;
• Human displacement continues at a shocking rate, with more than 2 million people newly displaced since UNAMID took up its mandate on January 1, 2008; displacement over the past two years has been especially great, exceeding 800,000 civilians;
• Security has rapidly declined in displaced persons camps as well as rural areas to which displaced persons have attempted to return and resume their farming livelihoods; even security in urban areas and in the immediate vicinity of UNAMID posts has severely deteriorated;
• Humanitarian capacity and access have continued to contract; expulsions, withdrawals, and severe harassment have continued since Khartoum expelled thirteen international relief organizations in March 2009;
• The devastating effects of the collapsing Sudanese economy on Darfur.
To address all but the last of these critical issues, primary focus must be first and foremost on the failure of UNAMID—its unambiguous, shameful, and disastrous failure. This failure has been clear for many years and Appendix Two offers a bibliography chronicling the evidence supporting my conclusions; the bibliography extends from 2007 (the year in which UNAMID’s composition was determined) to the present. For even before final United Nations Security Council authorization (July 2007) of an unprecedented “hybrid” UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Khartoum had succeeded in attaching so many constraining terms to the force it would allow into Darfur that the mission was doomed. When UNAMID was officially deployed on January 1, 2008 it was little more than an augmented version of what had proved the impotent African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). A series of critiques of this force in late 2005 (Appendix Three) made clear it was woefully inadequate to any of the monitoring and protection challenges it faced. Like its successor force UNAMID, the African Union Mission in Sudan was a disastrous failure—and at a critical moment.
Six and a half years later, the consequences of international expediency are fully in evidence, and sadly UNAMID has become too apt a prism through which to view that massive and increasingly violent crisis in Darfur, now more than eleven years in the making. “Crisis” in any literal sense is no longer the appropriate word, so I resort to periphrasis: what we are seeing in Darfur is an “accelerating humanitarian disaster amidst sharply deteriorating human security and rapidly declining relief capacity.”
THE RESPONSE OF THE UN IN NEW YORK TO UNAMID’S FAILURE
The UN has been forced by the revelations noted above to make some noises of concern; they are, however, little more than disingenuous promises that there will be a significant review of UNAMID and its performance in fulfilling its mandate. But the nature of the mandate has never been in question: to protect civilians and humanitarians. To suggest that some tinkering with this mandate, that some process of performance review will meaningfully change the extreme insecurity confronting all Darfuris is sheer fantasy. But both the UN and UNAMID have a long history of distorting Darfur’s realities, and this will not end soon without much more strenuous action by the Secretariat or Security Council—and this is highly unlikely.
In 2012 Hervé Ladsous, head of UN Peacekeeping—in a moment of monumental disingenuousness—suggested that conditions “on the ground” had improved in ways that would allow for a drawdown of UNAMID forces. On retiring, previous UNAMID head Ibrahim Gambari declared in September 2012: “I am gratified to note that barely 31 months on, all the set goals and objectives have largely been met.” This occurred even as a substantial UNAMID force moving toward Hashaba, North Darfur, would soon be ambushed and forced to retreat after coming under withering attack by well-positioned Arab militia forces using heavy weapons not seen in the region before. The attack was clearly at Khartoum’s behest, a determination to prevent investigation of the atrocity crimes that had been reported in Hashaba and were the focus of the aborted UNAMID investigation.
Too little was made of the fact that this attack was one in a series, with Khartoum bearing overwhelming responsibility for most. Nor is there much effort by Khartoum’s military forces to conceal their contempt for and willingness to threaten UNAMID. In a shocking incident reported by Reuters in January 2011:
UNAMID spokesman Kemal Saiki confirmed the bombing [of civilians] was by “the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) air force.” Later on Wednesday [January 26, 2011], a group of 200 Sudanese government soldiers in 40 vehicles arrived at UNAMID’s camp in the nearby settlement of Shangil Tobay [North Darfur], UNAMID said. “(The soldiers) surrounded the team site’s exit as well as the adjacent makeshift camp, where thousands of civilians recently displaced by the December 2010 clashes have settled,” read the statement. The Sudanese army detained four displaced people at the camp, said UNAMID. “The SAF commander at the scene … then threatened to burn down the makeshift camp and UNAMID team site, if the peacekeepers continued to interfere.” (Reuters [Khartoum], January 27, 2011) (all emphases in all quotes have been added)
This is an extraordinary event in all ways and yet prompted no diplomatic action or change in UNAMID’s behavior, except to become even more risk-averse and unwilling to confront Khartoum’s regular or militia forces. I have chronicled in considerable detail the evidence that from the first days of deployment, UNAMID has been deliberately targeted by Khartoum’s Arab militia allies. An attack of July 2008, in which seven UNAMID troops were killed and 22 wounded—seven critically—was unambiguously blamed on Khartoum by former head of UN peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno (“Attack on UNAMID Forces in Darfur: The Khartoum Regime is Responsible,” 12 July 2008 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-zN ).
The response over the years has been a steady diminishment of morale and a willingness to undertake missions that face possible attacks. The pleas from people in displaced persons camps are increasingly ignored, as UNAMID hunkers down in (relatively) secure locations. On one recent occasion, UNAMID failed to protect displaced persons from an attack by Arab militiamen, an attack that occurred on the very doorstep of a UNAMID base near Kutum, North Darfur (see photograph below). UNAMID withdrew recently from Fata Borno and Kassab camps in North Darfur; people in the massive Kalma camp outside Nyala, capital of South Darfur, are still pleading for a UNAMID presence for protection. But in fact the people of Darfur long ago lost faith in UNAMID and have consistently pleaded for Western troops, precisely what Khartoum was determined to prevent in agreeing to accept UNAMID, which was to have been a “predominantly,” not exclusively,” African force. Thus offers of engineering battalions from Norway and Sweden, for example, were rejected by Khartoum early in the deployment, even as engineering needs were critical since there was no remotely adequate capacity within the AU.
For more photographs of the UNAMID disaster, see http://wp.me/p45rOG-1np
This is the first major peacekeeping mission undertaken by the African Union; its disastrous failure augurs ominously for the future of peacekeeping in Africa. For despite this disaster, the first impulse of the African Union Peace and Security Council—which in a May 2013 meeting held up UNAMID as “worthy of emulation” in future operations—will be to rely on African Union member states, whatever their level of military preparedness or quality of equipment and training. Indeed, in recently renewing UNAMID’s mandate, the AUPSC celebrated the Mission for its “dedication and contribution to the promotion of peace, security, stability and reconciliation in the Darfur region of Sudan, and notes with satisfaction the progress made in the implementation of UNAMID’s mandate, including with respect to the protection of civilians.” (Meeting 446, 9 July 2014). No mention of the reports of malfeasance, complicity with the Khartoum regime, dishonest reporting, or other now well-publicized shortcomings. And no mention of the catastrophic violence that continues to accelerate throughout Darfur
If this is the meaning of “African solutions for African problems,” then we must fear for the lives of all Africans who become caught in protracted conflicts.
The Janjaweed, circa 2005
UNAMID’S FAILURE TO INSIST ON THE TERMS OF THE “STATUS OF FORCES AGREEMENT” (FEBRUARY 2008)
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated between UNAMID and the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in early 2008 represents an exemplary instance of bad faith. Guaranteed the right to unfettered movement throughout Darfur, UNAMID found almost immediately that Military Intelligence (the dominant regime presence in Darfur) would constantly renege on the terms of the agreement. Time and again UNAMID has been prevented on “security” grounds from traveling to many areas in Darfur—some, such as Jebel Marra, for years at a time. This has meant that UNAMID could not provide protection for humanitarians who wished for escort into these areas (although they, too, would be denied access).
For a number of years UNAMID has been unable to keep roads clear of countless checkpoints manned by SAF or Military Intelligence units, militia groups, or opportunistic bandits. Vehicles are constantly hijacked, civilian transport halted, and civilian passengers robbed, assaulted, kidnapped for ransom, and murdered. Many locations in Darfur have become de facto “no go” areas. Indeed, hijacking of vehicles, especially Toyota Land Cruisers popular among relief groups, have become so common that they have constrained the ability of these groups to move even near or within Nyala, el-Fasher, and el-Geneina, the capital cities of the three Darfur states (I will use the old three-state organization of Darfur in my accounts, in part because it is what guided our best atlases on the region, the UN’s three “Darfur Field Atlases” (2005).
The inability to travel widely in Darfur, along with an increasing disinclination to challenge Khartoum’s widespread restrictions (i.e., violations of the SOFA) has ensured that UNAMID is unable to do investigate or report on the vast majority of attacks, bombings, deaths, assaults on displaced persons, rapes, and road blocks. The paucity of information gathered then defines what UNAMID reports to the UN Secretariat, which in turns reports on the basis of extremely limited information: if UNAMID doesn’t see human rights abuses, then they don’t exist. And since the UN response to Khartoum’s sensitivities around issues of sexual violence is one of almost complete capitulation, Ban Ki-moon’s reports of Darfur and UNAMID have grossly understated the significance of this critical issue. There are constant reports, from Radio Dabanga and sources on the ground, of UNAMID pointedly refusing to investigate reports of rape or assist rape victims.
A girl raped and scarred by the Janjaweed—one of many tens of thousands (Photograph by Mia Farrow)
From the very beginning of African Union efforts in Darfur, Khartoum has thrown up roadblocks and delayed deployment in myriad ways. AMIS was unable to bring Canadian Armored Personnel Carriers into the region because of Khartoum’s objections; the regime initially and persistently refused to allow helicopter gunships into Darfur, even as these were critical to the Mission’s ability to respond to violence and protect civilians. Militarily capable nations in the West refused to provide other transport helicopters, citing a lack of inventory; this hamstrung the more willing UNAMID of 2008. Ethiopia was eventually allowed to deploy five of its helicopter gunships, but quietly withdrew them after only a couple years of usage. Other significant equipment has been withdrawn by contributing countries. Currently, UNAMID vehicles—including buses, Land Cruisers, and others—are targets for hijacking and theft. “Chop shops” dealing in parts from stolen vehicles for use in repairs are commonplace.
CONSEQUENCES OF UNAMID’S FAILURE
The failure of UNAMID to demand free access has a great many effects. For several years Khartoum has denied access to Jebel Marra: both humanitarians and UNAMID have been prevented from entering this central region (recent access to Deribat is not nearly enough to declare the embargo has ended). Thus there are no investigations of the countless bombing reports of the region regularly reported in very considerable detail by Radio Dabanga, with its legions of sources on the ground. Nor is UNAMID able to remove unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the region; a great many children have been injured or killed while playing with such UXO.
UNAMID’s lack of access means that a great many roads are too dangerous to be considered for travel by humanitarians and most Darfuris. Roadblocks, checkpoints, extortion points abound on even the major roads of Darfur. Convoys are frequently attacked, and some routes are considered by drivers too dangerous to be taken. The UN’s World Food Program, for lack of implementing partners in food distribution, has been forced to use local food “agents” or “brokers,” something displaced Darfuris deeply resent and a significant factor in the rapidly accelerating prices for basic food items.
The displaced persons camps, which should be UNAMID’s priority, have become in many cases free-fire zones, with extortion, kidnapping, rape, murder, and theft rampant. Some camps are completely insecure, and the Gereida area of South Darfur seems on the brink of disintegration for lack of humanitarian relief and extreme violence. None of those guilty of attacks on the camps or the displaced persons has been held accountable, as impunity continues to be the defining reality for the militia forces Khartoum has deployed.
Most recently, the notorious Janjaweed have been reconstituted as the “Rapid Support Forces” (RSF), and Khartoum has openly embraced these brutal militias as part of their “armed forces,” and deployed them widely, even outside Darfur. President Omar al-Bashir recently strongly defended, indeed praised the RSF (Sudan Tribune. 13 July 2014). And yet the most destructive of recent attacks in Darfur, reminiscent of the terrible early years of the genocide, have been committed by the RSF: sometimes with a relatively clear objective of killing and displacing African tribal groups in particular areas; sometimes it is simply gratuitous slaughter and plunder.
The withdrawal of UNAMID from camps they are nominally protecting is growing, and gives a grim sense of morale within the Mission. Radio Dabanga reported in late May:
The UNAMID teams stationed at the Fata Borno and Kassab camps for the displaced in Kutum locality moved their bases to the town of Kutum on Friday. One of the sheikhs of Fata Borno camp reported to Radio Dabanga that on Friday morning, the UNAMID team stationed in the camp “took all its equipment for water supply, electricity, wires, and tents, and loaded them into large lorries. They transported the equipment to Kutum town, 17km east of the camp.” The sheikh said that the Mission did not tell them the reasons for this move. “They assured the camp population that it would continue its morning and night patrols around the camp.” (May 25, 2014)
Such “assurances” coming from UNAMID mean very little to Darfuris. Here we should bear in mind the terrible slaughter at the village of Tabarat (near Tawilla, North Darfur) that occurred without response from UNAMID, despite the closeness of their base to Tabarat and the urgent pleas of the survivors. On September 2, 2010, more than 50 non-Arab/African men and boys were killed, most by gunshots at point-blank range. Despite desperately urgent reports carried by survivors to the UNAMID force stationed at nearby Tawilla that evening, UNAMID refused either to intervene or to evacuate the scores of wounded, many of whom subsequently died of their wounds.
Just as shocking, on September 8, 2010 UNAMID issued a terse statement confirming that Khartoum’s forces were blocking all access to Tabarat:
On 7 September, a UNAMID [mission] on its way from El Fasher to Tarabat [sic] was stopped by an SAF convoy and were informed by the commanding officer not to return before two days due to ongoing SAF operations in the area. (UNAMID press release [el-Fasher], September 8, 2010)
The “ongoing operations” certainly included sanitizing the scene of the massacre by moving bodies and other evidence, and doing all that was possible to obscure the nature of what had occurred. The newly appointed UN Expert for Human Rights in Sudan, Chande Othman, called on the Khartoum regime to conduct “as a matter of urgency a thorough and transparent investigation into the attack on civilians in [Tabarat] North Darfur. This incident should be investigated thoroughly and impartially and those responsible should be brought to justice.” But Othman was well aware that there would be no such investigation, and that no one would be brought to justice—as indeed no one has. Given his lack of follow-up, it’s difficult not to conclude that Othman was simply going through the required UN motions.
We know as much as we do about Tabarat only because of the fine reporting by Reuters journalist Opheera McDoom (September 17, 2010 [Khartoum]), not because UNAMID ever issued a report on the Tabarat massacre. And we know there have been many other Tabarat’s and Hashaba’s—occasions on which UNAMID simply refused to accept the risk entailed in protecting civilians. And we know that Khartoum has successfully blocked the investigation of such scenes of slaughter, denying UNAMID access to the sites of atrocity crimes under the pretext of “ongoing military operations,” a phrase found nowhere in the SOFA.
UNAMID is not above the kind of disingenuousness that compromises any possible trust in them by the people of Darfur. Radio Dabanga reported this week the following explanation for the absence of UNAMID from an area of extreme violence, Sirba Locality in West Darfur:
“The displaced explained how they suffer from the deterioration of the security situation in the region,” the coordinator of the West Darfur camps told Radio Dabanga. “They described the assaults by the government-backed militiamen, and pointed to the frictions between them and the herders, armed by the government. The displaced urged UNAMID to establish a base in the locality in order to protect the people from attacks.” “The visiting UNAMID officials justified their absence over the past three years by saying that the Sudanese government had notified them that the security situation in West Darfur was stable, and did not require the presence of the Mission,” the coordinator said. (July 27, 2014)
“The visiting UNAMID officials justified their absence over the past three years by saying that the Sudanese government had notified them that the security situation in West Darfur was stable, and did not require the presence of the Mission.” Given a choice, I think we must believe the camp coordinator, and thus that UNAMID is capable of offering such a preposterous explanation for their absence from a region that has been rife with violence—if UNAMID would only look at reports from the ground rather than trust a regime that is well known for its outrageous mendacity. The situation has not been stable, and anyone bothering to read the highly detailed, journalistically rigorous accounts of violence in West Darfur would know how utterly preposterous such an explanation of UNAMID’s absence must seem to people whose lives have been at risk. Radio Dabanga has documented extremely heavy violence in West Darfur for years, though clearly to no effect among those at UNAMID deciding where they are and are not “needed.” A few examples of what UNAMID ignores or won’t bother to investigate—these just from the past month.
[Again, I retain the administrative structure of Darfur that obtained at the time the genocide began in 2003; Khartoum’s subsequent creation of a factitious “East Darfur” and “Central Darfur” was politically expedient, and designed to make historical geographic identification more difficult. Nearly all of what is now referred to as “Central Darfur” was formerly—under the administrative organization that informed the authoritative UN Field Atlases (2005)—West Darfur, notably Zalingei, Mukjar, Wadi Saleh, and Jebel Marra localities. It is doubtful that many within UNAMID understand this geographic history.]
SIRBA LOCALITY (31 July 2014) – The residents of the camps for the displaced in Sirba locality, West Darfur, have not been able to enjoy the Eid El Fitr, as the security situation has deteriorated significantly… FULL STORY
KOLBUS LOCALITY (25 June 2014) – In Kolbus locality, West Darfur, militia troops pillaged six villages on Sunday and Monday. One of the victims told Radio Dabanga that elements of a militia who had gathered near… FULL STORY
ZALINGEI LOCALITY (24 July 2014) – Displaced in Central [formerly West] Darfur are living in fear after the large groups of militia combatants have entered the state. “Large groups of government-backed militia forces in Land… FULL STORY
SIRBA LOCALITY (9 July 2014) – Two citizens were critically injured in an attack by militiamen on the village of Abu Dinga in Sirba locality, West Darfur, on Monday. On the same day, gunmen ambushed a… FULL STORY
GOLO (15 July 2014) – Army troops and elements of the Rapid Support Forces reportedly raped and robbed a number of citizens, and torched two villages during their withdrawal from Golo, Central Darfur,… FULL STORY
ZALINGEI / SIRBA (23 July 2014) – Gunmen shot two displaced brothers in Central Darfur on Tuesday. In West Darfur, displaced were violently robbed of 125 goats on Sunday and Monday. “Gunmen in military uniform… FULL STORY
ZALINGEI LOCALITY [FORMERLY WEST DARFUR] (22 July 2014) – Militiamen abducted two farmers and seized their tractor in the area of Dankoj in Central [formerly West] Darfur on Friday. The farmers were released on Sunday. The gunmen demand SDG35,000 for… FULL STORY
BINDISI (26 June 2014) – Government institutions, schools, and shops closed their doors, and citizens hid inside their homes, when militiamen raided the market of Bindisi in Central [formerly West] Darfur on Thursday… FULL STORY
ZALINGEI LOCALITY (9 July 2014) – Cattle released by armed herders on farmland in Zalingei locality, Central Darfur, on Sunday ruined all the crops. Yousif Yahya Yousif, a farmer from the Hamidiya camp for the… FULL STORY
ZALINGEI (4 July 2014) – Elements of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) robbed seven pilgrims in Central [formerly] Darfur state on Wednesday. They took a large amount of money and their mobile phones. A witness told… FULL STORY
DELEIG / GIREIDA (7 July 2014) – Two school students were shot at the market of Deleig in Central [formerly West] Darfur on Sunday. On the same day, militiamen raided the Jukhana market, near Gireida town in South Darfur,… FULL STORY
NIERTETI (4 July 2014) – Pro-government militiamen abducted a 10-year-old boy in Nierteti locality, Central [formerly West] Darfur, on Monday. Meanwhile, a Central Darfur camp Sheikh has been kidnapped for nearly one and… FULL STORY
DARFUR (30 June 2014) – On Sunday, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a citizen was shot dead in Wadi Salih locality, Central [formerly West] Darfur. On Monday, three passengers of a commercial vehicle… FULL STORY
ZALINGEI LOCALITY (26 June 2014) – On Tuesday, two displaced farmers were shot by herders in Zalingei locality, Central [formerly West] Darfur. “Herdsmen released their livestock on farmlands in Wadi Zor, north of Wadi Azum, about… FULL STORY
Again, these are incidents reported to Radio Dabanga during just the past month, but they are continuous with what has preceded for years. I offered at the end of 2012 an extensive overview of violence and insecurity specifically in West Darfur, with a great many reports similar to those above:
Human Security in Darfur, Year’s End 2012: West Darfur,” 27 December 2012 (in two parts) Intolerable human insecurity and threats to humanitarian operations in Darfur remain largely invisible. West Darfur (Part 1 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-Xy ; Part 2 | http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3684 )
Only those who wished not to be inconvenienced by the fact of extreme violence in West Darfur over the past several years could possibly declare otherwise, citing as their source of information the very party responsible for the violence and insecurity, the Khartoum regime:“The visiting UNAMID officials justified their absence [from Sirba Locality] over the past three years by saying that the Sudanese government had notified them that the security situation in West Darfur was stable, and did not require the presence of the Mission.”
DISPLACEMENT AND THE RAPIDLY INCREASING NEED FOR HUMANITARIAN ACCESS
Displacement alone tells a dramatic story: almost 400,000 were newly displaced in 2013 and so far this year the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently estimated that another 400,000 people have been displaced, some for the second, third, or fourth time (“UN OCHA, “Darfur: New Humanitarian Needs and Aid Delivery Fact Sheet,” 15 July 2014). Not all of these displaced persons remain displaced; but given the very high correlation in Darfur between violence and displacement—something repeatedly confirmed since the outbreak of violence in 2003—it is reasonable to assume that claiming to believe that West Darfur has been spared in this vast human catastrophe is simply UNAMID lying because it cannot face the truth about its failures.
The interrelation of security and humanitarian shortages is nowhere more evident than in Kalma camp for displaced persons, near Nyala, which may have as many as 150,000 residents—there is simply no reliable census. Saleh Eisa, the secretary-general for Kalma, declared recently—following the deaths of more than seventy people in less than a month, and where rape continues to be rampant:
“People are starving because the food rations were cut. Because they are weak already, they are prone to all kinds of diseases. There is a shortage of clean drinking water, health services are lacking, and the overall insecurity in the locality worsens the situation.” (Radio Dabanga [Kalma Camp], July 15, 2014)
In addition to its inability to provide remotely adequate security to the camps, UNAMID is typically helpless before the most brutal actions of the Khartoum regime in blocking humanitarian access. The badly delayed efforts by MSF to secure access to El Sareif camp in South Darfur, near Nyala, are worth noting in detail, since they reflect an attitude that permeates the Khartoum regime, and that UNAMID is politically helpless to remedy, even when (as is often the case) humanitarian resources are in theater:
The 15,000 displaced in El Sareif camp in South Darfur are living in extremely poor conditions. The most recent 4,500 arrivals to the camp have scarcely enough drinking water to stay alive, and infectious diseases such as Hepatitis E are spreading. Despite the acute and immediate needs, a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reinforcement team that had arrived in Khartoum was refused permission to travel to the camp to initiate an emergency response, MSF reported in a press release on Wednesday [2 July 2014].
In March and April, newly displaced who had fled widespread attacks on their villages in areas southwest of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State, flocked the camps for the displaced in the state. El Sareif camp, near Nyala, received thousands of newly displaced.
“While some of the new arrivals have now left the camp, the 4,500 that have stayed are in particularly terrible conditions, sheltering on a patch of desert with almost none of the basic essentials to sustain life. Before the new influx, camp residents were surviving on less than five litres of water per person per day, when the recognized minimum for emergencies is 15 litres – and the new arrivals have access to even less water, not enough to adequately sustain human life….”
“An MSF assessment of the needs of the new arrivals in May pointed to a potentially catastrophic situation,” said Cyril Bertrand, MSF Operations Coordinator. “What is urgently needed is reinforcement with key staff that have emergency experience. Our immediate response was to send a team of three people with appropriate experience to provide the expertise necessary to launch initial life-saving emergency activities. We do not understand why, when this team arrived in Khartoum, they were not granted permission to travel to the camp. Despite meetings at the highest levels of relevant government ministries, their travel permits continue to be blocked.” (Radio Dabanga [BRUSSELS], 2 July 2014)
[Two weeks later Khartoum finally relented and gave permission for MSF to address the urgent needs of those displaced in El Sareif camp; but the message of intimidation was delivered, and during those two weeks we may be sure that some camp residents died for lack of emergency primary medical care of the sort MSF provides better than anyone.]
If we want examples of the political failures by UNAMID leaders, they lie in the mission’s continual refusal to confront vigorously and effectively such intransigence in a regime that remains committed to destroy people such as those in El Sareif, virtually all of whom are of African ethnicity. Again and again, UNAMID has acquiesced in the denial of life-saving humanitarian efforts, knowing full well that Khartoum’s denial was calculated to destroy lives.
To be sure, UNAMID has received little international help—including from the African Union—in confronting Khartoum’s génocidaires. Emboldened by the lack of response to the expulsion and closure of sixteen international and national humanitarian organizations in March 2009—thereby denying the humanitarian effort roughly fifty percent of its capacity—Khartoum has subsequently abused and expelled individual relief organizations with increasingly brazen contempt. Médecins du Monde was expelled in 2010, even as it was the only relief organization providing primary medical care in Jebel Marra; others have been expelled or compelled to leave subsequently; Merlin (UK) was recently forced to end its operations in West Darfur; extortionate demands by Khartoum of the International Committee of the Red Cross have compelled this extremely important humanitarian organizations to suspend its operations, affecting hundreds of thousands of Sudanese. And the list goes on and on.
Whether on the ground—or in the political arenas of Khartoum, the UN, and the AUPSC—UNAMID and its leaders have failed to generate any meaningful pressure on the regime to relent. Previous UNAMID heads Rodolphe Adada and Ibrahim Gambari were particularly useless, though both were much given to self-celebration of their (non)accomplishments; Darfur as we see it has in many ways been bequeathed by these terribly incompetent leaders. Current UNAMID head Mohamed Ibn Chambas seems to be trying harder than his predecessors, but he has little if anything to show for his efforts, and his self-censorship has become almost as great as his predecessors in speaking out about Khartoum’s countless crimes.
President Omar al-Bashir and Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, indicted by the International Criminal Court for massive crimes against humanity in Darfur; al-Bashir has also been indicted by the ICC on several counts of genocide. Below is a photograph of Ibrahim Gambari, former head of UNAMID, chatting with al-Bashir at the wedding of the daughter of notorious Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal.
UNAMID’s primary function is now to serve as the security fig-leaf for those courageous relief organizations that would certainly withdraw from Darfur were UNAMID to be disbanded or significantly reduced in size. For such humanitarian withdrawal would certainly follow on such conspicuous abandonment of any pretense of providing security—and would likely do so precipitously. Soon, however, a fig-leaf of protection will not be enough to maintain the presence of key relief organizations. Insecurity and violence have been growing rapidly for over two years now, and many organizations have either left, diminished their staff presence (only three percent of those aid workers in Darfur are expatriates), or are on the verge of withdrawing. A single tragic incident would be more than enough to push several organizations out of the region.
Scandalously, none of this is news. For anyone really interested in the realities of Darfur, Radio Dabanga, Sudan Tribune, Radio Tamazuj, occasionally Agence France-Presse and Reuters (with Khartoum datelines), and the UN’s OCHA provide more than enough information to understand what is occurring. But as the Darfur genocide enters its second decade, we are forced by the reports above to ask if the international community will continue to acquiesce in this travesty of a peacekeeping mission. To be sure, Darfur has lost much of its appeal as a civil advocacy cause; the absence of a Western news and human rights presence has increasingly sealed off Darfur from international view, even as humanitarians speaking out about what they see know that they risk immediate expulsion. But without appropriate international responses—on the ground in Darfur and in confronting Khartoum—the present will continue indefinitely into an unspeakably grim future. Is the world really prepared to accept the inevitably massive human suffering and destruction that will be part of that future?
Rendered invisible with the complicity of UNAMID, Darfur may well be remembered as the genocide that people got tired of—a grim but increasingly apt epitaph.
All appendices may be found at | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nC
Unending anguish (photograph by Mia Farrow)