April 13, 2004
At the beginning of April, clearly in anticipation of a possible cease-fire in Darfur, the US Defense Department announced that it was “closely monitoring” the situation in Darfur (Voice of America, April 1, 2004). What made this announcement unusual was the fact that the Khartoum regime certainly already knew of intense and highly sophisticated US surveillance of the region. This was not a warning to Khartoum, at least of US capabilities; rather, it was a public signal that the US would be guided by events on the ground in reporting on the observance of any cease-fire agreement.
On the occasion of the signing of a cease-fire agreement (April 8, 2004), the Pentagon’s implicit warning was made explicit by the State Department:
“We will use all appropriate means and will cooperate fully with the international community to obtain precise information regarding what is happening on the ground throughout the implementation process.”
(State Department Press Statement, Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman, April 9, 2003 Washington, DC)
There can be little doubt that “all appropriate means” includes the world’s most powerful and comprehensive surveillance techniques.
So when the US State Department yesterday—the first day of the cease-fire negotiated last week in N’Djamena, Chad—declared that the cease-fire has already been violated, we can be sure that this is an authoritative declaration. The State Department release noted in particular that “there are also reports of continuing aerial bombardments, such as at Anka” (Reuters, April 12, 2004). These “reports” are not random or unconfirmed; indeed, we may be sure that given the priority of Sudan in Bush administration foreign policy, the stakes are simply too high for the State Department to speak out on Darfur using anything but fully confirmed intelligence and surveillance “reports.”
Thus we know that the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum, through its military command structure, deliberately ordered a number of aerial assaults, including an attack on Anka (about 75 miles northwest of el-Fashir)—this on the first day of a carefully watched, arduously negotiated cease-fire. There can’t have been any mistake about when the cease-fire began. There can’t be any mistake about whose aerial military assets were deployed (only Khartoum has such assets). And there can’t be any doubt about the authority of the “reports” guiding the State Department in declaring these aerial assaults.
Moreover, the State Department release also noted:
“‘At this point, we have not seen a significant change on the ground in Darfur following that agreement.'”
State Department Spokseman Richard Boucher continued:
“‘We do still have reports that the government-supported Arab militias are attacking parts of western and southern Darfur,’ [and that] ‘we understand the militias remain in the vicinity of the internally displaced persons camps, occupying land that they had claimed from Africans, and effectively preventing (people) from returning to their homes.'”
(Reuters, April 12, 2004)
What may be inferred here?
Khartoum’s decision to persist with these aerial assaults, despite a formal cease-fire agreement, sends the most conspicuous and unambiguous signal of military intentions. It is a virtual announcement: “Whatever may have been agreed to in N’Djamena, we will not be dissuaded from pursuing our essential military goals in Darfur; whatever trimming of activities is necessary to accommodate the international outcry, be assured that the war is not over and that humanitarian ‘access’ must confront security risks that we can escalate at will.”
Some will ask, “Is the Khartoum regime really so brazen, so contemptuous of agreements negotiated in full sight of the international community?” But this isn’t the right question: the real question is, “What has the international community done to convince Khartoum that there is a significant price to pay for either diplomatic intransigence, or the violation of signed agreements, or the most callously destructive interference with humanitarian aid?” For the National Islamic Front regime has never abided by any signed agreement—not one, not ever. Let’s recall here both recent and more distant history.
This writer noted last week that the four-person UN human rights investigating team had not been granted access to Darfur from Chad: Agence France-Presse reported on April 7, 2004: “The Sudanese government had not given the [UN human rights investigating] mission permission to enter Sudan, a UN spokesperson said on Tuesday [April 6, 2004].” Reuters later reported that: “The four-member team is still interviewing Sudanese refugees in Chad and has not yet been given a green light to enter Sudan, a U.N. human rights spokeswoman said in Geneva late on Thursday [April 8, 2004]” (Reuters, April 8, 2004).
Today, Agence France-Presse reports that:
“The Sudanese government is preventing a UN human rights team from entering the country to probe reports of widespread atrocities in the western Darfur region, the United Nations said Tuesday. [ ] Talks with the government in Khartoum on access to strife-torn western Sudan are ‘in suspension,’ UN human rights spokesman Jose Diaz said in Geneva. ‘If we can’t get authorisation they might have to come back,’ Diaz told journalists.” (Agence France-Presse, April 13, 2004)
In short, a UN human rights investigating team has still not been granted access to Darfur; this first critical effort in assessing realities that have widely been described as “ethnic cleansing,” “crimes against humanity,” and genocide has been stopped in its tracks by Khartoum. What price is being paid? Where is the outcry over this patent obstructionism?
If we are to understand such obduracy on the regime’s part, we can do little better than to look back to June of 2002, shortly before Khartoum signed the Machakos Protocol (and thus to be hailed as “seeking a just peace in Sudan”). At the time, the UN estimated that Khartoum was denying all humanitarian access to 1.7 million human beings in southern Sudan. This was in clear, immensely consequential violation of the agreement that created Operation Lifeline Sudan in 1989, as were the many other occasions on which Khartoum has denied humanitarian access. Such denial of food and medical assistance, given the distressed condition of so many of these people, was also nothing less than a terribly crude but all too effective “weapon of mass destruction.”
The same “weapon” is now being deployed in Darfur, in clear contravention of international law and conventions to which Sudan is party. As early as December 2003, Tom Vraalsen, UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan, declared that, “delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by *systematically denied access* [latter phrase emphasized in text]. While [Khartoum’s] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas.”
(Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
This has not changed. Humanitarian access is still being “systematically” denied to the African tribal groups of Darfur, in particular the Fur, Massaleit, and Zaghawa.
In December Jan Egeland declared in a BBC interview (“The World,” December 18, 2004) that, “Darfur is probably the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe.” Since then conditions have only deteriorated and evidence now available suggests that a thousand people are dying every week, almost 1 million have been displaced, and 3 million are described by the UN as “war-affected.” The US Agency for International Development declared on March 31, 2004 that even with immediate humanitarian access, as many as 100,000 people are doomed to perish because of lack of food and medicine, denial of access to agricultural lands, and growing disease rates. And the deterioration continues. Reuters reported yesterday from Iriba, Chad (“U.N. Workers Say Sudan Refugee Crisis Has Grown Critical”):
“‘Thousands of refugees from Sudan risk being stranded on the border with Chad and exposed to attacks by militiamen unless they can be ferried to camps before the rainy season starts, aid workers said over the weekend. ‘We need more vehicles, petrol and food,’ Emile Belem, who heads the United Nations refugee agency office in Iriba, said Saturday. ‘My opinion is that we underestimated the situation here and the response has come too late.'” (Reuters, April 12, 2004)
And yet Khartoum’s spokesmen, with vicious contempt for both the truth and the lives at risk, have declared that the situation in Darfur is “actually improving” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 31, 2004).
Moreover, when confronted with the grave concerns of eight distinguished UN Special Rapporteurs over the situation in Darfur, Khartoum “accused UN experts of lying with reports of ‘systematic’ human rights abuses in Sudan’s western Darfur region. Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail told reporters ‘some UN officials do not keep to the truth when speaking about the situation in Sudan to the extent at which we can label some of their statements as lies and acts of deception.’ [Ismail] was reacting to a statement issued by eight experts of the UN Commission on Human Rights, expressing their grave concern ‘at the scale of reported human rights abuses and at the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Darfur'” (Agence France-Presse, March 30, 2004).
This is the regime that has supposedly committed to halting aerial assaults in Darfur, committed to reining in the Janjaweed, committed to unfettered humanitarian access.
So why should anyone think that having ignored two previous cease-fires in Darfur, having for months “systematically” denied humanitarian aid to civilians, having loosed the savagery of Janjaweed militia attacks on the Africa peoples of Darfur, that an agreement signed with only the feeble auspices of a weak Chadian government might change in any fundamental way Khartoum’s behavior? To be sure, Kofi Annan declared on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide that “military action may be needed in western Sudan to halt ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the strife-torn Darfur region” (Reuters April 7, 2004); and President Bush finally found his voice in condemning the savagery in Darfur. Most strikingly, EU Business Wire today reports:
“The European Union’s top military official Gustav Hagglund said Tuesday that EU-led forces could intervene in Sudan’s troubled western region of Darfur. ‘Sudan is on the list of the UN (for some form of peacekeeping mission),’ Hagglund, the first chairman of the EU’s military committee, told London’s Financial Times newspaper. ‘There is no reason why the EU could not go to, for instance, Sudan,’ he said. ‘I see it to be very possible.'”
(EU Business Wire, April 13, 2004)
But it is not at all clear that there was political authorization for these comments by Hagglund, or what they really mean. Moreover, we should recall that there have already been too many unctuous condemnations, too many words without commensurate actions or commitments. Khartoum for its part has learned to respond all too well to international self-righteousness, and censure that comes without credible threat of action. Khartoum will believe that there are reasons to respond only when the international community makes fully explicitly clear what those reasons are.
Time has already run out for many tens of thousands of human beings in Darfur: in addition to those who have already died, many more are now beyond rescue. Day one of the Darfur cease-fire gives ominous evidence that nothing has changed, that the catastrophe continues. Humanitarian access, nominally guaranteed by the cease-fire agreement, is meaningless unless Khartoum controls the Janjaweed, and all evidence on this score continues to be grim.
Day one, and the holocaust continues. We have begun a deathwatch.
Northampton, MA 01063