June 3, 2004
The “peace” for Sudan that was supposedly ushered in by the signing of an agreement in Naivasha (Kenya) last week now appears threatened not only by continuing massively destructive violence in far western Darfur, but by a large-scale, multi-pronged offensive in southern Sudan. According to various regional sources, including the Verification and Monitoring Team based in Leer, the strategically important town of Akobo in Eastern Upper Nile was attacked and seized yesterday (June 2, 2004) by regular armed forces of the Khartoum regime under Chol Gakah Yier and Brigadier Timothy Taban Jus. The SPLM/A, which had previously controlled Akobo, are reportedly re-grouping outside Akobo for a counter-attack.
This is Khartoum’s most egregious violation to date of the October 15, 2002 cessation of offensive hostilities agreement—the essential element in providing the time and fitfully conducive atmosphere necessary for diplomacy to reach fruition in the May 26, 2004 protocol signings in Naivasha. With substantial diplomatic work remaining, this major military offensive bodes extremely poorly for completion of meaningful negotiations. Moreover, well-placed regional sources are also reporting a second major attack, on Nimne in Western Upper Nile (also heretofore under SPLM/A control), as well as an attack on SPLM Chairman John Garang’s home village of Wangule. The attack on Nimne (June 1, 2004) reportedly involved tanks and heavy weapons support.
This extremely disturbing military activity comes even as much diplomatic work remains to complete a final peace agreement—an agreement that will be utterly worthless if measured by Khartoum’s present actions and violations of both the October 15, 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement and the February 4, 2003 Addendum to this agreement. These attacks poison the diplomatic atmosphere in which the various previously negotiated protocols (including wealth-sharing and security arrangements) are to be integrated with the final protocols signed on May 26, 2004. The “modalities of implementation” for a final agreement must also be negotiated, as well as the terms for a comprehensive cease-fire.
It becomes extremely difficult to imagine how diplomatic progress can be made—especially on a cease-fire—while major military offensives are mounted on SPLM/A positions, and mounted not by militia forces but by Khartoum’s regular military forces, including the use of tanks and heavy weapons not in the arsenals of the regime’s militias.
The most urgent task is full confirmation of what has occurred at Akobo, Nimne, and Wangule. Efforts at aerial reconnaissance over Akobo have not received clearance from Khartoum and face both anti-aircraft fire and small arms fire. Explanations must be demanded from Khartoum by international parties to the Naivasha negotiations, and an immediate withdrawal from Akobo and Nimne must be made the precondition for resumed final negotiations. Precisely because of last week’s signing ceremony, because talks are not in session presently, and because so much attention has finally been brought to bear on Darfur, Khartoum calculates that it can act with military impunity until confronted by serious international condemnation—an unlikely prospect given recent history.
The duplicity, the shameless willingness to renege on agreements signed, the contempt for human life—all that is reflected in the attacks in southern Sudan are on even more spectacularly destructive display in Darfur.
In a Geneva meeting of donor countries seeking to respond to the human catastrophe in Darfur, Andrew Natsios, Administrator for the US Agency for International Development, laid out with brutal honesty the scale of the impending cataclysm:
“‘We estimate right now if we get relief in, we’ll lose a third of a million people, and if we don’t the death rates could be dramatically higher, approaching a million people,’ said US Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Andrew Natsios after a high-level UN aid meeting [in Geneva].” (Agence France-Presse, June 3, 2004)
Presumably those who require (erroneously) a huge body count for a finding of genocide will now be satisfied. A number between 350,000 and 1 million deaths must meet even the most cynically high statistical standards. And let us hear no more of the ill-defined, euphemistic “ethnic cleansing”: these people—overwhelmingly the African tribal peoples of Darfur—haven’t been “cleansed” from their lands and livelihood. They’ve been, or will be, destroyed directly and by the “deliberate inflicting of conditions calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part” (paraphrase of 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2, clause [c]).
The time for blunt truths is in fact long overdue. Natsios gives us a more current sense of the dimensions of the catastrophe, but it has been apparent for months that more than 100,000 would perish in Darfur. Indeed, epidemiological, mortality, and other data from various humanitarian and research sources suggest that a range of 40,000 to 60,000 casualties to date is conservative. These same data suggest that people, primarily children, are already dying at a rate of over 2,000 per week—a great many because of Khartoum’s continued resourcefulness in denying humanitarian access to the most distressed populations.
[A digest of epidemiological and mortality data, camp populations, foodstock and medical supply figures, and other data relevant to assessment of current casualty figures and mortality rates will be forthcoming from this source.]
Such terrifying mortality rates and predictions should hardly be surprising in the context of other data that has grown steadily, with occasional surges. The number of people internally displaced in Darfur has risen to well over 1 million, and the number of refugees in Chad to approximately 200,000. A sharp increase was recently registered in the number of war-affected persons in Darfur: the UN estimate rose from 1.1 million to 2 million between the April 2004 and May 2004 assessments. The populations in the concentration camps continue to swell, even as there is not nearly enough food, medicine, shelter material, or humanitarian access. Child mortality rates are several times the “catastrophic” rate in a number of camps.
Doctors Without Borders/Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF) found in a recent survey (“On the Brink of Mass Starvation in Darfur”) extraordinarily ominous malnutrition rates:
“Doctors Without Borders/Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF). A recent nutritional survey shows dangerously high levels of malnutrition and mortality and a rapidly deteriorating food security situation. With already high levels of excess deaths and malnutrition, the whole population is teetering on the verge of mass starvation.” (“On the Brink of Mass Starvation in Darfur” [New York], May 20, 2004]
With the onset of seasonal rains, the complete lack of sanitary facilities will begin to exact a terrible toll in disease, especially water-borne diseases such as cholera. People presently forced to live in their own excrement, as is the case in many camps, will be extraordinarily vulnerable. An exploding mosquito population ensures that many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people will die of malaria. The extreme levels of malnutrition already being reported by Doctors Without Borders/Mdecins Sans Frontires and others will also produce a rapidly accelerating death rate from disease, especially among children.
But though Darfur is without question the most urgent humanitarian crisis in the world today, we must not forget—as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both reminded us again today—that the cause of this crisis is the massive, systematic campaign of human rights abuses by Khartoum and its militia allies, abuses that in aggregate comprise what can only be described as genocide.
This is the regime which is presently being “urged,” “demanded,” “called on” to respond to the very humanitarian crisis it has deliberately engineered. This is the same regime that last week signed a peace agreement with the SPLM/A in Naivasha, and this week attacked and captured the strategic town of Akobo in Eastern Upper Nile, with further reports of substantial military attacks, by Khartoum’s regular military forces, on Nimne and elsewhere. This is the regime that is still severely restricting humanitarian access, and recently imposed new restrictions on the movement of supplies and personnel.
In short, this is a regime that simply will not change—certainly not in a fashion that will permit adequate and timely movement of the humanitarian supplies and personnel necessary to save hundreds of thousands of lives.
The UN Security Council must either produce a resolution in the next week that demands full, unfettered humanitarian access—with the clear threat of militarily securing such access if necessary—or it falls to the rest of the international community to make immediate plans to secure the rail line from Port Sudan to Darfur for exclusively humanitarian purposes, and to secure other essential transport assets and routes. With hundreds of thousands of lives at acute risk, there can be no further dilatory negotiations with this brutal, genocidal regime.
All necessary force must be brought to bear under the international “responsibility to protect” principles recently articulated by Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group (see commentary at http://www.iht.com/articles/520009.html). This includes sufficient military force not only to secure the rail line and other transport infrastructure deemed essential for emergency humanitarian relief, but also to free and protect the civilian populations within Darfur, especially in those concentration camps to which there is presently no humanitarian access.
There will be many, such as UK special Sudan envoy Alan Goulty, who will argue against such intervention, declaring that it “would be very expensive, fraught with difficulties and hard to set up in a hurry” (The Telegraph [UK], May 31, 2004). And these voices will almost certainly carry the day—first in the UN (ironically, the UK today introduced in the UN a measure for peace support planning…in southern Sudan only), and subsequently as other nations diffidently contemplate mounting a non-UN intervention in Darfur.
For despite the many pieties about Rwanda in recent weeks, and the lessons putatively learned, or not learned; despite the ever more hollow cry of “never again!”; despite the clear obligations of members of the international community that are “contracting parties” to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide—despite all this, acquiescence continues to appear the most likely outcome in the face of genocide in Darfur.
There will be efforts by many to increase humanitarian assistance by whatever limited means are available. Often this will entail making terribly expedient deals with Khartoum, humanitarian organizations trading out truth for access. We will see some high-profile air drops of food—absurdly inadequate to the humanitarian tasks presented by 2 million war-affected people, in an area the size of France, with no prospect for agricultural self-sufficiency for over a year. We will see some saved. But faced with the question of whether we are prepared to use military force to protect a humanitarian intervention that might save hundreds of thousands of lives, we will hear all too many predictable reprises of Mr. Goulty’s “expensive, fraught with difficulties and hard to set up in a hurry.”
If these reasons prevail, if urgent planning for humanitarian intervention—inside and outside the UN—does not begin immediately, it will not be because we don’t know the consequences. Andrew Natsios of US AID has today given us a terrifying sense of scale, based on the most recent data available from Darfur.
It won’t be because we don’t know the consequences of acting, or not acting; failure to intervene will derive from utter, abysmal moral failure.
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