March 7, 2004
Following an unprecedented trip to Khartoum, including a meeting with National Islamic Front President Omer Beshir, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, has declared that “under present constraints,” the ICRC is “not in a position to carry out meaningful humanitarian operations” in Darfur (Press Release [Geneva], International Committee of the Red Cross, March 6, 2004). The organization that is the very embodiment of international neutrality and integrity in humanitarian aid delivery has joined the exceedingly long list of humanitarian actors decrying Khartoum’s continuing denial of humanitarian access, its purposeful refusal to grant travel permits, and its failure to halt the military actions that make humanitarian aid delivery so woefully inadequate to the present crisis.
How long will the international community allow Khartoum to make it impossible for humanitarian organizations to gain access to Darfur? How long will the more than 700,000 internally displaced persons and the 3 million people now classified as “war-affected” by the UN remain at the mercy of Khartoum’s brutal war against the African peoples of Darfur? Extreme food insecurity, the absence of emergency medical treatment, and the effects of extended exposure will soon be taking an even greater toll than at present. Even so, Doctors Without Borders has already reported “catastrophic mortality rates” in Darfur (Press Release [New York], February 17, 2004). Research from Sudan Focal Point (South Africa) indicates that the casualty figure for Darfur is already likely in excess of 30,000: how much higher must that figure go before civilian destruction is judged intolerable? 50,000? 100,000? 200,000? 1,000,000?
Such numbers suggest an inhuman statistical madness, matched only by the current moral delirium that has evidently determined the international community on a course of acquiescence. There is no planning for humanitarian intervention, even as it daily becomes clearer that short of such intervention, many tens of thousands of innocent human beings will die. More and more children, women, and men will die the gruesome deaths that come with starvation, exposure, and uncontrolled disease in weakened and debilitated populations. This is in the near future.
To this point most casualties have come directly at the hands of Khartoum’s military and its Arab militia allies (the “janjaweed”). Excerpts from a very recent UN “Situation Report on Darfur” (March 4, 2004) give some sense of how continuous is the violence by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces against civilians:
“UN security assessed Tawilla town [North Darfur] on 3 March after attacks on the town by militias on 27 February. The remaining residents of the town gave a devastating account of a well-organised attack, including gang rapes and kidnapping of school children. [The UN assessment team] found about 100 people left in the town. Many more are believed to be living in the wadi and other surrounding areas. The remaining residents of Tawilla described the attack as a well-organized attack by horsemen and military.”
“Approximately 5,500 [internally displaced persons] which fled the Tawilla Attack are now registered in El Fasher. They are concentrated around the Meshtel area near El Fasher airport.”
“[Reports received] indicate that military and Jenjaweed militia activity is increasing in South Darfur. Villages are being burned, livestock and possessions looted and villages driven into concentration points. There have been disturbing reports of women and girls being branded on the hand by the militia after being raped.”
“A Jenjaweed attack on villages between 10-15 kms of Nyala was reported on 2 March—15 people were reported killed and the 30 injured were transported to the Nyala Hospital for treatment. The International Committee of the Red Cross claims it was not granted permission to enter the hospital to interview the victims.”
“The inter-agency assessment team in Zalengi reports that [internally displaced persons] in Deleij are from the surrounding 55 villages, 30 of which were recently burned or damaged. Four villages around Deleij were burned on 3 March, fleeing villagers were looted of their cattles, two people were killed while others are in hiding.”
(all excerpts from the UN “Situation Report on Darfur,” March 4, 2004)
Murders, gang rapes, the branding of raped women (a terribly cruel and destructive act in Darfur cultures), the abduction of children, the displacing of noncombatant civilians, the burning of villages and crops—all emphatically in the present tense, indeed increasing in intensity in many places. By continuing to arm, supply, direct, and incite the janjaweed militias, Khartoum is simultaneously destroying the African populations of Darfur even as it is denying travel permits and creating security conditions that make it impossible for humanitarian aid to reach the vast majority of those most desperately in need.
Ominously, present humanitarian access continues to be primarily to civilians in “concentration camps”—camps located near the larger towns (such as El Fasher) under Khartoum’s military control (though often in circumstances extremely dangerous for civilians). In large measure by design, these camps have forced people from their land, crops, and cattle, and made them dependent upon what international humanitarian aid reaches them—all to ensure that they cannot aid in any fashion the ongoing military insurgency. Khartoum’s denial of access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, as it attempted to interview civilians in the Nyala Hospital, is in itself a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and no doubt was part of what led the ICRC to declare it is “not in a position to carry out meaningful humanitarian operations” in Darfur. It is obvious Khartoum did not want the ICRC to hear what the wounded civilians in the hospital had to say about how they received their injuries.
There can be no doubt about the Khartoum’s ongoing military campaign in Darfur or the scale of the human catastrophe it has occasioned—only a sickening certainty that the international community remains irresolute in the face of this catastrophe. The language of various international actors may have become more urgent, but this has been accompanied by nothing that actually moves a humanitarian response beyond what the Khartoum regime will permit. This, then, forces a question that is nowhere being articulated: if Europe and the US could justify a cross-border humanitarian operation in Kosovo—entailing massive military action—in order to avert civilian slaughter of Europeans, why is there is no comparable effort to avert the slaughter of African civilians?
The military requirements for securing a humanitarian intervention into Darfur from Chad would be minimal compared with those for Kosovo. There would be no need for high-tech, stand-off bombing missions, no need for a massing of ground troops—no more would be required than to secure the safety of humanitarian road corridors, critical air strips, and humanitarian operations themselves. The janjaweed militia, so bold in attacking civilians, would scatter before any professional military presence of the sort that was abundantly available in Kosovo. Khartoum’s regular military forces, ill-trained and poorly motivated—and without militarily threatening aircraft or ground vehicles—would also not present a serious obstacle to securing those sites necessary for an immediate and highly consequential increase in humanitarian access. This would be, in short, a true humanitarian intervention, with military operations serving only as a guarantee of safety for humanitarian aid workers.
But all evidence suggests that such intervention is neither being planned nor contemplated. The essential first step, France’s securing of permission from Chad for operations, has not been taken and diplomatic sources have confirmed that France has no intention of taking such decisive action. Rather, in concert with the European Union, France will attempt to convene—in Chad—negotiations between Khartoum and the two insurgency groups in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. Earlier Chadian auspices for peace talks between Khartoum and the insurgency groups have already proved disastrously ineffectual; there is little reason to assume that more will come from new talks under such auspices, even if augmented by a fuller international “presence.”
Moreover, we must recall that in early February Khartoum was in fact offered meaningful auspices for the negotiation of humanitarian issues, by the distinguished Henry Dunant Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (Geneva); the regime refused to attend, even as the insurgency groups agreed. Similarly, a senior official at the US Agency for International Development announced last week that an American offer to mediate a humanitarian cease-fire had been rejected by Khartoum after agreement had been secured from all the relevant groups in Darfur.
Many months into vast human destruction and displacement—characterized ever more insistently as “ethnic cleansing” by various UN officials, diplomats, the US Agency for International Development, and others—nothing is being done that holds real promise for reversing the accelerating slide into utter catastrophe. We must hear again the voice of the African tribal leader who declared to the UN’s Regional Information Networks in early December of 2003:
“‘I believe this is an elimination of the black race,’ one tribal leader told IRIN” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, al-Geneina [Darfur], December 11, 2003)
The genocide so explicitly invoked here has only accelerated. But those enduring this horrific fate are cursed with the burden of being remote, African, and geopolitically inconsequential. Their fate may well have been sealed.
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