April 28, 2004
In ways painfully predictable, Khartoum is now obstructing the movements within Darfur of the UN human rights investigative team that arrived in the region several days ago. Extremely reliable sources from within Darfur, with indisputable intelligence concerning the movements of the team, confirm that travel is being restricted to the major urban areas where there is already an international humanitarian presence. These are the areas where Khartoum most fully controls evidence and can most easily intimidate potential witnesses. These are thus the areas where the team is least likely to be able to investigate the most serious allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Khartoum clearly intends to restrict the movements of the investigative team so that it will never see the most notorious of the sites of human rights abuses. Citing contrived “security reasons” (this despite a supposed cease-fire), Khartoum has already told the team that it cannot travel to Jebel Marra, Zalingei, Shattaya, Korma, Tawila, or Garseila—or indeed any other significant site in the Wadi Salih area of West Darfur.
The Wadi Salih region is an area south of Zalingei in West Darfur. Some of the worst atrocities, in a war marked by extraordinary human rights abuses, have been authoritatively reported as occurring in this region. Human Rights Watch recently reported, for example, citing a surviving witness:
“In a joint operation in the Darfur region of Sudan, [Khartoum] government troops working with Arab militias detained 136 African men whom the militias massacred hours later. [ ] The 136 men, all members of the Fur ethnic group aged between 20 and 60, were rounded up in early March in two separate sweeps in the Garsila and Mugjir areas in Wadi Saleh. They were then taken in army lorries to nearby valleys where they were made to kneel before being killed with a bullet in the back of the neck.” (Human Rights Watch, April 23, 2004)
But Khartoum is presently preventing the UN team from traveling to this area precisely because it presents the regime with the most difficult challenges in obscuring evidence of such atrocities (such efforts at obscuring evidence are continuing at a furious pace, using very substantial military transport assets). Even so, the regime will attempt to claim full credit for allowing access to the UN team, despite restricting movement to urban areas (Nyala, al-Fashir, al-Geneina, Kutum). And even here, authoritative intelligence from Darfur makes clear that Khartoum is violently intimidating witnesses and preventing them from talking with the UN team. These include witnesses who can direct the team to the precise location of atrocities.
Such difficulties highlight the severe constraints upon the present UN mission and the urgent need for the team to be substantially augmented, both in personnel (especially Arabic translators not affiliated with the Khartoum regime or at risk of reprisal with the departure of the team), and in transport capacity. This expanded team must be in no way dependent upon Khartoum’s determination of what constitutes a “security risk,” and must be able to travel wherever and whenever it wishes. For it is obvious that with the present UN mission, Khartoum will—having determined upon a time limit for the investigation—simply run out the clock. Travel to areas too revealing will become increasingly inaccessible for reasons of “security,” or “transportation problems,” or “communications difficulties.”
In such brazen obstructionism, Khartoum has been amply encouraged by the international community. Indeed, this is the real price of the shameful deal cut in Geneva last week, in which the UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) agreed to suppress an already completed UN human rights investigative report. In return for this contemptible expediency, the UN team was given “access” to Darfur. (The team had previously been forced to remain on the Chad/Sudan border from April 5 to April 15, 2004—interviewing refugees, but refused entry into Darfur by Khartoum.) But expediently securing access for this team entailed not only suppressing its completed report but misrepresenting its findings as mere “allegations.” With such behavior in evidence, it is hardly surprising that Khartoum believes it can manage the presence of the UN team while it is in Darfur.
Even so, the 13-page human rights report assembled is a devastating indictment of Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia allies. It concludes by declaring that there is a “reign of terror in Darfur,” and that the team had found “disturbing patterns of massive human rights violations in Darfur, many of which may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.”
But for these conclusions to be developed further there must be unfettered access, including to areas where the most recent atrocities are being reported. For example, in a press release of April 27, 2004 the Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT) reports:
“On 17 April 2004, the armed forces and Janjaweed (Arab militias) attacked Hillat Ibraheam village near Kassar Bouram, 10 kilometres south of Nyala and also attacked Abu Ajoura village, 35 kilometres, south west of Nyala. Forty five (45) civilians were allegedly killed and three hundred and twelve (312) houses were burnt. The names of the persons that have been killed in Abu Ajoura are as follows [45 full names follow]” (SOAT Press Release, April 27, 2004)
The UN team must immediately investigate these highly credible, highly specific allegations of attacks—attacks which are flagrant violations of the April 8, 2004 cease-fire agreement and various provisions of international law and the Geneva Conventions.
There is other evidence as well that the cease-fire is not holding; the UN News Center yesterday reported on the continued movement of Darfur refugees into Chad, strong evidence that the fighting has not ended.
“A team from the United Nations refugee agency has arrived in a Chadian border town to verify reports that 200 to 300 Sudanese refugees have been crossing weekly from the Darfur region into Chad since the beginning of April, an agency spokesman said today. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman, Ron Redmond, said in Geneva that new refugees in the town of Bahai, joining the 7,000 already registered there.”
(UN News Center, April 27 2004)
The role of Khartoum in the cease-fire violations is a function of its direct support for and coordination with the Janjaweed militias. In an interview yesterday, US Agency For International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios remarked, when pressed on the nature of this connection:
“Natsios explained that he had received information from certain members of the [Sudanese] government that they had armed the militias, that there were hawks in the government that did this. ‘More importantly, we have the U.N. report that said that a Sudanese general is actually commanding the militias, and that logistics and communications support is being provided by the government.'” (Washington File [US State Department] April 27, 2004)
Natsios also said that “the United States had credible information that atrocities were still being committed by government-backed militias in Darfur despite the ceasefire reached earlier this month in neighboring Chad.” (Agence France-Presse, April 27, 2004)
Natsios went on yesterday to highlight Khartoum’s continuing, deliberate interference with humanitarian access:
“Khartoum has refused to grant visas to 28 special US Agency for International Development disaster specialists who are ready to travel to Darfur to set up logistics for the delivery of 80 million tonnes of US food aid as well as medicine and temporary housing supplies that are either en route to Sudan or have arrived in the region’s three main cities but await distribution.” (Agence France-Presse, April 27, 2004)
The Washington File also reported on Natsios’ remarks concerning access for humanitarian officials:
“U.S. relief personnel ‘cannot get visas to get into the country,’ Natsios said, because the Sudanese embassy in Washington and the country’s foreign ministry will not grant the visas. ‘Close to a million refugees are being deprived of vital supplies,’ he said. ‘Food is running out, disease is rampant in camps. It is critical now because the rainy season is arriving. It has become the worst humanitarian crisis to date.'” (The Washington File [US State Department], April 27, 2004)
The reasons for Khartoum’s denials were also addressed by Natsios:
“He accused the Sudanese government of holding up a ‘massive relief effort’ being prepared by the United States, the United Nations and international aid agencies by intentionally blocking access to Darfur and suggested Khartoum might be doing so in a bid to cover up widespread human rights abuses, including ethnic cleansing and systematic rape. ‘Human rights organizations are telling us that the government is in the villages attempting to move mass graves, attempting to disguise some of the events that took place in the last six months,’ Natsios said.” (Agence France-Presse, April 27, 2004)
Here the nexus between human rights issues and humanitarian issues becomes fully clear: Khartoum is intent on blocking true access to the UN human rights investigative team, even as it is just as intent on blocking access to humanitarian workers who might report what they see.
Khartoum’s adamant refusal to respond to the vast humanitarian crisis in Darfur, or to the military situation on the ground, suggests yet again how much resolve the international community must demonstrate if there is to be any progress in averting the “catastrophe” that Natsios explicitly invokes for this coming fall. A recent editorial in the regime-controlled newspaper “Al Anbaa” (April 26, 2004) suggests just how shameless the regime has become in justifying its denial of access, ludicrously on this occasion accusing the US Agency for International Development of ferrying arms and supplies to the Darfur insurgency groups instead of the specified food and medicine.
This characteristic mendacity is also reflected in Khartoum’s claim that total casualties in Darfur are fewer than 1000 over fifteen months of war:
“‘I would like to assure you that all those who have been killed in Darfur from the militia, from the rebels, from the government soldiers, from civilians who’ve been caught in fighting—it will not reach one thousand, [said National Islamic Front Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail]”
(Voice of America, April 28, 2004)
US Agency for International Development (US AID) mortality projections suggest that by next December, more than 2000 people will die every day from starvation (see data at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf).
Such horrific projections are not difficult to understand if we realize that of the more than 1 million people that have been uprooted by war in Darfur, more than 75% of this population is still outside relief camps and thus without any humanitarian access (Voice of America, April 28, 2004). US AID projections currently assume a vulnerable population of 1.2 million, but this number continues to rise. With the onset of the rainy season (rains have already begun in places), this immense population will be extremely vulnerable and beyond reach via overland corridors. Privately, some aid organizations are telling this writer that it is already too late—that not nearly enough food has been pre-positioned, and that transport efforts and funding appeals are now simply too late.
Here we must keep relentlessly in mind that the engine for this vast humanitarian crisis, and the impending massive human destruction from disease and starvation, is Khartoum’s genocidal conduct of war in Darfur. The regime and its Janjaweed militia allies have has not only brutally slaughtered thousands of African civilians, they have systematically and “deliberately inflicted on the African peoples of Darfur conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part.” This is precisely what clause [c] of Article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention specifies as genocidal actions. Displacement by means of murder, torture, rape, aerial bombardment, the burning of thousands of villages and their foodstocks, the dynamiting or poisoning of critical water sources, the destruction of seeds, agricultural implements, and livestock is, in the context of Darfur, genocide.
Does this matter? Does this matter sufficiently? Does this matter enough that the international community will take the necessary steps to mount the humanitarian intervention that is now clearly morally imperative?
At last week’s annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony in the Rotunda of the US Capitol, Ruth Mandel, a senior member of the governing board of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, joined the growing number of voices drawing explicit connection between the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the terrible realities of Darfur in the present moment:
“Today the poverty of imagination is no excuse for indifference. Today humanity knows about genocide—we know what it means; we know where responsibility lies.”
“Raphael Lemkin hoped that by naming this crime, it could be prevented. But this is also the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide; and today we see the horrific events unfolding in the Darfur region of Sudan where the U.S. government estimates that as many as 100,000 may die in the coming months. Humanity’s responsibility to prevent and stop genocide has still not been met, the lessons of the Holocaust still not fully learned.”
Too true—too disgracefully true.
Northampton, MA 01063