May 25, 2005
For months the prospect of an imminent peace agreement between Khartoum’s National Islamic Front and the southern opposition (the SPLM/A) has muted international criticism of the regime’s genocidal war in another arena, the far western province of Darfur. This has worked to limit the world’s understanding of the scale of catastrophe in Darfur. But as Darfur’s genocide has finally begun to come into view (despite Khartoum’s contrivances and obstructionism), this has in turn had the perverse effect of obscuring the intense human destruction and displacement that have recently accelerated in southern Sudan, and the Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile Province in particular.
Yet again, Khartoum has counted on the expediency of an international community seeking to consummate peace negotiations in Naivasha (Kenya) at all costs and, in the process, ignoring all that might roil the diplomatic waters. In banking on this ongoing expediency, the National Islamic Front regime has been richly rewarded. For despite the terrible reports from the Shilluk Kingdom (a large area north of the town of Malakal in Upper Nile Province), there has been virtually no international news coverage—only reports from Sudan Focal Point (South Africa), the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, Catholic Information Service for Africa, and a very few other regional sources.
But the picture in aggregate should be extremely disturbing to those seeking to assess Khartoum’s willingness to make a genuine peace on the eve of what does finally appear to be a signing ceremony (tentatively scheduled for May 26, 2004, according to wire reports citing the Kenyan foreign ministry).
Catholic Information Services for Africa reports from Nairobi:
“[General Secretary of All African Conference Churches (AACC) Rev Dr Mvume] Dandala, who had returned from a tour of Sudan, revealed that government backed militias were raiding villages in the Upper Nile around Malakal with equal zeal as that of Darfur.”
“‘Within the last four days, homes of an estimated 23,000 villagers have been razed in the Upper Nile, and more militias are now moving to Northern part of the Upper Nile.’ The church leader said the situation in Darfur together with the Upper Nile was a genocide in the making and resembled Rwanda ten years ago when the world merely watched as tragic events took place.”
(Catholic Information Service for Africa [Nairobi], May 21, 2004)
The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks also reports:
“The All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) called on Thursday for an investigation into what it said were ‘reports of crimes against humanity’ in southern Sudan’s Upper Nile state. It said attacks by armed militias had led to the displacement of 150,000 people.”
“‘While the graphic media reports have caused all of us, the world over, to focus attention primarily on the Darfur, we were informed that militias are raiding villages in the Upper Nile around Malakal with equal zeal as that of Darfur,’ AACC General Secretary Rev Dr Mvume Dandala told a news conference in Nairobi.”
“Mvume led a team of AACC officials who visited Sudan last week. ‘The AACC believes there are strong grounds for investigating and monitoring reports of crimes against humanity in Sudan,’ he said.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 20, 2004)
“Since early March, between 50,000 and 150,000 people have been displaced by a series of militia attacks in the Upper Nile area known as the Shilluk Kingdom. Most of the displaced have moved to government garrison towns, the Nuba mountains, the Panaru area, a group of islands in the swampy area between the White Nile and Lol rivers, and northern Sudan. With sketchy information from the area and few humanitarian actors on the ground, the numbers and whereabouts of the displaced remain uncertain.”
“Three international NGOs—Tearfund, VSF-Germany and World Vision—and the UN (except for the garrison town of Malakal) have had to pull out of the area.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 20, 2004)
Sudan Focal Point (South Africa) confirms these findings, reporting that 120,000 people have been displaced from their homes on the west bank of the Nile. Military operations, directed against the civilian population, have been undertaken by militia forces controlled and supported by Khartoum and its regular armed forces (Sudan Focal Point, April 2004).
Many of the civilians displaced have moved into Malakal, and this has overwhelmed the town’s capacity for humanitarian response. The larger situation in this part of Upper Nile is, without substantial intervention, clearly yet another immense humanitarian crisis in the making. Khartoum’s military activities in creating this crisis are all, of course, clearly in violation of the October 15, 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement with the SPLM/A, as well as the February 4, 2003 addendum to the October 15, 2004 agreement. Khartoum’s signatures on these two agreements—both hailed at the time by the international communities—have proved worthless.
The question this forces is why we should expect anything different in Naivasha. The answer is that we shouldn’t, at least in the absence of very substantial emergency transitional aid, from European and North American donors, and full humanitarian access to all regions of southern Sudan. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks has noted, for example, reports that more than 100,000 Internally Displaced Persons returned to Bahr el-Ghazal between January and March of 2004, in anticipation of a peace agreement (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 14, 2004). Conclusion of a peace agreement will see perhaps 1 million more people return to southern Sudan in the first year, overwhelming present capacity, already stretched very thin and without access to many parts of the south.
A peace agreement will also be meaningless without a robust international peace support operation of a sort not nearly ready to be deployed. Such a force—with adequate manpower, transport capacity, communications gear, security arrangements, and knowledgeable personnel—is nowhere in evidence. Khartoum is well aware of this lack of preparedness, and is likely to use it to military advantage in the ways we have seen in recent months in Upper Nile (including also the Akobo area of Eastern Upper Nile, where civilians have also been attacked by Khartoum-backed militias; Agence France-Presse, May 11, 2004).
Moreover, even if there is a signing this Wednesday, it will be of specific protocols—on power-sharing, the contested area of Abyei, and another on the contested areas of the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. [See Agence France-Presse, May 24, 2004] These protocols will then have to be combined with previous protocols (including wealth-sharing and security arrangements) to produce a final agreement. And this will then be followed by the negotiation of a comprehensive cease-fire and so-called “modalities of implementation”—the fine-grained details of how the peace will actually begin.
This provides a great deal of scope for Khartoum to stall, renege, and continue with its present policies of civilian destruction. Khartoum will also be afforded opportunity to continue with specific projects of Islamicizing and Arabizing parts of the south, in effect “annexing” them to northern Sudan. Malakal is the clearest example, but there are others (Sudan Focal Point, April 2004). Here we should also bear in mind the reports that were finally forced from the largely ineffectual Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) in southern Sudan in late March 2004. Khartoum’s brutally orchestrated destruction in the Shilluk Kingdom was described in the following terms:
“A CPMT member with 18 months of CPMT field investigative experience described [Khartoum’s military offensive] as the worst systematic destruction/displacement of civilians he has personally observed since the formation of the CPMT in August 2002.”
“A second CPMT member with over 8 years of Sudan experience and 16 months with CPMT described the Government of Sudan offensive in the Malakal area as reminiscent of the devastating ‘clearing’ of the oil region in the Western Upper Nile in the late 1990s.”
(Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 2; March 31, 2004)
This was occurring even as various officials of the Khartoum regime were declaring that a peace agreement was imminent, as these same officials have for months. Indeed, it may be instructive to look back at earlier comments, now months ago, by National Islamic Front leaders:
“Next week could see the signing of a final agreement on the questions of sharing of power, sharing of resources and the three contested areas,’ [NIF President Omer] Beshir was quoted as saying.” (Agence France-Presse, December 30, 2003 [Khartoum])
Mustafa Ismail, NIF foreign minister, declared in Cairo in mid-January:
“‘I am optimistic that in a short while we will manage to sign the peace accord,’ he said, adding the time-frame proposed up until now was the end of January. ‘We are continuing to hope (to be able to respect the deadline), but in my opinion, even if we exceed this date, it will not take much time’ to conclude a settlement, the minister said. ‘I’m not speaking of months, but perhaps weeks.'” (Agence France-Presse, January 13, 2004 [Cairo])
Dozens of examples of such disingenuousness and outright prevarication could be adduced.
Moreover, we must keep clearly in mind that a peace signing in Naivasha won’t do anything to end the conflict in Darfur. Indeed, we may expect Khartoum to trumpet the Naivasha agreement as a sign of its “peaceful ways.” Coupled with what International Crisis Group has rightly described as Khartoum’s “cynically late” promises of humanitarian access to Darfur, the regime will yet again go on the “charm offensive” (see International Crisis Group, “Sudan: Now or Never in Darfur,” May 23, 2004). And the first response of many in the international community to Khartoum’s mere promise of expedited access—access that comes much too late for many tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of civilians—is all too predictably ebulliently optimistic.
[The International Crisis Group declared in a May 16, 2004 release (“End the slaughter and starvation in western Sudan”) that, “in the best-case scenario, ‘only’ 100,000 people are expected to die in Darfur from disease and malnutrition in the coming months; sadly, there is little reason for even this desperate optimism.”]
For what is being welcomed are merely words from Khartoum, but words that have the effect of removing the immediate pressure on the UN and others to act in some truly effective manner—and to confront the urgent need for humanitarian intervention. The UN, despite strong language in some quarters, has been all too clearly averse to criticizing Khartoum with appropriate vigor for its massive, systematic obstruction of humanitarian access over many months.
The enthusiastic response that has greeted Khartoum’s promise of improved humanitarian access—“systematically” denied for months, according to a senior UN official and others—is not only expedient, it is appallingly callous. For the humanitarian crisis has now clearly grown to proportions that cannot possibly be dealt with simply because Khartoum may, and only may, partially ease visa and travel restrictions for a period of time. We have only to survey recent humanitarian assessments to see how relentlessly Darfur slides toward utter catastrophe.
A recent press release on Darfur from Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (May 20, 2004) reports:
“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.”
“The nutritional study was conducted among 921 children and their caregivers in five locations—Garsila, Mukjar, Bindissi, Deleij, and Um Kher—where nearly 150,000 displaced people have sought refuge from extreme violence. The study revealed that global acute malnutrition affects 21.5% of the population while 3.2% suffer from severe acute malnutrition. The mortality rate for children under five years of age is 5.2 deaths per 10,000 people per day while the rate for those over five years of age is 3.6 deaths per 10,000 people per day. Both rates are more than double the emergency thresholds.”
(Press Release, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres; May 20, 2004)
MSF also reports:
“In addition to the scale of the current crisis, the nutritional study indicates how the situation is set to further deteriorate unless urgent action is taken. Water systems, crops and livestock were looted or destroyed during attacks on villages. People have not been able to plant and no harvest is expected this year. The whole population faces food shortages and is in danger of starvation in the very near future unless substantial food distributions can be organized. As people are weakened by hunger, they will only become more vulnerable to disease. Threats of malaria and diarrheal diseases will only increase with the onset of the rainy season, and the death and suffering could escalate to catastrophic proportions.”
“Despite promises by the Sudanese government to expedite the provision of assistance, bureaucratic barriers placed in front of aid agencies significantly inhibit immediate action. The government has also not taken action to stop the violence against civilians. The aid community and the United Nations have so far failed to be present and provide adequate levels of desperately needed food, water and shelter.”
(Press Release, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres; May 20, 2004)
Moreover, the humanitarian crisis in Chad—growing out of the huge stream of refugees driven by Khartoum and its militia proxies from Darfur—also continues to expand. A spokeswoman for the UN World Food Program recently indicated that the organization was bringing its estimate of refugees in line with that of Refugees International, viz. a figure of approximately 200,000 rather than the stale figure of 110,000 that has been cited for months (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 21, 2004). And as fighting continues, as attacks by Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia continue, so too does the refugee flow into Chad.
For its part, the UN High Commission for Refugees has performed very poorly in responding to this crisis, and there will soon be no way to move these people away from the highly insecure border area—or to provide them with overland humanitarian aid delivery, once the east/west roads are fully closed by seasonal rains.
The US Agency for International Development (US AID) finds in its May 21, 2004 update (“Darfur: Humanitarian Emergency”) that:
“reports from the field indicate that [Government of Sudan] military and opposition forces are still active throughout the three states of Darfur. Relief agencies report that [Government of Sudan]-supported Jingaweit militias have increased attacks against civilians, resulting in increasing numbers of Internally Displaced Persons.” (US AID: “Darfur: Humanitarian Emergency,” Fact Sheet, May 21, 2004)
In an extremely ominous development, confirmed by humanitarian sources on the ground in Chad directly to this writer, US AID reports that:
“the Sudanese border with Chad north of [al-]Geneina has become increasingly unstable. International media sources and other field reports indicate concentrations of Jingaweit and regular [Government of Sudan] forces, including military helicopters, in the areas. Reports also indicate that Chadian forces have mobilized along the Chad side of the border. Due to escalating insecurity, many humanitarian organizations in eastern Chad have moved personnel away from the 600km border.”
(US AID: “Darfur: Humanitarian Emergency,” Fact Sheet, May 21, 2004)
Khartoum is not only precipitating a dangerous international confrontation, its bellicose actions on the Chad/Sudan border are deeply exacerbating the humanitarian crisis that it has exported to its neighbor. This is hardly a regime to be congratulated on promising, and only promising, to expedite travel for the humanitarian personnel who have deliberately, unconscionably been impeded for months.
And in Darfur itself the catastrophe only deepens. The UN now estimates that there are over 1 million people internally displaced in Darfur, and that the “war-affected” population has climbed precipitously to 2 million (it was 1.1 million in the UN’s April assessment). The International Crisis Group (ICG) declared urgently on May 23, 2004 that, “what UN officials have already called the worst humanitarian situation in the world today could claim an additional 350,000 [lives] in the next nine months, mainly from starvation and disease. Many more will die if the direct killing is not stopped” (International Crisis Group, “Sudan: Now or Never in Darfur,” May 23, 2004).
ICG noted by way of introduction that,
“a month after the international community solemnly marked the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide in April 2004 with promises of ‘never again,’ it faces a man-made humanitarian catastrophe in western Sudan (Darfur) that can easily become as deadly. It is too late to prevent substantial ethnic cleansing, but if the UN Security Council acts decisively–including by preparing to authorize the use of force as a last resort—there is just enough time to save hundreds of thousands of lives directly threatened by Sudanese troops and militias and by looming famine.”
(International Crisis Group, “Sudan: Now or Never in Darfur,” May 23, 2004)
Most significantly, ICG has begun to talk seriously about the requirements of humanitarian intervention:
“To move large amounts of food and medicine, the international community needs either to get unimpeded and monitored access via the rail line, identify new cross border routes from neighbouring countries or SPLA-controlled territory, or create—and be prepared to protect—a major humanitarian air lift. And none of this will matter unless there are guaranteed safe concentration points for the Internally Displaced Persons—including from government air strikes and Janjaweed attacks—on the ground.”
(International Crisis Group, “Sudan: Now or Never in Darfur,” May 23, 2004)
There is no comprehensive plan for adequate humanitarian relief in Darfur, or for the protection of the approximately 1 million civilians now forced into concentration camps characterized by appalling conditions and soon to be sites for massive outbreaks of disease; starvation among these badly weakened populations has also begun. The UN daily bears greater responsibility for failing to confront these realities and act on them with vigor and sustained commitment, as well as close coordination with non-UN humanitarian efforts.
Despite Khartoum’s recent announcement, humanitarian access continues to be severely impeded. This duplicitous regime must not be allowed to delay access further and this requires immediate planning for robust humanitarian intervention. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) must move from their present acquiescent posture and begin to plan for such intervention. The UN Security Council must either move rapidly to endorse such intervention or it will be as complicit in the genocidal destruction of hundreds of thousands of Africans as was the UN Security Council of April 1994.
In the largest sense, the problem throughout Sudan remains what it has been since the National Islamic Front seized power in a military coup fifteen years ago (June 30, 1989), deposing a deeply flawed but elected government—and thereby deliberately aborting a nascent but promising peace process with southern Sudan. For this military coup installed a vicious, ruthlessly survivalist regime, one animated by racism and a brutal project of Islamicizing and Arabizing as much of this part of the world as possible.
The regime has never been forcefully confronted by the international community as a whole, and has as a consequence acted with a sense of brazen impunity. Now flush with petrodollars pumped from oil concessions in southern Sudan, Khartoum has the economic power—despite its massive external debt—to buy protection in the form of commercial contracts, many with European countries that refuse to criticize the regime’s worst offenses. Khartoum has also been able to wield its oil wealth and oil prospects in whatever fashion is most likely to secure international protection.
The regime has also assiduously cultivated relations with both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Countries, and the continuing support of both these international organizations only emboldens Khartoum in its most savage internal policies of civilian destruction. (See editorial critical of Arab League acquiescence in the destruction of Darfur: Daily Star [Lebanon], May 25, 2004.)
The regime must either be confronted with the clear prospect of concerted international action, both in enforcing the terms of agreement in Naivasha and in securing fully adequate humanitarian relief in Darfur (including an overland route from Port Sudan), or it will behave as it has for years—lying, reneging, dissimulating…and killing the African peoples of Sudan in vast numbers.
The genocidaires in Khartoum cannot be reformed; they cannot be made citizens of the international community; they must be confronted, denied further genocidal opportunities, and face sweeping sanctions unless they allow for real political pluralism in Sudan, a pluralism that the National Islamic Front cannot withstand and still remain a viable political force in Sudan. Such pluralism most naturally begins with the inclusion of the SPLM/A in a new national government following a peace agreement in Naivasha; but the other marginalized voices of Sudan must be heard and represented as well.
The extreme improbability of such international action ensures that Sudan, even following a “peace” agreement in Naivasha, will continue to manufacture new killing fields for the foreseeable future.
Northampton, MA 01063