March 31, 2004
The past two days have been especially revealing of the National Islamic Front regime’s deep and ongoing contempt for both international humanitarian assessments and international diplomatic efforts to bring peace and justice to Sudan. Indeed, thoroughness in rendering the degree and manner of Khartoum’s contempt requires a checklist of the regime’s declarations and actions:
 The National Islamic Front began by, “accusing 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.'” (Agence France-Presse, March 30, 2004).
“[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).
The eight distinguished UN special rapporteurs accused of “lying” include the Special Rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven; the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Ertrk; the Special Rapporteur on racism, Doudou Dine; the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Paul Hunt; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir; the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Juan Miguel Petit; the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler; and the Secretary-General’s representative on internally displaced persons, Francis Deng.
 The National Islamic Front delegation refused to “take part in the opening ceremony” of peace talks in N’djamena (the capital of neighboring Chad)—peace talks that have gained some credibility because of a meaningful international presence. Why the refusal? “Because [Khartoum’s delegation] objected to the presence of international observers” (Agence France-Presse, March 30, 2004). Sudan’s secretary of state for foreign affairs Tidjani al-Fidail told Agence France-Presse in N’djamena: “Apparently there are others who are trying to play at being observers, which was not planned.” Reuters also reported that “the Sudanese government on Tuesday boycotted the opening session of peace talks in Chad with western rebels in protest at the presence of international observers” (Reuters, March 30, 2004).
And who are these other participants? who are the “observers” that Khartoum found so objectionable as to spurn the start of a process seeking to end a war that has produced what many are describing as the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis? “Representatives of the European Union, the United States and the Henri Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Geneva-based organisation which aids peace talks, were in N’djamena as ‘facilitators’ at the talks” (Agence France-Presse, March 30, 2004).
Associated Press reports today from N’djamena that Ahmad Allam-mi, an adviser to Chad’s President Idris Deby, “said the Sudanese government refused to attend to the ceremony because it did not want the conflict in Darfur ‘internationalized.’ The talks are being mediated by the Chadian government and the African Union, while U.S., European Union and French officials will have observer status” (Associated Press, March 31, 2004).
No doubt Allam-mi speaks correctly when declaring that Khartoum does not wish to “internationalize” the conflict—but only in the sense of wishing no international observers in Darfur, and no real international mediation in a process for which Chad and an uninspired AU provide hopelessly inadequate auspices and diplomatic resources.
 Reporting from Khartoum, United Press International issued a dispatch highlighting the National Islamic Front’s attitude toward international monitoring of human rights in Sudan:
“Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir Tuesday rejected a draft proposal by the European Union requesting international monitoring of human rights in Sudan. El-Bashir was quoted by his foreign minister Mustafa Ismail as saying ‘he opposed placing Sudan under international supervision to verify the state of human rights’ in the country torn by decades of civil war [ ]. The EU is planning to submit the draft proposal to the U.N. Commission for Human Rights, which is meeting in Geneva.” (United Press International, March 30, 2004)
It should be noted that the European Union proposal is merely to provide technical assistance to Sudan for the monitoring of human rights. This is a so-called Item 19 resolution, as opposed to the Item 9 resolution that was not renewed last year; only this latter monitoring regime would oblige the appointment of a UN special rapporteur for human rights. Support for an Item 19 resolution is already a clear abandonment of responsibility on the part of the EU; but the Europeans have been encouraged by African nations that have made clear they oppose any UN resolution that imposes human rights monitoring that is not entirely “voluntary.” A more absurd and destructive attitude is difficult to imagine, and the UN Commission on Human Rights, presently meeting in Geneva, has almost fully succeeded in making itself irrelevant to the real cause of human rights.
 Khartoum continues to restrict in severe and highly consequential fashion humanitarian access to the Darfur region of western Sudan. The NIF regime still refuses to grant travel permits to humanitarian organizations for no reason, still refuses to accept the presence of international monitors, and still refuses access to humanitarian assessment teams. This continuing denial of humanitarian access, assessment, and human rights monitoring comes even as UN agencies emphatically declared yesterday that:
“The already dire humanitarian situation in the Darfur region of western Sudan has worsened, United Nations agencies said today, with thousands of internally displaced people now facing water shortages and outbreaks of communicable diseases such as measles. In an update issued today, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said attacks against civilians are reported to be occurring daily and across the whole of the region. [ ] The UN agencies said the attacks have forced internally displaced people to congregate in larger or more urban areas, increasing the chance of disease outbreaks and using up scarce water supplies.” (UN News Centre, March 30, 2004)
But even as the UN and various humanitarian and human rights organizations are declaring that “the humanitarian situation in Darfur has worsened,” Khartoum cynically asserts the opposite:
“Officials at the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi told IRIN on Wednesday that they had no information about the continuing attacks. On the contrary, they said, the situation in Darfur region was ‘actually improving.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 31, 2004)
This vicious mendacity, this assertion that the situation in Darfur is “actually improving,” distills perfectly Khartoum’s utter contempt for the international community and for the integrity of the UN and its humanitarian officials, and reveals ultimately the regime’s complete contempt for the African peoples of Darfur.
For the catastrophe in Darfur is clearly accelerating. This is unmistakable, as all credible evidence indicates, and assertions to the contrary derive from the worst of motives and ultimately from ethnically animated hatred. A terrible vignette of this hatred was provided yesterday by Eltigani Ateem, former governor of Darfur (living now in exile in the UK). Eltigani’s account has been independently confirmed to this writer by a humanitarian official:
“I am writing again to highlight the plight of those who have been trapped in the Kailake [also Kailek] area to the south of Kass [South Darfur]. I have just been speaking to some of those who managed to escape from the Kailake concentration camp where about 5400 people are surrounded by the Janjaweed militia. The people have been deprived of food and water for almost four weeks. People are now dying every day. There is an outbreak of Cholera, which kills on average 17 people/day.
“The Kailake experience is now repeated in Korele’ area to the East of Zalingi [Western Darfur] where 17 villages have been torched on Sunday. The villagers have also been surrounded by the militia. Government troops demanded 5 million [Sudanese pounds] from the villagers to protect them from the Janjaweed, but as soon as the money was paid the troops left the area and the villagers are now being abused by the Janjaweed. Witnesses I talked to today reported the following:
1. The Janjaweed are summarily executing the villagers
2. Mass rape of women
3. Mass rape of children as young as 7 years
3. Tying the innocent villagers from their legs and dragging them by camels
4. Denying the villagers access to food and water, a carbon copy of the
(Received by e-mail from Eltigani Ateem, March 30, 2004)
Such accounts—and the scores of others reported by Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, the International Crisis Group, and increasingly by intrepid journalists—despite their ghastliness, give only a partial sense of the whelming human destruction. For the full realities of food shortages, agricultural disruption, and the consequences of Khartoum’s denial of humanitarian access are only now coming fully into focus. For example, Roger Winter of the US Agency for International Development reports from the region:
“[Winter] told reporters food shortages were inevitable because so many people had left their land, been robbed or had no seeds left. ‘We believe the conflict there is so severe that a substantial number of people are going to be affected by severe food shortages. Even if there was a ceasefire arranged at this meeting in Chad, still a large number of people would die.'” (Reuters [Khartoum], March 24, 2004)
The absence of a resumption of adequate food production in the near future has recently been highlighted by the UN’s World Food Program:
“With no signs of an improvement in the conflict, the next planting season in April/May  may also be ‘very limited,’ [Laura] Melo [of the UN World Food Program] warned. This would have a major impact on food availability and leave people dependent on food aid for another year, she said. ‘A widespread humanitarian disaster looms for the population of Darfur unless large-scale humanitarian assistance is rapidly made possible,’ commented a humanitarian source working in the region.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 25, 2004)
And on top of this, Khartoum’s Arab militia allies are badly disrupting such humanitarian aid as can reach the people of Darfur:
“Internally displaced people in western Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region are reporting that aid given to them by United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is being stolen by armed militia. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is considering feeding recipients directly instead of giving them rations that could be stolen, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today. The inhabitants of one Darfur village are so fearful of militia attacks that they have asked UN staff not to distribute aid to them in case they become a target. (UN News [New York], February 27, 2004)
It remains the case that urgent planning for a cross-border humanitarian intervention must begin immediately. The alternative is acquiescence in ongoing genocidal destruction, in which more than 1000 people are dying every week.
 Khartoum’s actions over the last several months in Upper Nile Province, including the deliberate arming and inciting of militia groups, threaten to re-ignite war in the south, even as talks struggle toward closure in Naivasha (Kenya). The situation is complex, and obscured by the security risks that steadily increase and prevent humanitarian presence in many areas, but the basic facts are clear.
In the area of Upper Nile known as the Shilluk Kingdom (the Shilluk, like the Dinka and Nuer, are part of the Nilotic tribal group) government military activity has been steadily increasing, along with that of its militia proxies. This has produced many hundreds of civilian casualties and has displaced tens of thousands; many more tens of thousands of needy civilians are now beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance because of compromised security. The destructive and destabilizing effects of Khartoum-sponsored militia attacks are, of course, long-familiar features of war in the south, even as they are now being given brutal and widespread reprise in Darfur.
One key event in generating this present round of violence in the south was the defection of commander Lam Akol back to the SPLA (Lam Achol, a Shilluk, defected from the SPLM/A in 1991 and returned in October 2003, though not with all his followers). Khartoum has deliberately incited those remnants of Lam Achol’s militia organization in the region, as the regime has done with other such militia organizations—in effect paying the militias to wreak havoc among the civilian populations, especially in the Shilluk Kingdom. The scale is suggested by a humanitarian source working in southern Sudan, who indicates today that at least 13,000 Internally Displaced Persons have arrived in the Upper Nile town of Malakal since January, fleeing constant fighting and attacks on civilian targets by Khartoum-backed militia.
Authoritative reports coming from several sources in the region yesterday make clear that a major new militia offensive is just underway. One report indicated that the son of the Shilluk king has been killed in this offensive. These military activities, conducted by Khartoum directly and by means of militia proxy, are clear violations of the October 2002 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, signed by the Khartoum regime and the SPLM. This agreement specifies that the parties undertake to:
“maintain a period of tranquility during the negotiations by ceasing hostilities in all areas of the Sudan and ensuring a military stand-down for their own forces, including allied forces and affiliated militias.”
(Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army on Resumption of Negotiations on Peace in Sudan,” signed on October 15, 2002 under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development in Nairobi)
The agreement also specifies that the parties will “retain current military positions,” “cease supplying all areas with weapons and ammunition,” and “refrain from any acts of violence or other abuse on the civilian population.” These various commitments are all being violated in egregious fashion by Khartoum and its militia allies. The regime is evidently convinced that between negotiations in Naivasha and the catastrophe in Darfur, the international community will simply look away from this clear abrogation of a signed agreement. And such conviction is all too well justified by past inaction in enforcing the October 2002 agreement. (Such violations also augur extremely poorly for Khartoum’s observance of the terms of the Agreement on Security Arrangements, signed by the regime on September 25, 2003.)
Though there has been only very limited international reporting on this particular instance of Khartoum’s contemptuous violation of a signed agreement, we should note carefully what has been reported. Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) reported on March 14, 2004:
“A government source, who requested anonymity, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that initial figures showed scores of civilians had been killed in
pro-government militia attacks on villages close to Malakal town, provincial capital of the Upper Nile region. In the attack the headquarters of Shilluk Community King Alak was badly damaged, homes set ablaze and cows looted. The attackers also raped women, the source added. Militias have renewed attacks on Obai, Pakang, Dot, Oweci and the Panyikango areas in the Shilluk Kingdom in the Upper Nile region.”
The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (Nairobi) recently reported:
“Clashes involving a number of government-backed militias and government forces in the Shilluk Kingdom region of southern Sudan are resulting in an increasing number of deaths and displacements. On 11 March, militias and government forces from Malakal attacked villages west of Awajwok including Alaki, the village of the Shilluk king, according to the Fashoda Relief and Rehabilitation Association (FRRA). The FRRA is the humanitarian wing of [Lam Achol’s] Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-United (SPLM/U), which realigned with the SPLM/Army (SPLM/A) in October 2003.
“In Alaki, houses were set on fire and cattle driven away by attacking forces, Gabriel Otor Marko, the FRRA executive director, said on Thursday. The militias were reinforced by government forces in gunboats on the River Nile, who then attacked Nyilwak, where they dispersed a large civilian population. ‘An unknown number of people were killed or wounded, houses set on fire and properties looted,’ he said. On 10 March militias had also attacked the villages of Adodo, displacing its civilians.”
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 19, 2004)
These reports, though confirmed by numerous highly authoritative accounts from the region, including from Western Upper Nile, seem of no consequence to the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) or the Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT), based in southern Sudan and charged with investigating both attacks against civilians and violations of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement. Indeed, the VMT is a revealingly useless entity, one that has—at considerable expense—done absolutely nothing of note since its notional creation in February 2003 in response to Khartoum’s serial violations of the October 2002 agreement.
The silence and uselessness of both the CPMT and VMT, over many months, and most strikingly in the present moment, make clear that they are governed most essentially by political expediency. And this at the moment of historical truth for Sudan.
But if Khartoum’s actions of the past few days will only be rationally assessed by the international community, it should be clear that the price of expediency, whatever apparent short-term gain, will always be to retard real progress toward peace and justice in Sudan. The Khartoum regime is cynical, it is evil, it is governed by a ruthless survivalism—and it will not make a just peace, in the South or in Darfur, unless compelled to by the most relentless international pressure. Though there has been a welcome increase in the volume of outrage over the atrocities and humanitarian crisis in Darfur, this hasn’t translated into meaningful responses. If present talks in Chad fail—and the opening day could hardly have been less auspicious—there will simply be no option at the ready.
And in Naivasha, Khartoum continues to survey the lack of international will and concludes that even if compelled by circumstances to sign a peace agreement, there will never be sufficiently sustained international commitment to make this agreement the basis for a just and lasting peace. Again, such conclusion on Khartoum’s part has far too much justification in recent (and more distant) history.
The days in which to consummate peace in Naivasha and avert total catastrophe in Darfur are dwindling in number. When they expire entirely, what will the international community be prepared to do? To ask the question is to see too much of an answer.
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