“[Khartoum] wants the internally displaced to go home, the UN wants them to stay,” said an aid worker. “There is no food in their villages: they will go back to die.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004)
July 13, 2004
Despite a variety of promises to various international actors, Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime continues to work in a variety of ways to accelerate genocidal destruction in Darfur. Present tactics now include increasingly aggressive efforts to empty camps for Internally Displaced Persons and force these desperate people to return to their villages to die from starvation, or violence at the hands of Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia allies. This occurs even as Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, warns that the Janjaweed are continuing to destroy food sources in rural areas, especially in the Jabal Marrah region of Western Darfur. Special Rapporteur Ziegler’s assessment is reported by the UN News Service:
“Calling for immediate action to stop armed militias destroying food and water sources in the violence-wracked Darfur region of Sudan, a United Nations rapporteur today urged the UN Commission on Human Rights to convene a special session on the situation in Darfur.”
“Mr. Ziegler said Khartoum wanted to send people back to their homes even though [Janjaweed] militias have either destroyed, damaged or looted crops, agricultural areas, livestock and drinking water installations.”
(UN News Service, [New York] July 9, 2004)
If such forcible returns become accepted policy on Khartoum’s part, the number of immediately ensuing deaths will be huge:
“Humanitarian workers fear that a forcible mass return of some 1.2 million Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur could result in enormous fatalities.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 13, 2004)
It is hardly surprising that Khartoum should be willing to engage in policies so immensely destructive of the African tribal populations who make up the vast majority of the internally displaced in Darfur. Indeed, surprise is the most inappropriate of responses if we will only survey the actions of the regime over the course of the Darfur genocide.
TERMINUS A QUO FOR KHARTOUM’S “SYSTEMATIC” OBSTRUCTION OF HUMANITARIAN ACCESS TO DARFUR
A series of recent dispatches from UN news services indicates that the effects of Khartoum’s more than eight months of “systematic” denial and obstruction of humanitarian relief to Darfur are now having enormous consequences. These consequences, which daily are reported in grimmer terms, are discussed below. But it is imperative, given the previous invisibility of Darfur’s catastrophe, that we understand just how concerted, sustained, and relentlessly effective Khartoum’s obstructionism has been. Let us recall, then, just how long this particular tool of genocidal destruction has been deployed. Agence France-Presse reported on November 10, 2003:
“Sudan’s government is hampering an adequate response to an escalating humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged Darfur region by reneging on a pledge to process aid workers’ travel permits speedily, the UN accused on Monday. ‘Some aid operations haven’t been able to start. Aid workers who are ready to go (to Darfur) are getting stuck,’ because their permit applications have not been turned around within a promised 24-hour period, Ben Parker, the Nairobi-based spokesperson for the UN’s Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Sudan, Mukesh Kapila said.” (Agence France-Presse, November 10, 2003)
In a public statement issued on the same day, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, declared:
“New regulations [from Khartoum] on travel permits that entered into force on 1 October 2003 have not been followed consistently. As a result, travel procedures remain slow and cumbersome and, in some cases, permission to visit affected areas is withheld.” (Statement from UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan [Nairobi/Khartoum], November 10, 2003)
A month later, Jan Egeland (UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs) declared that Darfur was probably the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis (BBC interview, December 18, 2003). But a few days earlier, UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan, Tom Eric Vraalsen, had noted in a memorandum to the Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan:
“Delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by *systematically denied access* [latter phrase emphasized in text]. While [Khartoum’s] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas.”
(Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
Ambassador Vraalsen also reported in the same memorandum that while Khartoum “presented the security situation [in Darfur] as steadily improving,” this account “sharply contrasted with first-hand reports that I received from tribal leaders and humanitarian actors on the ground. They reported that [Janjaweed] militias were launching systematic raids against civilian populations. These attacks included burning and looting of villages, large-scale killings, abductions, and other severe violations of human rights. Humanitarian workers have also been targeted, with staff being abducted and relief trucks looted.”
(Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
“As a consequence of growing insecurity and denied access, the humanitarian crisis has reached unprecedented proportions, with one million war-affected. While last September humanitarian efforts could partially cover needs, at present humanitarian operations have practically come to a standstill. During this visit, I was shocked to see the living conditions of Internally Displaced Persons, including precarious shelter. I fear that in non-accessible areas, living conditions may even be worse.”
(Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
These excerpts describe the crisis in November/December 2003; Janjaweed violence would escalate dramatically (especially February 2004 through April 2004), and the humanitarian crisis would grow far beyond anything imagined at the time.
KHARTOUM’S PRESENT OBSTRUCTIONISM
Nonetheless, there is of course a painful familiarity and currency to the remarks and observations from so many months ago. And indeed, to the enduring shame of the international community, nothing has substantially changed. Earlier restrictions on visas have ensured that there are now not nearly enough professional humanitarian workers on the ground in Darfur as we move further into the rainy season. Nutrition, health, and logistical needs are far from being met in large part because of this acute lack of trained and experienced personnel. Moreover, Khartoum—by means of regional officials completely under the regime’s control—continues to put bureaucratic obstacles in the way of humanitarian personnel. UN Spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in New York yesterday that,
“local authorities in northern and western Darfur are still requiring aid workers from the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to obtain travel permits for their districts.” (UN News Centre, July 12, 2004)
Moreover, as Spokeswoman Okabe noted, Khartoum has fashioned yet another means by which to diminish the humanitarian presence in Darfur:
“Khartoum’s 90-day registration plan means many nongovernmental organizations are also reluctant to increase their asset bases because they are not sure whether their permits will be extended.” (UN News Centre, July 12, 2004)
Such obstacles must be seen in the context of other bureaucratic obstacles that the regime continues to place in the way of humanitarian aid and access (the insistence, for example, that an inordinate percentage of critically needed medical supplies still must undergo time-consuming testing in Khartoum’s inefficient laboratories).
Perhaps most consequentially, very recent Janjaweed attacks on well-marked humanitarian convoys will greatly reduce transport capacity, as such convoys will in the future need much greater security—already an exceedingly scarce commodity throughout Darfur. The UN reported recently that: “armed men had continued to attack humanitarian convoys in Darfur; ‘military personnel, uniformed men and “unidentified persons on camels” stopped and attacked clearly marked convoys of humanitarian workers in the west and north of Sudan’s volatile Darfur region'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 8, 2004).
The US Agency for International Development reported:
“On June 29 , an eight-truck U.N. convoy transporting blankets, jerry cans, soap, and plastic sheeting from Nyala to Mornei and Geneina was attacked by Jingaweit militia between Sisi and Zalingei. An assistant driver was killed and two other drivers injured in the attack, and WFP reported that at least 350 blankets were stolen.” (US AID, “Darfur: Humanitarian Emergency—Fact Sheet,” July 9, 2004)
Given the woefully inadequate transport capacity of the UN and other humanitarian organizations operating in Sudan, Khartoum’s failure to rein in the Janjaweed ensures that logistical and transport difficulties will be severely exacerbated by these attacks. Indeed, this is presently the most consequential way in which Khartoum’s continues its pattern of systematic obstruction of humanitarian access, and a primary reason that the deadly mismatch between humanitarian need and humanitarian capacity continues to grow.
What is the current situation? What updates are needed in assessing this rapidly accelerating human catastrophe? What actions are required?
This writer has produced a series of analyses suggesting that the situation is presently so extreme, the mismatch between humanitarian need and humanitarian capacity is so great, that only humanitarian intervention can forestall the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings. Without dramatically increased transport and logistical capacity for humanitarian aid, including military support and protection, the mismatch will only increase. Moreover, the large and concentrated populations at immediate risk from Janjaweed predations must also be protected. These camps and large concentrations of displaced persons without humanitarian access—a much greater number than the official UN census suggests—must receive immediate protection.
In particular, civilians who are located in camps like that at Kailek (near Kass in South Darfur) are already living in extermination sites. In an April 24, 2004 UN inter-agency report on the Kailek camp, seasoned humanitarian workers found a policy of “imprisonment,” a massive and unreported child mortality rate of 8-9 per day, and a “strategy of systematic and deliberate starvation” (“Report: A United Nations Inter-Agency fact-finding and humanitarian needs assessment mission, Kailek, South Darfur, 24 April 2004”).
This report would also declare:
“We are sure that the team would have learned more about the crimes committed against civilians in the region had it been granted wider access to the areas of conflict. The stories that we have received from the survivors of the acts of mass murder are very painful for us and they remind us of the brutalities of the Rwanda genocide.” (“Report: A United Nations Inter-Agency fact-finding and humanitarian needs assessment mission, Kailek, South Darfur, 24 April 2004”)
Immediate humanitarian intervention is required to save civilians trapped in what many sources report are the “numerous Kaileks” still in existence throughout Darfur. For despite Khartoum’s variously vague promises to restore order in Darfur, and to disarm the Janjaweed, nothing of note has changed on the ground since the high-profile visits of Kofi Annan and Colin Powell. A remarkable dispatch from the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) (July 12, 2004; dateline: el-Geneina, West Darfur) gives a rich account of the perceptions of UN officials and aid workers:
“[Sources] working in Darfur say little has actually been done to match what they describe as [Khartoum’s] ‘rhetoric.’ Local sources told IRIN that the Janjawid were simply being incorporated into the army and the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF), to officially remove them from the public eye. The UN has also received reports of the same tactic in recent weeks.”
“[Khartoum’s publicly declared policy] was being used to ‘officially’ disband the militias, a relief worker told IRIN, but was in fact being applied to afford them impunity, legitimacy, official protection and freedom to persist with their attacks on civilians and looting sprees. ‘They can be PDF by day and Janjawid by night,’ he said.”
“Janjawid—the main perpetrators of the attacks against civilians—can be seen moving freely in and around Al-Junaynah [also al-Geneina], where they reportedly have a base between the ‘camps’ of Durti and Ardamatta, as well as a number of ‘checkpoints.’ Often in army uniforms, they are employed to ‘protect’ the town from rebel attacks, much as the army would, an aid worker told IRIN.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004)
These continuing security threats present intolerable risks to badly weakened and acutely vulnerable civilians, numbering in the many hundreds of thousands. Indeed, according to UN estimates, the population of Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur has grown to 1.2 million, and this may still understate. (There are also approximately 200,000 refugees in Chad). These are the very people that Khartoum wishes to return forcibly to their burned-out villages, without food or the means of agricultural production or a modicum of security. Such returns are death sentences; they are yet another means of genocidal destruction:
“[Khartoum] wants the internally displaced to go home, the UN wants them to stay,” said another aid worker. “There is no food in their villages: they will go back to die.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004)
As Khartoum’s genocide in Darfur conforms to new realities on the ground, the world must understand that any forced returns of displaced persons to villages are simply another means of executing the African peoples of Darfur. Such enforced returns must not be countenanced, and only humanitarian intervention can ensure that such policies are not pursued with the same relentlessness as the larger genocidal campaign to date.
For the view from Khartoum, and of the regional officials who do Khartoum’s bidding, is perfectly clear:
“Interior Minister Abd-al Rahim Muhammad Husayn announced on Sudanese government-controlled radio on 9 July  that 86 percent of the Internally Displaced Persons had already returned to their villages.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004)
This follows earlier assertions by Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Husayn (who is also Khartoum’s “special representative on Darfur”) that,
“it was ‘most important’ to get people to return to their villages. Each state—Darfur region has three—had its own plan of return.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004)
This sense of what is “most important,” and the preposterous figure of an “86% return rate,” should be utterly chilling to the international community. For we must bear in mind that Interior Minister Abd-al Rahim Muhammad Husayn is one of the most brutal and thuggish men within the National Islamic Front leadership. His declarations and assessments are not simply grotesque mendacity and propaganda, but the first ominous step in preparing the world community for the “disappearances” of huge numbers of people from the camps. For it is all too likely that a combination of disingenuous inducements and brute force will be used to reduce in dramatic fashion the size of the camps and thereby “end” the humanitarian crisis in Darfur—and thus end any need for further international presence in the region.
The comments of the NIF Interior Minister were echoed by “Humanitarian Affairs” Minister Ibrahim Mahmud Hamid, who is reported today to have told reporters that “problems in Darfur were ‘getting smaller. The humanitarian situation in Sudan is getting better,’ he said. ‘What [aid] is now present is enough, even past the rainy season.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 13, 2004)
This language, too, works to suggest that an international presence is no longer needed in Darfur: if present aid will reach past the rainy season, then the UN and humanitarian organizations can all go home. Things will be returning to normal.
But the “normalcy” envisioned by Khartoum in Darfur is one in which the African tribal groups have been largely destroyed and permanently forced from their land.
With these official pronouncements on Khartoum’s part, it is clear that such a policy has too clear a likelihood of being implemented, either gradually or precipitously. This gives yet greater urgency to humanitarian intervention in the immediate future. The presently deployed African Union force of 300 soldiers and observers cannot possibly resist or even slow such a policy once seriously undertaken by Khartoum and the Janjaweed. It is all well and good for Kofi Annan to promise to terrified people in the Zam Zam camp for internally displaced (near el-Fasher, North Darfur) that there will be no forced returns—“nobody is going to force you to go home without security” (Reuters, July 1, 2004)—but the disgraceful truth is the UN Secretary-general has done nothing to see that the means exist for him to keep this promise.
Moreover, the numbers defining the catastrophe in Darfur continue to rise: the overall casualty figure to date is well in excess of 100,000 dead; the figure of “war-affected” persons has grown from the (UN, US, and European) estimate of 2.2 million in early June to well over 2.3 million. One senior aid official has declared privately that the number could easily climb to 3 million by October. The number of food-dependent people in Darfur probably exceeds 2 million now, and is growing tremendously rapidly. The food reserves of displaced persons, as well as host families, have been depleted—and there is no prospect for meaningful food production for the foreseeable future.
Evidence from various locations in Darfur suggests how rapidly the well-laid plans of the UN’s “90-Day Humanitarian Action Plan for Darfur” (June 28, 2004; privately circulated) have been overtaken by events. The “Action Plan” seems already to be largely irrelevant to the realities being encountered, as well as reasonably predicted. A snapshot from al-Geneina in West Darfur State gives a painful sense of the accuracy of UN Under-secretary Egeland’s recent assessment of what Darfur now represents: “the biggest logistical nightmare the humanitarian community has been facing in a very long time” (Reuters, July 7, 2004).
In an aptly titled dispatch (“Humanitarian situation in Western Darfur spiraling downward, according to aid workers), the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks gives a picture that is nowhere suggested in the “90-Day Plan”:
“Four months after the Darfur crisis in Sudan was described by the UN as the ‘world’s worst humanitarian disaster,’ tens of thousands of people in the state of Western Darfur still live without shelter or sanitation, receive no food aid and have to drink contaminated water.”
“The basic minimum requirements for the 350,000 to 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in accessible areas in Western Darfur are far from being met. A further 100,000 vulnerable people may be in areas that have never been accessed, aid workers told IRIN, not to mention the growing numbers of ‘conflict affected’ persons, who have depleted their meagre stocks of food in supporting their displaced kin.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: al-Geneina] July 12, 2004)
The assessment, relevant not just to al-Geneina and Western Darfur but to the entire province, continues remorselessly:
“But as many as 200,000 others [not presently receiving food] may also be entitled to food aid in the area, say aid workers: 100,000 in government-held areas that are accessible and an estimated 100,000 in inaccessible areas. Those receiving food are reportedly getting half or three-quarter rations.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: al-Geneina] July 12, 2004)
This is a portrait of massive human destruction now fully in the making: huge numbers in this locale not receiving food, and those who are, receiving only “half or three-quarter rations.” This is also a formula for chaos within the camps (and riots over food have been reported), as well as for accelerating debilitation among people already badly weakened. “‘If they are only getting half rations now before the rainy season, it’s very difficult to be optimistic,’ an MSF worker told IRIN.” This grim understatement means simply that it is difficult to imagine how anyone now receiving only half rations can survive through the rainy season when food delivery, already woefully insufficient, is set to reach a smaller percentage of those in need (despite the putative optimism of the UN “90-Day Plan”).
One aid worker said bluntly: “‘We don’t have the capacity to address the basic minimum needs,’ she [said], adding that the available aid was ‘nowhere near sufficient to address the immediate concerns of the population, let alone the deteriorating situation over the next few months.'”
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: al-Geneina] July 12, 2004)
In addition to food and medical treatment, non-food items—critical to survival in the appalling conditions that define the “camps” for the displaced—are also not being delivered in nearly sufficient quantities or with adequate efficiency:
“About 327,000 people have been given some basic items necessary for survival—packages supposed to include two blankets, soap, a plastic sheet and two jerry cans for every five people. However, less than 60 percent of the packages contained even one jerry can, an aid worker told IRIN, which meant that people had nothing to carry water or fuel in. ‘What are they supposed to carry it in—their hands?’ he asked.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: al-Geneina] July 13, 2004)
Such logistical difficulties are to be expected early in a crisis; but at this most urgent moment, the ability to transport clean water is not a luxury, not a peripheral concern, but a matter of life and death. For while the rains will bring water, it will also bring water contamination in extraordinary proportions:
“With extremely cramped conditions in the ‘camps’ and practically no access to clean water or health care, the outlook for the rainy season is grim: rising water tables, floating faeces and rubbish in wadis and pools, and widespread outbreaks of diarrhoea, cholera and malaria. ‘We’ve got a precarious situation in that people are weakened, they are not getting enough food, they are living in abominable conditions which are very cramped, with no sanitation to speak of,’ said one aid worker.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: al-Geneina] July 13, 2004)
Many of the “camps”—for example the Kalma “camp” near Nyala—have been deliberately located by local authorities in depressed areas, which are becoming virtual swamps in the wake of the rains. This is but another means of ensuring that mortality continues to rise rapidly.
THE MORAL IMPERATIVE IS UNCHANGED
The current mortality rate is over 1,000 people per day throughout Darfur, and climbing rapidly (see US Agency for International Development “Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, Sudan 2004-2005” at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf). This adds to a mortality total of approximately 125,000 (aggregated data from Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, the UN’s World Health Organization, and US AID; see previous reports on “Quantifying Genocide” by this source, available upon request).
The dramatic shortfall in food aid to those currently in need is sending upward global malnutrition rates that are already shockingly high, even for the Darfur region (this is true for both Global Acute Malnutrition and Severe Acute Malnutrition). According to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, global acute malnutrition rates around al-Geneina are running at about 25 percent, while severe acute malnutrition is estimated at 5 percent. Other areas report significantly higher rates. One aid worker described the displaced population as “living on a precipice.”
The problems only grow if we survey the overall situation. Insecurity now affects humanitarian relief in various ways throughout Darfur. Humanitarian convoys have become targets for Janjaweed attacks and are likely to require very substantial augmentation in attending security details. Huge areas of Darfur remain inaccessible, even as evidence suggests that hundreds of thousands of civilians remain caught in these areas.
Camp conditions—defined by policies of imprisonment, execution, rape, and a “strategy of systematic and deliberate starvation” (UN inter-agency report on the Kailek camp near Kass)—have made these ghastly concentrations of human beings into extermination sites.
Evidence that Khartoum plans to force camp populations to return to their villages ensures that these people will die of starvation or at the violent hands of the Janjaweed, who remain unconstrained in government-controlled rural areas.
The fundamental dynamic of genocidal destruction is unchanged; if anything, human destruction is accelerating. The plans of the UN and nongovernmental organizations are woefully inadequate to the vast humanitarian needs in Darfur. Without humanitarian intervention, providing dramatically augmented capacity, the mismatch between capacity and need will only widen. Without humanitarian intervention, providing security to acutely vulnerable civilian populations, mortality will escalate uncontrollably.
Hundreds of thousands will die; we can’t know how many—only that it will be an unforgivably large number.
Failure to accept the humanitarian and moral logic of intervention is to acquiesce in the genocidal destruction of these vast numbers of human beings.
We are in the process of learning the real lesson of Rwanda…which is that there is no lesson.
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