May 17, 2004
All reports from Darfur, public and confidential, make clear that the massive humanitarian crisis continues to deepen at an alarming rate. The region, including the border region inside Chad, is slipping further into a famine that will claim hundreds of thousands of lives. This is the predictable, indeed designed outcome of Khartoum’s genocidal conduct of war in Darfur over many months, both with its regular forces and by means of its Janjaweed allies.
Notably, in a BBC interview following a recent meeting with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, Khartoum’s Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail pointedly described the Janjaweed militia as in military “alliance” with the regime in conducting war in Darfur (BBC, May 13, 2004). Ismail is also reported by Agence France-Presse as asserting that “pro-government militias in strife-torn Darfur region would not be disarmed as long as weapons remained in the hands of rebel forces” (Agence France-Presse [Cairo], May 14, 2004). It is of course the Janjaweed that are responsible for so much civilian destruction, for creating conditions of utter terror in the rural agricultural lands, and that have so willingly become the “Gestapo” forces in the ghastly concentration camps that continue to grow and multiply.
[In a shameless, if unsurprising, contradiction, Ahmed Mohamed Haroun, National Islamic Front state minister for internal affairs, said today that “the Darfur region was stable after the military quelled a revolt there and security would now be maintained by police” (Reuters, May 17, 2004.]
The “systematic” denial of humanitarian access (the characterization is that of the UN and virtually all humanitarian organizations); the burning of thousands of villages; the destruction of foodstuffs, seeds, agricultural implements and donkeys; the dynamiting, bombing, and poisoning of wells and irrigation systems; the looting of herds of cattle; and the creation of what a UN human rights team recently called a “reign of terror” in the rural areas, precluding any planting prior to the rainy season, and thus ensuring that there will be no harvest in the fall: these are the weapons of genocidal war that are now taking a toll that is increasing daily. Without humanitarian intervention, the death rate will rise to between 2000 and 3000 civilians per day by December. Total casualties may exceed 400,000 human beings (see data for “Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur,” from the US Agency for International Development: http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf and Congressional testimony of US AID Assistant Administrator Roger Winter at http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/0/286369e1835b007e85256e8d00691b9b?OpenDocument).
There is no longer any credible alternative to humanitarian intervention, given the paucity of pre-positioned foodstocks and medical supplies in Darfur and the impending seasonal rains that will soon sever the road corridors from Chad into Darfur. There will be no harvest next fall and the likelihood of a fall planting for next spring depends wholly on the ability of the international community to disarm the Janjaweed and restore security to the rural agricultural areas. If there is no planting in the fall, hundreds of thousands of acutely vulnerable people will have their vulnerability extended for many months. There will be many, many more deaths.
An overland transport route capable of supplying humanitarian aid must be secured in the very near-term, as the dwindling foodstocks in Nyala and al-Fashir are almost exhausted. Air transport of food and supplies is really only a stop-gap measure for a crisis of this magnitude, and is not practicable over the longer-term. Leaving aside diplomatic considerations of the sort that have done so much to obscure both the urgency of the crisis and the culpability of the Khartoum regime, and ignoring the callous inclinations and abysmal performance of the UN Security Council to date, the most obvious route from a logistical point of view is the rail line that runs from Port Sudan to Khartoum and on to Nyala via El Obeid. This presents a series of difficult problems—logistical, military, and of course diplomatic (see below)—even as it holds promise of fully adequate transport capacity.
But we can no longer avoid the necessity of deciding whether or not we will intervene to save the hundreds of thousands of lives that will be lost without robust action. As Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, courageously wrote several days ago:
“The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, has called it ‘ethnic cleansing.’ President George W. Bush has condemned the ‘atrocities, which are displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.’ Others are starting to use the word genocide. Whatever you want to call what is going on today in Darfur, in western Sudan, the time for forceful outside intervention is unmistakably approaching.” (The International Herald Tribune, May 14, 2004)
Evans went on to make clear that in all likelihood it will be necessary for the UN Security Council to “authorise the application of military force on ‘responsibility to protect’ principles” and “[provide] the necessary political will and military resources to hold [the Khartoum regime] comprehensively to account.” (The International Herald Tribune, May 14, 2004)
But while the Security Council must certainly be urged to act, and given a chance to act, such action is highly unlikely. That Pakistan is currently chairing the Security Council gives but an inkling of how long the odds are against any “authorization of the application of military force” that is opposed by Khartoum.
But inaction by the United Nations must not mean that there is no international response on the basis of the “responsibility of protect” principles that Evans articulates in his analysis. Racially/ethnically animated slaughter and starvation in Darfur continue and must be stopped. But they can be stopped only with humanitarian intervention. This is the context in which we should note the growing urgency of the comparisons to Rwanda. The US Committee for Refugees recently added its voice to many others, declaring:
“In 1994 President Clinton failed to act to stop genocide in Rwanda when 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days. The world knew about Rwanda then and it knows about Darfur now. Visiting Rwanda in 1998, Clinton ‘apologized,’ saying we ‘did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide.’ For the sake of his name in history, Mr. Bush must avoid ever having to make a similar apology over Darfur.” (US Committee for Refugees, Washington, DC, May 12, 2004)
The moment of historical truth has arrived: either we act now to mitigate this growing catastrophe, or we will see the horrific mortality projections of the US Agency for International Development realized. For the numbers at risk from genocidal destruction are not diminishing, despite the growing visibility of Darfur, but rather continue to grow: the UN recently raised its estimate of the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Darfur to over 1 million (Paragraph 13, “Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Situation of human rights in the Darfur Region of the Sudan,” May 7, 2004). Refugees International has recently urged that the number of refugees in Chad be revised up dramatically from the UN figure of 110,000 (a figure now over two months old, even as refugees have continued to stream across the Darfur/Chad border at many points):
“The number of refugees who have fled to Chad to escape fighting in the Darfur area of western Sudan could be has high as 200,000, nearly double the official estimate of 110,000, Refugees International reports. The sharply higher figure is based on the observations of Refugees International advocates in Chad, as well as informal estimates by the United Nations. UN officials in Chad told Refugees International that the number of refugees in Chad may be approaching 200,000, as violence and starvation in Darfur continue to drive refugees out.”
“Refugees International strongly urges the UN and aid agencies to revise their figures for Darfur refugees in Chad upwards to 200,000. Current UN planning is based on a figure of 110,000, and with the rainy season looming, failure to pre-position supplies based on the actual figure will leave refugees vulnerable to shortages of food and medicines in the coming months.” (Refugees International, May 11, 2004; see
Christine Foletti of the International Committee of the Red Cross told an Australian news agency that “over the past two weeks one refugee camp had grown from 7,000 to 24,000 people” (AAP, May 16, 2004). But these frightening increases are being reported even as there is not nearly enough presently funded transport capacity to move existing refugee populations further into Chad and away from the dangerous border areas, or to provide these camps with food, water, and medical supplies. With the rains imminent, transport opportunities will shortly end.
Highly authoritative reports from within South and West Darfur reaching this writer also indicate that more and more of those displaced within Darfur are being forced into concentration camps of the sort recently reported by the UN at Kailek (see analyses of the brutal conditions in the Kailek camp by this writer; available upon request). Unless control of these camps is very soon secured by international military intervention, tens of thousands of people will be exterminated through starvation, lack of water, disease, and executions. Moreover, a growing number of those seeking to report on the terrible conditions in Darfur are being imprisoned, as Amnesty International recently reported:
“Nureddin Mohammad Abdel Rahim, omda (mayor) of Shoba; Bahr al-Din Abdullah Rifah, omda of Jabalsi:
“The two men named above, each of whom is the omda (mayor) of his village, were reportedly arrested in North Darfur state on 9 May  after a meeting called by the International Committee of the Red Cross, where they had given information on burnt villages, killings and mass graves in a region where many villages have been destroyed and villagers killed in attacks by government aircraft and, particularly, by government-supported militias. The two have no access to lawyers or their families, and are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.” (Amnesty International, May 10, 2004)
Further, unless there is a humanitarian intervention, the increasingly explosive military situation along the Chad/Sudan border threatens to spark a full-fledged international conflict. Highly authoritative reports from the ground inside Chad suggest that a number of factors could dramatically escalate the violence already occurring on a regular basis. The destabilizing effects of such violence in Chad should be of considerable international concern. Of particular note are the reports of growing numbers of Janjaweed incursions into Chad (see UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 14, 2004).
What are the advantages and the difficulties of a humanitarian intervention that takes the form of  internationalizing the rail line from Port Sudan to Nyala, and  taking military control of all camps for the displaced in Darfur and creating of them true safe havens for the displaced and the imprisoned?
Rail transport has huge capacity, and could easily manage even the vast quantities of food that will be required to avert major famine in Darfur over the next year or longer. Tens of thousands will die no matter what the international response, already shamefully belated. But hundreds of thousands of lives can be saved. Rail is also the cheapest form of transportation.
Distribution from Nyala to the camps nearby and to more outlying areas could be accomplished by overland routes where possible (using four-wheel-drive trucks) and by air where this is not possible. Since the rail line runs through El Obeid, site of a major air base and a location already being used by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP), air transport would be possible using even the largest of the WFP’s transport planes (e.g., the giant Hercules aircraft that are the backbone of airlift operations in southern Sudan). Smaller capacity planes could use the airport in Nyala for more targeted air drops. Such air drops would require the presence of humanitarian personnel in places presently too insecure; consequently, there must be a sufficient military presence to protect all aid workers deployed throughout the region.
Securing the concentration camps and ensuring that they are safe havens for the displaced and imprisoned is of critical importance; this will save many thousands of lives, possibly tens of thousands of lives that are now at growing risk from starvation, lack of water, disease (set to increase dramatically with the onset of the rains), and execution. More broadly, security throughout the agricultural areas of Darfur is the only long-term solution to the region’s food problems. But taking control of the camps is the first essential step in creating this security.
Over the longer term the international community must force Khartoum to disarm the Janjaweed, despite what Foreign Minister Ismail calls the regime’s “alliance” with these murderous predators. If Darfur is to become self-sufficient in food, such disarmament is essential.
Internationalizing and securing the rail line from Port Sudan to Darfur, if Khartoum proves intent on militarily opposing this plan, will require considerable military resources. These will not be so much for military security on board the trains themselves, but for preventing the track lines from being cut by explosives. Khartoum’s regular and militia forces are both likely sources of risk if the regime is determined to resist the transport of humanitarian supplies. Moreover, substantial amounts of rail line repair equipment and supplies must be on hand to minimize the impact of the rail line being cut at any point. Fast-moving aerial military resources, with sophisticated communications and “look-down” ability, will be essential in this task. Khartoum must also be put on notice that various of its unrelated military resources will be struck if the regime attacks, directly or by proxy, the rail line.
The rail line already needs substantial work between Ed Da’ein and Nyala. Moreover, the trains themselves are in critical need of American-made spare parts. These must be supplied on an urgent basis, requiring that President Bush exempt these parts from current US sanctions against Sudan. A detailed inventory of such parts must be kept and the parts themselves removed if the crisis in Darfur ends and Khartoum is still subject to US sanctions.
Internationalizing the rail line must mean that it will be used only for humanitarian transport: no non-humanitarian items would be permitted on the trains.
The Janjaweed have been heavily armed by Khartoum, and could present a significant threat to humanitarian operations and personnel in Darfur. But there is also good reason to believe that the Janjaweed would cease military resistance quickly if confronted with a well-trained, appropriately armed, and sufficiently robust military contingent with forceful rules of engagement. Confrontations would be inevitable, but the Janjaweed are no match for professional Western soldiers. Disarming the Janjaweed as well as the interdiction of further armaments flowing from Khartoum should be a clear part of the mandate of any international military force stationed in Darfur itself.
Where would the necessary military resources come from? One possibility would be an emergency assembly of one of the “battle groups” that were approved today by the European Union defense ministers. To be deployed to “international hotspots,” these 1500-strong military contingents “would be deployable within 10 days and able to stay on the ground for a few months” (EU BusinessWire, May 17, 2004; at http://www.eubusiness.com/afp/040517132350.cr0bwv7s). Strikingly, an aide to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said just today:
“A typical scenario in which they would be deployed would be in response to a UN request, said an aide to Solana. ‘If the UN Security Council for example asked for support to protect a humanitarian mission in Darfur, Sudan, we would be ready to respond to the request.'” (EU BusinessWire, May 17, 2004)
Given the critical situation in Darfur, there must be urgent planning for an ad hoc creation of just such a “battle group”—of appropriate size, utilizing the EU military planning to date, with an emergency assembly of troops and equipment. And even if the UN Security Council fails in its moral assessment of what is demanded in Darfur, there are other possibilities for sponsoring multilateral humanitarian intervention.
There are other difficulties that will confront any form of humanitarian intervention; these will be addressed in subsequent analyses. And there are also alternative overland transport routes presently under consideration (from Libya, for example). But the logistical difficulties presented, and the lack of adequate transport capacity, seem insuperable problems if the international community is determined to avoid hundreds of thousands of deaths. Given the immense human stakes, it is critically important that humanitarian need define political/military possibilities, and not the reverse.
And because present and impending deaths are so numerous, and because of the abstraction that attends so much discussion of how to respond to the crisis in Darfur, the question to the international community should be framed in two ways:
More generally, “Are we prepared to acquiesce in Khartoum’s engineered famine—a massive episode in human destruction that is genocidal in nature? have we really learned nothing from Rwanda?”
More particularly, “Are we prepared to accept countless versions of the story of Kaltuma Hasala Adan?” (from The Economist, May 13, 2004):
“Her children’s bodies were rotting in the village wells, where Arab militiamen had thrown them to poison the water supply. But Kaltuma Hasala Adan did not flee her home. Leaving her crops and livestock would condemn the rest of the family to death, she reasoned. So she stayed put for four months, despite her government’s strenuous efforts to terrorise her into flight.
“Her village was first attacked in January. An air raid caught her unawares: as the bombs fell, she ran around in confusion. When [Khartoum’s] bombers had completed their return pass, the horizon filled with dust, the ground shuddered, and a host of mounted militiamen charged through the village, killing all the young men they could find. During that first attack, Kaltuma’s 18-month baby, Ali, was killed by shrapnel. Two weeks later, her oldest son, Issa, 15, was made to kneel in line with other young men before being shot in the back of the head. Her husband disappeared the same day.
“For four wretched months, Kaltuma lived with both ears strained for the faint drone of bombers, poised to dash with her three surviving children to a hiding place in a dry river bed. Then the janjaweed—an Arab militia that kills for the Sudanese government—rode up to finish the job. They razed her village entirely. She fled from the embers of her hut and trekked for four days through the desert.”
The comparisons between Rwanda and Darfur are indeed being made more frequently, more urgently; but this only makes present inaction the more profoundly inexplicable. Certainly such comparisons by themselves are of little use to Kaltuma Hasala Adan, and the many hundreds of thousands who have also been forced to flee into the desert. If she could frame for us her one question, it would certainly be, “why will you not help me?” We are, shamefully, without an answer.
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