May 27, 2004
Yesterday’s historic peace signing in Naivasha (Kenya) between Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army must be hailed for two reasons.
First, whatever the chances that peace will actually be realized, such an agreement is the necessary first step in revealing fully to the international community the dimensions of Khartoum’s intransigence. A regime that has never abided by any agreement with any Sudanese party—not one, not ever—is not likely to begin now. But the international spotlight on bad faith, in the wake of such enormous diplomatic investment in fashioning the Naivasha peace agreement, may make Khartoum’s intransigence too conspicuous, even for the most willfully ignorant among the world community.
Certainly without a robust, fully equipped, and adequately staffed peace-support operation—of a sort nowhere in evidence—the peace agreement will collapse within a year. The same is likely true if there is not a massive infusion of emergency transitional aid to sustain the war-ravaged south during the beginning of a fragile interim period. Adequate resources must be put in place to accommodate the millions of Internally Displaced Persons who will seek to return to their homes in the south, perhaps 1 million in the first year alone. This will overwhelm humanitarian capacity, and set the stage for destabilizing competition for scarce resources—food, water, land, and agricultural opportunity.
But the agreement in Naivasha is important for a second reason: it removes any excuse for further expediency on the part of the international community in responding to the human catastrophe in Darfur. Though there are substantial negotiating difficulties that remain in producing a final peace agreement between Khartoum and the SPLM/A—including the merging of various protocols, establishing the terms of a comprehensive cease-fire, and negotiating “modalities of implementation”—there are no issues of principle remaining.
What remains in the wake of the historic Naivasha agreement is a question of equally historic significance: will the international community finally respond to Khartoum’s genocidal destruction of the African peoples of Darfur?
How this question is answered will go a long way toward telling us how likely it is that this same international community will see the Naivasha agreement become the basis for a just and sustainable peace for the people of southern Sudan. Moreover, as Human Rights Watch observed yesterday, “the [Khartoum] government’s campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Darfur raises real questions about whether Khartoum is really willing to comply with today’s peace accord in the south” (Press Release, Human Rights Watch, May 26, 2004).
Though the urgency of commentary on Darfur continues to grow, it is still not commensurate with the realities on the ground. For this reason the absolute moral necessity of immediate humanitarian intervention has continued to be obscured. But there must be no mistaking what is happening now, not in a “future” that seems continually to slide further forward in time. For the terrible future that awaits Darfur will grow out of genocidal realities that are all too clear at present, this very day.
Only if guided by such clarity can we understand why the International Crisis Group recently declared 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” (“End the slaughter and starvation in western Sudan,” May 16, 2004). Only if guided by such clarity of vision will we see the conditions that have generated the terrifying conclusion, drawn expertly from current data, of the US Agency for International Development: the “cumulative death rate” for the “vulnerable group” (presently estimated at over 1.2 million by US AID and at approximately 2 million by the UN) “would be approximately 30% over a nine-month period” (see data at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf).
The future, in short, may entail the deaths of half a million people. Even the US State Department, which has so consistently failed to speak with appropriate urgency about Darfur during the Naivasha negotiations, is acknowledging as much. Reuters quotes a “senior statement department official”—almost certainly Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder—declaring that “literally hundreds of thousands of people could die in the course of this summer” (Reuters, May 21, 2004). And the peak mortality rates—perhaps 3,000 people a day—won’t be reached until December, according to the data from US AID.
Those dying from engineered famine and epidemics will be, overwhelmingly, the African peoples of Darfur, primarily the Fur, the Zaghawa, and the Massaleit. They will die because their deaths are the ambition clearly defining the war Khartoum has chosen to wage in Darfur, a military campaign “deliberately inflicting on [these African groups] conditions of life calculated to bring about [their] physical destruction” (Article 2, clause [c] of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide).
Every single human rights report on Darfur—whether from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN, or those humanitarian organizations that have borne witness to massive human rights abuses—makes clear the concerted, systematic, racially/ethnically-based nature of the human destruction being wrought by Khartoum and its Janjaweed allies in Darfur. Whether the language chosen is “ethnic cleansing” (UN, US State Department, Human Rights Watch), “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic-based murder,” “ethnicide,” the realities described are remarkably unvarying and clearly match the language centrally defining of the Genocide Convention.
What are these realities at present?
In the waning days of May, it is clear that there has been no spring planting, and thus there will be no fall harvest. Most of the displaced have lost all or most of their cattle and other livestock, including essential donkeys. Water wells and irrigations systems have been blown up or poisoned, foodstocks, seeds, and agricultural implements destroyed. All this ensures that the resumption of productive agricultural lives for these people will be extremely difficult even next fall (for the smaller-scale winter planting season). And without physical security, so completely compromised by the unconstrained predations of Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia in the rural areas, where thousands of villages have now been torched and looted, there can be no foreseeable return to agricultural production and self-sufficiency.
It is distinctly possible that many of these people will never return to agricultural life, a prospect that suggests we are witnessing the destruction not simply of peoples, but the African cultures of Darfur, tied intimately in so many ways to rural life, landscape and agricultural cycles.
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres finds that “the whole population [of Darfur] is teetering on the verge of mass starvation,” and offers a grim overview in a recent release:
“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.”
(Press Release, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres; May 20, 2004)
How many people are at risk? The most salient fact in recent days is the dramatic increase in numbers. The New York Times reports:
“Jan Egeland, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council that the numbers of people needing ‘acute assistance’ in Darfur had risen in recent weeks to 2 million from 1.2 million.” (New York Times, May 27, 2004)
And this figure is does not include the refugee population in Chad, which continues to grow rapidly as people flee the ongoing violence orchestrated by Khartoum. A spokesperson for the UN World Food Program recently indicated that the organization was bringing its estimate of refugees in line with that of Refugees International, a figure of approximately 200,000 rather than the suspiciously static figure of 110,000 that has been cited for months (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 21, 2004). Since the plans of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have been governed by this lower number—unchanged for months—we must seriously question how adequately UNHCR has responded to the crisis in Chad, whatever the logistical and financial difficulties.
This refugee population in Chad is at ever greater risk, both because so many have not been moved away from the Chad/Darfur border and because access to most of these extremely vulnerable people will shortly be ended by seasonal rains, now moving northward. Moreover, ominous military volatility in the border region is reported in a recent update from the US Agency for International Development:
“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)
Inside Darfur, reports of intense military activity continue, despite Khartoum’s various commitments under the April 8, 2004 cease-fire agreement. These activities—reported by many humanitarian organizations, the US Agency for International Development, and directly to this writer by sources in Chad—contribute to an ever-greater population of displaced and war-affected. US AID recently spoke of,
“reports from the field indicat[ing] 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)
Human Rights Watch reported yesterday:
“As recently as yesterday [May 25, 2004], Arab militias attacked five villages 15 kilometers south of Nyala in Darfur, killing 46 civilians and wounding at least nine others, according to local sources. The militias, known as Janjaweed, were accompanied by government soldiers in three Land Cruisers armed with antiaircraft artillery.” (Press Release, Human Rights Watch, May 26, 2004)
This is precisely the sort of attack predicted in a dispatch to this writer from the Darfur Diaspora Association on May 19, 2004 (analysis available upon request). At the time, a large contingent of Janjaweed, estimated at around 2,000 and clearly recently armed and supplied by Khartoum, had been deployed in several areas near Nyala town, poised to begin a new campaign of civilian slaughter and destruction. On May 17, 2004 the village of Kashallingo (11 kilometers south of Nyala) was destroyed and fifteen civilians were killed by the Janjaweed. The inhabitants of approximately 30 other villages in the area were given an ultimatum: “leave your villages or you will be killed.” Several people were either killed or raped as the Janjaweed made clear their seriousness about the current campaign.
As a consequence of threats and the burning of Kashallingo, approximately 10,000 civilians have now been forced to relocate to a new concentration camp in the Mussaoi area (approximately 5 kilometers southeast of Nyala). The actions and movements by the Janjaweed and Khartoum’s regular military forces strongly suggest a new campaign of civilian destruction, which will focus on Fur villages in the area between Kundwa and the Hajair locality (approximately 80 kilometers southeast of Nyala). This represents a large swathe of geography in South Darfur that has heretofore not been subject to the scorched-earth warfare so evident throughout most of Darfur.
In addition to the attacks reported by the Darfur Diaspora Association and Human Rights Watch, Eltigani Ateem, former governor of Darfur, has today communicated to this writer further details of military attacks on villages in the Nyala area (“committed with the full knowledge and backing of Khartoum authorities”), as well as soaring mortality rates—particularly among children—in the areas of Shattaya and Kailek.
The latter is site of the now notorious concentration camp, where a UN inter-agency investigative team found in late April 2004 “a strategy of systematic and deliberate starvation,” a policy of “imprisonment,” a “policy of forced starvation,” an unreported “child mortality rate of 8-9 per day,” and the continued obstruction of humanitarian aid for this critically distressed, forcibly confined population. This assessment led these professional humanitarian aid workers to make explicit comparison to the Rwandan genocide.
(“Report: A United Nations Inter-Agency fact-finding and humanitarian needs assessment mission, Kailek, South Darfur, 24 April 2004”)
Eltigani Ateem reports today, on the basis of telephone conversations to persons in Nyala, that humanitarian access to the displaced persons in the Shattaya and Kailek areas “is still impossible because of the many hurdles created by the Sudanese authorities.”
This account, in turn, comports all too well with many others indicating that Khartoum, despite recent promises to expedite humanitarian access, is yet again failing to honor its commitments. Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres recently reported:
“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)
Jan Egeland, UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, said yesterday that:
“The Sudanese government had failed to keep its promises to disarm the militias and deploy police and was obstructing delivery of food and other assistance by imposing travel restrictions on foreign relief organizations.” (New York Times, May 27, 2004)
And the UN News Centre reported yesterday:
“Having lifted restrictions on humanitarian visits to the internally displaced people (IDPs) under attack in its western Darfur area, the Sudanese Government has imposed other restraints which, along with insufficient external funding, effectively impede timely assistance, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator [Jan Egeland] said today.” (UN News Centre [New York], May 26, 2004)
Unfettered humanitarian access—they key to saving hundreds of thousands of lives—continues, as it has for months, to be systematically obstructed by Khartoum as a weapon in its war against the African peoples of Darfur.
What the world knows and what the world is prepared to do seem hopelessly at odds in Darfur. Too few will acknowledge what the International Crisis Group has compellingly argued:
“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)
Instead of planning for humanitarian intervention in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives, the UN Security Council is culpably dithering—“strongly condemn[ing] acts that jeopardize a peaceful solution to the crisis,” but failing to assign responsibility for these “acts.” Concerning humanitarian access, the Security Council could bring itself to say only that it “was seriously concerned about continued logistical impediments prohibiting a rapid response in the face of a ‘stark and mounting’ crisis” (UN Security Council, 4978th Meeting; May 26, 2004).
This is simply not enough, indeed it is woefully, shamefully without appropriate urgency given the massive human destruction that has begun and will only accelerate until there is more than “serious concern.” Such “concern” should have been registered many months ago; now it is simply a diplomatic placeholder.
Secretary-general Kofi Annan has offered little more. He is reported today as also “concerned over the grave humanitarian and human rights crisis in the Darfur”; his spokesperson in New York told reporters that:
“Mr. Annan has received ‘numerous communications from individuals, groups and organizations all over the world’ asking him to ensure that emergency assistance is delivered to those in need and calling for action to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.”
[Kofi Annan can “receive further communications” at: firstname.lastname@example.org]
“‘The Secretary-General fully shares the concerns of the public at large, and in that regard would like to inform all those who wrote to him that he has been following the situation in Darfur very closely and with great concern,’ [Spokeswoman] Okabe said. She recalled that in the early days of the Darfur crisis, he engaged the Sudanese Government, as well as others, and sought a political settlement to the problem. ‘He regrets that those efforts could not help in preventing the grave humanitarian emergency and the massive violation of human rights in Darfur.'” (UN News Centre, May 27, 2004)
But Mr. Annan also now “regrets” his failure to do more in Rwanda. Expressions of “regret” and “concern” are meaningless at this critical moment. All that matters are the actions ensuring humanitarian assistance to people who are threatened with genocidal destruction. His pledge to “designate an envoy, who will represent him at the political talks due to resume in N’djamena, Chad, shortly,” is shockingly lacking in urgency and appropriateness. For Khartoum will happily continue further meaningless negotiations in Chad, indeed declared as much in an Al Sahafa newspaper headline (Khartoum):
“[Khartoum] Government stresses that Darfur talks will continue in N’Djamena: The government has confirmed that negotiations with Darfur rebels will continue in N’Djamena [Chad].” (Al Sahafa [Khartoum] UN Daily Press Review, May 25, 2004)
Nothing meaningful can come from negotiations under such enfeebled auspices, and for just this reason the Khartoum regime is “stressing” that it will accept only this diplomatic venue.
Ultimately the crisis in Darfur does require a political settlement, and a suitable diplomatic venue must be found. But the task at hand is to save lives—hundreds of thousands of lives. Those who fail to accept their responsibility in this task will be complicit in genocide.
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