December 16, 2003
All evidence presently available, from an increasing number of sources, suggests that the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum is using the denial and manipulation of humanitarian access as a weapon of war in the western province of Darfur. The targets of this “weapon” are the African peoples of Darfur, primarily the Masseleit, Fur, and Zaghawa tribal groups, perceived by Khartoum as the civilian base for the current military insurgency in this long-marginalized region. Deployment of such a savage “weapon” is nothing new on Khartoum’s part; indeed, it has been a hallmark of the regime’s war on the people of southern Sudan for many years. But continued international acquiesce in the deliberate destruction of innocent civilians through the denial of emergency of medical and food aid is morally intolerable.
It is already past time for the international community to coalesce around a policy that makes clear to Khartoum that “national sovereignty” does not trump the urgent needs of desperate people. Unless the National Islamic Front immediately removes all restrictions on international relief aid, there must be a robust humanitarian intervention in Darfur, with all necessary military protections. Given the nature of the impending human destruction, and the growing descriptions of that destruction as based on ethnicity—“ethnic cleansing” is the term diplomats and others are increasingly using—there is clear justification for such a policy. Though “humanitarian intervention” has proved in recent years to be a thoroughly vexed issue, the nature of the growing crisis in Darfur, with many hundreds of thousands of civilians at clear risk because of Khartoum’s brutal war policies, justifies such intervention on the basis of virtually all extant analyses.
Though there is much that is presently unknown about the crisis in Darfur, recent UN humanitarian assessments, assessments by other humanitarian organizations, as well as first-hand research by human rights groups, fully justify the ominous conclusions of senior UN officials. Despite the fact that the “humanitarian situation in Darfur has quickly become one of the worst in the world,” humanitarian access has been shut down and manipulated to the point where the UN secretary-general’s envoy for humanitarian affairs in Sudan has declared that for all practical purposes humanitarian activities have come to a “standstill.” Another senior official has very recently suggested that the motive for denying humanitarian access is to prevent the witnessing of crimes against humanity and genocide.
Further, again according to senior UN officials, civilians are being “systematically” targeted, even as humanitarian access to these people is being “systematically” denied. The “system” is quite clearly based on race and ethnicity. The number of civilians displaced within Darfur and into Chad is now 700,000, with a war-affected population of 1 million. (For full citations of UN sources, see previous analyses of Darfur crisis from this source, December 9 and 12, 2003; available upon request.)
Invoking the terrible famine in Bahr el-Ghazal province in 1998, Save the Children (UK) has recently reported that “current overall malnutrition rates are reported to be alarmingly high, with Global Acute Malnutrition rates reaching 25% in some of the affected areas of Darfur, which are accessible to relief workers” (“Sudan Emergency Statement,” December 10, 2003). The International Crisis Group notes that “government-supported militias deliberately target civilians from the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit groups, who are viewed as ‘African’ in Darfur” and that the latest attacks by these Khartoum-backed Arab militias “occurred deep inside the Fur tribal domain, against unprotected villages with no apparent link to the rebels other than their ethnic profile” (ICG, “Sudan: Towards an Incomplete Peace,” December 11, 2003).
Will the international community wait until the people of Darfur are dying by the thousands? by the tens of thousands? When will destruction of these African lives morally command a response? Will Khartoum’s assertion of “national sovereignty” be sufficient to keep present humanitarian operations in this desperate arena at a “standstill,” the word used by the UN secretary-general’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan? If this is not an occasion for robust “humanitarian intervention,” why not?
Too many questions, receiving too little in the way of answers. Every day that passes without a forceful articulation of international resolve to respond in Darfur is another day that convinces the Khartoum regime that there is no such resolve. Either there is a clear indication to Khartoum that a robust humanitarian intervention is imminent, or the slide toward massive catastrophe in Darfur will only accelerate.
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