What do the regime’s genocidaires wish to obscure from international view?
May 20, 2006
The May 18, 2006 Reuters dispatch from Khartoum, by the superbly well-informed Opheera McDoom, offers a telling picture of newly imposed and severe restrictions on the ability of journalists to travel to and report from Darfur:
“Sudan has tightened restrictions on foreign press traveling to Darfur and has not issued any travel permits to its violent western region since a peace deal was signed earlier this month. Experts who have watched Darfur since the conflict erupted in early 2003 say this is the most restrictive the government has been on access since the height of the conflict in 2004.”
(Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], May 18, 2006)
If there were real meaning to the Abuja peace agreement of May 5, 2006—or to the cease-fire that nominally went into effect 72 hours later—Khartoum would be eager to display any changes that have been effected on the ground. In fact, a steady stream of reports from humanitarian officials, from the New York Times correspondent presently in Darfur, and from a series of confidential sources makes clear that violence continues apace, that the vast humanitarian crisis only grows more desperate, and that many hundreds of thousands of lives remain acutely at risk, even as mortality has already spiked sharply upwards.
A partial explanation of the need for journalists to have access to Darfur was highlighted by Jan Egeland, UN aid chief:
“‘It is vital for journalists to be given full access to Darfur…to cover the humanitarian work and explain the urgent need for additional international support,’ [Egeland] said.”
And yet Khartoum’s deliberate obstruction of access is conspicuous:
“Since early May [ ] when a peace agreement was signed in Abuja, Nigeria, no travel permits have been issued, said an official at the External Affairs Council responsible for foreign press. He did not know why. Some foreign press have travelled to Darfur without permits on high-level delegations or with the African Union, who are monitoring a widely ignored truce in Darfur. But without permits their access is very limited and they risk being arrested. ‘I applied for a permit for myself and my photographer on May 3 and still to this day have not received them,’ said Lydia Polgreen of The New York Times, who is traveling in Darfur with the AU.”
“Dan Rice of the Guardian newspaper said he had no travel permit despite applying 11 days ago. Permissions for resident journalists, which are usually issued within a day, have not been given after 10 days. Some correspondents have been waiting months for visas to even enter Sudan.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], May 18, 2006)
The calculations by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime are obvious: many UN and Western political officials, especially within the Bush administration, are visibly eager to declare a “victory” for diplomacy in Abuja; if this eagerness is coupled with growing invisibility of realities on the ground in Darfur and eastern Chad, Khartoum will be that much closer to having succeeded in evading responsibility for the genocide, even as genocidal destruction continues. The “Darfur Peace Agreement,” signed under acute duress in Abuja by only one faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, contemplates no meaningful guarantors for the merely paper “guarantees” that abound. And if the history of Sudan over the past seventeen years teaches anything, it is that “guarantees” without guarantors are utterly meaningless. Abuja was no diplomatic victory; it was a contrived ending to diplomacy that never had any chance for real success in the absence of concerted international pressure on Khartoum.
The same disingenuousness about Abuja infuses comments by US and European officials concerning the significance of UN Security Council Resolution 1679 (passed on May 16, 2006). The Resolution does little more than authorize the highly belated deployment of a UN peacekeeping assessment mission to Darfur; this, in turn, was made necessary because for months Khartoum has obdurately denied entry visas to these peacekeeping planners. Even in the wake of the Security Council resolution, there is still no firm commitment by the regime to allow entry.
In plainly calculated fashion, the Khartoum regime has over the past two weeks made a wide range of ambiguous comments about eventual deployment of a more robust UN force to Darfur, one that might supersede the hopelessly inadequate African Union force that grows increasingly impotent amidst rising violence. Perhaps the most revealing comments come from Majzoub el-Khalifa, head of Khartoum’s delegation to the Abuja peace talks, who recently declared:
“‘As long as [UN representatives of Kofi Annan and the Security Council] open the window for negotiation, we are going to continue and go through the negotiation. We hope that the result will be a win-win approach, for the sake of the people of Sudan. We are part and parcel of the international community. If something [does] not go beyond our red lines, we are going to accept it shortly. The cardinal point is the dialogue and the discussion and the consultation with the government of Sudan. If it is on the line with the government of Sudan then everything will go smoothly. If it is against the will of Sudan then we are going to react accordingly.'” (Voice of America [dateline: Khartoum], May 18, 2006)
Despite the specious language, the message is blunt: nothing will happen in Darfur unless we say so and our “red lines” (Khartoum’s widely encompassing claims of national sovereignty) will govern all our decisions. The regime is declaring that they will be the ones making all the decisions about any deploying force. Indeed, Khalifa went on to make this explicitly clear:
“Khalifa said Sudan wants input on the size and mandate of the proposed UN mission. He stressed that Sudan wants a ‘re-hatting’ of African Union troops already in Darfur, to retain the presence of African soldiers in the region. [A] UN force is the African Force,’ he added. ‘They are just going to change the hats from green hats to blue hats. There will be no other forces in Darfur. They are the same forces, with the same mandate, with the same color and with the same guidance. The chief will also be from Africa.'” (Voice of America [dateline: Khartoum], May 18, 2006)
Khalifa and Khartoum are clearly not willing even to contemplate the large, robust UN force, deploying under UN Chapter VII authority, that has been the focal point of all meaningful discussions of how to provide security for civilians and humanitarians in Darfur. Khalifa’s insistence on “the same mandate” ensures that Khartoum will never accept a force deploying with a Chapter VII mandate (peacemaking as opposed simply to peacekeeping); and to date, no international leader has suggested entering Sudan if the regime were to create a “non-permissive environment.”
Moreover, China has signaled clearly that it will oppose the Chapter VII authority necessary to deploy an effective peace support operation in Darfur. While voting for Resolution 1679 under Chapter VII authority, Chinese Deputy Ambassador to the UN Zhang Yishan pointedly declared following the vote that “[Chapter VII] should not be construed as a precedent for the Security Council’s future discussion or the adoption of a new resolution against Sudan'” (Deutsche Presse Agentur [dateline: UN/New York], May 16, 2006). The Chinese can clearly count on substantial support from fellow veto-wielding Council member Russia, as well as Arab countries.
In short, Khartoum’s brutal leaders are increasingly confident that they will be able to minimize the number of witnesses to genocide who are free to speak. Humanitarians, as opposed to journalists, may witness genocide in Darfur, but they cannot speak about it without risking a loss of access. It will also become harder and harder to see the cruel realities of arbitrary arrest, torture, and unlawful detention of those who would report on human rights abuse. In recent days, for example, the humanitarian organization Trcaire has been joined by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in condemning the May 16, 2006 arrest of two human rights lawyers working with the important Amel Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims. Trcaire reports:
“‘This latest arrest of human rights workers follows a pattern of obstruction and harassment which Trcaire’s partners in Darfur have suffered’ said a spokesperson for the organisation. ‘This includes arrests and difficulties in getting official permission for activities. One organisation funded by Trcaire has twice this year been ordered to close down and hand over its assets to the authorities in West Darfur.'” (Press release, May 18, 2006)
There can be no mistaking the meaning of Khartoum’s crackdown on journalists’ access to Darfur: our own understanding of the crisis on the ground is meant to be curtailed as much as possible. In turn, those in the international community with the power to pressure the regime to allow a full picture of Darfur to emerge are instead taking refuge in the illusions of a peace agreement and the vague future possibility of some UN action. Such cowardice works to give the sense that Darfur is somehow now less urgently in need. Nothing could be more profoundly false, and yet there should be no betting against the machinations of Khartoum’s skilled genocidaires. Our view of the genocide is in eclipse.
REALITY IN DARFUR
Yet there are voices that insist on speaking the truth. Here again, to understand what is actually happening on the ground in Darfur, we can do no better than to read carefully Jan Egeland’s most recent report to the Security Council (May 19, 2006). Contemplating Darfur’s future without a meaningful peace agreement, Egeland declared humanitarian operations would collapse, with “catastrophic” consequences:
“With even more violence and attacks, the humanitarian operation could not be sustained, and relief workers would have to withdraw. Malnutrition and mortality rates would multiply, in some areas within weeks, not months.”
In the absence of a meaningful peace, which can only be secured by an international force that is nowhere in sight, we will see only more of what Egeland “saw in the Gereida area in South Darfur: massive displacement, constant violence and attacks against civilians, and a few humanitarian organizations struggling to provide relief to more and more people.”
“The number of displaced in Gereida has tripled in the last four months, with current estimates ranging between 100,000 and 120,000. Recently arrived Internally Displaced Persons I spoke to gave harrowing accounts of attacks on their villages by Government [of Sudan] forces and militias only 12 days prior to my visit. In fact, armed militia attacked another village southwest of Gereida since then, on 14 May , as confirmed by the African Union Mission in Sudan. Reports of attacks on villages in other areas of Darfur are still reaching us almost every day.” [The Abuja agreement cease-fire began May 8, 2006.]
“As more and more people arrive in Gereida with little or nothing to sustain themselves, the humanitarian community is only barely able to meet the rising needs, and is confronted with constant access problems. The main road from Nyala has to be declared ‘no go’ for extended periods. And local government authorities have been blocking fuel deliveries for bore holes and water pumps.”
Although (under pressure) Khartoum has reversed its extraordinarily destructive decision to expel the distinguished Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) from Kalma camp, where it had served as the lead humanitarian organization, this reversal is terribly belated. Kalma camp in South Darfur, the largest in all of Darfur, has desperate needs to be met before the approaching rainy season. These efforts have been unconscionably delayed by Khartoum, even as they are,
“essential to avoid epidemics, flooding, blocking of access, and the destruction of infrastructure. Every day counts as time is running out. An outbreak of cholera in Kalma would be a nightmare scenario for the 95,000 inhabitants of the camp and the population of Nyala. I hope that NRC will be able to return within a few days to resume its essential work, under the same conditions as before.”
Speaking of access restrictions on humanitarians, Egeland highlighted the terribly under-reported situation in eastern Sudan, which remains poised to explode into violence, and where human suffering and malnutrition in many ways rival that in Darfur:
“The Government [of Sudan] should also lift the many other access restrictions listed on the fact sheet we provided to [Security] Council members during my last briefing [April 20, 2006], including those in the East [Sudan]. This includes the application of the agreement between the Government and the UN to allow freedom of movement to all UN staff. The refusal by the Government [of Sudan] to implement the relevant provisions of the agreement is having increasingly dire consequences, particularly in the East where essential relief activities had to be suspended. It would be very timely and important for the upcoming Security Council mission to Sudan to review these humanitarian access issues with the Government.”
The blunt truth is that despite recent proclamations of a new openness to humanitarian operations, Khartoum continues to wage a savagely effective war of attrition against humanitarian assistance throughout Sudan—in the East and in southern Sudan, as well as Darfur and eastern Chad. Promises in the current environment are easy; but the history of humanitarian access over the past three years reveals repeatedly resurgent obstructionism, and makes clear that the regime will not surrender this virtually cost-free weapon of genocidal warfare.
Funding also remains a critical issue, and there is “shortfall of $389 million for Darfur alone.” Khartoum refuses to give generously from its huge strategic grain reserve, and the recent decision to release only 20,000 metric tons (perhaps 5% of the total reserve) still represents, as Egeland pointedly notes, “the first pledge by the Government of Sudan to a UN appeal since the beginning of the Darfur crisis.” After three years and more than 450,000 deaths, with millions of people in desperate need of food aid—Khartoum only now makes its first, and almost certainly last, contribution.
Egeland also highlights the desperate funding plight of southern Sudan and other regions of Sudan:
“We urgently need additional and very generous contributions from donors, also for the rest of Sudan. The total shortfall under the [Comprehensive Sudan] Work Plan for 2006 amounts to $983 million, and many vital sectors have received less than 20 percent. The gap between Darfur and rest of Sudan is increasing steadily, with requirements for Southern Sudan still only 17 percent funded. I want to appeal especially to those donors that have contributed much less so far than last year, as well as donors in the Gulf region.”
Here it should be highlighted that some rich European countries, such as Belgium and Italy, are giving extraordinarily little to Darfur—far less than 1% of the US contribution, and less than 2% of the British contribution.
The security nightmare in which humanitarian organizations must operate is also presented in harrowing detail by Egeland:
“The attacks against relief workers have been relentless, and are threatening our operations in many areas. Our staff, compounds, trucks and vehicles are being targeted literally on a daily basis. In Geneina alone, there were seven armed incidents against NGOs in three weeks. The Government [of Sudan] urgently has to ensure law and order in areas under its control, as I discussed with Vice-President Taha. And all rebel factions and militia groups have to stop hijacking vehicles and attacking relief workers.”
But this is mere exhortation without a robust peacemaking force on the ground, such as Egeland himself has pleaded for on numerous occasions. The consequences of insecurity are devastating:
“Large areas across Darfur are inaccessible to us as a result of these direct attacks and continuing fighting, as you will see on the map we distributed. In many parts of West Darfur, we have had no or only very limited access since last December. NGOs are using every available means to distribute food and other supplies, including through food committees and donkey convoys. But nowhere near enough assistance is getting through, and the ‘hunger season’ is approaching. The few sources of food and income left to the local population are threatened by militia that are burning crops, stealing livestock, and attacking women as they collect firewood.”
The Janjaweed, Khartoum’s genocidal scavengers, remain completely unconstrained, despite the Abuja “peace agreement.”
Egeland also gives us, on the basis of his recent assessment mission to eastern Chad, a terrible glimpse of this new killing field:
“During my visit to Abeche and Goz Beida, the threats against relief workers and the civilian population in Eastern Chad are at least as serious as in Darfur, and in some cases worse. A total of 24 vehicles have been hijacked in the past few months alone. Only two weeks ago, a UNICEF colleague was shot and almost killed in Abeche. All of these attacks are being committed with total impunity. As a result of the insecurity, UN agencies and NGOs have been forced to reduce staff and programmes in many areas, at a time when needs are continuing to increase, particularly those of the 50,000 Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs]. Severe funding shortfalls are also a major constraint, with only 25 percent of the required $179 million funded to date.”
“Another major concern in Eastern Chad is the targeting of refugees and IDPs, including children, for recruitment by various armed groups. This is undermining the civilian and humanitarian character of the camps, and further increases their vulnerability to attacks. The displaced and the civilian population are also being threatened by militia and rebel attacks, and an almost total lack of law and order in the area. One group of IDPs I spoke with at the Gouroukoun site near Goz Beida had been attacked three times before they decided to flee their villages. And at least 13,000 people have fled from Chad to Darfur in recent weeks to escape the fighting and attacks.”
“The humanitarian colleagues I spoke to during my visit expected the situation in Eastern Chad to deteriorate further rather than improve. At the same time, President [Idriss] Deby made it very clear to me that the Government lacked the capacity to ensure the security and protection of the civilian population in Eastern Chad and the humanitarian organizations there to assist them. This means that we are confronted with a very dangerous vacuum that is being filled by rebels, militia and others, leaving civilians, IDPs, refugee camps and relief workers utterly exposed.”
“Something has to be done urgently to prevent a scenario where more and more civilians are attacked and displaced, refugee camps become increasingly militarized and potentially embroiled in the conflict, and relief workers have to withdraw. A number of options could be considered, including assistance to the Government of Chad to enable it to meet its security responsibilities. Humanitarian organizations have also been employing more Chadian security staff themselves. But we also have to consider other security arrangements now before the situation become much worse.”
Egeland concludes by offering the largest truth, though one that has yet to move the international community to meaningful action:
“In Darfur and Eastern Chad, humanitarian relief constitutes a lifeline for close to four million people. Attacking relief workers or impeding their work means attacking that lifeline. If relief workers have to pull out, hundreds of thousands of lives are put at risk.”
(all citations from “Briefing by Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, on his visit to Chad and Darfur,” Security Council Consultations, May 19, 2006)
Of these “close to four million people” who are dependent upon a humanitarian lifeline, evidence strongly suggests that insecurity has placed over 700,000 beyond reach of aid workers, and over 1 million people have only tenuous access to aid as we move into the “hunger gap” and rainy season.
THE AFRICAN UNION
Given these ghastly realities, we hear more and more talk of increasing, improving, and expanding the African Union force in Darfur. Given the palpable unwillingness of the international community to mount the required humanitarian intervention, and given the slow-motion response of the UN, such efforts to augment the AU are clearly in order, and emergency funding and equipment must be provided.
But the essential truth is that the AU is not remotely adequate to the crisis in Darfur, and cannot be made so. Notably, the primary reason that AU soldiers have not been paid for two months lies in performance evaluations conducted over the past two years by those who disperse money to the AU from Brussels. The European Union was to have been the primary funder of AU operations, but the EU has concluded that the inefficiencies and radical shortcomings of the force are such that further funding could not be justified. Some in Brussels feel that the AU is operating at less than 50% efficiency. Others note the decline in troop quality as the AU has struggled to reach the force level of 7,700 that was set over a year ago (it remains several hundred personnel short of this figure even now).
Many in the AU mission have performed courageously, even heroically. They have done the best they can lacking adequate military equipment, transport and communications capacity, intelligence, logistics, and administrative support. They have struggled on despite being denied by the AU political leadership a meaningful mandate for civilian or humanitarian protection. (See a recent sympathetic but relentlessly honest dispatch by Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times, May 17, 2006 at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/17/world/africa/17sudan.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)
But the African Union Mission in Sudan simply cannot be made into a force adequate to address the security needs of almost 4 million people. Moreover, this force can do nothing to staunch the flow of genocidal violence into eastern Chad, or to protect the more than 350,000 Darfuri refugees and conflict-affected Chadians. There is no AU presence whatsoever in eastern Chad, even as West Darfur is the region in Darfur that is most completely unprotected.
[See my detailed two-part analysis, “Ghosts of Rwanda: The Failure of the African Union in Darfur,” November 13 & 20, 2005:
The African Union is no doubt the future of peacekeeping in Africa, and should receive robust support both in the near and longer term. But it is unconscionable to hold Darfur hostage to the overwhelming shortcomings of the AU force, and to allow the fledgling AU Peace and Security Council to continue to fail in its first major peacekeeping operation. Such failure will be far from the least important consequence of unchecked genocide in Darfur.
MENDACITY AND CYNICISM ARE INCREASINGLY THE HALLMARKS OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION ON DARFUR
As the desperate urgency in Darfur increases, as insecurity continues to further attenuate the reach of humanitarian operations, and as we enter the grimmest season of death in this land of genocidal destruction, the Bush administration seems willing to continue with mere posturing. We may trace cynicism and mendacity going back well over a year in statements by various senior officials. But perhaps the most despicably mendacious is Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer. It was Frazer who last November flippantly warned against being concerned by the rising levels of violence, which have subsequently increased dramatically, and continue to increase, posing the grave threat that Egeland and others daily detail:
“[Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer] cautioned against dwelling too much on the current level of violence [in Darfur].” (Washington Post, November 4, 2005)
And it was Frazer who attempted to take the lead in walking the Bush administration back from the genocide determination of September 2004, rendered by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell on the basis of thorough review by State Department legal officials and a comprehensive study by the Coalition for International Justice (August/September 2004). (See my February 9, 2006 New Republic Article “State Department Dishonesty on Darfur,” http://www.sudantribune.com/article.php3?id_article=14000).
Most recently Frazer counseled complacency in the wake of the Abuja agreement, suggesting that the need for pressuring Khartoum has ended. Reuters reports the results of an astonishing series of queries:
“Asked what the United States would do if Khartoum did not accept UN peacekeepers to help about 7,000 under-equipped African Union forces in Darfur, Frazer said the international community would proceed as planned. Pressed on whether this meant forced military intervention to end what the US has termed genocide, Frazer said she was certain Khartoum would agree and this would not happen. ‘There is no need to do the contingency plan if you expect the government of Sudan to agree to a UN operation,’ she said. ‘They signed the Darfur peace agreement and they know what is needed to implement it.'” (Reuters [dateline: Washington], May 12, 2006)
It would be difficult to unpack all the disingenuousness, indeed outright mendacity in these statements. But the truth could not be more directly at odds with the claims made, with an unspeakably casual attitude, about the fate of almost 4 million threatened human lives, perhaps half of them children. It is important to note first that even were Khartoum to permit deployment of a UN force, such deployment would not reach significant numbers for many months, even as there is extraordinary present danger to these people. And it is far from clear that Khartoum will permit anything more than a “re-hatting” of AU forces as a UN force, with some marginal augmentation (see above). What guarantees, then, the security of the humanitarian lifeline that Egeland declared in danger of collapsing because of growing insecurity in Darfur and eastern Chad?
And why should Frazer suppose that because Khartoum “signed” the Abuja agreement, and because the regime indeed “knows what is needed to implement” it, that this will lead to actual implementation? The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of January 2005, between Khartoum and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, is largely in tatters because of a wide range of implementation failures. The National Islamic Front, since it came to power by military coup in June 1989, has never abided by any agreement with any Sudanese party. Its history is one of reneging and bad faith. With such massive human destruction in the balance, it is disgraceful to posture in such glib fashion as Frazer does here.
There is only one chance for Darfur, and that is relentless pressure on Khartoum: pressure to permit truly unfettered and unthreatened humanitarian access; pressure to open the country to journalists so that we do not lose sight of the potential victims of ongoing genocide; pressure to abide by the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for southern Sudan; pressure to allow humanitarian access to the ravaged east of Sudan; pressure to stop supporting the Chadian rebels who are creating such massive instability and human destruction within the civilian and refugee populations of eastern Chad.
But most of all, Khartoum must be pressured with the credible threat of humanitarian intervention, regardless of whether or not the regime declares a “non-permissive environment.” There could be no words more reassuring to the regime’s genocidaires than Frazer’s: “There is no need to do the contingency plan if you expect the government of Sudan to agree to a UN operation.” Those willing to wait for a UN operation to deploy when the African Union surrenders its mandate at the end of September must also be willing to accept the vast human destruction that is clearly impending. But those such as Frazer, willing to take Khartoum at its word, must also accept responsibility for the human destruction that will proceed long after next September. The human deaths that will follow from a lack of security in Darfur and eastern Chad cannot be calculated now; but estimates by Egeland, and by Kofi Annan in Le Figaro (May 19, 2006), are in the hundreds of thousands—and have a terrifying plausibility.
We are asked by Frazer and others in the Bush administration to accept that they believe genocide is occurring in Darfur. Though Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has referred in the past to the murderous, ethnically-targeted violence by Khartoum and its Janjaweed allies as “tribal warfare,” and though Frazer briefly attempted to walk the administration away from its unambiguous genocide determination, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice re-asserted the genocide determination in February 2006 testimony before the House International Relations Committee.
But if it is genocide, why are Frazer and others in the Bush administration so willing to trust to the genocidaires the lives of the very people who have been deliberately targeted because of their ethnicity? It is simply impossible to believe that the full implications of a genocide finding have registered.
But what of Europe? Those nations that so often hold the US in contempt have revealed themselves even more indifferent to the agony of Darfur—and just as disingenuous. When the Parliament of the European Union voted 566 to 6 (September 2004) to declare that realities in Darfur are “tantamount to genocide,” what was this phrase other than a semantic evasion, a way of avoiding declaring explicitly that genocide was occurring, and that contractual obligations under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide were in full force? For purposes of “preventing” genocide, there can be no meaningful distinction between the phrase “tantamount to genocide” and the word “genocide”—except for those who have no wish to act.
As restrictions in access to Darfur become more severe for journalists, leaders in both the US and Europe should find it easier to substitute disingenuousness for blunt truths, and to offer expediency in place of meaningful civilian protection.
Their disgrace increases steadily with the human destruction in Darfur.
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