Full-scale humanitarian collapse in Darfur looms ever closer, even as the violence that will occasion this collapse relentlessly increases. Hundreds of humanitarian workers have been evacuated in recent weeks from North Darfur and eastern Chad. In turn, violence will continue to accelerate as long as the Khartoum regime succeeds in preserving the demoralized and ineffectual African Union force in Darfur as the only source of security for more than 4 million civilians, as well as the vast humanitarian operations upon which they now increasingly depend.
This is the ghastly, inescapable syllogism of genocidal destruction in Darfur. Nothing will change until a force of the sort authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 31, 2006) deploys to Darfur, with or without Khartoum’s consent. Non-consensual deployment would be exceedingly difficult, and it certainly could not be tasked with stopping all the fighting. But such a force could provide protection to the more than 2 million displaced civilians concentrated in many scores of widely dispersed and extremely vulnerable camps—camps that have increasingly become the target of Janjaweed assaults, and that may become the target of wholesale slaughter. Humanitarian corridors could be secured, convoys accepting escort could be protected, and serious pre-emptive actions could be taken against any combatants targeting civilians or humanitarians in rural areas. Critically, safe diplomatic space for indigenous Darfuri negotiations and reconciliation efforts could be assured by such deployment. Finally, non-consensual deployment of adequate force would bring tremendous pressure on Khartoum to negotiate a meaningful peace agreement as a means of ending international military presence in Darfur.
That there is no international willingness to support and commit resources to even the consensual military force contemplated in Resolution 1706 tells us all we need to know about the likelihood of a much more challenging, larger, and riskier non-consensual deployment. But this does nothing to change the genocidal syllogism easily derived from current and readily discernible realities. For more than three years the international community has indulged the expedient fiction that the crisis in Darfur can be addressed in purely humanitarian terms. This has been accompanied for more than two and a half years by the equally expedient fiction that the fledgling African Union Peace and Security Council can address in any meaningful way the security crisis that has brought humanitarian relief to the point of collapse.
And yet the African Union’s essentially stand-alone role in Darfur was recently reaffirmed in the “Conclusions” document of the November 16, 2006 “high level consultation on the situation in Darfur” in Addis Ababa (and subsequently ratified at a meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council in Abuja; November 30, 2006). Despite disingenuous celebration of the November 16 “Conclusions” document (the US State Department declared, “the United States welcomes the successful outcome of this historic meeting,” November 16, 2006), there is not a shred of evidence that Khartoum has moved beyond defiant rejection of direct UN participation in a Darfur security force. National Islamic Front President Omar al-Bashir spoke bluntly after the Abuja AU meeting:
“Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, speaking after a closed-door AU summit, rebuffed African leaders advocating a compromise proposal for an expanded peacekeeping mission that would include blue-helmeted UN soldiers in Darfur. ‘We can take technical, advisory and financial support from the UN, but no UN force,’ al-Bashir said. ‘We want an Africa force.'” (Associated Press [dateline: Abuja, Nigeria], December 1, 2006)
“Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said he would accept UN ‘political, financial, logistics and technical’ support for an African peace force in Darfur. Asked what kind of support he would like, he replied: ‘Political, financial, logistics and technical…. Not the command but advising the command.'” (Reuters [dateline: Abuja, Nigeria], November 30, 2006)
The international community seems relentlessly determined not to hear these fully explicit words of al-Bashir, and equally determined not to understand their implications for security in Darfur. But they continue nonetheless to stand as the position governing all actions by the Khartoum regime.
At the same time, the Addis “Conclusions” document handed Khartoum a major diplomatic victory in the form of an unstinting re-affirmation of the fatally flawed Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja, Nigeria, May 5, 2006). Paragraph 2 of the document declares: “The Darfur Peace Agreement is the only basis for [the political process to resolve the Darfur conflict], and should not be re-negotiated.” But as events have subsequently made clear, Khartoum signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) primarily because it provided for no meaningful international guarantors of the elaborate and challenging security provisions of the agreement. This remains the case, and the DPA now serves as a highly effective means for Khartoum to stiff-arm any international efforts to re-start more effective and inclusive peace negotiations (see my detailed analysis of the November 16, 2006 “Conclusions” document at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article135.html).
VIOLENCE AGAINST THE AFRICAN UNION FORCE IN DARFUR
For many months now, civilian sentiment in Darfur has been running strongly against a powerless and largely useless African Union force (in part because of the AU role in overseeing negotiation of the failed DPA). In recent days festering anger and resentment has turned into explosive violence. A Janjaweed attack on a medical convoy in West Darfur left 37 civilians dead, in a gristly scene described by Amnesty International (rolling news report of December 12, 2006):
“At least 37 people were killed and 10 injured on 9 December  during a Janjawid attack on a commercial lorry carrying passengers as well as medical supplies for the Swiss nongovernmental organization ‘Medair.’ The lorry was travelling from the capital of West Darfur, Al-Geneina, to Sirba. Janjawid on horseback ambushed the lorry at 8am in Bir-Dageeg, opening fire on the driver and killing him. The vehicle lost control and crashed, at which point the Janjawid fired a Rocket Propelled Grenade at the vehicle, setting fire to fuel barrels it was carrying. As people fled, the Janjawid opened fire.”
“Among those killed were four primary school teachers, six women, and four children. Reportedly all were of the Erenga ethnic group. Those killed outside the vehicle were thrown back inside so that their remains were burned. Later that day at the burial in Al-Geneina, nine bodies were so welded together by fire they could not be distinguished.”
The non-Arab or African Erenga ethnic group has often been targeted by the Janjaweed in West Darfur, but this particularly brutal attack occasioned vehement anger. For as is often now the case in West Darfur, the vehicle had been left to travel this dangerous road without AU or police protection. Associated Press (dateline: Khartoum) reports:
“African Union peacekeepers killed three Darfur rioters when a crowd of angry refugees threatened to break into their base in the town of El Geneina, a UN official said Monday. The refugees were protesting at the base on Sunday [December 9, 2006], a day after 30 of their relatives were executed by pro-government janjaweed fighters. They protested against the African Union for what they say is the peacekeeping force’s failure to protect them.” (December 11, 2006)
Reuters reports other features of this imperfectly rendered story, as well as the abduction of two African Union personnel in el-Fasher (capital of North Darfur):
“Public anger has risen against the 7,000-strong AU force, which is accused of failing to stop the violence in Darfur. The incidents underscored the tension—AU troops had not killed civilians in Darfur before, and although AU staff have been abducted in the past, the kidnappings were the first to happen near the force headquarters in the town of El Fasher.” [ ]
“Noureddine Mezni, spokesman for the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), said a crowd [in el-Geneina] had tried to prevent the AU attending the burial of civilians killed in an attack over the weekend near the village of Sirba, 45 km (30 miles) north of El Geneina. ‘They broke the window of an AMIS car and then set fire to an AMIS police station…and even assaulted the (military) sector commander,’ Mezni said when contacted by Reuters.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], December 11, 2006)
While the anger of the crowd was finally misdirected, it is difficult not to sympathize with the rage of those who have been left so completely vulnerable by the international community, including countries of the African Union.
Even more vulnerable are those civilians in rural areas that continue to be targeted by Khartoum’s aerial military forces. Reuters reports on what appears to have been the use of a military jet in an attack on a village in North Darfur:
“Rebels in Sudan’s western region of Darfur said a government warplane killed eight civilians, mostly children, in a northern village on Monday [December 11, 2006]. Sudan’s armed forces said the report was a fabrication designed for propaganda purposes. Jarennabi Abdel-Karim, a spokesman for a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) which refused to sign a peace agreement with Sudan’s Khartoum-based government in May, said the plane fired a rocket at a house in the village of Hashaaba.”
“‘Eight people from the same family were killed,’ he told Reuters via satellite telephone. ‘Most of them are children.’ He gave what he said were the names of the eight people, including 50-year-old Fatmah Abdullah and seven children whose ages range between three and 13 years old.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], December 11, 2006)
[Reporting on what appears to be the same incident, Amnesty International released on December 12, 2006 a slightly different account:
“The Sudan Air Force bombed three areas on 11 December. In Hashaba, about 100 kilometres north of al-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, many members of a family, including six children, were killed.”]
In recent weeks reports from the non-signatory rebel groups in Darfur, particular the National Redemption Front/Group 19, have invariably been confirmed by subsequent investigation. What is particularly significant in the rebel account is the use of the word “warplane.” For although helicopter gunships also fire rockets, and have regularly been deployed against civilian targets throughout the course of Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency war, highly authoritative reports from non-rebel sources on the ground in Darfur suggest that Khartoum has largely grounded its fleet of gunships. This comes as a number of these fearsome weapons have been shot down by the rebels with newly acquired anti-aircraft weapons. Higher or faster flying aircraft are thus required; but Khartoum’s Antonov “bombers” fly at an altitude that makes rocket attacks impossible (the Antonov is in fact a retrofitted cargo plane, not a military aircraft by design).
This suggests that Khartoum may have begun to deploy its MiG-29 or other jet aircraft against civilians. Using oil revenues, Khartoum several years ago purchased (for many hundreds of millions of dollars) a dozen MiG-29s—the most advanced fighter aircraft in the Russian arsenal—with the capability of firing air-to-ground rockets. An urgent investigation of the ordnance used against the village of Hashaaba is required, with expeditious publication of its findings. Unfortunately, the African Union is unlikely to be able to respond to this clear obligation.
Indeed, Khartoum continues to place severe constraints on the operations of the African Union, as it has done since initial AU deployment in early summer 2004. Highly restrictive curfews, denial or commandeering of fuel supplies, and bureaucratic harassment have been standard operating procedures during the entire deployment. Most recently, Deutsche Presse Agentur (dateline: Johannesburg) reports on Khartoum’s refusal to allow the entry of a South African military delegation (South Africa has approximately 500 personnel on the ground in Darfur):
“Sudanese authorities have refused a high-ranking group of South African military personnel entry into the country. The delegation including several generals wanted to visit South African troops taking part in an African Union deployment near the Sudanese town of al-Fasher. Official reasons for the refusal was that the airport at al-Fasher was too busy with unloading Ghanaian troops to handle the flight from South Africa.” (dpa [dateline: Johannesburg], December 11, 2006)
HUMANITARIAN EVACUATIONS, WITHDRAWALS
The African Union—a force of only about 5,000 actual troops, with very poor cohesiveness, highly limited communications and intelligence-gathering ability, and desperately inadequate transport capacity—cannot possibly provide security for humanitarian personnel, operations, or convoys. Indeed, AU abilities are daily more compromised. Nowhere has this been more conspicuous than in the recent Janjaweed occupation of el-Fasher, and subsequent Janjaweed attack on Kutum (about 75 kilometers northwest of el-Fasher); this latter attack forced the evacuation of all personnel from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and was the event that precipitated the total withdrawal of the Irish humanitarian organization GOAL from Sudan:
“A number of aid agencies evacuated their staff from a town [Kutum] in Sudan’s Darfur region on Friday [December 8, 2006] after unidentified gunmen attacked a house used by the International Committee of the Red Cross, aid workers said. The ICRC said it evacuated 10 of its international staff and a Spanish Red Cross worker out of Kutum in northern Darfur after the attack on a residence housing two of its delegates who escaped unharmed. ‘We don’t know who it was. Gunmen tried to get it. They stayed on the roof and fired, and hung around for a quite a while,’ Jessica Barry, ICRC spokeswoman in Sudan, told Reuters.”
“She said the attack took place in the early hours of Friday and prompted the organization to fly its workers to El Fasher, the main town in Darfur and a scene of violent clashes early this week between militias, locally known as the Janjaweed, and the former rebels of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM/A). Goal, an Irish NGO, also evacuated its seven-member team from Kutum after the attack, said Mark Blackett, the agency’s Country Director. They would arrived in Khartoum on Saturday or Sunday, he said.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], December 8, 2006)
In fact all evidence, including a confidential report from the ground in North Darfur, strongly indicates that the attack in Kutum was carried out by Janjaweed forces.
Notionally, el-Fasher is headquarters for the African Union, and should be an area of particular security; but this fact only underscores the impotence of the AU force, and its woeful inadequacy in providing security for humanitarians. GOAL was bitter in its parting words:
“Meanwhile, the Irish aid agency Goal has become the latest aid agency to pull its international staff out of Darfur because of the violence. Goal chief executive John O’Shea said they had no choice but to take the ‘difficult decision’ after 13 aid workers had been killed in the past six months and several Goal vehicles hijacked. ‘It is clear that the international community does not rate the lives of the 4 million in the region desperately in need of protection by the international community,’ he said.” (BBC, December 9, 2006)
In el-Fasher itself, the Janjaweed have for the past ten days engaged in an extraordinarily brazen demonstration of violent contempt for civilians, and set off a series of explosive confrontations that prompted the emergency evacuation of many humanitarian personnel. Associated Press ([dateline: Khartoum] December 10, 2006) reports:
“An aid worker in El Fasher, where at least 10 people have been killed in janjaweed attacks the past week, said militiamen in the town were dressed in government paramilitary uniforms. Sudan’s government has been accused of incorporating janjaweed into paramilitary units, but denies doing that. UN officials say the troops have killed hundreds of civilians in recent weeks.” [ ]
“Some 160 UN staff and aid workers have left North Darfur towns during the past week, and 41 aid workers have been withdrawn from various spots in South Darfur where an aid group’s compound was raided and vehicles stolen by armed men in uniform, the UN said.”
The attacks that forced humanitarians to evacuate from South Darfur were also the brutal work of the Janjaweed.
A more detailed Associated Press dispatch (also December 10, 2006) on the situation in el-Fasher reported:
“Pro-government janjaweed militiamen killed a shopkeeper and a demonstrator Saturday [December 9, 2006] in a northern Darfur city [el-Fasher] where the situation remained tense after several days of violence, a UN official said. At least 10 people have been killed in El Fasher since the janjaweed looted a market in the city and clashed with former rebels on Monday.” [ ]
“The United Nations has evacuated 135 staff members, diplomats and aid workers from el-Fasher, and said it may pull out more of the remaining 200 if the situation worsens. Large refugee camps are located on the outskirts of el-Fasher, a city of more than 200,000 people that is a regional center for aid agencies, the African Union peacekeeping mission for Darfur, and the Sudanese army. A UN official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give statements to the media, said the latest violence broke out Saturday when a janjaweed fighter stole a cell phone payment card. The shopkeeper resisted and was shot dead. Janjaweed then attacked demonstrators carrying his body to the residence of the regional governor and killed at least one person, the official said.”
“‘The situation is extremely tense, there’s a lot of sporadic shooting,’ the official said by telephone from el-Fasher.”
Reuters, with different sources, reported on the same incident in the capital city of North Darfur:
“Sudan’s Darfur region on Saturday, killing one civilian and looting shops, a former rebel group and a witness said. The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), the only group that signed a May peace deal with the government, said scores of vehicles carrying gunmen had stormed the town. ‘This force is opening fire in the town and the town is in deep chaos now,’ SLM spokesman Saif Haroun told Reuters.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], December 9, 2006)
It is difficult to establish a fully clear picture of what has occurred over the past ten days in el-Fasher, and the ways in which the local government, the Khartoum regime, and the Janjaweed have worked together or in tension. What is certainly clear is that the numerous 4×4 vehicles the Janjaweed are now using have been provided by Khartoum, and they give this fearsome militia proxy a mobility it did not previously have when traveling on horse- and camel-back. This new feature of the Janjaweed forces was first highlighted prominently by the UN Panel of Experts in its September 2006 report. Amnesty International has recently reported the development in its Darfur “rolling news” item of December 6, 2006:
“As the UN evacuates staff from the main Darfur town of El Fasher today because of the growing threat from armed groups, Amnesty International has learnt of new attacks in the region carried out by the Janjawid militia. In a new development, the attackers were mostly in vehicles rather than on horseback in one of the raids.” (December 6, 2006)
In an earlier (December 4, 2006) news item, Amnesty noted:
“The [Janjaweed] attackers went on to Hashaba Junub and the village of Um Sheiraina where they burned a grain mill or tahuna. They continued on to Hashabab Wasit and finally based themselves in Um Sidir. The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) has no presence nearby and did not engage in the attacks. The attackers were almost all in vehicles, a new development also seen in recent attacks on Helif.”
In the period from early November to December 5, 2006, Amnesty also reported on Janjaweed attacks in South Darfur state, characterized by the deliberate destruction of livelihoods:
“Attacks by Janjawid militia linked to the Ma’ariya ethnic group have been occurring over the last month in South Darfur in the area southeast of Muhajaria, progressing steadily from the Mutawrat area towards Muhajaria. The SLA Free Will movement under the leadership of Adam Saleh has also been implicated in these attacks.”
“The most recent attacks took place in Kalajoh from 1-3 December . Fifteen civilians were killed: five older women, five young women, three minors who were trapped in a burning house, and two men. Humanitarian aid and foodstocks were also burnt. In total at least 41 people have been killed in the villages of Mutawrat, An Gaboh, Um Deh, Hillat Tarablus, Hillat Tahlbah, Abu Hadid, Beh Hashi, Am Gedem, Lassus, An Gedeam, Kibeh, Kunbaleh, Shergeneh and Kalajoh. The actual death toll is likely to be much higher. In each attack the Janjawid burned the villages.”
In eastern Chad, where the African Union has no presence, humanitarian evacuations have also been dramatic in recent days and weeks. Uncontrolled violence—most of it directly attributable either to the Janjaweed or to the Khartoum-backed Chadian rebel forces—has led to large-scale evacuations, leaving a huge population without meaningful humanitarian access:
“More than 300,000 Sudanese refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and local villagers in eastern Chad are facing a potential health crisis following the withdrawal of many humanitarian workers in the face of ongoing military movements, rebel attacks and inter-communal tensions, United Nations agencies warned today.” [ ]
“The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the situation remained extremely volatile. ‘We are working to ensure the basic needs of refugees such as water, food and primary health services are met while we continue the relocation of staff from the three northern locations of Bahai, Iriba and Gurda to the main eastern town of Abch or the Chadian capital N’Djamena,’ UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva. ‘We are keeping skeleton teams in place in these locations, where 110,000 refugees live in six camps,’ she added, noting that over 400 international and local humanitarian staff had been relocated in the past 12 days, with 100 more still waiting to be moved from Gurda [near the Darfur/Chad border].” (UN press release, December 8, 2006)
Jan Egeland, departing UN aid chief, has offered the grimmest overview:
“Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland also underscored the continuing deterioration in Darfur, with violence and direct attacks against relief workers in the past few weeks forcing the relocation of by far the largest number of humanitarian workers since the conflict began.” (UN News Center, December 12, 2006)
SECURITY IN EASTERN CHAD
The situation in eastern Chad cries out desperately for urgent deployment of a robust international security force. Notably, in the case of Chad, the government itself is asking for such a force—as is the government of the Central African Republic. So, too, is Dennis Sassou Nguesso, President of the African Union. The UN High Commission for Refugees has also called for a security force, as have numerous nongovernmental policy, humanitarian, and human rights organizations. The French, with a significant military presence in Abch, raised the issue several weeks ago, but seem to have acquiesced before Khartoum’s condemnation of the idea. Yet the merits of such a force are compelling: Janjaweed attacks on civilians in eastern Chad could be halted; the destabilizing Chadian rebel groups could be cut off from the support and safe haven provided by Khartoum; and humanitarian operations in eastern Chad—now responsible for a conflict-affected population approaching 400,000, including Darfuri refugees, Chadian displaced person, as well as affected rural and host communities—could be secured, along with overland transport routes.
Such a force would also send a clear signal of international resolve, and put in place military resources that would be hours, not weeks or months from being able to respond to events on the ground in Darfur. But without French leadership, including in passing an authorizing UN Security Council resolution, there is no chance of forward movement. The Financial Times reports that France appears to be waiting for US leadership on the issue; but if this is French strategy, it is finally disingenuous:
“[A Bush administration official said] that the US wanted to work with France in Chad, where Paris has a small contingent of troops, to help President Idris Deby fend off Sudanese-backed rebels. French diplomats said there had been no approach yet from Washington about military action and Paris would only envisage military initiatives within a multilateral framework.” (Financial Times [London] [dateline: Washington, DC], December 12, 2006)
But there is no reason to conceive of this force as primarily supporting the corrupt and tyrannical Dby, though this might indeed be the inevitable consequence of deployment to eastern Chad of a protection force (Darfur’s rebel groups would also likely see an interdiction of the weapons and supplies flowing to them from Chad). Moreover, a military toppling of Dby by the rebel coalition supported by Khartoum could easily result in a badly fragmented country, a new Somalia in the very center of Africa. The conflagration in Darfur is threatening the entire region, including not only Chad, but the Central African Republic and even Cameroon (which is starting to see an influx of refugees from both Chad and CAR; Reuters [dateline: Yaounde, Cameroon], December 7, 2006). France needs no invitation from Washington to begin the process of forging the “multilateral framework” referred to here by French diplomats.
HUMANITARIAN CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO DETERIORATE
What seems, incomprehensibly, lost on the international community is the continuing deterioration of humanitarian conditions in Darfur, and the growing threat to aid operations. The crisis has not “bottomed out,” but continues to deepen; massive and now inevitable human mortality will continue to grow in scale if there is no change in the security dynamic on the ground. We will see more humanitarian evacuations and complete withdrawals; the population of more than 1 million conflict-affected civilians now beyond all humanitarian reach will expand steadily. Given the highly destructive consequences of almost four years of genocidal counter-insurgency warfare, this population is vulnerable in the extreme.
Doctors Without Borders/Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF)—whatever the perversity of its political posture on Darfur—continues to serve as one of the primary and most distinguished relief organizations on the ground. A recent account from South Darfur (where of late reporting has been scarce) gives a sense of what continues to define the lives of millions of Darfuris:
“After a series of violent attacks over the past two months, at least 50,000 civilians in southern Darfur, Sudan, have fled to the arid countryside. Villages have been burned, civilians shot, water sources, and food stocks destroyed. Doctors Without Borders/Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF) is providing surgical assistance to the wounded, has set up fixed and mobile health clinics, and is distributing plastic sheets, blankets, and food.” (MSF report from Muhajariya, South Darfur, December 8, 2006, at http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/2006/12-08-2006.cfm)
Food security remains a critical issue as well. Peculiarly, the International Committee of the Red Cross recently declared that it was reducing its Darfur budget because it had reached the opposite conclusion:
“‘The reduction of the budget (for Sudan) is largely related to Darfur,’ ICRC spokesman Marco Jimenez said. ‘We won’t be doing any more food distribution because our assessment shows us that people have been able to harvest much more than previously, in spite of the violence. They have managed to attain a certain level of self-sufficiency in food,’ he added.” (Reuters [dateline: Geneva], December 7, 2006)
But MSF reports:
“Food is running out as well. The rainy season was good this year so there is promise of a large harvest, but most people are too afraid to return. MSF teams traveling in the area came across fields partially harvested, the rest slowly spoiling. MSF staff have been treating people who were wounded when they went back to till their fields. Due to the continuing insecurity there is a real risk that the harvest will be lost. The United Nations and aid agencies have distributed food, but the shifting situation and peoples’ continued movements make it impossible to ensure that all people are getting the food they need.”
“There are no places where displaced people can seek health care. Their general health status is precarious, and can be expected to worsen given their living conditions.” (MSF report from Muhajariya, South Darfur, December 8, 2006)
An Associated Press dispatch of today (dateline: Khartoum) also provides an overview of basic failures in provision of food throughout Darfur:
“Food and other basic relief is not reaching thousands in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan, despite what the United Nations calls the world’s biggest humanitarian effort. Over a dozen aid workers have also been slain in recent months, and spiraling violence has forced many to pull out. Seventy-four World Food Program vehicles have been attacked and one driver has been killed since [the May 5, 2006 signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in Abuja, Nigeria]. Violence has been increasing and last month, in the worst looting yet, Arab tribal fighters known as janjaweed ripped apart a UN World Food Program warehouse and took 800 tons of food in the rebel stronghold of Bir Maza as government forces assaulted the town.” (December 13, 2006)
The Associated Press dispatch also captures incisively Khartoum’s attitude toward humanitarian food relief:
“Meanwhile, some 200 World Food Program [WFP] trucks are being blocked by the government from reaching Darfur, said Kenro Oshidari, the Sudan director for the UN agency. [ ] ‘Food security is one of the most basic human rights, and it’s constantly being challenged in Darfur,’ said Oshidari. The WFP is the sole source of food for some 1.8 million people in Darfur, who without the UN’s help would starve because they fear marauding militias will kill or rape them if they leave the refugee camps to cultivate their fields.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], December 13, 2006)
Jan Egeland, in his valedictory comments as UN aid chief, has offered a more global, and yet again terrifying account of the present humanitarian situation in Darfur:
“‘In the end, we only acted through the humanitarian way [in Darfur],’ Egeland said. ‘We have kept people alive, but we haven’t protected them, and as I’m going out, I regret to say we’re in a free fall again.'”
“Where is the free fall going?”
“‘We would get a genocide. We would get a Rwanda. We could get a terrible situation if the four million people who are in need of humanitarian assistance in Darfur (are) joined by a million people in Chad and another million in northern Central African Republic. That’s six million people in a totally hopeless situation.’ Egeland recalled that the women and children he met during his recent fourth visit to Darfur thanked him for the food but pleaded for security. With the humanitarian operation collapsing in many places, he said, they will have nothing.” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], December 6, 2006)
Given the relentlessly grim news from Darfur and eastern Chad, given the inevitability of hundreds of thousands of additional civilian deaths between now and the end of the next “hunger gap” (fall 2007), various international actors are attempting to position themselves, as they see it, to escape historical blame for this cataclysm of impending human destruction. But the historical record has already been established, and there is no escaping from its inevitably savage judgment.
The countries of Europe, as well as Canada, remain consistently inert, and appear indifferent to this judgment. Only Britain gives fitful signs of concern, but to date this concern has consistently proved to be merely rhetorical—like Conrad’s Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness,” it is “hollow at the core.” The Financial Times reports what would seem to be a change of course, for both Britain and the US, but it remains to be seen whether this is anything more than more strenuous saber-rattling:
“Tony Blair has backed imposing a no-fly zone over Sudan’s Darfur region while military planners in Washington are also developing plans for air strikes and a naval blockade to pressure Khartoum to stop the violence, the Financial Times has learned. The British prime minister declared his support for a no-fly zone for the first time during his visit last week to Washington, during which he told President George W. Bush that they had to deal with Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, in the next two to three months.” (Financial Times [London] [dateline: Washington, DC], December 12, 2006)
But in an immediate backing away from this report, the Official Spokesman of the Prime Minister today (December 13, 2006) clarified what Mr. Blair actually meant:
“Asked about the Government’s stance on Darfur following reports in the Financial Times, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Financial Times had got ahead of themselves in their story. The PMOS went on to read out what the Prime Minister had said last week, ‘I think the issue is getting the force in there and I think that if, in the next weeks and next couple of months or so, the Sudanese government are not prepared to agree to the UN plan, then we’ve got to move to sanctions and we’ve got to move to tougher action. And I think we should certainly consider the option of a no-fly zone to help people in Darfur, because it’s a very, very serious situation and it’s now spilling into other countries next door. But this is not our military force, certainly, in terms of boots on the ground.'” (Morning Press Briefing, at http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page10593.asp)
The time-frame here says everything about Blair’s sense of urgency:
“if, in the next weeks and next couple of months or so, the Sudanese government are not prepared to agree to the UN plan….”
Further, there has been no evident discussion of the practicability of an Iraq-style “no-fly zone,” which has always been highly doubtful. Khartoum’s helicopter gunships fly very low, and would require exceedingly careful AWACS/JSTARS surveillance to be detected; moreover, they often fly amidst the operational areas of helicopters transporting humanitarian workers, who are frequently forced by insecurity to move by air rather than ground transport. And as noted above, rebel groups report many fewer helicopter assaults in the wake of rebel acquisition of weapons that can bring down helicopters from their altitude of deployment.
To make matters more complex, Khartoum’s Antonov aircraft are used for both military and humanitarian transport purposes, and any confusion in enforcing a no-fly zone could produce disastrous results. Compounding the difficulties of distinguishing aircraft, Khartoum has repeatedly been cited—by the African Union and the UN—for disguising its military aircraft in the white colors used by AU and humanitarian aircraft. Moreover, if a no-fly zone were really anticipated, Khartoum would certainly confuse the flight routes of its military aircraft and humanitarian flights in order to make an accidental shoot-down more likely.
Much simpler, less expensive, and less prone to error would be destruction on the ground of any aircraft implicated in attacks on civilian or humanitarian targets. This would require dedication of significant aerial and satellite reconnaissance assets, as well as intelligence assessment, but would still prove far less resource-consumptive and more effective than a no-fly zone enforced by squadrons of fighter jets and surveillance aircraft based in Chad. Rebel groups themselves are eager simply to be provided anti-aircraft weapons that would allow them to bring down the Antonovs: they know full well that if only one or two Antonovs were brought down in combat, Khartoum would find it impossible to secure pilots for future flights.
No matter what course of action is chosen, planning for any effort to curtail Khartoum’s use of its military aircraft would necessarily entail anticipating reprisals by the regime against humanitarians or civilians populations in the camps. There is no military response on the cheap to this massive crisis, which has been allowed to develop unchecked over the past four years. This is true for any stand-off military response to a crisis that exists most fundamentally on the ground.
All these issues need to be considered and addressed much more clearly by both Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, which today issued a new joint advocacy press release that—
“called on the Security Council to back its 2005 demand that the Sudanese government cease ‘offensive military flights’ over Darfur with the immediate establishment of a No Fly Zone—supported by France and Germany in particular—if aerial attacks on civilians again intensify.” (December 12, 2006 at http://allafrica.com/stories/200612130388.html)
Not only does this statement fail to address any of the issues raised above, but there is also a very troubling ambiguity here in the phrase “if aerial attacks on civilians again intensify”: what is our point of reference in defining what constitutes an “intensifying” of air attacks? what about the many recently reported aerial attacks on civilian targets? have we not reached whatever threshold is necessary to take appropriate action to protect defenseless civilians from such barbaric assault? The present release by these two important advocacy organizations does not reflect sufficiently serious deliberation or reflection.
The Financial Times reports further on the thinking of the Blair and Bush governments:
“No decisions over possible military action over Darfur have been reached, and such a course would be considered only if [President al-] Bashir resists UN demands for the deployment of a ‘hybrid’ force of UN and African Union peacekeepers. Opposition from the US military is said to be strong. Analysts and diplomats are also sceptical the US and UK will conclude that military intervention against Khartoum’s wishes would rescue a complex situation.” [ ]
“Mr Blair spoke in Washington of his fears that the violence and ‘terrible suffering’ in Darfur might destabilise the whole region and called for ‘tougher action,’ but with UN approval.”
“UN approval” will clearly be necessary for both these countries, given the deepening shadow of Iraq; but no mention is made of the highly resistant diplomatic posture of the Chinese and Russian Permanent Representatives to the UN Security Council.
The Financial Times also reports:
“Andrew Natsios, the US special envoy for Sudan, flew to Khartoum at the weekend to make another diplomatic push, though US officials doubted Mr Bashir would allow the deployment of peacekeepers. ‘We are very concerned that [President al-Bashir] is buying more time to continue with military operations in Darfur. We need a different game plan,’ one [Bush administration] official told the Financial Times, referring to what the US is calling ‘Plan B,’ believed to be a package of sanctions and coercive action.” ([dateline: Washington, DC], December 12, 2006)
“Believed” by whom? No one on Capitol Hill seems aware of any truly effective package that includes “coercive action.” This seems merely an extension of the bluff that US Special Envoy Natsios has already put on the table (“either we see a change [in Khartoum’s response to the security crisis in Darfur] or go to plan B,” November 20, 2006). And reports from Khartoum today (December 13, 2006) hardly suggest that Natsios is talking tough to Khartoum’s gnocidaires or setting ultimatums:
“[US] Envoy Andrew Natsios said that during the two-hour meeting with Bashir: ‘(We) agreed to disagree on history, but we have agreed that there are some steps that we can take in the next week that may make some progress.'” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], December 13, 2006)
Such a vacuous statement could mean anything—or nothing.
Moreover, an Agence France-Presse interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (publication date of December 13, 2006) also strongly suggests the administration is backing away from the deadline that Natsios laid down at the time he originally announced an unspecified “Plan B”:
“QUESTION: December 31st,  for you, remains an important —
“SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think Andrew [Natsios] was just making a point that there are—there have to be deepening concerns about the humanitarian situation as we hear from the UN and from others. And so this can’t go on forever, but I wouldn’t say that, you know, on January 1st, everything changes, no.” (Press Release: US State Department, interview With Sylvie Lanteaume and David Millikin of Agence France-Presse, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0612/S00249.htm)
A further question suggested that the US was very far indeed from contemplating “coercive action” (as opposed to “sanctions”):
“QUESTION: Turning to Sudan, President Bush once said that following the genocide in Rwanda that it would never happen again on his watch. And yet, the violence in Darfur is soon going to be entering—it’s almost four years long at this point. And still, the Sudan Government is not agreeing to the terms—the international terms for deployment of a peacekeeping force. Now, do you still feel that—Andrew Natsios has set kind of a year-end deadline for approval of that. Do you think and feel that that still is a deadline and is there a plan B?
“SECRETARY RICE: Well, Andrew is out there now and very good work has been done by Kofi Annan and by, really, all of the interested parties: the AU, the Arab League, the Egyptians, the European Union. Everybody is focused and centered around this compromise proposal.”
Of course the Arab League has relentlessly sided with Khartoum; and two of its members—Jordan and Algeria—have been recently been shamefully dishonest about the realities of Darfur, even as they sit on the new UN Human Rights Council As Human Rights Watch reports (Geneva, December 11, 2006):
“Discussions on Darfur in the council have at times seemed disconnected from reality. Jordan’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, who visited Khartoum at the invitation of the Sudanese government, claimed that the situation in Darfur is not as dire as reported by the United Nations and the media. The Algerian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, in a statement made on behalf of the council’s African members, said that ‘the alleged links’ between the Sudanese government and militias in Darfur ‘have yet to be documented.'”
The suggestion that definitive links between Khartoum and the Janjaweed militias have not been established—indeed, established far beyond any reasonable doubt—is as preposterous as it is politically revealing. And Arab League heavyweight Egypt has been just as obscenely accommodating of Khartoum’s gnocidaires.
Secretary of State Rice continued in response to the AFP question:
“And I think the issue is: Is the Sudanese Government willing to take this lifeline that people are trying to give them [*i.e., an AU/UN ‘hybrid force’—ER*]? Because if there is widespread humanitarian suffering in this region as a result of their unwillingness to take the help of the international community, they’re going to be held accountable.”
“And so this is the time to accept the help of the international community and that’s the point that we are making to them. You know, we retain other resolutions in the Security Council, including ones about designations for sanctions and the like that can always be employed, but I think we would like for now to try and see if we can’t bring through the fact that everybody is united around this proposal the Sudanese Government to accept this help that the international community is willing to give.”
So here is “Plan B” as articulated by the US Secretary of State in an interview published for the record by the State Department:
“we retain other resolutions in the Security Council, including ones about designations for sanctions and the like that can always be employed [*time-frame unspecified—ER*].”
Leaving aside continuing Russian and Chinese objections to “sanctions” in any form (it is hardly the case that they “can always be employed”), there are simply no sanctions measures that have been discussed or broached that can influence in the near or medium term a survivalist regime that has staked all on genocidal victory in Darfur. The Human Rights Watch/International Crisis Group press release (December 12, 2006) attempts to articulate a sanctions threat that might indeed move Khartoum from its present posture of defiance:
“The two global advocacy groups, who were among the first to alert the world to the unfolding catastrophe in Darfur, called for the imposition of strong new economic, legal and military measures if President Omar El Bashir did not act immediately, and once and for all, to stop all attacks on civilians, accept in entirety the proposed new African Union-UN peacekeeping force, and cooperate fully in new political settlement efforts.”
In fact, it is quite unclear in the wake of the Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document (November 16, 2006), and its minimalist construal by Khartoum following the Abuja meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council (November 30, 2006), just what this “proposed new African Union-UN peacekeeping force” refers to. The AU and UN have secured nothing in the way of a combined operation in Darfur. Nor is there any reason to expect that Khartoum will cease cleaving to the hopelessly inadequate Darfur Peace Agreement as a means of forestalling, precisely, “new political settlement efforts.”
But most strikingly, the Crisis Group/Human Rights Watch press release, and earlier reports from the organizations individually, have failed to make the case that any contemplated sanctions will move a regime that is locked fully into a survivalist mentality—and is clearly prepared to risk the consequences of any sanctions measure in order to ensure it retains its monopoly on national wealth and power. Insofar as the Darfur crisis represents a threat to this monopoly, Khartoum has determined that the genocidal status quo will prevail. Moreover, if (as it has indicated) the International Criminal Court is prepared to issue warrants for violations of international law in Darfur as soon as February 2007, Khartoum’s gnocidaires know that they will be confronted with their all too conspicuous crimes, at least formally—even as we also know these men will never allow themselves to be extradited to The Hague.
Here it should be noted that the earlier Financial Times report mentions the possibility of “a naval blockade” of Port Sudan—a robust measure that would produce an immediate shutdown of oil revenues. If enforced, such a blockade would bring immensely powerful pressure to bear on Khartoum, and signal a decisive resolve on the part of the UK and US. But such a step would require a willingness to confront Beijing in a serious showdown: what if a Chinese oil tanker were to attempt to run the blockade? This is a proposal worth careful consideration, but there is to date no evidence that the US is willing to engage with this level of seriousness, no hint of the planning or diplomatic preparation that would be required. And the British timetable for response outlined by Blair—
“if, in the next weeks and next couple of months or so, the Sudanese government are not prepared to agree to the UN plan….”
—suggests that to date no significant preparation work has been done.
KOFI ANNAN AND DARFUR
As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has drawn closer to the end of his tenure, he has by all accounts been exceedingly conscious of what his historical legacy will be. Mindful of his role as head of UN Peacekeeping Operations during the slaughter at Srebrenica and the Rwandan genocide, Annan seems to be taking particular care to put himself on record as saying the rights things about Darfur.
Even so, history’s judgment of the UN Secretariat and Darfur has already been superbly initiated by Adam LeBor in his recent book, “‘Complicity with Evil’: The United Nations in the Age of Modern Genocide” (Yale University Press, 2006). Drawing heavily on behind-the-scenes accounts provided by Mukesh Kapila (UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan until April 1, 2004), as well as a number of astonishingly revealing interviews with others at the UN who saw first-hand many of the same mistakes made during the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia being repeated, LeBor has drawn a remorseless portrait of institutional indifference.
On December 18, 2003, Kapila wrote to Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland and “to Kieran Prendergast, a veteran British diplomat and who was then the under-secretary general of the Department of Political Affairs, a position of great power and influence [within the Secretariat].” Kapila declared at the time that:
“‘The security situation in Greater Darfur continues to worsen. Access to both rebel and Government-held areas remains denied and/or constrained by travel permit restrictions and by militia activities in all three [Darfur] states.'” (page 154)
When Kapila asked the UN Secretariat’s Department of Political Affairs “for political guidance about the framework in which he could operate, he was told that there was none, for the UN was not directly involved in the political process, and Darfur was seen as largely a humanitarian issue. Once again, the Secretariat gave priority to blankets and food aid, applying a palliative to the symptoms of the crisis, rather than confront its causes.” (page 155)
Kapila declared at the time:
“I told them this was not purely a humanitarian issue, it was a political issue as well. But beyond the ritualistic noises, the Department of Political Affairs washed its hands of Darfur.” (“‘Complicity with Evil,'” page 155)
LeBor reports the words of a UN humanitarian official, commenting on efforts within the UN Secretariat at the end of December 2003: “‘We had tried for months to get [Darfur] onto the agenda.'” But as LeBor rightly notes, “The [Secretariat’s] Department of Political Affairs, more powerful than the humanitarian departments, wanted the Darfur crisis kept out of the Security Council and advised Kofi Annan to the same, so as not the jeopardize the [north/south] Naivasha [peace negotiations]” (page 160).
On the solemn occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide (April 7, 2004), Annan painfully invoked this terrible moment of international moral failure. In his address to the UN Commission on Human Rights (Geneva), Annan also referred to Darfur and spoke of taking “swift and decisive action” when genocide was imminent. Recent reports on Darfur, Annan declared at the time, “leave me with a deep sense of foreboding. Whatever terms it uses to described the situation, the international community cannot stand idle.” And yet this is precisely what the international community would do, in part because of Annan’s subsequently disingenuous statements about Darfur.
By May 2004 Jan Egeland, Annan’s chief humanitarian official, had declared that there was a “scorched-earth campaign of ethnic cleansing” in Darfur (Reuters, May 27, 2004). Mukesh Kapila, a veteran of the Rwandan genocide, had declared even earlier, in a March 2004 BBC interview, that “‘the only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the numbers involved. [The campaign] in Darfur is more than just a conflict, it is an organized attempt to do away with a group of people.” Shortly after his interview with the BBC, Kapila prepared a detailed memorandum which he sent to,
“Iqbal Riza, Kofi Annan’s chief of Cabinet, asking him to forward it to Annan. Copies were also sent to seven senior UN officials, including Kieran Prendergast, head of the Department of Political Affairs, Mark Malloch Brown, head of the UN Development Program, and Annan’s deputy, Louise Frchette. [Kapila’s] letter detailed the involvement of the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed in ethnic cleansing and a systematic campaign of ‘large-scale armed violence and incidents of murder, rape, torture, and abduction.’ It described a ‘scorched-earth policy’ of organized ‘pogroms’ that showed ‘premeditation and planning from a higher level of a policy of extreme violence that is specifically targeted at African tribes.'” (“‘Complicity with Evil,'” pp. 163-164).
Despite this, Annan would declare in June 2004, “Based on reports that I have
received, I cannot at this stage call [Darfur] genocide. There are massive violations of international humanitarian law, but I am not ready to describe it as genocide or ethnic cleansing yet'” (Voice of America June 17, 2004).
In the face of the unambiguous finding and repeated declaration of “ethnic cleansing” by Jan Egeland, in the face of the detailed reports by Mukesh Kapila, UN aid coordinator for Sudan until April 1, 2004, Annan declared that he’d seen no report that convinced him that ethnic cleansing or genocide was occurring in Darfur.
This is the context in which to hear the Secretary-General’s more recent words, again in Geneva, addressed to the UN organization that succeeded the Commission on Human Rights Annan had so solemnly addressed in April 2004:
“UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday [December 12, 2006] to immediately address the escalating atrocities in Darfur by sending an independent team of investigators to the volatile Sudanese region. ‘It is urgent that we take action to prevent further violations, including by bringing to account those responsible for the numerous crimes that have already been committed,’ Annan said” (Associated Press [dateline: Geneva], December 12, 2006)
Having failed to speak decisively or consistently on Darfur for three and a half years, Annan is here reduced—in seeking to put himself on the “historical record”—to urging an already fatally compromised UN Human Rights Council (which has now twice refused to hold Khartoum in any way accountable for atrocities in Darfur) “to take action to prevent further violations.” The pretense that yet another human rights investigation (there have been scores, many by UN human rights investigators) might serve “to immediately address the escalating atrocities in Darfur” is perverse beyond easy reckoning—but perfectly defining of what Kofi Annan has been on Darfur.
The title for Adam LeBor’s deeply dispiriting but immensely important book comes from the United Nations’ report on its peacekeeping operations during the 1990s:
“Impartiality for United Nations operations must therefore mean adherence to the principles of the Charter: where one party clearly and incontrovertibly is violating its terms, continued equal treatment of the parties by the United Nations can in the best case result in ineffectiveness and in the worst may amount to complicity with evil.” (page x)
The international failure in Darfur derives not only from the feckless behavior of Western nations, and the miserable leadership at the UN Secretariat, but from the moral failures of those nations that refuse to make judgments even when serving as arbiters on a UN council dedicated to addressing human rights issues. We should note in particular those nations voting against the painfully mild Canadian/European resolution that would have begun to hold Khartoum responsible for its manifest and gross abuses of human rights in Darfur. Though too infrequently held to account, these nations and their votes certainly represent “complicity with evil”: