The security crisis confronting humanitarian operations in Darfur and eastern Chad has deepened dangerously in the past several weeks. A new level of violence and brazen attacks on aid workers has produced large-scale evacuations of many hundreds of personnel, both Sudanese and expatriate. Complete lawlessness is rampant. Perhaps only half of Darfur has any humanitarian access, and much of this is highly compromised by the difficulty of overland transport. Virtually the same conditions of extreme insecurity prevail in eastern Chad, where some 500,000 conflict-affected persons also face a severe attenuation of humanitarian access. A conflict-affected population of some 4.5 million human beings in the greater humanitarian theater has now been reduced to watching helplessly as aid operations—even the most critical—are suspended or halted altogether. A series of extended confidential conversations with senior officials, representing a range of humanitarian organizations on the ground in Darfur, makes clear that despite the courage and commitment that presently sustain relief efforts, the possibility of wholesale evacuations is perilously close.
If humanitarian organizations do withdraw entirely, or are continually more restricted in their movements, there will be no witnesses to the next act of genocidal destruction: the assault upon or bulldozing of Darfur’s camps for the displaced. More than 2 million people are concentrated in camps that are often awash in weapons, that have become more violent, angrier, even as they are more completely exposed to annihilation. Further, under the guise of “voluntary returns,” Khartoum is prepared in the absence of international witnesses to accelerate a campaign of forcing civilians to “return” to their villages. But these are people who in most cases have lost everything. And they will be returning in the main not to villages, but to the burned out remains of villages; and in far too many cases, they will be able to make no claim to land that has been occupied during their stays in the camps, in some cases for almost four years.
Humanitarian withdrawals will also endanger the lives of the millions of people who after more than three years of genocidal counter-insurgency warfare are increasingly dependent upon humanitarian assistance, especially food and water. But primary medical care, shelter, and other forms of assistance are also critically endangered, posing grave threats to human welfare throughout all three Darfur states.
The signals of desperation about humanitarian conditions come in the form of a wide range of statistics from many sources (too often lacking collation), reports of specific attacks, the growing brutality of assaults on humanitarian workers, access restrictions, and personnel evacuations. A growing number of organizations have withdrawn entirely, either to Khartoum or out of Sudan altogether. In short, for lack of anything approaching meaningful security, the world’s largest humanitarian operation is crumbling. So, too, is the African Union force which Khartoum seeks to maintain as the only source of security for humanitarians.
CURRENT POLITICAL AND DIPLOMATIC CONTEXT FOR HUMANITARIAN “MELTDOWN”
Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime has to date enjoyed extraordinary success in defying the international community on the issue of a meaningful security force in Darfur, and in preserving instead an under-manned, ill-equipped, badly led, and demoralized African Union force. It is reasonable, then, to ask how much has changed with the low-key announcement Friday (December 22, 2006) that the regime has partially accepted some of the elements of the force originally specified by UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 31, 2006). What has actually been accomplished in the past four months, during which time security has plummeted, and continues to plummet? Has anything been achieved that will change the security dynamic on the ground in the near- or even medium-term? What has happened to the 22,500 UN troops and civilian police that were authorized, under Chapter VII authority of the UN Charter, to protect civilians and humanitarians, as well as staunch the flow of violence from Darfur into eastern Chad? Is there any reason to believe that Khartoum’s commitment will prove more meaningful on this present occasion than on the many previous occasions when it promised, for example, to disarm its brutal Janjaweed militia proxies?
Whatever else Khartoum may have done, the regime has with this perhaps only minimal concession provided the Bush administration and its Special Envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios with an excuse for not needing to move to a transparently vacuous “Plan B.” For “Plan B” was always a bluff, though in recent days Natios and others within the Bush administration took the extraordinarily disingenuous step of warning operational humanitarian groups that they should be prepared for ominous US actions if Khartoum did not change its ways by the New Year. This created what was entirely gratuitous concern and even alarm among these organizations, which thought that they were being warned to expect the possibility of reprisals in the event of unspecified, potentially military actions by the US.
These would not have been efforts to protect civilians or humanitarians, but rather stand-off attacks, presumably targeting some of Khartoum’s most valued military assets, this in an effort to force the regime to capitulate on a UN force. It would have been military action on the cheap, marked by an appalling lack of concern for consequences. With no back-up plan to protect vulnerable populations and aid workers if Khartoum instead engaged in reprisals, such attacks might well have been disastrous in effect. But in the event, the darkly ominous threats passed to humanitarian organizations were simply a perverse extension of Natsios’ conspicuous bluff. A wide range of highly informed sources, in Washington and elsewhere, have unanimously confirmed to this writer—on the basis of very considerable evidence—that there was no military plan of any sort that could have been made operational on January 1, 2007 or in the foreseeable future. Again, Natsios was bluffing—and Khartoum knew as much.
Indeed, it may well have been Khartoum’s calculation that something had to be offered to enable Natsios and the Bush administration a means of backing away from its desperately awkward posture of having laid down a January 1, 2007 deadline for action. And by offering so little, and with so much still undetermined, and with the US so eager to grab at whatever Khartoum has yielded, the regime knows that it has triumphed. The incremental changes to the current radically inadequate African Union force will not change the security dynamic on the ground in Darfur or eastern Chad. And for Khartoum, this is the only bottom-line result that matters.
The reaction of the Europeans will be harder to discern, but we may expect welcoming words from these feckless nations as well. Despite having declared realities in Darfur “tantamount to genocide” (Parliament of the European Union, September 2004, by a vote of 566 to 6), Europe seems as eager as the US to engage in an expedient pretense about what has actually transpired over the past four months—and how little of UN Security Council Resolution 1706 remains. Certainly we knew last month that the much touted Addis Ababa “high level consultation on Darfur” led only to a weak and incomplete document, with gaping holes in the language bearing on key issues (see my analysis in The New Republic [on-line], December 4, 2006 at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article137.html).
The ratification of this document at the November 30, 2006 meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council (66th Meeting, Abuja, Nigeria) showed more than anything else just how little political will there is within the AU to confront Khartoum over Darfur. Coupled with unstinting diplomatic support from the Arab League and China, Khartoum saw little reason on this present occasion to give way on the key issues of force size, command structure, and non-AU troops—or even to resolve the large ambiguities that have defined Khartoum’s response to the Addis “Conclusions” document and all subsequent efforts to clarify what precisely will be allowed into Darfur.
Certainly notable was the timing and tenor of the first word from Khartoum “agreeing to a UN peacekeeping role” in Darfur. Associated Press reported Friday evening (December 22, 2006) on the account of a “Foreign ministry spokesman”:
“The Sudanese government has agreed to a UN peacekeeping role in the troubled Darfur region, but in a mission with mostly African Union troops and an African commander, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.”
“[Foreign Ministry spokesman] Sadeq al-Magli didn’t specify Friday how many troops would be accepted, but said the UN would mainly provide technical assistance, consultants and military and police experts. He added that the force would be commanded by the African Union.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], December 22, 2006)
The Addis Abba “Conclusions” document spoke of 17,000 troops and 3,000 police—almost the number specified in UN Security Council Resolution 1706. Now we see that this issue still hasn’t been settled more than five weeks later. The Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document declared that “backstopping and command and control structures will be provided by the UN.” Khartoum’s Foreign Ministry spokesman] Sadeq al-Magli declared that there would be an African Union commander, with no clearly specified relation to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Nor does this statement resolve the issue of what the Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document refers to as a “hybrid operation” (Paragraph 28)—not, distinctly, a “hybrid force,” as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has repeatedly and disingenuously suggested (echoed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice). Moreover, it remains quite unclear how many UN personnel, wearing blue UN berets, will be allowed to deploy. Annan may still find it politically useful to leave office speaking of more than 20,000 troops and civilian police; but this is clearly unacceptable to Khartoum:
“Al-Magli said his government accepted that [third] phase [of deployment] but insisted the number of troops would be negotiated by the force commander and delegates from the UN, the AU, and Sudan.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], December 22, 2006)
This is very far from the kind of commitment that will allow any peacekeeping planning to assess needs, logistics, and whether in fact the mission can succeed given the potentially highly reduced terms that Khartoum seems to be insisting upon.
Khartoum has given just enough to allow Western nations to pretend that something significant has happened, when in fact even a robust and truly capable force could not be deployed for months—perhaps for a period of time equivalent to what has been lost since the August 31st passage of Resolution 1706. A real sense of urgency has been lost—at the UN and elsewhere.
Here we should also attend carefully to the words of Jean-Marie Guehenno, the politically canny head of UN peacekeeping operations. In October, Guehenno spoke of “the need that for us continues to be fundamental to have a strong force deployed in Darfur to bring peace to Darfur” (UN News Center, October 29, 2006).
Now, in the face of Khartoum’s obduracy, Guehenno sings a very different tune:
“The UN’s head of peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, believes dispatching more troops will prove pointless unless all sides show political will. ‘So long as the politics of Darfur are what they are with fragmentation of rebel movements and more and more military operations announced by both sides, no force will be able to make a real difference. So it’s very important to get the politics right.” (Voice of America [dateline: Addis Ababa], December 21, 2006)
But of course there is no political process for a Darfur peace agreement; there is no diplomatic capacity or initiative on the part of the African Union; and no non-African countries seem willing to respond in the wake of the failed negotiations in Abuja. There is no political process, no diplomatic process, no functioning cease-fire mechanism—there is only a relentless deterioration of security for humanitarians and civilians. Guehenno here is simply taking the convenient line of UN disingenuousness and expediency. To be sure, he is right about the difficulties of deployment of a peace support operation in Darfur:
“‘It would take several months in the best of cases because it would be a huge deployment in the most difficult part of Africa—completely landlocked, no infrastructure—so logistically it’s an enormous challenge.'” (Voice of America [dateline: Addis Ababa], December 21, 2006)
But this was just as true in October when Guehenno declared “the need that for us continues to be fundamental to have a strong force deployed in Darfur to bring peace to Darfur.” Nothing has diminished the “need”: why—if not for reasons of political expediency—is Guehenno now talking about a non-existent political process and not the urgent security needs of 4.5 million conflict-affected civilians in Darfur and eastern Chad, and the increasingly endangered humanitarian operations upon which they depend?
INSECURITY AND ITS CONSEQUENCES FOR HUMANITARIANS IN DARFUR
The data from humanitarian organizations bearing on issues of access, health conditions, evacuations, total withdrawals and other key issues have not been either aggregated or collated. But even a rudimentary presentation of these data shows very recent and highly alarming trends which, if they continue their present downward spiral, will result in catastrophic human mortality.
Oxfam International, in an extensive press release of December 15, 2006 (“Darfur: New violence threatens world’s largest aid response”), reports:
“The UN’s most recent figures of humanitarian access levels in Darfur show more than a third of Darfur is effectively out of bounds to aid agencies. Evacuations and new violence in December mean access levels are now even lower.”
This statement was made several days before the December 18, 2006 attack on humanitarian organizations serving Gereida (South Darfur), the largest concentration of displaced persons in all of Darfur (approximately 130,000 human beings). Both Oxfam and Action Contre le Faim withdrew their staff and ceased all operations after an unidentified armed group fired shots and stole 12 vehicles critical for their operations. The UN Regional Information Networks reports:
“More aid workers have been relocated in western Sudanese region of Darfur following Monday’s [December 18, 2006] attack on Gereida, South Darfur State, bringing the numbers of humanitarian staff moved in December to a record 400, the United Nations said. ‘We had six vehicles there and five were stolen,’ Oxfam spokesman, Alun McDonald, said. ‘We can’t get in and out of the camp. Our operations have been suspended entirely.'” (IRIN [dateline: Khartoum], December 20, 2006)
Additional details on the scale of humanitarian withdrawals come from Associated Press:
“The United Nations evacuated 71 aid workers from the largest refugee camp in Darfur Tuesday after gunmen looted their compounds, leaving some 130,000 refugees virtually without humanitarian help. [ ] The UN said it was the eighth evacuation of endangered aid workers it has had to carry out so far this month in Darfur.” (Associated Press [dateline: Cairo], December 20, 2006)
Reuters notes that the assault on Gereida “was the biggest single attack on the Darfur aid operation, the world’s largest, since it began [ ] in early 2004” ([dateline: Khartoum, December 20, 2006).
This comes in the wake of an earlier and already exceedingly grim account of recent months by UNICEF:
“Since May , at least 23 incidents of [nongovernmental humanitarian organizations] being forced to withdraw staff from areas of Darfur because of growing insecurity had been reported, [UNICEF] added. Of these, 12 resulted in the permanent withdrawal of personnel.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Nairobi], December 14, 2006)
Humanitarian access is now so limited that Manuel Aranda da Silva, humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, reported that, “in November  relief agencies had managed to reach only 62 percent of the 4 million or so people who needed food and other aid to survive.” (Reuters [dateline: Geneva], December 14, 2006). In other words, over 1.5 million people were not reached. And while many of these people are not at immediate risk, many are—and many more will soon be if there is no reversal in what seems a relentless deterioration of security. As the aid agency Trcaire declared in a press release of December 19, 2006:
“The rapidly deteriorating security situation in Darfur has prohibited aid agencies from reaching hundreds of thousands of those worst affected, hampering the distribution of food and the provision of other basic services.”
We catch another glimpse of the fragile state of the conflict-affected populations in Darfur and Chad from a UNICEF “statement on Darfur” (December 13, 2006):
“This year’s UN and Government of National Unity Darfur-wide Emergency Food Security and Nutrition survey, found that malnutrition rates have begun to increase. Over 70 per cent of the population is experiencing food insecurity, and that the coverage of lifesaving interventions such as measles vaccination are still below the level required to prevent outbreaks. Six other localized nutrition surveys have highlighted areas of Darfur where more than one in five children under the age of five years are acutely malnourished.”
Children under five represent the most sensitive barometer of food insecurity: that 20% of children in the survey locations are “acutely malnourished” portends imminent large-scale mortality.
The UN Joint Logistics Center reports (December 19, 2006, Bulletin 82, for November 2006):
“The current downward spiral in insecurity in Darfur has continued in November, especially this month in North and West Darfur. This has resulted in decreased Non-Food Items distributions across the region. Lowered capacity to deliver humanitarian aid has affected the entire international community and the populations it serves, with attacks increasing also on members of the international community with looting of assets.”
Likely to be lost in this vast and dismaying picture of the humanitarian environment are other critical shortfalls that could have immense long-term consequences. Polio still looms as a constant threat in Sudan, and requires that children be immunized. In Darfur, insecurity has prevented completion of the most recent vaccination campaign:
“Fighting in the western Sudanese region of Darfur has affected a second round of polio vaccination in parts of North Darfur, aid workers said on Thursday [December 14, 2006]. ‘The second round, which was scheduled for 10-12 December , has been partially done in government-controlled areas,’ Ute Kirch, Darfur project coordinator for the German NGO, Malteser International, said. ‘In the other areas, NGOs did not implement it. We will go ahead in those areas at the end of January, if the security situation allows.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Nairobi], December 14, 2006)
Such partial vaccination campaigns are not nearly enough to guard against renewed outbreaks of this highly contagious childhood scourge.
Women living in the camps, some now for years and many having endured almost unbearable trauma, are showing increasing signs of major depressive disorders:
“A major study of displaced women in South Darfur [ ] warns that while humanitarian aid has met some of their basic needs, women’s health and mental health remain largely unaddressed. Nearly one third of the 1,283 women interviewed for the study met criteria for Major Depressive Disorder, while double that number reported symptoms of depression. One of every 20 respondents reported suicidal thoughts and two percent said they had attempted suicide—both statistics representing rates much higher than global norms.”
(International Medical Corps, “Study Warns of Serious Mental Health Needs Among Women in South Darfur,” from IMC website [accessed December 21, 2006])
Such studies should remind us that human being cannot simply be shoved for indefinite periods into camps and expected to be grateful merely for survival. Children need safe space and education; women, especially rape victims, are often desperately in need of medical services and counseling; the elderly have their own special needs—and present insecurity is compromising fundamentally the ability of the humanitarian community to respond to these variously important human needs.
Again and again the issue reduces to one of insecurity on the ground. The International Rescue Committee-UK, as part of a “joint agency release,” declared very recently (December 18, 2006):
“Nearly half a million people have less access to humanitarian assistance as a result of increasing military activity, banditry and direct violence against aid workers in early December .” [ ]
“‘If the deterioration is allowed to continue, the impact on civilians could be devastating. With new displacements and attacks, the presence of aid agencies is more important than ever. Yet every day brings one huge blow after another to aid efforts,’ said Paul Smith-Lomas, Regional Director for Oxfam.”
“With access to people in need already at its lowest point since mid-2004, five major areas suffered significant withdrawals of staff in the first week of December alone: El Fasher and Kutum in North Darfur; El Daein and Shearia in South Darfur; and Kulbus in West Darfur. Although hopefully temporary, such evacuations are becoming more and more frequent, restricting the massive humanitarian response in a region where nearly four million people are now dependent on aid agencies for essential services such as food, water and healthcare.”
“‘The whole region is increasingly complex and uncertain. While we all remain fully committed to helping the people of Darfur, frequent evacuations of programmes are making it incredibly difficult to deliver aid effectively’ [ ] said Patty Swahn, the International Rescue Committee’s Regional Director.”
Evacuations and subsequent returns by humanitarian workers create very serious inefficiencies and often dangerous or fatal breaks in treatment regimens. The “stop/start” phenomenon, one senior humanitarian policy official told this writer, is extremely debilitating, especially when coupled with ongoing harassment and obstruction of aid operations by Khartoum.
And the number of humanitarian organizations withdrawing for extended periods of time or permanently also continues to grow. The Swiss organization Terre des Hommes,
“which evacuated five employees on Sunday [December 17, 2006], has suspended its Darfur operations until January , although it retains a skeleton staff in the region. ‘The violence is peaking,’ the group warned, as it denounced attacks by government-backed Arab militias in Darfur. ‘Incidents and attacks are multiplying against displaced people and humanitarian personnel.'” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Geneva], December 18, 2006)
The Irish aid organization Concern has also withdrawn from Darfur. Again, even before the highly significant attack on Gereida (South Darfur) of December 18, 2006, Concern announced its withdrawal, as did other organizations:
“The aid agency Concern has announced that it is to withdraw all non-essential staff from the Darfur region of Sudan. The decision follows a series of attacks on aid workers and humanitarian vehicles in the troubled region. Last week, the aid agency Goal said that it was withdrawing its remaining international staff from Darfur. Concern says that it is leaving one essential programme manager in Darfur. The organisation says it intends to move back into the region as soon as possible depending on the security situation. Oxfam International, the International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council and World Vision have all withdrawn staff temporarily because of the attacks on aid workers and their vehicles.” (RTE Ireland, December 15, 2006)
Even indigenous humanitarian organizations face increasing threats from Khartoum. The Sudan Development Organization (SUDO), working for development and human rights in Darfur, was recently “banned from working in North Darfur, a SUDO official said on Thursday [December 21, 2006], after trying to implement a human rights workshop in five schools. ‘They think we are using this project as a cover for intelligence and that we are working with the international community and United Nations,’ Khalil Toukas, SUDO’s manager in North Darfur, told Reuters by telephone. ‘We received a letter…saying we had to stop work.'” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], December 21, 2006)
The distinguished Norwegian Refugee Council closed its operations in South Darfur in November 2006, citing relentless obstruction and suspensions by Khartoum:
“A Norwegian refugee group said Friday that it was closing its humanitarian operations for nearly 300,000 people in Darfur because it was impossible to work in the troubled region of western Sudan. The Norwegian Refugee Council cited ‘frequent disruption’ of its work [by Khartoum authorities], saying it had been suspended five times for a total of 210 days since it started operations in mid-2004. ‘We cannot work when the authorities suspend us continuously and do not respond to our repeated requests for dialogue aimed at addressing and resolving underlying reasons for this action,’ said Tomas C. Archer, the group’s secretary general.” [ ]
“The Norwegian group said it was pulling out 12 international and 170 local staff members running one camp for 128,000 people in southern Darfur and another for 100,000 people. ‘We coordinated all aid, the fair distribution of food, medical care. Now there are 300,000 people on their own. That’s what concerns us most,’ a spokeswoman, Astrid Sehl, said by telephone.” [ ]
“The Norwegian Refugee Council is a private, independent foundation without religious or political affiliations. It was founded in 1946 to assist refugees after World War II and now has about 1,300 staff members in 20 countries.” (Associated Press [dateline: Oslo], November 11, 2006)
This is a familiar pattern, one that humanitarian workers have been pointing to for months:
“[Khartoum] authorities also obstruct aid staff working in Darfur with a myriad permit requests, although Khartoum has promised in writing to provide free access for the humanitarian community. ‘They make it very clear. [The Khartoum authorities] want to drastically reduce the number of [nongovernmental humanitarian organizations] in Darfur and regain control,’ said on Western aid worker who asked to remain anonymous to protect her organization, which is under threat of expulsion.” (Reuters [dateline: Kulbus, West Darfur], November 8, 2006)
Nothing has changed in Khartoum’s relentless war of attrition against humanitarian operations in Darfur, even as humanitarian need increases dramatically.
EXPANDING MILITARY ATTACKS BY KHARTOUM AND THE JANJAWEED EXACERBATE HUMANITARIAN NEED
And while access diminishes and operations contract in scope, the number of displaced persons and conflict-affected victims grows remorselessly:
“The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on Tuesday [December 19, 2006] that the recent upsurge in fighting in Darfur had scattered thousands of people into remote areas and distant villages. Since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement last May, violence against civilians and aid workers has increased in the region. According to agencies, more than 480,000 people have been affected by the renewed clashes. ‘One of the most serious consequences of the upsurge in fighting in all three Darfur states since the end of the rainy season [early October 2006] has been the increase in the number of people displaced from villages that have been attacked or lie close to front lines,’ the ICRC said.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Nairobi], December 19, 2006)
The ICRC reports:
“An assessment in November by ICRC staff based in North Darfur found that thousands of people who had fled from areas north of Kutum over the previous two months were now widely scattered. Many had taken refuge in more remote areas while others were being hosted in distant villages. Hundreds of people had headed for camps around Kutum.” (Sudan: ICRC Bulletin No. 48, 2006)
Kutum itself has been the site of repeated military assaults by Khartoum and the Janjaweed. Since UN investigators, human rights groups, and other observers on the ground in Darfur have consistently highlighted the role of the Khartoum-backed Janjaweed in current insecurity, it is worth noting the contents of a confidential African Union report leaked to Agence France-Presse:
“In a confidential report presented to the Joint Ceasefire Commission, seen by Agence France-Presse, the commander of the [African Union mission in Darfur] peacekeeping force, Nigerian General Luke Aprezi, testified that the Janjaweed had recently increased their attacks. In the six-page report, the general states that ‘the re-emergence of the Janjaweed also negatively affected the security situation.’ The AU also assessed in its official statement that ‘the security situation in Darfur is fast deteriorating, mainly because of the re-emergence of the Janjaweed militias who seemed to have been re-supplied and rearmed.'” (AFP [dateline: Addis Ababa], December 15, 2006)
The patent weakness of the African Union in confronting Khartoum is revealed elsewhere in the AFP dispatch, as is the equally patent failure of the Abuja peace agreement of last May:
“The African Union called on the Sudanese government to ‘immediately disarm’ the pro-government Arab Janjaweed militias in the war-torn Darfur region or face sanctions. After a meeting of the Joint Ceasefire Commission on Darfur in Addis Ababa, the deputy head of the peace mission, Monique Mukaruliza, said: ‘The participants recommended that disarmament of the Janjaweed be started immediately.’ ‘The disarmament depends on the political will of the Sudanese government,’ Mukaruliza explained. ‘The government of Sudan has the means to disarm them, it has weapons, but it is up to them to disarm them.’ She said the process of putting the militias’ weapons beyond use should already have started, according to the agreements already signed in Abuja.” (AFP [dateline: Addis Ababa], December 15, 2006)
It is now two and a half years since the UN Security Council “demanded” that Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice (Resolution 1556, July 30, 2004). That the AU can now bring itself only to “call on” Khartoum do disarm the newly re-mobilized, re-armed, and re-supplied Janjaweed militias constitutes a portrait of impotence, one all too revealing of what the AU is both politically and militarily. Khartoum certainly has nothing but contempt for the AU mission, and values the AU presence in Darfur precisely because it is so ineffectual.
The regime quite understands that the AU is incapable of fully observing, let alone enforcing any cease-fire agreement—which is precisely why it was so easy for National Islamic Front foreign ministry spokesman Sadeq al-Magli to declare yesterday (December 22, 2006) that, “for us in the government of Sudan, we have confirmed our commitment to the cease-fire” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], December 22, 2006). In fact, just several days earlier Khartoum’s delegation walked out of a meeting of the AU’s struggling Joint Ceasefire Commission on Darfur in Addis Ababa. The AU refused to delay for another week this long-delayed meeting, and Khartoum’s response was to sniff contemptuously, and leave (Sudan Tribune [dateline: Addis Ababa], December 15, 2006).
But despite Khartoum’s relentless clampdown on news reporting from Darfur, and the increasingly restricted movements of humanitarian workers, we get numerous reports on Khartoum’s ongoing orchestration of military violence. Amnesty International has created a valuable “rolling news update” (at http://web.amnesty.org/pages/sdn-061206-news-eng) and offers this account of Janjaweed attacks on December 9 and 14, 2006:
“[December 14, 2006] Sudan: 45 vehicle strong Janjawid force hits Jebel Moon again:
“At 8.30am on 14 December  Janjawid in approximately 45 vehicles, targeted the Jebel Moon area again. Moving from the North, towards Al Geneina they attacked the vicinities of Hijilija, Ghibeish, and Hashaba en route. They killed civilians and livestock and stole all that they could carry on their vehicles.
9 people were killed in Ghibeish
2 people were killed in Kish kish (1 km from Hijilija)
3 others were also kidnapped.
All were reportedly of Jebel ethnicity.”
“[December 9, 2006] Sudan: Janjawid lorry ambush kills 37 civilians:
“Displaced women from Darfur. 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 NGO ‘Medair.'”
“The lorry was travelling from the capital of West Darfur, Al-Geneina, to Sirba. Janjawid on horseback ambushed the lorry at 8 AM 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.”
Nor have humanitarians escaped the consequences of Janjaweed violence and attacks by other armed groups. Thirteen humanitarian workers have been killed this year, almost all since the May 5, 2006 Abuja signing of the “Darfur Peace Agreement”; one expatriate humanitarian worker was raped by the Janjaweed in West Darfur in September (2006); a great many other humanitarian workers have faced assault, carjacking, weapons fire, terrifying verbal abuse, and other acts of intimidation. Nor are there any signs that this violence will end.
Recently, workers for Save the Children/US, a very significant humanitarian presence in West Darfur, came under fire while traveling in an ambulance between el-Geneina and Mornei. In a region increasingly dominated by Janjaweed violence (which keeps humanitarians largely confined to the capital of el-Geneina), there has been an especially severe attenuation of humanitarian access. This most recent, extremely serious incident will further compromise any overland travel or transport:
“On December 18  at about 3pm, a Save the Children USA (SC/USA) ambulance was ambushed by armed men while traveling from Geneina to Mornie. The ambulance was being escorted by Government of Sudan police in a rented vehicle when it was ambushed at a place called Khorbomba, about 23km from Geneina. The SC/USA ambulance was carrying two occupants—the driver and a nurse—while the rented car contained five occupants: the driver and four policemen. The SC/USA nurse was shot in his right leg. One policeman was killed, two were injured, and the fourth one escaped unharmed. The two drivers were not injured.” [ ]
“[During the attack] the ambulance overtook the rented car and sped from the scene. The assailants fired at the ambulance, which was when the SC/USA nurse received a gunshot wound. The rear left tire and the spare wheel of the ambulance were shot out, but the driver continued fleeing with the deflated tire until he reached a police check point situated about 3km from the scene of the ambush. There were nine bullet holes in the ambulance.” (Save the Children/USA report on ambulance attack, December 19, 2006)
The fully understandable response of Save the Children to this attack has been to suspend ambulance service, the only such service in this region. This suspension of medical transport will undoubtedly result in fatalities in cases requiring care of a sort available only in the el-Geneina hospital.
Violence in Darfur remains completely beyond the control or even reporting ability of the African Union. And the terms in which Khartoum has accepted UN “augmentation” of this force ensure that it will remain radically inadequate to the tasks of protecting either civilians or humanitarians—and that there will be no disarmament of the Janjaweed.
HUMANITARIAN CONDITIONS IN DARFUR MIRRORED IN CHAD
Oxfam International’s account of the crisis in Chad (December 16, 2006) is starkly revealing of the scale of this catastrophe, which continues to be eclipsed by the vast cataclysm to the east:
“A wave of violence has forced the temporary evacuation of over 400 humanitarian staff in eastern Chad in the past two weeks, severely interrupting the provision of humanitarian aid, said international agency Oxfam today. The serious deterioration of security in the region bordering Darfur threatens to cause a major health and food crisis for hundreds of thousands of people.”
“In the past three weeks, rebel groups and government forces have been fighting in and around several cities in eastern Chad, including some of the most important humanitarian bases, such as Abeche, Goz Beida, Guereda and Biltine. Fighting has interrupted humanitarian activities and aid supply chains. The six refugee camps north of Abeche, sheltering 110,000 men, women and children from Darfur, have been worst affected. Increased insecurity has also led to the UN stopping food aid to 56,000 Chadians who recently fled their villages as a result of interethnic violence.”
“Around 25 humanitarian staff have suffered serious attacks and three aid agencies’ warehouses have been looted in Abeche and Goz Beida in recent weeks. Tonnes of basic aid, including food, tents, kitchen sets and medical supplies, have been lost. More than 50 humanitarian vehicles have been hijacked this year alone.”
“As a result, humanitarian agencies have reduced their programmes in eastern Chad to strictly life-saving activities, such as the provision of health care, drinking water and food aid.”
“Oxfam has temporarily evacuated 16 of their 24 international aid workers from eastern Chad, with some now in the Chadian capital, N’djamena, and others outside the country. The minimum staff required to maintain water supply for 32,000 refugees in two camps in Djabal and Goz Amer, and for some 20,000 Chadians who have fled recent violence in the area remain in eastern Chad.”
The “interethnic violence” that Oxfam reports is a direct consequence of the nature of Khartoum’s genocidal counterinsurgency war in Darfur, and has led to extraordinarily vicious acts of violence. Reuters reports:
“The weekend clashes around the Goz Amer refugee camp [eastern Chad], which included fighting with government troops, killed nearly 40 people between civilians, refugees, soldiers and gunmen. The attackers gouged out the eyes of some soldiers and disembowelled one civilian, the government said. Officials blamed the attacks on Janjaweed, a term loosely signifying ‘devils on horseback’ in Arabic. It is used to designate Arab militiamen who have killed and raped civilians and plundered villages on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border.” (Reuters [dateline: N’Djamena], December 20, 2006)
The effect on Darfuri refugees of such attacks is palpable:
“[UNHCR spokeswoman Helene] Caux said the recent attacks had badly shaken refugees in the Goz Amer camp, which houses some 18,000 Sudanese, part of around 232,000 refugees who have fled the violence in Darfur and are sheltering in UNHCR camps strung along the border region. ‘The refugees were very worried…they feel very insecure,’ she said, adding Goz Amer was still vulnerable to attack although the Chadian army had reinforced its presence.” (Reuters [dateline: N’Djamena], December 20, 2006)
A dispatch by a reporter for The Independent (UK) from eastern Chad provides a further sense of the vulnerability of refugees and ethnically African Chadians in the region:
“The most recent attacks around the small town of Koukou-Angarana have raised the stakes. For the first time, the Arab militia have targeted camps for refugees and internally displaced people. And for the first time the Chadian army, which until last week was engaged in a campaign against several rebel groups in the Abeche region, 250 miles north of here, took on the militia. In the latest violence yesterday, the houses of local aid workers living in Koukou-Angarana were burnt down.”
“Over the weekend, several villages around Koukou-Angarana, and the outskirts of the town, were raided. The Chadian Communications Minister, Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor, said 40 people were killed in the raids on the settlements of Aradipe and Habile. He said eight Chadian soldiers had their eyes gouged out and one civilian was burnt to death. The claims of mutilations could not be independently verified. The United Nations refugee agency said that during heavy fighting around Habile, 22 villagers and internally displaced Chadians were killed, and 93 homes were burnt.”
“According to Mr [Mahamat] Abdurasset, whose village [of Aradipe] is four miles east of Koukou-Angarana, two columns of Arabs made their first attack on Aradipe on Friday morning. ‘They were armed with automatic rifles and bazookas and rode on horses and camels,’ he said. ‘Some of them were in Sudanese uniforms. They shot at everything that moved, and then drove our cattle away.'” (The Independent [dateline: eastern Chad], December 19, 2006)
That the Arab militia attackers are so brazen as to wear Sudanese military uniforms tells us a great deal about how the “climate of impunity” so often bemoaned by UN officials in Darfur has now fully entrenched itself in Chad.
So great is the insecurity facing civilians in eastern Chad that the UN has been forced to contemplate the logistically nightmarish task of moving over 200,000 Darfuri refugees more than 500 kilometers further into Chad, even as most of these people are extremely reluctant to move. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has rightly described “the mass location as an ‘enormous challenge'” (Voice of America [dateline: Dakar], December 22, 2006). But the challenge must be undertaken because there is no international leadership in assembling a protection force in eastern Chad, of the sort that High Commissioner Guterres has again urged. Shamefully, international willingness to protect these highly vulnerable, conflict-affected populations of eastern Chad—now approximately 500,000—is nowhere in sight.
Highly reliable UN sources report that France, having floated the idea of such a force some weeks ago through Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, has done nothing to move the proposal forward within the Security Council. Given France’s close relationship with the Chadian government of Idriss Dby, and its key airbase at Abch, French leadership would be essential, and yet Paris is inert. The head of UN Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, is also reported to be cool to the idea of a force in eastern Chad, and is among those pushing for a very modest final report from a recent UN assessment mission to eastern Chad and Central African Republic (which now has 50,000 refugees in eastern Chad).
Notably, Guterres himself used the occasion of his mission to eastern Chad to declare the urgent need for an international force in Darfur—of precisely the sort that Khartoum refuses to commit to in any clear or meaningful way:
“Guterres said that this [international] peacekeeping force [in Darfur] is essential to prevent the entire Central African region from descending into violence. International agencies scaled back their operations and pulled staff out of eastern Chad after an escalation in clashes between government soldiers and rebel forces, as well as attacks by janjaweed, Arab militiamen supported by the Sudanese government.” (Voice of America [dateline: Dakar], December 22, 2006).
Guterres, who has earlier called for an international protection force in eastern Chad, is reported in a UNHCR press release (December 22, 2006) as describing,
“Sudan’s Darfur region as the epicentre of regional instability that is now affecting both Chad and the Central African Republic. Since early November , some 300 people in eastern Chad have been killed in attacks on more than 70 villages by armed marauders using tactics identical to those of the notorious janjaweed militia just across the border in Darfur. Most of the villages were looted, burned and emptied. Last weekend, attacks on villages in the Koukou Angarana area close to UNHCR’s Goz Amer refugee camp in south-eastern Chad left dozens of people dead, including local villagers, refugees and people already displaced in earlier fighting.”
And yet the stark truth is that there is no evidence whatsoever of any effort halt to accelerating human destruction anywhere in the vast humanitarian theater that includes an increasingly large part of eastern Chad.
THE RESPONSE TO KHARTOUM’S “ACCEPTANCE” OF A UN “FORCE”
We may have to wait several days to learn what NIF President Omar al-Bashir has formally declared of Khartoum’s intentions in response to the explicit request for “clarification” from Secretary-General Annan, and the empty bluff of US special envoy Andrew Natsios. But we already have any number of clear indicators, all suggesting that there will be at best an incremental change in the character of the security force on the ground in Darfur. Last month al-Bashir suggested that the AU may need only another couple of battalions (between 1,000 and 1,500 troops); UN Security Council Resolution 1706 called for more than 15,000 troops and police beyond what the AU currently has deployed. Now, given the clear lack of international resolve, al-Bashir may be content to play a waiting game in beating down the number of additional personnel deploying to Darfur. A particularly insightful Reuters dispatch from UN/New York (December 18, 2006) points to a key issue in al-Bashir’s most recent letter to Kofi Annan:
“Bashir more recently has indicated Khartoum would accept an African Union force financed and supported logistically and otherwise by the United Nations. But Bashir later wrote Annan a letter the secretary-general termed ‘a bit ambiguous.’ UN officials said Bashir wanted a tripartite commission to approve any troops coming into Darfur, which would in effect give Khartoum a veto.”
There is nothing “ambiguous” about al-Bashir’s insistence on a “tripartite commission”: it does precisely what these unnamed UN officials have said it will do, confer yet again veto-power upon Khartoum’s gnocidaires in determining the international response to ongoing genocidal destruction in Darfur.
For people like Andrew Natsios, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, such details won’t matter when Khartoum’s “acceptance” of a UN force is trumpeted—and the need for a non-existent “Plan B” conveniently vanishes. The shameful disingenuousness of this administration in trying to manage, rather than confront, genocidal realities in Darfur continues to be shocking. We catch a revealing glimpse in a story that seemed important only to the highly resourceful Sudan Tribune (www.sudantribune.com), an unrivalled source for more nuanced regional stories on Sudan. In a December 21, 2006 dispatch (dateline: Khartoum), the Sudan Tribune notes that:
“The US embassy in Khartoum issued a press release in which it said that Frazer recently visit Egypt and Sudan and that President Mubarak had proposed the idea of enforcing a no-fly zone over Darfur.”
Perhaps the Embassy’s assumption was that no one would pay much attention to such a press release, and that it might deflect unwanted regional attention from what was recently reported by the Financial Times as a US/British discussion of a “no-fly zone” over Darfur (Financial Times [dateline: Washington, DC], December 12, 2006). But of course the Egyptians would want no part of this, the Sudan Tribune rightly concluded, and thus put the issue directly to the Egyptian government, “Did you discuss a ‘no-fly zone’ with US officials?”
Egypt’s reply was unambiguous:
“Egypt’s consul-general in Khartoum, Ayman Abdelbadi dismissed as groundless statements by US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer in which she said that the proposal on enforcing a non-fly zone on Darfur was made by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Abdelbadi said that President Mubarak did not make any statements about the matter regionally, internationally or even domestically, the Egyptian MENA reported. [ ] The Egyptian diplomat denied that US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer had discussed the issue of enforcing a no-fly zone on Darfur with President Husni Mubarak.” (Sudan Tribune [dateline: Khartoum], December 21, 2006)
Policy and commitment—or mendacity? Protection of humanitarians and civilians—or political posturing? The Bush administration has evidently weighed Darfur in the geopolitical balance, and found that for all its agony and destruction, it is lacking.
The Europeans are no better. Having declared realities in Darfur to be “tantamount to genocide” (semantically unqualified genocide determinations have been offered by senior officials of the French, German, and British governments), there is no willingness to act in meaningful ways. To be sure, the Europeans know as well as anyone what needs to be said for political cover:
“The European Union on Tuesday [October 17, 2006] called on Sudan to give its ‘unambiguous consent’ to a UN force in Darfur, saying such an operation was needed to bring peace to the war racked region. A statement by EU foreign ministers issued in Luxembourg said a UN force was required to ensure the protection of Darfur’s civilian population and help implement a recent peace deal for the region.” (Deutsche Presse Agentur [dateline: Luxembourg], October 17, 2006)
More than two months later, the need for civilian and humanitarian protection has only grown more urgent; but there are no similar calls coming from these EU nations now—they, too, will be happy with much, much less than Khartoum’s “unambiguous consent to a UN force in Darfur.” Fully aware of how little real commitment there is on the part of Europe (only two nations, Sweden and Norway, have to date made offers of personnel for a UN force), Khartoum surveys the international scene and rests assured:
Kofi Annan, desperate for any last-minute burnishing of his record on genocide in Africa, will accept with alacrity whatever Khartoum offers.
The Bush administration, its bluster and posturing recognized for what they are, will be only too happy not to be exposed as having been engaged in mere bluffing.
The Europeans, who have never given any sign of doing more than saying the right things, will continue to say whatever seems right to say in the moment.
And any resolve that may have existed within the UN Secretariat, the US State Department, or the EU has vanished before the threat of a Chinese veto in the Security Council. Unwilling to expend the diplomatic or political capital necessary to move China to a more helpful posture vis–vis Khartoum, international actors will instead send their athletes to Beijing in summer 2008 for the Olympic Games. The flags of the world will fly alongside the perversely ironic slogan China has crafted for the games—“One world, one dream”—while Darfur will almost certainly be enduring a continuing nightmare of genocide by attrition.