During a recent interview on PBS’s “NewsHour” (February 16, 2007), US special envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios gave clear evidence of a Bush administration strategy to back away from meaningful efforts to pressure Khartoum over its continuing responsibility for genocidal destruction throughout Darfur and eastern Chad. In essence, the US effort is to “lower the bar” for Khartoum in complying with international “demands”—indeed, to lower the bar so far that short of all-out assaults on the displaced person camps, the regime will be judged to be performing acceptably. Such a strategy of course obviates the need to deploy the conspicuously vacuous “Plan B” Natsios threatened in late 2006 if Khartoum did not comply with various “demands” by January 1, 2007. This deadline has come and gone, and as The Washington Post has made clear (February 7, 2007), “Plan B” has so far entailed positioning four US Army colonels on the Chad/Darfur border and a threat to inconvenience Khartoum by obliging conversion of its various commercial enterprises (including oil exports) from dollar-denominated to Euro-denominated contracts. “Plan B” is a bluff, but one that won’t be revealed as such if never deployed.
Other elements of “Plan B” remain classified, according to Natsios during recent Congressional testimony. But Natsios’ implicit characterization of these classified elements of “Plan B” as military in nature is hardly supported by recent Congressional testimony from senior Pentagon officials:
“Senior US defense officials say they are not planning any military intervention to end the killing and suffering in Sudan’s Darfur region. The comments came at a US Senate committee hearing Tuesday February 6, 2007. [ ] The Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, Theresa Whelan, told Voice of America the United States is pressing for progress on the Darfur crisis, but is focusing on diplomacy. ‘We are not considering doing something militarily.’ [ ] Assistant Secretary Whelan says the efforts of President Bush’s special envoy for Darfur [sic], Andrew Natsios, are focused on convincing the Khartoum government it cannot achieve its goals in Darfur militarily.” [ ]
“Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton raised the Darfur issue at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday [February 6, 2007]. She asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the top US military officer, General Peter Pace, about a proposal she and other senators sent to President Bush to consider military action to prevent Sudan’s air force from attacking Darfur [the much-mooted “no-fly zone”—ER] and to blockade the Port of Sudan [the only way to halt Khartoum’s oil exports—ER].”
“Clinton: ‘I’d like to ask you if you have been instructed by the President to begin planning or preparing any such measure, and whether or not you would look into that if you have not yet been asked to do so?’
“Gates: ‘I have not been asked to. I would defer to General Pace in terms of whether the Joint Chiefs have done any contingency planning along those lines. And I’m certainly willing to pursue it.
“Clinton: ‘General Pace?’
“Pace: ‘I have not been asked to do that ma’am.'” (Voice of America [dateline: Washington, DC], February 6, 2007)
We must wonder just how “coercive” Natsios’ “Plan B” is if there is no military component. Suspicions that “Plan B” is in fact without real pressure points in confronting Khartoum are suggested in other ways. That Natsios’ comments on the “NewsHour” (see below) were factually in error on several key points, and in ways that serve to promote this long-developing strategy of accommodation, should give pause to those who have heretofore been willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the Bush administration. This is perhaps especially true of the gullible and excessively financed Save Darfur Coalition, which has become the unfortunate “default” bureaucracy for Darfur advocacy in the US. A number of well-placed sources have confirmed to this writer that the administration’s priority is politically “managing” the American Darfur advocacy movement, particularly the Save Darfur Coalition (SDC), rather than responding to advocacy demands—demands that are in any event typically impoverished on the part of SDC.
But of course as has been the case throughout the Darfur crisis, the US role—however expedient, disingenuous, or simply inept—is more than matched by the feckless response of the rest of the international community, including the countries of the European Union. Italy has just signed several new economic agreements with Khartoum; French Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy declared last fall that “genocide” was occurring in Darfur and that the issue of nonconsensual deployment should be raised—and then said nothing more; the UK has repeatedly declared it is prepared to send troops to Darfur, all of which declarations have meant nothing (Britain has made no commitment of military resources to the UN force for Darfur authorized by Security Council Resolution 1706); rich European countries such as Germany and Belgium have not begun to offer adequate financial support to humanitarian operations in Darfur; despite all evidence to the contrary, from all humanitarian organizations on the ground, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Assistance Louis Michel recently declared of security in Darfur, “things are not deteriorating, I do not think” (from an extended exchange with this writer, The New Republic on-line, February 21, 2007 at http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=w070219&s=reeves022107); the European Union has very recently again decided not to impose any economic sanctions on Khartoum, targeted or otherwise—this despite the fact that the Parliament of the European Union voted 566 to 6 in September 2004 to declare that realities in Darfur were “tantamount to genocide.” Recent self-righteous declarations from the European Parliament aside, Europe shows no intention of leading on Darfur, despite the disabling burden of the Iraq debacle for the US military.
Japan, despite insistent claims that it deserves a Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council, has been completely useless on Darfur, and scandalously laggard in financial contributions for humanitarian assistance. Canada has been only more generous financially. The Arab League has made clear that on the issue of Darfur, it will defer completely to Khartoum’s genocidal ambitions. Notably, Agence France-Presse recently reported that “only 10 percent of the 150 million dollars pledged in Khartoum last year [January 2006] for the African peacekeeping force in Darfur has been paid up” ([dateline: Khartoum], February 19, 2007). The Organization of Islamic Conference can bring itself to say no more than that “the Darfur problem must be dealt with diplomatically within the framework of national reconciliation without any intervention by unsolicited foreign or international troops” (Bernama [dateline: Kuala Lumpur], February 16, 2007). Khartoum’s gnocidaires could themselves have hardly scripted more encouraging words.
In the absence of meaningful pressure on the Khartoum regime, backed by the threat of a credible military response to ongoing genocide, the world will be fortunate simply to preserve the brutally destructive status quo in Darfur. But in all likelihood—given the regime’s continuing defiant refusal to accept any meaningful deployment of international forces to Darfur, one guided by a robust mandate to protect civilians and humanitarians—we will see a continuing deterioration in security on the ground. Such deterioration, widely reported by aid organizations throughout Darfur and eastern Chad, will result in yet further attenuation of already highly restricted humanitarian access—and further withdrawals and expulsions of the sort represented by the departures of Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) and the Norwegian Refugee Council. Many hundreds of thousands of civilians are currently beyond humanitarian access, and many additional hundreds of thousands have only the most tenuous humanitarian access.
Here we should consider the example of some 130,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the camp at Gereida, currently the largest IDP camp in the world, and served only by the skeletal presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As the ICRC recently reported (Geneva, January 28, 2007), the extremely violent and threatening attack of late December 2006 has produced a near collapse in humanitarian presence:
“The consequences in humanitarian terms of the recent security incident in Gereida and the subsequent evacuation of aid personnel are beginning to show. Camp residents have at most two weeks of food left and are already worried. The maintenance of water-supply systems is another concern, along with sewage disposal and hygiene promotion. The link between food, hygiene and safe water is so close that neglecting any of these areas can have a direct impact on people’s health.”
Neither Oxfam nor Action Contre La Faim (ACF), the two humanitarian organizations previously operating in Gereida, currently has plans to return to the area. As The Independent (UK) reported last month of the Gereida incident (dateline: Nyala, Darfur):
“Aid groups have suspended operations in Darfur and may pull out of the Sudanese province after a French relief worker was raped, another sexually assaulted and an Oxfam employee was severely beaten at the world’s largest refugee camp [Gereida]. ‘We have suspended our operations and we may not go back,’ said Thomas Gonnet, the director of operations for Action Contre La Faim (ACF), whose colleague was raped and another was molested.” (The Independent [dateline: Nyala, Darfur], January 22, 2007)
DANGEROUS ACCERATION OF THE CRISIS IN EASTERN CHAD
And the violence of Darfur continues to spill over into eastern Chad in ever more deadly fashion. Indeed, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recently issued an unsurpassably urgent warning:
“The violence in Chad could turn into a genocide similar to that in Rwanda in 1994, the UN refugee agency has warned. The UNHCR says the killing tactics from neighbouring Darfur in Sudan have been transported to eastern Chad in full. [ ] ‘We are seeing elements that closely resemble what we saw in Rwanda in the genocide in 1994’ [said] UNHCR’s Matthew Conway.” (“Chad may face genocide, UN warns: Killing tactics used in Darfur are being used in Chad,” BBC February 16, 2007)
Associated Press reports very recently from Abch, eastern Chad:
“Attacks on civilians have intensified along the northern stretches of the [Chad/Darfur] frontier over the last two weeks, the British aid group Oxfam said recently. And farther south along the 500 kilometer border, dozens of civilians have been killed over the last few weeks, Oxfam said. ‘Traditional rivalries are spiraling into major conflict as armed groups become more organized, more numerous and better equipped,’ the aid group said. ‘Inter-ethnic clashes and attacks on villages, including cross-border raids from neighbouring Darfur, are being carried out with impunity.'” [ ]
“‘It’s impossible to say how many raids are directly conducted by forces from Sudan, but what is striking is that we now witness a level of violence completely unknown to Chad before,’ said Serge Male, the head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Chad.” (Associated Press [dateline: Abch, eastern Chad], February 19, 2007)
An immensely well-researched and deeply informed report from Human Rights Watch (January 2007) builds on previous strong research in eastern Chad, and paints an appropriately complex picture of growing ethnic violence. But although much of the blame for this violence clearly belongs to the Chadian government of Idriss Dby, the preponderance of evidence points directly to Khartoum and to the regime’s relentless export of ethnically-targeted violence:
“Human Rights Watch has uncovered evidence linking some attacks against civilians with known Janjaweed militia commanders or with Sudanese government paramilitary forces known to include many Janjaweed militia members.” (“‘The Came Here to Kill Us’: Militia Attacks and Ethnic Targeting of Civilians in Eastern Chad,” Human Rights Watch, January 2007, page 22, at http://hrw.org/reports/2007/chad0107/index.htm)
Amnesty International recently reported in less restrained terms:
“Homes ablaze. Villagers slaughtered. Women and girls raped. Survivors scattered in terror. Civilians in eastern Chad are sharing the cruel fate of their neighbours in Darfur, hostages to Sudan’s ruthless solution to rebel attacks in the region. The Janjawid militias who in recent years have laid to waste vast areas of western Sudan, form the backbone of the armed groups who are killing, tormenting and displacing civilians from targeted ethnic groups such as the Dajo and the Masalit in eastern Chad. The aim of the attacks appears to be to clear vast areas of communities primarily identified by the Janjawid as ‘African’ rather than ‘Arab,’ and to drive them further from the border with Sudan.” (Amnesty International, “Chad: ‘Are we citizens of this country?’—Civilians in Chad unprotected from Janjawid attacks,” January 29, 2007, at http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR200012007])
As Human Rights Watch first reported a year ago (“Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,” February 2006), Khartoum’s military aircraft have been used to attack civilian targets inside Chad; and these attacks continue: “Sudanese government aircraft bombed villages in eastern Chad in October 2006, part of a broader pattern of indiscriminate bombing attacks against civilians in Darfur” (“They Came Here to Kill Us,” page 15). In the February 2006 report, HRW reported on evidence of Khartoum’s involvement in ground and aerial assaults on non-Arab or African civilians in eastern Chad:
“The links between the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militias in operations in Darfur have been comprehensively documented over the past few years. Human Rights Watch found evidence of apparent Sudanese government involvement in attacks against civilian populations in eastern Chad since early December 2005. Witness accounts and physical evidence indicated that government of Sudan troops and helicopter gunships participated directly in attacks, while many people reported seeing Antonov aircraft approach from Sudan, circle overhead, then return to Sudan in advance of Janjaweed raid; they believe spotters in theses aircraft report concentrations of cattle to [Janjaweed] forces on the ground.” (“Darfur Bleeds,” page 11)
All too predictably, as security deteriorates, as aid operations become more endangered, humanitarian conditions for civilians deteriorate. A stark recent account comes from Oxfam International:
“‘In some [camp] areas [in eastern Chad], you have got 12,000 to 15,000 people with no latrine,’ says Roland Van Hauwermeiren, head of the humanitarian aid group Oxfam International in Chad. On Thursday [February 15, 2007], Oxfam and other groups warned that if the ongoing violence in the region did not stop very soon, it would be hard for them to prevent an outbreak of infectious diseases like cholera and diarrhea. As a result of armed attacks on villages by warring groups, more than 120,000 people have fled their homes and are now living in the eastern part of Chad, which is already home to more than 230,000 refugees from Darfur.”
“‘Animal and human waste is scattered throughout the area where displaced Chadians have settled, with their children walking barefoot,’ according to Van Hauwermeiren, who describes the situation in eastern Chad as ‘out of control.’ Currently, Oxfam is providing clean water to 30,000 people in and around the town of Goz Beida, but the group has been forced to cut its staff due to an escalation of attacks on civilians, including humanitarian workers.”
“‘Eastern Chad is one of the hardest places to find water,’ Van Hauwermeiren says, noting that despite best efforts by his group, people are able to receive only four to five liters of water per day while they should be getting at least 15 liters.” (One World US [dateline: UN/New York], February 16, 2007)
The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (February 17, 2007) reports:
“The UN High Commission for Refugees said earlier this month that ‘rampant insecurity’ in eastern Chad is ‘wreaking havoc’ on humanitarian activities. [ ] ‘We’ve had at least three convoys recently attacked,’ [said the UN World Food Program’s executive director James] Morris. ‘We’ve had people put at risk; our food is at risk. This is a place that is very insecure. When we ask people to do the distribution and the transportation, they are putting their lives at risk.’ The UN World Food Program in Chad currently feeds over 30,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), 230,000 Darfur refugees in 12 camps, in addition to 55,000 Chadian school children and 10,000 other high-risk Chadians. ‘The violence has accelerated in Chad. I know that our convoys have been at risk and we do need help protecting them.'” (IRIN [dateline: Dakar/New York], February 17, 2007)
But despite urgent pleas from humanitarian organizations for decisive security actions, the UN has for far too long remained politically inert. Oxfam is cited in the same IRIN dispatch as declaring in a February 15, 2007 press release,
“‘Any international force deployed to Chad will need to direct its focus to the safety and security of the Sudanese refugees, Chadian displaced people and local communities to put an end to further attacks on civilian populations,’ Oxfam said. ‘Actions to stop violence against civilians must be taken swiftly and decisively,’ the statement said.”
Yet even as “UN officials acknowledge that the humanitarian conditions in eastern Chad are fast deteriorating and that the [UN] needs to take immediate action,” there is only now the beginning of movement towards this “immediate action.” Reuters reports (February 20, 2007) that Ban Ki-moon has at least moved beyond the cowardly diffidence of his predecessor as Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. It was Annan who in the waning weeks of his tenure recommended against deployment of such a desperately needed force to eastern Chad, if certainly with the encouragement of an irresolute UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations:
“UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended on Tuesday [February 20, 2007] peacekeeping operations of up to 11,000 personnel for Chad and the Central African Republic to stanch the spillover from the Darfur conflict in Sudan. [ ] Eastern Chad is marked by ‘uncertainty, vulnerability and victimization of the local communities’ with 232,000 Sudanese refugees and 120,000 Chadians uprooted from their homes, Ban said in a long-awaited report to the UN Security Council [these figures do not include the more than 100,000 conflict-affected Chadians who have not been internally displaced—ER].”
“The 27-page report laid out two peacekeeping options. The first would number 6,000 troops backed by aircraft and engineering units. The second option would number about 10,900 troops and include aircraft, and is favored by Ban as better suited to protect civilians, although it might severely tax the overburdened UN peacekeeping department. In addition, Ban suggested deploying 260 UN police in 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad. But because of the difficulties of recruiting international police with appropriate language skills, his report suggested 800 local police be seconded to the United Nations and placed under its operational command.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], September 20, 2007)
It of course remains to be seen whether those militarily capable Western and non-Western nations that have hidden behind Khartoum’s refusal to permit a force to Darfur will now commit substantial resources to the proposed mission to eastern Chad. The odds look long against.
“In the Central Africa Republic, Ban recommended a ‘security presence’ of about 500 personnel as well as 20 UN police and political officers. Even though security has improved somewhat, Ban noted that more than 70,000 people were still displaced and are living ‘under threat of indiscriminate violence.’ Security Council members had been pressing for a report since they visited Sudan in June and then surveyed the arid desolate camps in Chad. In December, the peacekeeping department and then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan had recommended against deployment, saying it was too risky.” [ ]
“Ban outlined the dangers, saying an open-ended deployment of a UN peacekeeping force carried ‘serious risks’ among those who might view a UN force as interfering with their military agenda.”
Though the risks here are indeed serious, and come from many quarters, the real question is whether the UN and its member states are prepared to confront Khartoum and its military proxies the Janjaweed, as well as the Khartoum-supported Chadian rebel groups (see Human Rights Watch, “They Came Here to Kill Us,” page 2, for an excellent overview of the evolution of the Chadian rebel groups). Idriss Dby must also be convinced to abide by his previous commitment to permit deployment of this desperately needed force. Here France has most leverage, and must use it with urgency and a substantial commitment of diplomatic and political resources.
KHARTOUM GIVES NO SIGN THAT IT BELIEVES “THERE IS NO MILITARY SOLUTION IN DARFUR”
Within Darfur itself, Khartoum gives no signs whatsoever of restraint. In addition to the deliberate efforts to bomb an AU-sponsored meeting of rebel commanders who are not signatories to the disastrous Darfur Peace Agreement (May 2006), recent dispatches and confidential reports suggest that Khartoum has not in fact accepted the premise that “there is no military solution in Darfur.” This glib mantra—currently the protective boilerplate for the AU, the UN, the US, and the EU—means nothing. It is either a truism or an indirect and disingenuous refusal to accept the need for humanitarian military intervention in Darfur. But this hardly constrains expedient talk in various quarters. Jan Eliasson, new special envoy for Darfur of the UN Secretary-General, declared following his recent meetings in Khartoum:
“[We had very thorough] discussions with [National Islamic Front Presidential Advisor Mazjoub al-] Khalifa, [which] lasted for three hours and were very detailed; there is an acknowledgement that there is simply no military solution to the Darfur crisis.” (“near verbatim transcript” from UNMIS Press Briefing, Khartoum, February 15, 2007)
And just what does such “acknowledgment” mean, coming from the brutal and thuggish al-Khalifa? There is no member of the NIF regime who is more mendacious, no one more willing to continue the present genocide by attrition in Darfur—and no one who has had a greater say recently in prolonging the genocide. Does Mr. Eliasson imagine that some putative “acknowledgement” from al-Khalifa—chief NIF negotiator of the Darfur Peace Agreement—signifies anything? In his speciously optimistic account of his meeting in Khartoum, Mr. Eliasson seems determined to pick up where his disastrously incompetent and disingenuous predecessor, Jan Pronk, left off.
Several confidential sources report authoritatively on Khartoum’s yet further military build-up north of el-Fasher in North Darfur, in the areas where Khartoum launched its large-scale August military offensive—an offensive conspicuously in evidence for weeks in advance, despite representing an egregious violation of the security provisions contained in the Darfur Peace Agreement. There are strong suggestions of a new offensive against the militarily potent “G-19” rebel group in North Darfur, whose commanders did not sign the ill-conceived Darfur Peace Agreement (and who, significantly, were not invited to the Libyan-hosted “rebel commanders conference”). Civilians ethnically identified with the rebel group will also be targeted in any offensive.
There is also clear new evidence of a massive build-up by Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia proxies in West Darfur. Here we should recall that on a number of occasions prior to the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), Khartoum committed to disarming the Janjaweed. Almost two years prior to the signing the DPA, the UN Security Council had “demanded” in Resolution 1556 (July 30, 2004) that Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice. To date, there has been no progress whatsoever on this essential security issue. Indeed, as Reuters reports yesterday:
“Janjaweed militias have been concentrating forces to the north of el-Geneina, the capital of Sudan’s West Darfur state, an African Union military source said on Tuesday, corroborating a UN report. [ ] The AU source, who asked not to be named, said: ‘They are massing (north of el-Geneina [the UN report identified the areas as “Abou Souroug and Sliea, approximately 50 km north of el-Geneina”—ER])…. They have vehicles with machineguns on top and they’re Janjaweed. We can’t say what their intentions are.'”
“The source declined to give numbers, but described the forces gathered as a ‘huge amount of personnel,’ with pick-up trucks, camels and horses, while a UN mission spokeswoman said the militia numbered in the hundreds.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], February 20, 2007)
Almost as if to emphasize its disregard for the international community, Khartoum’s military command offered the followed contemptibly implausible account:
“A spokesman for the Sudanese military said the assembled tribesmen were preparing to migrate from the area, after having come under attack by non-Arab tribes. ‘There was a clash between Arab and non-Arab tribes … and because attacks by non-Arab tribes had increased … they (the Arab tribe) gathered to leave the area, not to fight.'”
Moreover, the Janjaweed remain active in other parts of Darfur. The same Reuters dispatch reports:
“A former rebel movement said a separate Janjaweed force had been attacking villages far to the east of the Darfur region for the past two days, killing six civilians. That Janjaweed activity was north of ed-Da’ein, a town about 450 km (300 miles) southeast of el-Geneina. A spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), the only rebel faction to sign a May peace accord with the government, said the militia had pillaged food and burnt houses in an attack which began on Monday [February 19, 2007] and continued on Tuesday. Six civilians were killed and two injured, he added.”
Khartoum also continues with its relentless aerial campaign, confident that only a small percentage of its attacks will be reported by the AU or anyone else. There is a numbing familiarity to accounts such as the following (picked up by The Sudan Tribune, but not a single wire service):
“The African Union denounced air bombardment by government warplane of two localities in North Darfur near the Chadian border, saying Sudan ceasefire violations will hinder its effort for durable ceasefire. ‘The [African Union] Ceasefire Commission (CFC) notes with concern the bombardment by Government of Sudan forces of Kariari and Bahai, 2 villages in North Darfur close to [the] Chad-Sudan border on 11 February 2007, at about 1200hours,’ said a statement issued by the AU on Sunday 11 February. ‘The AU CFC considers these acts unwarranted especially as efforts are on to ensure that the ceasefire to which all Parties expressed commitment holds in order to seek an enduring political solution to the crisis.'” (The Sudan Tribune [dateline: el-Fasher], February 12, 2007)
U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION DENIED ENTRY TO DARFUR BY KHARTOUM: One more example of the regime’s defiance of the international community
If Jan Eliasson contrives to find good news in “acknowledgment” by NIF Presidential Advisor Mazjoub al-Khalifa that there is “no military solution in Darfur,” perhaps he can discern similarly encouraging signals in Khartoum’s recent stiff-arming of a UN human rights mission: the regime denied entry visas because it objected to membership on the team of a former UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. Here even Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been obliged to sound a note of “disappointment”:
“UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday [February 15, 2007] accused the Sudanese government of reneging on a promise to issue visas to a high-level United Nations fact-finding mission due to leave for Darfur to assess the human rights situation in the politically and militarily troubled region. ‘The visa problem was very much of a disappointment for me,’ Ban told reporters.”
“This is an issue, he said, he had personally discussed with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during their recent meeting in Addis Ababa. The Sudanese president had promised he would issue visas to the fact-finding team. ‘[Al-Bashir] said he would have no problem (about issuing visas). I am very much disappointed by the decision of the Sudanese government,’ the secretary-general added.” (Inter Press Service [dateline: UN/New York], February 15, 2007)
Does Secretary-General Ban imagine that, in the calculations of gnocidaires, his “disappointment” with the reneging of President al-Bashir will be any more consequential than Mr. Eliasson’s celebration of Presidential Advisor al-Khalifa’s expedient “acknowledgment” concerning “military solutions” in Darfur? This preposterous credulity on the part of UN diplomats may have served some purpose as a sign of good faith—a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt—three years ago. But no longer—not after hundreds of thousands of deaths and after millions have been affected by the catastrophe deliberately engineered in Khartoum. Such credulity is a sign of weakness, expediency, and disingenuousness; and the regime’s gnocidaires can sniff all these with unerring accuracy.
The regime can discern with equal certainty the vacuous nature of pronouncements by European nations, and in particular the self-serving posturing of the European Parliament of the European Union. In the Parliament’s Resolution of February 15, 2007 (Strasbourg, France), the substitution of words for actions achieved cowardly completion: the very nations that have done nothing to pressure Khartoum to accept the UN peace support operation specified in Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 31, 2006); the very nations that have offered no troops for such a peace support operation (with small exceptions from Sweden and non-EU member Norway); the very nations that refuse to impose any form of economic sanction on a regime they have accused of crimes “tantamount to genocide”—these very nations, so many responsible for or complicit in the genocidal destruction of the Holocaust, declare sanctimoniously:
“C. whereas the Darfur conflict—together with impunity from prosecution—is increasingly affecting the stability of the Central African region and constitutes a threat to international peace and security,
“D. whereas the UN ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine provides that where ‘national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,’ others have a responsibility to provide the protection needed,
“E. whereas the UN Security Council, in its Resolution 1706 (2006), has authorised a new UN peacekeeping force of up to 22,500 soldiers and police officers to take over Darfur operations from the Africa Mission in Sudan (AMIS), while reaffirming its full respect for Sudanese sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity,
“F. whereas sexual violence against women and children has been recognised as a crime against humanity, but systematic rape continues to be used as a weapon of war by parties in the Darfur conflict and, despite numerous assurances by the Sudanese Government, sexual violence continues unabated,
“G. whereas the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened an investigation into crimes in Darfur in June 2005,
“H. whereas torture and forced conscription of adults and children have become a feature of the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Darfur, with the victims of torture too scared to report the abuse to either AMIS or humanitarian workers for fear of retribution,
“1. Calls on the UN to act in line with its ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, basing its action on the failure of the Government of Sudan to protect its population in Darfur from war crimes and crimes against humanity, and also its failure to provide humanitarian assistance to the population;
“2. Calls therefore on the UN, [***NB***] even in the absence of consent or agreement from the Sudanese Government, clearly to set a date for deployment of a UN-supported peacekeeping force in Darfur, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (2006), and the UN Agreement of 16 November 2006, in order to secure humanitarian aid corridors without any further delay to support the increasingly isolated and suffering population in the region;
“3. Calls on the governments of the Member States of the European Union, the Council and the Commission to assume their responsibilities and make every possible effort to provide effective protection for the people of Darfur from a humanitarian disaster;
“4. Deplores the Sudanese Government’s support for the Janjaweed militia and its bombing of the Darfur region, amounting to a clear and flagrant breach of the Darfur Peace Agreement;
“5. Calls on the international community, including the Member States of the European Union, to make equipment available in the region for the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Darfur established by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (2005);
“6. Calls on the EU institutions and other international actors to apply sanctions that target any side, including the Sudanese Government, that violates the ceasefire or attacks civilians, peacekeepers or humanitarian operations and to take all necessary action to help end impunity by enforcing and implementing the UN Security Council sanction regime through targeted economic sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, as the EU has done in the past with other countries; underlines that sanctions against Sudan should also include the threat of an oil embargo….”
What utterly despicable hypocrisy. In reading this disgraceful effort at self-exculpation by means of utterly ineffectual exhortation, we are being asked to leave aside the belatedness of such a Parliamentary Resolution, coming half a year after passage of UN Resolution 1706; we are asked to leave aside the refusal of militarily capable EU countries to offer to contribute any significant military resources to the UN peace support operation outlined in Resolution 1706; we are further asked to leave aside the impossibility of enforcing an “oil embargo” without the cooperation of China, a reality nowhere acknowledged in the Resolution; and finally we are asked to leave aside the sheer fatuousness of “calling on the Sudanese Government to cooperate fully with the ICC in order to end impunity” , when it is precisely impunity from ICC jurisdiction that preserves the Khartoum regime’s grip on Sudanese national wealth and power.
To invoke the “responsibility to protect doctrine,” to indulge in such merely rhetorical efforts at moral rehabilitation during these desperate moments in the Darfur crisis, at this terribly belated stage in the genocide, is behavior beneath contempt.
ON THE SAME PAGE WITH THE U.S. AT LAST
It of course never occurs to the European Parliament to refer honestly to the continuing intransigence and defiance of the Khartoum regime, so consistent over so many months, indeed years now. But in order that we do not lose track of the various milestones in Khartoum’s obduracy, let us review several recent regime comments pertaining to deployment of a force truly capable of protecting civilians and humanitarians in Darfur:
“Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Friday [February 16, 2007] affirmed his government’s rejection of the deployment of [a] UN peacekeeping force in Darfur. [ ] In an interview with the London based ‘Asharq Al Awsat,’ president al-Bashir said that Sudan is still negotiating details on the second and third phase of UN support plan to the AU forces in Darfur. Al-Bashir [ ] stressed that any UN role in Darfur under the plan is limited to technical and logistical support of the African Union forces, with no peacekeeping powers. Speaking from Cannes where the question of Darfur and Sudan-Chad dominated the Africa-France summit, al-Bashir said the deployment of UN forces ‘will transform the country to another Iraq.’ Al-Bashir indicated in his interview that Khartoum is not prepared to make further concessions on the issue.” (The Sudan Tribune [Cannes, France], February 16, 2007)
Associated Press ([dateline: Paris], February 16, 2007) reports:
“Sudan’s president Friday [February 16, 2007] likened the prospect of a UN peacekeeping force for Darfur to coalition troops in Iraq. [ ] Al-Bashir said the UN resolution 1706 calling for 22,000 UN peacekeepers to replace an African Union force ‘practically puts Sudan under trusteeship’ and gives these forces a mandate similar to that of the coalition forces in Iraq. ‘We cannot accept that Sudan is put under trusteeship,’ he said.”
“Al-Bashir did not budge from his refusal of UN peacekeepers, either for Darfur or to monitor the borders with Chad and Central African Republic. ‘With regard to United Nations forces in Darfur, we have already said “no” and that would be valid also for the frontiers [with Chad and Central African Republic]. But we accept the presence of African forces to control the borders with Chad and Central African Republic,’ he said.”
This defiance is directed clearly and specifically against the force and mandate contemplated by Resolution 1706, as well as the “three-stage” and badly weakened version of this Resolution supposedly negotiated in Addis Ababa (during the November 16, 2006 “High Level Consultation on Darfur”). But al-Bashir is unconstrained in his mendacity, and declared at the same time that there are only “minor details” standing in the way of agreement between the National Islamic Front regime and the UN:
“Sudan dismissed UN criticism of President Omar al-Bashir’s failure to approved a joint UN-African Union force for conflict-torn Darfur, insisting Wednesday [February 7, 2007] that only ‘minor details’ stand in the way of an agreement.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], February 7, 2007)
This extension of what is a truly astounding record of lies, distortions, dissimulation, and reneging is a useful context in which to assess recent US pronouncements on the Darfur crisis. Particularly revealing are comments made two weeks ago by US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack (State Department account via USINFO, February 7, 2007). McCormack was speaking about, without naming, the “Conclusions” document of the November 16, 2006 Addis Ababa “High Level Consultation on Darfur.” Notably, this “Conclusions” document was not an agreement: it bore no signatures and left unaddressed key issues that have still not been resolved. And the document very specifically did not speak of a UN/AU “hybrid force,” but (at Khartoum’s insistence) only a “hybrid operation,” to be deployed in three “phases”: a “light” augmentation of AU equipment and resources; a second, “enabling force,” still very modest in size and still under negotiation; and a final “heavy phase” consisting of a large number of troops and civilian police (the figure, ominously, was left unsettled in Addis Ababa). There has been no progress in negotiations on this “third phase.”
Subsequently, the phrase “hybrid operation” has been consistently construed by Khartoum as meaning AU troops but only UN funding, technical assistance, and logistics—no UN peace support personnel. This fundamental and disabling premise still governs all Khartoum’s pronouncements, as well as its behavior in all diplomatic venues. This, then, is the context for the official US State Department account:
“In November 2006, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir committed in principle under an agreement reached in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to allow all three phases of the force to deploy, but McCormack said so far the UN and AU have deployed only slightly more than 40 individuals out of a proposed 185 as elements of the first phase to provide mainly technical expertise.”
This is the state of the first, “light phase” of deployment, more than three months after it was supposedly “agreed” to by the Khartoum regime: a deployment of less than 25 percent of the very small force envisioned in “phase one.” The State Department account continues:
“‘In phase two, approximately 1000 individuals would set up headquarters and other infrastructure as an enabling force for the main body of the more than 15,000 troops who would arrive as phase three. [T]he member states of the UN need to now make the commitments of troops to that AU-UN force [sic] so that we can see if President Bashir will act on his commitments that he has made,’ McCormack said.”
Is there nothing to be discerned of al-Bashir’s commitments, Mr. McCormack, in the inability of the UN to deploy even 25 percent of the very small, “light” initial package of support for the AU?
“McCormack acknowledged that the United States and the international community have ‘a number of different options’ if the Sudanese government does not live up to its commitments. He referred to the scenario as ‘Plan B,’ but said the United States is taking Bashir’s word ‘at face value’ and it is ‘premature’ to determine that he is not committed to implementing all three phases of the force.”
Here we are at the very heart of the mendacious darkness that is the US State Department in responding to Darfur. Official spokesman McCormack declares that the US is willing—with millions of Darfuri civilians lives at clear risk—to take President al-Bashir’s word “at face value.” What conceivable justification is there for such willingness? When has al-Bashir’s word ever been anything other than a lie? How, in the wake of half a dozen previous promises to disarm the Janjaweed, can we see the present massing of Janjaweed in West Darfur, and continuing Janjaweed predations throughout Darfur and eastern Chad, as evidence of anything other than the most compelling reason for, precisely, not taking al-Bashir’s word “at face value”?
How, in the wake of Khartoum’s continued war of attrition against humanitarian operations in Darfur, can we see any but the most compelling reasons for not taking al-Bashir’s word “at face value”? For the National Islamic Front President has repeatedly promised, precisely, not to impede humanitarian efforts, promises that began with an agreement signed by then Secretary-General Kofi Annan and al-Bashir himself on July 3, 2004.
When has there ever been an agreement or promise that was kept, thereby justify accepting Khartoum’s words “at face value”?
Special Envoy Natsios set a January 1, 2007 “deadline” for Khartoum’s compliance with specified benchmarks for deployment of a security force to Darfur—or the now notorious “Plan B” would be implemented. Seven weeks after this “deadline” are we being asked to believe that deployment of 40 personnel is sufficient evidence that we should continue to take al-Bashir’s word “at face value”? with the lives of 4.5 million conflict-affected civilians at risk in the greater humanitarian theater of Darfur and eastern Chad?
Given such disingenuousness in Washington, DC and such conspicuous mendacity in Khartoum, there is precious little room for the truth to emerge. But reading between the lines of Natsios’ recent interview on PBS’s “NewsHour” (February 16, 2007), we see at the very least just how low the Bush administration is prepared to set the bar in measuring whether or not Khartoum’s behavior is acceptable in US eyes.
In the course of this extended interview, there is simply no indication on the part of Natsios that “Plan B” is any more substantial than what was reported in The Washington Post on February 7, 2007, “Bush Approves Plan To Pressure Sudan” at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/06/AR2007020601935.html). At the same time, the threshold for putting “Plan B” in motion is extraordinarily high: “massive attacks on camps” (which Natsios erroneously asserts have not occurred) and “a systemic [sic] effort to expel the nongovernmental humanitarian organizations and UN aid agencies.” Only then will “there [ ] be a movement to Plan B by the United States government.” But as all extant evidence makes clear, there is no “Plan B,” certainly nothing genuinely coercive. As various senior Defense Department officials have declared explicitly, there is no military planning underway—indeed, not even planning for or a clear willingness to contribute to a UN peace support operation.
In short, “Plan B” is a bluff, and rightly perceived as such by Khartoum, which also rightly infers weakness from the US resorting to bluffing rather than genuine pressuring. And it is the nakedness of this bluff the State Department hopes to conceal by positing an unreasonably high threshold for action—for recourse to “Plan B.” But even here, US disingenuousness and tendentious characterization of Darfur’s realities stand revealed.
At one point in the “NewsHour” interview Natsios declared:
“The displaced camps have not been attacked. I mean, one has, a little one, four months ago. But in a broad base, they have not launched massive attacks to disperse the camps.”
Mr. Natsios should offer his account to the thousands of survivors of the brutal Janjaweed assault on the Aro Sharow displaced persons camp in West Darfur (September 2005). As the African Union, helpless bystanders, reported at the time:
“On 28 September 2005, just four days ago, some reportedly 400 Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback went on the rampage in Aru Sharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur. Our reports also indicate that the day previous, and indeed on the actual day of the attack, Government of Sudan helicopter gunships were observed overhead. This apparent coordinated land and air assault gives credence to the repeated claim by the rebel movements of collusion between the Government of Sudan forces and the Janjaweed/Arab militia. This incident, which was confirmed not only by our investigators but also by workers of humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental organizations in the area, took a heavy toll resulting in 32 people killed, 4 injured and 7 missing, and about 80 houses/shelters looted and set ablaze.”
“The following day, a clearly premeditated and well rehearsed combined operation was carried out by the Government of Sudan military and police at approximately 11am in the town of Tawilla and its Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in North Darfur. The Government of Sudan forces used approximately 41 trucks and 7 land cruisers in the operation which resulted in a number of deaths, massive displacement of civilians and the destruction of several houses in the surrounding areas as well as some tents in the IDP camps. Indeed, the remains of discharged explosive devices were found in the IDP camp. During the attack, thousands from the township and the IDP camp and many humanitarian workers were forced to seek refuge near the AU camp for personal safety and security.” (Transcript of press conference by Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur, Khartoum, October 1, 2005)
Given Natsios’ historical account, it is important to understand that what Kingibe reported in October 2005 as the “rampage in Aru Sharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur” entailed a massive assault on the Aro Sharow camp for displaced persons, where 4,000-5,000 innocent civilians were made to flee, at least 34 were killed, and (according to the UN High Commission for Refugees) approximately one quarter of the flimsy shelters in the camp were destroyed in the assault.
What of Aro Sharow, Mr. Natsios? And what of the October 29-30, 2006 attacks on a camp for displaced persons in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur, Mr. Natsios?
Then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported on November 2, 2006:
“The Secretary-General condemns the large-scale militia attacks in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur on 29 and 30 October . The attacks on eight civilian settlements, including a camp harbouring some 3,500 internally displaced persons, caused scores of civilian deaths and forced thousands to flee the area. The Secretary-General is particularly distressed on hearing reports that 27 of those killed were children under the age of 12.” (UN News Service [New York], November 2, 2006)
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour issued at the time a report on the attacks, indicating that:
“7,000 people fled the area [of the attacks]. The report [by the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights], [was] based on eyewitness testimony and village lists collected by UN monitors in the region. [ ] Several witnesses quoted by the United Nations described seeing cold-blooded killings of children when the attackers ransacked villages, including a woman whose four-year-old was pulled from her grasp and shot dead. ‘Four children escaped in a group and ran under a tree for protection. An attacker came and shot at them, killing one of the children,’ a witness was quoted as saying. ‘Another group of three children (five, seven and nine years-old) were running in line. The five-year old fell down and was shot dead,’ the witness reportedly added. One of the attackers reportedly told a boy who pleaded with him: ‘If I let you go then you will grow up.’ The boy was then shot, the report said.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Geneva], November 3, 2006)
A year ago, in January 2006, Christian Aid highlighted another Janjaweed attack, on camps near Mershing, South Darfur:
“There have recently been attacks by the government-backed militia, the Janjaweed, in the Mershing camps in South Darfur. The peacekeeping troops of the AU had promised to protect these camps last autumn. Armed Sudanese police are also located in the area. But neither these troops nor the police were able to stop these latest attacks. Around 90% of the people from Mershing’s eight camps, which hold 35,000 people, have fled and are understood to be sleeping in the open without water or security. Christian Aid’s partner, the Sudan Social Development Organisation, has a clinic in Mershing; all employees have been forced to leave the camp.” (Christian Aid press release, January 27, 2006)
And there have been a number of other such attacks, although evidently not of significance to Mr. Natsios in his fashioning of Darfur’s recent history. To be sure, most attacks—numbering in the hundreds—have been on a smaller scale, as various “sit reps” from the ground make clear to anyone attentive to Darfur’s daily realities. But then again, many attacks have certainly gone unreported as humanitarian organizations lose contact with more and more of the remoter camps and concentrations of IDPs. In any event, Mr. Natsios is evidently willing to countenance as acceptable, or at least unworthy of mentioning, such attacks as UNICEF reported as occurring on January 21, 2007: “On January 21, 2007, an unknown number of armed men arrived into Hamidya camp, West Darfur, and began firing shorts in the air. The shelters of the newly arriving IDPs from Abata were destroyed” (UNICEF North Sudan Situation Report, January 19-25, 2007). Evidently equally unimpressive are attacks of the sort reported two days ago by Associated Press:
“On Monday, the UN said, two armed people dressed in military fatigues, suspected to be Arab militia, entered a refugee camp in El-Geneina, set alight to a shelter and shot dead one refugee who came out to protest.” ([dateline: Khartoum], February 21, 2007)
The ghastly truth, evidently too much for Mr. Natsios to accept, is that camps are becoming relentlessly less secure, even in the absence of widespread, wholesale assault; violence within the camps and the nearby environs is increasing steadily; and the potential for all-out assault is ever-present, even as there is no possible timely response possible, by the US or the nations of the European Parliament. Mr. Natsios would do well to consider the fears of those who inhabit “Camp Rwanda,” near Tawilla, North Darfur—particularly amidst the continuing collapse of the AU mission in Darfur. These people speak for many who have no protection of any sort, and whom journalists cannot reach. The New York Times’ Lydia Polgreen reported from “Camp Rwanda” (near Tawilla, North Darfur) on September 10, 2006:
“A year ago it was a collection of straw huts, hastily thrown together in the aftermath of battle, hard by the razor-wire edge of a small African Union peacekeeper base. Today it is a tangle of sewage-choked lanes snaking among thousands of squalid shacks, an endless sprawl that dwarfs the base at its heart. Pounding rainstorms gather fetid pools that swarm with mosquitoes and flies spreading death in their filthy wake. All but one of the aid groups working here have pulled out.”
“Many who live here say the camp is named for the Rwandan soldiers based here as monitors of a tattered cease-fire. But the camp’s sheiks say the name has a darker meaning, one that reveals their deepest fears.”
“‘What happened in Rwanda, it will happen here,’ said Sheik Abdullah Muhammad Ali, who fled here from a nearby village seeking the safety that he hoped the presence of about 200 African Union peacekeepers would bring. But the Sudanese government has asked the African Union to quit Darfur rather than hand over its mission to the United Nations. ‘If these soldiers leave,’ Sheik Ali said, ‘we will all be slaughtered.'”
AND IF THE CAMPS ARE ATTACKED? AND HUMANITARIANS ARE EXPELLED?
With entirely misplaced and arrogant confidence, Mr. Natsios declares that “the displaced camps have not been attacked. I mean, one has, a little [sic] one, four months ago. But in a broad base, they have not launched massive attacks to disperse the camps.”
Let us leave aside your distortions of recent history in the camps, Mr. Natsios, and let us focus on the two thresholds for deploying your vacuous “Plan B”: “broad attacks on the camps” and the “systemic [sic] effort to expel” humanitarian organizations and workers. How will the US respond to such developments at this late date? What in “Plan B” will prevent “Camp Rwanda” from becoming entirely deserving of its name? What is the plan for civilian and humanitarian protection, Mr. Natsios? What will prevent the continuing devastating contraction of humanitarian operations? Enough posturing, enough hiding behind the “secrecy” of “Plan B”: what, credibly, is the US prepared to do to stop another Rwanda in Darfur? in Chad? What preparations have we made, Mr. Natsios?
Of course the question must be posed to the European Parliament, which indulges an equally expedient and disingenuous response to Darfur’s catastrophe. And it must be posed to Arab League countries, to the African Union, to Japan, to Canada. And in very different form, with a relentless focus on Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics, the question must be put to China—chief diplomatic enablers of Khartoum’s gnocidaires. But the failure of others in the international community is no basis for justifying our own failure, Mr. Natsios—now fully on “your watch.” The US, despite more than three years of the clearest possible evidence that genocide is occurring in Darfur, continues to prevaricate, temporize, and substitute humanitarian generosity for tough-minded diplomacy and coalition-building.
The US has failed and continues to fail the people of Darfur. The future consequences of this and the world community’s collective failure will soon be measured in hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost.