Part One of this analysis examines in some detail the nature of ongoing military violence in Darfur and eastern Chad, as well as the lack of any reasonable expectation that security on the ground will improve in the near or medium-term. Part Two undertakes to survey the implications of this violence and insecurity for both aid operations as well as the approximately 4.7 million conflict-affected civilians in the great humanitarian theater of Darfur and eastern Chad (for Darfur, a critical resource is the newest “Darfur Humanitarian Profile” [No. 27], representing UN humanitarian assessment of conditions through April 1, 2007; at http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/EKOI-73M4TN?OpenDocument). Many of these affected civilians are now completely dependent upon international humanitarian aid, even as approximately 1 million civilians are beyond the reach of all assistance.
It is important to realize that these staggering numbers have continued to rise as violent displacement proceeds apace in both Darfur and eastern Chad. Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 27 (DHP 27) finds that “between January and March 2007, over 110,000 people have been newly displaced through Darfur, some 80,000 in South Darfur alone” (page 3). DHP 27 also finds that the number of Darfur civilians “in need of humanitarian assistance has increased by 278,000 with respect to the January  report.” This reflects both movement into the traditional “hunger gap” between spring planting and fall harvest, as well as “[significant erosion] of the population’s coping mechanisms.” The total conflict-affected population in Darfur in need of humanitarian assistance now reaches almost to 4.2 million. Another 500,000 civilians in eastern Chad are conflicted-affected and in need of humanitarian assistance.
The total number of displaced persons in Darfur now exceeds 2.1 million, according to DHP 27 (with a great many displaced persons not appearing in this census); in eastern Chad, the figure for Darfuri refugees and Chadian Internally Displaced Persons is approximately 400,000. Total human displacement exceeds 2.5 million, with most of these people having lost almost everything in the violence that forced them from their homes and lands. And displacement relentlessly continues to the present, more than two months after the reporting period for DHP 27 (January through March 2007); the May 22, 2007 UN Sudan News Bulletin reports:
“In South Darfur, large population displacements have been reported by various sources as a result of reported Government of Sudan and militia attacks, including alleged aerial bombardments against rebel forces in Buram locality this week.”
“[In West Darfur,] new Internally Displaced Persons continue to arrive to the Zalingei camps, West Darfur. A humanitarian nongovernmental organization informed that during the past week, 40 new IDPs arrived in Taiba, 81 in Hassa Hissa and 97 in Hamadiya camp.”
At the end of April 2007, Oxfam/UK, Save the Children/Spain, and Mercy Corps withdrew from the Um Dhukun area in West Darfur. Coming in the wake of violent attacks on aid workers in the area, this action immediately affected 100,000 civilians, including refugees from Chad and Central African Republic (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], April 23, 2007). Many of these people will be forced to move.
Mental health is notoriously difficult to measure or quantify. But DHP 27 notes in its section on “Protection” some of the most disturbing effects of ongoing displacement caused by Khartoum’s aerial bombardment of civilian targets:
“The Government of Sudan military attacks with support from their proxies against non-signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement have continued. Of particular concern were the reports of renewed air attacks on villages in the Dar Zaghawa area, North Darfur. The latest bombings have left civilians in the region highly traumatized. Many told the UN that ‘the biggest threat [to their lives and livelihoods] now comes from the air.’ Families have fled their homes and are living in the surrounding hills and wadis, without adequate shelter and water supplies. The risk of air attacks has also caused the closure of health posts and schools. Women now collect water only at night, fearing targeted day-time aerial raids on water points.” (page 13)
Despite the relentless increase in the numbers of affected and displaced persons, Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 27 offers a portrait of extraordinary success. Estimates that as many as 500,000 people have already been saved by humanitarian assistance seem in fact modest. But the narrative of DHP 27 has a constant refrain: humanitarian access remains severely compromised and may be radically attenuated by further deterioration in security.
“A greatly debilitating factor for humanitarian outreach remains the intolerably high incidence of increasingly violent hijackings of humanitarian vehicles. [ ] Since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement [May 5, 2006], 97 humanitarian vehicles have been hijacked and 79 convoys ambushed. [ ] Due to overall insecurity, humanitarian staff were temporarily relocated on seven occasions during the first three months of 2007, with an obvious detrimental effect on humanitarian assistance. [ ] Humanitarian operations continued to suffer from various forms of aggression perpetrated by all parties to the conflict. Between January and March , 32 humanitarian workers have been temporarily detained by Government of Sudan authorities, often without charge. The worst incident happened on 19 January , when Government of Sudan Police and National Security raided a nongovernmental organization guesthouse in Nyala and arrested 19 UN and nongovernmental aid staff, using extreme brutality.” (page 5)
DHP 27 also highlights an ominous and vastly under-reported trend within the humanitarian community in Darfur:
“With respect to April 2006, there are now 2,400 fewer aid workers (-16%), while during the same period, the caseload of conflict-affected populations has increased by almost 550,000 people (+15%) and UN access dropped from 78% to 68%.” (page 6)
There are approximately 12,300 aid workers, of whom approximately 900 are international staff. It is hardly surprising that Chart 4 (“Number of People Assisted in Key Humanitarian Sectors, April 2006-April 2007”) show significant declines in the number of people receiving food assistance and primary medical care (although water and sanitation figures have improved slightly).
Insecurity has taken a further toll, although one difficult to measure. DHP 27 notes that because of insecurity, “the World Food Program and Cooperating Partners are now almost exclusively reliant on helicopter transport to carry out food distribution and monitoring activities” (page 7). Helicopter transport is extremely expensive and will ultimately constrain the Darfur humanitarian budget for actual food supplies and other aid resources.
Moreover, we should bear in mind that humanitarian access is often denied by Khartoum for purely political reasons. This was the experience of former UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, and the experience of current Undersecretary John Holmes:
“Sudanese troops barred the UN humanitarian chief on Saturday from visiting one of Darfur’s most violence-plagued refugee camp during his first trip to this war-torn region in Sudan. The convoy carrying John Holmes was halted at a checkpoint about 1.2 kilometers (0.8 miles) outside the Kassab refugee camp, and he was told he did not have the proper papers to visit the site. ‘I’m frustrated, annoyed, but it’s not atypical of what happens here,’ Holmes told journalists traveling with him. He said his trip had obtained all the necessary clearances from Khartoum.” (Associated Press [dateline: Kassab], March 24, 2007)
Given Khartoum’s relentless war of attrition against humanitarian operations in Darfur, Holmes is certainly right in saying that what he experienced is “not atypical.” On the contrary, despite a raft of agreements the regime has signed on humanitarian access, bureaucratic obstacles continue to abound. Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times offered a superbly researched account two months ago, at the time of Holmes aborted trip to Kassab:
“Aid agencies say their operations are tied in endless ribbons of red tape. Rather than being chased from the country by violence they are more likely to lose heart from the endless bureaucracy—a slow death by a thousand paper cuts. ‘Many organizations are saying that the bureaucratic obstacles are the No. 1 problem and may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,’ said one senior aid official, who spoke on the condition on anonymity for fear of government retaliation.”
“The mountains of paperwork—including trips to government ministries to obtain official stamps and permissions for visas, travel permits and import tax exemptions—take up so much time that one large aid organization with operations across Darfur employs five full-time workers whose only job is to navigate the bureaucratic maze. The government signed an agreement with the United Nations in 2004 that eliminated most restrictions on aid workers. But that agreement has been repeatedly violated: a United Nations list of incidents compiled in the first two months of the year cited more than two dozen cases of workers being forced off aid flights, turned back at checkpoints or denied paperwork and visas.”
“Visas are issued for a few months at a time, if at all. Exit visas are required for workers staying more than a month, but these, too, can take weeks to come through and cost $120 each. The cost of a single worker’s paperwork can add up to $1,000 a year.” (New York Times [dateline: Deribat, Darfur], March 25, 2007)
What we know is that despite international hand-wringing and threatening words, this obstructionist behavior remains a key tool as genocide by attrition proceeds apace in Darfur.
NUTRITION AND MALNUTRITION
There are conflicting signals about malnutrition in Darfur, even as many of the signals coming from eastern Chad are unambiguously alarming. Overall provision of food seems strong, as does provision of key non-food items (e.g., soap, mosquito nets, tent materials). But there are also ominous indicators. Because of continuing violence, insecurity, and displacement, “the good harvests for those who could plant during the 2006 agricultural season have frequently been lost through theft and deliberate destruction, leaving [people] entirely dependent on external food aid” (Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 27, page 8). Nutrition for children under five, a highly sensitive barometer of overall food availability, shows disturbing signs:
“Admissions for children under five years of age into Supplementary Feeding Centres (SFCs) across Darfur have almost doubled during the [current] reporting period [January through March 2007] compared to the previous three months [October through December 2006]. Similarly, admissions into Therapeutic Feeding Centres (TFCs) have almost doubled during the reporting period” (page 10). Although these numbers correlate with the early beginning of the “hunger gap,” they are cause for concern and do much to explain the consistent finding that “levels of malnutrition are consistently higher in children of 6-29 months compared to 30-59 months.” Moreover, DHP 27 reports concern over “three localized nutrition surveys have been undertaken during the reporting period. Tearfund reported from Ed Daien [South Darfur] (February 2007) an alarming rate of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) of 21.9% and Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) of 3.9%” (page 11).
Save the Children/US found during a survey in Foro Baranga (West Darfur) a crude mortality rate (CMR) of 1.21 (deaths per day per 10,000 of affected population). This is “above alert level,” and indeed is approximately double UNICEF’s estimate of the normal CMR for Darfur.
For all the usefulness of data aggregated in the UN’s “Darfur Humanitarian Profiles,” a great deal of the character of individual suffering and privation in Darfur is inevitably lost amidst these necessarily global generalizations and statistical homogenization. Nor are DHP data fully global or representative of more remote regions. As an important complement, the voices of returning humanitarian workers—no longer bound by the restrictions on speaking that obtain while personnel are on the ground in Darfur—deserve particular attention. Thus the significance of an extensive interview published by the Yorkshire Post (UK) of June 3, 2007. Jonathan Henry, project director for Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Muhajariya, South Darfur, spoke with blunt honesty in describing a situation he says “has worsened since he arrived in 2005”:
“‘It is still a massive humanitarian disaster and the level of suffering has become dramatically worse. We were the only agency in Muhajariya when I left because the other organisation had evacuated because of security.’ The town has come under heavy attack from government-backed forces. But as is so often the case in times of war, it is the innocent who suffer most. ‘When I left, 90 per cent of the patients in our 60-bed hospital were women and children under five,’ says Henry.” [ ]
“‘There’s a lot of severe malnutrition, with children having lost nearly half their body weight because they can’t access food, and they can’t go and farm the land because it’s too dangerous. We are seeing an increase in water-borne diseases like diarrhoea and respiratory infections. Malaria is endemic in Darfur, we saw outbreaks of meningitis and measles, and mortality rates are increasing.'”
The effects of uncontrolled violence are striking in Henry’s account:
“‘We had staff abducted and seven were beaten despite them all wearing the MSF T-shirts.’ When Muhajariya was attacked last October, its population was about 47,000, but this has dwindled to 13,000. It is a situation mirrored throughout Darfur where the number of indiscriminate attacks has escalated.
‘These so-called militia on camels with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades go into towns and torch them shooting men, women and children.'” [ ]
“Henry warns the situation is becoming increasingly chaotic with many refugees flooding into already over-populated areas. Many of the camps, some spread over a 15-mile radius, consist of nothing more than a sea of makeshift tents, with no protection from the elements or local militia. ‘Many of these refugees are dispersed among bushes in the middle of the desert. They drink muddy water from pools full of bacteria that carry water-borne diseases. They have no food because they’ve had to abandon their land, they have no shelter in 50 degree heat and no health care.'”
“‘I think we’re going to be there for a while to come. But unless the agencies get improved access, it’s going to be very difficult to keep delivering this medical response. There is massive fear and massive insecurity in the everyday lives of these people,’ says Henry.”
We learn a tremendous amount about Darfur’s current realities from this individual perspective. Here it is also important to realize just how constrained aid workers are while in Darfur. A recent Reuters survey found:
“Most aid agencies in Darfur cannot speak openly about the humanitarian situation in the violent west of Sudan for fear of jeopardising their work or being thrown out, a Reuters AlertNet poll showed on Thursday [May 24, 2007]. Four-fifths of those surveyed said they could not talk about who was behind attacks on civilians and aid workers in case they upset the government or suffered reprisals from militias and rebels. More than two-thirds would not discuss rape. ‘Speaking about touchy issues might result in restrictions and an order to leave the country which we do not want to risk, considering many people depend upon our support,’ one agency told [Reuters].” [ ]
[T]wo-thirds of the 46 international agencies polled said they could not speak freely about the humanitarian situation. Almost all asked to remain anonymous to avoid repercussions. ‘All humanitarians are considered as spies against the government,’ one aid worker said. ‘If we speak openly … we find that the government will then restrict our access to programme areas by delaying visas, travel permits etc,’ another agency said. ‘They will also withdraw support, such as protection against bandits and searching for stolen vehicles and kidnapped drivers.'” (Reuters [dateline: London], May 24, 2007)
Still, it is the direct physical threats to aid workers that do most to compromise humanitarian access and operations. Radhia Achouria, the UN spokeswoman who has been attacked viciously by Khartoum for her temerity in speaking truthfully about humanitarian issues in Darfur, recently reported that,
“violence continues to threaten the operations, according to the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). ‘Incidents of road banditry and fighting between the warring factions continue to disrupt long-term planning,’ spokesperson Radhia Achouri said today at the weekly UNMIS press conference in Khartoum. She said that in North Darfur state, a non-governmental organization (NGO) was forced to suspend its food distributions in the Dar Zaghawa area [North Darfur] as a result of aerial bombings by the Government and the high risk of carjackings.”
“‘If the situation does not improve, the NGO’s suspension of activities could also affect the populations in Kutum Rural [northwest of el-Fasher], thus leaving 165,000 people without food assistance at the beginning of the hungry season,’ she added. She also said that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the continuous stream of new internally displaced persons (IDPs) is putting a serious strain on several camps, where services and space are running out.”
EXISTENCE IN THE CAMPS
The ongoing human displacement that is highlighted in DHP 27 and other humanitarian accounts is made more consequential by Khartoum’s determination not to build additional camps, despite the fact that current camp capacity, as UN spokeswoman Achouri notes, has often been exceeded. Another UN spokesman, George Somerwill, recently addressed the same issue:
“Many camps for those who have fled violence in Darfur are full as thousands more civilians are driven from their homes in the western Sudanese region, the United Nations said on Wednesday. ‘Nearly 140,000 people have been identified as newly displaced since the beginning of the year, with at least 10,000 on the move in May ,’ [UN spokesman George Somerwill] told a news conference in Khartoum. ‘A very visible consequence of the continued displacement is the swelling population of … camps—many of which can no longer absorb any new arrivals,’ he added.”
The inevitable effect of denying people access to the camps will be to create spontaneous settlements, with no humanitarian coordination, poor sanitation, no guaranteed food allocation, and little or no security.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that the camps have increasingly come to have populations that have migrated as much because of food and aid incentives as fear of Janjaweed attacks. Reuters’ superb journalist Opheera McDoom reported from el-Geneina, West Darfur:
“While almost 14,000 aid workers try to also give food and blankets and other aid to those in the remote villages cut off from the fighting, limited funds and insecurity means those outside the camps often get less aid than those inside. Some aid workers expressed concern that this was attracting people who were more economic migrant than refugee.” (March 21, 2007)
There is also a growing resignation and despair on the part of many of the more than 2 million people for whom these camps have become the only homes they know; some have been in the camps for four years. The camps are taking on a more permanent quality; bricks for housing are being made and purchased in ever greater numbers. But this doesn’t translate into security, certainly not in the vast majority of camps. The Associated Press’s Alfred de Montesquiou recently filed yet another deeply revealing dispatch from the huge Kalma camp, near Nyala (capital of South Darfur):
“The seven women pooled money to rent a donkey and cart, then ventured out of the refugee camp to gather firewood, hoping to sell it for cash to feed their families. Instead, they say, in a wooded area just a few hours walk away, they were gang-raped, beaten and robbed. Naked and devastated, they fled back to Kalma. ‘All the time it lasted, I kept thinking: They’re killing my baby, they’re killing my baby,’ wailed Aisha, who was seven months pregnant at the time.”
“The women have no doubt who attacked them. They say the men’s camels and their uniforms marked them as janjaweed—the Arab militiamen accused of terrorizing the mostly black African villagers of Sudan’s Darfur region. Their story, told to an Associated Press reporter and confirmed by other women and aid workers in the camp, provides a glimpse into the hell that Darfur has become as the Arab-dominated government battles a rebellion stoked by a history of discrimination and neglect.”
“Kalma is a microcosm of the misery—a sprawling camp of mud huts and scrap-plastic tents where 100,000 people have taken refuge. It is so full of guns that overwhelmed African Union peacekeepers long ago fled, unable to protect it. It is so crowded that the government has tried to limit newcomers—forbidding the building of new latrines, so a stench pervades the air.”
Rape threatens any girl or woman leaving Kalma, this despite the status of rape within many Islamic countries:
“In Sudan, as in many Islamic countries, society views a sexual assault as a dishonor upon the woman’s entire family. ‘Victims can face terrible ostracism,’ says Maha Muna, the UN coordinator on this issue in Sudan.
Some aid workers believe the janjaweed use rape to intimidate the rebels, and their supporters and families. ‘It’s a strategy of war,’ Muna said in an interview earlier this year in Khartoum, the capital.”
“Sudan’s government is especially sensitive about such accusations and denies rape is widespread. Sudanese public opinion would view mass rape much more severely than other crimes alleged in Darfur, said a senior Sudanese government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from his superiors.”
But the realities that define life for women and girls, both in the camps and rural areas, have been well-established by numerous human rights reports, and are especially conspicuous in Kalma camp:
“UN workers say they registered 2,500 rapes in Darfur in 2006, but believe far more went unreported. The real figure is probably thousands a month, said a UN official. Like other UN personnel and aid workers interviewed, the official insisted on speaking anonymously for fear of being expelled by the government.” [ ]
“In Kalma, collecting firewood needed to cook meals is becoming more perilous as the trees around the camp dwindle and women are forced to scavenge ever farther afield. It is strictly a woman’s task, dictated both by tradition and the fear that any male escorts would be killed if the janjaweed found them.” [ ]
“Sheikas in Kalma said they report over a dozen rapes each week. Human rights activists in South Darfur who monitor violence in the refugee camps estimate more than 100 women are raped each month in and around Kalma alone. The workers warn of an alarming new trend of rapes within the refugee population amid the boredom and slow social decay of the camps. But for the most part, they added, it all depends on whether janjaweed are present in the area.” (May 26, 2007)
It is hardly surprising that we now hear increasingly numerous reports of political radicalization in the camps, particularly among young men, and of a growing influx of arms. Indeed, some believe that the camps will become the next front-line in the Darfur conflict—and that if there is a precipitous withdrawal by either aid workers or the skeletal African Union presence, there will be wholesale massacres. This threat in turn leads to yet heavier reliance on weapons within the camps
HUMANITARIAN WITHDRAWAL OR SUSPENSION IN DARFUR
The ultimate threat to the conflict-affected populations in Darfur remains the withdrawal or evacuation of humanitarian personnel. Suspension or termination of critical aid efforts, particularly during the coming few months, will rapidly translate into cataclysmic human mortality, with no means of restoring the security that would allow humanitarians to resume their operations.
We have had for over a year the most dire warnings from humanitarian organizations and their spokespersons. In January 2007 all fourteen operational UN organizations in Darfur signed an unprecedented open letter of concern, giving clear warning that insecurity had reached intolerable levels and that suspension of humanitarian operations was a distinct possibility. The following week, six influential nongovernmental aid organizations strongly echoed these warnings. And yet security continues to deteriorate. The international community seems intent on waiting for some horrific catalytic event to focus its attention, even as that moment will only reveal how little has been done to move toward the provision of meaningful security for humanitarians and civilians.
The Independent (UK) reported from Nyala, South Darfur (May 3, 2007):
“One year on from a much-heralded peace deal for Darfur, aid agencies have been forced to roll back operations and are facing an unprecedented level of attacks on personnel, according to United Nations maps seen by The Independent. ‘We are on the brink,’ said Oxfam’s Alun McDonald. ‘In terms of violent attacks on aid workers things are worse than they have ever been in Darfur. Access to the people in need is at the lowest point since 2004. It is becoming increasingly difficult to do our job. We are still completely committed to staying but unless we see an improvement there is always the risk that the whole operation could collapse.'”
“The UN’s humanitarian access maps [available at http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/JBRN-6ZSCY8?OpenDocument] reveal the dramatic scale of the insecurity. The map dated 17 May 2006, just 12 days after the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement, shows just three areas where it was impossible for aid agencies to operate—Kulbus in northwestern Darfur, parts of the mountainous Jebel Marra region in central Darfur, and a small enclave around El Taweisha in the east.”
“By 13 March this year—the last time the UN produced a humanitarian access map—the amount of territory considered unsafe for aid workers had quadrupled. Swaths of north, south and west Darfur which were once seen as safe now have only limited humanitarian access.” [ ]
“Delivering aid to Darfur’s displaced is becoming increasingly difficult as aid workers come under attack from rebels, Arab militias and bandits. ‘In the past they would stop your car and steal a satellite phone,’ said one humanitarian official. ‘Now, they shoot to kill.’ ‘The level of violence is unprecedented,’ said Mr McDonald. ‘There are incidents every day. Aid agencies are being targeted, which wasn’t happening before the Darfur Peace Agreement. Staff are quite frequently assaulted or beaten.'”
No humanitarian organization in the world would enter a situation as dangerous as Darfur currently is for relief workers. Organizations remain because they understand that their leaving, the withdrawal of international witnesses, would eliminate the last real vestige of protection afforded to millions of vulnerable civilians. A collapse of the AU force—a distinct possibility—or large-scale humanitarian withdrawal could signal the beginning of unprecedented human mortality, on a scale that could reach to many tens of thousands of deaths per month. The warning light has been flashing red for many months, and yet still there is no real progress toward deployment of a force that can protect civilians and humanitarians.
Some believe that such a force is impracticable, and there are good reasons to be skeptical that it will run smoothly or without serious tensions between the AU and the UN. It’s certainly the case that such a force cannot impose peace on Darfur, or disarm the Janjaweed and control the rebel forces. But even for all its shortcomings, such a force could ground Khartoum’s military aircraft, or at least those that are authoritatively implicated in attacks on civilians. Most camps could be protected, as could humanitarian corridors. The border between Darfur and Chad could be monitored with considerable, if not complete effectiveness. Some vulnerable rural areas could also be protected by a force of the sort originally contemplated in Resolution 1706 (August 2006).
Resolution 1706 authorized a UN peace support operation for Darfur consisting of 22,500 UN troops, civilian police, and Formed Police Units. The force was to deploy “rapidly” under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (which confers enforcement authority), with an explicit mandate to protect civilians as well as humanitarians and humanitarian operations. The force was also to establish a “multidimensional presence” to “improve the security situation in the neighboring regions along the borders between the Sudan and Chad and between the Sudan and the Central African Republic.”
Those who believe that such a force, or even its “hybridization” with the AU, could not significantly improve security are obliged to explain why—specifically and openly. Not to do so, to conflate such efforts with “non-consensual deployment” of force (morally justified but politically never practicable), is intellectually dishonest, and in an arena of immense moral consequence. At the same time, the notion that somehow Darfur will “save itself” if only left to its own devices is a ghastly fantasy, appealing it would seem to those eager to forestall deployment of any sort of international protection force. But the desperate dangers confronting Darfuris are all too real. To pretend otherwise, to ignore the acute and demonstrable threats to human lives and livelihood, is the height of irresponsibility.
While it is unlikely that many will be convinced that Darfur can “save itself,” the appeal of such a notion should not be underestimated, particularly to those governments—preeminently in the US and the UK—that have so shamelessly postured on Darfur, now for years, and which remain unwilling to commit the diplomatic or political resources necessary to make truly urgent the deployment of a civilian protection force.
What is most likely is that the hopelessly inept UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose office receives scathing reviews on Darfur from all quarters, will define the international response to Darfur. We catch a highly revealing glimpse of just how feckless and ineffective Secretary General Ban is in a powerfully researched dispatch by Colum Lynch of The Washington Post ([dateline: UN/New York], May 20, 2007). The dispatch is equally revealing of just how contemptuously Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regards the UN and efforts on behalf of Darfur by the international community. Without a fundamental change in the diplomatic climate, this deep contempt will define Khartoum’s response to all future negotiations on any “AU/UN hybrid operation.”
This, then, is how humanitarian efforts in Darfur are regarded:
“On January 19,  a group of 20 international aid workers and peacekeepers celebrated their day off with an afternoon of dining, drinking and dancing at the guesthouse of the private relief agency, the American Refugee Committee, in the town of Nyala, Darfur.”
“The outing ended in the early evening when Sudanese police and security agents broke into the house, videotaped the attendees—which included five UN workers, representatives of six US and British aid agencies, and African Union peacekeepers—and then beat them with batons and rifle butts and sexually assaulted at least one female UN worker. Locals cheered from the street, and some joined in the assault.” [ ]
The response of UN Secretary General Ban to this outrageous assault on aid workers and peacekeepers?
“The episode—drawn from interviews and confidential written accounts from UN officials and aid workers—has become a test of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s efforts to use quiet diplomacy with Sudan. Ban, who has never spoken publicly about the case, called the attack ‘unacceptable’ in a private letter to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and urged him to ensure that police were held accountable. But Ban’s attempt to parlay his new relationship with Bashir—cultivated during a series of talks over UN-brokered peacekeeping—has yielded little progress in this case.”
“Bashir last month dismissed Ban’s appeal, warning in a confidential letter that UN staff members would be held accountable for violating Sudanese laws and suggesting that they receive special training in ‘conduct and discipline’ to ensure they obey those laws. ‘Accordingly, persons working in Sudan, regardless of their status or assignments, are expected to observe and respect the customary laws of the communities in which they serve.'”
This astonishing response has so far resulted in no public censure. Even so,
“For the United Nations, the incident marked the most flagrant act of violence by government forces against international personnel in Darfur. A UN board of inquiry into the incident—which involved relief workers from Oxfam International, World Vision International and the International Rescue Committee—recently concluded that Sudan violated provisions of the status of forces agreement governing the UN presence in Sudan.”
“‘The humanitarian community feels, rightly, doubly victimized in this incident. Those concerned were not only assaulted, but then themselves charged with a crime,’ John Holmes, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told the UN Security Council last month. ‘Those who have come to help the population are now themselves targets.'”
What resolution has there been in this matter? What is Ban Ki-moon’s response to this extraordinary defiance and contempt? Answers tell us all too much about the sort of leadership on Darfur the UN Secretary General will provide, and does far too much to define the fate of Darfur:
“UN officials say that while Ban has not gone public, he has been uncommonly tough with Bashir in private. In his confidential February 23,  letter to Bashir, Ban expressed ‘deep concern’ over the January attack. ‘I view this incident as serious and unacceptable and I trust that your government will ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable.'”
“Ban urged Bashir to pledge ‘his own personal support’ to ensure cooperation with a UN board of inquiry looking into the incident. He also pressed Bashir to order a judicial review of the case in Khartoum to ‘send the message that your government will not tolerate attacks against relief workers by its own officials or anyone else.'”
“In his reply, Bashir made no mention of the police abuses and told Ban to drop the matter. ‘I suggest that episodes of similar nature be tackled at the appropriate administrative level so that you and I devote our time and energies to reinvigorate the peace process.'”
This same outrageous contempt fully animates the National Islamic Front leadership in its response to the people of Darfur. We will not have long to wait before being obliged to witness its implications in rapidly escalating human suffering and destruction.