Eric Reeves –
The international community fails to heed the warning signs or hold Khartoum accountable –
Despite five years of genocidal counter-insurgency warfare in Darfur, millions among its ravaged civilian population will soon enter a third month receiving only half the necessary food rations from the UN’s World Food Program (WFP). Despite the presence of the world’s largest humanitarian relief operation, the people of Darfur begin the current rainy season with only half the minimum kilocalorie diet necessary to sustain human life. Since the rainy season coincides with the traditional “hunger gap”—the period between spring planting and fall harvest—we may expect to see significant human starvation in the coming months, relentlessly adding to the hundreds of thousands who have already died from ethnically-targeted violence, displacement, and consequent malnutrition and disease. A grim genocide by attrition is set to enter its deadliest phase.
How can this be? And why don’t the alarms sounded by humanitarian organizations compel greater international response? Answers tell us too much about why Darfur’s agony shows no signs of abating.
Since the beginning of May, WFP has delivered to Darfur only half the required food tonnage. The reason is insecurity, as food convoys face the constant threat of violent hijacking. Drivers are beaten, robbed, and too often killed; as a result, they increasingly refuse to make the dangerous trip through the western part of Kordofan Province and especially inside Darfur. The Khartoum regime should of course provide military escorts for these critical, though highly vulnerable, convoys. But the National Islamic Front comprises the very men responsible for orchestrating the Darfur catastrophe. Although they have made soothing noises about protecting food convoys, they have in fact done nothing of significance. Indeed, an ill-advised Darfuri rebel attack on Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman in May has occasioned redeployment of military force away from the convoy routes. Those waiting for Khartoum to protect the vital corridors for urgently needed increases in foodstocks will wait in vain.
Indeed, Khartoum is much more interested in militarily supporting its proxy force of Chadian rebel groups, reportedly massing for a new assault on N’Djamena and the regime of Idriss Dby. Khartoum holds Dby responsible for supporting the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attack on Omdurman, and this would appear to be the moment in which the regime means to settle the score.
Just as scandalously, the protection force authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1769 (July 2007) has failed to improve security in Darfur, or to protect WFP convoys. Despite almost a year of opportunity, and two years of planning by the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN/African Union “Hybrid” Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is failing badly—and rapidly losing the confidence of Darfuris. Humanitarian groups repeatedly say in private conversations that they are fearful of being too closely associated with UNAMID because its growing failure is perceived by Darfuri civilians and rebels as a sign that it has implicitly sided with Khartoum. This perception haunted the previous weak, ineffective, and vastly under-manned African Union mission in Darfur, AMIS. In fact, AMIS has simply been “re-hatted” with UN blue helmets (sometimes painted by the soldiers themselves) and slightly augmented to make up what is called “UNAMID.” Last November UN head of peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno asked all too presciently:
“Do we move ahead with the deployment of a force that will not make a difference, that will not have the capability to defend itself and that carries the risk of humiliation of the Security Council and the United Nations and tragic failure for the people of Darfur?”
The question answered itself at the time, and now we are seeing the consequences of this “tragic failure.”
Moreover, the fact that Khartoum has engaged in a widespread and largely successful campaign of obstruction of UNAMID deployment only fuels the deep anger and resentment among the people of Darfur who feel, with justice, that they have been abandoned. Khartoum refuses to allow key battalions of troops, engineers, and special forces to deploy, has deliberately attacked UNAMID forces, and has looked on with indifference as its Janjaweed militia allies recently humiliated a UNAMID patrol in West Darfur, taking the soldiers’ weapons and communications gear. For their part, the militarily capable nations of the world have done painfully little to augment UNAMID, or to confront Khartoum over its obstructionist tactics. As a consequence, UNAMID currently operates without required logistics, without critical transport capacity (especially helicopters and trucks), and without other essential military equipment. Of a planned 26,000 civilian police and troops, only about 9,000 are presently deployed, most AMIS holdovers.
Insecurity has not only severely compromised the delivery of food into Darfur, it has also diminished access to what the UN estimates are 4.3 million conflict-affected persons scattered throughout a region the size of France. The consensus among humanitarian workers on the ground is that they have access to only about 40% of this vast population—leaving as many as 2.5 million people without reliable access to food, clean water, and primary medical care. Further compromising humanitarian abilities is a relentless and intensifying campaign by Khartoum officials to abuse, harass, and threaten humanitarian workers. Many workers on the ground report morale is at its worst since major humanitarian efforts began in summer 2004.
There are other causes for the deepest concern. Malnutrition rates, especially among children under five, had risen above the emergency threshold last fall, following a disastrous harvest in South and North Darfur (three-quarters of Darfur’s total population). And yet important subsequent malnutrition studies have not been disseminated because Khartoum has objected, and humanitarian organizations—fearing a loss of access—have acquiesced. UNICEF bears particular responsibility in this arena, as does the humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, Ameerah Haq (see my April 24, 2008 assessment at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article212.html). Just as troublingly, new malnutrition studies and collections of data are also being obstructed by Khartoum’s gnocidaires. Theirs is a patent desire to obscure the growing threat of widespread, engineered starvation.
But such a risk grows by the day. Suleiman Jamous, previously the senior rebel humanitarian coordinator and the most reliable of rebel leaders, recently told me he expected that there would be large-scale starvation in rebel-held areas (the vast majority of Darfur), at least among communities without any livestock reserves. Not nearly enough food has been pre-positioned prior to the rainy season, a season that makes much of Darfur an impassable sea of mud and raging streams. Without food pre-positioned in Darfur, there are insurmountable logistical obstacles in providing adequate food to the immense and badly weakened populations most at risk. Jamous also told me that he believes well over half the “banditry” so often invoked in explanations of insecurity in Darfur is anything but random: Khartoum either acquiesces, is complicit, or actually orchestrates the attacks that have claimed the lives of so many humanitarian workers, and so attenuated humanitarian access.
Tens of thousands of civilians continue to be displaced—over 150,000 in 2008 so far. Many were displaced during the large-scale scorched-earth campaign north of el-Geneina in February—and a significant number of these fled into eastern Chad and extremely uncertain humanitarian conditions. The camps for displaced persons have long been badly overcrowded, and there is no way to accommodate many of the newly displaced. Moreover, water tables for potable water are dropping dangerously, increasing the risk of deadly water-borne disease during the rainy season, especially in camps where water provision is already below international standards.
What must not be lost in any understanding of the current phase of Darfur’s humanitarian crisis is the deliberation with which it has been engineered. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, recently offered to the UN Security Council (June 5, 2008) a searing indictment of the Khartoum regime. Invoking the horrors of Nazi Germany and the UN failure at Srebrenica, Moreno-Ocampo declared that the evidence he has accumulated over more than two years of sustained investigation, authorized by the UN Security Council, “shows an organized campaign by Sudanese officials to attack civilians, in particular the [non-Arab] Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa, with the objective [of] physically and mentally destroying entire communities.”
There could be no clearer assertion of genocidal intent.
Moreno-Ocampo was just as unsparing in describing consequences of violent attacks by Khartoum’s regular military forces and its Janjaweed militia allies:
“Such attacks are calculated to drive entire groups into inhospitable areas, where they die immediately, or into camps, where they die slowly.”
Moreno-Ocampo continually emphasizes the organized and systematic nature of Khartoum’s actions:
“In the camps, crimes and insecurity are organized.”
“Rapes of women are systematic.”
“Usurpation of [non-Arab] land is systematic.”
The conclusion is ineluctable: “The evidence shows that the commission of such crimes on such a scale, over a period of five years, and throughout Darfur, has required the sustained mobilization of the entire Sudan state apparatus.”
In response to such violence—as well as the failure of the international community to provide security for Darfuri civilians, and the monumental failure of the “Darfur Peace Agreement” (May 2006; Abuja, Nigeria)—Darfuri rebel groups have become a huge part of the security problem in Darfur. Some, it must be noted, are much more culpable than others: there is little in common between the remaining vicious forces of Minni Minawi’s “Sudan Liberation Army” (the sole signatory to the DPA) and those of SLA-Unity, certainly insofar as Suleiman Jamous has a voice in the policy and actions of the movement. But the fractious nature of the rebel groups may have become insurmountable—the real legacy of Abuja.
Even so, it is a travesty to suggest, as Alex de Waal recently has, that “it is hard to make a moral distinction between the sides [Khartoum and the rebels]” (BBC “Viewpoint,” May 21, 2008). Indeed, it is difficult not to see de Waal’s absurd claim as a continuing and perversely stubborn defense of his role in the Abuja peace process, which has apparently fatally compromised any chance for a real peace process. For having secured all it wanted in Abuja, Khartoum now declares it will negotiate on no basis other than the hopelessly flawed Abuja accord. For their part, once betrayed, the rebel groups flatly reject the “Darfur Peace Agreement” as a starting point for a new agreement.
There is of course no peace to keep in Darfur, and no prospect for meaningful peace negotiations. And the rebels bear tremendous responsibility. But it is extraordinarily disingenuous for de Waal to write an article entitled “Why Darfur Intervention Is a Mistake” and make no mention of the primary argument for the actual and indeed only conceivable “intervention”—that of UNAMID. The mission has a mandate, with UN Chapter VII authority, to protect humanitarian operations that are presently on the verge of collapse or withdrawal. These are the very operations that de Waal credits for dramatically reducing mortality rates in Darfur. But of course nothing could be clearer than if there is no more robust intervention by the UN-sanctioned operation, security will continue to deteriorate, and it is only a matter of time before it will be impossible to “keep that aid effort going,” as de Waal enjoins.
De Waal is joined by his frequent co-author Julie Flint in this refusal to acknowledge that whatever the limitations of the present UNAMID, the force must either be made to work or humanitarian operations will cease and hundreds of thousands of civilians will die—many very soon because of rising malnutrition. Flint unleashes a tendentious tirade against the human rights, policy, and advocacy organizations that have pushed hard for a UN force to protect civilians and humanitarians in Darfur. She also indulges the truism that there is “no peace to keep” in Darfur (the title of her May 23, 2008 article in The Guardian [on-line]). No one can argue with this, which suggests just how valuable a statement it is. Nor would anyone disagree with the proposition that the key to Darfur’s future is a credible, good-faith peace process with effective international mediation.
But nowhere in her account of what UNAMID should become does Flint mention the critical need to protect WFP food supply corridors, humanitarian operations, and humanitarian workers. Flint glibly speaks of the peace talks that will take place “once the immediate danger of conflagration is past.” But nowhere does she acknowledge that dangers in Darfur are poised to explode, and that the primary danger is a lack of effective, mobile, aggressive protection of humanitarian operations, corridors, and personnel. Camps housing some 2.6 million displaced people are tinderboxes of rage and despair; without effective UNAMID policing, and secure access for humanitarians, they will explode. The grim truth is that after five years, it is all too clear that Darfur makes nonsense of such a phrase as “once the immediate danger of conflagration is past.”
Do we care enough to avert impending large-scale starvation in Darfur? Is there a willingness to demand of Khartoum the freedom to collect and disseminate data bearing on malnutrition in an effort to target food resources most effectively? Will WFP be able to provide people with more than half the food they require to live? Will 2.5 million conflict-affected persons regain secure humanitarian access? Will Khartoum’s vicious harassment and intimidation of humanitarian workers be halted?
The questions have been clear for months; sadly, so too have the answers.