This analysis appears immediately prior to a much anticipated announcement (scheduled for March 4, 2009) by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court. The Court will almost certainly issue an arrest warrant for National Islamic Front/National Congress Party President Omar al-Bashir—charging him with atrocity crimes in Darfur, including crimes against humanity. The consequences of this announcement are uncertain, though alarm on the part of al-Bashir and his regime has become increasingly conspicuous over the past several months. This alarm has been reflected in a wide range of threats against the international community, including supporters of the ICC, humanitarian workers in Darfur, the UN/African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, as well as the linchpin north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005).
The most recent and revealing threat came from the head of the National Security and Intelligence Service, the powerful Saleh Abdalla Gosh. Gosh ominously threatened supporters of ICC actions with the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism in Sudan; he declared that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) would again become, in effect, the National Islamic Front (NIF)—the name for the current regime when it came to power by military coup in 1989, deposing an elected government, and deliberately aborting Sudan’s most promising chance for peace since Independence in 1956:
“If [ICC supporters] press us to return to our past position [as “Islamic fundamentalists”], we will no doubt return. And if they want us to return into hardliners anew, that is a simple thing to do. And we are capable of doing it.” (Associated Press [dateline: The Hague], February 20, 2009)
Among other things, this is an implicit threat that Khartoum will again support or facilitate terrorism. Here we should recall that when Khartoum hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda from 1991 to 1996, formative years for the organization, Gosh was bin Laden’s minder and primary contact with the regime; moreover, Khartoum continued to offer substantial support to al-Qaeda for years following bin Laden’s departure for Afghanistan. Gosh is threatening not only a return to radical Islam, including support for terrorism, but a more aggressive pursuit of the Arabizing agenda now conspicuously on display in Darfur.
Some of Khartoum’s threats may be carried out immediately, though likely with initial restraint so as to allow the regime time to gauge the seriousness of international responses. With dismaying belatedness and vagueness, some within the international community and the UN Secretariat have begun to warn Khartoum not to engage in reprisals or follow through on its threats. Moreover, the regime certainly knows that its behavior will be under the closest international scrutiny at any time since the outbreak of major rebellion in Darfur in 2003, and will act with this in mind. But since no credible consequences for reprisals or other threatened actions have been articulated, Khartoum will certainly engineer early tests of whether there is international resolve to act rather than merely condemn. Large, regime-orchestrated demonstrations will occur in Khartoum, with a decidedly anti-Western and anti-Semitic character; violence seems assured with the reported presence of the paramilitary Popular Defense Forces. Security crackdowns in the Darfur displaced persons camps will follow any demonstrations by Darfuris celebrating the ICC announcement; harsh treatment of humanitarian organizations is also likely, and some may be expelled on contrived charges. A growing number of humanitarian organizations are already accelerating the evacuation of their personnel, which will soon cause further suffering and death in Darfur.
[The analysis below is part 3 of a three-part overview extending back a number of weeks (part 1, January 1, 2009 at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article29742; part 2, January 22, 2009 at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article29948). In these earlier analyses I focused on the potential for intra-state conflict in Sudan, particularly in South Sudan, Southern Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains, the East, and of course Darfur. The analyses highlighted the National Islamic Front regime’s growing dependence on an oil-sustained economy, and the current budgetary, finally political crisis that declining oil prices have precipitated. They also highlighted the growing threats to national elections scheduled for this year (yet looking increasingly impossible before 2010), and to the Southern self-determination referendum (scheduled for July 2011). These analyses also discussed the Qatari-hosted Darfur “peace process,” as did a more focused and extended piece published at The Sudan Tribune on February 9, 2009, at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article30134).]
CONSTRAINTS ON KHARTOUM’S ACTIONS
Still, there are countervailing forces at work. Long-time supporters China and Russia, during diplomatic missions to Khartoum, privately urged restraint upon the regime. Moreover, the regime knows that large-scale reprisals in Darfur or Southern Sudan would squander much of the support that still exists within the Arab League and the African Union, if in more qualified terms. Egypt in particular has made clear to al-Bashir its unhappiness with the way in which the regime has responded to the ICC, as well as its dismay at the increasingly imperiled north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The ICC warrant will continuously corrode the legitimacy of al-Bashir’s presidency, and make Sudan a less reliable regional partner, including during currently stalled negotiations over the Nile waters. Moreover, Egypt is well aware that without a serious international effort to resuscitate the CPA it will fail because of Khartoum’s continuing refusal to implement its terms. This guarantees that Southern Sudan will either vote or fight for secession; unity with northern Sudan, which was to have been made “attractive” during the interim period specified by the CPA, has already been overwhelmingly rejected by Southerners.
Egypt’s dominant strategic concern is the water of the White Nile, which passes through Southern Sudan and carries about 20 percent of the Nile waters reaching Egypt (about 80 percent comes from the Blue Nile, which does not pass through Southern Sudan). Concerns over the White Nile waters were the reason the Egyptians so adamantly opposed the Machakos Protocol agreed to by Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in July 2002; the Protocol guaranteed Southern Sudan the right to a self-determination referendum after a six-and-a-half-year interim period following a final peace agreement. Although the Protocol was the indispensable starting point for peace talks that were to have any chance of success, it was nonetheless viciously excoriated throughout the summer of 2002 in Egyptian news accounts and by Egyptian officials, including by the office of President Mubarak. This is one measure of how seriously Egypt regards Southern Sudan, and indirectly a measure of how angry Cairo is with Khartoum.
In addition to pressure from Russia, China, Egypt, as well as other international actors of consequence, Khartoum faces intense internal pressures and divisions. Speculation is rife about whether a formally indicted al-Bashir will be deposed in a “palace coup d’tat,” exiled to Saudi Arabia, or perhaps simply step down. Or he may feel strong enough, especially with the support of the armed forces, to hold onto the reins of power. This presumes that he and the regime can ride out any international backlash, or the growing stench of illegitimacy that will inevitably attach to rule by al-Bashir’s National Islamic Front (NIF)/National Congress Party (NCP).
If al-Bashir is replaced, willingly or otherwise, the candidates to replace him are all deeply problematic. Indeed, the thuggish al-Bashir himself has no special talent or qualities to recommend him as president, a position he has held for 20 years: he continues to head the regime simply because the status quo in Sudan has been so successful for the NIF. Al-Bashir’s powerful rivals, who may have already concluded that he has become a liability and should be replaced, include a roster of future targets for indictment by the ICC—something these men are well aware of. Saleh Abdalla Gosh, head of the National Security and Intelligence Services; Ali Osman Taha, former first vice-president, current second vice-president, and primary architect of genocidal policy in Darfur beginning in early 2004; Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, the increasingly powerful senior presidential advisor who has held the Darfur portfolio since 2007. Other players include Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, currently defense minister and former interior minister; Awad al-Jaz, the powerful finance minister; presidential affairs minister General Bakri Hassan Saleh; and several senior army officials.
But none of these men is acceptable to all other cabal members, and several are unacceptable to the army, Taha in particular. Although there is clearly growing tension within this group over al-Bashir’s fate and his potential successor, the NIF remains opaque in its most consequential decisions. We have no way of knowing at present the full reaction by members of the regime to the impending indictment. But certainly al-Bashir is feeling vulnerable, and this may be one reason that following the ICC announcement, and initial public reactions, he will attempt to retain the presidency by keeping as low a profile as possible internationally, even as he cultivates loyalty among those constituencies that can keep him in power. With sufficient international pressure, this may create opportunities to negotiate a cease-fire for Darfur and extract concessions that will lead to an improved security environment for civilians and humanitarians.
Some within the international community have sent signals that with sufficient improvement in the security situation in Darfur, and progress toward a peace agreement, the ICC prosecution of al-Bashir might be suspended for a year or more (under Chapter 16 of the Rome Statute, which gives authority for such suspension to the UN Security Council in the interest of “international peace and security”). This would be an extremely dangerous precedent to set in matters of international justice, and may seriously damage the ICC. It is also far from clear that the relevant countries—permanent Security Council members France, the UK, the US—will hold Khartoum and al-Bashir to a sufficiently high standard of improved security and progress toward peace. Indeed, the requirements for France and the UK seem deliberately very modest. Chapter 16, if it is in fact invoked, should command a very steep price in the form of commitment by al-Bashir to an enforceable cease-fire, an end to harassment and obstruction of humanitarian aid, and decisive engagement with a serious Darfur peace process.
If any such quid pro quo is being contemplated, the regime’s record of reneging and bad faith should be borne carefully in mind. Improvements in Darfur must be irreversible, with international guarantors for these changes. A significantly enhanced UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) would be the obvious candidate as primary guarantor of both security promises and a cease-fire agreement that must precede any successful peace process. But UNAMID is failing to fulfill its protection mandate, despite the encouraging words offered by some within the UN and the AU; the force is in no position to guarantee anything with its present or foreseeable strength and capabilities.
The balance of this analysis examines UNAMID’s weaknesses, and assesses security conditions currently prevailing in Darfur. Notably, a number of humanitarian organizations have begun to evacuate significant numbers of personnel, including nearly all expatriate staff (who are the most likely target for Khartoum’s actions). Operations in Darfur have continued to contract as access has grown steadily more limited for more than two years. UNAMID itself shows signs of simply hunkering down in the face of violence it cannot control and a complete lack of restraint shown by many of the combatants, including Khartoum’s regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), its Janjaweed militia allies, and the Justice and Equality Movement. The latter indeed has matched Khartoum in issuing provocative statements and threats for the occasion of the ICC announcement. Coupled with the diplomatic and political paralysis of the other two primary rebel movements—the Sudan Liberation Movement/Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM/AW) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Unity (SLM/Unity)—insecurity seems destined to deteriorate yet further, as it has since the beginning of UNAMID deployment.
THE PRESENT STATE OF UNAMID
Nineteen months after passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1769 (July 2007), authorizing a large UN/African Union “hybrid” peacekeeping force to Darfur, the mission is failing badly, and may be in an irretrievable decline in capability. This is due to poor command-and-control, woefully inadequate logistical capacity, gross deficiencies in military equipment, including communications and transport (particularly helicopters), and a dramatic shortfall in the numbers of qualified and well-trained troops, police, and other personnel. There has been no improvement in security in Darfur since the UN took over the mission on January 1, 2008 from an even more impotent African Union mission in Darfur (AMIS), in the process incorporating most of the 7,000 soldiers from this ill-equipped and hopelessly ineffective force.
There is much blame to apportion, between the African Union, the UN leadership, and militarily capable nations that have refused to provide critically needed equipment. Most consequential in the first half year of deployment, and continuing today, are Khartoum’s obstructionist policies, its many delays of UNAMID deployment, and its refusal to abide by a belatedly signed comprehensive Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). But the grim truth is that Khartoum need only make modest efforts now to impede the operations of UNAMID, though the regime does continue to prevent the free movement of UNAMID troops and investigators, a clear violation of the SOFA. Deployment is so far behind schedule, and deployment throughout Darfur so limited, that Darfuris—with some exceptions—have largely lost hope in UNAMID. And there have been troubling signs that many of the personnel in UNAMID are demoralized and no longer prepared to fulfill the mission mandate, with Chapter 7 authority from the Security Council, to protect civilians and humanitarians (see below).
Excerpts from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “Report of the Secretary-General on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur” (February 10, 2009) offer some glimpses into UNAMID’s weaknesses, even as it passes silently over some of the most critical problems:
“As at 31 January 2009, the total strength of UNAMID military personnel stood at 12,541, including 11,893 troops, 387 staff officers, 181 military observers and 80 liaison officers. This figure represents 64.13 per cent of the mandated strength of 19,555 personnel.” (2)
Again this figure of 64 percent comes nineteen months after the UN authorized a peacekeeping mission with a mandate to protect critically vulnerable civilians and humanitarians in Darfur. Far from a figure to celebrate, it is a measure of UNAMID’s ongoing failure. Many of these troops are not properly trained, or effectively tasked when they arrive in Darfur. Morale among many of the troops is reported to be dismal, even among troops from such militarily capable countries as South Africa. The actual functioning force is much less than 50 percent of the target figure of 19,555. And even the part of the force that is capable of functioning effectively is deeply constrained by the lack of transport, especially helicopters. Communications and reconnaissance capability is extremely weak. The current mission doesn’t begin to have the ability to monitor a cease-fire, were one negotiated, even as this is the essential first element of any meaningful peace process. It is deeply hypocritical for members of the international community to call for peace talks and a cease-fire without firm and timely commitments to provide the resources, equipment, and personnel required to make of UNAMID a truly capable force. Celebrating “agreements” signed under the auspices of the Qatari peace process is disingenuous without a willingness to provide a guarantor for any security arrangements that may eventually be negotiated (the absence of such a guarantor was only the most conspicuous failure of the Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006).
Ban Ki-moon also notes in his Report:
“The strength of UNAMID police personnel stood at 2,639 (1,940 police advisers and five formed police units totalling 699 personnel), representing 41.02 per cent of its mandated strength of 6,432.” (3)
This is an especially disturbing set of figures, particularly the lack of Formed Police Units (FPU). Nineteen such armed police units were called for in the authorizing UN resolution, and yet only five have deployed (and two Nigerian FPU only very recently). These FPU are essential tools in providing patrols and stability in the more volatile camps for displaced persons, especially those near larger urban areas. The threats to these camps that are posed by reprisals following the ICC announcement might well have been substantially mitigated with a full deployment of FPU, as well as regular (and unarmed) police advisors.
Civilian staff necessary to run a mission as logistically complex as UNAMID have also been exceedingly slow to deploy: currently only about half the civilian personnel required are actually in Darfur.
It is hardly surprising that Ban’s Report concludes:
“Despite the arrival of additional troops and enabling units, the mission’s actual operational impact has been limited by logistical constraints, inadequate supply of critical equipment and the continued absence of key military enabling units such as the medium transport units, an aerial reconnaissance unit, a level-II hospital and 18 medium utility helicopters. In this context, the offer of five tactical helicopters by Ethiopia represents a welcome development.” (9)
[These Ethiopian tactical helicopters were first “promised” a full year ago (see report from the Security Council, 5849th Meeting, March 10, 2008); one may be forgiven for wondering if they will ever actually deploy.]
Increasingly, “operational impact”—as opposed to numbers of troops and police—is how the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and other UN and AU officials wish to speak of UNAMID. But Ban’s admission that there has been very limited increase in such impact suggests that the two cannot be separated. Moreover, there are few potential African troop-contributing nations that have the present capacity to do more or contribute more: here the folly of acquiescing before Khartoum’s demand that UNAMID be “predominantly African” in make-up is all too glaring. Without referring directly to African countries, Ban’s report notes:
“One area of particular concern relates to the readiness to deploy personnel by troop- and police-contributing countries. A wide range of contingent-owned equipment still needs to be procured by a number of these countries. In addition, personnel need to be adequately trained and prepared prior to deployment and capacity, systems and materials for maintaining contingent-owned equipment in Darfur must be put in place and remain fully operational for units to sustain themselves. In this regard, the state of maintenance of contingent-owned armoured personnel carriers is of particular concern and needs to be improved to provide robust mission force mobility.” (10)
In short, most countries simply aren’t ready to send more personnel who meet UN peacekeeping standards for training and equipment. By limiting itself to African countries—already severely over-stretched by peacekeeping demands elsewhere on the continent—and a few Asian countries, UNAMID has ensured that it will never reach its mandated strength. The best the UN DPKO can offer now is an assurance that 80 percent of the force will deploy by November (this represents another significant slippage: March was to have been the target date for 80 percent deployment).
And even when deployed, UNAMID personnel continue to face obstruction by Khartoum and attacks on the ground. A number of attacks have been authoritatively established as Khartoum’s direct or indirect responsibility (e.g., the July 8, 2008 attack on a large UNAMID convey, which killed seven and wounded more than twenty, was certainly the work of heavily armed militia allies of Khartoum). Many of the attacks on UNAMID, especially in urban settings, Ban attributes to “criminal activity” (19). But as one especially well-informed and experienced relief official has insisted repeatedly to this writer, Khartoum deliberately allows this “criminal activity,” and certainly has the capacity to curtail it (at least in and around urban areas) if the regime wished. But by giving virtually free rein to opportunistic banditry—indeed, SAF troops are often engaged in such activities—Khartoum is able to compromise the effectiveness of both UNAMID and humanitarian organizations. (Ban reports that SAF troops were responsible for more than two dozen rapes in the two-month reporting period; given the reticence of rape victims in Darfur’s traditional Islamic culture, the actual number of victims is very likely much greater.) Certainly, at the very least, Khartoum could in short order dramatically improve security where it is in control; it chooses not to.
Khartoum’s most consequential obstruction of UNAMID takes the form of denial of access, something Ban is obliged to note and catalog in his report:
“During the reporting period, UNAMID continued to face restrictions on its freedom of movement. On 10 December 2008, a UNAMID patrol was blocked by Arab militia near Kile Kile (30 kilometres south of Muhajeria, Southern Darfur), who asked to be informed in advance of any patrols in the area. On 31 December, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) denied a UNAMID patrol access to Abu Surug (30 kilometres north-west of El Geneina, Western Darfur) and prevented it from undertaking a routine assessment mission. On 28 January 2009, a UNAMID water escort patrol in Shaariya, Southern Darfur, was stopped at an SAF checkpoint and was not allowed to proceed. It was accused by the SAF commander of providing the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) with equipment and weapons. In another serious development, on the same day a UNAMID patrol was stopped by members of a Chadian armed opposition group in Manzula village, near El Geneina, Western Darfur, and was told that UNAMID must seek permission from the Government of the Sudan to move through the territory.” (23)
This forms a clear and deliberate pattern; such obstruction also marks out unambiguous violations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), yet another agreement the regime has had no compunction about violating. Indeed, the SOFA is explicitly invoked by Ban in his reporting on the violence around Muhajeria in late January/early February (the town had fallen to the Justice and Equality Movement in mid-January, seized from the SLM forces of former rebel Minni Minawi). Khartoum had engaged in massive and indiscriminate bombing for many days, killing a significant number of civilians (the bombings were confirmed by UNAMID, which had a 200-man contingent present at the time). The bombing continued even after the JEM had withdrawn some 30 miles from the beleaguered town. Eventually as many as 100,000 fled from Muhajeria and surrounding towns and villages, including Labado and Shereia. A number of reports of Janjaweed presence in the area does not augur well for the non-Arab populations, most of which still have no access to humanitarian assistance, or have fled to desperately overcrowded camps near Nyala or el-Fasher (see an excellent Christian Science Monitor dispatch [March 3, 2009] from Otash Camp outside Nyala, at http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0303/p06s01-woaf.html).
In this context, Ban notes, UNAMID sought to assess security:
“[I]n a disturbing development [on February 3, 2009], a senior delegation led by the UNAMID Deputy Force Commander was prevented from travelling to Muhajeria by Government security officials on the ground that the security situation was dangerous. The delegation aimed to assess the security situation and reinforcement needs of the UNAMID team site. This represents a clear infraction of the status-of-forces agreement between UNAMID and the Government of the Sudan, which guarantees UNAMID full and unrestricted freedom of movement without delay throughout Darfur.” (43)
And yet there are and have been no consequences for such clear “infractions” of the Status of Forces Agreement, which ensures that violations will continue to impede UNAMID in critical situations (the fighting in the Muhajeria area was the most intense since the violence north of el-Geneina at the beginning of 2008).
Ban also reports that Khartoum continues to restrict humanitarian movement, in yet another clear violation of a signed agreement with the international community:
“At the same time, restrictions on air operations prevented the free movement of life-saving assistance, including on 28 December 2008 when all flights of the World Food Programme were cancelled for the day by the Government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission. In Southern Darfur, state authorities continued to hinder the delivery of fuel needed to power water pumps in camps for internally displaced persons. At the federal level, many non-governmental organizations and United Nations organizations continue to struggle to get visas for their staff within the time agreed under the Government’s General Directorate for Procedures.” (50)
This deliberate war of attrition on humanitarian operations has taken a severe toll, now over the many years; it has compromised the extent and quality of aid, and inevitably occasioned gratuitous suffering and significant human mortality. And yet again, Khartoum pays no price for violating an agreement signed with the UN.
Ban also discusses the acute security threats to humanitarians:
“The humanitarian community also continued to be a frequent target of violent acts during the reporting period, when 22 vehicles were hijacked, 4 humanitarian workers were abducted and 11 humanitarian premises were broken into. It is of deep concern that 2008 figures show an almost doubling of the number of violent attacks on humanitarian aid workers compared with the previous year. In 2008, a total of 277 humanitarian vehicles were hijacked (compared with 137 in 2007), 218 humanitarian personnel were abducted (147 in 2007), 192 humanitarian premises were attacked (93 in 2007) and 36 staff members were wounded (24 in 2007). In 2008, 11 staff members were killed, with four still missing (13 died in 2007). (51)
Here again we must bear in mind the role that Khartoum plays in these grim statistics: not only does the regime continue to arm the Janjaweed, who perpetrate a number of these attacks, but also allows insecurity to flourish in areas under its control, especially Nyala, el-Fasher, and el-Geneina and their surroundings. SAF troops brazenly engage in criminal activities in the very presence of UNAMID forces. The level of insecurity, the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of crimes against humanitarians, and the official harassment of aid workers are all part of this war of attrition on humanitarian operations.
In the course of his summary “Observations” Ban against “urges” Khartoum “to refrain from the use of offensive military flights” (61). Scores of such “offensive military flights” occurred during the two-month reporting period of Ban’s report, some noted by the Secretary-General and confirmed by UNAMID (lack of capacity prevents UNAMID from investigating most bombing reports). Ban also mentions in passing that UNAMID observed an aircraft painted white bombing Muhajeria. White is the color of UN aircraft, and Khartoum’s disguising of its aircraft is meant to deter increasingly effective anti-aircraft weapons in the rebel arsenal. In fact, such disguising is a violation of international law, and has previously been reported to the Security Council by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur. Khartoum’s illegal actions seem likely to produce a tragic mistake that could easily result in the accidental shooting down of a UN or humanitarian aircraft.
And yet Ban makes no mention of the explicit language of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005) or Resolution 1841 (passed unanimously, October 2008):
“[The UN Security Council, acting under the authority of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter] Demands that the Government of Sudan, in accordance with its commitments under the 8 April 2004 N’djamena Ceasefire Agreement and the 9 November 2004 Abuja Security Protocol, immediately cease conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region.” (Resolution 1591, 6)
“[The UN Security Council demands] that there should be no aerial bombings nor the use in Darfur, by any party to the conflict, of white aircraft or aircraft with markings resembling those on United Nations aircraft, and demanding that the parties to the conflict exercise restraint and cease military action.” (Resolution 1841)
Khartoum has flagrantly violated these two UN Security Council resolutions without consequence; inevitably, UN “demands” are perceived as meaningless, loosing all credibility as a source of potential sanctions against the regime. This has been true for almost five years, certainly since Resolution 1556 (July 2004):
“Acting under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations, [the Security Council]
Demands that the Government of Sudan fulfill its commitments to disarm the Janjaweed militias and apprehend and bring to justice Janjaweed leaders and their associates who have incited and carried out human rights and international humanitarian law violations and other atrocities, and further requests the Secretary-General to report in 30 days, and monthly thereafter, to the Council on the progress or lack thereof by the Government of Sudan on this matter and expresses its intention to consider further actions, including measures as provided for in Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations on the Government of Sudan, in the event of non-compliance.”
“Non-compliance” seems a grotesque understatement as a characterization of Khartoum’s continuing use of the Janjaweed as an instrument of military destruction and civilian terror. International failure to compel Khartoum to take Security Council resolutions seriously is highlighted by the foolishness of making “demands” that will be unctuously reiterated but never occasion action in the event of “non-compliance.”
We should hardly be surprised when Khartoum violates other agreements with scornful confidence. In November al-Bashir announced an “immediate and unconditional cease-fire” as a nod toward the ill-fated Sudan People’s Initiative; the very next day, bombing attacks were confirmed in North Darfur. On February 17, 2009 the regime signed in Qatar an “Agreement of Good Will and Confidence Building” with the Justice and Equality Movement, designed to “create a conducive environment for reaching a lasting settlement of the [Darfur] conflict.” The next day Khartoum again engaged in large-scale aerial assaults, flouting the spirit of the agreement and, yet again, the explicit “demands” UN Security Council resolutions.
SOUTHERN SUDAN AND THE UNMIS FORCE
Ban does not discuss in this report Khartoum’s actions in Southern Sudan, but they show equal contempt for agreements made with the UN, in this case the separate peacekeeping force known as the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). Here a more relevant report comes from Refugees International (Field Report, January 7, 2009). A number of observations on this mission, failing in its own way, are offered and comport with assessments from other sources, public and confidential. RI acknowledges first that the UNMIS mandate is different from that of UNAMID with respect to civilian protection:
“The core priority of the mission continues to be the promotion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). But the mandate also includes a Chapter 7 element by the Security Council that gives the mission permission, although not the capacity, to protect civilians under imminent threat of violence. In spite of the severe limitations on the mission’s protection capacity, the mere presence of large numbers of international military peacekeepers creates expectations among the local people that they will be protected if violence should erupt. In Sudan this expectation has been compounded by a failure on the part of the mission to communicate the UNMIS mandate and capabilities to people, and by a general failure on the part of UNMIS forces to positively interact with the communities in which they have been deployed.”
But while there are practical limitations to what UNMIS can accomplish, these have been oversold by the mission:
“[There is] a prevailing attitude within the mission that protection is not its responsibility. There is a widespread inclination to do less rather than more, and an unwillingness to be proactive, although the threat of a resumption of hostilities is widely acknowledged. Given the probability of increased violence and the reality of civilian expectations, UNMIS needs to take a more proactive, preventative stance with regards to civilian protection.”
In Southern Sudan, as in Darfur, the party nominally responsible for protecting civilians is the national government, particularly the police and justice institutions:
“In southern Sudan, however, these institutions are weak at best, and at worst non-existent in many places. In the long term it is essential that international donor governments continue to invest in the reform of security sector institutions like these to provide for sustainable community-level security in the south. However, in the short-term it is clear that international actors will continue to play a critical role in the protection of civilians.”
The way forward, Refugees International argues, lies in a fundamental change in attitude on the part of UNMIS, especially towards flash-points such as Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and as recently demonstrated, Malakal. Khartoum is provoking conflict in Southern Sudan and the contested areas, with civilians the inevitable victims of renewed violence (more than 50 people were killed when Khartoum last week deliberately, provocatively sent to its Malakal garrison a former militia leader who fought against the SPLM, and had previously fomented deadly violence in Malakal in 2006). It is widely acknowledged the UNMIS failed badly in responding to the Abyei crisis of last May, in which more than 50,000 people were driven from Abyei town by Khartoum-instigated violence. It certainly does not help that Khartoum restricts the aerial movements of UNMIS north of Abyei, despite its mandate to do so; however, there is vast room for improvement on the part of a mission which has far too little to show for the very substantial resources and personnel it has commanded:
“UNMIS, especially its military component, must overcome the attitude that protection is not its job. While robust civilian protection of the sort expected in places like the Congo or Darfur is not within the realm of UNMIS capability, improved conflict prevention efforts and the diffusion of tensions are roles that the mission can and should play more effectively. In cases where violence cannot be prevented, there needs to be context specific contingency planning to pool the creative ideas of UNMIS military and civilian protection staff, as well as NGOs with specific knowledge of communities at risk. UNMIS needs to communicate its aims and capacities more effectively to moderate unreasonable expectations and make its concrete protection strategies clearer. Given high risks and limited resources, UNMIS must identify areas where specific, targeted action can minimize the impact of violence on civilians.”
The UN Secretariat “must insist that UNMIS concentrate on proactive measures to prevent conflict and protect civilians, [and] the Department of Peacekeeping Operations must establish clear rules of engagement to empower UNMIS troops.” (Refugees International, “Sudan: UNMIS Must Be More Proactive in Protecting Civilians,” January 7, 2009, at http://www.refugeesinternational.org/policy/field-report/sudan-unmis-must-be-more-proactive-protecting-civilians)
Attention to the critical state of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement has been slow in coming, fitful, and lacking in real commitment to change the present slide toward renewed war (in this case, UNMIS is all too representative). This has begun to change in recent months; certainly the May 2008 fighting in Abyei was a resounding wake-up call. But as with Darfur, securing peace in Southern Sudan cannot be based on mere promises from Khartoum, but must entail direct and timely engagement with the many outstanding issues, chiefly the regime’s refusal to honor key terms of the CPA.
SECURITY FOR CIVILIANS AND HUMANITARIANS IN DARFUR
UNAMID at its present capacity offers little more than an international presence in Darfur: a very partial deterrent but hardly the robust protection force envisioned in Resolution 1769. And there are disturbing signs that some UNAMID units are unprepared to fulfill their mandate. Several reports from the ground indicate that the UNAMID unit in Muhajeria was prepared to abandon the town along with its civilian inhabitants and displaced persons. Khartoum had asked, in forceful terms, that UNAMID withdraw, and commanders on the ground weakly acquiesced. Only the decision by Alain Le Roy, head of UN peacekeeping (supported by the Secretary-General), reversed this impulse to abandon the very people UNAMID is mandated to protect. One organization on the ground in Darfur reports that during the recent fighting and bombing near the major town of el-Fasher, UNAMID military personnel were observed simply hunkering down rather than seeking ways to assist civilians in danger. Sheer ineptitude is also too often a problem, an extended and painful example of which is narrated by a journalist “embedded” within a UNAMID convoy (The Guardian Weekly, March 2, 2009 at http://www.guardianweekly.co.uk/?page=editorial&id=970&catID=2).
In this context it is hardly surprising that humanitarian organizations are evacuating or preparing to evacuate if Khartoum follows through on any its more violent threats. In fact, a number of organizations have already withdrawn their expatriate staff, and have made transport and security provisions for their Sudanese national workers, who in many cases fear that when international organizations leave Darfur, they will be exposed and suffer retribution simply for seeking to help their fellow country-people. There could hardly be a better illustration of the viciousness that informs Khartoum’s attitude toward international humanitarian assistance.
It has been more than two years (January 2007) since both UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations signaled in public letters that they were at the end of their tether in withstanding the chronic and deeply debilitating insecurity prevailing in Darfur. In those two years security has only deteriorated further; this was true long before the ICC Prosecutor made his announcement about seeking an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. Indeed, no one was discussing the impact of the ICC on security in Darfur at the time (despite a UN referral to the Court made in March 2005); and yet security nonetheless continued to deteriorate badly. Even in 2008 there was a continuing slide toward greater insecurity that had little to do with the ICC and everything to do with the failure of the international community to restrain Khartoum or make of UNAMID an effective protection force (see my September 13, 2008 analysis “‘Chaos by Design’: Khartoum’s Patterns of Violence in Darfur, 2008” at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article224.html).
Indeed, the greatest and most consequential violence in 2008 occurred for the most part before the ICC Prosecutor’s July 14 announcement that he was seeking an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. In early February 2008 Khartoum mounted a massive, scorched-earth campaign north of el-Geneina, capital of West Darfur. Villages that had been seized by the Justice and Equality Movement were abandoned by the rebel forces before the regime’s onslaught, but that did nothing to mitigate the ferocity of human destruction and displacement (see my account “Darfur Enters the Abyss: Khartoum Renews Massive Assaults on Civilians,” at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article204.html). The January 2008 attack by Khartoum’s regular forces on a well-marked UNAMID convoy is another telling example (see my account, “Khartoum’s Military Forces Deliberately Attack a UNAMID Convoy,” January 14, 2008 at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article200.html). Yet another example, referred to above, was the July 8, 2008 attack on a UNAMID convoy by extremely well-armed Janjaweed militia (the attack occurred in regime-controlled territory, was designed to kill personnel rather than seize equipment, and entailed the use of sophisticated weapons not previously seen in theater; see my account “Attack on UNAMID Forces in Darfur: The Khartoum Regime is Responsible” at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article219.html). Khartoum’s use of aerial bombing attacks against civilians waxes and wanes, but followed no clear pattern following the Prosecutor’s announcement.
There is no clear evidence that with or without the ICC announcement of July 14 security would not have continued to deteriorate, to the point where humanitarian operations in Darfur would simply be too dangerous for even the most intrepid humanitarian organizations. That is certainly the direction in which the region has been headed for more than two years now.
One notable example of violence that did occur after the July 14 announcement was the assault on Kalma Camp residents by the regime’s security forces on August 25, 2008. Attacks on camps have occurred regularly since September 2005, and this assault had long been contemplated by the regime’s security forces. Ban Ki-moon announces the results of a UN investigation in his February 10, 2009 report:
“On 23 January 2009, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights and UNAMID jointly issued a public report on the Government of the Sudan law enforcement operation at Kalma camp on 25 August 2008, which resulted in the killing of 33 civilians and the wounding of 108 others. The report concluded that the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by security forces of the Government of the Sudan was in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.”
What will happen to the perpetrators of this attack on defenseless civilians, witnessed by hundreds? What will happen to the men firing automatic weapons into a crowd of displaced persons, none of whom was armed with a firearm? Despite the UN finding, we may be sure that the current UNAMID will not make any arrests, but will simply accommodate Khartoum’s whitewashing of events, in a document evidently still in the making.
The Kalma event may give us a picture of Darfur after the withdrawal of humanitarian organizations. For what must be continually emphasized in discussions of the potential impact of the March 4, 2009 ICC announcement is how close these organizations have been to withdrawal or evacuation for many, many months. Some indeed have already withdrawn, and as noted above expatriate staff of many organizations have been evacuated, a process that also extends back many months, if accelerating more recently because of Khartoum’s threats. These expatriate or international workers have been the critical eyes of the world in many locations, and a more effective deterrent than UNAMID in many respects (accounts of UNAMID minimalist “patrols” and weak interaction with the populations they are to protect are often very unflattering). The departure of international humanitarians, whether directly linked to threats by Khartoum or the culmination of too many years of intolerable insecurity, would vastly diminish the observational capacity on the ground in Darfur and many of the camps for displaced persons.
More immediately and consequentially, the partial or total collapse of humanitarian operations in Darfur would put not only camp residents at risk, but a very large percentage of the more than 4.7 million human beings the UN now estimates are “conflict-affected” and in need of humanitarian assistance. In many camps, there is complete dependence on international aid for food, clean water, and primary medical care. Need is great not only among the 2.7 million internally displaced persons (with an additional 300,000 refugees in Eastern Chad), but among host families, who often have no access to their fields and have lost their ability to live agriculturally productive lives. These are the people most directly affected by Khartoum’s threats against aid workers and operations.
MARCH 4, 2009: THE ICC ANNOUNCEMENT
The vulnerability of the people of Darfur—remote, largely invisible, unprotected in an exceedingly harsh land—can hardly be overstated. Humanitarian withdrawal would have catastrophic consequences, and yet withdrawal seems inevitable without a strengthening of UNAMID. Ultimately the only answer—for Darfur as for the rest of Sudan—is a peace agreement that results in reform and democracy. But this is precisely what the Khartoum regime resists, and why peace talks have to date been so unproductive (the Darfur Peace Agreement of 2006 seems a case study in how not to conduct peace negotiations).
We catch a glimpse of Khartoum’s obdurate refusal to countenance free and fair elections in comments made with unintentional honesty by Mandoor al-Mahdi, director of political communication for the National Congress Party (National Islamic Front). Speaking of the national elections scheduled for this year (though almost certainly to be postponed until 2010), al-Mahdi declared: “If anyone wins this [election] other than the National Congress Party or the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), then the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) would be placed in the garbage can” (The Sudan Tribune, January 27, 2009).
In other words, if the status quo were not preserved by the upcoming elections, if the NIF/NCP were to lose its grip on power, then the peace agreement that precariously keeps Sudan from plunging into country-wide war would be trashed. Of course though al-Mahdi stresses that the elections will be “free and fair,” this is a transparently preposterous assertion, if only because of the threat the regime is evidently prepared to make against the CPA. No doubt the real source of NCP/NIF confidence in re-election is its ability to bribe, co-opt, and threaten voters, as well as its long-entrenched control of what electoral machinery exists in Sudan. Moreover, the results of the national census have still not been announced, and the potential for serious problems should not be underestimated. The SPLM is particularly worried about an under-counting of Southern Sudanese, which might potentially reduce their Parliamentary representation to a level where they would not have the strength to hold off NCP/NIF efforts to change the terms of the CPA, or even to declare a national emergency and immediately suspend implementation of the Agreement.
March 4, 2009 will no doubt be a day of historic significance for many reasons. But it is likely to be both less and more consequential than some fear or hope. The international community has little choice now but to assess Khartoum’s early responses, and respond in ways that maximize protection of civilians, humanitarians, and peacekeepers. We must see through the large, likely violent demonstration planned for the capital city, for which the regime has apparently spared no expense in working to turn out a supposedly representative range of “Sudanese” opinion opposing the ICC announcement, as well as the paramilitary Popular Defense Forces. We must see through the bombastic condemnations that will echo and re-echo through state-controlled media. What we should be looking for are any actions actually taken against humanitarians, any changes in security on the ground in Darfur or in the flash-points in Southern Sudan and the three contested areas (Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile). We should look for any significantly increased obstruction of UNAMID or humanitarian operations, or reprisals directed against Darfuri civilians.
But all this must be seen in the context of the long, brutal history of the National Islamic Front regime. Genocide in the Nuba Mountains continued for over a decade beginning in 1992; genocidal destruction in Southern Sudan during the “oil war” of 1997 to 2003 killed or displaced many hundreds of thousands of primarily Nilotic tribal people; and genocide in Darfur, now entering its seventh year, has claimed some 500,000 lives, from violence, malnutrition, and disease. In its twenty years in power the regime has retained its character, even as the roster of senior officials is largely unchanged (the sidelining of Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Turabi a decade ago is the only significant exception). In the end, there is no new threat contained in Saleh Gosh’s remarks of two weeks ago about the once and future National Islamic Front:
“If [ICC supporters] press us to return to our past position [as “Islamic fundamentalists”], we will no doubt return. And if they want us to return into hardliners anew, that is a simple thing to do. And we are capable of doing it.”
This is who the NCP/NIF are, and who they will be so long as they retain their stranglehold on Sudanese national political power and wealth. They long ago proved their “capability,” as Gosh puts it. What some have described as a “moderation” of the regime, or the ascendancy of “moderates” within the regime, is no more than an increasingly cunning survivalism, and a better understanding of the international community—what it is and is not prepared to do or accept.
As this account argues, the international community has proved weak and irresolute in responding to the atrocity crimes that have defined the entire tenure of the NIF regime. That prosecution of those responsible for these crimes will now begin offers belated promise that Sudan will not endure the tyranny of gnocidaires indefinitely. We are disgracefully late; and there are those who would expediently capitulate yet again before the outrageous threats of the NIF in the interests of a merely notional peace process. But the International Criminal Court indictment of al-Bashir offers a glimpse of hope to Darfuris and other Sudanese who for two decades have seen impunity reign and have suffered crimes beyond reckoning, endlessly destroying lives and livelihoods. The moment of truth is at hand; but that truth will be determined by actions that either support or undermine the actions of the Court.