Global Policy Forum

UN Panel Deadlocks Over Taking Any Action on Sudan


By Neil MacFarquhar and Sharon Otterman

New York Times
March 6, 2009

The Security Council deadlocked on Friday over taking any action on the tempest that erupted over the indictment of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan on war crimes charges and his subsequent expulsion of 13 aid organizations. Mr. Bashir's supporters, led by Libya and China, insisted that any official statement issued by the Council simultaneously address the potential humanitarian crisis and a possible deferral of the charges, while Western nations blasted the idea of linking the two issues and warned of a potential humanitarian catastrophe that could affect millions.

Aid organizations reached Friday said they had already suspended most deliveries to Darfur, the region that is home to the conflict that led to war crimes charges against Mr. Bashir, and much of the country. Expatriate staff members had their work permits revoked and were leaving, the organizations said.
In Darfur's camps, the effects were already being felt. The International Rescue Committee, for example, said it was forced to close medical clinics in three camps, leaving more than 200,000 without medical assistance. Michael Kocher, the organization's vice president of international programs, said the agency was appealing the government's decision, as were the other groups. "Our biggest worry is about the humanitarian situation — some 50 to 70 percent of the humanitarian assistance has stopped," said Philippe Conraud, of Action Against Hunger.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted Mr. Bashir on Wednesday. That day, he responded by accusing the West of trying to recolonize Sudan and by closing aid organizations he accused of providing false evidence to the court.

At the United Nations on Friday, the Libyan ambassador, Ibrahim O. Dabbashi, said that if the Council were "honest" about the humanitarian situation, it should defer the charges against Mr. Bashir "as soon as possible in order to calm the situation." China, Vietnam and Uganda, representing the African Union, supported that position, according to Western diplomats who attended the closed meeting.
Western nations, which pressed for a statement condemning the closing of the aid groups, lambasted the idea of linking humanitarian concerns with a possible court deferral. "The United States is gravely concerned by the reckless decision of the Sudanese government to expel international aid groups working to ease the suffering of Sudan's citizens," said Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations. "The humanitarian situation in the country is already dire, and this callous step threatens the lives of innocents already suffering from years of war and upheaval," she said.

Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, the Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations, dismissed the Western criticism as a "storm in a teacup" and said Sudan had compiled a dossier thick with evidence that the aid agencies being shuttered had abetted the court's work. He did not make this evidence public or link specific evidence to particular organizations, but said as an example that aid groups had used their private aircraft to fly potential witnesses against the president to Europe from Darfur. "They are spoiling, they are sabotaging, they are doing a lot of very bad activities incompatible with their humanitarian mandate," Mr. Abdalhaleem said. He said the Sudanese government, local groups and those organizations allowed to stay would be able to fill the gap created by the expulsions.

Several Western ambassadors and the aid agencies rejected the accusations against them, while diplomats and officials also disputed the idea that Sudan would be able to fill the gap, noting that the agencies being shut down delivered some 40 percent of the aid in Darfur.
Jean-Maurice Ripert, the French ambassador to the United Nations, said that the Sudanese move was a violation of its obligations under international humanitarian law. The United Nations said the hardest hit would be the hundreds of thousands of displaced people living in camps served by the aid groups. Mr. Ripert suggested that Kalma camp, for example, which is home to nearly 100,000 displaced people, could run out of water within 48 hours.

In Khartoum, meanwhile, representatives of Iran and Syria, as well the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, arrived to express solidarity with Mr. Bashir and to denounce the court's decision. The delegation included high-ranking officials, like the speakers of the Iranian and Syrian Parliaments.

A journalist contributed reporting from Khartoum, Sudan.

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