Global Policy Forum

Still Bad News from Darfur


By Ben Ukwuoma

Nigerian Guardian
March 10, 2009

The expulsion of aid groups from Darfur threatens to spark another round of massive displacement that could destabilise the entire region.

Even before Sudan's President expelled aid groups from Darfur following an international warrant seeking his arrest, diarrhea was spreading among newcomers at one of its largest refugee camps and people waited hours in line for water. The picture at the Zamzam Camp grew even bleaker Thursday, when no aid workers showed up, leaving residents to figure out how they would get life sustaining goods from sorghum seeds to running water and tents for the influx of new refugees. "We are very concerned," said Ibrahim Safi, 34, one of 75,000 residents at the camp. "After God, we only have the organizations."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that Sudan's expulsion of 13 major aid organizations will cause "irrevocable damage" to humanitarian operations in Darfur and called on the government to urgently reconsider its decision. Ki-moon, said if the agencies are to leave, the damage would be irreversible. One of the camps is in trouble of running out of water by this week with no aid. Obama has invited Ban Ki-moon to the White House to discuss the situation.

Catherine Bragg, the U.N.'s deputy emergency relief coordinator, said the organizations are responsible for "at least half" of the humanitarian operations in Darfur and are vital partners for U.N. agencies in delivering food, providing health care, water, education and other services. "With the loss of these NGOs, 1.1 million people will be without food aid, 1.1 million will be without health care, and over 1 million will be without potable water," she said.

In his first comments since the International Criminal Court issued a warrant Wednesday charging him with war crimes in Darfur, Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, defiantly accused the tribunal, the U.N. and the aid organizations of being part of a new "colonialism" that wants to destabilize his country. Al-Bashir said the aid organizations were trying to disrupt peace efforts in Darfur, profiting from the conflict and interfering with foreign investment.
The head of the government agency that oversees Sudan's humanitarian affairs, Hasabo Abdel Rahman, also directly accused the expelled aid groups of cooperating with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and giving the court "false" testimony. "We have a full dossier of information against those organizations,''Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamed, the Sudanese ambassador to the UN, said. "They are messing up everything as far as stability and security of Darfur is concerned and abusing the hospitality of the Sudanese people.'' The aid agencies have denied the accusations.

"It is still up for debate whether ordering the aid agencies to leave is a crime against humanity or a war crime. To knowingly and deliberately deprive such a huge group of civilians of means to survive is a deplorable act,'' said Rupert Colville, spokesman for Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief.

The non-governmental aid groups, which include CARE International, Oxfam GB and Mercy Corps, have denied any involvement with the ICC. But experts had warned of possible repercussions against the groups if the arrest warrant was ordered.
Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert and professor at Smith College in Massachusetts, said the decision to expel so many aid groups was "without precedent" - but not surprising. Harassment of aid groups and denial of access to Darfur were common practices by the Khartoum government before the decision, he said. But, he said, "there were also risks to allowing the status quo to prevail in Darfur, where up to 300,000 people have died in the fighting, which pits ethnic African rebels against the Arab-led Khartoum government and Arab militiamen."

Sudan's oil reserves, estimated by some to be in the range of 6.5 billion barrels, have played a central role in the conflicts that have dogged the country for decades. A large portion of the reserves is located along the disputed borders between north and south, fueling that civil war for two decades. The ICC arrest warrant further complicates an already difficult situation in the country. Analysts say that the fallout from the indictment could also spill over into implementation of the north-south peace agreement, leading to even more difficulties in the beleaguered nation.

Most of the expelled aid groups were told by the Sudanese government that their operating licenses were revoked after the ICC issued the warrant. Three others, including the French branch of Medicins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said it was ordered to stop working on Thursday. Abdel Rahman warned that more could be kicked out if the government believes they violated the law. The groups have more than 30 different projects in Darfur, mainly involving the distribution of food staples like sorghum, primary medical care, and clean water and sanitation services. The groups' programmes are not being affected in southern Sudan, a semiautonomous region with its own government.
MSF says more than 200,000 Darfurians are now without access to essential medical care because its operations have ceased in some areas of the vast, western Sudanese region. The order came at a time during a meningitis outbreak in Kalma Camp, in southern Darfur that is home to 90,000 people.
CARE International said its 650 employees in Sudan, a majority of who are Sudanese, had to stop working after Sudan revoked its license after 28 years of working in the African country. The aid group had been helping about 600,000 people in parts of Darfur with food distribution and water.
"The impact is going to be huge. ... For us the main concern is what is going to happen to the people who we were providing assistance to?" said Bea Spadacini, a spokeswoman for CARE based in Kenya.

Rahman said there are 2,600 local Sudanese groups that can fill the void left by the international aid groups. But Bragg said while the U.N. was looking into contingency plans, "it will be extremely challenging for the remaining humanitarian organizations and the government of Sudan to fill the operating gap."
In Washington, White House officials met with Darfur aid groups Thursday night to hear their concerns over the expulsions, Acting Deputy Spokesman,Gordon Duguid said. "The officials explained U.S. efforts to get the government of Sudan to reconsider its decision."

Back in Zamzam Camp, Safi said he fears all aid groups will be kicked out. His cramped camp just received more than 26,000 new residents who flooded in from the region after fighting in south Darfur, and the influx has already stretched water resources and living facilities. "I don't want to be repressed twice, first from al-Bashir and then the ICC. ... Who is benefiting in both cases? We are the ones losing," he said.

"United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) obviously shares the deep concern of the Secretary-General and the rest of the UN system over the ordered departure of several NGOs from Sudan and the serious implications this has for humanitarian efforts on behalf of hundreds of thousands of extremely vulnerable people in Darfur and elsewhere". For UNHCR's part, at least five of the NGOs asked to leave Sudan have been UNHCR implementing partners carrying out important humanitarian programmes in Darfur, Blue Nile State and Khartoum State. "So it is noteworthy that this could have an impact not only on Darfur, but on vulnerable people elsewhere in the country," he added.
"We also have to be concerned at the possible implications this could have more broadly in the region. Our experience shows that when vulnerable populations are unable to get the help they need, they go elsewhere in search of protection and assistance. If food can't get through to people, for example, then those people will soon suffer and have to look elsewhere," he stressed. "With some 4.7 million Sudanese - including 2.7 million internally displaced - already receiving assistance in Darfur, we are very concerned over the prospect of new population movements in the region should the fragile aid lifeline inside Sudan be disrupted. There are also 40,000 Chadian refugees in West Darfur," he stated.

The United Nations failed, on Thursday, to come to an agreement on how to respond to the crisis in Sudan, Despite the pressure on the UN by France, no agreement was reached but attempts to urge the council to act have also been blocked by Libya and China, who are allies of the Sudan.

The Darfur conflict has changed radically in the past year and a half. While there are fewer deaths than during the high period of fighting in 2003-2004, the conflict has mutated, the parties have splintered, and the confrontations have multiplied. Violence again increased in 2008 while access for humanitarian agencies became more difficult. International peacekeeping is not yet effective and a political settlement remains far off.
Attacks by both government and rebel forces continued throughout last year, including major aerial bombardments and ground attacks launched by the government in West Darfur in February 2008. In turn, an assault on Khartoum by Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels in mid-May 2008 left at least 200 dead and was a milestone in the Darfur conflict, constituting the first military strike on the capital since 30 years. An attack by government troops on Internally Displaced Persons (IDP)camp in Kalma, southern Darfur in August 2008 killed more than 30 IDPs and drew widespread international condemnation.

Meanwhile the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum continued to deny the gravity of the situation and pursue destructive policies in Darfur. At the same time it has continued to resist key provisions in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South war, thus triggering a crisis in that process, with heavy fighting between government and southern troops paralysing oil-rich Abyei in June 2008. The 14 July request by the ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo for an arrest warrant against President Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur precipitated a redoubling of international pressure on Khartoum to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, including efforts initiated by the Arab League in late 2008 to bring the government and different rebel groups together for peace talks in Qatar. In spite of rhetorics from Khartoum emphasizing that it is serious about peace talks, including a November 2008 "Sudan People's Initiative", government and rebel attacks have continued.

The NCP wants Darfur in chaos to limit the room for an opposition to emerge, while resettling key allies on cleared land and defying Security Council resolutions by integrating its Janjaweed irregulars into official security structures instead of disarming them. Rebel signatories of the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), particularly the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Minni Minawi (SLA/MM), have been responsible for attacks on civilians, humanitarians, the AU mission (AMIS) and some of the violence in the internally displaced person (IDP) camps. Their leaders have been given government jobs and land and, as ardent supporters of the status quo and without a clearly defined role in the new negotiations, are potential spoilers. Rebel movements that did not sign the DPA have further splintered. As they divide along tribal lines, their messages become more fragmented and less representative of constituencies they claim to speak for.

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