Thursday, June 03, 2004
June 3, 2004
The "peace" for Sudan that was supposedly ushered in by the signing of an
agreement in Naivasha (Kenya) last week now appears threatened not only by
continuing massively destructive violence in far western Darfur, but by a large-scale,
multi-pronged offensive in southern Sudan. According to various regional
sources, including the Verification and Monitoring Team based in Leer, the
strategically important town of Akobo in Eastern Upper Nile was attacked and seized
yesterday (June 2, 2004) by regular armed forces of the Khartoum regime under Chol
Gakah Yier and Brigadier Timothy Taban Jus. The SPLM/A, which had previously
controlled Akobo, are reportedly re-grouping outside Akobo for a counter-attack.
This is Khartoum's most egregious violation to date of the October 15, 2002
cessation of offensive hostilities agreement---the essential element in providing
the time and fitfully conducive atmosphere necessary for diplomacy to reach
fruition in the May 26, 2004 protocol signings in Naivasha. With substantial
diplomatic work remaining, this major military offensive bodes extremely poorly for
completion of meaningful negotiations. Moreover, well-placed regional sources
are also reporting a second major attack, on Nimne in Western Upper Nile (also
heretofore under SPLM/A control), as well as an attack on SPLM Chairman John
Garang's home village of Wangule. The attack on Nimne (June 1, 2004) reportedly
involved tanks and heavy weapons support.
This extremely disturbing military activity comes even as much diplomatic work
remains to complete a final peace agreement---an agreement that will be utterly
worthless if measured by Khartoum's present actions and violations of both the
October 15, 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement and the February 4, 2003
Addendum to this agreement. These attacks poison the diplomatic atmosphere in
which the various previously negotiated protocols (including wealth-sharing and
security arrangements) are to be integrated with the final protocols signed on
May 26, 2004. The "modalities of implementation" for a final agreement must
also be negotiated, as well as the terms for a comprehensive cease-fire.
It becomes extremely difficult to imagine how diplomatic progress can be
made---especially on a cease-fire---while major military offensives are mounted on
SPLM/A positions, and mounted not by militia forces but by Khartoum's regular
military forces, including the use of tanks and heavy weapons not in the arsenals
of the regime's militias.
The most urgent task is full confirmation of what has occurred at Akobo, Nimne,
and Wangule. Efforts at aerial reconnaissance over Akobo have not received
clearance from Khartoum and face both anti-aircraft fire and small arms fire.
Explanations must be demanded from Khartoum by international parties to the
Naivasha negotiations, and an immediate withdrawal from Akobo and Nimne must be made
the precondition for resumed final negotiations. Precisely because of last
week's signing ceremony, because talks are not in session presently, and because
so much attention has finally been brought to bear on Darfur, Khartoum
calculates that it can act with military impunity until confronted by serious
international condemnation---an unlikely prospect given recent history.
The duplicity, the shameless willingness to renege on agreements signed, the
contempt for human life---all that is reflected in the attacks in southern Sudan
are on even more spectacularly destructive display in Darfur.
In a Geneva meeting of donor countries seeking to respond to the human
catastrophe in Darfur, Andrew Natsios, Administrator for the US Agency for
International Development, laid out with brutal honesty the scale of the impending
"'We estimate right now if we get relief in, we'll lose a third of a million
people, and if we don't the death rates could be dramatically higher, approaching
a million people,' said US Agency for International Development (USAID) chief
Andrew Natsios after a high-level UN aid meeting [in Geneva]." (Agence
France-Presse, June 3, 2004)
Presumably those who require (erroneously) a huge body count for a finding of
genocide will now be satisfied. A number between 350,000 and 1 million deaths
must meet even the most cynically high statistical standards. And let us hear
no more of the ill-defined, euphemistic "ethnic cleansing": these
people---overwhelmingly the African tribal peoples of Darfur---haven't been "cleansed" from
their lands and livelihood. They've been, or will be, destroyed directly and by
the "deliberate inflicting of conditions calculated to bring about their
physical destruction in whole or in part" (paraphrase of 1948 UN Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2, clause [c]).
The time for blunt truths is in fact long overdue. Natsios gives us a more
current sense of the dimensions of the catastrophe, but it has been apparent for
months that more than 100,000 would perish in Darfur. Indeed, epidemiological,
mortality, and other data from various humanitarian and research sources
suggest that a range of 40,000 to 60,000 casualties to date is conservative. These
same data suggest that people, primarily children, are already dying at a rate
of over 2,000 per week---a great many because of Khartoum's continued
resourcefulness in denying humanitarian access to the most distressed populations.
[A digest of epidemiological and mortality data, camp populations, foodstock
and medical supply figures, and other data relevant to assessment of current
casualty figures and mortality rates will be forthcoming from this source.]
Such terrifying mortality rates and predictions should hardly be surprising in
the context of other data that has grown steadily, with occasional surges. The
number of people internally displaced in Darfur has risen to well over 1
million, and the number of refugees in Chad to approximately 200,000. A sharp
increase was recently registered in the number of war-affected persons in Darfur: the
UN estimate rose from 1.1 million to 2 million between the April 2004 and May
2004 assessments. The populations in the concentration camps continue to swell,
even as there is not nearly enough food, medicine, shelter material, or
humanitarian access. Child mortality rates are several times the "catastrophic" rate
in a number of camps.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) found in a recent survey
("On the Brink of Mass Starvation in Darfur") extraordinarily ominous
"Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). A recent nutritional
survey shows dangerously high levels of malnutrition and mortality and a rapidly
deteriorating food security situation. With already high levels of excess
deaths and malnutrition, the whole population is teetering on the verge of mass
starvation." ("On the Brink of Mass Starvation in Darfur" [New York], May 20, 2004]
With the onset of seasonal rains, the complete lack of sanitary facilities will
begin to exact a terrible toll in disease, especially water-borne diseases such
as cholera. People presently forced to live in their own excrement, as is the
case in many camps, will be extraordinarily vulnerable. An exploding mosquito
population ensures that many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people
will die of malaria. The extreme levels of malnutrition already being reported by
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières and others will also produce a
rapidly accelerating death rate from disease, especially among children.
But though Darfur is without question the most urgent humanitarian crisis in
the world today, we must not forget---as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty
International have both reminded us again today---that the cause of this crisis is the
massive, systematic campaign of human rights abuses by Khartoum and its militia
allies, abuses that in aggregate comprise what can only be described as
This is the regime which is presently being "urged," "demanded," "called on" to
respond to the very humanitarian crisis it has deliberately engineered. This
is the same regime that last week signed a peace agreement with the SPLM/A in
Naivasha, and this week attacked and captured the strategic town of Akobo in
Eastern Upper Nile, with further reports of substantial military attacks, by
Khartoum's regular military forces, on Nimne and elsewhere. This is the regime that
is still severely restricting humanitarian access, and recently imposed new
restrictions on the movement of supplies and personnel.
In short, this is a regime that simply will not change---certainly not in a
fashion that will permit adequate and timely movement of the humanitarian supplies
and personnel necessary to save hundreds of thousands of lives.
The UN Security Council must either produce a resolution in the next week that
demands full, unfettered humanitarian access---with the clear threat of
militarily securing such access if necessary---or it falls to the rest of the
international community to make immediate plans to secure the rail line from Port Sudan
to Darfur for exclusively humanitarian purposes, and to secure other essential
transport assets and routes. With hundreds of thousands of lives at acute
risk, there can be no further dilatory negotiations with this brutal, genocidal
All necessary force must be brought to bear under the international
"responsibility to protect" principles recently articulated by Gareth Evans, President of
the International Crisis Group (see commentary at
http://www.iht.com/articles/520009.html). This includes sufficient military
force not only to secure the rail line and other transport infrastructure deemed
essential for emergency humanitarian relief, but also to free and protect the
civilian populations within Darfur, especially in those concentration camps to
which there is presently no humanitarian access.
There will be many, such as UK special Sudan envoy Alan Goulty, who will argue
against such intervention, declaring that it "would be very expensive, fraught
with difficulties and hard to set up in a hurry" (The Telegraph [UK], May 31,
2004). And these voices will almost certainly carry the day---first in the UN
(ironically, the UK today introduced in the UN a measure for peace support
planning...in southern Sudan only), and subsequently as other nations diffidently
contemplate mounting a non-UN intervention in Darfur.
For despite the many pieties about Rwanda in recent weeks, and the lessons
putatively learned, or not learned; despite the ever more hollow cry of "never
again!"; despite the clear obligations of members of the international community
that are "contracting parties" to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide---despite all this, acquiescence continues to
appear the most likely outcome in the face of genocide in Darfur.
There will be efforts by many to increase humanitarian assistance by whatever
limited means are available. Often this will entail making terribly expedient
deals with Khartoum, humanitarian organizations trading out truth for access.
We will see some high-profile air drops of food---absurdly inadequate to the
humanitarian tasks presented by 2 million war-affected people, in an area the size
of France, with no prospect for agricultural self-sufficiency for over a year.
We will see some saved. But faced with the question of whether we are prepared
to use military force to protect a humanitarian intervention that might save
hundreds of thousands of lives, we will hear all too many predictable reprises of
Mr. Goulty's "expensive, fraught with difficulties and hard to set up in a
If these reasons prevail, if urgent planning for humanitarian
intervention---inside and outside the UN---does not begin immediately, it will not be because we
don't know the consequences. Andrew Natsios of US AID has today given us a
terrifying sense of scale, based on the most recent data available from Darfur.
It won't be because we don't know the consequences of acting, or not acting;
failure to intervene will derive from utter, abysmal moral failure.
Northampton, MA 01063