Thursday, July 22, 2004

Learning from Past Failures 

"It is imperative that we learn the lesson from past failures
to respond in time to evolving, genocidal evil." (Yad Vashem
[Jerusalem], July 18, 2004, urging "immediate, concerted" international
action in Darfur)

Eric Reeves
July 21, 2004


The rapidly gathering pace of genocidal destruction in Darfur is ever
more widely evident. The mismatch between humanitarian capacity and
humanitarian need daily becomes more deadly, even as those most
responsible for humanitarian planning have not yet fully acknowledged
this widening gap. Nor have we been afforded by the various
organizations of the UN, by other international humanitarian actors and
donors, or by the US Agency for International Development sufficiently
clear, coherent, and comprehensive statistical accounts of human
displacement, destruction, and humanitarian need. In particular, we
need a much clearer global estimation of those in Darfur (and Chad)
presently in need of food aid, as well as medical treatment, clean
water, and shelter (whether these people are presently accessible or
not). We must also be provided a much clearer sense of how rapidly this
estimated population is expected to increase.

Most urgently, we need a clearer articulation of the challenges posed
by the basic logistical demand in the Darfur crisis, viz. provision of
transport capacity to move 16,000 metric tons of food (grain, pulses,
oil) per 1 million people in need per month. And once the challenges
are fully articulated, what are the credible means of addressing them?

In addition to this massive food demand, there is an urgent need to
move---as soon as possible---thousands of metric tons of shelter,
medical supplies, water-purification equipment, and cooking fuel.
Moreover, transport capacity entails not merely movement into the Darfur
region, but subsequent distribution to the locations of those most
desperately in need.

If we assume---as a great deal of evidence suggests we should---a
population of more than 2 million people in need food and non-food aid,
then we must be thinking of monthly transport capacity for between
35,000 and 40,000 metric tons. Given the virtually total lack of food
production in Darfur, we must also assume that these requirements extend
well over a year into the future.

These are huge quantities, with a very lengthy time-frame. They will
require massive transport capacity, relatively efficient and coordinated
operations on the ground, as well as appropriate levels of security for
both humanitarian and transport personnel. None of these requirements
is remotely in evidence or in prospect. Nor, in fact, is there any
evidence that sufficient quantities of food and medicine have actually
been purchased or found committed funding (this latter fact obliges the
US Agency for International Development to predict that there will be a
break in the "food pipeline" as early as September 2004 (US Agency for
International Development "fact sheet" for "Darfur---Humanitarian
Emergency," July 16, 2004).

These are matters of utmost consequence to many hundreds of thousands
of people at acute risk in Darfur. To the extent we fall short of
meeting these immense logistical and humanitarian material requirements,
people will die proportionately. If we provide only half the food and
non-food items that are needed, then slowly but surely over 1 million
people will die. Food and non-food items may be divided among this
already weakened population: this simply distributes the risk of
morbidity and mortality more widely. It does not change the grim
underlying calculus. The people of Darfur need food, medicine, water,
and shelter---as do all human beings.

By refusing to acknowledge fully and frankly the quantitatively stark
nature of the present needs of these Darfurian human beings, the UN and
other international humanitarian actors are contributing to a climate in
which it is possible to avoid discussing the overwhelming need for
humanitarian intervention. But there is simply nothing else that can
bring humanitarian capacity and need into equilibrium. To be sure,
perhaps when total mortality grows beyond its present approach to
150,000 deaths (see mortality assessment by this writer, July 15, 2004;
available upon request) to 250,000, there may be a sufficient sense of
urgency. Or perhaps it will require 500,000 deaths. Indeed, perhaps
the post-Rwandan threshold is 1 million deaths. But will the world look
away from such massive, racially/ethnically animated human destruction


However we may answer this terrifying question, there is right now---if
we will only look with some attention---far more than enough evidence to
establish both the general scale of this crisis as well as its very
precise cause in the massive insecurity that continues to prevail
throughout Darfur. This insecurity is a function of racially/ethnically
animated violence and destruction that has as its proximate cause
Khartoum's Janjaweed Arab militia groups. But as Human Rights Watch
establishes still more compellingly in its important report of yesterday
("Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support," July
20, 2004), Khartoum is deliberately and systematically using the
Janjaweed for its own purposes of racial/ethnic destruction (report at:

"Sudan Government documents incontrovertibly show that government
officials directed recruitment, arming and other support to the ethnic
militias known as the Janjaweed, Human Rights Watch said today. The
government of Sudan has consistently denied recruiting and arming the
Janjaweed militias, including during the recent visits of U.S. Secretary
of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan."

"Human Rights Watch said it had obtained confidential documents from
the civilian administration in Darfur that implicate high-ranking
government officials in a policy of militia support. 'It's absurd to
distinguish between the Sudanese government forces and the
militias---they are one,' said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of
Human Rights Watch's Africa Division. 'These documents show that militia
activity has not just been
condoned, it's been specifically supported by Sudan government

"Human Rights Watch said that Sudanese government forces and
government-backed militias are responsible for crimes against humanity,
war crimes and 'ethnic cleansing' involving aerial and ground attacks on
civilians of the same ethnicity as members of two rebel groups in Darfur
[i.e., the Fur, the Massaleit, and the Zaghawa "ethnicities"]."
("Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support," July
20, 2004)

What is the nature of the violence being perpetrated by the Janjaweed?

Amnesty International has very recently released a new and powerful
indictment ("Rape as a Weapon of War [in Darfur]," July 18, 2004), a
report that once again reveals the extraordinary brutality of Khartoum's
Janjaweed militia allies---a brutality that includes the raping of
eight-year-old girls as well as unspeakable accompanying violence
against female victims. Moreover, interview after interview highlights
yet again the vicious racial/ethnic hatred animating the Janjaweed,
Khartoum's continuing military weapon of choice:

"The words of members of the Janjawid as reported by a group of Masalit
women in Goz Amer refugee camp, interviewed by Amnesty International in
May 2004:

"'You blacks, you have spoilt the country! We are here to burn you....
We will kill your husbands and sons and we will sleep with you! You are
our wives.'" ("Rape as a Weapon of War," July 18, 2004, page 23)

"M., a Masalit chief of the village of Disa, reported that during
attacks in June 2003 that [the Janjaweed said]:

"'You are complicit with the opponents, you are Blacks, no Black can
stay here and no Black can stay in Sudan.'" ("Rape as a Weapon of War,"
July 18, 2004, page 24)

"M., a 50-year-old woman from Fur Baranga, reported:

"'The village was attacked during the night in October 2003, when the
Arabs came by cars and on horses. They said 'every black woman must be
killed, even the children.'" ("Rape as a Weapon of War," July 18, 2004,
page 23)

The New York Times has also recently offered a savagely revealing
portrait of Janjaweed violence:

"Days after the American secretary of state and the United Nations
secretary general ended their tour [in early July 2004], witnesses said,
gunmen stormed a girls' school in the desert region of Darfur, chained a
group of students together and set the building on fire. The charred
remains of eight girls were still in shackles when military observers
from the African Union [cease-fire monitoring team] arrived on the
scene." (New York Times (dateline: Nyala, Darfur] July 18, 2004)


At the same time that Khartoum continues to use the Janjaweed as a
military means of attacking African tribal groups, it is also
accelerating its policy of forced expulsion of displaced persons who
have sought refuge in camps. Mornei, a camp of approximately 80,000
displaced persons, has been particularly targeted, even as satellite
photographic maps of destroyed villages in Darfur reveal Mornei (also
"Murnei" and "Mornay") to be in the most ravaged part of West Darfur

"On 17 July [2004], agencies received 'alarming' reports that the
governor of Western Darfur State and the local humanitarian aid
commissioner were planning to relocate 25 percent of the Internally
Displaced Persons [IDPs], or 1,000 families, from Murnei to 'predestined
relocation sites.' Murnei, one of Darfur's biggest camps, is home to
about 80,000 IDPs." (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July
20, 2004)

Though this forced expulsion from Mornei may have been temporarily
suspended, it comports all too well with publicly articulated ambitions
on the part of the Khartoum regime. In the context of announcing
previous "success" (i.e., that "86% of the Internally Displaced Persons
had already returned to their villages"), Interior Minister Abd al-Rahim
Muhammad Husayn---who is also Khartoum's "special representative on
Darfur"--- declared that,

"it was 'most important' to get people to return to their villages.
Each state---Darfur region has three---had its own plan of return." (UN
Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004)

But the inevitably immense and rapid destructiveness of this policy has
been repeatedly stressed recently by humanitarian workers and UN
organizations. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reports
(July 20, 2004):

"'The government wants them to go home, the UN wants them to stay,'
said [a humanitarian aid worker]. 'There is no food [in the villages]:
they will go back to die.' If [Internally Displaced Persons from the
camps] are forced to return, they will have no food sources for at least
the next 15 months, until after the next harvest in autumn 2005.
Furthermore, it is impossible to distribute food in each of the hundreds
of villages from which the Internally Displaced Persons have fled." (UN
Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 20, 2004)

However deliberately destructive this policy may be, it has another
sinister purpose, as Amnesty International suggests in a press release
today (July 21, 2004), viz. to "ease the international scrutiny of [the
Khartoum government's] actions in Darfur and to give an excuse for
removing the numerous humanitarian organizations at present working in
the Darfur camps" (Amnesty International press release [London], July
21, 2004).

In furtherance of such a policy, the regime has also brazenly shut down
(for "resurfacing") the critical runway at al-Geneina, capital of West
Darfur---and in the process is denying all humanitarian flights the
ability to land. So far this extraordinarily consequential shutdown has
been greeted with silence on the part of the international community.
This in turn works to assure Khartoum that there will be no real
pressure to grant unfettered humanitarian access.

Such dramatic interference with humanitarian transport occurs even as
security threats to humanitarian personnel and humanitarian convoys are
on the rise, with the clear prospect of a forced withdrawal by many
organizations in the event of fatal attacks on professional expatriate
personnel. Such withdrawal would cripple the entire humanitarian
operation in Darfur. This is the real meaning of UN Undersecretary for
Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland's recently declared fear:

"'my worst scenario [is that] that the security will deteriorate, that
we will step back at a moment we have to actually step up [emergency
relief]'" (BBC, July 14, 2004).

Attacks on humanitarian workers, drivers, and convoys have been
definitively associated with Khartoum's Janjaweed militia, and Khartoum
may deliberately orchestrate a fatal Janjaweed attack on expatriate
humanitarian professionals as a means of sabotaging operations.


Humanitarian operations face other obstacles as well. In addition to
present shortcomings of planning, logistical clarity, and population
assessments, various UN organizations are revealing more and more of
their previous planning failures. In a breathtaking example of
incompetence or disingenuousness, Dr. David Nabarro, head of the UN's
World Health Organization's "Health Crises Operations," is reported as
declaring that:

"The UN World Health Organization did not think the situation in Darfur
would become as desperate as it is. [Nabarro] says the agency
underestimated the difficulty of getting enough water supplies and of
improving sanitation facilities in the camps. As a result, he says, the
amount of available cholera vaccine is not enough to meet the needs."
(Voice of America, July 18, 2004)

This unforgivable "underestimating," and failure to anticipate
obviously impending realities on the ground, will likely cost many
thousands of lives. Despite months of warnings from various quarters
about the implications of heavy seasonal rains in Darfur, and the
obviously rapidly growing camp populations---without sanitary
facilities---Dr. Nabarro is only now discerning the "possibility that
cholera might arise with the terrible death rates of the kind that we
saw in Goma [Democratic Republic of Congo]."

But why didn't the example of Goma prompt more serious efforts to
anticipate the very needs that are now so palpably threatening? Why is
this only now occurring to Dr. Nabarro? In the aftermath of the Rwandan
genocide in 1994 hundreds of thousands of people fled to Goma in
neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. An outbreak of cholera killed
about 1,000 people a week (Voice of America, July 18, 2004). Was this
not lesson enough?

Even more deadly will be the consequences of the failure on the part of
the UN World Food Program (WFP) to pre-position large quantities of food
supplies in the major towns in Darfur. This failure occurred despite
the urgent pleas from humanitarian organizations on the ground, over
many months, requesting that the WFP massively increase the quantities
of pre-positioned food in anticipation of the rains, as well as the host
of current logistical difficulties all too predictably being
encountered. Malnutrition is now soaring in large part because of this
failing, and the diseases that prey on malnourished populations will
soon be claiming over 2,000 lives a day, according to data from the US
Agency for International Development ("Projected Mortality Rates in
Darfur, 2004-2005, at

The predicted break in the "food pipeline" this September (see above)
also reflects in part UN shortcomings, primarily an inability to work
effectively to solicit necessary financial commitments. But here of
course the real failure is on the part of potential donor nations that
refuse to provide appropriate levels of assistance. While the US, the
UK, Norway, and the Netherlands have done their part, France, Germany,
Italy, Japan, and the richer Arab countries are all failing miserably.
Though there is a short window of opportunity in which to avert this
break in the food pipeline, funding commitments that will allow for
present commodity purchases are urgently required, given the time-lag
between funding of food shipments and their actual arrival in the
humanitarian theater of operations.


The international community needs a much more detailed, or at least
coherent and transparent, articulation of various figures defining the
Darfur crisis. Of particular importance is clarity about the needs of
the more than 2.3 million people now defined as "war-affected" (most of
whom are completely beyond humanitarian reach). What percentage of this
population needs food aid now? How can populations outside the camps be
fed? How rapidly is food dependency growing within this population?
What are reasonable estimates for the number of "war-affected" persons
one month out? two months? three months?

What percentage of people in the camps, formally counted and otherwise,
are presently without any clean water, shelter, and latrines, as the
rains turn these camps into open sewers? How long do we expect to leave
people in these conditions? What percentage of the camp populations can
be treated for cholera or dysentery? What capacity for malaria
treatment will be on hand in August, when the disease starts to explode
with the mosquito populations now hatching?

Too many insufficiently answered questions.

What is the global figure for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in
Darfur? The figure stood at 1 million in late April 2004, according to
the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN
Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nairobi], April 21, 2004).
That figure was raised by the UN to 1.2 million in late June, and on
July 8, 2004 Tom Vraalsen, the U.N.'s special envoy for humanitarian
affairs to Sudan, declared that "more than 1.2 million [are] internally
displaced" in Darfur (Reuters, July 8, 2004). But yesterday OCHA
estimated that the population of Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur
increased by 100,000 over the past month (UN Integrated Regional
Information Networks, July 20, 2004), would suggest that the total
figure is now approximately 1.3 million---plus the approximately 200,000
who are refugees in Chad.

But as great as this aggregated number of 1.5 million is---representing
people critically in need of humanitarian aid---there are a great many
people in Darfur who haven't figured in any of these estimates and
assessments---or in the calculation of humanitarian assistance required.
The estimates of those who have fallen entirely between the "assessment
cracks," who are nowhere accounted for, range from 300,000 (the internal
working number at the World Food Program) to 500,000. And beyond this
population, there is the very large number of people who may not have
been displaced, or who are living with friends or kinsmen, but have
exhausted their food reserves, have no access to their land, and
desperately need food assistance as well.

Is the population of "war-affected" already much greater than 2.3
million? One senior aid official estimates that the population may
reach to 3 million by October: are there contingency plans for such a
distinct possibility?


Too many of these questions about humanitarian capacity and need, as
well as the size of the affected populations, cannot be answered because
of the consequences of continuing insecurity throughout Darfur. But
nothing can obscure the most obvious conclusion deriving from all
available evidence: absent robust humanitarian intervention, with fully
adequate military support, we cannot possibly meet the present or future
needs of the people of Darfur.

For we must never lose sight of the fundamental fact that these
desperate human needs for food, water, medical treatment, and shelter
derive directly from deliberate military policies, directed against
civilian populations, by the Khartoum regime and its Janjaweed militia
proxy. This is the particular value of yesterday's Human Rights Watch
report, establishing so authoritatively the clear and direct connection
between the Khartoum regime and the Janjaweed. The complementary value
of the Amnesty International report of July 18, 2004 lies in
illuminating yet again the vicious racial/ethnic hatred animating the
actions of Khartoum's chosen instrument of human destruction.

We are, in short, obliged to think in the terms that Israel's Yad
Vashem has invoked. Entrusted with documenting the history of the
Jewish people during the Holocaust, Yad Vashem solemnly declared this

"During the era of the Holocaust the world was slow to respond to news
about the murder of six million Jews. In the 1990s, unrestrained
genocide occurred in Rwanda with little or no international
acknowledgement of it until after it had ended. It is imperative that we
learn the lesson from past failures to respond in time to evolving,
genocidal evil. Yad Vashem urges the leaders of the nations of the world
to take immediate concerted action to halt the tragedy in Darfur before
it devolves further, to provide effective humanitarian aid to the region
and to punish the perpetrators of the heinous crimes that are being
committed there." (July 18, 2004)

But the descent into the abyss continues. Meaningful "concerted
action," action that will do all that is necessary to provide necessary
humanitarian relief, is nowhere in sight. "Evolving, genocidal evil"
is directly before us---will it truly be seen?

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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