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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Fate of Humanitarian Assistance in Darfur:  

Intolerable security risks,harassment by Khartoum bring aid organizations to the brink of withdrawal

Eric Reeves
January 4, 2005

News obsession with the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami, and the easy
headlining of an impending peace-signing ceremony in Nairobi between
Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), have
led to significantly diminished attention to the humanitarian crisis in
Darfur. This is so despite the vast, genocidal nature of human
destruction in Darfur, where present mortality far exceeds that caused
by the tsunami. Almost 400,000 civilians have been killed because of
actions by the Khartoum regime and its deadly Janjaweed militia allies.
This is approximately half the total of the Rwandan genocide, and the
human destruction shows no sign of slowing (see December 12, 2004
mortality assessment by this writer at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/print.php?sid=8).

Indeed, we are obliged to bear in mind the terribly ominous figure for
potential monthly mortality in Darfur that was recently suggested by Jan
Egeland, UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs: if humanitarian
organizations are forced to suspend operations because of
insecurity---and because of Khartoum's increasingly menacing hostility
toward international humanitarian aid---as many as 100,000 will die
every month in the near future (statement by Jan Egeland, reported by
The Financial Times [UK], December 15, 2004). Moreover, given the
extremely bleak predictions concerning food supplies and agricultural
production coming from the International Committee of the Red Cross (see
below) and the US Agency for International Development, this figure may
actually be low. All the conditions for massive famine-related deaths
are in place---and these conditions are worsening, not stabilizing.

As a consequence, we may see in the next year a cumulative death toll
from the Darfur genocide that exceeds that of Rwanda (1994). A key
turning point occurred sometime in early- to mid-summer 2004, when the
causes of genocidal mortality shifted from deliberate,
ethnically-targeted violence (though this persists on a large scale) to
destruction directly consequent upon Khartoum's "deliberately inflicting
on the [Africa/non-Arab tribal groups of Darfur] conditions of life
calculated to bring about [their] physical destruction in whole or in
part" (1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime
of Genocide, Article 2, clause [c]).

It is particularly significant that much of Khartoum's deliberate
"calculation" now includes increasingly hostile attitudes toward
international humanitarian organizations operating in Darfur. This is
coupled with a disregard, at senior military levels, for issues of
safety for humanitarian workers. For example, an aid worker for Doctors
Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres was "murdered" (MSF's word) in
Labado (December 17, 2004) during a massive, indiscriminate assault on a
town well known to have a large humanitarian presence. This attitude of
hostility to humanitarian operations, and indifference to the physical
safety of humanitarian workers, comes from the same regime that is now
speaking in Khartoum about the "dawning of a new day for Sudan."

KHARTOUM'S HISTORY OF HOSTILITY TO HUMANITARIAN RELIEF EFFORTS IN
SUDAN

It should be noted first that the Khartoum regime has long had an
attitude of contempt for the larger enterprise of humanitarian relief
throughout Sudan. The operational terms for the UN's Operation Lifeline
Sudan have been continually and seriously violated by the National
Islamic Front regime for over a decade. Many hundreds of thousands of
southern Sudanese have been deliberately denied humanitarian access on
numerous occasions. The terrible famine in Bahr el-Ghazal (1998) had as
its primary cause Khartoum's deliberate disruption of humanitarian food
relief; as many as 100,000 people died as a result of this famine. At
two points in 2002 (April and September), the UN estimated that well
over 1.5 million people were denied humanitarian aid by virtue of
Khartoum's ban on flights by OLS relief-supply aircraft (see, for
example, analysis by this writer at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req=printpage&artid=115).
The large civilian population in the Nuba Mountains living beyond
Khartoum's control was subject to a total humanitarian aid embargo for
more than a decade.

Khartoum continued its reneging even after signing the October 15, 2002
cessation of hostilities agreement, which stipulated that "the parties
shall allow unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas and for people in
need, in accordance with the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) Agreement."
In fact, in highly revealing fashion, Khartoum began on January 30, 2003
the all too predictable process of violating yet another signed
agreement. On this date the regime declared that OLS would no longer
simply be required to give "notification" of humanitarian flights, but
would have to make "requests" for such flights---"requests" which could
of course be denied by Khartoum, as they had been many times in the
past.

Though some were willing at the time to overlook this change in
language, mistakenly believing it of no particular significance, there
was no looking away from the implications of Khartoum's total flight
denial---as of February 9, 2003---for all OLS "Buffalo" aircraft. This
has been the workhorse for OLS in delivering non-food items, including
survival kits for internally displaced persons. The timing of such
denial could not have been worse for the many thousands of civilians
that had recently been displaced by Khartoum's January 2003 offensive in
the oil regions of Western Upper Nile, south and west of Bentiu.

Other effects of this deliberate interference with humanitarian aid
delivery were just as serious. For example, the delivery of essential
cooking oil to southern Sudan was seriously affected, leaving many
populations without this critical staple. And there were yet other
highly significant consequences to the denial of access to "Buffalos,"
particularly for humanitarian security assessment (see analysis by this
writer at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req=printpage&artid=135).
And this is but one of many examples of Khartoum's highly consequential,
if often insidiously obscured efforts to impede humanitarian relief,
despite signed commitments.

Other examples of interference with humanitarian operations are not so
subtle. Earlier this year, Khartoum launched large offensives in the
Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile Province, deliberating making the delivery
of humanitarian assistance impossible in many places that were seeing
large concentrations of displaced civilians (see analysis by this writer
at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=163).


And in Darfur itself, from November 2003 through mid-summer 2004,
Khartoum created a nightmare of bureaucratic obstacles for humanitarian
assistance, fashioning multiple impediments to the deployment of
international relief workers and to the distribution of aid supplies.
Over the past two months, obstacles to humanitarian relief have again
increased, as Kofi Annan was forced to acknowledge in his December 3,
2004 briefing of the UN Security Council:

"during the last two weeks [of November], [Khartoum's] process of
issuing visas has slowed down for the nongovernmental organizations
[NGOs] compared to previous months. In addition, some Government
authorities seem to have hardened their position towards international
NGOs in allowing them to continue their work unconditionally." (Section
VII, paragraph 28)

This trend has clearly continued.

KHARTOUM'S PROPAGANDA OF INTIMIDATION

To understand fully Khartoum's strategy here requires understanding the
perversity of the ways in which international humanitarian aid is
characterized in the regime-controlled media, both for domestic
consumption as well as for the larger Arab and Islamic worlds. In this
vein, we should note recent comments from SUNA, Khartoum's
state-controlled "news agency":

"Western churches are using humanitarian cover to proselytise among the
distressed population of Sudan's Muslim-majority Darfur, the official
SUNA news agency reported Saturday. The agency quoted a senior official
in North Darfur state, Al-Nur Mohammed Ibrahim, as lashing out at
'missionary campaigns being launched by some Western church
organisations under the cover of humanitarian action.'" (Agence
France-Presse [Khartoum], December 25, 2004)

This is of course sheer fabrication, for which not a shred of credible
evidence is, or could be, offered. Indeed, it is fabrication so
transparent that we must be deeply concerned that it is serving as
pretext for actions against humanitarian organizations---in particular,
further expulsions of the sort that Khartoum recently ordered for the
heads of country operations for Save the Children (UK) and Oxfam
International. In the event, Save the Children first withdrew its
entire expatriate staff because of intolerable insecurity; but Khartoum
followed through in its efforts to force the exit of Oxfam's country
head, Shaun Skelton.

Khartoum's absurd charge of humanitarian "proselytizing" must also be
registered as a ghastly irony: for it is the National Islamic Front
(NIF) regime that set up in Southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and
Southern Blue Nile so-called "peace camps." As many journalists, UN
workers, and other humanitarian aid workers have authoritatively
established, these "peace camps" were concentration camps for displaced
persons; and on countless occasions conversion to Islam was made a
condition for receiving food and medical assistance---or evening being
allowed to live.

In another example of the sheer perversity of accusations made by
Khartoum, the regime has offered an extraordinary characterization of
Germany, which has many humanitarian workers in Darfur, has shown a
willingness to expedite the deployment of African Union monitoring
forces--but whose government in September 2004 explicitly declared that
genocide was occurring in Darfur:

"Sudan yesterday accused Germany of being a major obstacle in the way
of way of peace in Sudan. State Minister at the Ministry of Interior,
Mohammad Ahmad Haroun, said Germany is considered a major supporter to
the Darfur rebels, harboring their leaders, providing them with
facilities, and giving them access to all its towns to hold conferences
hostile to Sudan. Haroun said Germany's history is full of human rights
violation, racist practices, and double standard policies." (UN Daily
Press Review, December 22, 2004; Al-Rai Al-Aam and Sudan Vision
newspapers: "Germany a major supporter of Darfur rebels---Minister")

The irrelevant and tendentious invocation of German history is
symptomatic of Khartoum's brazen willingness to indulge in the most
shamelessly hypocritical propagandizing (this willingness offers insight
into the real meaning of all publications emanating from the grotesque
"European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council" [ESPAC], Khartoum's nasty
and pusillanimous propaganda organ in the UK).

But the propaganda and tendentiousness extend to characterizations of
international humanitarian organizations. The UN Daily Press review
reports from Khartoum the views of NIF Undersecretary of Human Affairs
Ministry, Dr. Abdul Rahman Abu Dom, concerning the arduously difficult
decision of Save the Children (UK) to withdraw its humanitarian
workers:

"[Undersecretary of Human Affairs Ministry Abdul Rahman] Abu Dom also
criticized the decision of some NGO's to cease human relief activities
in Darfur, noting that some organizations were traumatized by the loss
of their staff but adding, 'I don't think that this decision is based on
the immediate reaction to the trauma they had.'" (UN Daily Press Review,
December 29, 2004; Sudan Vision Paper [Khartoum], "Government position
on Oxfam and Save the Children standing")

At the same time, The Independent (UK) reported:

"Mike Aaronson, the UK head of Save the Children, said pulling out of
Darfur was 'the hardest decision I ever had to make.' He said the UN had
done next to nothing to halt the 'endless ceasefire violations' and
'atmosphere of increasing lawlessness.'" (The Independent, December
26, 2004)

Undersecretary of the Human Affairs Ministry Abu Dom continued his
propagandistic attack on humanitarian organizations operating in Darfur
by declaring:

"'I agree with those who have raised the issue that some people working
in international humanitarian service get quite a lot of benefits
compared to the work they do, compared to the expertise they have.' The
Undersecretary was critical of measures that he considers wasteful, such
as using planes to transport staff and goods to Darfur, which, he
stressed, raise the cost of services to needy Darfurians." (UN Daily
Press Review, December 29, 2004; Sudan Vision Paper [Khartoum],
"Government position on Oxfam and Save the Children standing")

Abu Dom has of course conveniently ignored the realities that oblige
the use of planes by many humanitarian staff:

"A number of organisations are reviewing their positions after a week
which saw a further unraveling of security in what the United Nations
has called the 'world's worst humanitarian crisis.' [ ] Oxfam staff now
only fly by UN helicopters because the roads are considered too
dangerous. A small African Union force, deployed to monitor a fragile
ceasefire, grounded all its helicopters after one was damaged by ground
fire." (The Independent, December 26, 2004)

The AU helicopter fired upon was investigating Khartoum's large
offensive at Labado, South Darfur (which killed one MSF workers and left
dozens unaccounted for). It was fired upon while over
Khartoum-controlled territory. There can be little doubt that the
aircraft was fired upon by Khartoum or its Janjaweed allies.

And even more extraordinarily, Abu Dom offers a "cost-efficiency
assessment" of the very humanitarian organizations that the Khartoum
regime had so relentlessly and "systematically" obstructed for months
(Tom Vraalsen, UN Special Envoy to Sudan for humanitarian affairs,
emphasized in December 2003 the "systematic" nature of Khartoum's
obstruction of humanitarian aid to areas of the Fur, Massaleit, and
Zaghawa):

"'Considering that almost 800 million dollars has been spent by the
international community in Darfur, if this money had been distributed to
the 600 million Darfurians [sic], there should have been no problem.'"
(UN Daily Press Review, December 29, 2004; Sudan Vision Paper
[Khartoum], "Government position on Oxfam and Save the Children
standing")

There is simply no mistaking Khartoum's contempt for the humanitarian
enterprise as a whole, or the purposeful mendacity with which it
distorts the ambitions of the world's finest humanitarian organizations,
operating under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and responding
to the horrific consequences of the genocidal ambitions animating the
very regime represented by Undersecretary of the Human Affairs Ministry
Abu Dom. Nor is Khartoum beyond attempting even more brazen efforts at
intimidating humanitarian workers:

"Officials from CARE International were arrested [by Khartoum
officials] after an employee was stabbed to death at Kalma camp by
refugees who accused him of being a member of the Janjaweed. Sudanese
authorities claimed the agency was criminally negligent in taking the
man to Kalma." (The Independent, December 26, 2004)

Accusing officials of the highly distinguished CARE International, on
such outrageously contrived criminal charges, speaks volumes about the
real attitude of the Khartoum regime.

Why is the regime engaged in such strenuous propagandistic behavior and
such patent efforts at intimidation? Again, one answer is that pretexts
are clearly being prepared for further expulsions of the sort that have
already seen the removal of Shaun Skelton, head of country operations in
Sudan for Oxfam International. Khartoum is well aware of the
consequences of such expulsions, and their effect on an already chaotic
situation on the ground in Darfur (a number of reliable reports indicate
that UN organizations are still working ineffectively with one another
and with international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations).
Between expulsions, intimidation, propagandistic attack, and renewed
bureaucratic obstacles, Khartoum is clearly intent on attenuating
humanitarian relief and international presence at the very moment in
which it is most desperately needed. In these efforts, the regime is
ably helped by various Arab proxies:

"The [Khartoum] government is also accused of setting up 'front'
charities to undermine the work of the international organisations. Two
such groups, Sugya and Ayya, are said to have approached refugees in
areas such as Kass in south Darfur, asking them how much relief they
received from international groups then offering them huge sums of cash
to return to their villages. Arab charities, mainly from Saudi Arabia
and the Gulf states, have also offered money to refugees to return to
their homes." (The Independent, December 26, 2004)

Such induced or forced returns, without appropriate security, are
simply deaths sentences; for humanitarian aid cannot reach the
overwhelming majority of destroyed villages. As far back as July 2004,
aid workers were making clear their warnings on this score:

"'[Khartoum] wants the internally displaced to go home, the UN wants
them to stay,' said an aid worker. 'There is no food in their villages:
they will go back to die.'" (UN Integrated Regional Information
Networks, July 12, 2004)

"Humanitarian workers fear that a forcible mass return of some 1.2
million Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur [now twice this
number---ER] could result in enormous fatalities." (UN Integrated
Regional Information Networks, July 13, 2004)

INSECURITY AS PRIMARY WEAPON AGAINST HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS

Moreover, returnees continue to face deadly attacks by the Janjaweed.
This is part of Khartoum's larger strategy of creating sufficient
insecurity throughout Darfur to ensure the continuation of genocide by
attrition. The Janjaweed in particular (significantly, not a party to
any of the cease-fires that have been negotiated) continue their savage
predations throughout the rural areas, as well as in the environs of
camps for the displaced. The total breakdown in the most recently
negotiated cease-fire (under African Union auspices in Abuja [Nigeria],
November 9, 2004) allows the regime to feel impunity in mounting
large-scale offensives and in deploying its military aircraft---both
helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers.

Whatever the nature of violations or "provocations" by the insurgents
(and it is simply no longer possible to distinguish meaningfully between
attack and counter-attack), Khartoum has made it clear that the military
response will be dramatically disproportional. The insurgents for their
part, seeing that there is no international will to introduce an
effective peacekeeping force, fight with increasing desperation, and a
growing cruelty in the diversion of humanitarian relief supplies.

The reach of humanitarian organizations is contracting, and the
consequences all too predictably favor Khartoum's larger ambitions:

"Aid agencies are wary of criticising the Sudanese government in
public, but a senior official said: 'We are going to continue to see the
humanitarian organisations drawing back. It is simply too dangerous.
This means that the Sudanese government is effectively winning in its
campaign to keep independent observers out of Darfur. It'll also be even
more of a humanitarian disaster than it is now. It is astonishing the
outside world does not realise this.'" (The Independent, December 26,
2004)

But of course many have long recognized the threat posed by insecurity
in Darfur, and the risk that humanitarian operations would have to be
cut back. Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs,
warned as far back as July 2004 that, "Darfur was becoming too dangerous
for aid workers" (BBC, July 14, 2004), and in a chilling moment of
speculation, Egeland described, "'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).

This "stepping back" is precisely what Khartoum has engineered, albeit
with too much assistance from the deeply irresponsible failures of
command-and-control within the insurgency movements (the Sudan
Liberation Army/Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement). This
is precisely Egeland's "worst scenario," one that the UN's chief
humanitarian officer has declared may lead to mortality rates of up to
100,000 civilians per month. In a sign of what is to come, attack and
counter-attack have led the UN's World Food Program to announce that
"about 260,000 people in Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region will miss
their food ration this month because the United Nations' World Food
Programme (WFP) has been forced to suspend its relief convoys" (UN News
Center, December 28, 2004).

Though in this instance it was allegedly an insurgency attack that led
to Khartoum's counter-attack, there is now such continuous violence, in
so many locations, with such ineffective monitoring, that it makes
increasingly little sense to speak of discrete or originating military
operations. This in turn is a situation that sustains Khartoum's
fundamental genocidal aims in Darfur.

CURRENT HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN DARFUR: Recent issues

[1] Ongoing violence and consequent insecurity for humanitarian
operations, as well as Khartoum's harassment and intimidation of
humanitarian organizations, are the context in which to consider the
current human needs in Darfur, both in the camps and in inaccessible
rural areas. Of particular concern are the massive shortfalls in food
that have for months been increasingly in evidence. As food supplies
continue to dwindle, and as humanitarian food relief faces growing
insecurity, mass starvation becomes increasingly likely. Engineered
famine, of the sort that claimed so many lives in Bahr el-Ghazal in
1998, is set to take many more lives in Darfur in the coming months.

Certainly by November the warnings were clear:

"International relief agencies are sounding the alarm about a looming
food crisis in western Sudan as they report a growing number of people
fleeing militias burning their villages and farmland. One relief
official said the Darfur region suffers from the same factors that
produced the famine in the Bahr al-Ghazal region in 1998: limited access
for relief groups, marauding militiamen, and entrenched poverty. 'The
parallels are evocative,' the official said on condition of anonymity."
(Agence France-Presse, November 14, 2003)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had found the same
ominous indicators in its October 2004 "Food-Needs Assessment: Darfur."
Surveying villages in all three of Darfur's administrative states, the
ICRC found:

"The situation assessed in the survey was found to be alarming as
coping mechanisms developed over years of drought and conflict had been
nearly exhausted. Most rural communities assessed were found by the
survey to be suffering from food shortages, which are expected to become
worse in the longer term." ("Food-Needs Assessment: Darfur" from the
International Committee of the Red Cross, October 2004, page 2)

And in a dismayingly familiar conclusion, the ICRC found:

"Levels of physical insecurity were found to be the main cause of food
shortages as people are reluctant to venture outside their villages for
fear of attack" (page 2)

The ICRC food assessment also offers some chilling glimpses of
impending food shortages in rural Darfur. Food markets were in October
already seeing severe inflation in food prices of "150% to 300%" (page
9). And in concluding that "food insecurity was an obvious and vast
problem among the resident rural population," and that "coping
mechanisms were about to be exhausted," the ICRC declared bluntly that
"Darfur is experiencing a long-term major food crisis" (page 14). In
the early months of 2005, there will be large additional displacements
in rural areas because there is simply no more food (page 11).

The most recent Darfur Humanitarian Profile from the UN (No. 9,
December 1, 2004) indicates that within the accessible civilian
population in need, only 61% received food in November (page 14). This
occurs at a time when food needs are growing rapidly, and huge
inaccessible and unassessed civilian populations are still not figuring
in the UN's Darfur Humanitarian Profiles. Moreover, many of those in
need are now desperate: the UN profile of November 1, 2004 (No. 8) noted
that, "one in six households was severely food insecure with a food gap
of greater than 50%" (page 11). Mortality in such populations will rise
steadily as the cumulative effects of malnutrition make for much greater
vulnerability to disease and ultimately starvation.

This threat is compounded by the continuing large sectoral gaps in
non-food humanitarian assistance to the accessible populations, revealed
in the most recent Darfur Humanitarian Profile: 29% of people in need
remain without shelter; 53% remain without clean water; 46% without
sanitary facilities; and 30% without any access to primary medical care
(UN Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 9, December 1, 2004).

[2] There are other increasingly grave threats to the civilian
populations as well. Polio looms as a particular threat to the people
of Darfur and other regions of Sudan, as well as other countries;
inevitably, the greatest toll will be among the young, particularly
those under 3 years. Khartoum's obstruction of humanitarian access
earlier in the year, and present insecurity, have made an effective
inoculation program impossible. As a consequence the medical situation
is critical:

"The UN has warned that an outbreak of polio in Sudan could lead to a
spread of the disease to other countries in the region unless it is
quickly contained. UN and government officials held an emergency meeting
on Thursday in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to discuss how to contain
the disease amidst reports that 79 new cases had been recorded across
the country."

"'This is quite dramatic, considering there were no reported cases of
polio last year,' Ben Parker, communication officer for the UN
Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Sudan told IRIN on Friday [December 24,
2004]. 'Sudan was well underway to being officially declared polio-free,
but the country has now become the number two or three in the world in
terms of the number of polio cases reported this year.' 'Give the
insecurity in certain regions of Sudan, there has not been full access
to all areas during previous polio campaigns,' Parker added. (UN
Integrated Regional Information Networks, December 24, 2004)

Darfur, where a number of the cases have been reported, is presently an
extremely forbidding environment in which to conduct a polio vaccination
campaign. Indeed, the most recent UN Darfur Humanitarian Profile offers
a startling finding concerning another vaccination campaign:

"Unexpectedly, the [Action Contre Faim report on Abu Shouk camp in
North Darfur] indicates that only 12% of the children in the Abu Shouk
IDPs camp had been vaccinated against measles, a disturbing finding
given the risk of measles outbreak." (page 10)

There are certainly large populations of children in which there have
also been very low vaccination levels for polio. Many of these
populations are beyond humanitarian reach, and thus represent the risk
that this highly contagious disease will spread uncontrollably. The
consequences will be measured in many thousands of crippled or lost
lives.

[3] The more than 200,000 Darfuri refugees in Chad continue to be
excluded in most reporting on the greater Darfur crisis (these refugees
are completely excluded even in the UN's Darfur Humanitarian Profiles),
though the humanitarian situation there is critical as well, and poses
some especially daunting challenges. Water and pasturable land are
simply not abundant enough for the indigenous population and this large
refugee population, many of whom have been in Chad for well over a year.
With between 100,000 and 200,000 new refugees a distinct possibility in
the coming year, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, there
is very considerable potential for violent conflict over essential
resources. We catch a glimpse of the growing problems in a recent
dispatch from Voice of America:

"The UN High Commission for Refugees says it's trying to overcome a
dire water shortage in eastern Chad. It says the shortage could
undermine efforts to cope with additional refugees from Sudan's Darfur
region. Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, explains why it's
so hard to get water into eastern Chad. He says the region is extremely
arid, with some areas desert and others semi-desert. 'There are a number
of villages and small towns clustered around what little water supply
there is and ever since this refugee movement began in Darfur, we've
really been struggling to find enough water to sustain a much bigger
population in an area that can't really handle that population.'"

"The areas have received stocks of tents, sheeting, and blankets but,
'the trouble is water. Water is just key. You can bring all the
materials you want, but if you don't have water to drink, then it's no
good,' says Colville. 'The situation is critical.'" (Voice of America,
December 23, 2004)

DARFUR OBSCURED

Massive genocidal destruction in Darfur, which has already claimed
approximately half as many lives as the Rwandan genocide and gives every
sign of claiming hundreds of thousands of additional civilian lives, has
evidently lost much of its newsworthiness. Tsunami reportage, important
though it is, has overwhelmed foreign news coverage. And the facile
optimism in news accounts of the north/south peace agreement to be
signed on January 9, 2004 in Nairobi can typically manage to include
Darfur only as an afterthought.

No matter that the final security arrangements agreed to in the
Naivasha (Kenya) peace agreement allow Khartoum an ominously long two
and a half years to keep its massive military presence in Southern
Sudan. No matter that Khartoum's brutal militias in the south have been
given a full year to decide whether they will jump with Khartoum or to
the SPLM/A. No matter that a credible UN peace-support operation is
nowhere in sight, and that commitments to adequate transitional
assistance for the people of Southern Sudan are equally invisible. No
matter that the people of the Nuba Mountains (an area the size of
Austria) rightly feel that the Naivasha agreement does not offer them
justice. And no matter that there is no evident way in which the SPLM/A
can share power in a government that remains committed to genocide as a
domestic security policy. These realities seem excessively inconvenient
for most news accounts and diplomatic story-telling.

But this is, in any event, to take a prospective view. What we know
now, with complete certainty, is that in the absence of meaningful
international intervention in Darfur, genocide will continue and the
suffering and destruction of innocent civilians will accelerate.

How Darfur's agony is now represented to the world, or simply elided
from view, tells us all too much about how this unconscionable human
catastrophe has progressed as far as it has.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
ereeves@email.smith.edu
www.sudanreeves.org

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