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Sudan Tribune

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Humanitarian aid in Darfur and Eastern Chad is rapidly collapsing

Khartoum, having secured the security status quo in “negotiations” with the UN and African Union, has returned to its genocidal onslaught

Eric Reeves,

Dec 5, 2006 — Evacuations of humanitarian personnel have in recent days accelerated dramatically in both North Darfur and eastern Chad. Today over 100 international aid workers, primarily non-essential staff, were evacuated from el-Fasher, capital of North Darfur. This comes in the wake of armed incursions into the town by Khartoum-supported Janjaweed militia forces, which have for three days engaged in looting and assaults on the town’s markets and civilians. According to first-hand reports from the ground, as many as 1,000 Janjaweed remain in el-Fasher at this hour. Heavy gunfire was reported this evening (local time) from the ground in el-Fasher. The rebel forces of the National Redemption Front (NRF), including the SLA/Group 19, are concentrated some 25 kilometers outside el-Fasher, poised to attack if Khartoum does not halt the murderous Janjaweed rampage. The unconstrained predations by the Janjaweed have brought even the forces of SLA/Minni Minawi to the brink of withdrawing from the Darfur Peace Agreement and re-joining the rebel groups that did not sign the agreement.

A direct assault on el-Fasher could very well precipitate wholesale withdrawal by all humanitarian groups, both those of the UN and nongovernmental organizations. UN sources this evening indicate that a mere skeleton presence might be all that is maintained.

Earlier today, the UN’s Regional Information Network reported:

“Tension has mounted in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur State in western Sudan, amid fears that rebels may launch an offensive on government forces being reinforced to defend the town, humanitarian sources said on Tuesday. [Janjaweed] militias attacked the cattle market on Monday [December 4, 2006] and clashed with former rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) [*Minni Minawi faction, signatory to the Darfur Peace Agreement—ER*], according to African Union (AU) sources. The AU, which has a large base in El Fasher, said two people died while five SLA fighters were injured. The militias also looted the market. ‘The situation is very tense, even worse than yesterday [Monday],’ the AU spokesman, Nourredine Mezni, said, adding that AU forces had stopped the fighting.” [ ]

“In El Fasher, humanitarian sources said the tension had risen markedly since Monday [December 4, 2006]. ‘Reports indicate the NRF [National Redemption Front, a rebel coalition] plans to attack El Fasher and the [Government of Sudan] has brought many troops, including many Arab militia, to defend the town,’ said source.” ([dateline: Khartoum], December 5, 2006)

The National Redemption Front, the primary coalition of non-signatories to the disastrous Darfur Peace Agreement, has threatened to attack el-Fasher and the Janjaweed if the Khartoum regime does not expel this brutal instrument of civilian destruction. This creates a show-down that could immediately leave more than 1 million people in North Darfur completely without humanitarian assistance. After enduring more than three years of genocidal counter-insurgency warfare, this population is now almost completely dependent upon international food, medical, and water purification assistance.

In West Darfur there are also continuing humanitarian evacuations, as security deteriorates yet further, especially in Jebel Moon and Jebel Marra. The December 4, 2006 UN Sudan Bulletin reports:

“The UN Department of Safety and Security evacuated a total of 32 international and national [nongovernmental humanitarian organizations] staff from Abu Shurug, Silea, and Kulbus [West Darfur]. The action was taken at the request of the [organizations] because of insecurity along the border areas. [The Area Security Management Team] recommended the suspension of humanitarian activities in the Kulbus locality for next week.”

Moreover, Khartoum and its Janjaweed allies are now engaged in the kinds of attacks on humanitarian infrastructure that characterized the regime’s conduct of war in southern Sudan:

“The UN World Food Program (WFP) reported that during a recent attack on Birmaza [North Darfur], Sudan Armed Forces [Khartoum’s regular military forces] and Arab militia looted and destroyed six World Food Program warehouses containing approximately 1,000 metric tons of food and detained the WFP warehouse manager for several days.” (US Agency for International Development, Sudan “sit rep” #5, December 1, 2006)

“On November 19, [2006] unidentified men reportedly burned the Save the Children/US Women’s Protection Center at Krinding 1 camp in El Geneina, West Darfur.” (US Agency for International Development, Sudan “sit rep” #5, December 1, 2006)

This latter attack was certainly the work of the Janjaweed or other Khartoum-allied forces. The UN Sudan Bulletin for November 27, 2006 reports that “humanitarian structures have been vandalized by Arab militia” in the area of Anka, Bere, and Hashaba (North Darfur).

Beyond its direct assaults on humanitarians and humanitarian operations, Khartoum continues its longstanding war of attrition on aid efforts. Reuters reports on the UN response to the regime’s harassment and ultimate expulsion of the distinguished Norwegian Refugee Council:

“The United Nations condemned on Wednesday [November 29, 2006] Sudan’s expulsion of a Norwegian aid agency from Darfur saying there was no clear justification for the move which damages the humanitarian operation in the remote west. After months of restrictions on its work, the Norwegian Refugee Council said earlier this month it was being forced to leave South Darfur where it aids 300,000 Darfuris. The government then formally expelled the organisation. ‘Their expulsion threatens to create a significant vacuum in terms of humanitarian service provision in South Darfur and places a greater strain on existing humanitarian operations,’ Sudan’s UN humanitarian coordinator Manuel Aranda Da Silva said in a statement on Wednesday.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], November 29, 2006)

All organizations have been targeted by this vicious form of what is finally genocidal warfare, with dramatic reductions in the efficiencies of live-saving operations.


The collapse of humanitarian access in Chad has also continued to accelerate rapidly. The UN’s World Food Program today reports on the effects of attacks by Khartoum-backed Chadian rebels:

“Security in the region has deteriorated following rebel attacks on the towns of Abeche and Guereda in the past 10 days and remains very unpredictable for humanitarian workers. The latest staff relocations from WFP field offices in Bahai, Iriba, Guereda, Farchana and Goz Beida mean that operations will now have to be managed remotely from Abeche, with only skeleton teams remaining in proximity to the camps.” (UN World Food Program press release, December 5, 2006)

As context, WFP reports:

“WFP has warned that humanitarian operations in eastern Chad are becoming increasingly difficult, with periodic fighting forcing the agency to temporarily suspend all non-emergency activities in parts of the troubled region. WFP lost 483 metric tons of food when one of its warehouses in Abeche was looted following a rebel attack a little over a week ago. Two trucks carrying about 70 tons of maize, oil and sugar were attacked and looted in Biltine on November 23 [2006].

Reuters reports on the same ominous developments:

“UN agencies and aid nongovernmental organizations said on Monday [December 4, 2006] they were pulling back more than 200 staff from Guereda and two other towns, Iriba and Bahai [in the more northerly sector of eastern Chad], leaving only skeleton teams to help run refugee camps housing more than 100,000 Sudanese refugees in this area alone. While the UN World Food Program said it would continue to feed the total of more than 200,000 refugees from Darfur who live in camps near the border with Sudan, the increased insecurity had forced it to suspend all non-emergency activities in eastern Chad.”

“‘Because of the continuing deterioration of the security situation, there was a UN system-wide decision that we would relocate all international and local staff from Guereda, Iriba and Bahai,’ Helene Caux of the UN refugee agency UNHCR told Reuters by phone. She said more than 200 UN and NGO relief personnel would be moved over the next few days, by air or road.” (Reuters [dateline: N’Djamena, Chad], December 4, 2006)

From Geneva the Associated Press reports (December 5, 2006):

“Rising violence along Chad’s border with Sudan is forcing the United Nations to reduce staff in six camps to a bare minimum and cut back on programs for more than 100,000 Darfur refugees already living in precarious conditions, the global body’s refugee agency said Tuesday [December 5, 2006]. ‘The fragile lifeline to the refugees in eastern Chad is stretching even thinner,’ UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters.” [ ]

“Pagonis said UNHCR would keep a ‘minimum presence’ in the field offices of Bahai, Iriba and Guereda, but would move most of its staff in those places to the main eastern town of Abeche or the capital of N’Djamena. She described an incident last week in Guereda in which four armed men broke into a UNHCR compound and threatening staff at gunpoint, before stealing two vehicles.”

“On Friday [December 1, 2006], clashes between rebels and the Chadian army 30 miles from the Sudanese border killed 130 people, a government spokesman said Tuesday. Rebels attacked Guereda and claimed that with the capture of the town, they now controlled an entire region in Chad, Wadi Fira.”

The UN High Commission for Refugees reports in a December 1, 2006 press release on the scale of humanitarian withdrawals from eastern Chad:

“A total of 145 humanitarian workers from various UN agencies and non-governmental organizations have been temporarily relocated from the east to N’Djamena, via Abeche. Another 98 people are still registered to depart the town. Several humanitarian planes are scheduled today to continue the transfer. UNHCR is keeping essential staff in the region, which means we’ve reduced by about a third. At the same time, we’re bringing in some specialists in logistics and supply to ensure that the vital aid lifeline to 218,000 refugees in 12 eastern camps near the border with Darfur continues, as well as for some 90,000 internally displaced Chadians.”

But it is unclear how logisticians alone can surmount the problems posed by growing insecurity. The same UNHCR press release declares that:

“We are very concerned that the road from Abeche to the north—towards Guereda, Iriba and Bahai—is now completely cut off because of security concerns. This means we do not have road access to six refugee camps (Kounongo, Mile, Am Nabak, Touloum, Iridimi and Oure Cassoni), which house a total of some 110,000 refugees. They have some supplies in place, but they need regular replenishment. We’re exploring alternative routes to keep the aid channels open.”

UNHCR also reports on recent violence in the southern sector of eastern Chad:

“Dozens of villages in southeastern Chad were burned and abandoned in November following a wave of inter-communal violence between Arabs and non-Arab tribes. The attacks resulted in the displacement of at least 15,000 people for the month around Goz Beida, Koukou Angarana and Koloy/Ade. In all, an estimated 90,000 Chadians have been displaced in the east over the past year.”

The ongoing and thoroughly entrenched security risks to civilians in eastern Chad have very recently been highlighted yet again by human rights groups, most notably Amnesty International (“Chad: Civilians left unprotected as brutal Janjawid attacks reach 150 kilometres inside Chad,” press release, December 1, 2006):

“Amnesty International today published new evidence of the Chadian government failing to act as Janjawid from Darfur and Chad carry out increasingly brutal and extensive attacks on civilians in eastern Chad. The evidence was gathered by an Amnesty International delegation that has just returned from a two-week visit to Chad. Delegates interviewed victims of rape, torture and forced displacement, visited destroyed villages and met with the Chadian Prime Minister and other government officials. It provides irrefutable proof that the conflict and human rights crisis in Darfur has now become deeply entrenched in eastern Chad.”

Although the deep failures of the Chadian government are rightly highlighted by Amnesty, we must bear in mind how fully the Khartoum regime supports the Janjaweed raiders, and that the same is true of the rebel groups that have diverted so much of Chad’s military capabilities:

“At the same time, women who have fled to internally displaced person camps told delegates of an increasing number of rapes by Janajawid, with the Chadian military and police failing to patrol in or around the camps. ‘We have seen a dramatic upsurge in ever more brutal attacks on civilians which have occurred further and further into Chad, yet the Chadian military and police are not even making a token effort to protect their own citizens. The government faces a real threat from the rebel forces. However, even when they have the means, they have still refused pleas for help from their own civilians,’ said Alex Neve, member of the Amnesty International delegation.”

“Preliminary findings from the Amnesty International delegation to Chad include the:

[1] Spread of attacks on civilians by Janjawid from the border into areas well inside Chad including devastating attacks on the villages of Bandiakao, Badiya and Kerfi during the first two weeks of November, some 150 kilometres inside the country;

[2] Intensification of Janjawid attacks on civilians since the end of the rainy season in mid September—Amnesty International has collected the names of around 500 individuals killed in attacks in the Dar Sila region alone although the total number is much higher;

[3] Increasing brutality of attacks including murder, mutilation and the burning of victims alive, compared with previous attacks which mainly focused on stealing livestock and food supplies or scaring inhabitants into fleeing their villages;

[4] Growth of violence against women, including rape, in and around camps for internally displaced people with displaced men unable to accompany them out of fear of being killed and government forces refusing to patrol in or around the camps.”


Khartoum has for many months engaged in various testing actions, military probings of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). These actions, some quite serious, have been concentrated in the oil regions of Upper Nile Province. The most serious of these recently occurred in the major town of Malakal in central Upper Nile, when Khartoum directed one of its militia proxy forces to attack the SPLA. It should be noted that all of these militia forces should have been disarmed by January 1, 2006 per the security protocol of the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Khartoum and the SPLA/M. Militias were obliged to indicate by mid-2005 to which side they would demobilize, and to complete demobilizing (or incorporation) by January 1, 2006.

Almost a year after this deadline, one element of the umbrella South Sudan Defense Forces has engaged in a clearly provocative assault that had extremely severe consequences, including hundreds of casualties and additional humanitarian evacuations:

“Hundreds of people may have been killed in the heaviest fighting between Sudan’s former north-south foes since they signed a peace deal last year, a former senior rebel officer said Thursday. Terrified civilians in the southern town of Malakal reported looting and bodies in the streets after three days of clashes, and UN officials in New York said 240 civilian workers had been temporarily evacuated.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], November 30, 2006)

The Sudan Human Rights Organization (Cairo) declares:

“The Sudan Human Rights Organization Cairo Office is gravely concerned for the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in support of the SSDF militia, and the SPLA at Malakal, the capital city of the Upper Nile State in South Sudan, which ensued in heavy casualties on November 30, 2006. As repeatedly cautioned by Sudanese civil society groups and political parties, the loose hold of the State on government-supported militias in the South and Darfur will continue to ravage the peace agreements of both regions, as well as the most recently signed peace agreement in East Sudan.”

“SHRO-Cairo condemns in the strongest terms possible the fighting of all armed groups in the city of Malakal that caused heavy casualties, including the loss of lives and property of many innocent citizens.”

“The Sudan Human Rights Organization condemns, in particular, the irresponsible policies and practices of the Government of Sudan that continue to destroy the CPA, including offensive announcements by top state managers and overt militia support, as occurred in the Malakal events; besides unrestricted military actions resulting in heavy casualties and other gross human rights violations.” (SHRO-Cairo, press release, December 2, 2006)

Although the situation in Malakal has begun to return to normal, the fragility of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement has once again been underscored. Without much greater international investment in bringing the CPA to full fruition, war will inevitably resume in the south. Nothing poses a greater threat than Khartoum’s obdurate refusal to disarm the militias it pays handsomely to do its destabilizing work. This occurs against the backdrop of surreptitious but very heavy deployment by Khartoum of large-scale weapons platforms to the oil regions of Upper Nile.

But other key issues remain unaddressed:

[1] The findings of the Abyei Boundary Commission, a distinguished international panel assembled to resolve the highly contentious issue of the precise geography of the Abyei enclave on the northern Bahr el-Ghazal boundary, was submitted to National Islamic Front President Omar al-Bashir in July 2005. There has to date been no acceptance of its findings or recommendations, leaving Abyei without an effective civil administration, a critical lack of interlocutors for humanitarian organizations, and acute—potentially destabilizing—tensions between the Ngok Dinka population of the region and the Misseryia Arabs.

[2] Creation of a functioning north/south border commission has yet to occur. In the interim, the National Islamic Front continues, entirely arbitrarily, to push the border southward in order to claim more southern oil production for the north. Under the wealth-sharing protocol of the CPA, the Government of South Sudan is to receive the revenues from half of all southern oil production. Khartoum’s refusal to accept the traditional north/south boundary, established during the colonial administration of Sudan and at the time of independence (1956), has had the effect of denying southern Sudan hundreds of millions of dollars in critically needed revenues. And this short-changing is made even more dramatic by the continuing opacity of the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Mining and Energy (the two ministries exercising final control over oil production and revenue figures).

[3] There has been no meaningful power-sharing per the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The voice of southern Sudan simply doesn’t register in Khartoum, except in the form of figure-head foreign minister Lam Akol, who has sold his soul to the National Islamic Front, and betrayed the people of southern Sudan in deepest consequence. Most notably, Salva Kiir is not only President of the Government of South Sudan, but First Vice-President of the “Government of National Unity.” And yet, though nominally the second most powerful person in the government, Salva has been entirely ignored, particularly on the issue of Darfur.


All evidence suggests that Khartoum has also extended its military efforts to the Central African Republic (CAR). Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reported as much from the region October 1, 2005 (dateline: Bangui, Central Africa Republic). A senior UN official, Ibrahima Fall of Senegal, has just completed an assessment mission to CAR, and reports:

“‘Central African Republic is a tragedy in the making,’ said Ibrahima Fall, who headed a weeklong UN mission to the country. ‘The situation there is bleak. It has been bleak for a number of years. It is becoming bleaker by the day.’”

Fall is diplomatic, but clear in his representation of the role of Khartoum:

“The government [of CAR] has said that the fighters are backed by Sudan and has enlisted international help. Sudan has denied any involvement. Fall, whose mission took place November 4-11, [2006] said there was no solid proof yet that rebels were allied with groups fighting in Sudan’s neighboring province of Darfur, but maintained that he believed it to be the case. ‘My personal belief is yes, there are linkages,’ Fall told reporters at the UN in Geneva.” (Associated Press [dateline: Geneva], November 28, 2006)

UN humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland also declared in Geneva, speaking of Darfur, said “there was ‘ample evidence’ the situation was getting worse, not least due to the ‘intimately interlinked’ violence in neighbouring countries such as Chad and the Central African Republic.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Geneva], November 29, 2006)

The highly authoritative Africa Confidential (December 1, 2006, Vol. 47, No. 24) offers a revealing glimpse into Khartoum’s regional strategy:

“[National Islamic Front] Presidential Advisor Ghazi Salah el Din Atabani told his fellow medical doctor, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, in Paris that Sudan was at war with Chad and that President Idriss Déby Itno would fall.”

Africa Confidential also reported that, “were Central African Republic’s Francois Bozizé to be replaced by a Khartoum-friendly President, Déby would worry.”


The timing of this new cycle in escalating assaults on civilians and humanitarians should come as little surprise. Following the November 30, 2006 meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council in Abuja, it was clear that the AU and the UN had acquiesced yet again before Khartoum’s refusal to internationalize, in any meaningful way, the force providing security in Darfur. This force will continue to consist entirely of AU troops and largely untrained civilian police (the number of troops remains at about 5,000, despite efforts by the AU, for almost three months, to deploy a single additional battalion, 600-700 men). The November 30 meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council ratified the failures negotiated by way of the much-touted November 16, 2006 “High Level Consultation on the Situation in Darfur” in Addis Ababa (see my detailed analysis of the November 16 “Conclusions” document at

In the wake of the Abuja meeting, National Islamic Front President al-Bashir made sure there were no lingering ambiguities:

“Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, speaking after a closed-door AU summit, rebuffed African leaders advocating a compromise proposal for an expanded peacekeeping mission that would include blue-helmeted UN soldiers in Darfur. ‘We can take technical, advisory and financial support from the UN, but no UN force,’ al-Bashir said. ‘We want an Africa force.’” (Associated Press [dateline: Abuja, Nigeria], December 1, 2006)

“Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said he would accept UN ‘political, financial, logistics and technical’ support for an African peace force in Darfur. Asked what kind of support he would like, he replied: ‘Political, financial, logistics and technical…. Not the command but advising the command.’” (Reuters [dateline: Abuja, Nigeria], November 30, 2006)

Khartoum’s figure-head foreign minister, Lam Akol, parroted the same defiant terms:

“‘What we discussed is the support the UN can give to the African Union force in Darfur,’ Akol said. ‘The type of support we need is technical, logistic and advisory support. The technical unit might include some soldiers, but we don’t want United Nations troops carrying arms.’” (Associated Press [dateline: Abuja, Nigeria], December 1, 2006)

Not only is UN Security Council Resolution 1706 completely dead; so, too, is whatever was purportedly contained in the November 16, 2006 Addis Ababa “Conclusions” document, exuberantly celebrated by the US in a State Department editorial (November 16, 2006):

“The United States welcomes the successful outcome of this historic meeting.”

Cynical and disingenuous, this assessment serves as an appropriate context for understanding the meaning of what US Special Envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios brandishes as a US “Plan B” if Khartoum does not change its ways in Darfur. There is no “Plan B,” even as there was nothing “successful” in the “historic meeting” in Addis Ababa. This is merely diversionary bluster by a Bush administration that simply has no idea about how to make progress in halting genocidal destruction in Darfur.

To be sure, much the same can be said of any number of international actors. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour is right to declare that:

“‘The government of Sudan and militias aligned with them, some still actively supported by them, continue to be responsible for the most serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law,’ Arbour said in a speech delivered to the UN Human Rights Council. [ ] She urged the world community to support the international criminal court in its efforts to prosecute those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. ‘Attacks on villages, killing of civilians, rape and the forced displacement of tens of thousands of civilians go on unabated,’ Arbour said. ‘[They] have now reached, in Darfur, the horrific levels of early 2004.’” (Canadian Broadcast Corporation, November 29, 2006)

But we must ask what beyond moral indignation gives force to Arbour’s imperative: “‘The atrocities must stop.’” Who will stop them? Certainly not the UN Human Rights Council, which rejected even a mild EU/Canadian proposal to ask the Khartoum regime to prosecute those responsible for the atrocities.

Kofi Annan and the UN Secretariat seem for their part content to drift in an abstract world of “principles.” A persistent questioner from the BBC asked during a recent interview with Annan (December 2, 2006):

[INTERVIEWER]: “I mean, the talking goes on and you have this—one of the big successes of UN reform was this Responsibility to Protect. But you’re not protecting [in Darfur, and] it’s been three years.”

[ANNAN]: “I myself have made that point, that member states made a solemn pledge in the General Assembly to protect. And it’s time to redeem that pledge. But the fact that they have not done it in the case of Sudan doesn’t mean that that principle is not still important. What is happening, and I don’t think the public understand this: Sudan has made it quite clear to the whole world that it will not accept UN peacekeepers.”

Of course the “public” well understands what Annan himself declares Khartoum has made “quite clear.” But what Annan fails to note is that the “responsibility to protect”—as articulated in the UN World Summit “Outcome Document” (September 2005) (Paragraph 139), and unanimously incorporated into UN Security Council Resolution 1674 (April 2006)—has been framed specifically so as to supersede claims of national sovereignty. These are precisely the claims Khartoum is using so effectively to forestall an authorized international force that is tasked with halting the genocidal destruction, now currently accelerating. Darfur is the perfect test case for the “responsibility to protect” civilians suffering from the crimes UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Arbour articulates—crimes she rightly insists are committed by a government whose assertions of sovereignty should not trump the nominal obligation to protect civilians from “genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity.”

If the world’s failure in Darfur gives Annan no pause about the importance of the principle of a “responsibility to protect” (“the fact that [UN member nations] have not [accepted this responsibility] in the case of Sudan doesn’t mean that that principle is not still important”), then his assessment would seem to have about it a ghastly air of unreality. Nothing new, of course, for the serene Annan.

The Secretary-General did manage to conclude his answer with a brief excursus into political reality:

“If the Sudanese do not give their consent, no government, not yours or mine, is going to give troops for a peacekeeping operation in Darfur.”

And here we see all too clearly how the matter of a “responsibility to protect” will be regarded henceforth. Less than a year after its unanimous adoption, the fiction stands fully revealed.


Annan’s acquiescent attitude finds increasing support from commentators and at least one major humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières. Alex de Waal, one prominent commentator, can’t seem to escape his heavy investment in the failed Abuja peace process, and writes contemptuously in a recent issue of the London Review of Books (November 17, 2006) that,

“Military intervention [in Darfur] won’t stop the killing. Those who are clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering from a salvation delusion. It’s a simple reality that UN troops can’t stop an ongoing war, and their record at protecting civilians is far from perfect.”

This is, of course, an exercise in knocking down a straw man: no one believes that humanitarian intervention in Darfur, particularly non-consensual deployment, will in and of itself “stop the killing.” But it can certainly offer protection to some of the 2.5 million people who have been displaced by the conflict and find themselves trapped in camps increasingly targeted by the Janjaweed, and who in too many cases await what they firmly believe, with good evidence, is impending slaughter. Many of the currently insecure humanitarian corridors could be opened, and humanitarian convoys could be protected. Such deployment would also bring tremendous pressure to bear on Khartoum to negotiate a peace agreement that has real meaning—something de Waal seems not to recognize was not even close to achievement in Abuja, particularly in the security arrangements, which required an international guarantor that was nowhere envisioned in any version of the document negotiated.

But what is most remarkable is that what de Waal labels a “delusion” is shared by virtually all Darfuris. Indeed, we can hear their voices everywhere. Salih Mahmoud Osman, a Fur who was imprisoned by the Khartoum regime for seven months in 2004 for his human rights advocacy work, recently (November 7, 2006) received from Human Rights Watch one of the organization’s highest awards. In his interview with the BBC, Salih Mahmoud Osman used his singular moment on the international stage to make explicit his demand for precisely what de Waal dismisses as a “delusion”:

“‘Our demands are very clear—we, the people of Darfur, we need urgent action,’ he said. ‘We don’t even talk about sanctions or prolonged procedures. We need direct action like intervention to prevent aerial bombardment—otherwise it is genocide and ethnic cleansing that is happening on the watch of everybody in the world here.’” (BBC, November 7, 2006)

Alfred Taban, distinguished and highly courageous editor of the opposition Khartoum Monitor newspaper, also articulates the “delusional” desires of the people of Darfur:

“Darfur requires both more troops and a tougher mandate, Taban argued, adding that Darfurians had told him what they really want is a NATO force such as the one that restored peace to Kosovo in 1999.” (Associated Press [dateline: Cairo], October 4, 2006)

Amoodh Al-Akhdar was one of the victims of the August 2006 assaults in the Buram region by Khartoum’s Janjaweed proxies; these were assaults, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reports, in which young children and the elderly were hurled into their burning homes:

“‘Most of our people are hiding in the bushes. The only routes connecting inhabited villages pass through Janjaweed held areas, while other roads have been submersed by water because of the rain. There are injured and sick who were caught in the fighting. Many people have gone missing. People cannot leave the area without protection. We call for the international community to intervene immediately to help the civilians in the area.’”

Apparently yet another “delusional” voice, however earnest. But it is nonetheless a voice joined by many human rights and humanitarian organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International/USA, Refugees International, Genocide Watch, Genocide Intervention Network, Human Rights First, the Aegis Trust (UK), the Sudanese Organization Against Torture (SOAT), Urgence Darfour (France), Africa Action—all of which joined in declaring:

“We call on the international community to significantly intensify diplomatic efforts with the Government of Sudan while concurrently planning for the rapid deployment of an adequately funded and well-equipped UN force to protect the people of Darfur, regardless of the acquiescence of the Sudanese government.” (September 14, 2006)

Such urging, from these distinguished organizations, has recently been characterized by Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as “duplicitous discourse” (November 14, 2006 editorial commentary by Rowan Gillies, International Council President of MSF). This remarkable assessment has as its context MSF’s tendentious characterization of the causes of insecurity in Darfur:

“The deteriorating security situation [in Darfur], for which the Sudanese government and militias on all sides have ultimate responsibility, is only intensified by the continued interventionist posturing of the UN Security Council.”

It is worth noting that this is mere assertion, and that the overwhelming evidence of the past three and a half years suggests that Khartoum’s orchestrated violence against humanitarian organizations, and its calculated refusal to disarm the Janjaweed, were tools fully deployed long before any putative “interventionist posturing.” Indeed, the history of insecurity over the past 15 months makes hash of this peculiarly tendentious claim, for which not a shred of evidence is supplied. Moreover, accelerating violence by rebel groups targeting humanitarian operations can hardly by explained by MSF’s willful hypothesis—on the contrary.

MSF continues:

“Many countries of the West—the United States, Great Britain, France, the European Union, along with the African Union, the leadership of the United Nations and many Western advocacy groups demand the deployment of UN ‘peacekeeping’ troops, as the best way to assist the suffering population, while recognizing privately that an effective intervention is unlikely.”

It is perhaps a sign of the moral corruption of MSF that it can no longer distinguish between a political assessment of the likelihood of humanitarian intervention in Darfur—to be sure, very small indeed—and the moral obligation to demand what is widely and earnestly believed will work to stop massive human destruction and suffering. On MSF’s logic, we should all be engaged in political and military calculations before making any statement about the need to accept the “responsibility to protect” in a particular humanitarian crisis or in the face of widespread atrocities. If such obscene calculation had guided the Darfur advocacy movement, current efforts to address Darfur’s security crisis—precisely what is paralyzing MSF in its own activities—would never have emerged as a powerful, if still insufficient, world-wide political force. MSF is not “maintaining its neutrality,” as it claims, but making an explicit—and hideously acquiescent—political judgment about what should and shouldn’t be said as the Darfur catastrophe expands relentlessly.

MSF concludes its extraordinarily presumptuous account by declaring,

“For political leaders to engage in such duplicitous discourse is one thing, it is another that humanitarian actors such as Jan Egeland, the UN Deputy Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, publicly support such a campaign.”

Arguing for the urgent and effective protection of humanitarian workers, including those of MSF, has been reduced to “duplicitous discourse.” This is moral and intellectual barbarism from a once distinguished organization.

Darfur has revealed many failings in a range of international actors; it has tested the world community in many ways. Sadly, MSF shows us here just how badly we have failed.

* Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has published extensively on Sudan. He can be reached at [email protected]; website :