Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 13 November 2006

Civilian, Humanitarian security in Darfur: Final concessions to Khartoum


Various international actors signal that the fate of civilians and humanitarian operations in Darfur and eastern Chad will ultimately be left in the hands of the National Islamic Front génocidaires

By Eric Reeves

November 12, 2006 — The signals have been everywhere in evidence these past ten days: there is simply no stomach within the international community to provide military resources for meaningful protection of the nearly 4.5 million conflict-affected persons that UN agencies now estimate are at risk in Darfur and eastern Chad (figures from the latest UN “Darfur Humanitarian Profile” [No. 25] and reports from UN organizations working in eastern Chad). The humanitarian operations upon which this almost incomprehensibly large population now depends are also at yet greater risk, with ever more urgent distress calls coming from organizations and individuals on the ground in Darfur. More and more of these aid organizations are approaching the breaking point, with contingency plans in place for rapid withdrawal.

One of the most important humanitarian organizations working in Darfur, Norwegian Refugee Council, was this past week forced by Khartoum’s relentless obstruction and harassment to withdraw, leaving some 300,000 civilians without the critical humanitarian assistance provided by this distinguished and venerable organization (it was founded in 1946 to assist refugees following World War II):

“[Norwegian Refugee Council] said it was pulling out 12 international staff and 170 local staff running one camp for 128,000 people in southern Darfur camp and another for 100,000 people. ‘We coordinated all aid, the fair distribution of food, medical care. Now there are 300,000 people on their own. That’s what concerns us most,’ said group spokeswoman Astrid Sehl by telephone. She said they also had to shut down an educational program from about 19,000 children, and stop distributing food to about 52,000 people outside the camps.”

“‘This decision has been the most difficult I have had to make as secretary-general of NRC,’ [Tomas C.] Archer said. ‘We are all aware that the humanitarian needs are greater than ever in South Darfur.’ The Norwegian Refugee Council cited ‘frequent disruption’ of its work, saying it had been suspended five times for a total of 210 days since it started operations in mid-2004. ‘We cannot work when the authorities suspend us continuously and do not respond to our repeated requests for dialogue aimed at addressing and resolving underlying reasons for this action,’ said Archer.” (Associated Press [dateline: Oslo, Norway], November 10, 2006)

At the same time, attacks against civilians are on the increase, including attacks against camps for displaced persons (see my recent extended analysis, November 4, 2006, at http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article133.html). UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric this week spoke of “daily” Janjaweed militia assaults on civilians and civilian livelihoods throughout Darfur in a briefing of reporters at the UN/New York on November 7, 2006:

“Militia are continuing to attack civilians, burn houses and destroy crops every day in Sudan’s conflict-ridden Darfur region, while targeting non-governmental workers trying to assist an estimated 2 million people displaced by the violence, a UN spokesman warned today. ‘The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) continue to receive daily reports of militia attacks on civilians, as well as attacks against humanitarian vehicles on key roads and even inside camps housing displaced persons,’ [said] spokesman Stephane Dujarric.” (UN News Center [dateline: UN/New York], November 7, 2006)

A number of reports suggest that the Janjaweed militias are moving closer to major camps for displaced persons, and the consequent confinement and threats of violence have become even more extreme:

“Arab nomads attacked civilians near a refugee camp in Sudan’s Darfur region in recent days, killing one man and injuring several people, the UN said Monday [November 6, 2006]. [ ] In the latest attacks, the UN mission in Sudan said several armed Arab nomads in military uniform attacked and killed a farmer on Friday [November 3, 2006] about two miles south of the Kalma refugee camp, which is home to about 90,000 people. A day earlier [November 2, 2006], about 18 armed Arab nomads attacked four farmers several miles south of the camp, the UN mission said. On Saturday [November 4, 2006], Arab nomads attacked a group of refugees who were searching for firewood about four miles north of the camp, the mission said.” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], November 7, 2006)

Just as ominous are continuing reports that Khartoum is engaging in large-scale re-mobilizing and heavy re-arming of the Janjaweed, especially in West and North Darfur. This has been emphasized in the most recent report (September 2006) of the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur (per UN Security Council Resolution 1591, March 2005). More recently, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor (dateline: Tine, West Darfur on the Chad/Darfur border) has filed a particularly revealing update:

“African Union (AU) commanders say more than 1,000 janjaweed militiamen arrived in town just over two weeks ago to back up 3,000 government troops. Under a peace agreement signed last May, Sudan’s government was supposed to disarm the janjaweed and inform the AU commanders of any troop movements. They have done neither. In fact, the arrival of the fighters in this border town is fresh evidence that the government is remobilizing the janjaweed and other irregular Arab militias in large numbers.”

The reporter cites an assessment by Jar al-Neby of the National Redemption Front (NRF) rebel alliance, and one of the NRF’s most reliable spokesmen:

“The government’s apparent remobilization of the brutal janjaweed [ ] comes after Sudan’s army lost two recent battles, and morale among the troops fell precipitously. ‘The government troops are very weak.... Soldiers have refused to fight us. They even brought soldiers from the north and they refused,’ says Jar al-Neby, a spokesman for the National Redemption Front, the largest rebel alliance. ‘So the government is mobilizing janjaweed, which is very bad for the civilians because they attack our people all the time.’ The remobilization is confirmed by other reports from international aid groups and UN agencies. And, with greater mobility brought by the end of the rainy season, observers say the violence is set to worsen.” (Christian Science Monitor [dateline: Tine, West Darfur], November 9, 2006)

The impotence of the African Union in the face of clearly escalating violent civilian destruction is equally conspicuous:

“The 200 soldiers and observers at the African Union camp here say there is little they can do to stop attacks on the people of Tine should they return to the town. Outnumbered by government troops by 200 to 1 and lacking a mandate to intervene, there are few civilians left to seek their protection. ‘The AU has no teeth. We cannot bite,’ says a frustrated Lt. Col. Thomas Chaona, the commander in charge of the camp on the Sudanese side of the border.”

“Under-resourced and under-manned, even senior AU commanders are calling for the intervention of the UN. ‘We were designed to monitor a cease-fire, not be a peacekeeping mission,’ says [one] AU officer who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘We have never had the resources to do this job.’” (Christian Science Monitor [dateline: Tine, West Darfur], November 9, 2006)

In fact, the AU is even the subject of deliberate humiliation by Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia allies:

“On Thursday, the UN Mission in Sudan reported another incident in which an [African Union mission] patrol in Tine [180 km north of El Geneina, West Darfur] was surrounded by about 200 suspected militiamen. The militiamen fired several times into the air until the [AU mission] patrol passed.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Nairobi], November 10, 2006)

The African Union claims that it will “deploy an additional six battalions of troops and 500 police officers to Darfur” (Voice of America [dateline: Khartoum], November 10, 2006. But a number of highly reliable sources on the ground in Darfur report that the AU has struggled in vain to deploy even a single additional battalion for over two months. There is simply no reason to expect a significant change in character or ability on the part of the AU for the foreseeable future.

In understandable frustration, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Said Djinnit told journalists in Khartoum that,

"‘We shall no more tolerate any attacks against [the African Union mission in Darfur] and humanitarian convoys.’ ‘We shall no more tolerate statements hostile to the African Union Mission in Sudan.’” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], November 10, 2006)

But the humiliating truth is that the AU is simply incapable of stopping “attacks”---on its own forces, on humanitarians, or on civilians. Nor is the AU capable of absorbing adequate new resources or even personnel. (At the same time, it must be said that all possible resources that might be effectively absorbed by the AU should long ago have been provided by militarily capable Western nations; that they have not is a moral scandal of the first order.) The AU certainly cannot staunch the flow of genocidal violence into Chad, which increases on a daily basis. In fact, AU actions are still highly circumscribed by the Khartoum regime, which imposes highly restrictive curfews, denies the AU fuel for its aerial and ground vehicles, and has put in place a welter of bureaucratic obstacles. Most significantly, the AU still has demonstrated no willingness or ability to accept the civilian and humanitarian protection mandate nominally conferred by the Darfur Peace Agreement (May 2006).

That so much is staked upon this weak, demoralized, badly commanded, under-equipped and under-manned force is a measure of both moral failure on the part of the international community and ghastly triumph on the part of the Khartoum regime. For the consequences of continuing AU failure are all too clear. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour recently warned:

“The High Commissioner reported that over the past month, West Darfur has witnessed increased movements and consolidation of armed militias, especially in the northern and south-western part of the state. At the same time, there are increased reports of the distribution of weapons to these groups in al-Geneina and outlying areas. ‘I am deeply concerned that if the Government of Sudan does not take control of the militias, disarm them, and put an end to the proliferation of arms, the militias will continue to launch attacks on civilians, as they did on 29 October [2006] in an area south and west of Jebel Moon,’ Ms. Arbour said.” (Press Release by the UN High Commission for Human Rights, November 10, 2006)

The Sudan Tribune (November 11, 2006 [dateline: Khartoum]) reports that new attacks have already occurred:

“A Darfur rebel group today accused Janjaweed militia of killing 31 displaced and wounding 18 other in an attack on Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in West Darfur. The National Redemption Front said around 300 Janjaweed on camels and horses backed by 18 military vehicles attacked the IDP camps of Sirba, about 47 kilometers north of al-Geneina, capital of West Darfur state, killing 31 and injuring 18 displaced, including women and children. The rebel statement further said that the Janjaweed and the Sudanese army burnt down 98 houses and looted 500 heads of cattle.”

Our first accounts of the previous, and now confirmed violence in West Darfur in late October emerged in precisely this fashion. Associated Press reports today (dateline: Cairo) that “international observers” have preliminarily confirmed the National Redemption Front account of new Janjaweed atrocities. The Associated Press dispatch also reports that “a UN official in Darfur said the janjaweed had looted several villages and a refugee camp in the past few days, reportedly killing about 12 people” (Associated Press [dateline: Cairo], November 12, 2006).

The people of Darfur have been abandoned. To pretend otherwise, to suggest that the continuation of heroic humanitarian efforts in the face of accelerating violence somehow mitigates such a harsh judgment, is simply another aspect of our present abject moral failure. Given how clearly and predictably genocidal events have unfolded over most of the past three and a half years, this failure now exceeds in all too many ways the shameful international acquiescence before the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

As if to add ghastly emphasis to this failure, eastern Chad now threatens to become engulfed in the same ethnically-targeted destruction that has defined Darfur since early 2003, and indeed considerably earlier (see Julie Flint and Alex De Waal, “Darfur: A Short History of a Long War” (Zed Books [London & New York], 2005, pages 1-97). Ethnically-targeted violence is escalating rapidly as the long dry season settles fully upon the long and porous border between Darfur and Chad. A series of reports from various wires services, humanitarian organizations, as well as UN organizations and spokespersons, make clear that many thousands of non-Arab or African Chadians have recently been killed, displaced, or added to the rapidly growing number Chadian “conflict-affected persons.”

[Some of the most revealing dispatches and statements can be found at:

Oxfam Press release, November 10, 2006 (“Urgent Humanitarian Aid May be Delayed by New Violence in Eastern Chad”), http://allafrica.com/stories/200611100856.html

Reuters [dateline: Geneva], November 10, 2006 (“Violence spreads to east Chad, villages burned---UN”),

UN High Commission for Refugees [dateline: Habile, Chad], November 10, 2006 (“Armed men on horseback extend attacks on villages in eastern Chad”),
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/UNHCR/ca32e1ad5ed795d8f747f9940fd64698.htm ]

Although less clear, there is much evidence that strongly suggests the Khartoum regime is also instrumental in current destabilizing rebel attacks in northern Central African Republic.

Absent the international presence in eastern Chad that UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has desperately pleaded for ---

“We have warned for months that the Darfur conflict threatens to destabilize the entire region, and we support calls for an international presence in eastern Chad” (UNHCR Statement, Geneva, November 9, 2006)

— - we may expect that violence against the non-Arab or African tribal populations of Chad will rapidly accelerate---and that the weak government of the Central African Republic will collapse entirely.

Massive genocidal destruction accelerates in Darfur and is rapidly destabilizing the region. The “responsibility to protect” hundreds of thousands of acutely civilians who will die without protection could not be clearer. Equally clear is the “responsibility to protect” the humanitarian operations upon which some 4.5 million conflict-affected civilians become increasingly dependent. What, then, is the state of international diplomacy and military response?


All evidence suggests that UN Security Council Resolution 1706, authorizing 22,500 troops and civilian police, is dead, due in no small measure to premature capitulation of the part of Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk. The only remaining commitments are moral---or merely rhetorical. Certainly the rebel groups on the grounds in Darfur well understand the current state of affairs, and to suggest that they fight on in the hopes that humanitarian intervention will soon arrive is vicious expediency on the part of those who have never supported such intervention.

But at the same time, no alternative to Resolution 1706 is presently being contemplated, beyond some as yet undetermined version of an augmented AU force that goes variously under the name “African Union-Plus” or “UN/AU ‘hybrid’ force.” France’s Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy---who several weeks ago became the first senior French official to describe realities in Darfur as “genocide,” and who explicitly broached the issue of non-consensual military intervention in the region---seems content now to accept a “mixed force”:

“Egypt has been floating the idea of sending extra troops from Arab and Muslim countries to bolster the African Union peacekeepers now in Darfur instead of a United Nations force, which Sudan has rejected outright. ‘The priority is to protect the civilians and any proposal to that effect will be supported by us, including a mixed force,’ Douste-Blazy told reporters after the meeting with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak. ‘There should be a compromise accepted by all sides,’ he said.” (Associated Press [dateline: Cairo], November 12, 2006)

But having conferred upon Khartoum’s génocidaires the power to decide whether or not the UN force of Resolution 1706 deploys, France and other Western powers will now find it exceedingly difficult to do more than beg for deployment of whatever additional forces Khartoum is convinced will not actually challenge its military domination of Darfur. Khartoum has scented victory, and any “hybrid” deployment will be governed by the regime’s ruthless determination of force size, mandate, and timing. Khartoum will also retain a critical choke-hold on logistics within Darfur, making a mockery of the merely notional “consensual” environment that supposedly governs even now.

The US has also backed away from Resolution 1706:

“State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington still wanted United Nations ‘involvement’ in the Darfur force, but he did not reiterate past US insistence the peacekeepers be deployed formally under the world body’s banner.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Washington, DC], November 9, 2006)

The nature of US commitment to this “UN involvement” can best be understood by recalling President Bush’s commitment to “NATO stewardship” for a Darfur mission (February 2006).

Though Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair continues to bluster about Darfur (“Blair says Sudan must end the crisis in Darfur soon or face the consequences,” Associated Press, November 6, 2006), the realities of British commitment are much better captured in an interview with a senior UK diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity:

“A high-ranking British diplomat acknowledged yesterday that if Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir continues to refuse the deployment of UN forces in Darfur then the UN Security Council cannot force him to do so ‘or occupy Sudan.’ [ ] In his answer to a question on whether [continuing deterioration in Darfur] means taking measures against the Sudanese Government for its refusal to deploy international forces, the diplomat stated, ‘In this case, the international community will be compelled to shoulder its responsibilities and assist the AU to broaden its mission.’” (Asharq Al-Awsat [London], November 11, 2006 at http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=1&id=6993)

In short, nothing but another version of “African Union-Plus.”

The greatest disarray in responding to the collapse of UN Security Council Resolution 1706 is, all too predictably, within the Security Council itself. Eight UN Security Council envoys were to have arrived Monday (November 13, 2006) at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, this at the request of the AU. The trip was “designed to break the logjam between the UN and the Khartoum government, which refuses to allow UN troops into Darfur, where violence is escalating and 2.5 million people are homeless” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], November 10, 2006). But all too predictably,

“A divided UN Security Council on Friday [November 10, 2006] abruptly canceled a trip to the African Union in Ethiopia to discuss a future force in Darfur after failing to agree on what they could talk about, diplomats said. A delegation of eight envoys, led by Britain, was to have taken part in meetings on Monday with Sudanese officials and African Union officials at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. But differences emerged about whether the group had a mandate to engage in discussions, the size of the delegation and whether the visit should supersede a planned trip to Addis three days later from Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his staff, the envoys said.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], November 10, 2006)

Such diplomatic disarray is the perfect emblem of international response to genocide in Darfur, and further convinces the Khartoum regime that it has little to fear in the way of a united world community.


The failure of the international community to mount a desperately needed humanitarian operation is in fact now so conspicuous, so much a political and diplomatic given, that this failure is itself being used expediently by some to argue for even greater accommodation of a genocidal regime. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, whose operations on the ground are among the very finest in Darfur and eastern Chad, has---in the name of a specious “neutrality”---argued for precisely such acquiescence, vehemently chastising all who would argue for the urgent provision of civilian and humanitarian protection. Fabrice Weissman of the MSF Foundation has recently written two position papers---one public, one internal to MSF---that target all who would push for an international force to provide desperately needed security in Darfur. The attack on Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, is particularly vitriolic:

“Despite its own doubts, the international community continues to promise the people of Darfur that their salvation will come from a UN military intervention, whose chances of deployment and success are currently slim. And yet, some humanitarian actors, like Jan Egeland, UN deputy secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, are participating in this interventionist campaign. Thus, they are also implicating aid organizations in the ‘just war’ camp and exposing them further to reprisals by Khartoum and its militias.”

“The neutrality required to intervene in a war zone prohibits aid workers from making judgments about the recourse to force or from speaking out on the international pressure that could prompt warring parties to respect the requirements of international humanitarian law.” (“Humanitarian Aid Held Hostage,” Fabrice Weissman, MSF Foundation [October, 2006]; document from confidential source]

The notion that “neutrality” in speaking about humanitarian intervention is preserved with language such as “[Egeland is] implicating aid organizations in the ‘just war’ camp,” and the further claim that Egeland’s “interventionist campaign” “exposes [aid organization] to further reprisals by Khartoum and its militias” is thoroughly peculiar. Given the tendentious nature of Weissman’s claims, he is himself clearly parti pris in the debate about humanitarian intervention.

Just as tendentious is his claim that “the international community continues to promise the people of Darfur that their salvation will come from a UN military intervention.” The “international community” is making no such promise, despite the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 31, 2006). On the contrary, as Weissman himself notes pointedly, “no nation appears ready to take on [the implementation of 1706].” In fact, UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown recently disclosed that the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations has been able to obtain commitments of a mere 400 personnel from only four countries.

This has not been lost on Khartoum’s génocidaires, or those other international actors standing with Khartoum (China, Russia, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference).

How is it that the conspicuous unwillingness of UN nations to contribute personnel to the force contemplated in Resolution 1706 can be construed by Weissman as “the international community continuing to promise the people of Darfur that their salvation will come from a UN military intervention”? Characteristically, Weissman is trying to have it both ways, marking a deep disingenuousness that has been characteristic of MSF pronouncements on broader issues for over two years.

MSF may be opposed to passage and implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1706, authorizing 22,500 troops and civilian police---with a mandate for precisely civilian and humanitarian protection. MSF may deplore comments such as made by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres: “We have warned for months that the Darfur conflict threatens to destabilize the entire region, and we support calls for an international presence in eastern Chad” (UNHCR Statement, Geneva, November 9, 2006). MSF may have nothing but contempt for Jan Egeland’s searingly honest assessment of the current security crisis, in which he declared---two months ago---that humanitarian operations in Darfur were “in free fall,” and that “mass murder, war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing” were “very visible on the ground” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], September 12, 2006).

And MSF may also condemn comments by Egeland of a month ago, when he declared that “there is still a possibility to avoid [the mass exodus of humanitarian organizations from Darfur], but we have very little time [ ] to avoid a collapse in Darfur.” Egeland went on to insist, explicitly, that “‘we need this UN force to avoid a collapse [in humanitarian operations]’” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], September 15, 2006).

But such MSF judgments, hardly a “neutral” stance, are a significant part of what has emboldened the Khartoum regime in its adamant refusal to accept a UN force. MSF has itself sided with a specious “neutrality” that favors Khartoum in its efforts to silence the humanitarian world as witnesses to genocide. The ghastly irony is that MSF as an organization was born out of a moral refusal to accept the prevailing “neutrality” that governed the international response to the humanitarian crisis that attended the Biafran secession effort in Nigeria in the late 1960s. French physicians, angered at the “neutrality” of silence that masked the deliberate, finally genocidal tactics of starvation, formed MSF in 1971. Indeed, the language of MSF today still speaks of a refusal to maintain the very silence that Weissman insists upon. The mission statement of Doctors Without Borders/MSF (USA) declares:

“MSF unites direct medical care with a commitment to speaking out against the causes of suffering and the obstacles to providing effective assistance. MSF volunteers raise the concerns of their patients with governments, the United Nations, other international bodies, the general public, and the media. In a wide range of circumstances, MSF volunteers have spoken out against violations of international humanitarian law they have witnessed---from Chechnya to Sudan.” (from the MSF website [“About Us”] at

Indeed, in a Sudan segment from “Doctors Without Borders: Life in Field,” we are given an answer to the question, “What is the connection between MSF’s direct medical care and advocacy?” ---

“The answer to this question goes back to MSF’s inception, when the organization was founded by a group of French Red Cross doctors who became frustrated with restrictions on public statements. MSF’s founders returned from a medical aid mission to Biafra feeling that in some cases, public statements would have been more valuable than medical aid in helping the populations that they had served. They saw advocacy as a potential extension of medical care. This was one of the principles on which MSF was founded---that advocacy complements medical aid, enabling humanitarian workers to address the causes, as well as the effects of violence, disease, and suffering among their patients.” (from the MSF website, at http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/ng/ep2/ep2_qa.html)

And yet for his own “advocacy” efforts, for his own relentlessly honest “public statements,” UN humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland has earned nothing but contempt from MSF’s Weissman. Egeland’s indisputable assessment of the security needs for Darfur and eastern Chad is greeted with the charge that he, “[is] implicating aid organizations in the ‘just war’ camp,” and the further claim that Egeland’s “interventionist campaign” “exposes [aid organization] to further reprisals by Khartoum and its militias.”

MSF judgments are hardly confined to Egeland. With barely concealed disdain, Weissman of the French-dominated MSF Foundation declares in an internal position paper that in the face of massive renewed violence throughout Darfur:

“The United States, Great Britain, France, the European Union, the African Union, the highest leadership in the United Nations, and many Western advocacy groups assert that sending UN troops is the best way to assist the Darfur populations.” (“Darfur Position Paper,” Fabrice Weissman, CRASH/Fondation MSF [Paris], October 10, 2006)

Characteristically, MSF’s Weissman neglects to note that many of the worlds most distinguished human rights organizations also strongly support UN Security Resolution 1706, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, Refugees International, as well as the distinguished International Crisis Group and many other policy organizations. Weissman would also be compelled by the logic of his argument to ignore the most recent statement by UN High Commission for Human Rights Louise Arbour, reporting on Janjaweed attacks on villages and a displaced persons camp in West Darfur. The attacks left scores of civilians dead (92 according to the African Union), with children especially targeted, as well as some 7,000 newly displaced civilians: “The attacks [on civilians and an IDP camp] illustrate yet again the need to deploy a robust peacekeeping force in Darfur, as provided for in Security Council resolution 1706. Action must be taken now to stop the killings and displacements” (Statement by the UN High Commission for Human Rights, November 3, 2006).

Weissman---clearly speaking for MSF---continues his own unrelenting argument:

“Khartoum strongly refuses to accept this deployment. At this stage, implementing resolution 1706 requires declaring war on Sudan and invading its western province. Of course, no nation appears ready to take that on. And, assuming that the Sudanese government ultimately agrees to accept UN troops, no country is currently willing, either, to provide the 20,000-person force that Resolution 1706 calls for.”

The notion that implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1706 “requires declaring war on Sudan” obliges, by analogy, that we accept non-consensual deployment of UN forces to Rwanda in 1994 would also have been a “declaration of war” on the radically genocidal Hutu regime. And yet MSF itself called for “the use of force” to halt the genocide. As MSF’s James Orbinski, who served with enormous courage and distinction in Rwanda during the genocide, declared on the occasion of MSF’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999:

“Humanitarian action comes with limitations. It cannot be a substitute for political action. In Rwanda, early in the genocide, MSF spoke out to the world to demand that genocide be stopped by the use of force. And so did the Red Cross. It was, however, a cry that met with institutional paralysis; with acquiescence to self-interest, and with a denial of political responsibility to stop a crime that was ‘never again’ to go unchallenged.” (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1999/msf-lecture.html)

MSF’s current language of “declaring war” and “invading [Sudan’s] western province” is deliberately and irresponsibly inflammatory; this is not a “neutral” assessment but finally a crude and transparent political effort by the tendentious Weissman to bludgeon readers into seeing deployment to Darfur as “another Iraq.” It is but another example of what Orbinski diagnosed as the “denial of political responsibility to stop a crime that was ‘never again’ to go unchallenged.”

Evidently aware of his hypocrisy, MSF’s Weissman attempts to justify the organization’s current “neutrality” on the issue of humanitarian intervention in Darfur by means of a wholly specious and ill-informed account of “genocide.” Conceding that the atrocities in Darfur “may fall under the 1948 Genocide Convention,” Weissman nonetheless argues that, “historically speaking, [atrocities in Darfur] are more akin to ‘pacification campaigns’ carried out by European armies during periods of colonial conquests than to the methodical destruction of part of its citizens by the Rwandan state apparatus’ in 1994.”

This is a serious, and characteristically tendentious, distortion of the nature of the deliberate ethnic targeting of human beings throughout Darfur for more than three and a half years. Moreover, Weissman simply ignores evidence of the comprehensive and systematic destruction of livelihoods on an ethnic basis, the racialized use of rape as a weapon of war, and the deliberately destructive obstruction of humanitarian relief to areas in which the Fur, Massaleit, Zaghawa, and other African tribal groups are concentrated. Weissman declares that he sees no evidence of a “program of systematic extermination of part of the Darfurian population.” But of course such evidence exists in abundance in the voluminous human rights reports Weissman has either not read or chosen not to credit (MSF for its part has in the past refused to make public its own very substantial evidence of the overwhelmingly non-Arab or African ethnicity of those it has treated in Darfur for almost three years).

For example, both the Brookings Institution/Bern University Project on Internal Displacement, as well as Julie Flint and Alex de Waal (the latter an author Weissman cites as a reliable authority) report a particularly relevant (though far from unique) document:

“a communiqué to the command of the ‘Western military area’ from [chief Janjaweed leader] Musa Hilal’s headquarters in Misteriha [North Darfur], [which] said, citing orders from the president of the Republic [Omar el-Bashir]: ‘You are informed that directives have been issued...to change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes’ through burning, looting, and killing ‘of intellectuals and youths who may join the rebels in fighting.’” (Julie Flint and Alex De Waal, “Darfur: A Short History of a Long War” (Zed Books [London & New York], 2005), page 106); see also, “The Protecting of Two Million Internally Displaced: The Successes and Shortcomings of the African Union in Darfur,” November 2005, at http://www.brookings.edu/fp/projects/idp/200511_au_darfur.pdf

Flint and de Waal also note:

"The ultimate objective in Darfur is spelled out in an August 2004 directive from [Janjaweed paramount leader Musa] Hilal’s headquarters: ‘Change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes.’ Confirming the control of [Khartoum’s] Military Intelligence over the Darfur file, the directive is addressed to no fewer than three intelligence services---the Intelligence and Security Department, Military Intelligence and National Security, and the ultra-secret ‘Constructive Security,’ or Amn al Ijabi." (page 39)

Moreover, there are scores of accounts such as Human Rights Watch offered in its extensive report of December 2005:

“[A resident of Mukjar (West Darfur) reported that] Ahmed Haroun, the state minister of the interior from Khartoum, exhorted the Janjaweed and army in a speech to ‘kill the Fur,’ according to a resident of Mukjar who heard the speech.” (“Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur,” December 2005 at http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2005/12/09/sudan12186.htm, page 27)

We have literally hundreds of accounts in which a racial/ethnic animus is the defining feature of violent attacks on defenseless civilians, with assailants shouting “kill the Nuba,” “kill the zurga,” “kill the abid”---all racially charged epithets. Weissman of MSF is not simply tendentious with his claim that atrocities in Darfur are “more akin to ‘pacification campaigns’ carried out by European armies during periods of colonial conquests”: he is deliberately ignoring or irresponsibly dismissing an extraordinarily large body of relevant human rights research, particularly relating to the systematic destruction of livelihoods on an ethnic basis, including poisoning wells with human and animal corpses, burning food- and seed-stocks, burning all dwellings and other buildings, breaking water vessels, cutting down mature fruit trees, and looting cattle (often representing generations of family wealth).

In short, we have overwhelming evidence of Khartoum’s “deliberately inflicting on the [non-Arab or African] groups [of Darfur] conditions of life calculated to bring about [their] physical destruction in whole or in part” (from the language of Article 2, clause [c] of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide).

[For the most authoritative account of these genocidal actions, see Physicians for Human Rights, “Darfur: Assault on Survival,” January 2006, http://www.phrusa.org/research/sudan/news_2006-01-11.html ]

[For a lengthy discussion of the January 2005 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (notionally tasked with determining whether genocide had occurred in Darfur and cited uncritically by Weissman), see my two-part analysis in “Idea: A Journal of Social Ideas,” October 14, 2005, Volume 10, Number 1, at
http://www.ideajournal.com/articles.php?id=38 and http://www.ideajournal.com/articles.php?id=39 ]

Again, Weissman is surely correct in claiming that there is little evidence that the international community is prepared to undertake either consensual or non-consensual deployment to halt genocide in Darfur---to offer precisely the protection that MSF finds completely inadequate for its own staff. But this does nothing to change the moral and legal claims for such deployment. Weissman’s tendentious “neutrality” and his glibly misleading account of genocidal destruction in Darfur are finally MSF’s means of ignoring the explicitly articulated “international responsibility to protect” vulnerable civilian populations of precisely the sort we find in Darfur and eastern Chad (e.g., per the terms of the UN World Summit “Outcome Document,” Paragraph 139 [September 2005]; unanimously endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 1674, April 2006).

Weissman’s argument reduces in the end to a crass expediency: “It may be the moral and political obligation of the international community to intervene in Darfur, given explicit commitments made by all UN member nations; but such intervention doesn’t seem likely, so it’s therefore irresponsible to speak about such obligations.”

Such expediency, and all that it represents, ensures more than anything else that there will be future “Darfurs.” Weissman’s conclusion is entirely in keeping with the disingenuous and expedient character of his argument: “The longer international pressure for a UN intervention continues, the more humanitarian organizations will be in danger.” But this is absurd in the extreme: humanitarian organizations are already terribly endangered, and only grow more so---not because of the threat of UN intervention, which Weissman insists is clearly not credible, but because Khartoum wishes to force humanitarian organizations to leave Darfur, along with journalists and other international observers. And it wishes to do so in order that it may achieve a final military solution without witnesses.

As a humanitarian aid worker recently declared to Reuters (dateline: Kulbus, West Darfur): “[Khartoum] makes it very clear. They want to drastically reduce the number of [humanitarian nongovernmental organizations] in Darfur and regain control” (Reuters, November 8, 2006). There have been countless such assertions by humanitarian workers in Darfur over the past three years. This has nothing to do with passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1706, or with the weak international efforts to provide security for humanitarian operations and civilians; on the contrary, encouraged by the diffidence and cowardice of the international community, Khartoum is simply pursuing more aggressively its longstanding and well-documented ambition to force humanitarian aid groups from the Darfur region altogether.

Indeed, security for humanitarian organizations has been deteriorating badly for well over a year, for reasons having nothing to do with the advocacy posture of international actors, almost none of whom called until recently for the force authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1706. Jan Egeland is a heroic exception, having long and correctly argued that a force at least three times the present African Union deployment of 7,200 personnel was required for civilian and humanitarian protection. Nonetheless, abandoning all pretense of “neutrality,” Weissman concludes the MSF assessment of the current political situation:

“By considering the use of force as the only way of assisting the population of Darfur, the supporters of a UN military intervention---United States, UK, European Union and its member states, African Union, organisations for the defence of human rights, liberal think tanks and several humanitarian organizations---are demonstrating a lack of seriousness at odds with the gravity of the problems they are attempting to solve.”

In other words, to argue for deployment of a duly authorized UN force “demonstrates a lack of seriousness at odds with” the Darfur crisis, when the very essence of this crisis is insecurity. “Seriousness” seems, according to this Gallic arrogance, to lie only in acquiescence before currently escalating violence, violence that will ultimately make it impossible for any humanitarian operations to continue. And “seriousness” requires ignoring the urgent demands for intervention coming from Darfuris themselves---the very people who are most acutely aware of the cataclysm of human destruction that is impending. Very recently, Salih Mahmoud Osman, a lawyer from Darfur, spoke out emphatically on the need for urgent humanitarian intervention. Salih Mahmoud Osman, 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. The BBC reports:

“Salih Mahmoud Osman is being recognised [by Human Rights Watch] for his work representing some of the poorest people in Sudan. For 20 years he has defended and given free legal aid to those who say they have been detained and tortured by the Sudanese government. When the conflict in Darfur began in 2003, he began working with the Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT). [ ] A member of the Fur ethnic group, he defended people who opposed government policies as well as those persecuted for sharing the same ethnicity as the rebel movements in Darfur.”

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 MSF presumes to deny we should even discuss for the people of Darfur:

"‘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)


Does Weissman offer a response to Salih Mahmoud Osman’s plea? or the countless other such urgent pleas from Darfuris, who now await genocidal destruction? Does he offer any solution to the security crisis that increasingly threatens the operations of his own organization? None whatsoever. This is finally the real meaning of MSF’s “neutrality” in Darfur.

But even so, given the excellence of MSF’s field operations and its intelligence from the ground, we inevitably learn a great deal about the extent of Darfur’s current insecurity, and in particular its impact on humanitarian operations. Thus if we accept the bizarre disconnect between Weissman’s preposterous pretense at “neutrality” on the one hand and the revealing detail of MSF accounts of security conditions in Darfur on the other, we encounter a highly revealing document, from one of the longest serving humanitarian organizations on the ground in Darfur.

In the public document of October 2006 (“Darfur: Humanitarian Aid Held Hostage”), Weissman notes:

“The intensification of fighting and the general increase in insecurity in Darfur have forced Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to drastically reduce its activities over the last three months.”

“In the areas held by the Sudanese government, attacks by bandits/militias on MSF and other relief agencies have intensified in frequency and brutality. Since July 2006, death threats, beatings, sexual attacks and assassinations have been occurring alongside armed robberies in cities and on roads under governmental control. Access routes to the Jebel Marra in central Darfur have become so dangerous that MSF and other humanitarian agencies had to suspend all activities in that mountainous area. As a result, at least 100,000 people, including a large number of displaced persons are now deprived of assistance, while several cholera outbreaks have been reported and the number of war-wounded has increased. Other assistance missions have been suspended, as have other vital services, such as the transfer by road of patients requiring emergency surgery.”

Weissman’s/MSF’s understanding of this intensified violence is in the main persuasive in the internal document as well:

“The Sudanese government bears grave responsibility for the mounting insecurity along roadways and in towns it controls. In the first place, such violent armed robberies could not possibly take place so regularly without the complicity---if only passive---of the regime’s imposing security apparatus covering Darfur.”

“In all likelihood, the increased violence against humanitarian personnel results from a deliberate strategy by the government aimed at confining aid organizations to garrison towns (so that it can conduct its counter-insurgency campaign without hindrance or witnesses), but also at resisting the threat of international intervention by holding humanitarian workers hostage. ‘If you insist on wanting to send in the blue berets, you should know that it will be at the cost of several deaths amongst relief workers.’ --- That is, in substance, the message being sent to the international community by the ‘bandits/militia’ operating with the consent of the regime.” (“Darfur Position Paper,” Fabrice Weissman, CRASH/Fondation MSF [Paris], October 10, 2006)

Weissman is no doubt right to suggest that reprisal attacks against both humanitarians and civilians are the greatest risk of any non-consensual deployment in Darfur, and the risk for which most preparation must be made. But revealingly, nowhere in Weissman’s account---nowhere---is there any consideration of the human mortality that will ensue if current trends in violence continue in Darfur and eastern Chad. Approximately half a million human beings have already died as a result of the direct and indirect consequences of genocidal violence (see my two-part mortality study, “Quantifying Genocide in Darfur,” April 29 and May 13, 2006
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article102.html and
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article104.html). In the event that insecurity and Khartoum’s relentless campaign of obstruction and intimidation bring about large-scale humanitarian evacuations and withdrawal, as many as 100,000 civilians could die every month. By the end of the next “hunger gap” (fall 2007), the death count could easily double to 1 million human beings. Prospective risks to civilians must figure in any morally intelligible assessment of the risks of non-consensual deployment, and yet Weissman and MSF offer not a shred of evidence that such assessment has informed their thinking.

Specific security risks are further detailed in this MSF document:

“In the zones held by the Sudanese government, attacks on vehicles and buildings used by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other humanitarian organisations have increased in frequency and brutality over the past three months. Death threats, beatings, sexual attacks and assassinations now occur alongside extortion operations carried out against relief organisations by armed men operating on roads and in towns controlled by Khartoum. Since July 2006, MSF has been the victim of five serious security incidents.”

“As a result, MSF has had to evacuate all its missions from the rebel zones in the centre of Jebel Marra (Kagourou, Killin, Kutrum), where access roads, controlled by the army and paramilitaries, have become extremely dangerous. The other relief organisations (ICRC, DRC) have done the same. This means that at least 100,000 persons, of whom a significant proportion are displaced persons living in mountain villages, now have no access to any assistance---at a time when there is a cholera epidemic and when the number of war wounded is increasing significantly....”

Security for civilians is also detailed authoritatively:

“Over the last three months, attacks against women and children venturing into the bush to look for wood or fodder have increased significantly. The number of women presenting for sexual violence at MSF care facilities in Zalingei [West Darfur] has thus increased from two to three a month, in the period from January to June [2006], to 2-3 a week since July 1 [2006].”

“The fighting and destruction [in North Darfur] forced MSF to evacuate its mission in Korma, which had been providing medical assistance to more than 50,000 people. Almost 22,000 people fled the region to the camps of El Fasher and Zam Zam, but there has been no news concerning the remainder of the population.”

“One suspects that the increase in fighting [in North Darfur] is to blame for a significant number of wounded and for potentially catastrophic new population movements. At the present time the lack of security prevents any independent needs evaluation.”

The MSF assessment is especially revealing of conditions in camps, where the relief organization has long been present:

“Condemned in the short term to remain in the camps, the displaced people are living in precarious health conditions, which moreover are beginning to deteriorate through lack of international finance. [ ] On average, acute malnutrition is responsible for a quarter of admissions to the paediatric services managed by MSF in Darfur and it is to be feared that the situation will worsen if general food distribution diminishes, as expected, in the coming days.”

“Supplies of drinking water are also declining, in both quantity and quality, for example in Mornay, a camp of 80,000 people where MSF is tackling a cholera epidemic largely attributable to the lack of drinking water. UNICEF, the organisation funding water supply in Mornay, had received only 40% of the emergency funds requested for 2006. As for the hospitals, they receive very few subsidies from the World Health Organisation or the Sudanese Ministry of Health and are threatening to charge patients for treatment. As at 1 September 2006 there was a shortfall of $300 million in the financing of UN assistance operations.”

MSF also offers an experienced assessment from the ground of the relationship between the Khartoum regime, the Janjaweed Arab militias, and humanitarian organizations:

“The attacks against MSF and other humanitarian agencies in the government zones are essentially the work of armed men belonging to the nomadic tribes on which Khartoum has drawn to recruit its militia.” [ ]

“While militia groups’ latent hostility towards humanitarian organisations is not new, it had not resulted in brutal attacks prior to July 2006. Undoubtedly, crossing a threshold in violence against humanitarian organisations has been, if not orchestrated, at least encouraged by the Sudanese authorities. In the first place, such violent acts could not possibly take place so regularly without the complicity of the impressive Sudanese security apparatus spread throughout Darfur. While the militia are in many respects unruly allies, the authorities know how to use various incentives or repressive measures to control their activities, particularly on the main roads used by the army---which are full of checkpoints set up by the Sudanese security services.”

Precisely. Khartoum has made a clear calculation that the instrumental success of the Darfur genocide requires that its full extent and ongoing nature be concealed as much as possible. This requires a gradual, or perhaps not so gradual, escalation of insecurity to the point that humanitarian workers/observers will be forced to withdraw.


In the absence of humanitarian intervention, human destruction in Darfur will continue to accelerate. And we will continue to read, with such frequency as Khartoum’s present severe crackdown on news reporting permits, dispatches like the one recently files by Reuter’s superbly resourceful Opheera McDoom. From Ghebesh, West Darfur, McDoom reported on November 5, 2006:

“Arab militia on horses and camels wearing pristine uniforms and carrying brand new guns rode into Mariam Abakr Yehya’s Darfur village early in the morning of October 29 [2006], witnesses said. Her three-year-old son Adam was torn from her embrace and shot dead by the intruders, who killed more than 50 people and looted all they could find in the village.”

“Overcome with grief as she recalled the incident, Mariam threw herself on the sandy soil, sobbing and beating the ground, her red and yellow robe covered in dust. She cuddled her tiny baby as a surviving son hid in the gloom of their straw hut. ‘Why? why? My heart is broken,’ she cried as her family tried to calm her down. ‘Next time they said they would kill this one,’ she said, referring to her baby boy.”

And we know, with all too much certainty, that there will be a “next time.” The dispatch continued:

“The militia attacked three villages and one refugee camp, singling out mostly children, the witnesses said. Residents put the death toll at 60. The UN at about 50. What is clear is that more than half the victims were children. [The African Union now reports the death toll at 92---ER]

"‘They took the babies and children from their mothers’ arms, beat the women and shot the children,’ said Adam Gamer Umar. ‘They said “we’re killing your sons and when you have more we will come and kill them too,”’ he added.”

This is genocide. And given Khartoum’s transparent ambitions, it will continue until it is forcefully stopped. Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières may regard it as “inflammatory” to say as much. It is immoral not to say so.

* Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has published extensively on Sudan. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu; website : www.sudanreeves.org

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