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An open letter to the Public Editor of the New York Times concerning Darfur

By Eric Reeves

Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times
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Dear Ms. Sullivan:

June 11, 2013 (SSNA) -- I gather that my previous communication concerning the February 26, 2012 New York Times dispatch from the village of Nyuru, West Darfur (“A Taste of Hope Sends Refugees Back to Darfur”) seemed not to warrant a response.  I assume further that the NYT continues to stand by this dispatch as a legitimate representation of the nature of life in Darfur at the time.  This is such a deep and comprehensive failure of journalistic integrity that I feel obliged to circulate this second, fuller communication to you as widely as possible, and have begun by copying this email and distributing it by other electronic means.  In short, this is an “open letter.”

I am of course aware that the NYT did feel compelled to run a relatively brief item in late May of this year on the occasion of UN OCHA head Valerie Amos’ brief, heavily controlled visit to Darfur.  Indeed reporting could hardly be avoided since this was the occasion for her announcement that 300,000 Darfuris had already been newly displaced by mid-May of this year.  This is a staggering figure, especially given the fact that more than 600,000 were also newly displaced in 2010 – 2012according to the most reliable data available.   No mention was made in the May 2013 NYT report of how widely divergent the OCHA report is from what was reported by the NYT in February 2012.  And it certainly should have been the occasion for noting that, altogether, almost 3 million civilians have been displaced over the course of tens years of conflict in Darfur.

But the NYT dispatch by Jeffrey Gettleman from Nyuru offered not a picture of displacement but of people returning to their villages, and assumed that these were sufficiently numerous to suggest conflict in Darfur was ending: “the biggest return of displaced people since the war began in 2003 [is] a sign that one of the world’s most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled.”  This was a truly extraordinary and grossly misleading conclusion, since all evidence at the time—and since the filing of the dispatch—sharply, indeed overwhelmingly contradicts such a claim.  Below is a partial reckoning of the inaccurate and poorly researched conclusions and comments in the dispatch.

For the sake of clarity, I should note first that NYT piece, misleadingly, does not consistently or clearly distinguish between Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Darfur and refugees in eastern Chad, making nonsense of many sentences.  Both are immense populations, but while the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that there were 282,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad in February 2012; the most recent estimate, from both UNHCR and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is 330,000.  In other words, despite the suggestion of Gettleman’s dispatch about the direction of refugee flows, the reality is that some 50,000 civilians have newly fled to Chad from Darfur (many of these people were originally from Chad). Within Darfur itself there are more than 2 million people displaced in camps; more are displaced without any place of refuge or relief (the resourceful and independent UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [IRIN] reported on April 19, 2013 that “an estimated 2.3 million people remain displaced by Darfur’s decade-long conflict”).

Despite the failure of the NYT reporting from Darfur, the broader pattern of violence, rape, displacement, and acute deprivation currently experienced by those in the Mornei region (where Nyuru is located) has been captured with remarkable detail and authority in the steady stream of reports from Radio Dabanga, widely acknowledged as the most authoritative news source for Darfur over the past several years.  Using Darfuri contacts on the ground throughout the region, the Darfuri diaspora in The Netherlands has created in Radio Dabanga an extraordinarily resourceful and geographically wide-ranging new form of electronic journalism—one evidently of no interest to the NYT or it reporters.  Indeed, even as the single NYT dispatch was being filed from Nyuru, Radio Dabanga was providing reports from West Darfur of militia attacks on displaced persons and camps, suspicious fires in camps, rapes, water and food shortages—none, it would seem, of any interest to the NYT even as context.

Eric Reeves
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[All emphases have been added; I preserve the three-state division of Darfur in referring to events in West Darfur, from which "Central Darfur" has been arbitrarily carved, indicating with brackets where Radio Dabanga has used the new cartographic terminology.]

First, the view from the New York Times:

“A Taste of Hope Sends Refugees Back to Darfur,” [dateline: NyuruWest Darfur], February 26, 2012

More than 100,000 people in Darfur have left the sprawling camps where they had taken refuge for nearly a decade and headed home to their villages over the past year, the biggest return of displaced people since the war began in 2003 and a sign that one of the world’s most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled.

[Returns from camps in Chad?  in Darfur?  This is never clarified—ER]

The millions of civilians who fled into camps, their homes often reduced to nothing more than rings of ash by armed raiders, are among the most haunting legacies of the conflict in Darfur, transforming this rural landscape into a collection of swollen impromptu squatter towns.  And while the many thousands going home are only a small fraction of Darfur’s total displaced population, they are doing so voluntarily, United Nations officials say, offering one of the most concrete signs of hope this war-weary region has seen in years.

[A photograph caption accompanying the article, presumably written by the NYT correspondent or his editor, declares baldly]:

“Darfur was long known for the brutality inflicted upon its residents by militias, but [NB] peace has settled on the region.”

[On] a recent morning, thousands of Nyuru’s residents were back on their land doing all the things they used to do, scrubbing clothes, braiding hair, sifting grain and preparing for a joint feast of farmers and nomads. Former victims and former perpetrators would later sit down side by side together, some for the first time since Darfur’s war broke out, sharing plates of macaroni and millet—and even the occasional dance—in a gesture of informal reconciliation [ ] parts of Darfur finally appear to be turning around, for a few reasons. [  ]

Of course, all is not well in Darfur. More than two million people remain stuck in internal displacement or refugee camps.  But people who have been victimized and traumatized are sensing a change in the air and acting on it, risking their lives and the lives of their children to leave the relative safety of the camps to venture back to where loved ones were killed.  [  ]

[I]n the past few months, word began to trickle back to Chad that the   janjaweed were gone.

[The Janjaweed and comparable militia forces most certainly do remain in all regions of Darfur, if often recycled into various paramilitary guises (e.g., the Central Reserve Police, or Abu Tira, the Border Intelligence Forces, and the Popular Defense Forces—ER]

But, at the same time, there is a new police station standing on a hill, with a fresh coat of high-gloss blue, and there are no reports of major violence.  [  ]

[There were and continue to be many reports of "major violence"—none that the NYT bothered to read—ER]

François Reybet-Degat, the current head of the United Nations refugee office in Sudan, said that more than 100,000 people returned home to several different areas of Darfur in 2011, far more than in any year before that.

[Who are these "voluntary returns"?  Are they IDPs or refugees?  Conflating the two or leaving the issue ambiguous is utterly irresponsible—ER]

It’s an early sign of a bigger trend,” he said. “There are still pockets of insecurity, but the general picture is that things are improving.”

****

“…there are still pockets of insecurity…” but “peace has settled on the region."

This is a journalistic obscenity, a fantastically inaccurate claim, as insisted upon by every knowledgeable observer of Darfur with whom I have communicated.  New violent displacement vastly outstrips “voluntary” returns and has for years, even if we accept the problematic UN figure of “100,000 returns” over the preceding year (see below).  Indeed, violence is widespread and growing in scale as well as intensity.  This began well before February 2012, so how could the NYT have misrepresented conditions so badly?

Here we must ask first why were there no credible Darfuri voices cited by the NYT?  The all too obvious answer is that Khartoum’s Military Intelligence was fully in control of Gettleman’s very brief and highly localized visit, whether he knew it or not.  None of the many Darfuris I’ve spoken with gives the slightest credence to quotations attributed to supposed “villagers” of Nyuru.  All such quotations in the dispatch come from either a hopelessly self-interested UN and African Union presence in the region, or from people who knew that the consequences of speaking honestly, of not performing as they had been scripted, could be deadly.

So just where is the small village of Nyuru to which the NYT correspondent traveled?  And just why was it selected?  It is in West Darfur, about fifteen miles north of Mornei, the major town in the area and the center of district administration (West Darfur is geographically much the smallest of the three Darfur states; however, conditions in the larger regions are reflected in countless reports from North and South Darfur).  Shortly after the NYT dispatch, and outraged by its misrepresentations, Darfuris in the area—to which no foreign journalists other than the NYT’s Gettleman has been given access—along with researchers at Radio Dabanga began a thorough investigation.  This included an interview with the UNHCR representative for Chad, who denied that there had been any returns from Chad to Darfur.  After publishing a series of stinging rebukes of the NYT account, Radio Dabanga also asked the chief administrative officer for the Mornei district—the Farsha—to investigate the claims in the dispatch.  The NYT has seemed quite uninterested in his conclusions:

“The highest native administrator of Mornei, Izzedeen Abdurrahman, told Radio Dabanga ‘there is no voluntary return of refugees from eastern Chad to their villages in Nuri [Nyuru].' He added that if anybody claimed he had been to Nuri [Nyuru] and saw refugees returning ‘he must have confused trees with human beings.’ [ ... ]

“The Farsha returned to Nuri [Nyuru] and found not a single returnee. He explained that he did not deal with voluntary return files, as the most pressing issue in Nuri [Nyuru] and surroundings is the lack of security: ’80% of the people from Nuri [Nyuru] are still living in refugee camps in eastern Chad.’  The rest of the people found shelter in camps in El Geneina, Mornei and Cisse: ‘These places are deserted, every school is destroyed.’”  (“Farsha of Mornei: no voluntary return of refugees to Nuri (Nyuru), West Darfur,” 10 April 2012, http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/28283

I have heard not a single dissenting Darfuri voice.

What we have heard recently from the Mornei area (again, Mornei is only about 15 miles from the NYT dateline of Nyuru)?  I include below a few excerpts from the scores of dispatches that Radio Dabanga has released over recent months with Mornei as a dateline; I also include reports from other parts of West Darfur, including excerpts which speak to humanitarian conditions on the ground in West Darfur and the relentless deterioration of human security, now frankly acknowledged by all international actors, including UNHCR.

If we want to know why almost 1 million people have been newly displaced over the past three and a half years—dwarfing even the untenably optimistic figure for returns attributed by the NYT to the UN—these are the dispatches we must read.  And if we want to know why “returns” are so difficult to assess as “successful,” there is much here as well that speaks about the steady assaults—including rape and murder—directed against returning African farmers by Arab militia forces and armed Arab groups that have seized the lands and farms of these displaced people.  As to deteriorating humanitarian conditions in West Darfur—logistically the most remote Darfur state—we must begin and end with accounts of the violence that has done so much to attenuate relief aid throughout Darfur.  Accounts of this violence were appearing regularly at the time the NYT dispatch appeared, a large percentage with a Mornei dateline—15 miles from Nyuru.

• Over 300 farms destroyed by herders near Darfur camp   (Radio Dabanga [Mornei/also transliterated "Murnei," "Murni," "Murnay"], March 29, 2013)

Herders “armed by the government” destroyed more than 300 vegetable farms near a West Darfur camp in retaliation to the alleged murder of two militiamen by a displaced last Monday. [Typically in Radio Dabanga dispatches, "herders" refers to nomadic Arab groups, including militias, that are almost always well-armed—ER]

Although the displaced confessed killing only of them in self-defense, families of both supposed victims have demanded to be paid exorbitant amounts of blood money. The sheikh denied it and Mornei’s residents staged mass demonstrations. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, the sheikh said the farmlands’ destruction by herders and their livestock is estimated at millions of Sudanese pounds. The sites are all located in Wadi Sula’s Jumjum, Aishbara and Kabere areas, near the camp.

On Thursday, 11 displaced women, including two babies, were attacked by pro-government militiamen in their farm near Mornei. Three of them were critically injured, and one of the babies in the hospital in coma.   ••

 Mornei: More than 10 herders’ attacks in a week   (Radio Dabanga [Mornei, West Darfur], October 15, 2012)

Residents of camp Mornei in West Darfur complained to Radio Dabanga about the recurring attacks carried out by herders against them and their farms, on Monday 15 October. According to a camp representative the displaced have been exposed to more than 10 attacks during the last week and that the most recent incident happened on Monday morning. The representative said a number of displaced persons were shot and beaten with whips when they tried to prevent herders from entering their farms in Wadi Jangary, south of Mornei. He added that beatings and looting against camp’s residents by herders have increased in the past two days, adding that on farms in all of Wadi Jangary, Arro, Toure, Korney Toura were targeted.   ••

• Abbala militants rape “3 displaced women” in West Darfur (Radio Dabanga [Mornei camp], March 25, 2013)

A group of militants raped three displaced women on Saturday in Mornei campWest Darfur. A relative of one of the victims told Radio Dabanga that the militants are Abbala tribesmen. The Abbala militants attacked the three women who were on their way back to the camp from their farms in Wadi Tour, south of Mornei, the relative added. Another source said that the Abbala militants raped the women at gunpoint and added that they released the women late Saturday night. The source revealed that the three victims were taken to Mornei hospital for treatment. Moreover, the source complained about the high percentage of attacks displaced people, women in particular, by pro-government militia.   ["Abbala" is the most common term used by Radio Dabanga for camel-herding nomadic Arab groups—ER]   ••

• Baby in coma after militia attack near Darfur camp   (Radio Dabanga [Mornei], March 28, 2013)

Eleven displaced women, including two babies, were attacked by pro-government militiamen in their farm near a displaced camp in West Darfur on ThursdayThree of them were critically injured, and one of the babies is in the hospital in coma. Beating the victims with sticks, rifle butts and whips, militants warned them the land was for grazing and not for farming, the head of sheikhs and omdas of Mornei camps told Radio Dabanga.

They burned the winter crops of onions, peppers, tomatoes and okra, and threatened to kill whoever returned to the site, located in Wadi Misa, south of Mornei, the sheikh said. All of the victims were taken to the hospital. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, the sheikh affirmed that UNAMID troops stationed in the vicinity “failed” to protect the displaced, despite the “serious” events that took place in the area recently.   ••

• West Darfur displaced “unable” to farm due to presence of militias  (Radio Dabanga [Mornei], February 4, 2013)

Displaced living in Mornei, West Darfur, are complaining about their inability to cultivate their winter crops outside the camp because of the presence of pro-government militias stationed outside the area.   A camp leader told Radio Dabanga on Monday the militiamen have been based outside Mornei since the tribal clashes between the Abbala and Beni Hussein broke out in Jebel ‘Amer, North Darfur on 5 January. He said there is virtually no life outside the camp and appealed to government authorities and UNAMID to send patrols to the area so that displaced can cultivate their crops and collect firewood.  ••

• Government selling land belonging to Mornei IDPs in West Darfur   (Radio Dabanga [Mornei], January 27, 2013)

Residents at internally displaced persons camp at Mornei in West Darfur complained that the land they were displaced from named Bobai Amer is being sold off as residential land. A camp leader said to Radio Dabanga the land which is used for farming, is being sold by Muhammed Arbab Khamis of the ruling National Congress Party, agreed with the chief of Bobai Amer for 200 Sudanese Pounds a piece. On Thursday 10 camp leaders met with Khamis to ask why he is selling their land and where the money is going. The witness said Khamis told them that if camp residents don’t want to return to their lands as they were invited to, the government will distribute their land. On the money question he said it was none of their business.   ••

• Five Mornei residents taken to hospital after militia attack   (Radio Dabanga [Mornei], April 3, 2013)

Around 20 gunmen loyal to the government attacked ten people from Mornei camp in West Darfur.  The militia arrived on horses and camels as the displaced people were preparing coals four km outside of the camp.  Witnesses said the gunmen used whips and rifles to beat the camp residents.  They said the attack left five people seriously injured. They were taken to the hospital in Mornei for treatment.   ••

*****

§  The attempt to seize the lands and farms of the displaced extends throughout West Darfur, and indeed all of Darfur.  This process of confiscation and appropriation has continued unabated for years and indeed seems to be accelerating.  None of this is mentioned in the NYT dispatch.

 Confiscation of houses “attempt to dismantle camp” in West Darfur  (Radio Dabanga [Garsila, West Darfur], May 31, 2013)

In an apparent attempt by the Sudanese government to dismantle the camp for displaced persons in Garsila, West Darfur, authorities have been confiscating the houses of displaced persons and redistributing them to military commanders and other officials. Sources told Radio Dabanga that this is being done by presenting the displaced with a bureaucratic catch-22 situation. The displaced are forced to present documents to prove ownership of the land, or to pay a SDG 500 ($115) fee “to complete the registration procedures.” Authorities have occupied the displaced houses and have redistributed them to leaders of the civil service, security, police, and army, sources told Radio Dabanga. “The authorities of the area threaten the displaced: either pay or be removed from your lands.”  [Such extortion schemes are increasingly common and take many forms—ER]  ••

 Armed men seize farms in West Darfur  (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina, West Darfur], July 13, 2012)

A group of pro-government armed men assaulted a number of farmers in West Darfur. After insulting and beating them, they burned down their farms. The men driving a land cruiser attacked the farmers on Tuesday evening in Jimmaizat Babiker and Hajer Bagerwest of For Baranga. A farmer told Radio Dabanga that the militants expelled them from their lands and threatened to kill him if they returned. The farmer said the armed men warned the farmers the area is meant for grazing and not for agriculture according to our source. The commissioner of For Baranga, Suleiman Khater Zayed, visited the area on Wednesday and echoed the exact same words.  ••

 Returnees’ homes, provisions destroyed by fire in West Darfur  (Radio Dabanga [Shibait Urdu, West Darfur], May 30, 2013)

Eight families that returned voluntarily to the area of Shibait Urdu from camp Abu Suruj in Sirba locality, West Darfur are suffering under poor humanitarian conditions after fire destroyed their homes, shelter, belongings and stocks of food last weekA displaced woman from Abu Suruj told Radio Dabanga that the eight families representing a total of about 80 individuals returned to Shibait Urdu because of the difficult living conditions at the Abu Suruj camp. The source says that it was their intention to grow some food by working their fields.   ••

 Armed militias seize farms in Kreinik, West Darfur   (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina, West Darfur], July 8, 2012)

IDPs returning to their lands in Kreinik, 36 km east of Geneina, found that their properties had been seized by armed militias. A sheikh [told Radio Dabanga that] IDPs returning to cultivate their lands during the rainy season in West Darfur were stopped by militias.   ••

 West Darfur land settled by people from Niger, Chad, Central African  (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina, West Darfur], June 22, 2012)

Displaced people in camps in El Geneina, West Darfur, revealed that around one hundred thousand square feet of their lands has been occupied by new inhabitants from Niger, Chad and Central Africa. A sheikh from Mornei camp told Radio Dabanga that the occupied land included the areas of Masteri, Beida, Dowany, Kokoriya, Jory, Gubeya, Jeing, Mornei and many other areas. He also stated that the new inhabitants have started changing the names of the area, cutting down large trees, demolishing graves and farming on it in attempts to erase the former symbols of the areas.   ••

• New settlers in Darfur chase returnees from their farming lands  (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina, West Darfur], June 17, 2012)

Displaced Darfuris in camp Kendeby of West Darfur have been chased from their farming lands in the area of Sirba, north of the capital el-Geneina. They told Radio Dabanga that several returning IDP’s have been threatened with weapons while they were trying to sow their seeds. They say that settlers instead of the returnees from the area have taken the fertile agricultural lands in the localities of Miraya, Agi Ra, Kurk and Dumta. Displaced Darfuris in camp Kendeby of West Darfur have been chased from their farming lands in the area of Sirba, north of the capital El Geneina.

According to a community leader, the settlers had beaten five women who went out of camp Kendeby for farming in Dumta areas last Thursday. The settlers confiscated their seeds after beating them with a whipThe men warned them not to come back again.  ••

 Armed militias seize farms near Garsila, West Darfur  (Radio Dabanga [Garsila, West Darfur], July 9, 2011)

Radio Dabanga was informed by a female refugee that displaced women from Garsila, West Darfur, are currently complaining about armed militias who apparently seized their farms, thus preventing their cultivation. The witness indicated that a group of the militia went to the Gedo, Gallinja and Gang Kosi areas, where several shepherds bring their herds, to take their land and set up their own farms with the Government’s support.   ••

•  Displaced father and son beaten by would-be rapists in West Darfur   (Radio Dabanga [Sirba Locality, West Darfur], May 28, 2013)

A displaced man and his son have been beaten by militiamen in their house at Kendebe camp in Sirba Locality, West Darfur on Sunday. Sources told Radio Dabanga that the militiamen entered the house and attempted to rape a female family member. When the man and his son intervened, the militiamen beat them severely before fleeing. The pair was taken to the camp clinic for medical treatment. Another group of militiamen attacked two displaced people from the same camp as they made their way from Bir Dageeg camp on Sunday. The camp sheikh told Radio Dabanga that when militiamen opened fire on two men one called Girba suffered a broken leg and another, Hak Murkez received a heavy beating.   ••

•  Gunmen storm house in El Geneina camp, West Darfur—three injured  (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina], May 20, 2013)

Three people were injured on Saturday night when gunmen stormed the home of the displaced family of Ahmed Yahiya Suleiman in Abuzer camp in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. Witnesses from the camp told Radio Dabanga that two gunmen broke into Suleiman’s house at night while he was not at home. They opened fire on his wife, his son and daughter. The three injured were transferred for treatment to a hospital in El Geneina.  •

•  UNHCR “in race against time” to deliver aid to Sudanese refugees in Chad   (Radio Dabanga [Tissi, eastern Chad], May 17, 2013)

Following the displacement of tens of thousands of people from Sudan to Chad, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says it is “in a race against time” to deliver aid to them before the rainy seasons begins. In a press briefing on Friday, UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton said the agency “is requisitioning aid for tens of thousands of Darfur refugees in eastern Chad amid fears that heavy rains will cut off access to the group.” This year more than 50,000 people, both Sudanese and Chadians who were living in Darfur, fled violent hostilities to Tissi, just across the border. Roads to the area become impassable during the rainy season lasting from May to November and the first rains have already fallen. The region has little infrastructure and new arrivals place a strain on the local communities.

Earlier this month Médecins Sans Frontières drew international attention to the problem: “Humanitarian assistance is urgently needed before the looming rainy season cuts off road access to many areas … time is running out.”   ••

•  [West] Darfur’s Umm Dukhun “virtually deserted” after clashes resumed  (Radio Dabanga [Umm Dukhun, West Darfur], May 30, 2013)

Umm Dukhun city in [West] Darfur, which has witnessed renewed violent tribal clashes between the Salamat and Misseriya tribes, was virtually deserted as of Thursday morning. In addition, shops and markets have been closed since hostilities resumed earlier this week. Local sources told Radio Dabanga that only about 100 families remain in Umm Dukhun, while the rest of the town’s inhabitants—about 80,000 before clashes first erupted on 4 April—fled to neighbouring Chad.   ••

§  The humanitarian crisis in the Mornei area had been deteriorating rapidly even before the bizarrely rapturous NYT account of February 2012; both previous and subsequent accounts offer a stark and inescapable picture of suffering and deprivation.  Most of this derives from the violent insecurity in Darfur that the Khartoum regime considers a strategic weapon.  The brutal conditions in which people are living throughout the camps of West Darfur, as well as South Darfur and North Darfur, have received scant attention in recent years—from the NYT or indeed any non-Sudanese news source.  Given the truly staggering number of displaced persons, the acute vulnerability of the camps, the ongoing violence and consequent human displacement, the extreme attenuation of humanitarian relief, and the growing despair of people who have endured more than ten years of genocidal conflict, this lack of attention and concern is disgraceful.

• Sudan: Harsh Weather Has Many Living Rough in Mornei Camp, West Darfur  (Radio Dabanga [Mornei camp], June 7, 2013)

The displaced people of camp Mornei in West Darfur have complained of the poor conditions, in particular with regard to an acute shortage of plastic sheets. A displaced man from the camp reported to Radio Dabanga that they have not received any type of plastic sheets from the local authorities or organisations working in the field for nearly four years. “The recent rainfall and dust storms destroyed most of the plastic sheeting in the camp, and has forced some people to live in the open.” He appealed on behalf of the displaced via Radio Dabanga to all the organisations operating in Darfur to provide plastic sheets for the camp, especially as the rainy season has arrived.  ••

• Mornei camp in West Darfur facing water crisis (Radio Dabanga [Mornei camp], 11 February 2013)

Displaced residents of Mornei camp in West Darfur are facing an acute drinking water crisis, due to the lack of fuel to operate the water stations in the camp. One of the camp’s sheiks told Radio Dabanga on Sunday, 10 February, that the camp is facing a water crisis due to the lack of fuel to operate the water stations in the camp. The sheikh added the water stations have not been operating for five consecutive days due to the lack of fuel. He claims that the responsible humanitarian organization has stopped providing fuel to the camp due to the fact that UNICEF suspended its fuel support.   ••

•  UN: more than 50% water pumps broken in West Darfur camps  (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina, West Darfur], May 24, 2013)

In its latest report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that most of the water pumps in displaced camps in and around El Geneina, capital of West Darfur, are not working. “Access to water is problematic as 63 out of 93 hand pumps in the nine camps are not functioning. The nine camps have an estimated population of 119,000 people, according to the (Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commission) HAC,” it was stated on Friday’s report by OCHA. The sites include Abu Zar, Adamata, Dorti, El Hujaj, El Riad, Jama Krinding One and Two and Sultan House. OCHA says the information was cross-checked with all the camps’ representatives.

OCHA further stated that an estimated 7,300 households out of 17,000 do not have latrines, while another 5,000 do not have access to communal latrines, which further depicts deterioration in the provision of acceptable sanitation facilities in the camps.

A total of eight out of 14 basic primary schools are without WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities, while 20 out of 34 child friendly spaces in the camps remain closed, the UN agency declared.  ••

• El Riyadh camp: one medical clinic for 30,000 residents  (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina] August 28, 2012)

Radio Dabanga was informed today that there is only one medical clinic available at the El Riyadh camp in El-Geneina, West Darfur. The camp counts 30,000 residents who claim to face a serious humanitarian crisis. A camp’s activist told Radio Dabanga that the three most serious issues in El Riyadh are lack of security, lack of water and lack of medical services. He added there is also scarcity of nurses and of midwives at the camp. The source said this situation arose after June 2011 when the Government of Sudan expelled medical international humanitarian organizations from the camp. He explained the international organizations were substituted by the Sudanese Ministry of Health.   ••

• Short rations make malnutrition rife among children in [West] Darfur camps (Radio Dabanga [Nertiti camp, West Darfur], May 30, 2013)

In the camps of [West] Darfur, displaced children are suffering from malnutrition and lack of food with no health organisations able to provide support. This is proving to be an added affliction, over and above the intense rainfall and deteriorating security situation that residents must cope with each day. A camp leader told Radio Dabanga that there are about 35 children suffering from malnutrition at Camp Khor Ramla and similar cases have been reported in Nertiti, El Salam and other camps south of Nertiti. He pointed out that due to a failure to reach an agreement with the World Food Programme (WFP), food ration distribution was suspended in the camps—a measure that has been in effect for almost two months.

The [camps'] sheiks appealed to international organisations to expedite the provision of humanitarian aid, health and tarpaulins as a matter of urgency before a veritable humanitarian disaster erupts in the camps Nertiti. “We urgently need tarpaulins and medicines to address the situation, especially as the rainy season has arrived.”   ••

• Poor health conditions leave dozens dead in Mornei   (Radio Dabanga [Mornei], September 21, 2012)

Residents of Mornei camp in West Darfur are suffering from poor health conditions as diseases like malaria, typhoid and diarrhea are spreading rapidly. In addition to the rapidly spreading diseases, the residents suffer from malnutrition and a lack of health-care and medication. One of the sheikhs told Radio Dabanga that the report [composed by the camp sheikhs] revealed the death of 64 elderly and 30 children between the ages of one and five over the past two weeksIn addition, the report confirmed that the majority of deaths are a result of diseases like malaria and typhoid.   ••

§  And within weeks of the NYT dispatch, the following report appeared; the inability to transport food supplies and fuel to pump water is entirely a function of insecurity, an insecurity that Khartoum has bred by allowing the Arab militia groups to operate with complete impunity against civilians and humanitarians.

•  WFP reduces rations in El Geneina camps   (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina, West Darfur], May 9, 2012)

A group of displaced people from 10 camps across El Geneina said the World Food Programme told them on Monday that their rations of maize will be reduced by 50 percent. They said this have caused widespread discontent in the camps that are already suffering from food shortages and hunger. A camp leader that attended the meeting told Radio Dabanga that the WFP representatives justified the reduced ration by not being able to transport the required quantities, as truck drivers are reluctant to move around with the current security situation.  ••

§   With terrifying regularity, Khartoum either expels or intolerably constrains the work of international humanitarian organizations, again something not mentioned in the NYT dispatch:

•  Sudan government halts work of 50% NGOs in West Darfur capital  (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina, West Darfur], January 23, 2013)

As of 1 January 2013, the government of Sudan halted the work of 50 percent of the NGOs working in El-Geneina camps, West Darfur’s capitalseveral sources told Radio Dabanga on WednesdayFive out of the 10 foreign organizations were informed by the government in mid-2012 that they could no longer exercise their activities at the camps [beyond the end of the year], sheikhs from 10 different sites affirmed. They emphasized the organizations were not expelled from Sudan. Instead, [the sheikhs] continued, organizations were ordered to stay in El-Geneina, hand over their resources to camps’ residents and focus their programs on voluntary return villages.  ••

And while Khartoum’s regular and militia forces have long attacked camps for the displaced, a shocking incident on June 9, 2013 gives a sense not only of civilian vulnerability, but of the danger faced by humanitarian workers:

•  UN chief: ‘shock, sorrow’ at killing of NGO worker in Nertiti North, West Darfur   (Radio Dabanga, [Nertiti, West Darfur], June 11, 2013)

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan “expresses shock and sorrow at the killing of a staff member of a humanitarian non-government organization on 9 June 2013 in North Camp, Nertiti [West] Darfur.” Radio Dabanga reported on Monday that on the previous night formations of pro-government militias and government troops (SAF) allegedly attacked camp Nertiti North for displaced people in [West] Darfurkilling a doctorinjuring 15 residents, and torching a medical nutrition centre and 54 housesDr Adam Mohamed Hamid was the medical director of the camp’s nutrition centre, which belongs to a foreign organisation that works with children.

Hussein Abu Sharati, spokesman for the association of displaced persons and refugees of Darfur, told Radio Dabanga that government forces supported by militias launched the attack from all directions. “They used Land Cruiser vehicles and opened fire, killing Dr Adam Mohamed Hamid, medical director of the nutrition centre at the camp and wounding 15 others.”

A spokesman for the displaced persons criticised UNAMID for not intervening and protecting the displaced, and concluded: “The nutrition centre belongs to a foreign organisation that provides nutrition for children. The killing of Dr Hamid and the torching of the centre proves that the government clearly does not want any organisations to assist the displaced of Darfur.”  ••

§  West Darfur is also the region in which rape of women and girls has been most frequently reported, a grim distinction given the epidemic of sexual violence in Darfur, one that figures nowhere in the NYT account of February 2012, even as it has been prominently reported not only by Radio Dabanga but a number of human rights organizations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights), as well as by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).  And the Mornei area has certainly not been spared.  For an overview of these reports, a more comprehensive bibliography with links, and a soul-destroying compendium of individual sexual assaults, see “RAPE AS A CONTINUING WEAPON OF WAR IN DARFUR: Reports, bibliography of studies, a compendium of incidents.”

What should we make of the fact that none of these accounts comports with what the New York Times reported in February 2012 from Nyuru, West Darfur—none of them…? 

*Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.  His most recent book on Sudan is Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012.

Taking Human Displacement in Darfur Seriously

By Eric Reeves

OVERVIEW

June 3, 2013 (SSNA) -- A brief moment of shocking clarity accompanied confirmation by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) that some 300,000 Darfuris have been newly displaced in the first four and a half months of 2013, an estimate first reported by Radio Dabanga on May 16, 2013, a week before other news sources:  

"In its latest report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) confirms that more than 300,000 people have been forcibly displaced in Darfur since the beginning of this year. It attributes the displacement to inter-tribal fighting and conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and armed rebel movements."

[In this brief, numbers (including for mortality), names, dates, and locations are in bold throughout; italics are used for emphasis, which has always been added in quotations; spelling, transliteration, and the punctuation of quotations have often been regularized for clarity.  I have also continued to use the division of Darfur into three states: West, South, and North Darfur states.  This division is preserved in the highly detailed UN Field Atlases for Darfur: http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3938 ]

It is worth noting a peculiar use of this staggering figure for human displacement, by both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and OHCA head Valerie Amos, in comparing it with the previous two years:

"The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have fled fighting in all of Darfur in the first five months of this year, which is more than the total number of people displaced in the last two years put together," Amos said [in Khartoum]." (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], May 24, 2013]

The statistical claim here is highly dubious, as the data collated here suggest (see Section One below).  And to the extent the claim is meant to suggest that 2011 and 2012 were not years of extraordinary levels of violence and displacement, this was simply disingenuous.

Moreover, displacement continues at a shocking rate: even subsequent to the mid-May figure reported by OCHA, tens of thousands of additional people have been displaced.  Nor does the Secretary-General or any other voice of consequence in the international community offer meaningful and realistic proposals for halting this displacement, which over the past ten years has correlated highly with mortality.  Indeed, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has done nothing to signal that it plans to change course in beginning to draw down the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which has a UN Security Council mandate to protect civilians—including from displacement.

In their comparisons, the Secretary-General and OCHA chief appear to be continuing a pattern that has been evident since UNAMID first took up its civilian protection mandate (January 1, 2008), viz., trying to overstate previous "successes" in the face of ongoing catastrophe.  But UNAMID's inability to provide civilian and humanitarian protection has been conspicuous from the beginning, and was all too continuous with that of the preceding and grossly inadequate African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), UNAMID's primary source of men and equipment early on.  There is simply no sign that violent displacement will end or even diminish, or that aerial bombardments of civilians—rarely investigated by UNAMID—will cease to be a primary agency of human displacement, despite the wildly mendacious protestations of the Khartoum regime:

"'It is absolutely not true that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) bombed civilian targets in the two regions, or in any other areas of Sudan,' said on Thursday [May 30, 2013] foreign ministry spokesperson, Abu Bakar Al-Siddiq." (Sudan Tribune, May 31, 2013)

[ I will soon be updating “They Bombed Everything that Moved”: Aerial Military Attacks on Civilians and Humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2011(analysis and bibliography of sources, 80+ pages with accompanying Excel spreadsheet, at www.sudanbombing.org); analysis and data spreadsheet previously updated June 5, 2012.  More than 2,000 such aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarians have been authoritatively reported since 1999. ]

Section One below offers the data and reports—from the UN, non-governmental organizations, and news reports—that support the following summary of findings about human displacement in Darfur over the past six and a half years:

2007: 300,000 civilians newly displaced

2008: 317,000 civilians newly displaced

2009: 250,000 civilians newly displaced

2010: 300,000 civilians newly displaced

2011: 200,000 civilians newly displaced

2012: 150,000 civilians newly displaced

2013: 320,000 civilians newly displaced as of June 1, 2013

The total for civilians newly displaced, 2007 – June 2013, is more than 1.8 million.

This figure is itself greater than the total number of IDPs, for all years, promulgated most often by OCHA (1.4 million); and of course the figure of 1.8 million does not include the figures for the years of greatest displacement, 2003 – 2006.  At the end of 2008, according to OCHA's last Darfur Humanitarian Profile (No. 34), there were 2.7 million people in displaced persons camps. 

There is glaring, finally shocking statistical incoherence here.  Whatever over-count is reflected in the OCHA figure for the end of 2008; whatever duplication has been generated by the fact that displacement figures do not disaggregate those displaced for the first time and those who have been displaced multiple times (and on each occasion been counted as "newly displaced"); whatever the ambiguity of status for many who live in the camps but attempt to work their lands; and whatever the highly limited success of the UN push for "returns" of IDPs to their lands and homes—none of this can possibly obscure the basic statistical fact represented here: there are clearly a great many more than 2 million Darfuris presently internally displaced; and—according to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and UNHCR—there are also 330,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad (as well as a significant Darfuri refugee population in Central African Republic).

There is something deeply, disturbingly inaccurate about the figure for displacement that OCHA promulgates, and that news services, for the most part, simply repeat.  OCHA sometimes acknowledges in its reports that another 300,000 people are in the IDP camps, but not being fed by the UN World Food Program.  It is quite unclear why not being fed by WFP makes a person any less displaced.  But even the figure of 1.7 million is not as great as the figure for those newly displaced since 2007—again, more than 1.8 million.  And this of course says nothing about those who remain displaced from before 2007.

Section One (below) provides detailed accounts of sources for the data summarized above, as well as explanations of inferences and representative accounts of particular episodes of displacement.  I offer as well some thoughts about why the UN has distorted this most basic reality in Darfur today.  Section Two looks at the lives of displaced persons from the standpoint of health and malnutrition reports, as humanitarian relief aid continues to shrink amidst growing insecurity.  Section Three looks at reports of attacks on displaced persons attempting to return to their lands and homes, the violent means of intimidation deployed, and other factors limiting the civilian "returns" that the UN disingenuously celebrates.

SECTION ONE: Human displacement in Darfur

Here are the data totals for the years since 2007:

• Displacement for 2007: OCHA estimated that more than 300,000 Darfuris were newly displaced (UN OCHA, Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 30: conditions as of January 1, 2008; http://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/sudan-darfur-humanitarian-profile-no-30-situation-01-jan-2008

• Displacement for 2008: OCHA estimated that 317,000 Darfuris were newly displaced; (UN OCHA, Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 34: conditions as of January 1, 2009; http://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/sudan-darfur-humanitarian-profile-no-34-situation-01-jan-2009  

By the end of 2008, OCHA estimated that 2.7 million Darfuris were internally displaced; this did not include the more than 250,000 Darfuri refugees then in eastern Chad.   http://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/sudan-darfur-humanitarian-profile-no-34-situation-01-jan-2009 

• Displacement for 2009: In this year of humanitarian expulsions, OCHA promulgated no figure of its own, indeed ended publication of its data-rich "Darfur Humanitarian Profiles."  But data were still being collected: the Canadian "Peace Operations Monitor" found evidence suggesting that "over 214,000 people were newly displaced [in Darfur] between January and June [2009] alone." (http://pom.peacebuild.ca/SudanRelief.shtml)

Given the reports of violent displacement that followed June 2009, a total figure for the year of 250,000 seems conservative.

• Displacement for 2010: the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre collected data suggesting that approximately 270,000 people were newly displaced in Darfur (http://tinyurl.com/n6fzjx).  This figure was last updated on January 4, 2011, and thus is highly unlikely to have taken full account of the large-scale displacement of December 2010. The OCHA Sudan Bulletin (January 7 – 13, 2011) reported that the "overall number of people displaced during the December 2010 fighting in the area of Khor Abeche stands at 43,000."

300,000 newly displaced for the year again seems a conservative figure;

• Displacement for 2011: There is no aggregation of the data, and what data there are cannot be considered adequate to measure the full scale of displacement; but various reports suggest that the scale of displacement certainly did not diminish dramatically, and may well have increased significantly in eastern regions of Darfur following the defection of Minni Minawi and his Sudan Liberation Army (SLA/MM) fighters from the Khartoum regime in late 2010:

§ UN IRIN (Nairobi) reports, March 16, 2011:

"Tens of thousands of people continue to flee their homes in Sudan's western region of Darfur for the safety of internally displaced people's camps after recent fighting between government forces and armed militias.  According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 66,000 IDPs have arrived in camps in North and South Darfur since JanuaryAt least 53,000 are in and around North Darfur State's Zam Zam IDP Camp."

[These OCHA figures almost certainly do not include the many Zaghawa displaced in eastern Darfur; see "Forgotten Darfur: Old Tactics and New Players" (below)].

§  Radio Dabanga [Nertiti, West Darfur], 24 July 2011:

Twenty families fled from Nertiti camp to Zalingei camp in West Darfur, after repeated attacks by militias. Coordinator of the Zalingei camps, told Radio Dabanga from camp Hamidiya, that new displacements are being caused by militia attacks, as well as by members of the uniformed services. These attacks include sexual assault and abuses at farms. He told Radio Dabanga, that, this month, the two camps (north and south) near the city of Nertiti, have seen armed militias take over in the territory of the displaced. §

§  Tens of Thousands flee violence from the air and on the ground North Darfur Radio Dabanga, June 1, 2011

The aerial bombardments, killings and rapes have caused a reported 140,000 people to flee for safety since mid-December. The fighting in December already caused 40,000 people to flee from their homes. Since January, an additional 83,000 newly arrived IDPs have been reported at Zam Zam camp, and another 15,000 in camps near Nyala, Tawila and Khor Abeche. Shortage in food, water and fuel increase humanitarian suffering in the camps, where there is a sharp increase in deaths among children and infants since April. The renewed fighting began after the Sudanese government severed ties with the Sudan Liberation Army rebel faction loyal to Minni Minawi (SLA-MM). The bombardments and fighting is mainly located in the area of east Jebel Marra.  §

§  from Small Arms Survey, "Forgotten Darfur: Old Tactics and New Players," Claudio Gramizzi and Jérôme Tubiana, July 2012

Late 2010 and the first half of 2011 saw a significant offensive by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and militias, backed by airstrikes and aerial bombardments, targeting both rebel groups and the Zaghawa civilian population across a broad swathe of eastern Darfur. Significantly, the Government of Sudan has partly shifted away from using Arab proxy militias only to rely on newly formed (and newly armed) non-Arab proxies. This development has fundamentally changed the ethnic map of eastern Darfur, drawing on previously latent tensions between non-Arab groups over land, ethnicity, and local political dominance—and generating some of the most significant ethnically directed violence since the start of the conflict in 2003.  §

NB: There is little evidence that the UN or UNAMID took any statistical account of the displacement that resulted from Khartoum's new orchestration of ethnically-targeted violence in eastern Darfur. 

In light of the evidence and reports presented here, the most reasonable estimate for 2011—based on inadequate data, inadequate because the UN and UNAMID refuse to collect it—is approximately 200,000 newly displaced, again a conservative estimate.

• Displacement for 2012: Again, there is no detailed aggregation of data that I am aware of that looks with any specificity at violence that displaced or killed civilians in 2012. 

[ In fact, mortality data and quantification have long been a taboo subject concerning the Darfur conflict, even as the extant data suggested that in August 2010 some 500,000 people had already died from violence as well as the disease and malnutrition that have come in the wake of the violence (http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=2269).  Khartoum's evident sensitivities over any discussion or release of data on the subject have produced a complete silence. ]

With respect to displacement, the UN appears content with a figure of 90,000 – 100,000 newly displaced civilians for the year 2012.  I believe this significantly understates the scale of displacement for the year and offer here a compendium of reports that must figure in any accounting:

Section Two, which follows, includes relevant excerpts bearing on the threats that the displaced encounter—both in flight and in the camps—as well indications of mortality among the displaced.  Section Three examines the fearsome dangers encountered by displaced persons—overwhelmingly from the African/non-Arab tribal groups of Darfur—on attempting to reclaim their homes and lands. ]

§  UNAMID: alleged air strikes cause displacement North Darfur (Radio Dabanga [el-Fasher] 21 December 2012)

A press statement issued by UNAMID on Friday, 21 December, claims that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have allegedly carried out air strikes in Shangil Tobaya and Tawila localities, North Darfur. It was added that UNAMID deployed a patrol to Dalma and Dady villages to verify the reported air strikes in the area, but was denied access by SAF. The statement said that UNAMID received reports of an increased number of displacements of civilians from Daly, Kotto, Msaleet, Nomaira, Dawa Sharafa, Dolma and Hemaida villages in Shangil Tobaya area.  §

[Other reports received by Radio Dabanga indicated] that civilians from Kunjura, Hashaba, Namira and Masal villages have fled to Argo camp in Tawila area as a result of air strikes allegedly carried out by SAF on 18 December 2012.  §

§  Displaced present demands to UNHCR (Radio Dabanga [Zam Zam Camp] December 13, 2012)

Displaced, sheikhs, omdas and camp’s representatives from Zam Zam, North Darfur, presented a package of demands and needs to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that was visiting the site, an activist told Radio Dabanga…. On the same day, the UNHCR representative and other humanitarian organizations spoke to about 1,350 displaced persons arrived from East Jebel Marra to Zam Zam, the activist said.  §

§  1,000 people flee Sigili (Radio Dabanga [Sigili], November 10, 2012)

About 1,000 people, or 140 families, from Sigili in Shawa area, North Darfur, have reportedly fled their village following the militia attack that left 13 people dead last Friday, 2 November, locals told Radio Dabanga.  According to sources, virtually all inhabitants left the Shawa area and are moving to El-Fasher and to Zam Zam camp, they explained to Radio Dabanga on Thursday, 8 November. In addition, reports concerning a new imminent attack in Sigili by a militia based in Kalimandou, have also influenced the large displacement of residents, according to witnesses.  §

§  280 displaced families arrive at Zam Zam (Radio Dabanga [Zam Zam camp], December 7, 2012)

An activist from Zam Zam camp near El-Fasher, North Darfur, announced that 280 families from East Jebel Marra have arrived at the camp on Friday, 7 December. He asserted these families are fleeing aerial bombardments and ground assaults, in addition to the looting of thousands carried out by pro-government militias around East Jebel Marra one week ago. Many of the individuals are in poor health after walking for seven days to reach the camp. §

§  More than 12,000 fled Hashaba (Radio Dabanga [Hashaba], October 19, 2012)

Residents from Hashaba, North Darfur, estimate that between 12 and 13 thousand people have fled the area due to recent attacks, Radio Dabanga was informed on Friday, 19 October. They described the region as "virtually deserted" after the militia attacks and aerial bombings last September. According to witnesses, Hashaba and surrounding areas including Umm Laota, Khashim Wadi and Tabadiya are completely abandoned…. Sources added that villages got completely burnt during the recent attacks and that the situation in the region is now tense, as fear and insecurity dominate local residents. They said the humanitarian situation in the area is critical and that it requires urgent intervention.  §

§  Arrival of more than 2,000 people fled Hashaba attacks (Radio Dabanga [Mellit], September 30, 2012)

More than 2,000 people who fled the recent attacks around Hashaba have arrived to Ba'ashim area, north of Mellit, North Darfur, on Sunday, 30 September, Radio Dabanga was informed. Sources told Radio Dabanga that these people traveled for three days by foot, hiding around mountains and valleys when it was light and moving only by night. This way, sources explained, the victims could avoid being found by pro-government militias during their journey to Ba'ashim. Witnesses said these people are suffering from fatigue, adding that they barely ate or drank anything during the three days they traveled.  They added that the 2,000 people who arrived in Ba'ashim represent only one fourth of the victims who fled the Hashaba attacks.  According to witnesses accounts, Hashaba and surrounding villages saw intense aerial bombardments last Wednesday and Thursday, 26 and 27 September. In addition, pro-government militias were also accused by sources of invading the area during the same period. The attacks allegedly resulted in more than 80 people dead or injured around Hashaba area, sources told Radio Dabanga.  §

§  Sudan army and SRF clash, bombs kill 15 (Radio Dabanga [East Jebel Marra], September 19, 2012)

Heavy clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) took place between Tabet and Khazan Tinjur, in East Jebel Marra, North Darfur, on Wednesday morning, 19 September, according to witnesses. The amount of fatal victims is not yet known.   Victims who fled their villages in east Tabet due to the SAF bombings informed Radio Dabanga on Wednesday that the Sudanese army is carrying out a retaliation campaign against them. They claimed to having been beaten, insulted and humiliated, adding that many were also arrested. Residents also said that their conditions are dire, as they have no water or food…. 

On Tuesday, 18 September, 13 people died in two separate incidents took place between Zam Zam and Tabet. Radio Dabanga was informed that both accidents were caused by bombs dropped by the SAF. On Wednesday, September 19 witnesses affirmed that SAF bombings killed a nine-year-old girl and left her mother in critical condition. They said Suad Bakr Hamid and her mother, Khadija Omar Mohammed Issa, were hit when traveling from their farm to their home in El-Kunjar, north of Tabet, on a horse cart. Another farmer was killed by an SAF bomb while working in his land in the same area, Radio Dabanga has learned.

The aerial bombardments in East Jebel Marra led to a new wave of civilian displacement from cities and villages to IDP camps, camps leaders from Dali and Rwanda told Radio Dabanga. They said that 87 families arrived in their camps, located in Tawila locality, between Saturday and Wednesday this week. The leaders pointed out that people are coming from the villages of Goz Duru, Timo, Derty and Argo in East Jebel Marra. In addition, they said the condition of these families is critical.  §

§  Hundreds displaced due to bombings in North Darfur (Radio Dabanga [Jebel Marra], August 6, 2012)

Hundreds were displaced from east Jebel Mara to Tawila locality, North Darfur. According to a witness, this is the result of the Sudanese Armed Forces' (SAF) intensive bombing on east Jebel Mara throughout the week. A source informed Radio Dabanga that residents from the villages of Arosha, Hijer, Deloomi, Humeda, Sabi, Wadi Mora, and Tangarara were moved to Tawila locality in North Darfur. One of the fugitives said that dozens of people, including a large number of women, children and elders, are still in open fields, forests and valleys. They have no food, no medicine and no shelter. He added that after the bombings pro-government militias chased and dragged the people out of their homes and plundered their livestock.  §

§  UN: 25,000 displaced by latest unrest in Darfur (Radio Dabanga [Kutum], August 10, 2012)

UN reports indicate that the entire population of Kassab IDP camp in North Darfur has fled as a result of the recent fighting. There were more than 25,000 IDPs in Kassab camp. The fighting erupted after a district chief, Abdelrahman Mohammed Eissa, was shot dead in Kutum during a carjacking attempt.  Eissa's tribesmen retaliated by killing two displaced persons and a police officer.  §

§   Thousands displaced on border of Darfur-South Sudan (Radio Tamazuj [Juba] July 11, 2012)

Border clashes and insecurity along the border between Western Bahr El Ghazal and South Darfur have affected thousands of people in Raja County, causing displacement and sufferingaccording to the county executive.  §

§  7,000 flee after government forces raze villages in North Darfur (Radio Dabanga [Khartoum], April 2, 2012)

More than 7,000 people have fled their homes in North Darfur after government forces and militants reportedly burned down their villages last week. '7,000 have left the villages of Adam Khatir, Nagojora, Hamid Dilli, Amar Jadid, Koyo and Duga Ferro near Donki Hosh and fled to the surrounding areas where there is no food, water or shelter,' said a newly displaced witness to Radio Dabanga from a safe area. 'They attacked us for three days, from Tuesday until Thursday evening. They burned down five villages, looted more than 20 and destroyed water wells and pumps,' added the witness. §

§  3,000 displaced in North Darfur (Radio Dabanga [Khartoum], March 27, 2012)

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN said on Monday that about 3,000 people from the areas of Dar Es Salam and Zam Zam camps in North Darfur have been displaced to Kalimdo and other areas with El Fasher. The FAO said that the displaced people are in need aid, food and medicines.  §

§  Heavy shelling forces villagers out of homes in North Darfur (Radio Dabanga [North Darfur], March 15, 2012)

Heavy shelling took place across five villages in North Darfur forcing residents to flee from their homes. Witnesses said an Antonov plane bombed the villages of Dika, Bain, Keda, Jok and Senagarai over the past three days and is still circling the area. They said planes dropped more than 40 bombs as ground troops in six tanks and 150 vehicles moved in to the villages beating male residents, looting and burning houses. The soldiers also reportedly raped more than 30 women and girls and arrested ten of the men. Witnesses said villagers fled to Wadi Maghrib in the desert area where they are now surrounded by government forces.  §

§  1,500 displaced need food assistance in El Daein (Radio Dabanga [El Daein], March 6, 2012)

1,500 displaced people from the villages of Uzban, Um Kurkut, Keiluk in northeast Darfurare experiencing severe lack of access to food in el-Daein, East Darfur. The group consisting mainly of women, children and the elderly, arrived in el-Daein in February last year. A witness told Radio Dabanga the World Food Programme distributed tarpaulins and tents for the displaced, and promised them food which is yet to materialise.  §

§  Abu Delik displaced families seeking refuge at UNAMID HQ (Radio Dabanga [Zam Zam camp], February 29, 2012)

120 families displaced from Abu Delik, the area that witnessed heavy fighting last week, and an adjacent area Sag Al Nagam have refused to leave the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) headquarters, in Zam Zam internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, near El Fasher. Newly displaced families were reportedly attacked by Abu Tira forced on arrival to the camp… The witness said there are 60 families currently seeking protection inside UNAMID's HQ, and 160 families have been staying just outside the base since Tuesday. He noted that the new IDPs are mainly children, women and the elderly, and added that Zam Zam is experiencing an daily influx of IDPs traveling on foot and donkey.  §

§  Government forces storm village near El Fasher (Radio Dabanga [Abu Delik], February 24, 2012)

On Thursday, government forces attacked  Abu Delik village, southeast of el-Fasher in North Darfur, killing one person and injuring six others…. Eyewitnesses said the force stormed the area at 10:00am indiscriminately attacking, beating, and abusing villagers, who had welcomed the soldiers into the area. They said the troops killed a man, named as Salih Adam El Daw, and injured six others. The soldiers looted homes and shops before burning some of them down. Many residents fled the area.  §

Perhaps the most remarkable statement concerning displacement in Darfur came the previous year from the Humanitarian Protection Strategy section of the UN/AU mission in August 2011:

§  400,000 displaced in West Jebel Marra; region needs urgent humanitarian aid (Radio Dabanga [Jebel Marra], August 16, 2011:

Nearly 400,000 people have been displaced in West Jebel Marra areas, the Humanitarian Protection Strategy of the United Nations African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said on Tuesday. "The assessments so far conducted confirm that approximately 400,000 people are displaced in Jebel Marra area," said Oriano Micaletti, head of the UNAMID Humanitarian Protection Strategy. “They have received very limited assistance during the last few years and are in urgent need of humanitarian aid." There is an urgent need for humanitarian aid according to the Humanitarian Protection Strategy of the Mission.  §

There is no evidence that this extraordinarily large figure is included in UN calculations about total human displacement in Darfur; indeed, statements by former UN/AU joint special representative Ibrahim Gambari would seem almost pointedly to ignore this finding when he was busy trumpeting his successful accomplishments as JSR last summer before leaving UNAMID.

It should be emphasized that in the absence of any meaningful security provisions for Darfur, fighting between Arab tribal groups has also dramatically increased displacement in recent years, and Arab groups make up a much greater percentage of the total displaced population.

• Displacement for 2012: The total for 2012 suggested by the reports above—far from complete and with many offering no estimates of numbers displaced—appears to be between 150,000 and 200,000.  Moreover, the character and consequences of displacement are certainly much more fully represented in these dispatches than in any recent UN or UNAMID accounts.  I include in calculations for total displacement a figure of 150,000 displaced for 2012, but accept that it is only a crude estimate, based chiefly on calculations of displacement during the episodes presented above.  If this figure is even approximately accurate, given the displacement estimate for 2011 (approximately 200,000), it is not true, as claimed by Amos and Ban, that the figure of 300,000 "exceeds the total for the preceding two years"—2011 and 2012.

Accepting the UN figure of 300,000 newly displaced in 2013, and aggregating the other figures offered here for human displacement in Darfur from 2007 to the present, yields a ghastly total of approximately 1.8 million human beings newly displaced.  This is a figure greater than the current UN figure for total current displacement in all of Darfur, i.e., those displaced before and after 2007. 

Whatever qualifications must be made for double-counting (i.e., those people who have been displaced more than once), temporary displacement (the 30,000 people at Kassab camp displaced in August 2012 returned to this insecure location within a matter of weeks following brutal attacks), whatever (highly limited) success there has been in returning IDPs to their lands and homes, such a vast figure incinerates the credibility of people such as Joint AU/UN Special Representatives Aichatu Mindaoudou, who—with former JSR Rodolphe Adada and Ibrahim Gambari—has taken her place in a continuing spectacle of mendacity.  For on the basis of almost no understanding of Darfur, Ms. Mindaoudou very recently joined her predecessors in offering a culpably distorted characterization of Darfur, declaring last month that "the numbers of people affected by violence had decreased each year between 2008 and 2011."  Such lies ensure that Darfur's crisis will continue to intensify, and its suffering will be rendered even less visible.

Moreover, all signs are that large-scale human displacement will continue so long as security remains in free-fall in Darfur (see March 20, 2013 analysis of security conditions at http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3838).  Even since mid-May of this year, when the UN first promulgated its figure of 300,000 newly displaced civilians in 2013, there is clear evidence of substantial, ongoing human displacement:

§  Gimr-Beni Halba clashes leave 94 dead, 6,500 displaced in South Darfur (Radio Dabanga [Katayla, South Darfur], May 30, 2013)

[The Gimr are one of the smaller non-Arab/African tribal group in South Darfur—ER]

Tribal clashes involving the Gimr and Beni Halba in South Darfur have left a total of 94 people dead and another 65 injured since they resumed in March in Katayla locality, a Gimr stronghold. A UN OCHA report released on Thursday states that an estimated 6,500 people have fled Katayla and have sought refuge in Tullus.  

Speaking to Radio Dabanga, Gimr spokesman Abkar Al Toum, added that 1,200 houses were torched, five water wells destroyed, 14 villages were set ablaze and all the property of the inhabitants stolen.  Al Toum said that 22 Gimr died in attacks on Monday and Tuesday in Kabba, Butab Abu Bashir, Umm Gutiya, Kabo, Amud Al Sah, Ati Kena, and Ajuekheen, while 32 were wounded, of whom 11 were taken to Nyala hospital on Thursday.  §

§  Central Darfur’s Umm Dukhun "virtually deserted" after clashes resumed (Radio Dabanga [Umm Dukhun], May 30, 2013)

Umm Dukhun city in [formerly West] Darfur, which has witnessed renewed violent tribal clashes between the Salamat and Misseriya tribeswas virtually deserted as of Thursday morning. In addition, shops and markets have been closed since hostilities resumed earlier this week.  §

UN figures on displacement in Darfur

In the past that both the UN and UNAMID have deliberately distorted and misrepresented displacement figures, a corruption I have addressed at several moments in recent years, including:

 "How many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are there in Darfur?” Dissent Magazine [on-line], April 28, 2011 http://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/how-many-internally-displaced-persons-are-there-in-darfur

• Updated, August 31, 2012, with a critical examination of UN statistical methodology: http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=2320

Also dismaying is the repeated failure to highlight the total of Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad, a population that has recently increased dramatically. There are now 330,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad, a surge of some 50,000, confirmed by both the UN High Commission for Refugees and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); the latter reported from Tissi, eastern Chad (April 26, 2013): “Violent clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region have driven approximately 50,000 people across the border into southeastern Chad since early March [2013].

Even more invisibly, Darfuri refugees continue to suffer in Central African Republic, thousands of whom were only recently displaced into this exceedingly remote area:

§  UNHCR new release, May 31, 2013 (http://www.unhcr.org/51a8b7756.html)

The UN refugee agency has established contact with some 3,500 Sudanese refugees who made their way to northeast Central African Republic after fleeing inter-tribal conflict in Sudan's Darfur region two months ago. Refugees are presently scattered in the Birao, Boromata and Roukoutou districts, which are difficult to access. UNHCR staff in Central African Republic were finally able to meet some of the refugees in Birao on May 23. The refugees said their villages in Am Djeradil district had been torched during the clashes in March and many people killed. Some families were also separated during the confusion, with hundreds heading to Central African Republic and thousands of others crossing the border into southeast Chad.  §

SECTION TWO: Displacement and Humanitarian Conditions

The fact that many people in camps are not receiving WFP food rations, or rations that are shamefully meager, should give pause and raises serious questions about the competency of WFP, OCHA, and UNAMID.  Most urgently: why is the international community not being informed about the scale of deterioration in the humanitarian conditions throughout Darfur? 

Certainly a number of the dispatches (below) from particular camps make painfully clear the severe deprivation that Darfuris are suffering.  Here it is important to bear in mind that many of the various threats faced by displaced persons are a function of the rampant insecurity throughout Darfur, which makes adequate humanitarian response impossible.  Khartoum's security forces continue to deny access on a regular basis—to both UNAMID and relief organizations, including those of the UN.  Humanitarian conditions in the camps are clearly deteriorating rapidly, with food and clean water in particularly short supply.  This comes just as the heavy seasonal rains are about to begin, making transport extremely difficult to many locations. Conditions will become ideal for water-borne diseases; the rains will also exacerbate the problem of finding clean water and addressing acute sanitation and hygiene issues.  The potential for skyrocketing mortality is yet again clearly present.

And reports from Chad indicate that the Darfuri refugees are an increasingly invisible and under-served population.  The reports are scattered, but telling:

§   Serious water shortage in eastern Chad camp; refugees facing threat of diseases as they use contaminated water from nearby valleys (Radio Dabanga [Brejean, also Bredjing], August 9, 2012)

Nearly 45,000 Sudanese [Darfuri] refugees from the Brejean camp (eastern Chad) are suffering from acute water shortage after the water pump's generator broke down, residents complained on Tuesday. This has resulted in refugees traveling to nearby valleys in search of water for drinking and domestic purposes. The water from the valleys is, however, not suitable for consumption. Refugees in the camp told Radio Dabanga that the water was contaminated by both human and animal waste and carcasses leading to the spread of waterborne diseases, especially among children.  §

§   Food shortage in eastern Chad camp (Radio Dabanga [Eastern Chad], August 22, 2012)

537 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad's Gaga camp have not received their food rations since last June, a sheikh in the camp told Radio Dabanga on Monday. Sheikh Mohammed Ismail said, "The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has asked the veteran refugees in the camp to share their food rations with the new arrivals until August, which should have been the next date for replenishing the food stocks." However, the refugees were surprised when the UNHCR asked them to prolong that initiative until October. The decision was therefore vehemently rejected by the refugees. Sheikh Mohammed Ismail added, "The new arrivals were registered as refugees and must receive food on showing their food ration cards."

From the camps in Darfur itself, Radio Dabanga yet again provides our most concrete and revealing examples—indeed, in most cases the only examples.  The selection here is representative, but hardly exhaustive.  What is indisputable is that humanitarian conditions in Darfur have been deteriorating ever more rapidly over the past year, often for reasons directly related to insecurity, especially in the transport of food:

§  22 displaced die in two weeks (Radio Dabanga, [Garsila, West Darfur], October 16, 2012)

The increasing spread of diseases in Garsila camps, West Darfur, led to the death of 22 displaced persons in the first half of October, camp representatives told Radio Dabanga, on Tuesday October 16. A camps' sheikh told Radio Dabanga that residents of three of Garsila's camps (Jeddah, Ardeeba and Jebelain) are facing critical health conditions as diseases like malaria, dry cough and diarrhea are spreading rapidly.

He added that mainly children and elderly are suffering.  §

§  16 deaths in Kendebe camp (Radio Dabanga [Kendebe camp] October 8, 2012)

Kendebe camp activist, in West Darfur, announced that 16 displaced persons have died in the past few weeks due to different kinds of diseases, Radio Dabanga has learned on Sunday, 7 October. He explained that many doctors prescribe medications that must be purchased from the market, instead of providing it to patients, adding that most displaced cannot afford buying medicines.  §

§  Diseases spreading rapidly in Darfur (Radio Dabanga [el-Fasher], September 16, 2012)

Health Minister of the Darfur Regional Authority, Osman El-Bushra, revealed the spread of diseases such as leprosy, scabies, tuberculosis, night blindness, river blindness, malaria, schistosomiasis and typhoid among the population of Darfur. He attributes the spread of these diseases to malnutrition, poverty, a lack of health and therapeutic institutions, and the deteriorating security situation in the region.  §

§  "Catastrophic" medical services in Darfur region (Radio Dabanga [el-Fasher], September 18, 2012)

The Minister of Health from the Darfur Regional Authority, Osman Al-Bushra, told Radio Dabanga that health and medical services in all five states of Darfur are "tragic and catastrophic." The minister stated that West Darfur, with a population of 1,202,506 inhabitants according to the last census in 2010, is the state with the worst health conditions in the region.  §

§  Starvation in three camps of South Darfur after pull out aid organizations (Radio Dabanga [Nyala], June 22, 2012)

Children have died due to malnutrition after aid organizations pulled out of three camps, 40 kilometers outside the South Darfur capital of Nyala. Community leaders have urged aid organizations to resume health and food support in the displaced camps of Mershing, Manaoshi and Duma in South Darfur…. In the past week tens of children and several elderly people died of to malnutritionThe community leader says that starvation is the result of the aid organizations stopped providing food rations to IDPs for more than eight months. He added that since circumstances are increasingly challenging an insufficient number of health centers near the IDP camps. Camp leaders told Radio Dabanga that around 60 percent of camp residents are suffering of continuous hunger, since food rations were stopped, forcing some to go for days without a meal.  §

§  Poor health conditions leave dozens dead in Mornei (Radio Dabanga [Mornei], September 21, 2012)

Residents of Mornei camp in West Darfur are suffering from poor health conditions as diseases like malaria, typhoid and diarrhea are spreading rapidly. In addition to the rapidly spreading diseases, the residents suffer from malnutrition and a lack of health-care and medication. One of the sheikhs told Radio Dabanga that the report [composed by the camp sheikhs] revealed the death of 64 elderly and 30 children between the ages of one and five over the past two weeksIn addition, the report confirmed that the majority of deaths are a result of diseases like malaria and typhoid.  §

§   El Riyadh camp: one medical clinic for 30,000 residents (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina] August 28, 2012)

Radio Dabanga was informed today that there is only one medical clinic available at the El Riyadh camp in El-Geneina, West Darfur. The camp counts 30,000 residents who claim to face a serious humanitarian crisis. A camp's activist told Radio Dabanga that the three most serious issues in El Riyadh are lack of security, lack of water and lack of medical services. He added there is also scarcity of nurses and of midwives at the camp. The source said this situation arose after June 2011 when the Government of Sudan expelled medical international humanitarian organizations from the camp. He explained the international organizations were substituted by the Sudanese Ministry of Health.  §

§  Several camps Darfur do not receive food aid for four months (Radio Dabanga [Khartoum], June 23, 2012)

Several camps in North Darfur have not received food aid for several months. The ten thousands of internally displaced people (IDP) of Zam Zam-camp in North Darfur and the camps of Jeddah and El Jebelayn close to the town of Garsila in [formerly West] Darfur, said the World Food Programme does not enter the camps anymore to support the families most in need. Several camps in North Darfur have not received food aid for several months. A camp leader of Zam Zam tells Radio Dabanga that the WFP has not delivered food rations to over 800 poor and malnourished families as it did in the past.  §

§  Six children die from measles in Seraf Umra camps (Radio Dabanga [Seraf Umra, North Darfur], June 6, 2012)

Six children have died from measles in over past week in Jebel, Dankoj and El Naseem camps in Seraf Umra in North Darfur. They expressed deep concern at the quick spread of diseases in the camp due to the lack of health care….  §

§  Six months with no aid for South Darfur camps (Radio Dabanga [South Darfur], June 5, 2012)

Residents of Mershing, Manaoshi and Duma camps for displaced people in South Darfur have received not humanitarian aid or support for over six months. Camp leaders told Radio Dabanga that around 60 percent of camp residents are suffering with continuous hunger, since food rations were stopped forcing some to go for days without having a meal. One leader said they have been complaining for months about the situation with no help coming from the international community….  §

§  Sheikh, displaced concerned about food distribution in Darfur camps (Radio Dabanga [Nyala], June 2, 2013)

The displaced people of Attash [also Otash] camp near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, have voiced concern about the World Food Programme (WPF) distribution plans. The WPF have decided to delegate the distribution of food to traders, while the displaced would prefer it occur via the distribution centres established by World Vision, launched on 30 May. The Sheikh of the camp Abdel Karim Abkar, explained to Radio Dabanga on Saturday that “the displaced base their rejection on their negative experience in the past with Elbadrain Charity Organization (ECO) which distributed coupons to be used for grinding corn." "The owners of mills later refused to accept the coupons under the pretext that they had not been not been paid, as a result this led to the collapse of the project,” he addedIn camp Attash, about 3,200 newly displaced families are suffering a humanitarian crisis due to the lack of water and health services.  §

§  Abu Suruj camp: no food aid for six months (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina], May 28, 2012)

Residents of Abu Suruj camp for internally displaced people said they have not received food aid for more than six months. Witnesses said the camps north of El Geneina are reaching a desperate situation and called for the World Food Programme to immediately intervene and deliver food aid to people in need of urgent assistance.  §

§  Jebel Marra residents stranded with no aid access (Radio Dabanga [Jebel Marra] May 27, 2012)

The coordinator of internally displaced person camps in North Darfur, Ahmed Atim said the situation of civilians in Jebel Marra is becoming desperate. He said civilians are stranded with no access from humanitarian organisations including the World Food Programme (WFP).  §

§  Mornei camp food rations reduced by half (Radio Dabanga [Mornei camp] May 29, 2012)

Mornay camp residents have complained that the World Food Programme have reduced food rations by half. A camp leader told Radio Dabanga that the rations were reduced without any explanation from the WFP. He appealed to the WFP to resume full rations and remember the difficulties facing displaced people in buying food from the market, amid food shortages and high prices.  §

§  WFP: 30 per cent of Darfur threatened with food insecurity (Radio Dabanga [el-Fasher] May 22, 2012)

The World Food Programme says that 30 percent of the population of Darfur is threatened with food insecurity and in need of urgent aid. The Programme conducted surveys in Darfur finding around 30 percent to be in need of urgent assistance, said WFP Field Coordinator Adham Mesallami to Radio Dabanga. He said that families told the WFP about their inability to cover their daily needs for food.  §

§  Kassab displaced describe situation as famine (Radio Dabanga [Kassab camp], May 9, 2012)

Displaced people in Kassab camp in North Darfur have described their current condition as 'famine,' due to the reduction in food provided by the World Food Programme and the unprecedented high prices of food at the market. An activist from Kassab told Radio Dabanga that many families are now eating berries and nuts as they are unable to survive on the reduced rations.  §

§  WFP reduces rations in El Geneina camps (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina], May 9, 2012)

A group of displaced people from 10 camps across El Geneina said the World Food Programme told them on Monday that their rations of maize will be reduced by 50 percent. They said this have caused widespread discontent in the camps that are already suffering from food shortages and hunger. A camp leader that attended the meeting told Radio Dabanga that the WFP representatives justified the reduced ration by not being able to transport the required quantities, as truck drivers are reluctant to move around with the current security situation.  §

The future for the children who have known nothing but life in the camps is grim beyond description, though susceptible of some quantification:

§  Measles outbreak kills 25 children in Gereida camp (Radio Dabanga [Gereida, South Darfur], May 4, 2012)

At least 25 children have died from measles during a recent outbreak in Gereida camp in South Darfur. A camp official said there is a high rate of infection spreading amongst children. She appealed to humanitarian organisations, health officials and the World Health Organisation to immediately act to intervene and stop the disease from spreading and risking more lives.  §

§  75 per cent of Darfur's refugee children show PTSD symptoms; study conducted by a UK journal says 38 per cent meet clinical criteria for depression    (Radio Dabanga, August 12, 2011)

75 per cent of the children in Darfur's refugee camps met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to an interview-based study released by The Lancet, a UK-based health journal, on Thursday. The study also concluded that 38 per cent of refugee children in camps fulfilled clinical symptoms for depression. The research carried out by the Oxford-based group is meant to add to information about mental health issues faced by refugee children.  §

SECTION THREE: Are there meaningful "returns" of displaced persons in Darfur?  What guarantees are there that the returns will be safe and voluntary?

When addressing the question of displaced persons in Darfur, the UN and UNAMID inevitably speak of their success in beginning a program of "safe and voluntary returns."  The claims made are hotly disputed by Darfuris, and the success stories are often revealed to be shams or, worse, set-ups for violent confrontation with well-armed Arab group that have opportunistically seized farms and land; there are continuous reports of these Arab groups coming from Chad, Niger, Central African Republic, and even Mali.  Certainly the UN and UNAMID are particularly culpable in failing to report "returns" that are unsuccessful, often dramatically so. 

For such honesty would compromise a narrative that has been relentlessly and shamelessly promulgated for several years, viz., that safe and voluntary returns have begun in significant numbers, and that the UN and African Union have succeeded in Darfur.  But the frequency and detail of Radio Dabanga reports indicate that the lands of sedentary African/non-Arab tribal groups displaced by violence remain too dangerous to return to.  The numbers of "returns" the UN claims—in the tens of thousands and still but a very small fraction of the number of newly displaced persons—seem to be based on a counting method that takes little account of the violence that characteristically returning displaced:

§  Armed herders burn village of voluntary return in West Darfur (Radio Dabanga [Mesteriha], December 10, 2012)

Armed herders have reportedly injured five members of the armed forces and burnt the village of Ronja for voluntary return as well as two other villages to the grounddestroying crops and around 10 kilometers of agricultural lands, sources informed Radio Dabanga on Sunday, 9 December. Sources from the area reported that the attacks started on Friday when farmers informed the police about trespassing of herders onto their farmlands.  §

§  Armed group shoots man, expels farmers from land, (Radio Dabanga [Gereida, South Darfur] June 14, 2012)

An armed group of 30 members traveling on horses shot a man and tried to expel farmers from their land near Gereida in South Darfur. Witnesses said the men entered a village and shot Muhannad Yacob from Al Safa while he was tending to his farm. They said Yacob was taken to hospital in Gereida for treatment. They added that militias try to take over farmlands belonging to displaced people as many are still living in the camps, forgoing the right to their land.  §

§  Armed militias seize farms in Kreinik, West Darfur (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina], July 8, 2012)

IDPs returning to their lands in Kreinik, 36 km east of Geneina, found that their properties had been seized by armed militias. A sheikh [told Radio Dabanga that] IDPs returning to cultivate their lands during the rainy season in West Darfur were stopped by militias.  §

Further dispatches from the past year concerning threats to returning civilians can be found, along with a conclusion to this brief, in Part 2: http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=4022

*Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.  His most recent book on Sudan is Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012.

The Collapsing Sudanese Economy: Political and Military Implications, International Obligations - Yale Journal of International Relations

Yale Journal of International Relations, May 22, 2013: http://yalejournal.org/2013/05/22/the-collapsing-sudanese-economy-political-and-military-implications-international-obligations/

By Eric Reeves, Smith College

May 28, 2013 (SSNA) -- [This essay was written in early January 2013; little has changed in the macroeconomic picture for either Sudan or South Sudan.  Recent mutual threats of an oil stoppage would of course dramatically increase the economic crisis depicted here, and which is already threatening of peace in a range of ways.  Inflation continues its relentless rise in Sudan, despite "official figures" suggesting otherwise.  The connection between fighting in Jebel Amer (North Darfur) and the Khartoum regime's desperate need of foreign exchange currency has become steadily clearer--May 28, 2013]

December 2012 commentary on the purported “coup attempt” in Khartoum provided little in the way of consensus about how serious the “coup” was or precisely who was truly involved or how far planning had moved to an actual attempt.[1]  The timing may have been governed by President al-Bashir’s health and an inevitable diminishing of power (he has throat cancer, according to multiple sources); what the stance of the military is or will be on the occasion of a transition is unclear.  Official comments from officials in Khartoum were contradictory and showed no commitment to provide an honest account.  What can’t be doubted is that the events, insofar as we can discern them, reveal growing domestic unhappiness with the current regime, which after 23 years in power has still failed to bring peace or broadening prosperity to Sudan.  The public discontent of last June and July may now be coming to fruition.

But to date political commentary has generally failed to provide a comprehensive account of how current struggles in Khartoum take place in the context of an economy that is in free-fall.  There is some acknowledgement of distress over high prices, shortages, and lack of employment; but there has been relatively little in the way of fuller and more probing assessment of  how far advanced the economic collapse is—or what the consequences of such a collapse will be in shaping Sudan’s political future.  But any analysis of current political machinations and maneuvering will be meaningless without an understanding of how a series of critical choices—military and economic—have been forced on the regime as a whole.  These choices are inevitably interrelated, and how they are made will define the future of greater Sudan.

Discussion of Khartoum’s political elite often relies on a traditional division of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party into “moderates and “hardliners”; this is better cast, in my view, as a distinction between variously pragmatic elements within the regime who cohere in their views to a greater or lesser degree, depending on international pressures. The analytic task at hand is to capture how current economic circumstances will govern the survivalist political instincts that are common to all these ruthless men.  The advantage of a focus on “pragmatism” is that it highlights how “unpragmatic” so many recent actions and decisions have been in the economic sphere, and how these decisions actually increase the threat to regime survival.  These brutal men may control the press, the news media, the security forces and the army—at present.  But the impending maelstrom of economic disarray will bring to bear pressures that many in the regime and the military clearly have not anticipated or do not fully understand.

An overview of factors precipitating the collapse of the Sudanese economy would include the following.[2]

[1]  A recent assessment found that Sudan is the fourth most corrupt country in the world (only Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia rank lower)[3]; corruption eats at the heart of economic growth, derails rational capital expenditures, and breeds resentment.  It has long been endemic in Sudan, and its current ranking reflects that fact.

[2]  The IMF’s most recent assessment has found that Sudan’s is the worst-performing economy in the world.[4]  This in itself is simply extraordinary for a country with so many natural resources, including vast tracts of arable land.

[3]  The best barometer of the extent of economic collapse is the revised figure for negative growth (contraction) of the economy: the April 2012 prediction from the IMF was -7.3 percent for 2012; most recently the figure stands at -11.2 percent, a depression by some measures, strongly suggesting a continuing downward spiral.

[4]  The most current (October) estimate of Sudan’s rate of inflation is 45.3 percent, up from 41.6 percent in September, 22.5 percent in March, and 15 percent in June 2011.  In fact, this figure is already dated by the weeks intervening between data collection and present prices—and certainly understates the rate of inflation for essential commodities such as food and fuel.  The official year-on-year inflation rate for food is 48.6 percent; The Economist notes (December 1, 2012) that “the price of fool, Sudan’s traditional bean breakfast, has risen from $0.33 to $1.16.,” over 300 percent.[5]  The inflation rate for fuel is just as high as that for food generally, with ripple effects throughout the economy.

Moreover, Yousif el-Mahdi, a Khartoum-based economist, estimated in September (2012) that the real overall inflation rate was closer to 65 percent—this when the official rate was still 42 percent.  He is far from alone in believing that in the past, the actual inflation rate has been consistently understated; but when the bad news comes fully home, it will inevitably make those holding Sudanese pounds even less trusting of the currency. [Based on a number of reports and assessments, my own current estimate (May 2013) is roughly 75 percent annually--ER]

In fact, Sudan is rapidly approaching the point at which hyper-inflation will govern economic calculations and transactions, sending the pound into free-fall as desperate bank depositors and others with cash holdings in pounds  convert to a hard currency or valuable commodities (gold, silver, even food) at almost any exchange rate.  Once hyper-inflation sets in, it is almost impossible to reverse expectations of yet more hyper-inflation, particularly if there are no resources with which to back the currency under assault.  The cash economy in Sudan will grind to a halt.  Here it seems appropriate to recall that former President Jaafer Nimieri was brought down rapidly in 1985 amidst protests generated largely by hyper-inflation.

It should also be borne in mind that Khartoum has leveraged its oil resources as much as possible, and owns only a very small percentage of the two oil development consortia operating in Sudan and South Sudan (in the form of Sudapet’s 5 percent stake, which has been challenged by Juba).  Sales of additional concession blocks have generated little income, and nothing has been held in reserve.

Gold exports have been much in Sudan news, but the quantities being talked about by the regime—and thus the hard currency purportedly to be received—have been greeted with considerable skepticism.[6]  Reports seem to come exclusively from the regime-controlled news media in Khartoum, and have an air of desperation about them.  In any event, increased gold production alone cannot begin to reverse current trends in the near- or medium-term.

[5]  The cutting of fuel subsidies from the budget—demanded by the IMF as a condition for debt relief—has been largely abandoned in the wake of Arab Spring-like demonstrations last summer; these expensive subsidies will again represent an enormous part of the non-military/security budget, even as the expense receives no honest reckoning in public comments by the regime.  Yet budgetary realities have become ever more grim, as the Sudan Tribune notes (December 7, 2012):

“The Sudanese government tabled its draft 2013 budget before parliament this week which projects 25.2 billion Sudanese pounds (SDG) in revenues and 35.0 billion SDG in expenses leaving a deficit of 10 billion SDG ($1.5 billion) which equals 3.4% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. The deficit will be financed up to 87% (7.6 billion SDG) from domestic sources including 2 billion SDG from the central bank.[7]

But the central bank has no real money, only what it prints in the way of Sudanese pounds that are rapidly declining in value.  As of December 2, 2012, $1.00 bought 6.5 pounds—a record low, and a further 3 percent decline from the previous week (the black market rate was about 5 pounds to the dollar early in the year, suggesting a decline of approximately 30 percent).  The official exchange rate is approximately 4.4 pounds to the dollar.

And while the IMF continues to insist that Sudan should cut fuel subsidies further—beyond what was cut in June—the Fund acknowledges that to do so will incur public anger and more instability of the sort seen last June, July, and August.

[6]  The reason for the continuing decline in the value of the pound is a lack of foreign exchange reserves, the direct consequence of having no oil export income.  As a result, imports purchased with Sudanese pounds are not simply more expensive—in some case prohibitively so—but harder to obtain at all, given the lack of available foreign exchange currency. Food imports are hit particularly hard, as are businesses that depend on imported parts or services.  Sudan imports some 400,000 tons of sugar annually (it is a key source of calories for many in the north); these imports will only grow more expensive, pushing the inflation rate for this particular commodity well above 50 percent.[8]

Efforts to secure US$4 billion in foreign exchange deposits from rich Arab countries have largely failed, with the exception of Qatar, despite various claims by regime officials that large hard currency deposits have been made into the Central Bank of Sudan.  While providing temporary relief from “black market” speculation against the Sudanese pound, the long-term effect of such dishonest claims about foreign currency infusions is to diminish further the regime’s credibility about all matters financial and economic.[9]

[7]  The oil sector as a percentage of GDP has declined precipitously following Southern secession.  Oil now provides only 20 – 25 percent of revenues going to the regime; and beyond this massive loss in revenues, the oil sector now accounts for only 3 – 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), down from about 15 percent, according to the IMF.[10]

Oil production is also being consistently overstated by Khartoum in order to suggest that more foreign exchange will be received than is the case.  The “Medium-Term Oil Market Report 2012” by the International Energy Agency (IEA) puts current production in Sudan at 70,000 barrels per day, rising to 90,000 bpd in 2014 and dropping back to 60,000 in 2017.[11]  And yet long-time Sudanese oil minister and NIF/NCP stalwart Awad al-Jaz claims that Sudan is currently producing 120,000 bpd, which may rise to 150,000 bpd by the end of 2012.  Gross misrepresentation of data is nothing new for the regime, but such transparently motivated manipulation of key figures is a sign of just how desperate the economic crisis is, and how urgently Khartoum feels the need to be perceived as having or receiving more hard currency than is credible.

Notably, in its April 2012 semi-annual World Economic Outlook, the IMF changed the classification of Sudan: from an oil exporter to an oil importer, making nonsense of al-Jaz’s claim.[12]

[8]  The agricultural sector, long neglected by the regime, cannot provide enough food to avoid substantial imports; disabled by cronyism and a lack of commitment  over many years, the agricultural sector is collapsing along with the rest of the economy.  Much of the arable land between the White and Blue Niles has silted and become unusable, even as a once enviable irrigation infrastructure has badly deteriorated.[13]  Large tracts of valuable farm land have been sold or leased to Arab and Asian concerns to provide food for their own domestic consumption.[14]  There is simply no strategic emphasis on self-sufficiency in food, even as Khartoum counts on the UN to provide Sudan with huge quantities of food every year. As Agence France-Presse reported earlier this year (February 27):

“‘The economic situation is deteriorating further and further,’ and the economy is in crisis, says University of Khartoum economist Mohamed Eljack Ahmed. [Of Khartoum's 'rescue plan'] economists say the plan seems unworkable in the short term. Ahmed says agricultural infrastructure, once the country’s economic mainstay, has collapsed and neither farmers nor industrialists have an incentive to operate.”

[9]  The NIF/NCP for years has survived in large measure because it controls the security services (often overlapping) and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF); estimates of what percentage of the national budget is devoted to the security services and the army vary, but range as high as 70 percent, with “over 50 percent” the closest to a consensus figure; this makes finding spending cuts in non-military sectors of the budget extraordinarily difficult.  Moreover, these military and security personnel are now being paid in Sudanese pounds that are rapidly loosing their purchasing power, and this will breed intense resentment, defections, and possibly participation in civilian insurrection.

[10]  Resentment is also felt by those in the vast—and very expensive—patronage system that has provided the regime with political support.  The patronage system has been key to regime survival.  It was built-up during the early take-over of banks and the most lucrative parts of the Sudanese economy following the NIF coup of 1989, and then extended further by the rapid increase of oil revenues that began in 1999.  Now the patronage system is simply unaffordable, and the disgruntled within it can no longer be counted on to provide political support when it is most needed.

[11]  The demographics of the “Arab Spring” are the same in Sudan as they are in the rest of the Arab world, especially in the regions in and around Khartoum: there are a disproportionately large numbers of people under 30 years of age, many educated but with little prospect of employment commensurate with their education, or indeed any form of employment at all.  They are especially vulnerable to economic hardship.

[12]  Massive external debt—estimated by the IMF at US$43.7 billion in 2012—is on track to reach US$45.6 billion in 2013, again according to the IMF.  This represents 83 percent of Sudan’s 2011 GDP.  Such debt—largely in the form of arrears accrued under the present regime—cannot be serviced by the present Sudanese economy, let alone repaid.[15]  It is a crushing burden on the economy, and yet Khartoum shows no sign of adhering to IMF recommendations for obtaining debt relief,  Moreover, the regime’s military actions throughout Sudan should work powerfully against debt relief among the Paris Club creditors who own most of this debt.  Certainly it would be unconscionable to negotiate debt reduction with a regime that devotes so much of its budget to acquiring the means of civilian destruction—in Darfur, in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, Minister of Finance Ali Mahmud Rasul declared in October that there is growing “international acceptance to write off Khartoum’s … external debt.”  The efforts of Western, African, and Arab civil society should be to make debt relief under present circumstances thoroughly unacceptable for politicians in Washington, London, Berlin, and Paris.

Current Minister of Finance Ali Mahmud Rasul also declares, despite these grim realities, that “the 2013 budget shows that we have overcome the secession of South Sudan.”[16]  But former Minister of Finance Abdel Rahim Hamdi—whatever his own role within the regime during the 1990s—felt compelled to speak out about the current extraordinary mismanagement of the economy.  Sudan Tribune reports his broadest assessment: the current regime “is no longer able to manage the economy and lacks solutions to handle the crisis.”[17]  Hamdi noted that “conflicting economic policies [have] led to soaring inflation levels and astronomical increases in prices. Speaking at the Islamic Fiqh Council, Hamdi pointed out that 77 percent of revenues goes to cover salaries and wages as well as federal aid to states.”  He was  also scathing in his assessment of projected revenues, which the regime has consistently oversold in a ploy to keep the psychology of inflation from taking hold (e.g., in celebrating artificially high estimates of gold production, boasting of hard currency transfers from Arab countries that never materialize).  Current Minister of Finance Rasul speaks to none of this.

For those not living in the world of self-serving mendacity from which regime pronouncements about economic development emerge, the truth is conspicuous: the economy is in a complete shambles, and hyper-inflation is relentlessly approaching. The brute economic realities outlined above cannot be talked away or cajoled into more palatable form.  Indeed, if the current budget needs—including a substantial continuation of subsidies for fuel—are not met with real revenues, the regime will be compelled to turn on the printing presses and create an even more precipitous decline toward hyper-inflation.

Why Does Khartoum Pursue Policies so Destructive of the Economy?

Despite the already acute and growing danger of complete economic implosion, the regime persists with immensely expensive and unproductive policies, including war in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile, as well as hostile actions along the North/South border, and the supplying of renegade militia groups inside South Sudan.  For a regime that is ruthlessly survivalist, this makes no rational sense: current economic realities are diminishing the chances that the regime will survive.  So why is it persisting in policies and actions that work against a resumption of transit fees for oil originating in South Sudan and passing through the northern pipeline to Port Sudan?  Why is the regime creating a situation in which the generous transit fees that Juba is willing to pay have been forgone?  This seems even more peculiar, given the grasping nature of Khartoum’s greed, revealed earlier this year when Southern engineers discovered a covert tie-in line to main oil pipeline, capable of diverting some 120,000 bpd of Southern crude.[18]  This subterfuge has not been forgotten by the South, and only makes more exigent the question: why has Khartoum put oil transit revenues in jeopardy?

At full capacity—350,000 bpd—these pipeline revenues could do a great deal to close the yawning budget gap that Khartoum faces; and this is on top of Juba’s agreement to assist Khartoum financially during a difficult transition and also to allow the regime to keep the more than $800 million sequestered during the stand-off over transit fees (the amount of oil was peremptorily calculated by Khartoum on the basis of its outrageous $36/barrel fee proposal).[19]  What keeps Khartoum from finalizing the deal on oil transport, thereby creating further doubts in the minds of Southerners that this pipeline will remain a viable means of export?  Why does Khartoum continue to wage a brutal economic war of attrition against South Sudan, which should be its largest and most important trading partner?  The reality of lost oil income is inescapable:

Prior to [the secession of South Sudan], about three-quarters of crude production came from the south and accounted for more than 85 percent of Khartoum’s export earnings, which reached $7.5 billion in the first half of 2011, according to the World Bank.  ‘They’ve lost that (oil) income. It’s gone for good,’ an international economist said, declining to be identified.”[20]

Here again the common distinction between “moderates” and “hardliners” is better understood as referring to differences within a regime that is at various times more and less pragmatic, or at least has very different views of what is “pragmatic.”  Ali Osman Taha, for example, is often cited as a “moderate” because of his central role in the Naivasha peace talks; it is rarely remarked that in February 2004, a year before those talks  would culminate in the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Talks, Taha left Naivasha to “address the Darfur crisis.”  As anyone who followed the course of events through 2004 and into 2005 knows, this was the period marked by the very height of genocidal violence and destruction.  An October 24, 2004 report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service notes:

“In February 2004, First Vice President Ali Osman Taha, the government [of Sudan's] chief negotiator [in Naivasha], told the mediators that he had to leave the talks to deal with the Darfur problem. In February 2004, the government of Sudan initiated a major military campaign against the Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement and declared victory by the end of the month.  Attacks by government forces and the Janjaweed militia against civilians intensified between February and June 2004, forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee to neighboring Chad.“[21]

As we know now, many tens of thousands of people were also killed by the violence of this period, and the killing continued long after Taha’s intervention, with total  mortality now in the range of 500,000.[22] The number of internally displaced persons would, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, grow to 2.7 million.  The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that more than 280,000 Darfuris remain in eastern Chad as refugees.  That Taha the “moderate” played such a central role in the Darfur genocide is far too infrequently acknowledged, suggesting again that within the NIF/NCP “pragmatism” may take many forms.

After much shifting in language and positions, Khartoum would now have the world believe that it will uphold the agreement on oil transport only if Juba agrees to various “security arrangements.”  But of course just what these arrangements are keeps changing, even as Khartoum ignores the most fundamental requirement for security in both Sudan and South Sudan: a fully delineated and authoritatively demarcated border.  This of course should have been achieved in the “interim period” of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (January 9, 2005 to July 9, 2011).  That it was not is almost entirely the fault of Khartoum, which evidently thought—and still thinks—it can extort borderlands from the South and incorporate them into Sudan.  The military seizure of Abyei (May 2011) was simply the opening salvo.  Military ambitions may in fact extend to seizing more Southern oil fields and arable land.

More recently, Khartoum’s demanded “security arrangements” have come to include Juba’s disarming of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North, an utterly preposterous notion—indeed, so preposterous that it must be viewed as a means of stalling negotiations. In this respect it is very similar to Khartoum’s initial proposal of a US$36/barrel transit fee proposal during negotiations on that issue: this was not an opening gambit, not a serious proposal from which compromise could be reached.  It was meant to halt negotiations and indeed resulted in Juba’s decision to shut down oil production altogether.

So, too, the current “security arrangements” proposal is meant to put a hold on negotiations by demanding what the South cannot possibly offer or provide, even as senior officials in Khartoum continue to insist that they will not negotiate with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, insisting that the “alliance” between Juba and the SPLM/A-N must first be ended.[23]  And yet no evidence of substance is offered to suggest any military alliance.  We may understand why the NIF/NCP wishes the army of South Sudan to disarm northern rebels, primarily in the Nuba: Abdel Aziz al-Hilu’s forces are manhandling SAF troops and militias, chewing up entire battalions and parts of some brigades and in the process acquiring a great deal of ammunition, weaponry, fuel, and other supplies (despite this, Ahmed Haroun—indicted war criminal and governor of South Kordofan—insists that the SAF will achieve victory soon).[24]  But  does anyone living in the real world think that Juba will help to disarm the SPLA-North?  These are former comrades in arms, deeply connected by the years of suffering and fighting together, and by a deep mutual suspicion of Khartoum.  In the absence of any substantial  evidence that Juba is aiding the rebels in the Nuba in a significant way, we must conclude that something else is going on here.

It is important to remember that while the regime has been in power for 24 years, individual members and factions of this regime have relentlessly jockeyed for power, often ruthlessly pursuing their own interests, and have found themselves on occasion in significant ascendancy or decline.  The most recent example appears to be Salah Abdallah “Gosh,” once head of the extremely powerful National Intelligence and Security Services; further back, we have the sharp split between al-Bashir’s cabal and Islamic ideological leader Hassan al-Turabi in the late 1990s.  But ambition within the regime’s central cabal has never, in any quarter, been “moderated” by a desire to do what is best for the people of Sudan.

The most notable recent ascendancy is that of key senior military officials in decision-making about war and peace; this too has gone insufficiently remarked, despite very considerable evidence that on a range of issues, military views have prevailed.  The nature of this ascendancy, and the motives behind it, were first emphasized by Sudan researcher Julie Flint in an important account from in August 2011, based on an extraordinary interview with an official in Khartoum.  The official, whose account has been corroborated by other sources, warned that a silent military coup was already well under way in Khartoum before the seizure of Abyei (May 2011). There seems little doubt that if this official’s account is accurate, and there has in fact been a successful military coup from within, then there will be very little room for civilians in the new configuration of power when it comes to issues of war and peace:

“[A] well-informed source close to the National Congress Party reports that Sudan’s two most powerful generals went to [Sudanese President Omar al-] Bashir on May 5, five days after 11 soldiers were killed in an SPLA ambush in Abyei, on South Kordofan’s southwestern border, and demanded powers to act as they sought fit, without reference to the political leadership.”[25]

“They got it,” the source says. “It is the hour of the soldiers—a vengeful, bitter attitude of defending one’s interests no matter what; a punitive and emotional approach that goes beyond calculation of self-interest. The army was the first to accept that Sudan would be partitioned. But they also felt it as a humiliation, primarily because they were withdrawing from territory in which they had not been defeated. They were ready to go along with the politicians as long as the politicians were delivering—but they had come to the conclusion they weren’t. Ambushes in Abyei…interminable talks in Doha keeping Darfur as an open wound….  Lack of agreement on oil revenue….”  “It has gone beyond politics,” says one of Bashir’s closest aides. “It is about dignity.”

How well borne out by subsequent developments is this assessment?

When the senior and quite powerful presidential advisor Nafie Ali Nafie signed on June 28, 2011 a “Framework Agreement” with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, it seemed for a moment in which war in the Nuba and Blue Nile might be averted.  Three days later President al-Bashir emphatically renounced the breakthrough agreement, declaring after Friday prayers (July 1, 2011) that the “cleansing” of the Nuba Mountains would continue.  This was clearly a declaration made at the behest of the generals, specifically Major General Mahjoub Abdallah Sharfi—head of Military Intelligence—and Lt. Gen. Ismat Abdel Rahman al-Zain— implicated in Darfur atrocity crimes because of his role as SAF director of military operations, he is identified in the “Confidential Annex” to the report by the UN panel of Experts on Darfur (Annex leaked in February 2006).

These men and their military colleagues are the ones whose actions have ensured that Abyei will remain a deeply contentious issue in growing tensions between Sudan and South Sudan; certainly they knew full well the implications of taking military action in Abyei—military action that directly contravened the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. This action ensures that Abyei will continue to fester and may yet lead to confrontation if—as is likely—both the African Union and the UN Secretariat and Security Council continue to temporize over the AU proposal on the permanent status of Abyei, a proposal subsequently endorsed by the AU Peace and Security Council but rejected by Khartoum.  And as long as Abyei festers, negotiations over other issues are made gratuitously more  difficult, and it becomes ever less likely that sustained oil transit revenues from use of the northern pipeline will resume.  After losing almost a year’s worth of oil revenue, the South will certainly proceed with plans for an alternative export route.  Khartoum’s sequestration of  almost a billion dollars of oil revenues due to the South since independence (July 9, 2011) left Juba feeling deeply uneasy about any viable long-term arrangement with the current regime, despite the decision to allow Khartoum to keep the oil revenues it had illegally sequestered.

From the standpoint of a rational management of the economy, the military decisions made have been consistently disastrous.  This is true whether we are speaking of genocidal destruction (and economic collapse) in Darfur; renewed genocide in the Nuba Mountains, which has prompted a ferociously successful rebel military response; massive civilian destruction and displacement in Blue Nile; the military seizure of Abyei; the extremely ill-considered assaults on forces of the SPLA-South in the Tishwin area of Unity State in March/April of this year; support for renegade militia groups in South Sudan; the growing assertion of unreasonable claims about the North/South border; and the repeated bombings along the border over the past year and a half, including the “Mile 14 area of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal.  This is an extraordinary catalog of offensive military actions.  And none of them reflects a concern for economic problems that may well bring down the regime.  On the contrary, these decisions represent a bitter, vengeful desire to “get even” with South Sudan for exercising its right to self-determination.  But vengeance will not rescue the failing northern economy, and absent the resumption of oil transport income, the economy will continue in free-fall, with hyper-inflation daily more likely.  Normal corrective measures in economic policy are impossible in the context of current military commitments; corrections that would in any event have been highly challenging in light of the precipitous cut-off of oil revenue are now unavailable.

So long as decisions about war and peace are being made in Khartoum by the generals, without regard for the effects of continuing and renewed fighting on the broader economy, Sudan will remain both brutally violent and ultimately untenable under present governance.

International Response

There is one decision the international community, and Paris Club members in particular, can take, which is not to engage in any discussions of or planning for debt relief for Khartoum until the regime disengages from all military campaigns that target civilians, and ceases military actions so indiscriminate as to ensure widespread civilian destruction such as we have seen most recently in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, previously in Abyei, and for very nearly ten years in Darfur.  The international banking system as well as international financing resources should do nothing that will convince Khartoum it may escape paying a heavy price for its continuing atrocities in these regions.  For its part, the regime continues to speak confidently about its prospects for international debt relief.  It’s hard to know whether this proceeds from expediency—even the artificial prospect of partial debt relief would help the northern economy immensely—or cynicism: the international community has capitulated before Khartoum’s demands, has accepted the validity of its commitment to signed agreements, on so many occasions that the regime may calculate it will prevail yet again.

This must not happen.  The international community has failed greater Sudan for too many years now, has accommodated a murderous, finally genocidal regime in Khartoum since June 1989, and now is a moment for moral clarity and principled decision: will the world fund this regime?  Will it accept massive atrocity crimes in Sudan in the interest of something other than the well-being of the Sudanese people themselves?

Civil society in those countries most significantly represented in the Paris Club are obligated by these circumstances to lobby their governments to state publicly that the unqualified priority in Sudan policy is ending civilian destruction throughout greater Sudan. Unequivocal evidence that this “priority” obtains in national policies must be demanded; despite the excessive caution that typically governs the imposition of multilateral sanctions, such are what vast numbers of people from greater Sudan wish, as do many well-informed friends of the region.

It is a simple “ask”: no debt relief for a regime that continues to commit atrocity crimes against civilians on a wide scale.  This debt was accrued in large measure by profligate military expenditures on weapons that are even now being deployed against hundreds of thousands of noncombatant civilians.  Yet as simple and apparently reasonable as such an “ask” is, there are very good historical reasons to believe that it will be refused; rather, some factitious “occasion” will be found to provide Khartoum with a financial life-line—a decision defined by its expediency, not its moral intelligibility.  There could be no more irresponsible use of international economic and financial resources.

– Scott Ross served as lead editor for this article

*Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.  His most recent book on Sudan is Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012.


[1] “Sudan’s 1st VP weighs in on alleged coup attempt, slams ‘treachery’ and ‘betrayal.” Sudan Tribune, December 2, 2012.  http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article44703

[2] See also a fine review of the situation by Armin Rosen, “It’s basically over,” The Atlantic, September 27, 2012.  http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/11/its-basically-over-the-sudanese-dictatorships-dwindling-options/264406/

[3] Kevin Voigt, “Best, worst nations for corruption,” CNN (on-line), December 6, 2012.  http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/06/business/best-worst-corrupt-countries/?hpt=hp_c2

[4] Sandile Lukhele, “Swaziland poverty is set to deepen – IMF December,” Business Report (South Africa), December 9, 2012. http://www.iol.co.za/business/business-news/swaziland-poverty-is-set-to-deepen-imf-1.1437879#.UMSi6xihAbk

[5] “Sudan: Losing the plot: An attempted coup suggests a regime at war with itself,” The Economist, December 1, 2012.  http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21567372-attempted-coup-suggests-regime-war-itself-losing-plot

[6] “Sudan central bank ups dollar supply after gold sale,” Reuters, February 12, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/12/sudan-pound-gold-idAFL5E8DC3H720120212

[7] “Sudan Government Unable to Manage Economy says ex-finance minister,” Sudan Tribune, December 7, 2012. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article44768

[8] “Sudan government allows sugar prices to go up further as labor union warns on cutting subsidies,” Sudan Tribune, November 20, 2012. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article44585

[9] “Sudan receives ‘large amount’ of hard currency: Cash from unnamed ‘friendly’ countries will stabilise the local currency, says central bank official in Khartoum,” Reuters, 19 May 2012. http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/3/12/42078/Business/Economy/Sudan-receives-large amount-of-hard-currency-.aspx

[10] “Sudan government allows sugar prices to go up further as labor union warns on cutting subsidies,” Sudan Tribune, November 20, 2012. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article44585

[11] “IEA forecasts drop in Sudan’s oil production through 2017,” Sudan Tribune, October 19, 2012. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article44263

[12] “Mideast Oil Importers Under Strain, Oil Exporters Faring Well,” IMF: Survey Magazine: Countries & Regions, April 2012. [website undergoing maintenance; page numbers unavailable] http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/survey/so/2012/car042012d.htm

[13] Armin Rosen, “‘It’s Basically Over’: The Sudanese Dictatorship’s Dwindling Options,” The Atlantic, November 1, 2012. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/11/its-basically-over-the-sudanese-dictatorships-dwindling-options/264406/

[14] Jeffrey Gettleman, “The Food Chain: Darfur Withers as Sudan Sells Food,” The New York Times, August 9, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/world/africa/10sudan.html?_r=2&sq=gettleman%20darfur&st=cse&adxnnl=1&scp=1&adxnnlx=1354979378-uFrCMUbmTpS18S3KOyUATg&

[15] “Sudan at UN urges debt forgiveness to aid peace,” Reuters, September 28, 2010. http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/09/28/ozatp-un-assembly-sudan-idAFJOE68R03120100928

[16] “Sudan Speaks of Growth as Inflation Bites: New Budget Presented,” Middle East On-Line, December 12, 2012. http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=55932

[17] “Sudan government unable to manage economy says ex-finance minister,” Sudan Tribune, December 7, 2012. http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article44768

[18] “Sudan says to release ships seized from South Sudan,” Reuters, January 28, 2012.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/28/us-sudan-oil-idUSTRE80R0B820120128

[19] “Sudan Lowers Oil Fee Demand,” Reuters, March 13, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/13/us-sudan-oil-idUSBRE82C0NN20120313

[20] Agence France-Presse, February 26, 2012.

[21] “Sudan: The Darfur Crisis and the Status of North-South Negotiations,” United States Congressional Research Service, October 22, 2004, page 3. http://www.readbag.com/fas-man-crs-rl32643

[22] Eric Reeves “QUANTIFYING GENOCIDE: Darfur Mortality Update, August 6, 2010,” Genocide Prevention Advisory Network, August 7, 2010. http://www.gpanet.org/content/quantifying-genocide-darfur-mortality-update-august-6-2010

[23] “Sudan Tells South Sudan to Expel Rebels,” Reuters, December 5, 2012. http://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/sudan-tells-s-sudan-to-expel-rebels-1.1436221#.UMNl-hihAbk

[24] “Final Victory Over Rebels Soon, Haroun,” Sudan Vision July 12, 2012. http://news.sudanvisiondaily.com/details.html?rsnpid=216922

[25] Julie Flint, “The Nuba Mountains War Isn’t Going Away,” The Daily Star (Lebanon), August 2, 2011. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Commentary/2011/Aug-02/The-Nuba-Mountains-war-isnt-going-away.ashx#axzz2EOLd3KWT

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