South Sudan News Agency

Sunday, Oct 04th, 2015

Last update08:52:53 PM GMT

You are here: Opinion Analyses

Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: Relief Efforts Perilously Close to Collapse, in Two Parts

By Eric Reeves

August 15, 2013 (SSNA) -- Without an urgent investment of major political energy and commitment, the international community is soon likely to preside over a catastrophic contraction of humanitarian capacity and access in Darfur.  The world must put Khartoum on notice that there will be significant consequences if the regime does not permit unfettered humanitarian access and movement of relief supplies.  The regime must also face real pressure to provide meaningful security for increasingly threatened camp areas, an effort that will entail bringing various militia forces under military and police control.  Senior officials of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) must also face strong pressure to cease exacerbating ethnic tensions as part of an ongoing counter-insurgency campaign of unspeakable brutality.  These political efforts to pressure Khartoum must come from the UN Security Council and UN Secretariat, as well as from those countries—especially in Europe, Africa, and the Arab world—whose continuing economic and diplomatic support enables the regime to cling to power amidst an economy that is imploding.

None of this is likely and suggests that the current downward trajectory of humanitarian conditions will become steeper, as it has for the past year and more.  And yet despite the immense threats to human lives and livelihoods, we have far too little systematic or global data about issues of mortality, morbidity, malnutrition, and the availability of primary medical care.  Further, there have been no recent broader evaluations of educational resources, mental health treatment, or pre- and neonatal care.  Nothing is said of the epidemic of rape that continues to ravage Darfur, causing outrageous physical and emotional trauma, as well as rending families and communities.  All UN officials are essentially silent or perfunctory in their comments out of deference to Khartoum's sensitivities over this issue.  We know far, far too little, at least if we rely on UN sources, international news coverage, or the intimidated International Nongovernmental (Humanitarian) Organizations (INGOs) that continue to operate in increasingly threatening circumstances.

There are a host of issues defining the dramatic increase in threats to humanitarian relief for Darfuris who have now endured more than ten years of conflict, displacement, deprivation, and loss.  Nearly all relate in one way or another to insecurity in the region, an issue I have recently addressed in a separate analysis (Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: A Climate of Violence and Extreme Insecurity, 4 August 2013,  What I attempt in the following is an expansion of topics addressed in this first analysis of insecurity, focusing more particularly on threats to vulnerable civilians and the humanitarians, and the more specific implications of insecurity for ongoing relief efforts.  The analysis is in two parts: in Part One I try to offer more particular comments on the humanitarian implications of continuing, massive civilian displacement and address the key questions about humanitarian access. 

The various sections of Part Two reflect the more obvious nomenclature and concerns of humanitarian relief workers, including assessment specialists.  Primary sources are reports from Radio Dabanga and OCHA, as well as confidential conversations with those who have recently traveled to Darfur, including UN officials; collectively these speak to questions of malnutrition, water and sanitation, morbidity, primary medical care, and mortality.

Given the extensive nature of account offered here, inclusion of all recent relevant examples is impracticable.  Extensive supplementary documentation is organized in a series of numbered Appendices at What appears in the body of this analysis, as well as the Appendices, is the most representative examples from the past several months of the particular issue under discussion.  Even together, however, they are far from comprehensive.

In one sense, then, I am attempting to provide an elaborate glossing of the assessment offered by the Association of Displaced Persons and Refugees in Darfur: 2013 is proving to be "the worst for Darfur camps, as record numbers of displaced struggle in abysmal conditions throughout the region….  In terms of the deterioration of security, economy, living conditions, and high influx rates of newly displaced people, our assessment shows that this year has been the worst so far" (published in Radio Dabanga, Nyala, 18 June 2013).

PART ONE: Displacement, Humanitarian Access, Ethnically-targeted Violence, and Aerial Assaults

[PART TWO is posted separately at]      

What remains on the ground in the way of humanitarian capacity reveals a terrifying vulnerability.  On July 4, 2013 violent conflict in Nyala, the largest city in Darfur, resulted in the killing of three humanitarian workers for World Vision.  Three other World Vision international workers were injured, and the database used for food distribution was destroyed.  It was initially unclear whether the organization could continue its work, although in the event it has decided to persevere.  But the stakes were enormous: according to UN OCHA, World Vision's "food aid distribution program supports over 400,000 displaced people in camps across South Darfur" (OCHA Weekly Bulletin 28, July 14, 2013). 

The precipitous loss of such a key implementing partner for the UN's World Food Program, which has extremely limited distribution capacity at the camp level, would have been devastating.  Nor is the threat to humanitarians only recent: in its most recent Aid Worker Security Database, reveals that since 2003, 47 aid workers have been killed, 139 injured and 71 abducted in Darfur. Almost half those humanitarians killed have lost their lives following the assumption of protection responsibilities by the UN/African Union ("hybrid") Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which on January 1, 2008 took over from its weak predecessor, the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS).

Sourcing for information about humanitarian conditions has become increasingly difficult as more and more INGOs withdraw or are expelled or intimidated into complete silence.  For a number of years Khartoum has allowed no human rights reporting presence or journalists with freedom of movement.  And those relief organizations that remain dare say no more publicly than the UN itself says on issues such as rape, mortality, malnutrition, and global morbidity: these organizations are well aware of Khartoum's penchant for expelling humanitarians or threatening them, directly and indirectly.  The official UN reports—chiefly the weekly bulletins from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)—are of limited value and have done a poor job of conveying the extent of human displacement in the greater Darfur region (including eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic, with a combined total of almost 350,000 Darfuri refugees).  To the extent that the UN has relied on UNAMID as a source of data and reports, it has been badly served, indeed hopelessly compromised.

A senior UN official recently provided me with significant clarification of displacement data, and his observations are reflected in the account below.  The issue is critical because present and ongoing displacement, in one way or another, defines all other issues and humanitarian responses.

I.  Displacement within Darfur and into eastern Chad

(See also Appendix I, "Displacement in Darfur and into eastern Chad,"

Human displacement is certainly the most conspicuous point of intersection between insecurity and humanitarian conditions.  In fact, no particular humanitarian issue, no individual threat to human life and welfare, can be separated from the vast insecurity that has been allowed to build over many years, and has terrified millions into flight.  Of necessity, what follows speaks as often to violence and threats of violence as to the consequences of violence for the quality of life of those viewed by Khartoum as supportive of the rebellion in Darfur.  This violence includes the effects of a relentless and indiscriminate campaign of aerial bombardment, the brutal use of rape as a widespread weapon of war, attacks on humanitarian capacity in Darfur, and denial of access to farmlands appropriated earlier in the vast conflict. 

There are, according to a senior UN official and a recent statement by the UN High Commission for Refugees, "some 2 million people" who remain displaced in Darfur, in addition to the refugees in eastern Chad and Central African Republic.  The total figure then is likely over 2.3 million, which is more than 1 million more people than indicated in the OCHA Weekly Bulletins (the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks, IRIN, was using the figure of 2.3 million last April).  The figure cited by OCHA is the much more precise—but badly misleading—number of those in the 58 major camps for the displaced who are being fed by the UN's World Food Program.  This figure, now regularly published by OCHA, is 1.18 million people; it is the only displacement figure offered.  And yet it represents only about half the total displaced population, giving a distorted sense of the scale of the humanitarian need and suffering.  This and the previously promulgated figure of 1.4 million displaced are the ones that have been cited for many months by international news organizations, including the BBC ("As many as 1.4 million remain homeless after the decade-long conflict," and Agence France-Presse ("[this newly displaced 300,000 as of May 2013] adds to an existing displaced population of 1.4 million in Darfur).

In mid-May, OCHA head Valerie Amos had indeed announced that 300,000 people in Darfur had been newly displaced this year alone; at the same time she continued the misrepresentation of global displacement in Darfur by declaring, without context or qualification, that "1.4 million people [are] still living in camps."  What Amos does not acknowledge is that this followed six years in which the total for newly displaced Darfuris was 1.5 million (see "Taking Displacement in Darfur Seriously," June 3, 2013,  What is unknown, of course, is how many of these more than 1.8 million newly displaced persons remain displaced, or how many have been displaced multiple times (and thus each time counting as a "newly displaced person").  There is far too little relevant global humanitarian data from Darfur, and many estimates are based on less than adequate information.  But given the steady accounts of movements into camps, and the difficulty of the displaced in returning to their farms and lands, it is fair to say that a very large percentage have remained displaced.  And these are in addition to those displaced prior to 2007: the OCHA estimate as of January 1, 2007 was over 2 million ("Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 26," January 1, 2007).

Mark Cutts, head of office in Sudan for OCHA, has very recently offered some usefully clarifying qualifications to the officially promulgated number:

[Cutts said] the "actual numbers of IDPs [internally displaced persons] in camps are significantly higher [than 1.4 million] as many of the IDPs living in smaller camps/settlements are not included in these figures and many IDPs in the bigger camps remain unregistered." (UN IRIN [Nairobi], August 15, 2013the IRIN report—"Briefing: the Humanitarian Situation in Darfur"—offers a good deal of additional insight)

On the basis of these various data points and estimates, it is reasonable to conclude that the currently promulgated figure of 2 million IDPs in Darfur is very likely low.  A figure of 2.2 million to 2.5 million for both Darfur and eastern Chad is much more plausible.

Where are the IDPs?  This has become an increasingly difficult question to answer.  Roughly half are in camps, where they are registered and fed by WFP.  But the other half are in a variety of circumstances: some are, as Cutts indicates, in camps but unregistered or in settlements where registration has not occurred; some are still in flight (e.g., the recent fighting near Umm Dukhun displaced some 50,000 people); some have settled within host communities outside the camp "system"; and of a great many people we simply don't know—a cause for considerable concern, since we also have no global data for mortality (this at Khartoum's objection to any account of the issue).  Indeed, we don't even have rough tabulations from the camps of those who have died from the effects of violence, or from the consequences of violent displacement into seriously unhealthy circumstances.  The last UN figure for mortality was offered in a crude, "back-of-the-envelope" calculation by former head of UN humanitarian operations, John Holmes:

John Holmes, the undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, told a security council meeting yesterday that the previous number of 200,000 dead in fighting between rebel groups, some backed by the Khartoum government, was last tallied in 2006. "That figure must be much higher now, perhaps half as much again," Holmes said to the council. Answering questions from reporters, he later qualified the estimated number, by admitting the death toll of 300,000 "is not a very scientifically based figure" because there have been no new mortality studies in Darfur, but "it's a reasonable extrapolation." (The Guardian, April 23, 2008) (all emphases have been added by this writer)

Reasonable or not at the time, it is certainly an unreasonable figure to be citing more than five years later, with no greater effort at collating and analyzing data, some of which did not exist in 2008; and yet this is again the figure cited by virtually all international news organizations, which themselves take no cognizance of subsequent data or reports bearing on mortality.  I argued in August 2010 that accumulated data, when aggregated, strongly suggest that some 500,000 people have died from all war-related causes since fighting began in 2003 (see "Quantifying Genocide: Darfur Mortality Update," August 6, 2010, at   This analysis incorporates and supplements the January 2010 mortality study by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) in Belgium as well as an important subsequent research report by "Darfurian Voices," July 14, 2010).  None of this is mentioned in references to mortality by news organizations—merely Holmes' badly dated and clearly untenable figure of "300,000."

What we do know about displacement, violence, and mortality is that they have always correlated highly with one another.  Especially valuable data appeared in The Lancet in 2004, during the most violent phase of the genocide (October, 1, 2004, "Violence and mortality in West Darfur, 2003-2004,"  This study suggested an extremely high correlation between violent displacement and displacement per se, and in turn mortality.  If causes of mortality increasingly became the living conditions produced by violence rather than its direct effect, the general correlations remain extremely high.  More recently Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) noted that displacement of approximately 50,000 people in the Umm Dukhun area of West Darfur had resulted in very considerable numbers of people suffering from gunshot wounds or disease related to the precipitous haste with which these people fled the violence in the region:

The majority of people who died while fleeing Central [formerly West] Darfur, Sudan, earlier in the year perished as a result of violence, and mostly by gunfire, according to a retrospective mortality survey released on Tuesday [August 6, 2013] by the international medical humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). "Between January and May 2013, tens of thousands of Darfuri refugees and Chadians fled Darfur and sought refuge in the Tissi area of neighbouring Chad. The survey, carried out by MSF's epidemiological research division, Epicentre, reveals that 119 of the 194 deaths (61 percent) reported by family members were caused by violence." (Press release, August 6, 2013)

The descriptions of those arriving in camps—or simply halting in the open, without resources, exhausted and unable to continue—come regularly from Radio Dabanga, and give some sense of how dangerous displacement can be, and how great the fear is that drives people to flee.  These reports also indicate very substantial, if unquantified, human mortality.  Tens of thousands have died in the past three years; we have no assembled data to suggest how many tens of thousands.  Given conditions in the camps as represented in the reports offered here, mortality has inevitably accelerated in recent months.  The most vulnerable are of course children, and they have been dying in large numbers, primarily from diarrhea. Pregnant women are also particularly vulnerable.

• About 1,500 newly displaced families from the areas of Tabaldia and Abu Jabra fled to Girayda after militias attacked the two areas last week. "The families are living in inhuman conditions, without any food, water or shelter," an activist from Girayda told Radio Dabanga. He added that around 600 families arrived to Girayda from the areas of Tabaldia and are now staying in the vicinity of the city.  (Radio Dabanga, Girayda [also Gereida], 12 May 2013)

• [T]he total number of new arrivals at Kalma camp from the areas and villages south and east of Nyala, Labado and Muhajeriya amounts to 41,441 families since the beginning of March. Speaking to Radio Dabanga on Wednesday, Kalma's Sheikh Ali Abdulrahman Al Taher said that "the humanitarian conditions of the new arrivals are critical." He reported that 327 new families arrived at the site on Wednesday alone. "They lack food, water, and medicines." (Radio Dabanga, Kalma camp, outside Nyala, May 8, 2013)

OCHA reports in its June 28 Bulletin from Yassin:

• The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has highlighted the plight of an estimated 5,200 displaced people in East Darfur who need urgent assistance. The report underscores that the people are in need of water, health services, education, shelter, non-food relief supplies and agriculture assistance. "Most of the displaced people have integrated into the host community, placing increased pressure on existing services. Findings showed that there are chronic water shortages in Seleah and Yassin towns, with animals sharing the same water sources as the displaced and host communities," the report says. "In Abou Adid, there is no water yard and people walk up to 15 kilometres to reach the nearest water source."

Many of the displaced are virtually invisible: MSF reports that,

More than 20,000 people are almost cut off from aid in South Sudan's Northern Bahr el Ghazal state after fleeing violence in the disputed border region with Sudan, warned the international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today. Food and drinking water is in short supply and the people in the camps are living in substandard conditions." 

There is apparently confusion about whether these people are IDPs in South Sudan or refugees from South Darfur.  It matters little to people like a camp leader, Ajok Wol, speaking from a place where "there is almost no plastic sheeting for building shelters despite the imminent rainy season. 'Here we only try to survive'" (MSF press release July 8, 2013).  Too many will not survive the ravages of diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition.

In eastern Chad refugees have become almost invisible during the past ten years, despite the fact that this refugee population is enormous, especially in an area that has so few resources, especially pasturage and water.  Tensions have run high on a number of occasions between Chadians in the region and Darfuri refugees.  The recent massive displacement into Chad comes after years in which the population had remained approximately 280,000.  These people face conditions that are perhaps even more desperate than those of IDPs in Darfur, given the difficulty of reaching the area from N'Djamena and even Abeche (all dispatches here are from Radio Dabanga):

• About 2,500 new Sudanese refugees at camp Goz Amer in eastern Chad are living poor humanitarian conditions without health or medical services, a shortage of food and plastic sheets, a sheikh of the camp has told Radio Dabanga. (Goz Amer refugee camp, eastern Chad, July 2, 2013)

• Large numbers of Sudanese refugees at camp Konokono in eastern Chad are enduring difficult conditions as they still lack plastic sheets at the beginning of the rainy season. The head of the camp, Issa Tijani, explained to Radio Dabanga that "nearly half of the population of the camp is living under difficult humanitarian conditions, as they live in the open without plastic sheets." (Eastern Chad, July 12, 2013)

• The Sudanese refugees of camp Treguine in eastern Chad have complained of the high rates of malaria, diarrhoea, deterioration of the environmental health, lack of medicine and plastic sheets, echoing the displaced of Darfur. Sheikh Ali Yaqoub, of Treguine told Radio Dabanga that they suffer from the spread of disease, especially among children, women and the elderly in the holy month of Ramadan. (Eastern Chad, July 24, 2013)

The engine of displacement in Darfur

My earlier analysis of insecurity in Darfur looked closely at the engine of displacement; and while it is important to note again that violence is more chaotic than in the early years of the genocide, while there is a great deal more inter-tribal fighting among Arab groups, as well as a huge surge in banditry and violent extortion, the most consequential and destructive military force in Darfur now comprises the pro-regime militias, which in the words of Darfuri lawyer and human rights activist Saleh Mahmoud have become a "state within a state."  The allegiance of these militias is certainly a matter of dispute in any number of cases; what is not in dispute is that Khartoum has used the militias for the most brutal counter-insurgency tactics of ethnic destruction, and that ethnic tensions have been repeatedly exacerbated by Khartoum.  In Senate testimony of June 19, 2013, Jehanne Henry of Human Rights Watch put the matter trenchantly:

Of the 300,000 newly displaced this year, nearly 200,000 fled inter-ethnic fighting. These conflicts are said to reflect weak or absent law enforcement, and Sudanese authorities have repeatedly said they do not control these "tribal" fights. But this analysis overlooks the Sudanese government's responsibility. No matter what the root causes of inter-ethnic fighting—and there are many—the Sudanese government has a responsibility to protect its civilians and to prosecute those responsible for committing criminal offenses.  Moreover, the government has not been a bystander in these conflicts. Massive attacks are being carried out against civilian populations by forces using government equipment and involving government security officials….

Henry's key conclusion seems both indisputable and of enormous significance:

Inter-ethnic fighting in Darfur today should be understood as a consequence of Sudan's support for certain ethnic groups to fight alongside the government, the so-called "Janjaweed" militia, and of failing to rein them in, disarm them, or provide any accountability for past serious crimes.

The failure to hold Khartoum accountable for its past actions is revealed in a June 2013 report by Human Rights Watch based on satellite photography:

Satellite images confirm the wholesale destruction of villages in Central Darfur in an attack in April 2013 by a militia leader sought by the International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch said today. The images show the town of Abu Jeradil and surrounding villages in Central [formerly West] Darfur state almost completely burned down, Human Rights Watch said. Villagers who fled the area told Human Rights Watch in May that Sudanese government forces, including the militia leader Ali Kosheib, had attacked the area. More than 42 villagers are believed to have been killed and 2,800 buildings destroyed.

"Satellite images show the total destruction of villages during the April attacks in Central Darfur," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "How can the Sudanese authorities claim there's nothing they can do when their own security forces were involved and the war crimes suspect Ali Kosheib is on the loose?" Human Rights Watch analysis of satellite imagery found that more than 2,800 buildings were probably burned down in Abu Jeradil and four neighboring villages, which is 88 percent of all buildings in the area. (Sudan: Satellite Images Confirm Villages Destroyed; ICC Suspect Involved In Attacks Remains At-Large, Nairobi, 19 June 2013)

That "inter-ethnic fighting in Darfur today should be understood as a consequence of Sudan's support for certain ethnic groups" is a conclusion also supported by the work of Jérôme Tubiana and Claudio Gramizzi in "Forgotten Darfur: Old Tactics and New Players" (Small Arms Survey, July 2012). They look at the unnoted explosion of ethnic violence in late 2010 and 2011, directed against the Zaghawa tribe of Minni Minawi in eastern Darfur (Minawi, the only rebel signatory to the disastrous 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, defected from the regime in late 2010, precipitating the assault on Zaghawa civilians).  Tubiana and Gramizzi note:

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.

The Union of Dar Massalit writes also argues in the same vein:

[The militias] are driven in reality by the government's policy of ethnic manipulation in Darfur which is meant to achieve multiple objectives for the regime: [a] rewarding loyal tribes and militias by reallocating rich lands to them, and allowing militias to keep war booty [b] evicting populations from ands rich in newly discovered resources, such as gold, or traditional resources, such as fertile agricultural lands, to pave the way for government control and allocation to investors; [c] weakening of the ethnic base of the rebellion and of tribes reluctant to join government's war efforts in Darfur. (Sudan Democracy First Group, monthly newsletter, 11 July 2013)

Finally, Yasir Arman, Chairman of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Sudan, articulates the tactical and strategic goals of the NIF/NCP:

The National Congress Party (NCP) deliberately created new states in Darfur ["East" and "Central" Darfur] on an ethnic basis targeting Arab and non-Arab tribes. For they received a clear signal that the Arab tribes are no longer interested in the gimmicks of the NCP but rather are seeking a new way of co-existence and a common future in Darfur, away from the policy of divide and rule of the NCP.

The NCP decided to divide the Arab tribes themselves, and to play them against each other. This is a serious situation that further threatens the social fabric of Darfur and Sudan.  By doing this, the NCP is not only threatening the present Sudan but also the future of Sudan, and the most precious capital that Sudan has through hundreds of years: the social fabric that is based on mutual recognition, mutual co-existence and tolerance. (Statement of August 13, 2013; lightly edited for clarity)

Successive peace negotiators and heads of the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), as well as many within the humanitarian community, refuse to acknowledge or speak about the ethnic dimension of conflict, displacement, and human destruction in Darfur.  This mollifies Khartoum, but does a deep disservice to the truth about what drives current fighting.

At the same time, there is only minimal reporting by UNAMID on the increasingly numerous attacks that are openly directed against civilians, both within and outside the camp areas.  A considerable number of representative examples of these attacks can be found in Appendix IV ("Direct assaults on civilians, inside and outside camps,"

II.  Humanitarian Access

(See also Appendix III, "Denial of humanitarian access, civilian access to farmlands,"

The complex variability in both the scale and nature of Khartoum's denial of humanitarian access are illustrated by two very different, very recent reports.  In the one case, there has been considerable attention given internationally to the regime's refusal to grant visas to 20 workers for the UN High Commission for Refugees, a key operating agency of the UN and one that will be critical in any assessment of returns by the displaced persons if there is ever an opportunity:

Of the 37 international staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees based in Darfur, only 17 currently have valid permits to continue their work. Permits in the other 20 cases have not been renewed, despite extended follow-up by UNHCR with the relevant Government authorities.  In a joint statement issued in Khartoum, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ali Al-Za’tari and UNHCR Representative Kai Nielsen voiced their regret that humanitarian activities for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur have had to be scaled down as a result of the non-renewal of the work permits.  They noted that UNHCR's work in North Darfur has been particularly affected. None of the UNHCR international staff based in the state capital of El Fasher have been granted permits to return, with the last remaining staff having been asked to leave at short notice in early July.  "The result is that for over a month, UNHCR has been unable to effectively undertake protection and assistance activities for IDPs in North Darfur," they stated. (UN News Centre, 6 August 2013)

The U.S. State Department characterized the withholding of visas as tantamount to "expulsion" of the UNHCR workers (Associated Press [UN/New York], 6 August 2013).  Previous expulsions of humanitarians—including thirteen of the world's finest INGOs in March 2009—have brought no more than bluster from the international community, and such bluster is unlikely to be effective on this occasion, although Khartoum may calculate that it loses nothing by granting the visas, and may then seem to have "cooperated."

This continues a pattern evident for several years: Khartoum's gradual, and sometimes abrupt, reduction in the number of international relief workers in Darfur. And given the levels of violence in North Darfur and the activities of the regime's militia proxies, it is not hard to understand why witnesses with an ability to leave Sudan are hardly welcome by the NIF/NCP.  The urgency of humanitarian access has been repeatedly declared by various UN and UNAMID officials, most recently by Mashood Baderin, the UN's independent expert on human rights in Sudan (notably, Baderin was denied access to Darfur in June 2012 by the Khartoum regime).  Speaking of the desperate needs at Otash camp outside Nyala, Baderin said as the rainy season was getting underway in earnest:

"The difficult conditions facing people in the camp, especially women and children, was terrible," he told a news conference in Khartoum. "The tents were inadequate and most of the new IDPs (internally displaced people) have resorted to using local materials to construct makeshift shelter." They need "immediate help and attention to avoid a humanitarian disaster" as the rainy season nears. (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], 20 June 2013)

And yet supplies, including tents and shelter as well as food and medicine, have been continually obstructed by Khartoum.  The logistical challenges to the efficient delivery of sufficient humanitarian assistance in Darfur are enormous in any event, but the means of delay and attrition are insidiously numerous.  Independent human rights expert for Sudan Baderin was, in fact, speaking about camps to which there is at least fitful access.  Perhaps understandably, he made no mention of eastern Jebel Marra, which has endured for more than three years a humanitarian blockade in many ways similar to that of the Nuba Mountains in the 1990s and now again.  With a few small exceptions, there has been no humanitarian relief, no supplying of food or medicine, not even humanitarian assessment of this brutalized population.  Instead, Khartoum continues with relentless aerial attacks on the region, killing people, destroying livestock and agricultural production, and creating an unbearable atmosphere of terror.  Unable to gain access, the UN's response has largely been to stop talking about eastern Jebel Marra—not a particularly helpful response to the plight of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

But access is denied by the Khartoum regime and its proxies in a great many ways, often with some subtlety, more often with a ruthless cruelty. One of the most callous was reported by Radio Dabanga on August 5, 2013 from Golo in central Darfur:

A pregnant woman and her baby died in Golo in Central Darfur on Monday when pro-government militiamen, who were allegedly imposing tolls on vehicles leaving the town, refused to let her pass. One of the relatives of Rauda Mohamed Al Tahir told Radio Dabanga that Al Tahir had gone into labour, and was having complications with the birth of her first child. She was being transported to Nertiti hospital for an emergency caesarean section. The vehicle transporting her was stopped by militiamen at the gates of Golo, who demanded that her family pay a toll of SDG1,000 ($225). The relative said that the family did not have that amount of money, so the militiamen refused to let them pass, "even though we explained the situation to them and in spite of Rauda's screams of pain." Both mother and child reportedly died shortly afterwards.

There could hardly be a more apt image of what the people of Darfur have endured for ten years, and what may soon become wholesale restrictions on movement by UN agencies (such as UNHCR) and INGOs.  We are not to that point, and a number of locations are still within the reach of humanitarian relief efforts.  But the signs of attenuation are everywhere, and as access is increasingly denied, people within a badly weakened population will die in greater numbers.

Access is denied on a basis that is so routine, and so poorly reported, that only the most egregious instances seem to develop any visibility.  This is certainly not the fault of Radio Dabanga, which reports regularly on its own research and that to be found in OCHA's "Weekly Bulletins" on Sudan as a whole.  Recently Radio Dabanga reported:

Sudanese authorities do not want humanitarian organisations to assess the needs of around 4,000 people in Central [formerly West] Darfur who are affected by the clashes in the area of Umm Dukhun. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, authorities in the State capital Zalingei have advised humanitarian organizations not to carry out assessments and field missions until after the peace agreement between the Salamat and Misseriya tribes is signed. In the Humanitarian Bulletin of this week, UN OCHA states that due to security concerns, humanitarian agencies have been unable to assess the needs of some 4,000 people verified by the International Organisation for Migration who fled their homes to areas in and around Umm Dukhun. (Zalingei, [formerly West] Darfur, 13 June 2013)

It is important to remember that despite such grim reports, Darfur has not yet reached the nadir.  And yet, dismayingly, Khartoum's obstruction is so great—of both the humanitarian community and UNAMID—that there is an understandable assumption that access has been entirely compromised.  In the abstract, this is true, since at any given moment all areas of Darfur are subject to Khartoum's blockade, depending on military circumstances and regime ambitions for a particular population.  But despite these intolerable denials, the world must respond to the needs of humanitarian efforts in Darfur, which still reach hundreds of thousands of people who are utterly dependent on such assistance.  The international community must ensure that financial resources are adequate to the tremendous costs of ongoing operations.  The desperately overwhelmed humanitarian community must not find itself struggling for funds as well as doing its vital work. 

But the unfortunate truth is that donors have in many cases given up on Darfur as a lost cause; the situation is so little reported, and so often inaccurately, that many are apparently satisfied with the easy conclusion that some sort of unhappy stalemate has been reached, some equilibrium in the suffering and destruction, and that violence will atrophy from exhaustion.  Certainly the claims by various UN and UNAMID officials in the past have deliberately encouraged precisely such an outlook, indeed claiming at various times that violence has largely ended, that returns of the displaced are on the uptick, and—most shamefully—that there really are no obstacles to humanitarian relief imposed by Khartoum. 

Here it must be said that the "returns" of formerly displaced persons are celebrated excessively and often incautiously—and rarely in the context of the continuing human displacement that dwarfs in scale the number of "returnees."  In a particularly dismaying example of international news reporting, the New York Times, on the basis of dubious and self-interested UN claims about "returns" of displaced persons, declared this to be a "sign that one of the world’s most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled" (Nyuru, West Darfur, February 26, 2012).  It would be difficult to imagine an assessment more inaccurate—or, given the struggle to convince the world that humanitarian needs in Darfur remain vast and urgent, more destructive.

Insecurity may certainly collapse entirely the international humanitarian mission in Darfur: we are closer to that point than at any time in the preceding ten years.  But at the moment the UN and the humanitarian community have at least some access to many of the 58 camps that are listed in the UN's most recent census, representing a considerable consolidation of what were formerly considered discrete camps or weren't camps so much as settlements of IDPs in urban areas.  But access in Darfur is always relative and arbitrary—relative to the insecurity and bureaucratic obstructionism that may always be placed in the way of work, and arbitrary because the larger patterns of civilian destruction are various and in many ways uncontrollable.

Loss of road access

Khartoum has also allowed key roads, ever surface arteries in Darfur, to become impossible to use for travel of any distance because of insecurity, or at least claimed insecurity.  UNAMID is rarely in a position to challenge denials of humanitarian road access, since its own access is so limited by Khartoum's security forces.  But the effect is not only to threaten humanitarian movement and the patrols of UNAMID, but to create terrible risks for civilians attempting to travel to and from camps for the displaced:

• Pro-government militiamen intercepted three trucks carrying displaced persons between the El Salam camp and Nyala, in South Darfur, on Tuesday evening. A man who resisted the attack was seriously injured. The El Salam-Nyala road has had a "heavy presence of militiamen" since last weekend.  (Heavy militia presence on El Salam-Nyala road in South Darfur, Radio Dabanga, El Salam camp, 20 June 2013)

• Pro-government militiamen are reported to have surrounded the El Salam camp on Saturday and blocked the road connecting the site to Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. Sources said the militants denied the displaced access to and from the camp and harassed young women. Sheikh Mahjoub Adam Tabeldiya of camp El Salam told Radio Dabanga he is concerned about the deteriorating security situation in the area. He said the militants were on camels, in cars and wearing military uniforms.  (Militia surrounds South Darfur camp, blocks road to Nyala, Radio Dabanga, El Salam camp, 17 June 2013)

• Two commercial vehicles en route from El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, to Nyala in South Darfur, were hijacked and robbed, allegedly by pro-government militiamen on Monday evening. A witness told Radio Dabanga that about 12 gunmen mounted on camels ambushed the vehicles near Abu Hamra in North Darfur.   (Trucks hijacked, village pillaged by gunmen in Darfur, Radio Dabanga, El Fasher/Kass, North Darfur, 31 July 2013)

The major artery between the two main cities of el-Fasher and Nyala is often closed, or becomes simply a gauntlet of extortion check-points.  Both the displaced and those not displaced often have no idea of the dangers that lie ahead on the roads they feel they must travel.

THE FOCAL POINT: Access of the displaced to their farmlands and homes

In the long term, the most destructive denial of access is Khartoum's sanctioning of actions by armed forces that keep farmers from returning to their lands and homes.  Again and again, Radio Dabanga reports in detail on the intimidation and threats against the overwhelmingly African/non-Arab populations who have been displaced into camps. If these people seek to return to their lands—as Khartoum, the UN, the AU, and the U.S. have encouraged—they face beatings, kidnappings, torture, rape, and murder.  The perpetrators are often referred to by Radio Dabanga and its sources as "herders," meaning Arab nomadic pastoralists, herding camels and cattle.  These "herders" are typically heavily armed, and indeed often constitute militias, typically armed by Khartoum and certainly not restrained by the regime in their de facto seizure of farmlands on which to graze their livestock. 

Unless lands are restored to those who have been brutally forced from them over the past ten years, there is no long-term peace possible in Darfur.  And yet the issue in this stark form is often mentioned only in passing by those who profess themselves concerned about peace in Darfur.  Instead of attending to this fundamental issue, whose peaceful resolution becomes more difficult by the day, self-proclaimed "peacemakers" indulge in flogging the moribund Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), claiming that it represents a viable basis for peace negotiations.  This is despite the fact that the DDPD has been overwhelmingly rejected by Darfuri civil society and the consequential rebel movements—and has, in more than two years, done nothing to reverse the pattern of land appropriation.

This problem cannot be ignored or finessed; the militias and Arab groups that have seized the farmland of African farmers for pasturage feel that this land is their payment for conducting Khartoum's genocidal bidding earlier in the war.  They will not give up their claims willingly or easily, even as their continued presence and threatening behavior makes peace impossible.  Again, the most telling examples are reported by Radio Dabanga; most included here are very recent, but the problem is of longstanding seriousness:

• Hundreds of displaced people have fled back to Neem camp in East Darfur [formerly part of South Darfur] after new settlers on their original lands attacked them, when they returned with state authorities as part of the programme of voluntary return. Witnesses said on Wednesday the old Neem camp residents were taken with authorities including the state governor to resettle on the land they were originally displaced from. On arrival they said militants started shooting heavily into the air and threatening to kill the returnees if they did not leave the area, even though senior government officials were present.  (Ed Daein, 18 May 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.  (Gereida, South Darfur, 14 June 2012)

• Multiple farmers from throughout Darfur have complained of "armed pro-government herdsmen" trespassing on their farms and beating and harassing them. Similar reports have reached Radio Dabanga from South, West, and Central Darfur states of herdsmen allowing their camels and livestock to graze on farms. Farmers who face up to them are reportedly "beaten, lashed, and threatened with death." Farmers from the Manawashi, Marshang, and Duma in South Darfur, Zalingei, Garsila, Mukjar and Bundisi in Central Darfur and Foro Baranga and El Geneina in West Darfur have told Radio Dabanga they face fierce attacks by the herdsmen.  (Darfur, 31 July 2013)

• The farmers of Kabkabiya locality in North Darfur have expressed concern of the failure of this year's planting season due to several factors. One of the farmers explained to Radio Dabanga that he although there have been good rains, the current planting season threatens to be failure as armed herdsmen are grazing camels and cattle in the farms. "They do this by force of arms, beating farmers and threatening them with death if they confront them," the farmer said.  (Kabkabiya, North Darfur, 7 August 2013)

• A group of ten displaced women have been beaten and whipped by "armed pro-government militiamen" as they tended their farms near to Kassab camp in Kutum, North Darfur. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga this week that the women were forcibly lashed. The militiamen then reportedly threatened to kill the women "because they keep farming and are no longer afraid of being whipped."  (Kutum, North Darfur, June 21, 2013)

• The poor security situation in Central Darfur state has resulted in a failed planting season for the displaced of the camps in the vicinity of state capital Zalingei, said the coordinator of the camps. He added to Radio Dabanga that the humanitarian situation in the camps is dire…. "The security situation has deprived them of the opportunity of exercising their daily lives, so the autumn of this year has not been encouraging." The coordinator expressed concern of a deepening humanitarian crisis should the agricultural season fail altogether. Throughout Darfur, banditry by marauding armed groups can make it difficult for the displaced to move outside the camps, according to daily reports reaching Radio Dabanga. This is especially true for those who leave the camps daily to plant and tend farmland.  (Zalingei Camps, [formerly West] Darfur, July 30, 2013)

The crisis represented in these an other dispatches cannot continue to be ignored or treated as anything other than a fundamental issue in restoring peace to Darfur.  That this is at once so obvious and so little noted with appropriate urgency must occasion despair for the fate of the long-suffering people of Darfur.

(See Appendix III for further examples of denial of farm access,

The trend toward increased militia harassment, extortion, rape, and murder is also suggested by this very recent dispatch from Radio Dabanga:

Pro-government militias are said to be "spread in an unprecedented way" around camps for displaced persons in South Darfur, having robbed a number of local residents by the roadside. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, witnesses said that especially residents of camps El Salam, Attash and Dreige—all located near the state capital Nyala—are affected. "A number of displaced from Dreige were robbed on Wednesday evening at gunpoint, including Zakaria Hassan Abbakar and Hassan Musa Juma," a source said. He added that five sheep were stolen from the displaced man Siddiq Abdullah Mohamed. On Monday, gunmen opened fire on Mohamed Yahiya Adam Ishaq of camp El Salam. The victim was shot on the chest and had his both legs broken. Source said the gunmen also stole Ishaq's money, jewellery and horse. According to reports, several displaced persons living in the Attash camp have also been robbed by the gunmen, who took mainly mobile phones and money. (Unprecedented spread of militiamen around South Darfur camps, Nyala, 2 August 2013)

III.  Indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians

(See also Appendix V, Aerial bombardment of civilians

I have analyzed in considerable detail the long and shameful history of the NIF/NCP regime's indiscriminate aerial attacks on humanitarians and civilians, extending for more than two decades ("They Bombed Everything that Moved: Aerial Attacks on Civilians and Humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2011," updated June 2012,  I continue to find it incomprehensible that the international response to these attacks—all war crimes, and in aggregate clearly crimes against humanity—is so lacking in resolve, so tepidly critical, and so completely without a threat of consequences. In both Darfur and South Sudan, as well as currently in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile State, aerial attacks are carried out primarily by Khartoum's Antonov "bombers"—not really bombers at all, but Russian cargo planes retrofitted to allow crude, shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs to be pushed out the cargo bay.  They fly relentlessly and—at some 5,000 meters in altitude—they fly impervious to any ground fire.

Such attacks are quite without without militarily useful precision, and targets are often clearly civilian in nature (villages, water sites, agricultural fields).  However savage the use of military aircraft may be in Syria, the number and destructiveness of aerial attacks there do not begin to compare with what we have seen for two decades in greater Sudan.  Some 2,000 confirmed aerial attacks against civilian and humanitarian targets are assembled in detail by means of my data spreadsheet (including date, number of bombs, target, casualties, source).  This number of course represents only a small percentage of the attacks that have actually occurred; the vast majority have not been reported or not reported by a sufficiently reliable source. 

In March 2005 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1591, effectively prohibiting all military flights into and over Darfur.  Since that time more than 500 confirmed offensive bombing attacks against civilians in Darfur have been recorded (see data spreadsheet at

The deadliness of these aerial attacks in Darfur is suggested by an incident from April 2011:

• Twenty-seven people were killed, including 18 women and 9 children, when an Antonov plane dropped several bombs on the areas of Koloberi and Gurlengbang in the southern part of the Jebel Marra region. Six women were also injured in the air attack. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the airstrikes led to the burning of 27 houses and also the death of sheep and cattle. He stated that the bombed areas had been free of any rebel presence.  (18 women and 9 children killed in air strike in Jebel Marra, Darfur, Jebel Marra, April 28, 2011)

Attacks have continued relentlessly and remorselessly to the present:

•  The Sudanese Air Force has on Sunday reportedly bombed areas around Umm Gunja in South Darfur. The air raid, a source said, was followed by artillery shelling by machine guns. On Thursday, three women were injured after shells "resulting from clashes in Nyala" hit the Dreige camp for displaced. The wounded were transferred to a hospital in the state capital.  Sheikh Mahjoub Adam Tabaldiya of El Salam camp near Nyala said the site's population is "terrorized." Several people, during the air raids, were cultivating their vegetable gardens near El Salam and rushed back to the camp in fear. "This is compromising the livelihoods of the displaced."  (Sudan Air Force bombs South Darfur villages, El Salam camp, July 8, 2013)

Although bombing attacks have been reported throughout Darfur, the civilians of eastern Jebel Marra—in the very center of Darfur and a rebel stronghold—have for a number of years borne the brunt of these attacks, even as they have endured since early 2011 a virtually total humanitarian blockade imposed by Khartoum:

• At least seven people have died and dozens more were wounded when Antonov and MiG aircraft, allegedly belonging to the Sudanese Air Force, subjected parts of North Darfur to "an intense aerial bombardment." Speaking to Radio Dabanga from Dubbo al Omda in East Jebel Marra on Sunday, witnesses said that the initial bombardment occurred between 7am and 10am, and included Kadja and Dady, as well as the Abu Zaid agricultural project. "The air raids on the area then resumed, and continued into Sunday evening." Three brothers—Hawe Yahya Omar, Adam Yahya Omar, and Walid Yahya Omar—died in one attack, while Gaber Abdurahman Yousuf, and his sons Adam Jaber, Mohammed Jaber, and Noor Mohammed Jaber died in another. Witnesses said that the bombardment was so intense that people were simply not able to escape. In addition to dozens of wounded, large numbers of livestock perished, and many people fled towards Zamzam camp and the city of Shangil Tobay. However, most of the citizens of the area are reportedly taking cover in the wadis and the mountains. (East Jebel Marra/Tawila, 11 August 2013)

And most recently, in attacks that apparently involved MiG-29s, Khartoum has bombed eastern Jebel Marra steadily for days:

• Air raids "carried out by the Sudanese Air Force" on East Jebel Marra continue for a third consecutive day, local sources affirm. They were not yet able to confirm any casualties. MiG aircrafts have reportedly bombed Dubbo al Omda and surrounding villages of North Darfur, "on Tuesday morning and afternoon." Witnesses could not yet confirm any casualties to Radio Dabanga as people fled towards several directions and most are still hiding. "Farmers left their crops, and pastoralists lost their livestock and camels due to the constant shelling," sources said. They stressed that local communities, especially children, women, and the elderly, are facing a "humanitarian crisis" caused by extreme difficult conditions and poor health as they must constantly flee. (East Jebel Marra, 13 August 2013)

Another danger from this pattern of indiscriminate bombing of civilians is unexploded ordnance (UXO)—munitions that don't detonate on impact, but remain dangerous and susceptible of detonation simply by handling.  Children have been the all too predictable victims of this unsurpassably indiscriminate violence:

• A bomb explosion has injured nine children—seven seriously—on Friday morning from Kalma camp for Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad. The camp is close to Umm Dukhun, which recently saw fierce fighting between the Misseriya and Salamat tribes. The unexploded munition could be a remnant from that conflict. A family member of one of the injured told Radio Dabanga that the children were playing near Umm Dukhun at around 10 am when the munition exploded. (Kalma camp, Eastern Chad, 28 June 2013)

• Four children died last Wednesday after reportedly coming into contact with residue from bombs dropped on the water wells of Rofota, East Jebel Marra. Musa Haroun (8), Saleh Mohamed (9), Om Kalthoum (12) and Ibrahim Yahiya Yaqoub (17) went to inspect the wells that were damaged by bombs dropped by a "Sudan Air Force Antonov." Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that soon after returning home, the children all complained of the swelling of their bodies and nausea. This developed into diarrhoea and they also developed a rash. The symptoms deteriorated until all of them died last Wednesday morning. Residents suspect that the children came into contact with rainwater contaminated by residue from the bombs. (East Jebel Marra, 26 June 2013)

• A violent explosion killed two children and injured three more on Friday at El Salam camp for the displaced near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. The children reportedly found an unexploded munition while they were playing outside the camp. They brought it into the camp and were examining it in their house when it exploded, killing Kamal Mohamed Adam and Nahla Jalal Mohamed Adam, and wounding Aduma Abkar Muhammad, Hawa Jachia and Amna Adam Jachia. (El Salam camp, June 9, 2013)

[PART TWO is posted separately at]

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and has written extensively on Sudan.

Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: A Climate of Violence and Extreme Insecurity

By Eric Reeves

August 4, 2013 (SSNA) -- By way of introduction to a forthcoming overview of humanitarian conditions in Darfur, I offer here a current account of the insecurity that has long badly compromised operations of both UN agencies and International Nongovernmental (Humanitarian) Organizations (INGOs).  Security conditions have been intolerable for many years now (see declaration to this effect by fourteen UN organizations in January 2007—Appendix 1); over the past year and more, however, violence has called into serious question the viability of any substantial ongoing relief efforts in the region.  Virtually no international (expatriate) staff remain in Darfur, certainly not in the field or in remote locations—either for critical assessment work or to provide oversight for aid distribution.  And as the recent killing of two workers for World Vision in their Nyala compound makes clear, there is no place of real safety in Darfur: Nyala is the largest city in Darfur, and yet was overrun by militia forces allied with the regime.  Police reportedly looked on without acting. Threats are everywhere as lawlessness and a deliberately chaotic violence are countenanced, even encouraged by Khartoum as yet another means of waging a savage war of attrition against the civilians of Darfur for their supposed assistance to rebel groups.  

Much of the violence is now beyond Khartoum's control, as it can no longer promise seized lands as reward for military service: there is none that is unoccupied or unspoken for.  Opportunistic banditry has grown steadily and become a deeply debilitating threat to humanitarian operations.  Fighting among Arab tribal groups has been a constant for a number of years, and has contributed steadily to instability and violence in Darfur. For example, recent violence between the Salamat and Misseriya tribes in West Darfur has been the main engine of displacement in the area around Um Dukkun, driving 50,000 civilians from Darfur into eastern Chad, where resources are already inadequate (operations in Chad must work through the N'Djamena and the west coast of Africa).  Within Darfur, after years of fighting, many of those who might moderate the violence within the militia groups have left, leaving only the most hardened and brutal elements working at Khartoum's behest.  There are increasingly violent confrontations between rogue militia forces and Khartoum's own security forces and local police.  And there is still significant inter-tribal violence involving Arab and non-Arab groups, demonstrated by the recent fighting between the Gimr and Beni Halba in South Darfur.

[For an earlier survey of violence and insecurity in the region, see "Human Security in Darfur Enters Free-fall," March 20, 2013,]

Perhaps the most ominous portent of continuing violence is the refusal of armed Arab pastoralist groups and militias to allow African farmers to return to their lands.  Radio Dabanga ( has long reported on the threats and violence that face civilians attempting to resume farming their lands, or even to gather forage and wood.  Militias also engage in extortion schemes, demanding from farmers in camps outrageous sums simply to use their own land and equipment.  And violence directed against the displaced, in camps and even in urban environments, has dramatically increased—the July 4 attack on Nyala offering the most conspicuous evidence (for telling examples of such threats against civilians, see Appendix 2).

But if Khartoum can no longer control all the violent forces in Darfur, it can pick and choose where to respond to violence—and where not to.  The regime's primary concern at present seems to be the gold mines near Jebel Amir in North Darfur, as the Sudanese economy continues to collapse for lack of foreign exchange currency.  This has resulted in extremely serious fighting between Northern Rizeigat (from which Janjaweed fighters were heavily drawn) and the Beni Hussein, the Arab group in whose Locality the Jebel Amir gold mines lie.  This violence in turn has had a massive spill-over effect. Violence in the Hashaba area (also North Darfur) last September was responsible for a great number of civilian casualties, many in the course of what were atrocity crimes.  A robust patrol force from the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), while on its way on its way to Hashaba in October 2012 to investigate events, came under extremely heavy fire from an elevated location in a well-planned ambush designed to prevent UNAMID from proceeding with its investigation (see "Violence in Hashaba, North Darfur: A brutal portent, another UN disgrace," October 30, 2012, This was clearly at Khartoum's behest.

Khartoum has deliberately crippled UNAMID as an effective force for civilian and humanitarian protection.  Opposed from the beginning by the regime, the mission cannot begin to fulfill its UN Security Council civilian protection mandate, and indeed operates only insofar as Khartoum's security forces permit.  Denial of access is commonplace, despite a Status of Forces Agreement (February 2008) that guarantees freedom of movement. More outrageously, Khartoum's militia proxies have been implicated in a number of deadly attacks on UNAMID forces—such as occurred near Hashaba and more recently 15 miles northwest of UNAMID's Khor Abeche base (South Darfur), and only a few miles off the main Nyala/el-Fasher road (seven UNAMID troops from Tanzania were killed).

None of those responsible for any of the numerous attacks has been apprehended or identified; yet there is overwhelming evidence that they were acting on behalf of the regime's security forces (see "Killing UN Peacekeepers: A Ruthless Proclivity of Khartoum's SAF, Militia Proxies," May 9, 2013,  More than 50 UNAMID personnel have been killed in attacks such as those near Hashaba and Khor Abeche since January 2008, and a great many more have been wounded, often severely. It is fulsome nonsense for UN head of peacekeeping Hervé Ladsous to declare that UNAMID "has the inherent robustness to deal with the situation" in Darfur (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], July 2013); all evidence to date suggests that this a profound misrepresentation, and on a number of occasions UNAMID has been forced into a hasty retreat by forces more numerous or more heavily armed.

One measure of the failure of UNAMID, and the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) before it, is the shocking number of humanitarian workers killed, injured, and kidnapped: the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in its most recent Aid Worker Security Database, reveals that since 2003, 47 aid workers have been killed, 139 injured and 71 abducted in Darfur. Almost half those humanitarians killed have lost their lives following UNAMID's taking over (January 1, 2008) from its weak predecessor, AMIS. These OCHA figures likely understate the violence against relief workers: there has been at least one rape of an expatriate woman working for a major international relief organization.  It was not publicized at the victim's request, nor have other incidents involving sexual violence and abuse.  For its part, Khartoum simply refuses to provide protection to even the most vulnerable assistance personnel.

Darfur is simply not a "consensual" environment for humanitarian efforts; no organization would enter the region under present circumstances.  And yet both OCHA and the INGOs know that if they withdraw, there will be a catastrophic collapse in the provision of food, medical, water, and sanitary conditions, as well as shelter.  To be sure, these are already drastically limited by insecurity, obstruction by Khartoum's security forces, and the general attrition endured by an operation now ten years old.  But precipitous or even rapid withdrawal would be devastating for the more 2 million people who are dependent on assistance simply to survive.  Moreover, the elimination of witnesses belonging to international organizations, even if Sudanese nationals, is a goal toward which Khartoum has moved relentlessly for years.

This has effort to make of Darfur a "black box" has entailed a number of actions:

• Denying access to human rights reporters, and tightly controlling the movements of UN officials charged with monitoring a range of human rights abuses;

• Denying access to international journalists, except under tightly controlled conditions and locations (Military Intelligence, a fearsomely efficient branch of the security services, has long taken Darfur as its particular concern);

• The continuing expulsion of humanitarian organizations on preposterous charges; thirteen organization were expelled in early March 2009, preposterously accused of "espionage."  This represented roughly half the humanitarian capacity in the region according to a well-placed UN humanitarian official.  And there were earlier expulsions as well as several subsequent expulsions, some of the latter highly consequential (e.g., Médecins du Monde was expelled by Khartoum from the Jebel Marra region and Darfur as a whole);

• Preventing by means of intimidation UN officials (and thus even more vulnerable INGO officials) from promulgating crucial data bearing on malnutrition levels, morbidity and mortality, and a range of other key indicators; the reports summarizing these data and providing a more global perspective on humanitarian conditions in Darfur have been repeatedly suppressed by Khartoum's officials (see "Darfur Humanitarian Overview," January 23, 2011,

• Delaying or refusing to grant visas for Sudan and travel permits for Darfur; additionally, equipment, medical supplies, even food has been held up gratuitously on many occasions as a way of further attenuating humanitarian capacity; following the broad expulsions of INGOs in March 2009, very substantial resources and funds were appropriated by the regime, denying these humanitarian organizations the ability to deploy them to other crisis areas in the world.  It was the price that had to be paid in order to secure exit visas for all expatriate workers.

Current Security Conditions Affecting Humanitarian Work

Violence in Darfur has ebbed and flowed since the rebellion began in 2003; if the first three years of the genocide were the most violently destructive, attacks on civilians and humanitarians have been continual.  Minni Minawi—a Zaghawa and the only rebel signatory to the ill-fated Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja 2006)—defected from the Khartoum regime in late 2010, producing a vast spasm of violence in eastern Darfur that has continued to expand into other regions (authoritatively documented by Claudio Gramizzi and Jérôme Tubiana, "Forgotten Darfur: Old Tactics and New Players," (Small Arms Survey, July 2012).  Unfortunately such reporting is highly unusual, and is certainly not within the capabilities of the current UN Panel of Experts on Darfur (earlier work by the UN Panel was exceptionally rigorous).  Except for the extraordinary reporting of Radio Dabanga (, we would have virtually nothing; in fact, Radio Dabanga is often the only source of information about Darfur cited by OCHA's Sudan "News Aggregator" (; it is also cited by the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).   

[For an overview of humanitarian conditions in Darfur as of February 2013, drawing heavily on the reports of Radio Dabanga, see: "Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: The most recent reports reveal a relentless deterioration,"]

What is notable about the violence is how much of it is directed not against rebel forces, but civilians as well as UN and humanitarian officials.  Much of this is carried out by militias either allied with Khartoum and its Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) or essentially tolerated as a means of ensuring that a debilitating chaos continues to define Darfur.  Moreover, Khartoum acquired the services of the Janjaweed in a great many cases with promises of land, specifically the land of the non-Arab, or African, farmers in more fertile areas.  One of the defining features of violence in Darfur has long been the refusal by Arab militia groups that served Khartoum's genocidal counter-insurgency efforts to allow displaced farmers to return to their land.  In the past several years this dynamic has played out in increasingly violent ways (see Appendix 2).

The intersection of violence and humanitarian capabilities

In understanding the challenges posed by violence to humanitarian efforts in Darfur, there are a number of important features defining the operating environment.  It is first of all an extremely deadly place for both civilians and humanitarians.  As noted above, 47 humanitarians have been killed, and 139 wounded (some very seriously).  Civilian casualties to date have been staggering.  And although there has been no substantial mortality study conducted in more than three years, accumulated data, when aggregated, strongly suggest that some 500,000 people have died since fighting began in 2003 (see "Quantifying Genocide: Darfur Mortality Update," August 6, 2010, at; this analysis incorporates and supplements the January 2010 mortality study by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters and an important research report by "Darfurian Voices," July 14, 2010).

But in addition to the killings of civilians and humanitarians, an understanding of the effects of violence on relief capacity—and needs—requires that we look at a number of increasingly dangerous trends.  Providing food, clean water, shelter, sanitary facilities, adequate primary medical care, and some educational opportunities presents particularly difficult challenges in the Darfur environment.  The same is true, if for different reasons, for Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad and Central African Republic—populations that suffer from an almost total invisibility.

[1]  Denial of humanitarian access:

Throughout the conflict Khartoum has deliberately manipulated humanitarian relief efforts so as to deny assistance to civilian ethnic groups associated with the rebel movements.  On December 8, 2003 Tom Vraalsen, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan, reported in a confidential "Note" to the UN Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator ("Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur"):

…first-hand reports that I received from tribal leaders and humanitarian actors on the ground [indicate] that [Khartoum-backed Arab] militias were launching systematic raids against civilian populations. These attacks included burning and looting of villages, large-scale killings, abductions, and other severe violations of human rights. Humanitarian workers have also been targeted, with staff being abducted and relief trucks looted." [all emphases have been added unless otherwise indicated]

Vraalsen went on to note:

"Delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by systematically denied access [latter phrase emphasized in text]. While [Khartoum's] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas [i.e., areas in which the civilian populations are primarily non-Arab, or African]."

Almost a decade later, the situation is all too similar.  For example, large parts of Jebel Marra, a stronghold of the non-Arab Fur population and the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLA/AW), have endured a humanitarian blockade for more than three years.  The suffering of the people in this fertile area has been greatly exacerbated by virtually daily aerial bombardment by Khartoum's Antonov "bombers"—cargo planes carrying shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs that are without militarily useful precision.  They have taken a tremendous physical toll on human beings, compromised agriculture and killed livestock, and left the people of the region thinking that there is no one who cares about their suffering and deaths.  In the main they are of course right.

Throughout Darfur, whenever Khartoum believes there is military advantage to be gained by blocking, delaying, or denying humanitarian assistance for "security" reasons, it will do so.

[2]  Displacement of civilians:

In no area has the UN been more culpable than in offering figures for the number of displaced and newly displaced persons in Darfur.  Outrageously, this is in deference to Khartoum's sensibilities.  For it is precisely because displacement has correlated so closely from the beginning of the Darfur conflict with violence that Khartoum pushes to have these figures distorted downward, i.e., displacement has been overwhelmingly a product of the violence or the threat of violence that Khartoum is attempting to deny.  It has been the "push factor" of assaults by militias and Khartoum's regular forces rather than the "pull factor" of humanitarian resources in IDP camps that have caused people to move.  UN reporting on the critical issue of displacement since OCHA's "Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 34" (conditions as of January 1, 2009) has been consistently misleading and often simply contradictory.

But the data are available.  Since early 2007, the last year of the AMIS operation, approximately 1.8 million people have been newly displaced; the data for this staggering figure come primarily from UN OCHA and the UN High Commission for Refugees, as well as INGOs tracking displacement in Darfur.  The data are aggregated, with sources, at "Taking Human Displacement in Darfur Seriously," June 3, 2013,, with the following breakdown:

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 newly displaced civilians since 2007 is approximately 1.8 million human beings; this is figure in addition to the massive number of civilians displaced from 2003 - 2006.  OCHA announced in May of this year that 300,000 people had already displaced during the first four months of 2013.  The number has continued to grow steadily over the past three months—and yet the official OCHA figure for those displaced in camps has, incredibly, declined.  Indeed, a timeline of OCHA figures for displacement seems to have almost nothing to do with the realities on the ground:

• OCHA weekly Sudan Humanitarian Bulletin #34 (September 2, 2012):

"1.7 million Internally Displaced Persons registered in camps in Darfur" (this figure reduces by 200,000 the figure of 1.9 million first promulgated by OCHA in July 2010—see below);

• OCHA weekly Sudan Humanitarian Bulletin #43 (November 4, 2012): "1.4 million Internally Displaced persons in camps receiving food aid (WFP)";

In the space of two months, some 300,000 people had been removed from the category of "Internally Displaced Person," evidently because they were not being fed by the UN's World Food Program.  If there is an explanation for this bizarre reduction, OCHA hasn't offered one.

• OCHA weekly Sudan Humanitarian Bulletin #44 (November 11, 2012): "1.43 million Internally Displaced persons in camps receiving food aid (WFP)"

This November 2012 addition of 30,000 people is the last adjustment upwards of the total figure for displaced persons (in camps and fed by WFP); incomprehensibly, this was reduced in July 2013 to 1.18 million" Internally Displaced Persons in camps receiving food aid (WFP)"; again, this occurs against the backdrop of OCHA's announcement in mid-May 2013 that 300,000 people had already been newly displaced this year.

This statistical muddling and obfuscation is of a piece with the precipitous reduction in the number of displaced persons announced in July 2010 by former UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Georg Charpentier: from 2.7 million to 1.9 million. The only "source" offered by Charpentier for this radical downsizing of an intensely distressed population is buried in a terse footnote, referring simply to work by the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration (IOM): "IOM Sudan (2009)." This was the entire citation.  There was no indication of precise date, title, researchers, links, methodology, or anything that would allow a reader to understand what was signified by this reference.  This is not surprising, since the IOM report was never in fact completed because of excessive difficulty in obtaining adequate data from all three Darfur states.  (An inquiry I made of OCHA Sudan in March 2011 yielded no useful account of these issues; indeed, there was no mention of a role for IOM in establishing the new figure for IDPs.)

No doubt Khartoum exerted much pressure to lower the number of IDPs, thus giving credence to their claim that returns were increasingly numerous and the violence was declining.  To have capitulated to such pressure, however, reflects an obscene cowardice whose consequences are now all too clear (for a fuller account of Charpentier's machinations, see "How many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are there in Darfur?" Dissent Magazine [on-line], April 28, 2011).

All this is important because violent displacement is perhaps the most critical issue in understanding the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and increasingly eastern Chad.  Newly displaced civilians are often at acute risk simply because they have fled precipitously and typically arrive in locations where there is no additional humanitarian capacity and none in prospect.  In short, displacement correlates very closely with violence, and in turn mortality and morbidity are closely linked to displacement.

[3]  Closing of roads:

More recently Khartoum has taken to shutting down key roads (or allowing them to be shut down), including artery roads (e.g., between Nyala and el-Fasher) and key transport roads.  The excuse often given is that insecurity doesn't permit travel; the reality is that many roads have been allowed to become extortion routes, with travelers robbed or killed.  Humanitarians can no longer travel without substantial escort resources, stretching further the UNAMID operation that is already far from able to fulfill its mandate of civilian protection.  Often it is unclear whether road blockage is a function of insecurity, the incompetence of UNAMID in providing adequate escort to humanitarians, or Khartoum's deliberate delay of critically needed supplies.  A very recent example reported by OCHA from West Darfur illustrates all too well the new norm:

Humanitarian organisations report that relief supplies for newly displaced people in Um Dukhun in Central [formerly West] Darfur are still in Zalingei and El Geneina, the state capitals of Central Darfur and West Darfur respectively due to logistical and security challenges. Most commercial transporters in the area are not willing to go to Um Dukhun citing insecurity on the roads. The UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has emergency shelter and non-food relief supplies for an estimated 6,000 people awaiting shipment to Um Dukhun. In addition, the international NGO International Medical Corps (IMC) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) have assorted medical and nutrition supplies to be delivered to Um Dukhun.

An inter-agency road mission scheduled to depart Zalingei for Um Dukhun on 21 July was postponed due to security and logistics challenges. Discussions are underway with the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur to airlift supplies from Zalingei and El Geneina to Um Dukhun.

Air transport is exceedingly limited and extremely expensive.  The fact that UNAMID cannot provide a secure road corridor from Zalingei to Um Dukhun is all too telling.  Countless similar examples could be adduced.

[4] Hostility of Khartoum to humanitarians and UNAMID:

An attitude of extreme hostility and intimidation on the part of Khartoum's security forces is a means of ensuring that the UN and INGOs do not attempt to violate access restrictions or restrictions on what may be reported of humanitarian conditions.  An episode from 2007 stands as emblematic of Khartoum's attitudes towards foreign "intervention," and the regime's determination to control this "intervention" by all means necessary:

Aid workers have described how they watched helplessly as Sudanese police officers dragged a female United Nations worker from an aid agency compound in Darfur and subjected her to a vicious sexual attack. Staff say they feared for their lives when armed police raided their compound in Nyala, dragging one European woman out into the street by her hair and savagely beating several other international staff before arresting a total of 20 UN, aid agency, and African Union staff. [ ]

A UN official in Darfur said: "If the people responsible for beating and molesting the aid workers and UN staff are not punished, others will think they can get away with such crimes and it will happen again. Should the security situation for international aid workers not improve and the overall safety of our staff be assured, we will be forced to withdraw from Darfur."

The latest incident came when police and national security staff stormed an impromptu party at the aid agency compound in Nyala. The UN said police beat staff with batons, with UN and aid agency personnel sustaining serious injuries. Workers at the party said the attacks were part of a campaign of harassment. "It seemed as if they had been waiting for an excuse to get stuck into some foreign aid workers, and this was their chance," said one.

"Some of the UN guys were seriously injured. I saw a police officer repeatedly hitting one person in the face and then kicking him on the back of the head as he lay on the ground." Another said: "It has become clear to many of us here that the police and national security have been stirring up trouble in the local community by spreading rumours about aid workers and agencies. They are trying to make our work here as difficult as they can and by getting locals to resent us they can make aid operations almost impossible to run." (The Telegraph [UK] [Nyala], January 28, 2007)

When it comes to UNAMID, Khartoum has again made no effort to conceal its hostility.  A report by the UN Secretary General (November 16, 2010) noted:

In the context of this ongoing violence, freedom of movement continues to be a serious concern for UNAMID and many of the agencies in Darfur. Since January 2009, there have been at least 42 incidents in which a UNAMID patrol was denied passage by a Government official, including incidents in which Government officials specifically threatened the safety of UNAMID staff and equipment. (page 3)

A particularly revealing episode by Khartoum's SAF came in the form of a response to UNAMID's effort at protecting civilians in early 2011:

UNAMID spokesman Kemal Saiki confirmed the bombing [in the Shangil Tobay area] was by "the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) air force." Later on Wednesday [January 26, 2011], a group of 200 Sudanese government soldiers in 40 vehicles arrived at UNAMID's camp in the nearby settlement of Shangil Tobay, UNAMID said. "(The soldiers) surrounded the team site's exit as well as the adjacent makeshift camp, where thousands of civilians recently displaced by the December 2010 clashes have settled," read the statement. The Sudanese army detained four displaced people at the camp, said UNAMID. "The SAF commander at the scene ... then threatened to burn down the makeshift camp and UNAMID team site, if the peacekeepers continued to interfere." (Reuters [Khartoum], January 27, 2011)

Such hateful contempt says all too much about the theater of operations for UNAMID—and the failure of the UN Security Council and the international community more broadly to support this failing mission.

[5]  Rape as a weapon of war:

It is almost impossible to overstate the medical and social consequences of the continuing epidemic of rape in Darfur, which shows no signs of abating.  Sexual violence, often in the form of gang rapes, leaves women and girls physically and emotionally terribly scarred; girls in particular are at great danger of fistulas and other traumatic injury.  There have been tens of thousands of cases, though we will never have anything approaching a definitive census. 

Rape has traditionally been a highly unusual crime in Darfur, and one to which particular opprobrium attaches to the perpetrator.  Genocide has changed that, and rape now tears deeply at family and social bonds, often breaking up marriages and families, and preventing women and girls from thinking of themselves as marriageable.  Attention was first called attention in a prominent way to the reality and consequences of massive sexual violence in Darfur by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Holland, which in March 2005 published "The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur" (MSF/Holland, March 2005, In the wake of the report's release, Khartoum arrested and eventually expelled the two most senior MSF/Holland officials working in Sudan.  The MSF report, with an extraordinary body of first-hand evidence, documents more than 500 cases of rape; this report clearly figured in Khartoum's decision to expel the organization, along with twelve others, in March 2009.

Among the large number of examples offered in the report, the sheer indifference to human life is suggested powerfully in the following:

"When my village was attacked, 30 men with guns entered in the village. Some of them found me in my house. Three of them raped me and I fell unconscious. The men locked me inside my house (straw hut) and set it on fire. I managed to get out of the house through the burning grass."  (Woman, 17, October 2004, West Darfur)   [The medical examination of this patient revealed that she had old burns to her left and right hands and arms; one arm was burnt from hand to shoulder. She had burns also on both the left and right side of her upper back and very extensive burns on both legs from the heels to the calves.]

And yet rape is virtually never prosecuted, and almost never reported by UNAMID—and thus not reported by the UN Secretary General in his reports on UNAMID and Darfur.  The following account is typical, indeed has tens of thousands of antecedents:

"One of the three man took me away from the other women. He threatened me with his knife by pinching my chest with it. He pushed me on the ground and took off my underwear. He raped me and was repeating 'I will kill you' all the times to intimidate me." (Young girl, 14, February 2005, South Darfur)

"I was returning from the market, that day. I was walking with a group of nine women and two men. We met some armed men along the road. They took the nine women and held us under a tree in their camp. They released us after three days. During all this time, I was raped every night and every day by five men." (Woman, 30, October 2004, South Darfur) [Among the nine women, only three came to the clinic, among which two girls were 12 and 13 years old.]

For an overview of what has been reported about and what we know of this savage weapon of war, see "Rape as a Weapon of War in Darfur," March 4, 2012, Psychosocial resources for women and girls who have been the victims of sexual violence are woefully inadequate.

Again, in his recent reports on Darfur and UNAMID, the UN Secretary General has either not mentioned sexual violence at all, or done so in the briefest and least revealing of terms.  The refusal to acknowledge that rape continues at epidemic levels signals acquiescence before Khartoum's embarrassment over the issue within the broader Islamic community and makes treatment that much more difficult for medical humanitarians.

[6]  Traumatized children

There are gross deficiencies in primary health care in all three Darfur states; the number of physicians serving enormous populations is often one or two.  Psychosocial services for the vast numbers of displaced are virtually non-existent, even as studies (when they were permitted) have suggested extraordinarily high levels of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially among children.  In August 2011 the distinguished British medical journal The Lancet published findings of a shocking magnitude:

Investigators of studies with medium to large sample sizes have concluded that forcibly displaced children in low-income and middle-income settings have high rates of psychiatric disorders. Thus 75% of 331 displaced children in camps for internally displaced people in southern Darfur met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 38% had depression[The precise date of data acquisition from South Darfur is not clear in the synopsis that appears on-line at present—ER.]

The immense psychosocial consequences of rape for girls and women have also been documented by Physicians for Human Rights.  In a devastating study ("Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women," May 2009 (, the human rights organization chronicles the effects of what was then six years of displacement by the most ruthless means, which left civilians suffering from a wide range of severe mental disorders, particularly the tens of thousands of girls and women who have been victims of rape. In its meticulously researched study, PHR chronicled in soul-destroying detail some of the devastation among Darfuri refugee girls and women in eastern Chad:

Researchers asked women to rate their physical and mental health status in Darfur and now in Chad on a 1-5 scale with 1 being "very good" and 5 being "poor…." The study indicated a marked deterioration in self-reported mental health, where the average score in was 4.90. "I am sad every day (since leaving Darfur). I feel not well in my skin," explained one respondent. [ ] Women who experienced rape (confirmed or highly probable) were three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than were women who did not report sexual violence."

We have no more authoritative—or dismaying—reporting on the medical consequences of rape in Darfur.

[7]  Insecurity in and around IDP camps: threatening humanitarians and displaced persons:

In a significant indication of growing insecurity in the IDP camps (though continuous with what has long been the case), Radio Dabanga recently reported:

Pro-government militias are said to be "spread in an unprecedented way" around camps for displaced persons in South Darfur, having robbed a number of local residents by the roadside. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, witnesses said that especially residents of camps El Salam, Attash and Dreige—all located near the state capital Nyala—are affected. "A number of displaced from Dreige were robbed on Wednesday evening at gunpoint…." (Nyala, August 2, 2013)

Further examples of this ongoing, indeed increasing threat to civilians and humanitarians are included in Appendix 2.

[8]  Destruction and pillaging of humanitarian supplies, including medical equipment and medicine, and stealing of salaries:

Khartoum has long obstructed humanitarian operations and supplies in Darfur, thereby increasing the cost of responding and diverting funds from other areas of crisis.  More recently, Khartoum-allied militias have been more directly destructive of humanitarian resources.  A year ago attacks in the Kutum area of North Darfur by these militia forces resulted in the wholesale destruction of humanitarian supplies, equipment, and facilities.  Fuel was also looted, an increasingly common phenomenon. An experienced humanitarian in the region at the time of the attacks reported:

"Kutum town has been overrun by Arab militia since last Thursday [August 3, 2012]…all of the INGOs [International Nongovernmental Humanitarian Organizations] and UN offices in the area have been thoroughly looted and their staff relocated to el-Fasher.  All of the IDPs from Kassab IDP camp have been displaced.  The markets in Kutum and in Kassab have booth been thoroughly looted." (email received August 5, 2012; also source for following two quotes)

This source goes on to note that in the case of the fighting in and around Kutum, while beginning in a personal dispute between individual members of two Arab tribal groups:

"The fighting, however, has not been between the two tribes but focused on looting the IDP camps and the INGOs and the markets in the town."

The implications of this violence have not been reported anywhere—by the UN, UNAMID, or even Radio Dabanga.  But they are enormous:

"Most of the north part of North Darfur (all the way to Chad) is served from Kutum and now all [humanitarian] organizations have lost all capacity because of the looting, and I do not see the humanitarian community reinvesting in the basic infrastructure because of what has happened.  This is going to cause huge humanitarian issues in Kutum and the IDP camps there.  All the fuel at the INGOs was looted.  This fuel is for vehicles but also for the generators to run water pumps in town and outside of town.  This could turn bad, as it is the rainy seasons right now."

Radio Dabanga (Kutum, 2 August 2012) also reports eyewitness accounts of the destruction of compounds belonging to (among others) the UN World Food Program and (Irish) GOAL, as well as Kutum’s market areas:

"Eyewitnesses from Kutum, North Darfur, told radio Dabanga that pro-government militias stormed the Al Gusr, Al Dababeen and Al Salam areas and the entrance of a large market. They added that the pro-government militias attacked humanitarian organizations' compounds in Kutum town."

This was a year ago; the very recent attack in Nyala, the largest city in Darfur, deliberately targeted the World Vision compound.  This brazen military action suggests that there are no longer any constraints on violence by militia forces; humanitarian organizations will be compelled to respond accordingly with heightened, and inevitably limiting, security precautions.

[9]  Although most reports of Antonov bombing attacks on civilians come from Jebel Marra (the region where the three Darfur states come together, using the former cartographic and administrative divisions), these aerial attacks occur wherever Khartoum feels it gains advantage of any sort, even indirectly, with these inherently indiscriminate assaults.  In South Darfur for example, Radio Dabanga reported (March 18, 2013) that "some 4,000 people in South Darfur were displaced after having their villages 'burnt by aerial bombings by the Sudanese air force' during last week's battles."  Eight villages were burned, adding to a figure that over the past ten years has grown into the thousands—villages with names, not mere abstract statistics: Tabaldia, along with Abga Radji, Hashaba, Makarin, Um Sayala, Humedah, Sonnut, and Hillet Saleh.  The sheikh from Tabaldia uttered an all too common refrain: "UNAMID [must] to do its work and do not stand on the sidelines of what is happening to civilians."

Inevitably, such aerial attacks, given their indiscriminate nature, threaten humanitarians as well. For a comprehensive statistical overview of aerial assaults on Darfur from the beginning of the conflict through June 2012, see "They Bombed Everything That Moved: Aerial Military Assaults on Civilians and Humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2011" (with June 2012 update):

[10]  Use of military aircraft and ground vehicles painted white (the color of humanitarian aircraft):

The UN Panel of Experts on Darfur and others have reported numerous, ongoing instances of Khartoum's military aircraft being painted the same white color as that used by UN and other humanitarian aircraft.  This obviously greatly increases the risk that a humanitarian aircraft will be fired at and shot down by rebel forces mistaking it for a disguised SAF aircraft.  Human Rights Watch reported in late 2007:

Government forces have used military aircraft painted white—the color used by UN and AMIS forces—for reconnaissance, supply operations, and attacks. At a distance, the aircraft resemble United Nations and AMIS planes and Mi-8 helicopters; sometimes they even have UN markings. Use of these white aircraft for military purposes is a violation of international humanitarian law, specifically the improper use of the United Nations emblem, and, when simulating the protected status of peacekeeping forces and humanitarian operations to conduct attacks, the prohibition against perfidy. Use of these planes puts genuine UN, humanitarian, and AMIS flights at risk because rebels might mistake them for legitimate military targets. People in desperate need of aid may flee from humanitarian flights if they cannot distinguish them from government military aircraft.

Khartoum has similarly disguised its military aircraft along the border with South Sudan, and in making deliveries of arms and equipment to the renegade rebel force of David Yau Yau in Jonglei State.  Yau Yau's actions have put hundreds of thousands of civilian lives in danger, and has consumed disproportionate humanitarian resources in South Sudan that are critically needed in camps along the North/South border, where refugees from Blue Nile and South Kordofan states continue to flee in large numbers.


These various threats to humanitarian efforts in Darfur are increasingly likely to produce a wholesale withdrawal of relief organizations, and perhaps the UN itself (which will in any event become increasingly bunkered down in the larger urban settings).  Such withdrawal will be catastrophic for civilian populations. In the immediate wake of the killing of two World Vision relief workers (and the critical wounding of a third), there was grave doubt about whether they would be able to continue.  As Radio Dabanga reported (July 14, 2013):

[WVI Emergency Communications Advisor for Africa, Michael] Arunga confirmed that his organisation is "currently making a security assessment" in and around the Nyala camps for the displaced to verify it is feasible that they return to the area. "If the security situation allows, we should be back at the camps around Nyala such as Attash and El Salam within a week," he said. "The assessment is currently ongoing. Other NGOs are also assessing safety and damages. Then they will all sit down together and assess how to move forward. Responding to concerns voiced by leaders of the displaced that the withdrawal of WVI would be "catastrophic," Arunga acknowledges the crucial nature of the relief input….

But, Arunga insisted, the "safety of its staff is 'paramount.'"  If World Vision and other INGOS are unable to find sufficient security to work, this would put the immense and politically tense camps outside Nyala at immediate and extreme risk.

And yet considering the available evidence, and looking forward on this basis, the July 4 attack on the World Vision compound in Nyala is all too likely to occur again without a major change in international attitudes—presently nowhere in sight.  A catastrophic withdrawal by INGOs and even UN agencies is increasingly likely.  It is, then, incumbent to chronicle present humanitarian conditions in Darfur in order to see just how vulnerable these people are in the event of such withdrawal.  For this forthcoming analysis, the present account of insecurity and violence is the necessary introduction.

August 4, 2013

Appendices at   


Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and has written extensively on Sudan.

South Sudan Crisis and the Future Shortcomings!

“But having labored for years to nurture democracy in South Sudan, the White House is loath to turn against it. “They’re very worried that they’re going to have to do a major policy shift,” said Sarah Margon, the acting Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “They’re trying to figure out how to balance a very tricky situation in a way that doesn’t end up being a major fail for them.”” Diplomatic Memo, The New York Time

By Deng Elijah

August 2, 2013 (SSNA) -- Since the days of Britain there has always been hopes that South Sudan would one day be independent; independency from atrocities, marginalization, dictatorial regimes, Sharia and everything that the “first class” imposed against the wills of the African Sudanese. After a series of struggles, South Sudan gained independent in 2011, which was vigorously celebrated as a sign of the better days that were eagerly anticipated.  But South Sudan is not yet independent.

Within the last two years, although the country is theoretically independent, the death toll has hit very high for an independent state, more rebellions, more ethnic cleansing, more foreign interventions, horrible mistakes within the government, rough’-and-tumble autocracy, corruption and untold tokens of a “failed” state. Surprisingly, South Sudanese still celebrate and maintain those hopes that, surely, the better days are yet to come.

Although the better days would come, South Sudanese should wonder how long would they anticipate these magical days when tribalism is the only traded commodity? How would the South Sudanese achieve these hopes? Patience pays, but is always guaranteed? The ten million population should sit down to find N, the numbers of years!

The South Sudanese intellectuals and leaders must optimize these scarce hopes and dreams to build a democratic society that is inclusive of every child’s dream otherwise the current populace aspirations, which are likely to fade, are potentially constructive and can as well be destructive. Thus, should be wisely materialized. These joyrides are the only mechanisms that currently unite a nation that has heavily invested powers in ethnic frontiers, quasi-federalism and illiberal democracy. As learned from her own history, South Sudan’s unity has always been short-lived due to greed for power, lack of equitability, nepotism, tribalism and quasi coexistence. Although we are in twenty first century, South Sudanese have not modernized. We are still about five decades behind other Africans, a sad truth to accept. Some citizen use MacBook air and IPods to fight tribal interests, when the country cannot even produce a needle. These are tough pills to swallow but South Sudanese intellectuals and leaders have to recognize them in order to move the nation forwards.

Thousands South Sudanese who have seen the glimpse of the dark days gleaming are still confirming with the majority who believe in prosperity and better days that would paradoxically immerse the failed state. But only time will judge the magnitude and the scale of this conformities and patience. As seen from – the online criticism, journalists arrests and flees, rebellions, hapless public policies, dwindling government, downsizing of army and polices when the country is at the brink of war, massive corruption, unconstitutional intimidations of governors, increase dependent on foreign aids and international interventions, recessions and inflation –South Sudanese scholars and leaders should celebrate with cautions. There is a little than shame to celebrate. These are manifestations that should necessitate leaders and intellectuals to behave within their own standards and ethics, but sadly the citizens are paralyzed within the wildness of autocracy, and hardly could an exit be distinguished from an entrance; a moment of razzle-dazzle, where every sign seems to bring change.

Due to the current political states, there are very limited differences in rationales between the rich and the poor, the literates and the illiterate, the politicians and the religious leaders. A very unique tropospheric state that only revolves over South Sudan, perhaps the true presentiments for change!

The recent government crisis was not long awaited rather a despondency and despair!

The current state in South Sudan has demonstrated a failed in the country’s public policies, and should have hardly been celebrated in the short run. The president had independently shouldered a rare astronomical undertaking that is infrequently (if any) implemented. This decision is a political suicide in a broad daylight:

“But now President Kiir is himself a problem: last week, he dismissed his vice president, who had threatened to challenge him for his party’s leadership before elections in 2015, and his entire cabinet. “ Mark Landley

“Too much sacrifice has been made to see that effort go backward. The world is watching to see if South Sudan pursues the path of peace and prosperity, or the tragic path of violence and conflict that has characterized much of its past.” Secretary of State John Kerry

Critiques would argue that there are alternative schemes that would have been more efficient and effective compared to this extravagant dissolution. It is expected because the president did not consult his right wings chambers, the Political Bureau, the Secretariate and the Liberation Council due to the power struggle that shakes the foundation of the nation. He solely depends on his state of mind and the constitution, however, not everything that is constitutional is desirable. The constitution, like prescriptive medicines; should only be administered when it is necessarily necessary.

This particular decision will have economic, social and political outbursts that the South Sudanese will manage for a lengthy period. The next one-year will be wasted in trading internal and external accusations, while the North (Khartoum) and Uganda interchangeably control the remote system of South Sudanese future. If not properly mitigated, the South Sudanese may resolve the aftermaths through a major revolution(s), or through a slow democratic process, which is another stumbling block to the South Sudanese people. The decision did not weight the social costs and benefits to the society rather than the political benefits to the president and his allies. But the surprises of this resolution would be likely shocking!

The recent delay in formation of a new cabinet, per se, was not by design rather by default. It is most likely that the team behind the dissolution dubiously assumed that the cabinet positions are still a hot-cake since the unemployment rate is extremely high, which is true, however, that seems to have neglected that the president has to find some good apples that would not only be yes-men and women but candidates with strong military ground and grass root popularity. These candidates also have to be pillars of the SPLM party, the Politburo and the Liberation council, who would help the president wins the party chairmanship, 2015 elections or violence. When these factors, alone, were condensed, chances of qualifying these criteria (without recycling the old faces) were insignificant.  The appointed few had to submit their resumes after their appointment, on August 1st, something unusual. Otherwise, if such leaders exist and support the president, then their patriotism would be questioned if they would miraculously fulfill the South Sudanese dream in less than two years (i.e. before the 2015 election).

The president exhausted all the potentials from the chief of general staff to opposition parties. This was a desperate trial that was only necessitated by the pressure that the president was in, and still the country has no vice president and a governor in Jonglei State. In the worse case scenario, the president could have downloaded more bugs in the light of installing the anti-virus to clean up the system.  This was an invisible.

A wise landlord should never pull down the roof of his tenants before he finds a roofer!

Social Cost and Benefits to the Society

The decision has partitioned the nation and the SPLM party into political camps. The party may split before or after the party convention, which is long overdue. The split might only come before the convention if and only if the political situation continues to deteriorate and if the president postpones the convention. This move would only be a last resort in an attempt to isolate or impeach the chairman. If this happens, it would either be a cost or a benefit, depending on how the split is materialized. For example, if the South Sudanese people are politically mature to divide along their political interests and not along their tribal lines, then it would be a benefit to the society. This would mark the birth of democracy in South Sudan. Through democracy, the party and the nation at large would be moving on the right direction and the South Sudanese people would enjoy their rights and freedoms. However, this path is the hardest to achieve due to asymmetric belief systems that the South Sudanese built up during the struggle, and also because the cheaper path would seems attractive and competitive but it would be unsustainable in the long run. So, it is most likely that many people would prefer the lazy alternatives!

If the SPLM does not split, which is hard to predict, then the power struggle would boil to climax and tensions would tight up. This would lead to a tribal escalation, dictatorship or even a military coup before or after the election. To avoid this path, South Sudanese politicians would have to moderate their current behaviors and tactics that are becoming eminent. The president would have to call for the party and national conventions before the turmoil builds up. Through a convention, if the SPLM party freely and fairly elects the chairman, who would then be the SPLM flag bearer, then the other candidate(s) would either support the chairman or split to form a new party. If the candidates approve the convention results and decide to support the elected candidate, then that would be a surplus to the nation and the entire Eastern Africa. Otherwise, if the convention leads to the split of the party, then the net social benefits would depend on the above materialization.  

The long-term political consequences can always, although a cost, be abated through deliberations and candidate debates (i.e. waste time telling the citizen the sweet things the citizens would want to hear), if the country were democratic. Perhaps, seeing the current presidential aspirants debating on South Sudan Television could further relieve tensions!

Government failure, and the last days of the old SPLM

The current government crisis is one of the last kicks of a dying horse. SPLM has been grieved by challenges, and the SPLM chairman ensured he added an ounce of salt to each of the fresh injuries. The president mistakenly wrote a letter, which was meant to be a fair comment, to the seventy -five SPLM officials. This letter was the basic collateral damage to the SPLM, or the chairman in particular. The 75 officials have been criticized, called thieves and branded as the ideal icons of corruption in the country. They are the classical convention of corruption that the international community and the media reference. This letter confirmed to the world that the Republic of South Sudan is “rotten to the core”, and one of the most corrupt countries in Africa. The president later tried to apologize, admitting that he did not mean to called his colleagues “thieves” as portrayed by the media and general public. Sadly, it was too late and the damage was irreversible. The 75 SPLM pillars and their colleagues have been a passive party within the SPLM party, waiting to be triggered.

The main reason that the president seems to be circumventing the politburo, the liberation council and other SPLM organs could be a mere isolation. If that were the case then the president would be jumping out of a frying pan into the fire for consulting the oppositions appointing and approving the new cabinet without acknowledging the SPLM chambers. Winning the SPLM chairmanship does not require yes-men and intimidations but qualities and a vision. The president had already tried options such as “voting by a show of hand” or appointing some of the delegates to the convention but all seem to have failed, if not then the convention would have been convened in May. These suggestions were criticized by his opponents, such as mama Nyandeang, and therefore the only last resort, that rang a bell, was dissolving the cabinet and removing the Secretary Generals. This was a gateway of hopes for new recruitments; however, it could be a ticking bomb in the long run.

According to the SPLM constitution, the party should elect the new secretary general. Furthermore, Dr. Riek is still the vice-chairman of the party and Pagan Amum would still be a member. Therefore, the crisis has not impacted the membership in the party, instead it will affect the decision making within the party. This crisis will procreate more political rivals for the president. Thus, chances of the president winning the SPLM ticket are drastically declining.

The only missile that the president would be gearing towards would be delaying the convention and the election, which again come at their own consequences. In sum, the president would just be weighing between what crisis would be less consequential than the other(s).

Dr Marial Benjamins and his misleading campaign comments!

As the former Minister of Information (currently Foreign Affairs), Dr. Marial Benjamin, spoken in his usual political tongue that the “reshuffle” was “long awaited”. First, the recent government crisis was not a reshuffle unless the term reshuffle has been redefined in SPLM. Perhaps Dr. Marial just went “technocrat” with the terms as he was campaigning and begging prayers for his return. Likely, he was going to return since he is a free rider, who hardly balances public interest and philosophical theory of mind of his listeners. Marial had been a die-hard supporter of the President’s policies and his recent lone-cabinet appointment may cost him down the road.

The term reshuffle would, politically, refer to interchanging the positions of government appointees. The recent crises in South Sudan was not a reshuffle because it involves dissolving the national cabinet, dislodging the vice president, firing and ordering investigation of the ruling party’s secretary general, re-allotment, reappointment and recycling of ministerial faces. The decision risked genocides and another civil war. In a reshuffle, you would be required to have two vice presidents and two SPLM Secretaries generals, who should not only had been sworn in and fully acknowledged by the constitutions and the country, but also willing to interchange positions. Nevertheless, the president could have retained the same side of the cabinet, without creating a ten days vacuum. We never format a disk to reshuffle songs, for correctness sake!

In his interviews with Aljazeera, Marial could never agree that it was a government crisis, even when it was apparent. It’s a government crisis because the act of the president deeply divided the party, and the government; because some elements are believed to be unconstitutional; because some of the appointees turned down the presidential appointment; because the president mixed the party controversies with the nationals; because the president did not consulted or convene the party leadership, instead the president approached the oppositions. Above all, it is a crisis because the president removed 17 police brigadiers, a very clear sign of aggravation, intimidation and violence. It could be loosely concluded that the 117-army generals that were removed a few months ago (when the cabinet was on a one month break) could have been a preparation for the crisis. Other sources have also rumored that the Uganda troops have been deployed within South Sudan, in a readiness to encounter any ensigncies. In a reshuffle, you would never waste all these resources because it would be within public interest and also in the interest of the appointees being reshuffled.

The long awaited-ness of dissolving a cabinet was an option but not a necessity. A cabinet of twenty-nine members cannot be categorized as huge, maybe (small-) medium when compared to the economically slimmed cabinet, just announced. So, any Justification that is centered on the size of the cabinet may not be genuine. However, it is acceptable that the previous cabinet was immersed in corruption and it had also underperformed its duties but dissolving it was not a solution, instead it creates more loopholes. 

If the justification was the “zero tolerance” to corruption, then the cabinet would have been dissolved on the day the president wrote his letters to the 75 officials, as the former vice president asserted lately.

Surprisingly, the dissolution was not blamed on the Khartoum government as usual, although it is a direct consequence of NIF’s plan to collapse the South Sudan government. Sudanese are remotely controlling the Juba’s government through economic measures and this was an output of such plans. This decision is partly an austerity measure because of future uncertainty on oil revenue and party to mask the dislodging of the former vice president. Dr Riek Machar. The buttons of Dr. Riek and Bashir were flashing so Kiir had to hastily respond. Thus, some cabinet members, who are now rivaling the president, were just inadvertent casualties.

The author, Deng Elijah, Vancouver, British Columbia can be reached @ dengsimon2000 at yahoo dot com

More Articles...

Page 49 of 123

Our Mission Statement

To bring the latest, most relevant news and opinions on issues relating to the South Sudan and surrounding regions.

To provide key information to those interested in the South Sudan and its people.