A Massive Catastrophe Looming in Darfur: Forcing displaced persons from camps in Darfur is a prelude to camp dismantling

 

Eric Reeves | January 5, 2016 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Qo

Recent statements from the Khartoum regime's Second Vice-President, Hasabo Mohamed Abdelrahman, suggest that the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party is in fact moving more aggressively toward its long-announced plans to shut down and dismantle the camps for displaced persons in Darfur, a move that will have catastrophic consequences for these highly vulnerable populations, many of which are badly weakened by years of compromised humanitarian services and the fact of recent displacement. Outside the camps they will confront a vast, chaotic, immensely destructive maelstrom of violence, chiefly that orchestrated by Khartoum's regular Sudan Armed Forces and the regime's primary Arab militia ally, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF):

In a speech delivered before the representatives of former rebel groups and IDPs in El-Fasher, North Darfur on Monday, [Second Vice-President Hasabo Mohamed Abdelrahman] said Darfur has "completely recovered from the war and is now looking forward to achieve a full peace, stability and development."

"IDP camps represent a significant and unfortunate loss of dignity and rights of citizens in their country" he said and called on the displaced "to choose within no more than a month between resettlement or return to their original areas."

He further reiterated his government's commitment to take all the measures and do the needful to achieve this goal, stressing that "the year 2016 will see the end of displacement in Darfur." Abdel Rahman told the meeting that he has just ended a visit to Karnoi and Tina areas in North Darfur, adding the two areas which were affected by the conflict have totally recovered. He said his visit with a big delegation to the two areas "is a message sceptics in the fact that security and stability are back in Darfur"...(Sudan Tribune, December 28, 2015 | El Fasher, North Darfur) [all emphases in all quotes have been added-ER]

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"Darfur has completely recovered from the war..." Second Vice-President Hasabo Mohamed Abdelrahman (photograph of militia fighters is from November 2015)

Radio Dabanga also reported on this highly significant, if utterly mendacious pronouncement:

Sudan's Second Vice-President, Hasabo Mohamed Abdelrahman, said that his government is determined to close the camps for displaced people in Darfur next year [i.e., 2016-ER].

According to Sudan Tribune, the Second Vice President said Darfur has "completely recovered from the war and is now looking forward to achieve a full peace, stability and development."

"The camps represent a significant and unfortunate loss of dignity and rights of citizens in their country," he said, and called on the displaced people "to choose within no more than a month between resettlement or return to their original areas." (Radio Dabanga, December 29, 2015 | Um Baru, North Darfur ["Vice President: Sudan determined to close Darfur camps")

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The Khartoum regime's Second Vice-President, Hasabo Mohamed Abdelrahman---point-man in the dismantling camps for displaced persons in Darfur

The international community should hear Hasabo's words with the greatest concern, particularly in his speaking of his "government's commitment to take all the measures and do the needful to achieve this goal" of compulsory "repatriation." The consequences of what will ultimately be forced expulsions from camps will be tremendous increases in violence, and mortality related to violence, a fact of which Darfuris are well aware. The response from the camps to Hasabo's comments was predictable:

The Darfur Displaced and Refugees Association described the plans to dismantle the camps as "a major risk" and a violation of international humanitarian laws and human rights charters. Hussein Abu Sharati, the spokesman for the Association, told Radio Dabanga that there are no sufficient justifications for the dismantling of the camps.

"If the government would have realised a comprehensive peace in Darfur and Sudan, the displaced would have returned to their villages already - with the support from humanitarian organisations," he said. "But we are still living in a war-like situation, with almost daily attacks by militiamen who kill, plunder, and rape with complete impunity."

"The current situation in Darfur is much too dangerous for any return," Abu Sharati added. "The entire region has been handed to militias. If the government cannot protect themselves in Darfur, how can it protect the people returning to their places of origin?" He stressed that the displaced would very much want to return, "yet only after the militiamen have been disarmed, and a secure and stable situation has been realised."

These comments would take the same form in any of the IDP camps in Darfur. To the duplicitous inducement offered by Khartoum officials-offering to provide displaced persons with new, "model villages"-the response has also been unambiguous:

The residents of villages in the area of Aro in Wadi Azum locality, Central Darfur, took to the streets on Tuesday in protest against the construction of a model village in the area. The coordinator of Central Darfur camps for the displaced reported that the demonstrators moved to the Aro Basic School, chanting slogans against the commissioner of the locality, who was holding a speech at the school. The police responded by firing into the air to disperse the crowd. The shooting ignited fire at three school classes...

The Qatari government planned to fund the construction of water wells in 11 Darfur localities, as well as 10 model villages at a total cost of $70 million... [The Qataris are here simply attempting to "buy" the success of their ill-conceived, ill-fated, and diplomatically disastrous "Doha Document for Peace in Darfur" (see below) for which they provided auspices; there is no consideration of the security needs of displaced persons-ER]

The Darfur displaced reject their relocation to model villages as they consider the situation in the conflict-torn western region far from secure enough to leave the camps. Radio Dabanga, December 31, 2015 | Wadi Azum, (Central)/West Darfur ["Central Darfur villagers reject model village"]

Even more emphatic were these words from North Darfur, where violence is greatest:

The reactions of the displaced have continued to escalate following the announcement by the Second Vice President, Second Vice-President Hassabo Abdelrahman, that all camps will be dismantled in 2016. The displaced of the camps in Darfur have demanded the causes of the problems be solved first, before agreeing to the government's option of dismantling the camps.

Omda Ahmed Ateem, coordinator of North Darfur camps, told Radio Dabanga that "now is not the time for the government's option of dismantling the camp." He said "the regime has committed crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing. It must be removed first." He asserts that all the camps are under the responsibility of the UN. "The UN has a right to act and not the government..."

The displaced of Central/(formerly West) Darfur camps have also refused the government's plans of re-planning and voluntary return. The Coordinator of the Central Darfur camps told Radio Dabanga that the process of dismantling the camps is the government's declaration of war and genocide again through starvation and forced displacement. He said the villages from which they have been displaced are now occupied by new [Arab] settlers.

He asserted that "the government's move to dismantle the camps should be seen in the context of transferring the ownership of the displaced people's lands to the new settlers." (Radio Dabanga, January 1, 2016 | North Darfur ["Anger Escalates Over Sudan's Plans to Dismantle Camps"])

That the international community fails to hear these assessments from Darfuris-or to understand the implications of Hasabo's words, or to take seriously Khartoum's plans-only encourages the regime to proceed. Hasabo's comments were, as such comments typically are, a test of the international response; and so far the world has failed miserably in responding to the immense dangers reflected in Khartoum's newly energized ambitions-or to the character of those announcing these ambitions.

In its singularly important report on the current violence in Darfur, Human Rights Watch reported (September 2015) on the character of the Rapid Support Forces, now the primary militia force deployed by Khartoum in Darfur, working in concert with the regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). One moment in particular stands out in this report. According to a defecting militiaman-speaking with the lead Human Right Watch investigator-in December 2014, the same Second Vice President, Hassabo Mohammed Abdel Rahman, exhorted SAF regular troops and RSF militiamen in North Darfur in the following terms:

"Hassabo told us to clear the area east of Jebel Marra...to kill any male."

"He said East Jebel Marra is the kingdom of the rebels."

"We don't want anyone there to be alive."

"He said we want to clear the area of insects..."

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Darfur's "insects"

This is the real face of Vice President Hasabo, and the Khartoum regime as a whole. We are currently witnessing a reprise of the brutally destructive dry season offensives of the past three years, offensives animated by the views expressed here by Hasabo-words he was evidently confident would never be published in any venue.

What Hasabo's words about displaced persons really mean

We must make no mistake here: forced expulsions, by one means or another, are what Hasabo is speaking about. The project in its simplest and least persuasive form was first announced early in the genocide, when violence was at its most extreme. In the summer of 2004, just as humanitarian capacity was ramping up quickly and displacement was exploding throughout Darfur, plans for returns were being considered, and senior regime officials spoke publicly of returns as being in "full swing"-a crude effort at making something so by declaring it so. Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, then Minister of the Interior and the regime's special representative on Darfur, announced on Sudanese government-controlled radio on July 9, 2004 "that 86 percent of the Internally Displaced Persons had already returned to their villages."  Hussein further declared that "it was ‘most important' to get people to return to their villages" [In fact, thousands of which had already been destroyed-ER]. Each state-the Darfur region has three-had its own plan of return" (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004). [An arrest warrant for Hussein has been issued by the International Criminal Court, charging him with massive crimes against humanity in Darfur-ER]

In 2010 Khartoum announced a "New Strategy for Darfur," little more than a means of compelling further withdrawal by humanitarian organizations, since humanitarian needs were declared to be no longer compelling-a vicious example of regime mendacity (see "Accommodating Genocide: International Response to Khartoum's 'New Strategy for Darfur,'" Dissent Magazine (on-line), October 8, 2010). Disgracefully, this cynical initiative enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the incompetent U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, the equally incompetent AU negotiator in failed peace talks for Darfur, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, and Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeriahead of the AU/UN "hybrid" Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

Such perverse support was not entirely unexpected, given Gration's earlier shocking pronouncements concerning the issue of returns by displaced persons. Indeed, so shocking were Gration's words in summer 2009 that he was confronted by a "humanitarian inter-agency management group," which released harshly critical minutes of their meeting, all of which worked to reveal Gration's profound ignorance of the crisis he was speaking about in such glib terms (see Washington Post, August 5, 2009). The same response to Gration's assessments came from Darfuris themselves (see "U.S. Special Envoy on Returns of Displaced Persons in Darfur," September 2009); additionally, Darfuris in exile also spoke harshly of Gration's ignorance of the plight of IDPs (Sudan Tribune, September 13, 2009).

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Scott Gration, the disastrous former special envoy for Sudan, appointed by President Obama despite a total lack of qualifications on Gration's part; during his tenure he was immensely destructive of the chances for peace in Darfur

Presently, the expulsions Interior Minister Hussein was implicitly demanding in 2004 would force more than 2.5 million people into a vast arena of violence and extremely insecure conditions. The most recent report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) indicates that there were, as of December 2014, 2.5 million people displaced in Darfur-and that 233,000 people were newly displaced in 2015 (Issue 52, December 21 - December 27, 2015). There is also a large population of displaced persons that does not appear in UN figures because they are inaccessible; many of these displaced are in remote areas of the Jebel Marra region, or remain simply uncounted in the chaos that continues to define Darfur. It is very likely that the populations in and around camps well exceeds 2.5 million-and this does not take into account the nearly 400,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad.

Nor does the UN figure take into account the more than 500,000 Darfuris who have died from violence or the consequences of violence, now extending over 13 years. (The UN has offered no mortality estimate or update on its figure of 300,000 Darfuris dead from violence and its consequences since April 2008, nearly eight years ago.) This death toll represents a significant percentage of Darfur's pre-conflict population.

The Experience of Darfuris "returning" to their lands and villages

The experiences of displaced persons attempting to return to their lands-even when nominally under the protection of the UN-have not been encouraging, despite some minor successes. Many incidents of the following sort have been reported, and word travels quickly in Darfur when the subject is the security of those returning:

[Seven] families who came back to the Guldo region [West Darfur] in the framework of the Sudanese Government's voluntary repatriation initiative were found in an extremely worrying state. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that they were part of 25 families who left Kalma Camp (South Darfur) as a part of the Voluntary Return program. However, the journey was too dangerous, and 18 families were forced to travel back to their original camp in South Darfur. Furthermore, they reported to Radio Dabanga that the remaining families did not receive any support from the province of West Darfur, even though it organized the deportation. They now call for international action to save these families, who are currently in a critical state. (Radio Dabanga | July 26, 2011)

More recently, Radio Dabanga reported (May 1, 2013):

Hundreds of displaced families who were returning to their areas of origin in South Darfur in connection with seasonal farming were forced to flee after large Misseriya [an Arab tribal group] crowds began arriving from different parts of the region. One of the farmers told Radio Dabanga on Wednesday that they are "concerned" with the presence of these groups settling in Shattai, "especially because there are so many of them and they are armed." The farmers fear for "disastrous consequences if the Misseriya settle in their lands of origin."

The claims to African farmland by Arab militiamen and thuggish opportunists present the greatest obstacle to peace in Darfur, and we have already seen all too fully what happens when men and women, girls and boys decide to leave the confines of camps, feeling that their only choice is to farm or starve. Many making these daring efforts to farm their lands, tend their cattle-or simply to gather wood, straw and clean water-are violently assaulted, killed, raped, or abducted. (See "‘Changing the Demography': Violent Expropriation and Destruction of Farmlands in Darfur, November 2014 - November 2015," December 3, 2015, which includes a data spreadsheet with more than 500 entries for this one-year period, all mapped onto three regional maps of Darfur.)

The annihilation of Darfur High Resolution

If we add to this present destructive dynamic the wholesale displacement of camp populations-literally forced out of the tenuous security of the camps, which also serve as focal points for the distribution of relief aid-a massive catastrophe will surely ensue. There may be efforts by the displaced to re-congregate in order to continue receiving international humanitarian relief. But Khartoum will most certainly not give access to INGOs in Darfur to work with these re-congregating populations of displaced persons.

Khartoum will be insistent on this point because it is key to the regime's larger goal: remove the rationale for any continuing international presence in Darfur, including not only INGOs but also UNAMID. If the camps are shut, no matter what the forcibly expelled populations do, Khartoum will deny them as fully as possible humanitarian access. They are willing to accept considerable international criticism in order to complete what has long been a primary goal in the regime's genocidal counter-insurgency war in Darfur.

KHARTOUM'S TOOLS FOR CAMP EXPULSIONS

·  Attenuation of humanitarian capacity

Efforts to shut down the camps and compel "returns" have long extended to the deliberate diminishing of humanitarian capacity, both domestic and international. As Radio Dabanga recently reported in an all too representative dispatch:

The residents of the Otash camp for the displaced near Nyala, capital of South Darfur, have renewed their complaints about the shortage of drinking water. One of the Otash camp sheikhs told Radio Dabanga that the drinking water crisis started nearly one month ago after both the governmental Water and Sanitation Department (WES) and the organisation which used to provide fuel for the operation of the pump engines stopped their work at the camp "without providing a reason." The sheikh appealed to the local and state authorities to speed up the provision of clean drinking water to the displaced. He pointed out that the camp residents lack the means to fetch water from the commercial wells. "They are now forced to buy a jerry can of water for SDG2 ($0.33)." (January 3, 2016 | Otash camp, South Darfur)

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Lines for water in many camps can be extremely long and time-consuming; Khartoum is deliberately exacerbating the problem in some camps

Such efforts to make camp life increasingly unbearable have long been in evidence and are too numerous to catalog, but are now clearly escalating and are marked by greater coordination and targeting of critical resources....

 

[full text and Appendices at | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Qo/]

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Eric Reeves 
Smith College

Northampton, MA  01063 

ereeves@smith.edu

www.sudanreeves.org

Twitter@SudanReeves

 

 

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