Displaced in Darfur

By Ahmed H. Adam

Thirteen years ago, in March 2005, the U.N. Security Council proclaimed that the situation in Darfur “constitute[d] a threat to international peace and security” and referred the case to the International Criminal Court. Nine years ago, in March 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, citing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Genocide was added to the charges the following year. Yet despite Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s entreaties to the Security Council, the ICC’s arrest warrants for Bashir and other high-ranking Sudanese officials have not been executed.

The international community has failed to effectively respond to the genocide in Darfur, which so far has claimed the lives of some 400,000 people, displaced around 3 million (the exact number is debated), and forced an additional 400,000 to flee across the border into Chad. In the meantime, Bashir has been emboldened to dismantle the internally displaced person camps, which have become symbols of the Darfur genocide.

Beginning in 2003, IDP camps have been sites of persecution and gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law. According to the U.N.’s conservative figures there are still some 2.7 million Darfuris languishing in the IDP camps, often in dire conditions. The camps have long been a point of vulnerability for the Sudanese government, as they offer both evidence of the genocide and a pretext for international intervention.

Reports of harassment, arrests, systemic rape, targeted assassinations, and forced disappearances have consistently emerged from the camps. Earlier this month, I conducted interviews via WhatsApp with IDP leaders within the camps, many of whom requested their names be omitted for security reasons. They all emphasized that humanitarian conditions are worsening by the day, particularly in terms of food, water, and medicine shortages. An ongoing famine and a cholera epidemic have affected thousands and claimed hundreds of lives, and the situation was exacerbated by the eviction in 2009 of more than a dozen international humanitarian organizations that used to provide food, clean water, medicine, shelter, and environmental and health information in the IDP camps.

Since 2009, the World Food Program (WFP) is the only U.N. agency that has been granted access to IDP camps in Darfur. But those I interviewed cited a widespread mistrust of the WFP, as many believe the agency’s policies are designed to pressure residents to leave the camps. One of the IDP leaders, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons, told me that all aid organizations, including the WFP, are required to register with Sudan’s Humanitarian Aid Commission, which directs where agencies place their money and to whom they provide assistance. In August 2017, the WFP announced a new policy for distributing food rations, which, according to the IDP leaders I spoke with, would meet less than 25 percent of residents’ needs. Leaders in the camp rejected the new policy, and the WFP suspended distribution until just recently. Many people were forced to leave the camps to find work to feed their families, making them vulnerable to labor exploitation and, in the case of women, rape. Hassan Ibrahim Ishag, an IDP leader I spoke with, noted that the government’s 2018 austerity budget, which raised the prices of basic goods, has also increased the suffering within the camps. He said, “Darfur is a hell on earth for IDPs.”

Violent incidents have also been documented within the camps. Last January, the Netherlands-based Radio Dabanga, which focuses on events in Darfur, reported on government security forces’ response to peaceful protests over the rising costs of basic foodstuffs in the Hasahisa Internally Displaced Persons Camp in central Darfur, which resulted in four deaths and more than 40 injuries. On Sept. 22, 2017, the Sudanese security forces killed at least five and wounded more than 20 residents in the Kalma Camp in Nyla, in southern Darfur. The victims were peacefully demonstrating against Bashir’s visit to the city.

Furthermore, the displacement, systemic rape, impoverishment, and persecution of civilian populations continue to occur in other parts of Darfur. An Amnesty International released a report in September 2016 accusing Bashir’s regime of using chemical weapons against the civilian population around the Jebel Marra area earlier that year. In its 2018 World Report, Human Rights Watch stated that an attack on villages in May and June 2017 by the notorious Janjaweed militias, which have been reconstituted as the government-sanctioned Rapid Support Forces (RSF), forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. The violence was prompted by the clashes between the RSF and rebel groups. Such attacks continue to today: Radio Dabanga reported on March 22 that government militias killed three civilians, wounded 12, burned livestock, and forced many to flee their villages in East Jebel Marra. In the same region the next day, a woman and her three children were killed by a bomb dropped by the Sudanese armed forces while fleeing the ongoing fighting.

The Darfur genocide has slipped off the international radar. Nine years have passed since the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir, but this benchmark went unnoticed by the international community. Instead, countries across the world have sought rapprochement with the Sudanese government. In 2015, President Jacob Zuma enabled Bashir’s departure from South Africa, evading an arrest warrant issued by the country’s judiciary. And the African Union continues to undermine the ICC, effectively shielding Bashir and other officials in the process, without offering any serious alternative for combating impunity and realizing justice on the continent. At its summit in Addis Ababa 2017, the African Union passed a non-binding resolution backing mass withdrawal of its members from the ICC.

The European Union, for its part, has limited its dealings with the Bashir regime to a narrow agenda of stemming migration and advancing counter-terrorism collaboration. In doing so, it overlooks the fact that the regime’s own repression produces refugees and migrants by the day. The U.K. and France tabled the 2005 U.N. Security Council resolution referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC, yet both countries have remained silent on the matter in recent years. While the U.S. has used the spectre of the ICC warrants to pressure Bashir’s regime, the Trump administration, which lifted the economic sanctions on Sudan in October 2017, is not likely to take any meaningful measures to push forward the judicial process at the International Criminal Court.

The United Nations has also taken steps toward engagement with the Sudanese leadership. Following a U.N. Security Council resolution, passed in 2017, that authorizes a dramatic reduction of United Nations and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) forces—a withdrawal of 44 percent of troops and 30 percent of police—Secretary-General Antonio Guterres may be keen to move further away from the conflict. Guterres met with Bashir on the sidelines of the African Union’s Summit in Addis Ababa in January 2018. The ICC made no public statement about the meeting, and Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the U.N., referred to it as an “operational necessity.” But when I spoke to people in the IDP camps, many slammed the Bashir-Guterres meeting as “a clear act of appeasement and a betrayal of the victims of genocide in Darfur.”

In the case of Darfur, the world has chosen political expediency over moral standards and international legal obligations. Yet these policies are misguided. International inaction on Darfur and rapprochement with Sudan has effectively given the government a green light to use brutal tactics to dismantle the IDP camps in Darfur, displacing once again the nearly 3 million people forced to flee their homes. Sudan cannot be stable, prosperous, and united until the rights and aspirations of the victims of genocide are recognized and realized.

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Ahmed H. Adam is a research associate at SOAS School of Law, University of London. He was previously a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s Institute for African Development and a research fellow at the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo. He is the former Co-chair of the Two Sudans Project at Columbia University, Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR).

[Photo courtesy of Sudan Envoy]