Friday, August 20, 2010

The Disappearing Genocide

Last month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant with additional charges against Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir: three counts of genocide in Darfur. It was an important historical moment. Never before had the court leveled genocide charges at a current head of state. But, for policy and opinion-makers in Washington, the event was merely a footnote lost among a host of other competing priorities.

That's because, two years after candidate Barack Obama criticized then-President Bush for a policy of “reward[ing] a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments,” he has appointed a special envoy who is the very embodiment of such accommodation. Indeed, former Air Force General Scott Gration publicly complained in mid-July that the genocide charges would “make my mission more difficult.” In part as a consequence of such attitudes, the United States and much of the international community have been visibly incapable of responding effectively to the interlocking crises in Sudan. Their attention has been sliding from emergency to emergency—from the expulsion of humanitarian aid from Darfur in March 2009, to the frantic damage-control efforts during President Al Bashir 's fraudulent reelection campaign in April 2010 , to the multiple agreements that must be finalized before the January 2011 referenda on South Sudanese self-determination—and they have been outmaneuvered by a Sudanese regime that has successfully played these crises off each other. There's a very real chance that this state of affairs could have catastrophic repercussions for the north and the south, including a resumption of the country's civil war. And, in addition, there is a hidden cost: This lack of focus is producing terrible, perhaps permanent consequences for the people of Darfur.

Here's the situation there right now: Humanitarian indicators, especially in North Darfur, are ominous, particularly malnutrition levels ; yet both U.N. agencies and International Nongovernmental Organizations (INGOs) refuse to speak about conditions candidly. In the wake of the March 2009 expulsions, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs no longer produces its comprehensive, detailed accounts of humanitarian conditions throughout Darfur. The 13 expelled international humanitarian organizations, which together provided approximately half the aid capacity in Darfur, have been only partially replaced; and the overall quality and capacity of aid operations remains much reduced. Malnutrition studies have been held hostage by Khartoum with no effective protest, despite the importance of such data for work in the field. Regime officials have demanded, and been granted, a role in the collection, analysis, and promulgation of humanitarian data—and have made clear they are willing to use their veto power if studies are judged too damning. And, most importantly, access for aid workers is at an all-time low, and shrinking rapidly, chiefly for lack of security.

The humanitarian community lives in fear following the expulsions, and rightly so. Two senior expatriate workers for the vital International Organization for Migration were recently expelled, apparently in retaliation for the ICC’s action last month, further reducing humanitarian capacity. The killing and abduction of humanitarians has continued to increase from already intolerable levels. And the U.N. peacekeeping mission that is supposed to be protecting them, UNAMID, is itself hamstrung by inadequate resources, a lack of trained personnel, poor morale, and brazen obstruction of its investigations by Khartoum's security forces. It has become the target of militia elements clearly aligned with the regime, and, at this point, 27 UNAMID peacekeeping personnel have been killed. Many others have been wounded and abducted. And there are questions as to whether UNAMID's mission can be sustained in light of harassment from Khartoum—even though withdrawal would lead to uncontrollable violence. Read more >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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