Darfur one year after “peace accords”: worse than ever

Celebrations were held May 5 at the Gereida displaced persons camp in Darfur, to mark the one-year anniversary of the signing of the “Darfur Peace Agreement” (DPA). Significantly, the camp is controlled by the Minni Menawi faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the only rebel group to sign the DPA. The faction’s leadership had much to celebrate. Menawi was made an adviser to Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and moved into a plush Khartoum residence next door to the British Embassy. At the time of the signing last year, diplomats were also celebrating. The UK’s international development secretary Hilary Benn heralded the deal as a “very significant agreement which means that the process of bringing peace to Darfur can now begin.” But instead, the security situation across Darfur has worsened and the conflict has broadened.

The initial rebellion by Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit tribes against Khartoum, and the brutal counter-insurgency by government-backed Janjaweed militia have morphed into something far more complicated. Some Janjaweed factions are now also in rebellion against the government and at war with each other, as they fight over land they helped to clear of Fur or Zaghawa. Some rebel factions have joined the Janjaweed in attacking their former comrades who failed to sign the “peace” accords. As both sides have splintered, there are now at least 15 armed factions operating in Darfur—by conservative estimates. Some believe it could be more than 20. (Scotland Sunday Herald, May 6)

Still no “boots on the ground”

Ten African Union (AU) soldiers were killed in April, the mission’s deadliest month so far. Under-resourced—most AU “peacekeepers” have not been paid in four months—and increasingly under fire, they have dramatically cut back their patrols. From a high of 50 a day, the African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS) is now down to as few as three.

A UN Security Council resolution last August authorized the deployment of a 22,000-strong force. But Sudan has refused to allow the force to enter. Sudan agreed to a so-called AU/UN “hybrid force” in November but has stalled at every stage of its three-phase deployment.

Phase two, the “heavy support package” of 3,000 UN personnel and equipment such as attack helicopters, was “re-agreed” to by Khartoum in April. But it will still take at least six months before it is all in place.

There are more than 80 international aid agencies employing 14,000 people in Darfur, but insecurity across the arid region’s expanses keep this aid from reaching those who need it most. Relief organizations say 900,000 people cannot access any humanitarian assistance.

As insecurity has increased dramatically since the signing of the DPA, the relief effort is coming under more frequent attack. Carjackings have become almost daily, food convoys are ambushed and increasing numbers of aid workers are being assaulted and even shot.

The factionalization since the DPA has made things much worse. “We don’t know who is in control of which areas,” said Oxfam’s Alun McDonald. “That is part of the reason it has become increasingly lawless. There are so many different groups and so many different commanders. We used to have a set person in the rebel groups whom we could phone up and tell we were coming through their area. Now, we don’t know who to call or if the person who says they are in charge really is. The fragmentation is making it increasingly difficult to operate.” (ibid)

Khartoum defies The Hague
The International Criminal Court issued their first arrest warrants for suspects accused of war crimes in Darfur May 2. But Khartoum has refused to hand over the men.

The warrants were issued for Ahmed Haroun, former Sudanese interior minister, and Janjaweed commander Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman, AKA Ali Kushayb. ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had found “reasonable grounds to believe” the two were responsible for murder, rape, torture, forced displacement of villages, and other war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, the court said in a statement. “The government of the Sudan has a legal duty to arrest Ahmed Haroun and Ali Kushayb,” the ICC said.

But Sudan’s Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Al-Mardi said Khartoum would not hand over the suspects. “We do not recognise the International Criminal Court…and we will not hand over any Sudanese even from the rebel groups who take up weapons against the government,” he said.

Haroun is currently Sudan’s humanitarian affairs minister, a post below the full cabinet level. Prosecutors charge he conspired with Kushayb in attacks on towns and villages where dozens were killed.

Khartoum said in February, when the ICC first named the pair as suspects, that it would try Kushayb itself on unspecified charges related to Darfur. His case was delayed in March. (Muslim Weekly, UK, May 4-10)

Global activist campaign —asking the tough questions?
The local group Brooklyn Parents for Peace gathered in the borough’s Prospect Park May 4 as part of the Global Days for Darfur campaign.

Among those in attendance was Sudanese refugee Motasim Adam, whose village in western Darfur was raided by the Janjaweed in 2003, with many inhabitants killed and raped. “They went to the high school campus for girls and raped 213 students,” Adam said. “They burned all the shops, looted the homes, burned the village, destroyed crops and livestock and personal assets of the people.” When the terrified survivors attempted to put out the flames they were indiscriminately shot, Adam told Courier Life, a chain of Brooklyn community newspapers.

Now living in Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood, where he serves as president of the Darfur People’s Association of New York, Adam is one of roughly 300 Sudanese refugees living and working in the borough—one of the largest communities of refugees from the Darfur conflict in the United States. The Darfur People’s Association collects clothing and school supplies for the 200,000 refugees from Darfur sheltering in neighboring Chad.

Adam expressed impatience at four years of inaction since the conflict began. “Enough United Nations resolutions,” he said. “The international community wants the Sudanese government to give its consent in order to save the lives of the people of Darfur. How can you ask a killer whether he wants to go to jail or not?”

Others at the gathering called for pressuring UN Security Council members that collude with Sudan. “We need to put pressure on the Chinese government to divest from the Sudan,” said Reverend Podres Spencer of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ. “We need to put pressure on the people who have invested in the corruption of Sudanese government.”

Assemblyman Jim Brennan talked about legislation now pending in Albany that would mandate New York State divestment from companies with ties to Sudan.

Nora Gordon, program coordinator for Brooklyn Parents for Peace, said that awareness about Darfur is growing with the help of many in the black community and the borough’s synagogues. “It’s actually better funded than the anti-war movement,” she said.

Students from Junior High School 258, at 141 Macon Street, punctuated their concern with drums. Not far away on a fence hung a list of names of children—some younger than the JHS 258 students themselves—who have been killed in Darfur since 2003. (Courier Life Publications, May 5; Newsday, April 30)

We submit that advocates for Darfur need to ask why their cause is better funded than the anti-war movement—and whether this may indicate that the powers that be are more interested in exploiting the genocide than ending it.

See our last post on Darfur.