Thursday, December 23, 2004

Darfur - "Who Will Save the Children Now?" (Scotsman)

This year-end Darfur update is worth reading in full. But here are some highlights.

Four aid workers dead, two raped, all in the space of two months. Save the Children [UK] has given up. It is pulling out of the ravaged Sudanese region of Darfur.
Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF), too, yesterday revealed that one of its members of staff had been targeted and killed in an area into which Sudanese government forces had advanced. A quarter of a million people are at immediate risk of losing their lives as a result of the Save the Children pull-out. The death toll is now into six figures and rising. Everyone talks of an imminent explosion of violence.

Yesterday’s quote of the day on the United Nations website for Kofi Annan, its secretary general, said this: "If 2003 was a year of deep division, and 2004 has been a time of sober reflection, 2005 must be a year of bold action."

But it is all too late. Darfur has descended into genocide, and there is no longer anyone who is prepared to save it.

The UN Security Council won’t help: its members are hopelessly divided. China and its friends won’t countenance any action against the source of so much oil. The African Union, Darfur’s only hope, has so far managed to get only 900 troops into the region, when even the most optimistic analysts agreed that 3,000 would struggle to do the job.

So this is where we now stand. [....]
Save the Children pulls no punches. It blames the UN Security Council for failing to back its threats with action.

"What the UN can do depends on what its members will let it do," said Mr Caldwell.

"The security council has a whole set of vested interests, commercial and political. The security council should feel very embarrassed that they have been unable to assemble the will to deal with this humanitarian situation."

Other agencies have decided to stay, but there is little optimism. Petrana Ford, of MSF, said they were receiving reports that one of their staff had been killed near Labado in south Darfur, an area into which Sudanese forces had recently advanced to take on the rebels who have also been targeting aid workers.

"There is a feeling that things are getting really messy," she said. "It is not looking good, it is not looking good at all."

Oxfam, whose country director was kicked out by the government but whose staff are continuing to work in Darfur, could summon up no more enthusiasm. "The situation is deteriorating, things are already very bad and there is going to be an even worse situation over Christmas," said Brendan Cox, its spokesman.

Fighting in the vast western region has displaced at least 1.6 million people - some estimates now put it above two million - and killed tens of thousands since rebels took up arms there in early 2003 against government forces and Arab militias known as Janjaweed. Save the Children has estimated that up to 300,000 have died. [....]
And it gets worse. The UN said yesterday that it was trying urgently to overcome a dire water shortage in eastern Chad which could undermine efforts to cope with more refugees from the Darfur region.

Yet the best the UN can do is to call on all sides to stop fighting. It has no plans to intervene directly. The UN and its partners voiced concern over the recent fighting in breach of an April ceasefire agreement and the Abuja Protocols. They also expressed disquiet at the scale and nature of the military offensive by the government to "clear" the roads, and its impact on civilians.

What it will not do is impose a no-fly zone, or send troops in blue helmets to force the sides to the negotiating table.

There is a film out now, Hotel Rwanda, about how a hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagin, saved 1,268 people during the 1994 genocide in that country. There is a scene in it in which the UN commander tells Mr Rusesabagin that no help will come. "We think you’re dirt, Paul," he says. "You’re an African. They’re not going to stop the slaughter."

It is happening again.

I hope that these prognoses turn out to be too pessimistic. But right now they don't look implausible.

--Jeff Weintraub

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http://www.passionofthepresent.com/
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The Scotsman
December 22, 2004

Who'll save the children now?

GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN
DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT

Four aid workers dead, two raped, all in the space of two months. Save the Children has given up. It is pulling out of the ravaged Sudanese region of Darfur. [ While Save the Children UK is withdrawing from North and South Darfur, Save the Children USA has announced that it will remain in West Darfur. See "Insecurity affects U.N. World Food Program efforts in Darfur" for additional details and explanation. ]

Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF), too, yesterday revealed that one of its members of staff had been targeted and killed in an area into which Sudanese government forces had advanced. A quarter of a million people are at immediate risk of losing their lives as a result of the Save the Children pull-out. The death toll is now into six figures and rising. Everyone talks of an imminent explosion of violence.

Yesterday’s quote of the day on the United Nations website for Kofi Annan, its secretary general, said this: "If 2003 was a year of deep division, and 2004 has been a time of sober reflection, 2005 must be a year of bold action."

But it is all too late. Darfur has descended into genocide, and there is no longer anyone who is prepared to save it.

The UN Security Council won’t help: its members are hopelessly divided. China and its friends won’t countenance any action against the source of so much oil. The African Union, Darfur’s only hope, has so far managed to get only 900 troops into the region, when even the most optimistic analysts agreed that 3,000 would struggle to do the job.

So this is where we now stand. On 10 October, Rafe Bullick, from Edinburgh, and Nourredine Issa al-Tayeb, his Sudanese colleague, were killed by a landmine in North Darfur. The African Union, attempting to monitor what remains of any ceasefires in Darfur, reports that two women were raped when a Save the Children convoy was attacked by armed militiamen on the road from Kas to Nyala on 5 December. The charity says the women were local helpers. MSF yesterday confirmed that one of its workers had been killed in south Darfur. Initial reports said five dead. Save the Children are still investigating.

This is the extent of the anger of those who have watched Darfur descend into bloody anarchy. Frustrated by the inaction of the UN Security Council, Mr Annan laid it on the line: "Ultimately, the security council must assume its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security."

His office went further: it was time for action, they said. Marie Okabe, a UN spokeswoman, said that the security council had spoken in favour of African Union intervention, but had failed to back it with action.

"It has repeatedly called for members to do that. If the security council is not sending troops it is because it does not have the will to do that," she said.

A UN mission is due to report back next month on whether the situation in Darfur is genocide. The US Congress has already decided it is: others have followed suit. Britain remains sitting on the fence.

But Save the Children has seen enough. Its director of international operations, Ken Caldwell, yesterday said that a security review conducted after the killings of its staff had concluded that the situation was getting inexorably worse, and that there was no option but to pull out, leaving 250,000 to fend for themselves. Nearly a quarter of children under five were suffering from malnutrition, he said. He offered little hope for those in peril.

"This is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. There are two million people in dire humanitarian need in Darfur. Our ability to reach them is declining," he said.

"We cannot see any imminent prospects of being able to operate there in safety. We greatly regret it, but we can’t operate there. There have been a series of incidents and we seem to have borne the brunt of it. That understandably focuses the mind."

The World Food Programme, he said, was now only able to reach half of those in need. With the pull-out of Save the Children, people would be left without access to food aid, clinics and shelter. It was likely there would be major movements of people, but Chad, Sudan’s western neighbour, has already made it clear that a poor rainy season means it cannot sustain another large influx of refugees. In any case, Mr Caldwell said, the weakest ones, the young and the old, would not be able to make that journey.

"It is a horrendous situation for about one million children. We see no current trends that would lead to an end to this," he said.

"That it has reached this state is due to the collective failure of the international community. The international community needs to summon up the political will to do something about it. It is outrageous that after all these weeks since the AU was asked to scale-up its operations [by the UN] there are only 900 AU [soldiers] there."

Save the Children pulls no punches. It blames the UN Security Council for failing to back its threats with action.

"What the UN can do depends on what its members will let it do," said Mr Caldwell.

"The security council has a whole set of vested interests, commercial and political. The security council should feel very embarrassed that they have been unable to assemble the will to deal with this humanitarian situation."

Other agencies have decided to stay, but there is little optimism. Petrana Ford, of MSF, said they were receiving reports that one of their staff had been killed near Labado in south Darfur, an area into which Sudanese forces had recently advanced to take on the rebels who have also been targeting aid workers.

"There is a feeling that things are getting really messy," she said. "It is not looking good, it is not looking good at all."

Oxfam, whose country director was kicked out by the government but whose staff are continuing to work in Darfur, could summon up no more enthusiasm. "The situation is deteriorating, things are already very bad and there is going to be an even worse situation over Christmas," said Brendan Cox, its spokesman.

Fighting in the vast western region has displaced at least 1.6 million people - some estimates now put it above two million - and killed tens of thousands since rebels took up arms there in early 2003 against government forces and Arab militias known as Janjaweed. Save the Children has estimated that up to 300,000 have died.

But while the African Union is sponsoring peace talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja, the main rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), walked out last week, accusing the government of launching fresh assaults.

"The talks have deadlocked because we are not moving anywhere. The only option left is for the AU to take the matter to the UN Security Council because it seems that is the only body that can handle the situation now," said Ahmed Adam, a JEM spokesman.

But the AU spokesman, Assane Ba, said there were no immediate plans to report the Darfur situation to the Security Council.

The AU has warned the region is a ticking bomb with vast quantities of arms and ammunition flooding in.

And it gets worse. The UN said yesterday that it was trying urgently to overcome a dire water shortage in eastern Chad which could undermine efforts to cope with more refugees from the Darfur region.

Yet the best the UN can do is to call on all sides to stop fighting. It has no plans to intervene directly. The UN and its partners voiced concern over the recent fighting in breach of an April ceasefire agreement and the Abuja Protocols. They also expressed disquiet at the scale and nature of the military offensive by the government to "clear" the roads, and its impact on civilians.

What it will not do is impose a no-fly zone, or send troops in blue helmets to force the sides to the negotiating table.

There is a film out now, Hotel Rwanda, about how a hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagin, saved 1,268 people during the 1994 genocide in that country. There is a scene in it in which the UN commander tells Mr Rusesabagin that no help will come. "We think you’re dirt, Paul," he says. "You’re an African. They’re not going to stop the slaughter."

It is happening again.

--------------------------------------------
This article

Sudan



Websites:

UN Sudan information gateway
http://www.unsudanig.org/

African Union - Darfur information


Government of Sudan
http://www.sudan.gov.sd/english.htm

Mercy Corps appeal
http://www.mercycorps.org.uk

Oxfam appeal
http://www.oxfam.org.uk/go/sudan/

Red Cross appeal


Save the Children appeal

Unicef appeal


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