by Eric Reeves
Has Darfur’s war ended? Has the genocidal counter-insurgency launched by the Khartoum regime in 2003 against Darfuri rebels and the non-Arab civilian population of Darfur been halted? Two departing leaders of the current UN/African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) claim that the war is indeed over, and has devolved into a “low-intensity” security problem.
How accurately do these self-serving assessments comport with the daily realities that confront Darfuris and the international aid workers who struggle to provide food, clean water, shelter, and primary medical care for some 4.7 million conflict-affected civilians? Over the past 20 months — all on UNAMID’s watch — some 450,000 civilians have been newly displaced in Darfur, a large majority by violence; camps for displaced persons are now home to almost 3 million people. “Low-intensity”?
As a consequence, most humanitarian operations and international humanitarian workers have retreated to urban areas, where there are still shockingly violent attacks, official harassment, carjackings, and banditry. There has also been an alarming increase in the kidnapping of aid workers. Much of this violence is clearly condoned by Khartoum in a ruthless war of attrition against humanitarian operations. Unsurprisingly, it has become harder and harder to attract experienced aid workers to Darfur, an essential task following Khartoum’s March expulsion of thirteen key international aid organizations.
Darfuris wishing to return to their homes and villages to resume agriculturally productive lives cannot: Khartoum’s brutal Arab militia allies, the Janjaweed, continue their predations, often within sight of the camps. Women and girls are raped, men and boys beaten and killed. At the same time, many villages and lands have been occupied by marauding Arab groups, some from as far away as Chad, Niger, and Mali.
Let us be clear: “low-intensity” does nothing to describe or convey the terrible destruction that the AU and the international community allowed to rage when violence could have been halted by prompt and robust humanitarian intervention. Nor does “low-intensity” describe the present soul-destroying nature of existence within the camps: the relentless privations, the pervasive threats to health, the loss of hope, the acute sense of abandonment, and the anger and despair that relentlessly haunt daily existence. Victims of genocidal violence continue to be victimized, continue to face conditions of life calculated in many ways to bring about their physical destruction.
UNAMID promulgated a figure of 102 violent deaths for all of February, throughout all of Darfur: this represented the number of bodies actually counted and assigned “violence” as the cause of death. But so much is excluded by means of this astringent methodology that it becomes meaningless as a figure for global mortality, particularly when to date perhaps 80 percent of those dying in the Darfur conflict are victims of the after-effects of violence rather than directly perpetrated violent acts.
UNAMID is neither responsible for the diminishment in the levels of violence in Darfur nor capable of halting major conflict should it resume. UNAMID offers some important security to civilians and humanitarians, in some locations, but given the mandate of the force and the size of nominally committed resources, it should be capable of much more, particularly in monitoring and bolstering security in more remote locations.
Large-scale conflict may or may not resume in Darfur; but to focus only on the scale of military confrontation misses the broader issue. If insecurity — from whatever source(s) — collapses present international humanitarian operations, there will be hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, and it will not matter whether or not they are described as “low intensity.”
Excerpted from www.SudanReeves.org. Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.”