Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sudan's Darfur camp leaders should be held publicly accountable for the crime of denying humanitarian access to suffering civilians

From Inside Peacekeeping in Darfur blog
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Hunger Strike
Residents, or at least a few powerful leaders, of Kalma camp in South Darfur and two other camps in North Darfur have rejected offers of humanitarian assistance to the camps.

In both written and spoken statements, camp spokesmen claim they cannot accept national or international NGO’s that were not expelled from the country to fill the gaps in medical, sanitation, schooling or other services left by the recent expulsions of nearly half the AID organizations operating in Darfur

At best, this refusal represents the consensus of a group of violence-affected and wary residents mistrustful of the intentions of the government - who believe that any agency left operating in Darfur is either too biased or too weak to be of any good,

At worst, the refusal is the result of manipulative rebel leaders wagering the suffering of their supporters against the possibility of portraying a negative media image of the Sudanese regime.

In theory, it doesn’t matter. Humanitarianism, by its very nature, is supposed to above the fray. As long as people are suffering as civilians during wartime due to factors beyond their control, humanitarians should provide assistance.

Yet, it seems to matter. Engaging with IDP leaders who have refused AID (through dialogue, persuasion, or negotiation), in order to continue providing services sets a disturbing precedent. The refusal will continue until leaders feel they are loosing more than they are gaining from the tactic – which may be after a significant number of deaths – and anything we as a humanitarian community give is chalked up in the gains column (be it legitimacy, political advocacy, or physical assistance)

At the very least, the leaders should be held publicly accountable for the crimes.

In Darfur in the past year, there have been many examples of such humanitarian bargaining. In one camp, fearing a retaliatory attack by militia after killing some members, residents took hostages and demanded the arrival of UN ‘protection’ troops before their release.

In another case camp leaders refused access to UNAMID police and military patrols for months until compensation had been paid to the owner of a motorcycle damaged by a UNAMID vehicle.

One of the few valuable things that IDPs have ownership of is their own image as victims/recipients. For Darfuris, that image becomes is prominent and a powerful negotiating tool – perhaps, an unintended consequences of the huge American advocacy campaign for action in Darfur.

The question now is, how far are we willing to compromise humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality to give AID? Can we let a group of people dictate the terms of AID just to ease our conscious about letting people die in faraway places?

How is this refusal substantively different than the Sudanese government’s harassment of NGO’s - except without the excuse of sovereignty?

Should the leaders who have orchestrated the refusal be condemned publicly by UNAMID for the crime of denying humanitarian access to suffering civilians?

[Hat tip: Making Sense of Darfur blog post: INGOs Expelled from Darfur: Time to Acknowledge the Smoking and Loaded Gun]

See Sudan Watch Tuesday, March 24, 2009: Expulsion of major NGOs and Darfur rebel leaders' call to refuse Sudan gov't aid prompt food and health fears

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