The moral hypocrisy, the mendacity, and the sheer foolishness of the Obama administration's claim that there has been a "sea change" of improvement in Khartoum's facilitating of humanitarian access in Sudan is staggering. This isn't some shading of the truth; this isn't slightly disingenuous; it is a bald lie. A humanitarian with extensive experience on the ground in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan made this clear in a communication to me today, noting:
"there's been absolutely no change in humanitarian access [in the Nuba Mountains--suffering under Khartoum's humanitarian embargo for over five and a half years]. Not a single grain of sorghum nor one tablet of medicine has entered Nuba from any of the usual humanitarian agencies." (email received January 17, 2017)
The same is true for hundreds of thousands of people in Blue Nile, also under humanitarian embargo for over five years.
What has been the effect of these humanitarian embargoes--still in place because the international community refuses to put sufficient pressure on the Khartoum regime to compel their lifting?
One example of many: the South Kordofan/Blue Nile Coordinating Unit | Flash update #13 - 2nd March 2016: Emergency in Kau-Nyaro-Warni area (Southeastern Jebel, South Kordofan State): An estimated 65,000 people are in urgent need of assistance. The "Special Bulletin: Food security situation in Warni and Kau-Nyaro" released by the Food Security and Monitoring Unit (FSMU), reports levels "of food insecurity unprecedented" in their regular monitoring of the Two Areas.
As many as sixty four percent (64%) of households in the area are severely food insecure; and a further thirty six percent (36%) are moderately food insecure (total 97%). This degree of food insecurity is not without its manifestations. Two hundred and forty two (242) people are reported to have died between July and December 2015, in the 8 villages assessed, 145 of which were attributed to lack of food. Almost 10 percent of those who died from lack of food were under the age of five.
The households assessed had no food available to eat for an average of 16 days (out of the last 30 days). For an average of 10 days in 30 they went a whole day and night without any food. All households reported having no remaining food stock from the current harvest and are consuming wild foods, including wild roots and green leaves, as their main food source.
High levels of insecurity around the area have prevented people from accessing land to harvest during the last agricultural season. This, along with low levels of rainfall and insufficient seeds, has contributed to the poor harvest. Insecurity has further deteriorated with the beginning of the new season of fighting. Fear of attacks by government-supported militias was assessed as the most prevalent factor preventing people from moving out of the area, and the main limiting factor when searching for wild foods. As quoted in the report, people "preferred to stay put and die, rather than undertake moving."
Nothing has changed in the months since this assessment; conditions only worsen because Khartoum's embargo continues to block food aid. Moreover, in Sudan generally UNICEF estimates that there are 2 million children under five in Sudan who are either severely or acutely malnourished ( http://sudanreeves.org/2014/09/05/an-internal-unicef-malnutrition-report-on-sudan-and-darfur-5-september-2014/ ). This staggering figure is a direct result of the gross mismanagement of the Sudanese economy by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime.
And in Darfur, the fact that humanitarians now have access to Golo (in the Jebel Marra region of Central Darfur)--while important--doesn't begin to make up for the denial of humanitarian assistance in countless areas of Darfur, including the Sortony camp for persons displaced from Jebel Marra during the massive 2016 offensive: Radio Dabanga reported the same obstruction by Khartoum-backed militias in May of 2016:
Militiamen's road block causes water shortage in Sortony, North Darfur | May 23, 2016 | https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/militiamen-s-road-block-causes-water-shortage-in-sortony-north-darfur
...and then again in October of 2016:
North Darfur militiamen halt water for Sortony | October 24, 2016 | SORTONY, NORTH DARFUR | https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/north-darfur-militiamen-halt-water-for-sortony
So severe were the shortages caused by Khartoum's militia blockades that the UN was forced, at great expense, to airlift many displaced persons to camps near el-Fasher, capital of North Darfur. The Jebel Marra assault entailed some of the most brutal and comprehensively destructive tactics used by Khartoum during the the entire genocidal counter-insurgency, including the use of chemical weapons; and it was directed overwhelmingly against civilians:
See: "Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra,Darfur," September 29, 2016 | Amnesty International | http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/scorched-earth-poisoned-air-sudanese-government-forces-ravage-jebel-marra-darfur
See also: "Men with No Mercy: Rapid Support Forces Attacks Against Civilians in Darfur, Human Rights Watch, September 9, 2015 | https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/09/09/men-no-mercy/rapid-support-forces-attacks-against-civilians-darfur-sudan
The Obama administration would have us believe that we should use a "look back" period of six months in assessing the various benchmarks that justified the move toward lifting sanctions on a regime led by Omar al-Bashir, a man indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and massive crimes against humanity in Darfur. But the case of Sortony just three months ago is certainly not unique; and more broadly, years of Khartoum's relentless assault on humanitarian relief have taken a terrible toll. More than 30 humanitarian organizations have been expelled by the regime--thirteen in March 2009 alone; these organizations continue to face harassment, bureaucratic obstructionism, and physical assaults; and after fourteen years of violence and one of the most expensive humanitarian operations in history, donor fatigue has set in with profound consequences--consequences that figure nowhere in Ambassador Power's mendacious claims about humanitarian access. An example I reported this past November is all too telling:
Massive Funding Shortages Leave a Vast Population at Acute Health Risk in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile
Eric Reeves | November 19, 2016 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Yn
For Khartoum, these shortages--in part engineered by the regime--are welcome news from the three marginalized areas in which they are engaged in genocidal counter-insurgency efforts. The news comes even as reports indicate that UN actions have forced some more than 27,500 Nuba to return to South Kordofan from South Sudan, including some 15,000 from Yida refugee camp in Unity State, South Sudan (see below).
OCHA Sudan Bulletin #46 (November 7 - 13, 2016) | http://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/sudan-humanitarian-bulletin-issue-46-7-13-november-2016
• 11 clinics have closed and 49 are at risk of closure in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile due to funding shortages.
• About 769,000 people (IDPs and host communities) are affected by these funding shortages.
The following is the Radio Dabanga dispatch on this disturbing OCHA report | https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/relief-news/article/sudan-ocha-bulletin-46-funding-shortages-cause-closure-of-health-units-in-sudan
OCHA Sudan Bulletin #46: Funding shortages cause closure of health units in Sudan | November 19, 2016 | KHARTOUM
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan reports in its latest weekly bulletin that a lack of funding is forcing humanitarian organisations to either hand over or close down their health facilities in some parts of Sudan. In Um Keddada in North Darfur, about 140 suspected cases of diphtheria have been recorded. From January to September, 173,973 children suffering from acute malnutrition have been treated across Sudan. About 27,500 Sudanese refugees have returned from Yida camp in South Sudan to Sudan's South Kordofan.
The latest Sudan Health Sector Quarterly bulletin reports that the Sudanese Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) assessed 60 health facilities in North, South, and West Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. They found that 11 clinics have already closed and 49 are at risk of closure.
The bulletin said that 769,000 people, including displaced and their host communities, in these states may face significant difficulties in accessing primary health care services as a result of funding shortages. About $7 million is needed to keep these facilities running for one year.
According to the report, consequences of funding shortages include people not being able to access health services or buy medicine; no access to immunisation services; less assistance in the control of communicable diseases and outbreaks; and lack of referrals of complicated cases to other facilities.
As Obama Exits the Presidency
There are many reasons to be outraged at the decision by the Obama administration in its closing days to commit to a lifting of sanctions imposed on a genocidal regime--and strengthened during the Bush administration precisely because of genocide in Darfur. But most outrageous is the justification on the basis of "improved" humanitarian access--a "sea change" of improvement according to the Obama administration's ambassador to the UN.
I will be returning in subsequent analyses to the destructive consequences of this lifting of sanctions:
• encouraging Europe to pursue its even more aggressive policies of rapprochement with the Khartoum regime;
• undermining the International Criminal Court by rewarding a regime that comprises individuals charged, or destined to be charged, with massive crimes against humanity (and in the case of President al-Bashir, with multiple counts of genocide);
• undermining any international efforts to secure real humanitarian access in South Kordofan and Blue Nile: having already celebrated Khartoum's "sea change" of improvement on this score, the Obama administration has hopelessly compromised meaningful negotiations;
• undermining any sense on the part of the regime that it need end its present, increasingly repressive domestic policies: mass arrests of political activists; unprecedented newspaper confiscations; President al-Bashir's recent threat to issue again "shoot to kill" orders of the sort used in December 2013--the list is extremely long;
• undermining the political pressure deriving from a collapsing economy, a collapse that is galvanizing Sudanese civil society.
Obama has, until the end, remained committed to a catastrophic policy view animated by the words of his former special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman:
"We [the Obama administration] do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures." (Interview with Asharq al-Awsat, December 3, 2011 | http://english.aawsat.com/2011/12/article55244147/asharq-al-awsat-talks-to-us-special-envoy-to-sudan-princeton-lyman )
Obama is leaving office disgracing his 2008 campaign commitments to Darfur and the other victims of "slaughter" in Sudan. Those who continue to be "slaughtered," or die because humanitarian access remains so severely attenuated, have no such easy exit. They must remain under the repressive, violent rule of the men Obama yesterday so richly rewarded.