Update by Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) on Sudan Government’s Plan to Dismantle Darfur IDPs Camps
‘The last few months of 2015 witnessed a steady increase in violence against civilians in Darfur. As the ‘Darfur Fatigue’ syndrome set in, which has blurred the focus and distract the international and regional actors, the crisis in Darfur was left entirely in the hands of Sudanese government. The government’s determination to dismantle the camps of the internally displaced persons (IDP) and push out the UN and AU hybrid mission in Darfur is intended to create a cover for further crimes against civilians’.
It has recently been noticed that the Sudanese government is taking advantage of the decline in attention of international and regional to the ongoing tragic war in Darfur (Darfur Fatigue), to commit new crimes and violations against civilians in the region. Moreover, the Government is engaged in vehement diplomatic and public propaganda to deceive national and international actors that the war in the region has come to an end. Such political claims, coupled with attacks on IDPs and IDP camps and the attempts to force the exit of the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) mission, are intended to create a smokescreen for the current intensive Government’s campaign of violence and control. The government specific objective behind these moves, is to impose a new reality on the ground by dismantling the IDP camps and further erode the international presence and oversight in the region. Through Dismantling the camps, the government and the ruling NCP will be able to impose their political agenda on the IDPs and use this new reality as a leverage in negotiations with the political armed movements. This report provides an overview on the Government of Sudan’s current systematic attach on the IDPs, and analyses its causes and manifestations.
According to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, internally displaced persons are: “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized border.” These principles grants IDPs the right to basic humanitarian assistance (such as food, medicine, shelter), the right to be protected from physical violence, the right to education, freedom of movement and residence, and maintain their political and civil participation rights.
Sudanese vice-president Hassabo, a bull in China shop
In December 2013, President Omar al-Bashir appointed Hassabo Mohamed Abdel Rahman, as second Vice President (VP) of Sudan. The new VP was given the duty of overseeing and managing the Darfur file. Hassabo had been very early on in his career assigned by the National Islamic Front (NIF) to specialize in Darfur even before the coup that brought it to power in 1989. This specialization was reflected later in his formal assignments since the beginning of the war in 2003 in Darfur. He has worked as coordinator of humanitarian aid in Darfur, representative of Sudan to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and responsible for human rights in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. Between 2005 and 2009 he was Federal Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, the ministry responsible for overseeing civil society organizations, human rights issues and humanitarian aid activities through the country, particularly through the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), which is notorious as the operational security arm of the Government’s control of all humanitarian and voluntary work.
Hassabo’s period as Minister saw massive and systematic military violence against the Darfur IDPs camps including the infamous attack on Kalma camp on 25 August 2008 in which government forces killed dozens of displaced persons before forcibly attempting to dismantle the camp. This period also witnessed the expulsion of international humanitarian aid and relief agencies working in Darfur which were providing around 80% of the humanitarian aid to the victims in the region. Local organisations were also targeted as the government raided and closed down several national non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The Government, under Hassabo’s supervision, particularly focused on destroying NGOs supporting victims of torture and of the conflict in Darfur such as the Sudan Social Development Organization (SUDO), the Khartoum Centre for Human Rights and Environmental Development (KCHRED), and the Amal Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture.
Since his new appointment as VP, Hassabo has continued to repeatedly declare the end of war in Darfur, a completely false claim with no basis in reality. The escalation of violence and the increase in violations by the government security forces and army in 2014 just after Hassabo took up his new post have been well documented by the joint UN/AU mission to Darfur (UNAMID). In 2014, UNAMID’s reports expressed concern about the “alarming escalation of violence” in Darfur identifying attacks by the government’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia as a factor in the displacement of 215,000 civilians in just three months. This evidence alone fully refutes the VP’s repeated claims.
In the same year, in a new policy directed by VP Hassabo, the Sudanese Government started to demand that the international UNAMID mission leave Darfur. These demands increased in intensity after the revelation that mass crimes of rape had been committed in Tabit in October 2014.
The Sudanese government justified its insistence on the mission leaving Darfur by claiming that the war was over. More recently the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Ibrahim Ghandour insisted again that Darfur was enjoying a state of peace, that IDPs were returning home and that it was therefore time for UNAMID to leave. In the same context, on 28 December 2015 Hassabo Abdelrahman announced the intention of the government to dismantle all Darfur’s IDPs camps during 2016. He told the displaced people that they would have to choose between two options; settlement to places determined by the government, including possible locations of camps or return to their original areas within 50 days. He reiterated that the government was committed to take all necessary measures to achieve this goal, stressing that “the year 2016 will see the end of displacement in Darfur”.
The statements (or more accurately the threats), made by the VP Hassabo about the closure of all the camps, coupled with a series of visits to different areas of Darfur during the past few weeks, demonstrate the determination of the government to implement its plan of dismantling IDPs’s camps. This is the same agenda which has always been directly contrary to the interests of citizens in Darfur and has undermined the stability of the region for more than a decade. It is the same agenda that has been implemented with criminal dedication by the VP Hassabo since he was a young administrative officer in Darfur throughout his government posts in the humanitarian and human rights field, until he ascended to the position of Second Vice President of the Republic of Sudan.
2015, the year of the silent war in Darfur
Despite persistent assertions by the governmental that the war is over in Darfur and that the region is enjoying peace, stability and development, the facts on the ground demonstrate the perversion of such claims. The Sudanese government is leveraging ‘Darfur Fatigue’ and the decreased interest and of international and regional actors in what is happening in Darfur to systematically promote such claims. Unfortunately, some international actors have begun to consider these lies, while they are echoing ‘Darfur Fatigue’.
The recent violence in el Geninana, capital of West Darfur state, on January 10, 2016, have challenged the government’s argument of peace and stability in Darfur. The government’s forces and militias committed a heinous crime when it attacked innocent civilians, who took refuge in a government building, killing twelve and injuring more than ten. This brutal massacre occurred a day after a government’s allied militia destroyed and burned the nearby Moly village and displaced all its citizens to el Geninana.
The wide spread violence in Darfur is not isolated incidents, but rather a comprehensive plan by the government that includes, in addition to spread of violence, the dismantling of the IDP camps, preparation for the administrative referendum in Darfur and attempts to reach piecemeal solution protected by violent and terror. It is clearly evident that the government embarked in the execution of this plan immediately after the suspension of the peace negotiation on cessation of hostilities, on November 23, 2015, between GoS and Justice and Equality Movement JEM) and Sudan Liberation Movement- Minni Minawi (SLM-MM). Soon after the collapse of the negotiations, the Minister of Defence announced the mobilization and redeployment of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and other militias in Darfur to start an aggressive military campaign. Following the Military campaign, the VP Hassabo Abdelrahman started an extensive political campaign with the objective of dismantling IDP camps to prepare the ground for Darfur referendum scheduled for April 2016.
Just as in 2014, 2015 witnessed a steady increase of violence in Darfur. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported the new displacement of 41000 from east Jabal Mara in February 2015 alone, as they tried to escape from government air strikes. OCHA reported that the number was likely to be higher as it was unable to reach some areas for its assessment. At the end of 2015, OCHA reported that the total number of IDPs in Darfur was two and half million of which the 233,000 had been displaced in 2015 alone.
2015 also witnessed the continuation of RSF violations and government air strikes on civilian villages in Darfur. There was a particular focus by the government on attacking the farming lands of villagers in central and south Darfur. This included burning crops and looting livestock threatening famine in the areas. Since last November, several aid agencies have announced their inability to continue to provide of dietary support to over 122,000 IDPs in Darfur due to the escalation of the violence. In December OCHA reported that persistent attacks on 34 civilian villages in Kutum locality in North Darfur during only one week of December 2015 were estimated to have affected over ten thousand civilians.
In this context the lies about stability and peace, and the possibility of voluntary return of displaced persons, actively promoted by governmental officials and pro National Congress Party (NCP) allies, lacks credibility. The deception of the government about the situation in Darfur and the so called Darfur Fatigue, are in essence mirrors each other’s. The Darfur Fatigue is invoked by the international and regional community to turn a blind eye to the situation in Darfur while the GoS uses this opportunity to inflict more calamities on the civilian. For the Darfurians, and Sudanese in general, Darfur Fatigue is nothing more than echoing and submit to the government’s and its ruling party interests and conditions.
Propaganda and wishful thinking will not be able to cloak the reality of the tragedy that is taking place in Darfur witnessed by millions of displaced and refugee civilians across Darfur and the region.
Dismantling of the camps: voluntary return or a new crime of forced displacement?
The recent announcement by VP Hassabo that all the IDP camps will be dismantled in 2016 triggered a wave of reactions. The most prominent came from IDPs themselves. They declared that the plans were but a prelude to the commission of a new genocide. They stressed that these plans were not new and that the camps were material evidence of the crimes they had suffered from for over a decade.
The IDPs conference that took place in the first week of January 2016 in Kalma camp included wide representation from the rest of the camps in Darfur. The conference categorically rejected the government’s plans to dismantle the camps. It conditioned any return of IDPs on restoring security and disbanding the government militias that continue to attack their villages. The congress adopted several recommendations on the protection of the rights of IDPs. It demanded individual and collective compensation for the losses suffered by the IDPs before any voluntary return, and that the issue of those who had been resettled on the lands from which they were originally displaced be addressed. The conference also called upon international and regional bodies working on Darfur to commit to implementing United Nations resolutions regarding the protection of civilians in Darfur. They pointed to the need to amend the mandate of UNAMID peacekeeping mission, to become a peace-making mission “because basically there is no peace in Darfur to keep it.” The conference also adopted a recommendation of allowing the international aid and relief agencies to return to the region, noting the significant role that they played in mitigating the effects of the war.
It is crucial to point on the bad experience the IDPs in Darfur had with the camps dismantling and restructuring plans or what is named by governmental, (Voluntary returns schemes). Several IDPs families were attacked by governmental militias while returning to their villages or after settling on them, which forced them in to repeating the same harsh experience of displacement.
For example, the returnees to Hamada area (east to Munwashi in South Darfur state) in 2014, suffered from disciplinary attacks by governmental militias in which 15 civilians were killed. In July of the same years, the same militias attacked the returnees to Hashaba in South Darfur in the first week of their return. In North Darfur, pastoral armed militias imposed the payment of extortionate fees on the returnees and attacked their farms in (Ardat Shoug, Matawi, and Murqooba) villages. In central Darfur, governmental militias attacked the returnees to (Arola) area in central Darfur state and looted their food, tents, tarpaulins and the seeds provided to them by humanitarian aid organizations for the purpose of agricultural self-sufficiency.
The preference of IDPs to stay in the camps is not a preference for luxury, with all the misery and suffering of life there. The camps provide relative safety from government and militia forces attacks and aerial bombardment as a result of the presence of international and regional organizations and the UN mission. The quest to dismantle the camps puts them at risk of further violence and abuse by the government’s militias.
Regardless of the success or failure of the government’s plans to formally dismantle the camps, it is clear that it is preparing to utilise the ‘Darfur Fatigue’ phenomenon of the international community to prepare for new crimes. Apart from the ongoing aerial bombardments and militia attacks, the removal of IDPs from the camps and their relocation against their will and consent is likely to create the context for the commission of range of international crimes related to forced displacement
Darfur Referendum: dismantling of camps and altering demographic map
In October last year, President Al-Bashir declared the intention of his government to hold a referendum on the administrative status of the Darfur States in April 2016, one of the requirements of the Doha Peace Agreement. His VP Hassabo, however, pre-empted the result asserting that it would be impossible for Darfur to be treated as one administrative region. The demand for one administrative region instead of the current five states ( divided on a tribal basis) is one of the major political stands of most of the political movements that have social constituents in Darfur. Thus, it is not in the ruling party’s best interest to allow the referendum to take place in conditions which would reflect the real will of the Darfuri people and contribute to achieving a just peace and stability in the region. The current plan to dismantle the IDP camps and forcibly relocate IDPs has the objective therefore of altering the demographic composition of the region in a way that allows manipulation of the results of the referendum and serves the political, regional and ideological agenda of the ruling party and its allies.
The urgency with which the Government is pursuing the dismantling of the camps underlines this intent. The fifty days in which the VP has declared IDPs must choose the option of return or resettlement reveals a rush to dismantle the camps prior to the referendum. The government has a history of manipulating the results of public polling in Darfur by altering the numbers of IDPs and their locations. Before the 2014 elections, for example, the government announced the return of over 80 thousand IDPs to their original villages within the framework of a voluntary return scheme, while several independent reports denied this from happening.
The haste and tireless movement and the declaration of a period of fifty days by the VP Hassabo Mohamed Abdel Rahman to start dismantling the camps should be understood in the context of the governmental rush in conducting the referendum. The referendum which was stipulated by Doha Document for Peace in Darfur ( DDPD) –which was rejected by significant political movements-, comes in anticipation to any possible changes in the balance of political power in the region, and pre-empting the possibility of a just and lasting peace in Darfur that can allow conducting the referendum in better fair and conducive environment. Conducting the referendum in the current situation will empty it of any content and lead to value-less results that do not reflect the real will and interests of Darfurians.
The massive ongoing displacement in Darfur is a physical manifestation of the continuous humanitarian crisis and widespread human rights violations suffered by the people of Darfur. Resolving displacement cannot be achieved outside the context of creating a just and long-lasting peace in Darfur. A comprehensive solution will need to consider and address the roots of the war in Darfur, and other areas of conflict in Sudan in addition to justice and accountability for the grave crimes against humanity committed in the region and against IDPs.
The repeated attempts of the Sudanese government to dismantle the IDPs camps—and to exclude peace making missions—in order to prove the existence of a phantom peace and stability in Darfur, also reveals the deficiencies in the framework of the DDPD. The agreement has failed to address the root causes of the Darfur conflict and thus to achieve a minimum state of relative peace in the region.
The current plan to dismantle IDPs camps is not new. It is aimed at creating a space for manipulation of the political context and for the commission of further crimes against civilians in Darfur. It will only aggravate the humanitarian crisis. It is vital that Sudanese political forces, civil society and public, take a firm stand in supporting the legitimate demands of Darfur’s IDPs, and make Darfur’s IDPs crisis as a national one, in resisting the imminent threat of re-displacement.
The aggravation of the humanitarian crisis and the increase of violence in Darfur, in addition to the looming danger of violence against IDPs in Darfur, require the International and regional community to look into the mirror to realize its inefficiency in handling the situation in Darfur. The pretext of Darfur Fatigue and the UNMID imminent withdrawal are mere reflections of the GoS plans. When the international and regional community fall in this trap, it means they have abandoned their Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and other obligations and allow the GoS to commit more crimes against civilians in Darfur.