On March 4, 2009, Pre-Trial Chamber 1 of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it was charging Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Long anticipated, the arrest warrant was immediately used by al-Bashir’s National Islamic Front (NIF) regime as a pretext for expelling thirteen major international humanitarian organizations from Darfur and from other highly distressed regions of northern Sudan. In Darfur the expulsions represented over half the total humanitarian capacity. At the same time, Khartoum also shut down some of the most important Sudanese human service and human rights organizations. In all cases, the explanations offered for expulsions or shutdowns were not supported by any evidence made public. In particular, Khartoum’s claim to have evidence that the aid organizations had cooperated with the ICC was patently false.
The effects of these expulsions were immediate. An assessment of the lost capacity, conducted by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, suggested that “1.5 million beneficiaries will no longer have access to health and nutrition services”; “water supply, sanitation and hygiene services” [to over one million people in Darfur] will soon be interrupted”; some 1.1 million people “will stop receiving general food distributions.” And these figures don’t begin to take account of the consequences of the population movements being spurred by a growing lack of food, potable water, and primary medical care throughout Darfur. Eastern Chad, already severely overburdened by more than 250,000 Darfuri refugees, could see a doubling of the refugee population by July, according to aid workers. Of even greater concern is the potential movement of more than one million Darfuris from South Darfur into chronically food-insecure Bahr el-Ghazal province in South Sudan. The potential for a collapse of the food distribution system in this fragile region is great, and in March the Famine Early Warning Network System (FEWS Net) sent out extraordinarily dire warnings.
The expulsion of international humanitarian organizations and the shutdown of domestic organizations also left more than a million people without assistance in Eastern Sudan, in the squalid settlements around Khartoum, in the Nuba Mountains and Southern Kordofan, and in Abyei.
The consequences were well known to the Khartoum regime as it made its barbarous decision. Enforcing that decision, then, is itself a violation of international law and international humanitarian law. Indeed, some have argued that the deliberate blocking of humanitarian assistance in circumstances such as obtained in Burma following Cyclone Nargis and currently in Darfur amounts to a crime against humanity, which in al-Bashir’s case would simply be another count in a long list of such charges. And yet the international community, continuing its failure to respond to Darfur, neither coer...
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