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A Permanent Lifting of U.S. Sanctions on Khartoum?

President Barack Obama provisionally lifted U.S. economic sanctions on the Khartoum regime by Executive Order on January 13, 2017; Obama cited “positive actions” and his UN Ambassador Samantha Power went so far as to declare that there had been a “sea change” of improvement in humanitarian access in Sudan. These sanctions were first imposed on the regime in 1997 and strengthened during the administration of President George W. Bush.

The Obama Executive Order stipulated the conditions for a permanent lifting of economic sanctions, which are essentially twofold:

[1] Improve humanitarian access in Darfur as well as South Kordofan and Blue Nile (the “Two Areas”) and,

[2] End organized violence in the regions, including a halt to the indiscriminate aerial bombardment that has defined Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur for fourteen years and for over almost six years in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

How well has Khartoum done in fulfilling its commitments on these two critical issues? I will be issuing periodic “report cards” assessing the regime’s performance; this present “report card” focuses on humanitarian access in Darfur.

Ambassador Power’s claim of a “sea change” in improved humanitarian access is denied by every source with whom I have spoken within the broader humanitarian community. It is not credited by the U.S. State Department, although no correction has been offered—nor has the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) made clear how fundamentally false and dangerously misleading Power’s claim was. This seems perverse, given the use Khartoum will make of this falsehood come July 2017 when the decision to lift sanctions is supposed to be reviewed.

Human Rights Watch rightly called the Obama decision to lift sanctions simply “inexplicable.” There was much support for this view in the April 4, 2017 hearing by the Tom Lantos Congressional Human Rights Commission.

I will discuss in greater detail, when my focus is more particularly continuing violence in Darfur, the remarkably authoritative report from the Enough Project by the distinguished student of Sudan, Suliman Baldo:

“Border Control from Hell: How the EU's migration partnership legitimizes Sudan's ‘militia state,’" Suliman Baldo | The Enough Project | April 2017 | | see particularly: The Political Economy of Violence in Sudan’s “Militia State” (page 12 ff.)

He makes a number of important observations about recent military history in Sudan, particularly concerning the creation of what he calls the “militia state,” which in many ways obviates the need for “military offensives” (by the Sudan Armed Forces, SAF) of the sort the Obama Executive Order stipulates. Even so it is worth noting a report yesterday (from Radio Dabanga) on aerial bombardment near Deribat in the Jebel Marra region of Central Darfur.

Let’s be very clear here: given the terms of the supposed agreement between Khartoum and the Obama administration on such attacks—and the threat such attacks pose to the permanent lifting of sanctions—no junior or local officer could have made the decision to launch the attack: the order could have come only from the most senior military (and hence political) leadership:

Bombing reported in Darfur's Jebel Marra | April 7, 2017 | DERIBAT

On Thursday afternoon, a Sudanese Air Force plane dropped three explosive barrels west of Deribat in Jebel Marra, without causing any human casualties. The three barrel bombs hit the area of Logi and killed a number of livestock of residents. The attack caused panic in the area.

Witnesses reported to Radio Dabanga that the plane had flown over Logi for a period of time before bombing the area. There have been no reports of aerial bombardments in Darfur's Jebel Marra in recent months: the latest bombing occurred in October and reportedly killed one man and scores of livestock in Deribat. In preceding weeks, renewed fighting had broken out between the Sudanese army and rebel SLM-AW combatants.

The former president of the United States' administration announced that Sudan has reduced military aerial bombardment in the Darfur region, one of the reasons why Barack Obama ordered the easing of financial sanctions against Sudan in the beginning of this year.


The Jebel Marra mountains are a site of regular clashes between rebel forces and government troops and militias. Ongoing aerial bombardments have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, with reports reaching Radio Dabanga of ‘empty villages’ being bombed. Some of the residents have fled to camps for the displaced while others find refuge in caves in the mountains.

Moreover, assaults on camps of displaced persons, almost completely defenseless, continue as they have for well over a decade. The attacks are increasing brazen, involve sanctioning violence against the camps by Arab militias, including the brutal Rapid Support Forces (RSF) highlighted in the recent Enough Project report as the beneficiaries of European Union support—and the regular military and security forces of the regime.

[Again, see “Border Control from Hell: How the EU's migration partnership legitimizes Sudan's ‘militia state,’" Suliman Baldo | The Enough Project | April 2017

| ]

The Obama administration’s failure to include halting such attacks in the demands made of Khartoum was pure expediency in service of the ultimate goal: lifting sanctions so that Khartoum would become, putatively, more helpful in providing counter-terrorism intelligence. Of course one reason the regime is in a position to provide, at least potentially provide, such intelligence is reflected in the fact that it is one of only three countries in the world remaining on the U.S. State Department’s most current list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” a designation the regime has done a great deal to earn, and much of this recently (see |

That even attacks on camps by Khartoum’s regular military and security forces are apparently permitted under the terms for a permanent lifting of sanctions is nothing short of ghastly hypocrisy, something that defined the Obama administration’s Darfur policy from the beginning of the president’s first term (January 2009):

Security force ‘storms’ South Darfur camp | March 10, 2017 | NYALA

A joint force of police and security has stormed Kalma camp for displaced people in South Darfur, causing unrest in the camp and a number of residents to flee this week. Three vehicles with Dushka machineguns mounted on top entered Kalma, east of Nyala, at 3.30pm on Thursday, the spokesman for a Darfuri refugee association reported to Radio Dabanga.

Hussein Abu Sharati of the Association for the Displaced People and Refugees in Darfur said that another group of security agents had stormed the camp at 11am, using a tinted Land Cruiser. “Their arrival caused panic among the residents. “They did not notify UNAMID prior to their arrival,” he said, pointing out the camp administration has therefore submitted a memorandum to the peacekeeping force to condemn the incidents. The memo mentioned incidents in 2008, which claimed the lives of 37 people in Kalma. [See my article on this attack | —ER]

Camp attacks

Camp El Salam in Nyala has witnessed a series of attacks by militants against the displaced people this week. Abu Sharati reported that at least eight people were attacked on the streets or inside their homes during robberies. Several mobile phones and money have been stolen from Abaker Yagoub, Mohamed Yassin, Hamad Ahmed and Suleiman Abakar, among others. The refugee association appealed to UNAMID to resume its patrols in and around El Salam and report abuses in the camps for displaced people to the Sudanese authorities.

The association considers the sudden arrival of joint security and police forces in the camps as a “masterminded” incident. Last month the South Darfur authorities gave the inhabitants of Centre 4 in Kalma camp a couple of weeks to vacate the area and move to a new location allocated by the state. The number of displaced people who would be affected range between 520 families, according to the camp coordinator, and 14,000 people according to Abu Sharati.

Additional recent relevant reports:

Insecurity grows at hands of militias: Kutum residents, North Darfur | March 12, 2017 | KUTUM / KASSAB Camp for displaced persons

Market raided after militiamen clash in Central Darfur capital | March 7, 2017 | ZALINGEI

But what of humanitarian access in Darfur? To what extent does Khartoum continue to impede, obstruct, harass, and subvert humanitarian access? Is there any evidence supporting Power’s claim about a “sea change” of improvement?

The UN refuses to speak honestly about access issues, as has long been the case. International Nongovernmental Humanitarian Organizations (INGOs) have long been limited in what they can say by UN cowardice, diffidence, and dishonesty: if they say more than the UN does about obstacles to humanitarian access, they will be expelled—as more than two dozen distinguished organizations have to date. This UN intimidation will be especially consequential during the “trial period” that runs to the final decision on U.S. economic sanctions in July 2017.

Reports over the last month from Radio Dabanga, as well as reports from confidential sources, strongly suggest that much of Darfur remains inaccessible for reasons that can be directly traced to the Khartoum regime. To be sure, a diminished humanitarian capacity in the region explains some of what follows: “donor fatigue” has doomed Darfur to the status of humanitarian “side show,” despite the fact that according to the UN some 3.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, or roughly half the population of Darfur.

The need is greatest by far among the displaced populations, overwhelmingly from Darfur’s non-Arab/African populations. Some 2.7 million people are internally displaced (see | and the UN High Commission for Refugees has estimated the population of Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad at 300,000. Again, these populations are overwhelmingly non-Arab/African; their fate is the embodiment of Khartoum’s genocidal success in Darfur, first articulated by notorious Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal in August 2004 from his Misseriya (North Darfur) headquarters: “Change the demography of Darfur; empty it of African tribes” (see |

Denial of humanitarian access has long been a key feature of Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency against the Darfur rebel groups, a fact first recognized by UN Ambassador Tom Eric Vraalsen, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan, in December 2003—almost fourteen years ago:

Delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by systematically denied access [latter phrase emphasized in text—ER]. While [Khartoum's] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas. (Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; "Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur," December 8, 2003)

"Systematically denied"...on the basis of ethnicity.

What is the face of humanitarian access denial today? Despite the promises by the Khartoum regime’s infamous “Humanitarian Aid Commission” to improved access in a variety of ways, including expediting of visas and travel permits, nothing has changed, at least according to one person closely involved in and highly knowledgeable of humanitarian activities in Darfur. This person estimates that some 30 percent of Darfur remains inaccessible for one reason or another that can be traced back to regime policies: continuing bureaucratic obstructionism; outright denial of access; the sanctioning of militia violence that makes humanitarian interventions too dangerous—and many others.

Much of what is described below as humanitarian “needs” might be addressed by relief capacity available in Darfur (actually, or potentially in the absence of obstructionism by Khartoum

Any honest assessment of the Khartoum regime should issue in a report card of “F”—failing.

[Note: Given the presence in Darfur of INGOs capable of providing clean water and sanitation (WATSAN), it is intensely dismaying to see water shortages of the sort that repeatedly appear in recent dispatches from Radio Dabanga—ER]

• Displaced short of food, water in Darfur's Nierteti and Kassab | March 17, 2017 | NIERTETI / KUTUM

People in camps for the displaced in Nierteti, Central Darfur, have run short of food and medicines, local leaders reported. Kassab camp in North Darfur suffers from a drinking water shortage.

Thousands of displaced people who have fled the fighting between the Sudanese army, militias and rebel movements in Jebel Marra in 2016, to Nierteti are facing “an acute shortage of food, shelter and medicines.” A tribal Sheikh told Radio Dabanga that 21,000 people fled to Nierteti camps in the beginning of 2016.

“They have received food aid only once in 2017,” he claimed. The Humanitarian Aid Commission has made an inventory of their number. “But these newly displaced people are lacking health services, medicines and food.”

North Darfur

In Kassab camp in Kutum locality, a number of water pumps are out of operation, resulting in difficult access to drinking water for the residents of the camp. Reportedly 21 out of 27 pumps are not working, and the main tank has been unable to provide water for two weeks in a row, according to a Sheikh in Kassab.

The dry weather of summer approaches, the Sheikh stressed. “The people, totaling 38,000, are in a very difficult situation in accessing drinking water.” He hoped that humanitarian organisations can intervene to resolve the technical issue.

This week residents of Kassab reported that local health services and medicine supply has deteriorated. A camp coordinator said that the displaced people and residents of neighbouring villages have to rely on the only health centre and few medical workers in Kassab.

• '23 dead' in South Darfur camps lacking medicine | April 7, 2017 | NYALA

More than twenty people died of unknown disease in Otash and Kalma camps near Nyala in the past two weeks. Most of the victims are children and elderly people. A sheikh in Otash camp for displaced people said that sixteen people had died, while another sheikh in Kalma camp reported that seven people died in two weeks' time. They pointed out to Radio Dabanga that the symptoms of the disease are fever and severe headache among children, and diarrhoea among elderly people. Doctors believe these are symptoms of typhoid and giardiasis.

“Dozens of patients have been transferred to Nyala Teaching Hospital because of a lack of medicines and treatment at the camps’ health centres,” one of the sheikhs said. They appealed to the authorities and aid organisations to provide medicines.

Meanwhile the director of medical supplies in South Darfur state, Abu Bakr Yousif, has acknowledged the lack of vaccines, and especially vaccines against rabies.

His announcement followed the complaints of residents of Nyala city about the shortage of drugs, that has caused people who are bitten by snakes, dogs or stung by scorpions to suffer more. Residents pointed to a lack of vaccines in the health centres and hospitals, concerned about the possible spread of rabies.

Expired pills

Three weeks ago, a vehicle of the Ministry of Health arrived and distributed pills to residents of Otash camp, to treat worms. People discovered that the medicine had expired two weeks earlier and informed the Humanitarian Aid Commission in the camp.

• Families who fled Jebel Marra clashes face food shortage | March 5, 2017 | SINAR

• Water sources out of operation in Kordofan and Darfur | March 28, 2017 | ABBASIYA / UM KEDDADA

• North Darfur water pumps need repairs for summer | March 24, 2017 | EL FASHER

• Wells dry as North Darfur groundwater drops | March 22 , 2017 | ABU ZIREGA

[Large concentrations of IDPs—far in excess of the capacity of a number of camps—create unsustainable demands for clean water, which are key to the Khartoum regime’s plans to dismantle the camps. In other words, denial of INGO access to improve water supplies is part of an ongoing, sustained effort to make the camps uninhabitable—ER]

• Education deteriorating in North Darfur camp | March 23, 2017 | KUTUM

• Expired pills cause concern in South Darfur camp | March 15, 2017 | OTASH CAMP

• Concern for homeless children in South Darfur capital | March 19, 2017 | NYALA

Officials and civil sources have expressed concern at the growing phenomenon of homelessness in South Darfur, with growing marriages and pregnancies among homeless children.

A Source told Radio Dabanga that the last census in 2014 revealed that there were nearly 5,000 homeless children, of whom 90% live in the state capital of Nyala, while 10% live at the locality headquarters. The official said the homelessness children can be classified into two types, namely completely homeless or partially homeless. He explained that completely homeless are the children who sleep in the markets, and the partially displaced live during day homeless in the market and return to family at night.

[This dispatch highlights a problem almost never discussed in humanitarian reports on Darfur: the existence of huge numbers of orphans, not all of whom are adopted into families or camp communities already badly lacking in resources. The inevitable consequence is a population like the one described here—and it will only grow as the consequences of 14 years of genocidal conflict continue to play out in the grim “demography” Musa Hilal spoke of in August 2004—ER]

• 25,000 need aid in East Jebel Marra: OCHA Sudan | March 21, 2017 | BELLE ELSEREIF

There is an urgent need for water and sanitation in East Jebel Marra, South Darfur, humanitarian agencies report. An inter-agency mission to assess the humanitarian situation in the village of Belle Elsereif has found that about 25,000 people (14,000 displaced persons, 7,500 returnees and 3,500 nomads) need access to clean water and sanitation, health care and nutrition services, emergency household supplies, as well as education and protection support.

The mission took place from 19 to 21 February, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports. Residents of Belle Elsereif and surrounding villages were affected by conflict between the government's military forces and the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid El Nur (SLA-AW) between 2014 and 2015.

There are three hand pumps in Belle Elsereif, the main village in the area, which serve both Belle Elsereif and ten surrounding villages. People often have to wait up to three hours to collect water. According to the mission, existing water sources are sufficient to serve 3,500 out of the 17,600 people in the area.

People in the area depend on inadequate, contaminated water sources in the immediate vicinity. There are no sanitation facilities in this area of East Jebel Marra, but a couple of families were attempting to construct improvised latrines, the mission stated.

Health facilities

There is no health facility in Belle Elsereif, except one clinic made out of local materials 3km away in Dobo El Madrassa, run by a medical assistant and a nurse. OCHA recommended humanitarian partners to provide a wider range of health services, carry out vaccinations, and to stock existing facilities with essential medicines.

Regarding education, one basic school in Belle Elsereif and seven other schools in surrounding villages accommodate 2,213 children in total, while lacking education materials and nearly all teachers are volunteers.


(c) 2017 SUDAN Research, Analysis, and Advocacy

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