One week after a criminal indictment
was lodged against Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the US embassy in Khartoum
has told non-essential staffers they can leave the country. With foreign humanitarian aid groups and
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also poised to depart under an expulsion
order issued by Mr. Bashir last week, the vice president for policy at the
US-based policy group Refugees International, Joel Charny, observes that
Khartoum can only be convinced to modify its order if it comes to realize that
more is at stake than just bargaining over the terms of President Bashir's
arrest warrant. He says that he hopes Sudan will recognize that it also faces
a catastrophic disappearance of medical services, sanitation, and basic food
and shelter for more than a million of its citizens.
don't think the Sudanese government really fully understands the impact of this
decision, and I'm not willing to say that the Sudanese government cares nothing
about the people of Darfur. They need
the humanitarian operation to function somewhat effectively, and they may
realize that this decision ultimately is counterproductive," he notes.
the impact of the expulsion and the likelihood it would be carried out fully, Charny
said the dimensions of such a tragedy should be avoided if at all possible.
better or for worse, when a country is in a difficult situation facing some
kind of humanitarian emergency, or they can't meet the basic needs of the
population, they have created a kind of structure in the case of Darfur, where
the humanitarian agencies are delivering essential services – basic medical
services, providing water and sanitation, in some cases, doing emergency
feeding for malnourished children. These
are essential services to the health and survival of the population. So naturally, expelling these organizations
has a devastating impact. Now, I can't sit
here right now and say that x-number of people are going to die because of this
decision. But we anticipate that the
consequences will be very negative for about a million people in Darfur," he
says he's pessimistic, but not fully convinced that some last-minute bargaining
might not enable the sides to reach a compromise.
indictment and the latest developments, I think, underscore the need for some
kind of high-level diplomatic action just to get this whole thing back on
track. We're now in year six of the
catastrophe in Darfur, and I think it's discouraging to all of us that so
little progress has been made.
Politically, the one thing that was semi-working was the humanitarian
operation, and now, even that is in jeopardy," he pointed out.
a mass exodus of aid organizations remains likely, many of the parties affected
are trying to negotiate a way out of the current standoff.
organizations are basically trying to contest it, and it varies from
organization to organization. They are
under a lot of pressure. I've read that
the government is going into offices and harassing staff. But the organizations collectively are
looking for UN support and then individually are trying to say to the Sudanese
government, 'Look, we had nothing to do with the ICC decision. We're providing humanitarian assistance. That's been our main role in Darfur…' and
basically trying to convince the Sudanese government to go back on the decision
if they possibly can," observes Charny.
notes that the Obama presidential campaign invested a lot of political capital
with American voters in standing up to Khartoum's fueling of a genocidal war
against its own citizens, but he acknowledges that US officials may have a
tough diplomatic road ahead.
State Department made a statement that was actually, under the circumstances,
rather tepid. They, of course, used
standard diplomatic language of deploring and hoping that it (the NGO recall)
would be reversed, and so on. I think the real question that is unanswered,
which, of course, you don't answer in an official statement at a State
Department briefing, is, what now? Are
we going to up the ante?" he asked.
International Vice President Joel Charny says Washington needs a firm hand to
bring pressure to bear in this crisis, but achieving a resolution will also
depend on convincing powers in Sudan to lower escalating tensions.
could say that on the one hand, we need to immediately find a back channel way
to talk to Bashir to see if we can walk back this decision. Another direction to go would be to say,
okay, Bashir has been indicted. We think
it's important that the whole process go through, and maybe we need to squeeze
the Sudanese even further. And there was
no question that in the presidential campaign, it was obvious that Barack Obama
had leading people on his foreign policy team who had been talking very tough
about Darfur for a long time -- Susan Rice, now the UN ambassador, being the
first person I think of in that regards.
So I'm sure Bashir was thinking once Obama was elected 'that I may be
facing a rocky time with the new administration,' and this decision isn't going
to help matters," said Charny.
Regarding Sudan's release from prison
this week of hard-line opposition figure Hassan al-Turabi, Charny says he
believes it was intended less as a signal of flexibility to the outside world
than as an instrument of rebuilding unity and support among Islamic groups
within northern Sudan to help President Bashir strengthen his own hold on
power. The move at first glance seems to
have backfired however, with Turabi, who had previously called for President
Bashir to yield to the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant,
continuing to maintain following his release that he accepts prosecution of the