On July 27-28, 2016, the United States Special Envoy for Sudan Donald Booth visited displaced populations in Darfur to assess the humanitarian situation and better understand local opinions on national peace efforts.
The crisis in Darfur has steadily worsened over the past few years as the Sudanese government hampers the movements of UN peacekeepers and squeezes out humanitarian aid agencies. This year in particular has been particularly devastating for Darfur as official government forces and their associated militias have stepped up attacks on civilians. Between January-March 2016 alone, government-aligned forces launched a massive scorched-earth campaign in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur. After several weeks of relentless aerial bombings, mass rapes and shootings of civilians, and the blocking of roads refugees could have taken to flee the area, over 150 communities were destroyed and over 100,000 people forcibly displaced.
The Special Envoy's Visit To Darfur
Special Envoy Booth visited displaced populations in Nierteti, Tawila and El Fasher as part of his visit to Darfur. Radio Dabanga, one of the last independent reporting agencies covering the crisis in Darfur, followed up with some of the individuals Booth met with during his visit to Darfur. Issues of security and humanitarian aid access continued to rank high on the list of issues displaced populations are facing. From Radio Dabanga on the Nierteti meetings Booth had:
A member of the committee informed Radio Dabanga that the displaced people told Booth that the killings, rapes, arrests and torture by the government and its militias and the occupation of their land by new settlers are still ongoing. They called for security and stability and the new settlers to be expelled from their lands.
They told Booth that they find UNAMID incapable of protecting itself, “let alone protecting the displaced people. Their work is confound to the writing of reports.”
Finally the committee complained about the shortage of aid organisations in the camps and that there are not enough education services. The displaced demanded authorities to reconsider the inventory process of the monthly food rations cards that are provided by the World Food Programme.
From Radio Dabanga on the Tawila meetings:
The US envoy also visited Tawila in North Darfur, where he met with the leaders of displaced people in camps on Thursday. They informed Booth that security is missing in the area and claimed that the population is trapped by gunmen in the camps. Farming has become difficult as armed herdsmen and nomads occasionally raid the farms.
The leaders said that there is a lack of health services, as there is only one health centre that belongs to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) organisations that is unable to cover the entire population's needs.
An increasing concern, especially over the past few years, is that the Sudanese people and civil society organizations in Sudan are constantly sidelined by the international community during international peace talks. During his meetings in El Fasher, representatives of civil society organizations told him just that. From Radio Dabanga:
In turn the representatives criticised the marginalisation of the Darfuri civil society organisations, and complained that regional and international stakeholders in the peace process in Sudan do not listen to them.
They also criticised the West for abandoning Darfur, despite the security and humanitarian situation going for the worst and the focus on pressure on the armed rebel movements to sign a peace deal. “But when they do so, we are abandoned without follow-up of implementation of the deal,” a representative complained to Radio Dabanga.
Will The Envoy's Visit Lead To U.S. Policy Changes in Sudan?
Most likely not. U.S. foreign policy towards Sudan has largely been on autopilot since South Sudan became the world's newest country in July of 2011. With the current U.S. administration in its final months in office and its foreign policy objectives focused on security in eastern Europe and the Islamic State crisis, it is doubtful there will be a much-needed U.S. diplomatic surge concerning Sudan as we have seen in previous years. Considering the government of Sudan's ongoing suppport of international terrorist networks and Congressional support for new policies towards Sudan, it is surprising that no progress has been made on actually changing the U.S. approach.
The best chance for obvious policy updates was the last half of 2011, when the government of Sudan renewed its genocidal, military seiges in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Fighting in these two areas continues today even as government-sponsored violence in Darfur peaked this year. With the Darfur crisis now in its 13th year and the renewed crises in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in their 5th year, it is evident that the trajectory of current U.S. foreign policy towards Sudan is having little impact on bringing a permanent solution to Sudan's governance crisis. Even though the current U.S. administration is on its way out the door, there is still time to do a full policy review so that the incoming administration can be provided with new options for moving forwards in the name of peace and justice for the Sudanese people.
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