COVID-19, Darfur’s food security crisis and IDPs: From ruins to ruinsPosted: 4 August, 2020
Author: Gursimran Kaur Bakshi
Student, National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi, India
Darfur, a region in the west of Sudan is known as a ‘Land of Killing’. Since 2003, more than 300 000 people have been killed, and over 2.7 million have been forcibly displaced as a result of a genocide that has left the legacy of displacement and destitution. The war was initiated by the government-backed armed groups known as ‘Janjaweed’ militants in 2003, who have been accused of systematic and widespread atrocities, such as murdering and torturing of the civilian population, including raping their women and intentionally burning their villages.
In 2009, the Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Omar Al Bashir, the President of Sudan for his involvement in committing crimes against humanity (Article 7 of the Rome Statute) and war crimes (Article 8 of the Rome Statute) against the population including civilians in the 2003 conflict. A referral was issued through the mandate of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1593 vis-à-vis Chapter VII of the UN Charter read with Article 13(b) of the Rome Statute to open an investigation to crimes committed by Bashir’s regime.
However, there was little appetite to send the President to the trial, primarily because Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute and even if it was, international criminal law is based on complementarity wherein a case is only admissible before ICC when it is proved that the state is unwilling or unable to prosecute the head of a state (Article 17). The new transitional military-backed government that ousted President Bashir on April 11, 2019, has assured that he will face trial in the state and in furtherance of their promise, the interim government charged President Bashir for his involvement in the 1989 coup d’état that dismantled the democratic government of Prime Minister Sadiq-al-Mahdi. Other charges against him concern corruption, financing terrorist organizations, including his involvement in the Darfur war.
Independence of South Sudan escalated violence and displacement in the state
The liberation of South Sudan in 2011 from the Republic of Sudan reflects the best of all times and the worst of all times. It was a moment of jubilation for the millions of people who have suffered during the vicious regime of the Bashir government. But the independence movement triggered widespread internal displacement of 825, 000 people, famine, and even ghastly chemical attacks on civilians and young children by the government in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur in 2016. More than 60% of the internally displaced persons (IDPS) were children.
Since its independence, the state remains riddled in conflict over its indigenous and ethnic issues even after it declared English as its national language, breaking away from the burden that the rest of the colonizer Sudan imposes in terms of diversity and culture. But it appears it cannot be detached from political unrest as the newest state broke into a civil war in 2013 killing almost 50, 000 people and approximately four million have been internally displaced and or fled to other regions across the border such as Chad and Uganda.
As the health crisis of COVID-19 impends over Sudan, more than 1.87 million IDPs continue to undergo degrading treatment in the overcrowded and substandard camps in Darfur. The camps lack adequate resources to exercise social distancing measures and most of the IDPs are dependent on aid from civil society organizations.
International law specifies humane treatment for IDPs. The London Declaration is a non-binding international framework governing the rights of IDPs. The specific international framework concerning the rights and protection of IDPs in Africa is the Kampala Convention that defines IDPs under Article I(k)as persons who are forced to flee their habitual residence as a result of armed conflict, situation of generalized violence, violations of human rights, natural or human-made disasters and have not crossed an international border. The Convention duly acknowledges the nature of conflict in Africa and guarantees wide range of substantives rights including the duty of the state to not hamper the humanitarian aid received for the assistance of IDPs. Sudan has not yet acceded to the Kampala Convention.
COVID-19 exposes real-life human tragedy in Darfur
According to the UN Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), around 9.6 million people are at the brink of starvation. The pandemic has majorly affected young children and IDPs living in Darfur and South Kordofan. Darfur where conflict and killing never seem to end is facing a 99% surge in inflation rate which directly hampers the purchasing power of individuals. While the world is claiming the right to health as an irrefutable human right, the IDPs in Darfur are living in overcrowded shelters where they barely have access to one meal per day.
More than 5.5 million people lack access to potable water and hygiene. There are fears over health disaster in El Faser as people do not have adequate transport facilities to visit hospitals and moreover, hospitals cannot do much because of the ill-equipped health care system. A UN worker in El Fasher says, ‘You cannot stay at home because you need to eat and drink. But no one has food for five or even two days. They think if we are dying from not eating or drinking, then let coronavirus kill us.’ Unfortunately, delivering humanitarian aid to Sudan to date remains a herculean task as the armed troops constantly obstructs any attempts to provide assistance to IDPs and young children by the humanitarian aid workers.
Africa has a history of witnessiing collateral damage whenever a pandemic hits the continent. The 2003 Ebola saw an exponential high surge in mortality rate, collapse of the local and national healthcare systems in some countries, and more than 10,000 deaths. The ability of a community to fight back a pandemic depends a lot on their financial and economic stability, healthcare infrastructure, and systematic planning of the government to tackle the crisis which Sudan thoroughly lacks.
The 2019 paradigm shift towards a pro-democratic movement in Sudan now requires a proactive role of the government in first, extending protection to the civilian population, ensuring assistance such as health rights to the IDPs at the urgent basis, and arranging the return of those who were forcibly displaced during the conflict to different states. Adopting these measures would potentially place the government in a better position to request the United States to remove Sudan from its State-Sponsored Terrorist (SST) list, the designation which not only outcasts Sudan but also makes the request for humanitarian assistance difficult. Recently, the government in its attempt to prove their worth criminalized female genital mutilation and repealed the regressive Public Order Law (PLO) that restricted the rights of women in terms of their appearance and movement in public. It is high time the government ratify the Maputo Protocol concerning the Rights of Women and Girl Child in Africa as it guarantees substantive rights against a wide range of gender-based violence and discrimination. But concerns over the rise of inter-communal rebellion groups and its extremely weak health care system remain stagnant with no sign of improvement.
The current concern plaguing the state is the proposed withdrawal of 26,000 UN peacekeeping forces from Sudan. Jehanne Henry, East Africa director of the Human Rights Watch states that such a move is not advisable especially in Darfur that has a plagued history of state-sponsored violence on civilians. Removal of troops will not only jeopardize the civilian population but could expose millions of IDPs and other persons entirely relying on humanitarian aid either to starvation or another armed attack. Many refugees of the Darfur war still yearn to return home in search of their other family members and many IDPs have been waiting to live a normal day in properly built homes with three-square meals a day but for a state that has ingrained war and bloodshed, the roadmap of peace is yet to be drawn. Now more than ever, Sudan must live up to its responsibilities and protect and fulfil the rights of IDPs. Ratifying and domesticating the Kampala Convention will be a step in the right direction. The author hopes someday Sudan will find peace and security.
About the Author
Gursimran Kaur Bakshi is a student at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi, India.