This Wednesday, the Sudan Tribune reported that the Government of Sudan (GoS) “wil begin closing down the camps for the displaced populations in the war torn region of Darfur next year.” The Government would essentially shut down the camps and forcibly relocate the displaced Darfuris to their home villages or to other new “housing complexes”.
First and foremost, not only is this a violation of international law which forbids the forced repatriation of a displaced population, but is in violation of a consensus specifically related to Darfur vocalized by the Cairo Agreement, which states,
“To effectively execute the UN principles related to the right of all displaced persons, especially in relation to facilitating voluntary, safe and dignified return, within the framework of a project that would guarantee rebuilding destroyed villages as well as rebuilding the infrastructure and providing means for a decent life.”
Though the GoS has little respect for both the logic and the law of the international community, it is certain to have a hidden logic for this decision. At the moment, until more information is revealed, the following are considerations when looking at this situation:
- Political: with the elections coming up in 2010, Darfur is the region of greatest uncertainty and perhaps where the GoS has the most at stake. As Bec Hamilton notes in her informative and illuminating blog post, “The desire [of Omar al-Bashir] is to be seen as having won [the 2010 elections] legitimately, which in turn requires convincing anyone who would dare to say otherwise, that the elections will be “free and fair.” The consequences of this desire are seen in several areas, one of which is the aggressive agenda that Khartoum is now pushing on IDP returns. There is a very real sense in which those in Khartoum view the IDP camps themselves as the problem – as if the camps would disappear, then there would no longer be a “Darfur problem” and the world shift the spotlight. What the regime understands well is that “free and fair elections” and “2.5 million IDPs” are not concepts easily reconciled.” However, on a purely logistical level, the relocation of millions of IDPs would complicate the registration and voting process to a level it is hard to imagine them as even remotely legitimate. However, even if a conceivably legitimate voting process were to take place, Bec Hamilton points out further along in her post that the camps are “concentrated clumps of political opposition” and highly organized, another threat to Bashir’s legitimacy.
- Security: the IDP camps have become increasingly politicized and militarized over the years, and the threat of relocation could be viewed as a security threat by the camp residents, potentially leading to an escalation of hostility or predominance of armed groups within the camps. This could in turn become an excuse for Khartoum to close down the camps or attack them as hotbeds of insecurity. UNAMID faces a significant challenge in their roles in maintaining peace and security in the camps in any situation.
- Humanitarian: with aid already so restricted and strained in getting so several centralized distribution points (i.e. the IDP camps), scattering a population to remote villages will make them even more unimaginably difficult to reach and will strain further the already thinly-stretched resources of the humanitarian community. In addition, many would be returning to villages and could have difficulty starting their farms again in time for the rains in June.
The full scope of the possible motivations and potential outcomes and consequences will not be apparent for some time now, which makes this an issue the international community must monitor with vigilance. Please continue to stay informed on this issue, and contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you may have.
And please, call your Senator and Representative and educate them about this occurrence as well, so that if the international community must act at the very least your members of Congress will not be caught unawares as we have so many other times in the past.