Access to Darfur Contradicts US "Genocide" Claims

In February 2003, two armed groups, the ‘Sudan Liberation Army’ (SLA) and the ‘Justice and Equality Movement’ (JEM), launched attacks on government administrative centres, police stations and civilians in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. The government responded vigorously and the conflict spiralled out of control causing a growing humanitarian crisis. [1] Since the international community was alerted to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur from early 2004 onwards there has been an attempt by the United States government and sections of the Western print and broadcast media to portray the Government of the Sudan not only as being solely responsible for the crisis, but actively and deliberately conniving in the "genocide" of black African peasant farmer tribes by nomadic "Arab" tribes. [2] In August 2004, for example, the United States Congress unanimously adopted a resolution labelling the situation in Darfur as genocide. [3] On 9 September, American Secretary of State Colin Powell, responding to domestic pressure from conservative and anti-Islamic constituencies, in turn declared before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, "[that] genocide has taken place and may still be continuing in Darfur". These declarations echoed attempts to compare events in Darfur with Rwanda in 1994.

Central to these claims of genocide have been accusations that in preventing humanitarian access to Darfur by UN aid organisations, such as the World Food Programme and other non-governmental relief groups, the Sudanese government was carrying out a genocide by famine or by other means they wished to hide from the international community. Secretary of State Powell appears to have forgotten John Adams’ powerful observation that "facts are stubborn things". The simple facts, as they have unfolded in recent months, have exposed American claims of genocide as little more than political opportunism in a crunch election year. In less than twelve months the Sudanese government has facilitated an increase in aid workers, expatriates and Sudanese nationals, from two foreigners and a few dozen nationals in September 2003 to just under six thousand aid workers – over seven hundred of them expatriates – by August 2004. [4] In total, there are now 155 locations assisting with internally displaced people in the three Darfur states, of which 136 are in areas that UN security officers say the World Food Programme can enter and operate within. By September 2004, the World Food Programme was feeding some 940,000 conflict-affected people in Darfur. [5]

Not only is the almost six thousand aid workers’ presence in Darfur clear evidence of the Khartoum government’s commitment to the provision of food and medical relief to Darfur’s war-affected communities, but they are able to confirm or refute the existence of any policy of genocide on the part of the government. Far from confirming it, reputable international aid agencies have criticised American claims of genocide. [6]

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been one such group. [7] In July 2004 MSF President Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol stated, for example, that the use of the term genocide was inappropriate: "Our teams have not seen evidence of the deliberate intention to kill people of a specific group. We have received reports of massacres, but not of attempts to specifically eliminate all the members of a group". [8] Dr Bradol subsequently described the August and September American declarations of genocide in Darfur as "obvious political opportunism". [9]

Any study of the humanitarian presence in Darfur would indicate that for much of the first half of 2003 the attention of the UN, its aid organisations and NGOs as well as the government of Sudan and the whole international community was focused on achieving a peace accord between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to end the civil war in southern Sudan. The UN personnel that were on the ground were mainly concentrated in south Darfur to deal with the problem of feeding and medical care of internally-displaced persons from southern neighbouring Bahr El-Ghazal resulting from the war in the south. [10]

The intensity of the conflict in Darfur made humanitarian access to the area very problematic. In September 2003, the Government of Sudan and the SLA signed an agreement allowing "free and unimpeded" humanitarian access within Darfur. [11] The rebels have however escalated humanitarian access difficulties by deliberately targeting aid workers. They murdered nine World Food Programme truck drivers, and wounded 14 others, in an attack on a relief convoy in October 2003. [12] In January 2004, UN media sources reported that "about 85 percent of the 900,000 war-affected people in Darfur…are inaccessible to humanitarian aid, according to the UN, mainly because of insecurity." [13] In addition, on 11 February 2004 JEM declared its intention to close down every road within Darfur in spite of the devastating consequences this would have on the ability of the Government and aid agencies (national and international) to provide emergency assistance to those communities suffering in Darfur. As a UN humanitarian relief spokesman quite simply stated: "You can’t give aid when there are bullets flying." [14]

The government nonetheless sought to ease access, conflict permitting. [15] Negotiations between the government and rebels resulted in a further humanitarian ceasefire being agreed on 7 April 2004, facilitating humanitarian access to civilian populations in need. In May the government introduced further measures aimed at streamlining the delivery of humanitarian assistance. [16] From its office in Nyala UNICEF initiated assistance to the internally displaced persons during the first ceasefire in September-November 2003. Additional offices were opened in El Geneina and El Fasher in November 2003. As access improved, UNICEF moved quickly in February and March 2004 to assess immediate needs, and most importantly, to provide basic services to accessible populations. By the end of March, UNICEF had tripled its staff in El Fasher, Nyala and El Geneina. [17]

The level of aid access to Darfur is a simple matter of record. In September 2003 the World Food Programme (WFP) was the only UN agency that had international staff (two) in Darfur. There were in addition a few dozen national staff, many of them working on development rather than humanitarian relief programmes. [18] Access for relief staff had been cut off from March to the beginning of September 2003, when the first ceasefire took effect, and operations during this time were severely restricted. International UN staff on the ground remained few until February 2004, when freer access followed a new ceasefire. The UN then began sending as many people to the field as possible. In March 2004, there were 37 international aid workers in Darfur, and 191 Sudanese nationals: April, 128 international and 972 national personnel; May, 169 international and 1139 national personnel; June, 322 international and 1721 national personnel; July, 483 international and 3689 national personnel; August, 705 international and 5004 Sudanese personnel.

According to the UN’s Sudan Information Gateway website [19], as early as April 2004 the following UN agencies and non-governmental organisations were working in Darfur. North Darfur: UN Development Programme (UNDP), Save the Children UK, SpRC/SRC, UNICEF, SUDO, ITDC, SCRC, WHO, IARA, Lep Mission, MSF, WFP, Oxfam Great Britain, USAID, ICRC, UN Population Fund (UNFPA), GOAL; West Darfur: UNDP, UNFPA, Save the Children UK, SpRC/SRC, UNICEF, WHO, Lep Mission, Oxfam GB, Medair, Al Massar, USAID, IARA, Dawa; South Darfur: Save the Children UK, ICRC/SRC, UNFPA, UNICEF, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), SCRC, OCHA, WHO, Lep Mission, WFP, Oxfam GB, SRC. The Catholic agency CAFOD, Catholic Relief Services and Adventist Development and Relief Agency, began operations in South Darfur as well. [20]

On 28 May Kofi Annan welcomed the government’s announcement that aid workers wanting to travel to Darfur would receive entry visas quickly and would no longer need travel permits for Darfur. [21] Speaking in June 2004, Kevin Kennedy, the acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan confirmed that "access has improved somewhat over the last several weeks. Various procedures, [including] restriction requirements that had been imposed have either been eliminated or have been softened." He also stated that "there has been significant progress made in the last few weeks in terms of visas, travel permits, registration of new NGOs, release of items from customs clearance, and so forth." Mr Kennedy confirmed that visas were generally being granted within 48 hours – as promised by the Government of Sudan – and that "people are experiencing very few visa difficulties". [22] An indication of this NGO access could be seen in the July 2004 United Nations announcement that two million children in Darfur had been immunised against measles. [23] This was carried out by 2,000 health teams made up of World Health Organisation, UNICEF and other humanitarian workers.

In July 2004, Jan Egeland, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (and a fierce critic of the government), found it necessary to challenge some of the claims being made about Darfur: "It is strange to see that there is still the notion in the world that nothing is happening and we’re completely blocked from accessing Darfur. We are reaching some 800,000 people at the moment with some sort of assistance and food." [24] Mr Egeland also had something to say about claims of "ethnic cleansing" in Darfur, stating that the term "ethnic cleansing" did not fit events in Darfur: "I think we have more reports actually of a kind of scorched earth [policy] – and that nobody has taken over….It’s complex, because some have said that it doesn’t fit the legal definition of ethnic cleansing. The same tribes are represented both among those who are cleansed and those who are cleansing." [25]

The government also appears not to have impeded UN agencies operating in rebel-controlled areas of Darfur. On 26 August, for example, UNICEF started a polio immunisation programme of 50,000 children in the SLA- controlled part of North Darfur. [26] And on 30 September, a WFP food convoy reached an IDP camp behind SLA/JEM lines in South Darfur. [27]

Compared with 2003 it is obvious that by September 2004 the number of UN and other agencies and their personnel had increased substantially in response to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur without any hindrance of GOS, although continuing clashes between GOS forces and rebels was causing difficulty for humanitarian access. [28]

Governments involved in genocide do not tend to enable, facilitate and speed up access to the area or population allegedly targeted for genocide. A sovereign government can restrict access to its territories. What emerges from any study of UN documents on the crisis in Darfur over 2003 and 2004, or the reports of any of the non-governmental organisations active in Darfur, however, is that the government appears to have assisted as much as possible with opening Darfur up to humanitarian assistance. There were under thirty aid workers in Darfur in mid 2003. The government sanctioned and facilitated the increase in that presence to just under six thousand less than a year later. Similarly, the Khartoum authorities have allowed unfettered access to Darfur by the international and national media, including reporters from the BBC, Sky News, New York Times, the London Times and Sunday Times and Time magazine to name but a few. The media, however, ultimately comes and goes. It is the humanitarian community, in the form of dozens of non-governmental organisations, that has maintained a personal or institutional presence in Darfur virtually throughout the past year. It is the humanitarian aid community who are now challenging opportunistic claims of genocide in Darfur.

The dangers of crying wolf on such issues are all too clear. The cynical use of allegations of genocide or ethnic cleansing for propaganda reasons is morally repugnant. It may also have international and domestic consequences, enflaming an already fraught situation in Darfur as well as misinforming international opinion.


[1]. See "Sudan: One Million At ‘Imminent Risk’ in Darfur, Says US Government", News Article by Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 3 March 2004.

[2]. See, for example, "Thousands flee war in Sudan", ‘The Guardian’ (London), 30 January 2004, and "Rape, torture, and one million forced to flee as Sudan’s crisis unfolds. Will we move to stop it?", ‘The Independent’ (London), 23 April 2004.

[3]. It is not the first time that the US Congress has made these sorts of claims. On 17 June 1999, for example, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution condemning the Sudanese government "for its genocidal war in southern Sudan". The measure, House Concurrent Resolution 75, passed by a vote of 416 to 1, claimed that the Sudanese government was "deliberately and systematically committing genocide in southern Sudan", stating that an estimated 1.9 million Sudanese have died of war-related causes and that "Millions have been displaced from their homes" (See, for example, "U.S. House Passes First Sudan Measure in Six Years; Calls War ‘Genocidal’ and Urges Stronger U.S. Peace Efforts", Press Release by US Committee for Refugees, Washington-DC, 16 June 1999).

[4]. Figures provided by the UN press office, Khartoum.

[5]. "Darfur: Humanitarian Emergency Fact Sheet Number 24", US Agency for International Development, 1 October 2004.

[6]. "US ‘Hyping’ Darfur Genocide Fears", ‘The Observer’ (London), 3 October 2004.

[7]. See, for example, "Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières Challenges US Darfur Genocide Claims", Media Monitors Network (MMN), 5 October 2004, available at

[8] "Thousands Die as World Defines Genocide", ‘The Financial Times’ (London), 6 July 2004. See also, Bradol’s views in "France Calls on Sudan to Forcibly Disarm Darfur Militias", News Article by Agence France Presse, 7 July 2004.

[9]. "From One Genocide to Another", Article by Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol, 28 September 2004, available at Médecins Sans Frontières (UAE) website,

[10]. See, for example, UN publications covering early 2003 such as the "Sudan Assistance Bulletin", published by the Office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan,

[11]. "Agreement Reached Allowing Humanitarian Access to Darfur Region of Sudan", Press Release by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, New York, 17 September 2003.

[12]. "Workers in Sudan Aid Convoy Killed", News Article by BBC News, 28 October 2003.

[13]. "Authorities Forcibly Close IDP Camps in Southern Darfur", News Article by Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 16 January 2004.

[14]. "Aid Workers Unable to Reach Most War Zones in Darfur, Western Sudan", News Article by Deutsche Presse Agentur, 13 January 2004.

[15]. "Aid access to Sudan’s war-torn west improves", News Article by South African Broadcasting Corporation, 11 February 2004.

[16]. See, "Sudan Adopts New Measures to Facilitate Delivery of Humanitarian Aid in Darfur", News Article by Sudan News Agency, 20 May 2004.

[17]. "UNICEF Humanitarian Action Sudan, Children Affected by Darfur Crisis", donor update 19 May 2004.

[18]. According to a spokesperson for the UN’s Office for Co- ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Khartoum in September 2004.

[19]. "Starbase: Agency Interventions North" system.

[20]. "Sudan Transition & Recovery Database, South Darfur State", version 2, 17 June 2004, Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Sudan.

[21]. "The UN Responds to the Crisis in Darfur: A Timeline", available at

[22]. "Interview with Kevin Kennedy, Outgoing Acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan", News Article by UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, Nairobi, 23 June 2004.

[23]. "Two Million Darfur Children Get Measles Shot", Press Release by UNICEF, Geneva, 6 July 2004.

[24]. "Interview with UN’s Jan Egeland on the Situation in Darfur", News Article by UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, Nairobi, 5 July 2004.

[25]. "Sudan: Interview with UN’s Jan Egeland on the Situation in Darfur", News Article by UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, Nairobi, 5 July 2004,.

[26]. "Darfur aid worker’s diary XIX", News Article by BBC News Online 17 September 2004, available at /1/hi/wo rld/africa

[27]. "Behind the invisible frontline", Press Release by World Food Programme, 2 October 2004, available at

[28]. "Sudan Assistance Bulletin" no 34, United Nations, 15 September 2004.

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