Aid Groups Expelled from Sudan

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OneWorld.net

Aid Groups Expelled from Sudan

by
Jeffrey Allen

Malnourished children are fed at a Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) centre in 2004 in western Darfur. The French medical aid organisation said Wednesday it was pulling staff out of Darfur after the Sudanese government ordered them to leave. (AFP/File/Marco Longari)

WASHINGTON - The Sudanese government revoked the licenses of several aid groups [yesterday], just hours after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the country's president. Hundreds of thousands of people in the embattled region of Darfur will now have drastically reduced or no access to food, medicine, and other critical supplies.

"We've been in Darfur for five years now, and are providing lifesaving
assistance for more than 200,000 people in some of the world's largest
displacement camps," said Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer
after his organization's ouster. "These are families that have lost
nearly everything -- their homes, their farms, even loved ones -- to
war. With the sudden departure of groups like Mercy Corps, they're even more vulnerable."

Keny-Guyer's group promotes health and hygiene, builds schools, and
helps to create small businesses and protect women in the region.

The Dutch section of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which provides medical aid to those fleeing the conflict, was also told to shut operations immediately.

The move came as meningitis, a deadly disease
if left untreated, had broken out in a camp home to more than 90,000
people forced to flee their homes by the fighting.

Another 70,000 will now be without any access to healthcare in the large town of Muhajariya, MSF said,
thanks to the closure of the area's only hospital. And health clinics
in and around Feina, where MSF treats an average of 3,000 people each
month, will also be shuttered.

Other groups ordered to close include the U.S.-based International Rescue Committee
(IRC), the British arm of Oxfam International, and the French group
Solidarités. As many as 10 organizations may have had their
registrations revoked on Wednesday, according to a UN spokesperson.

"It appears the international aid effort in the region is being
shut down and that raises grave concerns about the welfare of millions
of Sudanese people who rely on humanitarian aid for survival," said George Rupp, the IRC's president and CEO. 

"If Oxfam Great Britain's registration is
revoked, it will affect more than 600,000 Sudanese people whom we
provide with vital humanitarian and development aid, including clean water and sanitation on a daily basis," said a statement on the group's Web site. Oxfam also employs some 400 local Sudanese.

After three years of investigation and months of deliberation, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir was indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) on two counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity.
He was not charged with genocide, although the Court noted that could
still change if the prosecution presents additional evidence.

According to a press release issued by the
Court, "[al-Bashir] is suspected of being criminally responsible, as an
indirect (co-)perpetrator, for intentionally directing attacks against
an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan,
murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring
large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property."

Al-Bashir is the first-ever head of state to
be indicted by the ICC while still in office. The 108 nations that have
ratified the Rome Statute, which set up the Court, are obliged to turn
over al-Bashir to authorities if he tries to cross their borders, noted
the Washington, DC-based advocacy group Citizens for Global Solutions.

The United States is no longer a signatory to the Rome Statute, since former President George W. Bush unsigned the treaty in 2002.

The warrant marks a "total paradigm shift in the world," said the group's Laura Hendrick.
"Heads of state can no longer commit atrocious crimes and get away with
it while brandishing the shield of national sovereignty. World leaders
will have to face the scales of justice from now on."

Approximately 300,000 people have died --
either through direct combat or because of disease, malnutrition, or
reduced life expectancy -- in Darfur since 2003, estimates the United Nations.

The war finds its roots in both ethnic and environmental strife. In
early 2003, with tension between farmers and nomads rising in the
drought-prone region, resistance groups attacked government forces,
blaming the national government for neglecting the region economically
and failing to protect villagers from attacks by nomadic groups.

But rather than sending in Sudanese armed forces, which included many
members who might be sympathetic to the rebelling factions in Darfur,
the government has allegedly provided arms and other support to Arab
"Janjaweed" militias, who began attacking locals of the same ethnic
background as the rebels.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Sudanese government
has repeatedly denied it is supporting the Janjaweed, who often rape,
pillage, and burn entire villages.

The United Nations' top peacekeeping official said earlier this week that the hybrid UN-African Union mission in Darfur will continue to protect the local population.

The situation was reported to be relatively calm in Darfur today, despite what a UN spokesperson called an "aerial show of force" by the Government.

For their part, several of the aid groups have promised to appeal
their expulsions, reiterating their total independence from the International Criminal Court.

Oxfam noted in a statement that it "is an independent, impartial non-governmental organization,
with absolutely no links to the International Criminal Court," adding:
"Oxfam does not have an opinion on the Court's activities, and our sole
focus is meeting humanitarian and development needs in Sudan."

"It is absurd that we as an independent and impartial organization have
been caught up in a political and judicial process," said an MSF
spokesperson.

For the time being, though, there seems to be little recourse for MSF, Oxfam, Mercy Corps, or the other groups ordered to close Wednesday.

In an email to supporters Wednesday evening, Mercy Corps' Keny-Guyer
reflected on the needs of the 2.5 million people in the region who are
no longer self-sufficient, since the fighting has forced them to flee
their villages for the temporary -- and relative -- security of refugee
camps.

"Those families weigh heavily on our minds and in our hearts right
now," said Keny-Guyer. "Millions of lives hang in the balance in
Darfur."

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