President Barack Obama plans to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq by August 2010 and the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes. During a live chat sponsored by the Brookings Institution, Brookings expert Elizabeth Ferris responded to questions about how these two decisions will affect the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Iraq and Darfur.
The discussion started off with Ferris explaining the current situation in Iraq and Darfur. Ferris said “the Bashir government has expelled 13 international aid agencies and three national NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) and there is growing concern about the humanitarian consequences for Darfur’s 2.9 million displaced people.”
NGO’s are non-business organizations created by natural or legal persons with no participation or representation in any government.
In 2003 a conflict erupted between two armed groups and the government of Sudan. The armed groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), began the war with attacks on towns, government facilities and civilians in Darfur, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and policemen and the breakdown of law and order in Darfur. According to the United Nations 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since the war began in February 2003.
Ferris said “it is important to underscore that the United Nations is still present and active in Darfur, but agencies such as the World Food Program depend on NGO’s such as CARE and Save the Children to actually deliver food and relief in the Internally Displaced Persons camps.” She continued, “without the NGO’s, food distribution becomes much more difficult, so there are fears that the humanitarian crisis will become worse.”
The United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance estimates that their expulsion will leave 1.1 million Dafuris without food aid, 1.5 million without access to healthcare and more than one million without potable water.
When asked, “since Bashir has expelled the major NGO’s in Darfur, how has the international community compensated for their absence, and do you think the NGO’s will be let back into Darfur anytime soon?” Ferris responded, “U.N. agencies have taken some measures to distribute food, for example, directly to camps.”
She continued, “I don’t think the NGO’s, at least those who have been expelled, will be back soon, but there are still over 70 international aid groups on the ground.” Bashir wants all international aid organizations out of the country within a year, which would make the humanitarian consequences grave, she said. Ferris believes that “international pressure and diplomacy can play a positive role in bringing the parties to the negotiating table in Darfur, but the situation has become much more complex in the last couple of years and there are at least 50 armed groups in Darfur now.”
She also said that “a political solution is needed.” When asked about the establishment of a no-fly zone by NATO, Ferris said “I worry about the consequences of implementing a no-fly zone; this would mean a tremendous military commitment, would likely entail conflict with the Sudanese armed forces, and would drag us into yet another conflict with a Muslim country; I don’t think this is the answer.”
Ferris also responded to the question “was it a mistake for the U.N. to bring charges against Bashir?” Ferris said, “some have argued that the indictments make it more difficult for the peace process to yield results, others say the need for justice should take precedence.” She continued, “there are good arguments on both sides.”
Ferris also discussed what the Obama Administration could do to help expedite the resettlement of IDP’s in Iraq and steps the Iraqi government can take to allow refugees and IDP’s to return to their homes. Ferris said that “resettlement is a complicated process and although the U.S. government has introduced measures to expedite the movement of Iraqis from the region, in Syria and Lebanon, but also Egypt and Jordan, resettlement will be a solution for only a small number of Iraq’s refugees.” She claimed that “it is the responsibility of the Iraqi government to create the conditions to allow for the refugees and IDP’s to return to their home.”