The last time the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, in March 2009, Khartoum responded in kind by expelling several aid workers and organizations from Darfur. The expulsion of aid agencies back then had a profoundly deleterious effect on the humanitarian situation in Darfur, in particular for the provision of health services to victims of sexual assault.
Is history repeating?
Earlier this week, the ICC issued a second arrest warrant for Bashir — this time for the crime of genocide. And today, the International Organization for Migration is confirming that two of its international staffers working in Darfur have been booted from the country by Sudanese authorities. According to the IOM, no explanation has been given as to why these aid workers were expelled. An IOM spokesperson Jean-Philippe Chauzy would not speculate on the reasons behind the government’s decision to expel two senior staffers. In fact, he was quick to reject any suggestion that the expulsions might be a reaction to the ICC arrest warrant.
It is understandable why the IOM would not want to speculate. As an aid organization, it’s primary role is to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations.
Still, harassment of the IOM could have dire humanitarian consequences throughout Darfur. The IOM manages the so-called “common pipeline” of Non-Food Items –that is, goods such as medical supplies, tarps and tents–that make their way from donor agencies into Darfur. This is a key logistical role that supports the entire Darfur humanitarian aid operation. The IOM actually took over this role from the international NGO Care after CARE was expelled in 2009 after the ICC issued its first arrest warrant.
It would seem to me that the Sudanese authorities understand that the best way to obstruct the humanitarian operation is to strike at its logistical core. But again, I’m saying that–not the IOM. Here is what the IOM is saying in its own words.
From my telephone interview with IOM spokesperson Jean-Philippe Chauzy, who goes into depth about the IOM’s work in Darfur and how it might be affected by the expulsions.