Rebel groups and Darfur experts are questioning Khartoum’s motivations for shutting down camps for internally displaced persons, or IDPs, in Darfur. The Sudan Tribune yesterday reported that the Sudanese government plans to shut down IDP camps in Darfur starting in early 2010.
According to the article, the Sudanese humanitarian aid commissioner said the government is building 20,000 housing units for displaced people in Darfur’s three capitals and that aid money will be funneled towards the rehabilitation of villages. People will be given the choice of either moving back to their villages or to the new housing complexes.
Darfur rebel groups decried this announcement as a ploy to facilitate future war crimes. Abdel-Wahid al-Nur, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement, said to Sudan Tribune: “The government wants to send our people back to the same places they fled from so that they can get killed again under the whole world eyes.”
Author and human rights lawyer Bec Hamilton, who recently visited camps in Darfur, suggested that the move is Khartoum’s attempt to gain international legitimacy on the eve of elections in April 2010. She wrote in a blog post today:
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 [would] shift the spotlight. What the regime understands well is that “free and fair elections” and “2.5 million IDPs” are not concepts easily reconciled.
Moreover, at this point in the conflict most of the camps are politically organized and so in addition to the international attention they attract, they also pose a threat to the NCP as concentrated clumps of political opposition. Conversely, maintaining international concern, and being able to organize politically are two key reasons that some of the rebel leaders (be careful not to assume these men represent the IDPs themselves) would want to see IDPs stay in the camps for as long as possible.
Khartoum’s decision to close the camps also raises a red flag for the rights of the internally displaced. Can we really expect the Sudanese government to resettle and return 2.7 million internally displaced people in a manner consistent with the international standards on internal displacement when the thinly-veiled bigger agenda seems to be to sweep the IDP problem under the rug in time for elections? Under U.N. rules, authorities have the responsibility to “allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country.” Not to mention that the African Union, in a historic move, recently adopted a legal convention reiterating those same rights.
That Khartoum has already flouted the principle of voluntary return – by proposing that displaced people will have to choose between resettling or returning – suggests that the government will continue to trammel IDP rights in the coming months. International community, stay tuned.
Photo: Internally displaced women and child in Nyala, Darfur.