A recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights describes an incident on August 25, 2008 when Sudanese government security forces killed 33 internally displaced people, or IDPs, at Kalma IDP camp near Nyala, Sudan. In addition to fatalities, at least 108 people were injured. This case is not unique—the government of Sudan continues to target civilian populations as part of the ongoing genocide in Darfur.
The Kalma example illustrates the ongoing tensions that exist between Sudan’s government, the United Nations, and displaced persons. Kalma houses 80,000 IDPs and is one of the largest camps in the Darfur region of Sudan. Since Kalma’s establishment in 2004, the Sudanese government has claimed that the camp is rife with small arms, drugs, and criminality. Tensions between IDPs and government security forces have been long-standing. UNAMID, the joint U.N./AU mission in Darfur, maintained a daily presence in the camp but the Sudanese government security forces knew that this was a daytime-only presence.
The security forces maintain that they wanted to conduct a blanket search warrant on the entire camp and that IDPs gathered early in the morning to prevent security forces from entering. They say women and children were placed in front of armed IDPs who opened fire on the security forces. The security forces claimed self defense as the reason why they shot into the crowd of IDPs. The IDPs were concerned that the government security presence would lead to their forced relocation. UNAMID was unable to confirm whether there were armed IDPs within the group. Witnesses confirmed that the security forces arbitrarily shot into the group of IDPs.
UNAMID concluded that government security forces failed to protect IDPs according to their obligations under international human rights law. However, no international legal action has been taken. UNAMID now maintains a 24-hour presence in the camp, but there has been no real action redressing the issue: IDPs have become pawns, pulled between governments who feel they have the right to maintain control over them and the U.N. who seeks to protect them, but only does so when it has government approval to do so. Will the hard lessons of Kalma be taken into consideration as the Sudanese threaten to attack Muhajiriya?