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Cablegate: Darfur - Ngos at the End of Their Rope

VZCZCXRO8209
PP RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1377/01 2530458
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 090458Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1867
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA
RUEHRN/USMISSION UN ROME
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KHARTOUM 001377

AIDAC

DEPT FOR AF A/S FRAZER, SE WILLIAMSON, AF/SPG, PRM
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SP, USAID/W DCHA SUDAN
NAIROBI FOR USAID/DCHA/OFDA, USAID/REDSO, AND FAS
GENEVA FOR NKYLOH
NAIROBI FOR SFO
NSC FOR PMARCHAM, MMAGAN, AND BPITTMAN
NEW YORK FOR DMERCADO
BRUSSELS FOR JADDLETON
USMISSION UN ROME FOR RNEWBERG

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PREF PGOV PHUM SOCI UN SU
SUBJECT: DARFUR - NGOS AT THE END OF THEIR ROPE

REF: KHARTOUM 1328

KHARTOUM 00001377 001.2 OF 003


-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Between August 27 and 31, a USAID officer visited El Fasher
and Nyala and met with partner organizations to discuss the current
challenges facing the humanitarian organizations in Darfur. In the
meetings, relief agencies reported a notable and concerning up tick
in harassment and bureaucratic impediments during August. In
August, UN and NGOs, both in Darfur and Khartoum, have reported new
levels of harassment of NGO staff. Sudanese government officials
have interrogated staff, entered and searched NGO offices, demanded
copies of emails and files, and intimidated NGOs to a point where
they are no longer comfortable reporting these incidents to the UN.
While bureaucratic impediments imposed by the Sudanese government on
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Darfur is not a
new trend in Darfur, new procedures related to assets and hiring
mechanisms, in addition to the usual delays related to visas and
permits, have significantly reduced NGOs' ability to respond to
humanitarian needs. The GNU Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC)'s
unpredictable operating procedures and heavy-handed approach in
interacting with NGOs has worn down the NGO community in Darfur.
The Sudanese government has accused humanitarian organizations in
Darfur of providing evidence to the International Criminal Court
(ICC) and is responding by aggressively investigating individual
organizations and staff. USAID is concerned that the new tactics in
harassment endangers both aid workers and program operations in
Darfur. END SUMMARY.

--------------------
Increased Harassment
--------------------

2. (U) In June 2008, HAC began conducting "assessments" of NGO
operations in Khartoum, El Fasher, and Nyala. HAC officials told
the USAID officer that the assessments will provide HAC with a
better understanding of NGO operations, budgets, and funding levels.


3. (U) In recent weeks in South Darfur, HAC officials visited
several offices of USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster
Assistance (USAID/OFDA) partner NGOs and requested information on
the level of funding for programs, budgets, assets, and banking
details. In addition, HAC requested information on international
and national staff working for the NGOs, including the nationality
of international staff members and the ethnic identity of national
staff. The NGOs were further requested to provide copies of
resumes, qualifications, and signed technical agreements (agreements
between the NGO and state line ministries), as well as memorandums
of understanding with other NGOs.

4. (SBU) In July, HAC visited a USAID/OFDA partner NGO and copied
con-fid-ent-ial files of gender-based violence cases. Forty-eight
hours later, HAC closed that NGO's women's health program, according
to the NGO partner. The NGO staff told USAID that HAC is now
demanding that the organization hand over all property and assets
related to the closed program to HAC in South Darfur. Other
USAID/OFDA partners reported that HAC downloaded files in some
offices and requested copies of specific personal emails from staff.
USAID is particularly concerned that the information on
gender-based violence cases could endanger the survivors who
reported that information.

5. (SBU) HAC has aggressively interviewed, in some cases
interrogated, both national and international staff, resulting in
anxiety and mental distress among staff working in an already
stressful environment. NGOs indicated that the HAC is particularly
concerned with protection-related programs and specifically programs
related to gender-based violence, including details on NGO and UN
interventions, health and legal referral systems for gender-based
violence survivors, and other support provided in these programs.
(Note: The HAC is not only targeting US-based NGOs or USAID partners
with these new investigations, but is also questioning European
organizations and non-USAID partners. End Note.)

KHARTOUM 00001377 002.2 OF 003

6. (SBU) In a sobering donor coordination meeting in Khartoum on
September 1, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs (OCHA) confirmed the reports received in the field by USAID
and in REFTEL. According to OCHA, NGO staff members under HAC
investigation in Darfur have reported that HAC has read personal
emails and searched computer and email files for key words, such as
"protection." OCHA believes that this latest trend in harassment is
driven by the Sudanese government's belief that NGOs provided
information to the ICC and is perhaps a strategy to break the chain
of communication from the field in Darfur to the UN and donors.

------------------------
Bureaucratic Impediments
------------------------

7. (U) While local government officials and local communities are
supportive of NGO activities, the HAC has been obstructive and
unpredictable in applying regulations on NGOs, deviating from
processes outlined in the Directory of Procedures and the Joint
Communique. As a result, NGOs divert an extensive amount of time,
energy, and resources to resolving bureaucratic issues, such as
obtaining travel permits to internally displaced person (IDP) camps
and receiving clearance to move relief commodities into areas of
operation.

8. (U) Since April, NGOs have not been permitted to carry out
surveys or basic assessments related to programs without prior
approval from HAC, including approval of the specific forms and
instruments intended to be used during the assessment. The approval
process delays the assessment, at times for weeks, and publishing of
the results that are key in guiding the response of donors and
relief organizations. In addition, HAC insists on providing an
escort for each assessment or survey team, possibly jeopardizing the
neutrality of the survey and the willingness of the respondents to
provide accurate information. In a September 1 donor coordination
meeting in Khartoum, OCHA reported that the Sudanese government is
currently delaying the release of 11 nutritional surveys in Darfur.
(Comment: USAID and other donors rely on nutritional surveys to
gauge levels of malnutrition and develop appropriate responses with
implementing agencies. End Comment.)

9. (SBU) HAC-imposed recruitment and hiring procedures for national
staff also pose difficulties for NGOs because the HAC insists on
participating in the short-listing and interview of candidates for
recruitment. HAC dedicates three hours everyday for interviews
during the work week. Any interview conducted outside of the
HAC-determined schedule results in a fine of approximately USD 50,
which is paid by the NGO to each government official present at the
interview. In recent meetings in Darfur, NGOs told a USAID officer
that some NGOs that failed to recruit HAC's preferred candidates
have experienced reprisals, such as increased difficulties at
checkpoints and processing permits.

10. (SBU) On August 31, the South Darfur HAC Secretary General, El
Hadi Nagma, requested a meeting with the USAID officer in Nyala.
During the meeting, the HAC official stated that NGO coordination is
weak and that the HAC intends to "streamline" NGO coordination in
the future. (Note: USAID officer observed that NGO coordination
meetings continue to be held, but HAC has asserted itself as the
primary coordinating body for aid organizations. HAC's involvement
has limited certain aspects of coordination and sidelined OCHA in
the process. End Note.) The official reported that while reviewing
budgets of NGOs in South Darfur, which were obtained during the
investigations described above, HAC noted that the significant
amount of money that NGOs receive warrants close monitoring by HAC.
The HAC official also inquired about USAID's funding mechanisms for
NGOs and asked if NGOs were funded separately for each project.

11. (SBU) The general tone of the meeting was cordial but
demonstrates a heightened interest among HAC officials regarding
budgets and assets of USAID partners. The UN has also noted an
increased "paranoia" over assets among HAC officials in recent
weeks. Given the political context in Darfur, it is likely that
donors and NGOs will face contentious negotiations over asset
dispersal in the future.

KHARTOUM 00001377 003.2 OF 003

------
Impact
------

12. (U) Following the ICC announcement in July, humanitarian space
has again been significantly eroded and resulted in a loss of access
and operational space, which was already extremely limited in 2007
and 2008. Furthermore, the HAC's investigation of protection and
gender-based violence programs has created a gap in the health care
services provided to conflict-affected communities. Currently, NGOs
fear that undertaking protection programs may jeopardize other NGO
programs, even those outside of Darfur.

13. (U) OCHA has called on donors to assist in making the point to
the Sudanese government that the harsh investigation and
intimidation of NGOs is unacceptable and has asked donors to
continue to engage on these issues. Post believes that the NGOs are
incredibly exposed and need support from the UN, donors, and
embassies as they face investigation and additional bureaucratic
impediments. CDA Fernandez raised this issue with MFA Deng Alor on
September 8 and will continue to do so with senior officials, both
in Khartoum and in Darfur.

FERNANDEZ

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