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Cablegate: Irc at Wits' End at Regime Attrition Tactics

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DE RUEHKH #1662/01 3191111
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O 141111Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2314
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
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RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 001662

DEPT FOR AF A/S FRAZER, SE WILLIAMSON, AF/SPG, DRL
NSC FOR PITTMAN AND HUDSON
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PGOV PREL KPKO SOCI AU UNSC SU
SUBJECT: IRC AT WITS' END AT REGIME ATTRITION TACTICS

REF: KHARTOUM 1579

1. (SBU) Summary: While presenting a surface image of humanitarian
cooperation, Sudanese authorities have succeeded in constraining IRC
operations in Darfur to the point that the organization is tentative
about its future in Sudan, IRC staff told CDA. With stay permits
granted for only one quarter of its program staff, and continued
government meddling in IRC affairs, the international humanitarian
organization has received new obstacles in place of access, and
threats in place of dialogue while HAC officials pay lip service to
both the spirit and letter of the 2007 Joint Communique. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) On November 12 CDA Fernandez met with Justine Brett
(protect), Program Director for International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Sudan, and Alan Paul (protect), Deputy Directory of Programs for
Darfur, to discuss continued Sudanese bureaucratic impediments to
IRC's operations in Sudan. According to Brett, the Government of
Sudan (GoS) has steadfastly refused to grant stay permits and Darfur
travel permits to most of IRC's international staff, especially
those who come from Western countries, leading the NGO to despair
about its future in Sudan. IRC is hemorrhaging staff as the GoS has
informally denied stay permits for both Brett and Paul; IRC's Darfur
health advisor; its Darfur capacity-building manager; its deputy
director of field operations; and its Darfur-based security manager.
Additionally, IRC's Child and Youth Program Advisor was forced to
leave Sudan on November 7 due to the government's refusal to grant a
stay permit. Currently, only three out of IRC's twelve Darfur
program staff have stay permits and continue running IRC's day-today
operations in Darfur. However, even the three staff members who
have thus far avoided the government's harassment could be forced to
leave Sudan on or by January 31, 2009 when the Moratorium on
Restrictions a.k.a. "Fast Track" expires. "At the moment we can
still guarantee program quality, but it's getting more and more
constrained," Brett said of the regime's "expulsion by attrition"
strategy.

3. (SBU) As part of the GoS's "successful wearing-down strategy," as
Brett described it, the GoS Humanitarian Affairs Committee (HAC) has
entangled itself even further in IRC operations in Khartoum and
throughout Darfur. Currently, the HAC is haggling with IRC over the
content of technical agreements within each state in Darfur to
extract major concessions unfavorable to the NGO. And although IRC
continues to implement its water and sanitation program and health
program in Darfur, they do so with no technical agreements having
yet been signed by the HAC. Brett remains concerned that the HAC
intends to bully IRC into signing technical agreements that, should
IRC conclude it is unable to operate in Darfur, will give HAC
permission to seize IRC assets in Darfur, including vehicles,
computers and satellite phones. Paul predicted that IRC could
continue to deliver services in Darfur for one to three months
following the departure of international staff, "but it leads us to
the question of what IRC stands for."

4. (SBU) Government-controlled newspapers in Khartoum have begun a
coordinated campaign linking UNAMID and the IRC with the
International Criminal Court (ICC) (reftel). For example, on October
28 Akhir Lahza published a 2005 internal memo, now discarded and
discredited by IRC, which suggested that the NGO cooperated with the
ICC. Brett said her office submitted to the HAC a simple press
statement on IRC's mandate and details of its programs in Sudan, but
the HAC refused to permit release of the press statement to the
media. The HAC agreed to call off the defamation campaign now once
the damage has already been done.

5. (SBU) Brett and Paul agreed that at this sensitive moment, IRC
would not be keen for Post to release its own press release on IRC's
operations but asked that the international community keep pressing
the authorities on humanitarian access. They noted that if the
regime can do this with a large, well-respected, US-based NGO, they
can do so with anyone. They noted that pressure from CDA Fernandez
and UK Special Envoy O'Niell in October had resulted in the
authorities agreeing to talk to IRC again and to take a few cosmetic
steps, but there has been no change in the inherently hostile and
legalistic attitude of the HAC. The authorities realize that
outright expulsion has negative consequences so they pursue this
strategy of attrition to wear down aid workers and the institutions
themselves.

6. (SBU) Yet as IRC prepares for contingencies that include
shuttering its programs in Sudan, complications inherent in
cooperating with GoS authorities show that leaving Sudan will also
be fraught with difficulty. Brett reported that in October,
internal downsizing of its Nyala program forced IRC to let go of
seven drivers, but the South Darfur HAC intervened and claimed that

KHARTOUM 00001662 002 OF 002


IRC could not lay-off any local employees (in the end IRC got its
way.) Additionally, IRC is caught in the catch-22 that even if it
does choose to depart Sudan, technically it cannot; with pending
legal cases before Sudanese courts, IRC legally must remain in Sudan
until those cases are resolved.

7. (SBU) Comment: As IRC's case sadly highlights, the government of
Sudan has been spectacularly successful in contracting humanitarian
access in Darfur to the point that NGOs spend their time
investigating ways to protect their assets in the field and respond
to bureaucratic demands instead of implementing programs to reduce
suffering in Darfur. As part of its orchestrated campaign to keep
the pressure on NGOs, the GoS is meticulously and slowly squeezing
out from Darfur the international staff most technically-qualified
to implement humanitarian aid programs, forcing NGOs to decide
between closing out their programs or providing poor quality
assistance. Even if the government proceeds with the November 25
renewal of the Moratorium on Restrictions (which we expect them to
do as a highly publicized gesture towards UN U/S for Humanitarian
Affairs John Holmes), post is skeptical that the GoS is serious
about assisting international NGOs in Darfur anytime soon, despite
its claims to the contrary at the Sudan People's Initiative. They
will certainly refrain from overtly and openly hostile acts, such as
expulsions, while seeking to accomplish the same results a little
bit at a time all the while presenting the veneer of an (eventually
hollowed out) international humanitarian presence.

FERNANDEZ

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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