Cablegate: Usaid Acting Administrator Meeting with Ngo Steering

DE RUEHKH #1216/01 3021311
O 291311Z OCT 09




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: USAID Acting Administrator Meeting with NGO Steering
Committee in Khartoum

1. (SBU) Summary: On October 24, USAID Acting Administrator Alonzo
Fulgham and Acting Assistant Administrator for USAID's Bureau for
Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/DCHA) Susan
Reichle met with the Khartoum-based Non-Governmental Organization
(NGO) Steering Committee as part of an October 24 to 27 delegation
visit to Sudan. The committee emphasized the importance of
humanitarian neutrality and described the crippling effect of
insecurity on relief efforts in Darfur. End summary.


2. (SBU) USAID Acting Administrator Alonzo Fulgham opened the
meeting by thanking the NGO Steering Committee for the efforts NGOs
had made in Sudan, particularly since the early March expulsions.
Acknowledging that the expulsions immediately created large gaps in
services, NGO representatives noted that the work of the UN and the
NGOs had temporarily addressed these gaps and averted an acute
humanitarian crisis. However, the Steering Committee noted that
the lack of an effective monitoring system made determination of
remaining and emerging needs difficult. Although the Government of
Sudan (GOS) and the UN developed a monitoring mechanism during the
April joint assessment in Darfur, NGOs said that no real indication
of an effective monitoring mechanism existed at the field level. In
addition, gaps in protection, child health, and other critical
sectors remained largely unmeasured.


3. (SBU) NGO representatives added that although the recent public
statements indicated an improving Darfur security situation,
security continued to worsen rather than improve for NGO workers.
The number of security incidents may have decreased, but this
decrease was likely in direct proportion to the lessened NGO
presence in Darfur post-March 4.

4. (SBU) NGOs voiced significant concerns regarding the recent
trend of international staff kidnappings. The October abduction of
an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) staff member was
the sixth such kidnapping of international staff in Darfur since
March 4 and occurred only four days following the release of two
Irish NGO (GOAL) staff members held since July. In addition, at
least 15 threats or near misses have occurred during that time
period. The kidnapping threat compounds ongoing security concerns
regarding carjackings and NGO compound raids. NGOs noted that
rumors have circulated regarding payment of ransoms during
kidnappings. They said such rumors fuel new abductions. Impunity
for attacks against humanitarian workers remains a key concern for
NGOs, as the assailants remain at large or are released shortly
after arrest.

5. (SBU) As a result of the prevailing insecurity, NGO field
presence in Darfur is steadily eroding. Lessened field presence
outside state capitals affects NGOs' ability to remain impartial in
provision of assistance to all types of beneficiaries in need,
particularly limiting assistance to nomadic populations, host
communities, and conflict-affected individuals in rural areas. In
addition, NGOs noted that IDPs remain distrustful of the operations
of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).
IDPs frequently cite the inability of UNAMID to protect its own
staff and compounds as an example that UNAMID cannot effectively
protect NGOs and IDPs.

6. (SBU) Steering Committee members also raised concerns regarding
the hostile media environment for NGOs, particularly since March 4.
NGOs noted recent positive statements regarding the humanitarian
community made privately by government officials to NGOs without
corresponding public statements in the media. Positive media
messages are necessary to combat negative press, to which the
general public and individuals not benefiting from NGO programs are
susceptible. NGOs have taken steps to distribute human interest
stories and other positive information to quietly provide
alternatives to negative media coverage. However, Steering Committee
members noted reluctance among some NGOs to be in the media
spotlight, even as the subject of positive human interest stories,
given the lingering fear of expulsion.


KHARTOUM 00001216 002 OF 003


7. (SBU) The Steering Committee noted that, while always a GOS
priority, IDP returns had become an increasingly significant topic
of discussion since June and July 2009. The GOS stated that 900,000
IDPs have returned to date; however, humanitarian agencies have not
observed a concomitant reduction in the number of IDPs in camps or
those receiving food rations. While Sudanese media coverage
indicates that international NGOs do not support returns, NGOs
expressed support for returns that fulfill universal humanitarian
principles, including: identification of the voluntary nature of the
returns; sufficient security in areas of return; and absence of pull
factors enticing IDPs to return to unsafe areas.

8. (SBU) Acting Administrator Fulgham requested that NGO
representatives enumerate the incentives for IDP return to areas of
origin, given the level of assistance in camps. NGOs stated that
some IDPs would prefer to return to farming livelihoods, should
security permit, while others may never return to areas of origin.
Committee members described the migration pattern of IDPs to Darfur
towns as a form of compressed and violent urbanization, noting that
conflict, desertification, and lack of livelihoods have all
contributed to population movement in Darfur. Some IDPs may
permanently settle in or near urban areas, others may practice
seasonal cultivation, and some of these may split families between
camps and urban/camp settings to maximize livelihoods opportunities.
In the Committee's view, the GOS, donors, and humanitarian agencies
cannot expect that returns in Darfur will simply mean that all camp
dwellers will return to villages of origin or to GOS-supported model
villages. When asked whether the GOS would accept some urbanization
of IDPs rather than strict return to villages, NGOs expressed


9. (SBU) Under the Voluntary Act of 2006, international NGOs were
mandated to partner with national NGOs. International NGOs have
been working in coordination with line ministries, some national
NGOs, and some community-based organizations (CBOs); however, the
GOS has recently pressed international NGOs to work only with NGOs
registered with the GOS. This step has added an additional layer to
an already cumbersome technical agreement (TA) approval process, and
limits the types of organizations with which international NGOs can
partner, particularly affecting partnerships with faith-based

10. (SBU) The Steering Committee emphasized that international NGOs
are already working to build local capacity in appropriate ways,
through coordinating programs with GOS line ministries and
community-based organizations (CBOs). In addition, Sudanese staff
members comprise approximately 75 percent of international NGO
staff. Committee members stated that NGOs are not against
Sudanization, but that a clear mechanism must be developed for
determining which of the approximately 3,300 national NGOs are truly
working according to humanitarian principles and with the necessary
standards mandated by donors. The Steering Committee also noted
that IDPs have not generally accepted national NGOs in camps since
the expulsions.
Representatives noted that full support for only GOS-registered NGOs
would compromise neutrality in an already politicized aid operation.
At the same time, some CBOs that are not recognized by the GOS are
keen to support elections-related initiatives in Darfur but lack
access to adequate donor resources.

--------------------------------------------- -
--------------------------------------------- -

11. (SBU) Turning to discussions of the bureaucratic impediments
impeding NGO operations, the NGO Steering Committee expressed
concern regarding the upcoming December 31 expiration of the
Moratorium on Restrictions, which facilitates NGO work in Darfur.
NGOs opined that the Moratorium should be extended and expanded
beyond Darfur to the rest of Sudan, as humanitarian agencies face
challenges obtaining visas and travel permits for work in the Three
Areas and Eastern Sudan as well. However, committee members noted
that the proposed introduction of northern entry and exit procedures
in Southern Sudan would result in reduced humanitarian access.

12. (SBU) According to the Steering Committee, the Ministerial

KHARTOUM 00001216 003 OF 003

Decrees issued in connection with U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan (SE)
General Scott Gration's agreement with the GOS have had little
effect on facilitating travel to field locations, as travel
notifications perform a similar function to the previously required
travel permit. NGOs typically must submit travel notifications up
to three days in advance of planned visits.

13. (SBU) The Mercy Corps/Scotland (MC/Scotland) representative
highlighted that the affiliate NGO has not received any assets of
the expelled organization Mercy Corps/US, despite the agreement with
SE Gration and promises by the GNU that assets would be released.
This situation is hindering the start-up of the USAID-funded BRIDGE
program in the Three Areas. While the GOS has signed all but one
MC/Scotland TA, rehiring of national staff is proceeding slowly, as
the organization must undergo the same laborious recruiting
procedures as all new NGOs. The Steering Committee noted
inconsistencies regarding disposition of expelled NGO assets to
affiliate NGOs. Affiliate NGO CARE International Switzerland (CIS)
has obtained some CARE/US assets from the GOS; however, CIS staff
may not use the former CARE/US vehicles, as they lack license plates
registered under the CIS name.

14. (SBU) Summarizing continuing bureaucratic challenges, the NGO
Steering Committee stated that the GOS has not faithfully
implemented the agreement reached with SE Gration and subsequent
ministerial decrees. Noting the history of GOS non-compliance with
previous agreements, committee members emphasized the importance of
active engagement with the GOS on these issues. Committee members
expressed concern that no public follow-up or monitoring mechanism
is in place to ensure that the GOS is abiding by its commitments
under the SE Gration-GOS agreement, including regarding assets,
visas, and travel. (Note: USAID/OFDA continues to monitor
implementation of SE's agreements with the GNU through the
"stoplight" tracker, issued monthly. NGOs are working on
bureaucratic impediments through the Tripartite Joint Technical
Committee but this of course does not specifically track the
agreements of the GOS and SE Gration. End Note)

15. (U) The USAID delegation cleared this cable prior to departure.


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