Background Briefing

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Rebel Attacks on Humanitarian Agencies and Workers

Rebel groups have conducted attacks on humanitarian convoys and aid workers that have diverted food assistance and hindered access to the population in need. This interference appears to be increasing. On April 28, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jan Pronk, threatened to suspend U.N. aid to 450,000 people in northern Darfur “unless rebel attacks against United Nations and other relief operations…stop immediately.”84

U.N. OCHA concluded that SLA members were predominantly responsible for targeted attacks against humanitarian convoys throughout the month of March 2006. OCHA reported that the SLA forcibly hijacked three nongovernmental organization vehicles in March, one at an SLA checkpoint and two inside displaced persons camps.85

According to several humanitarian sources, the rebels have regularly looted humanitarian convoys, particularly vehicles. Human Rights Watch has received numerous reports of incidents in North and South Darfur in which vehicles, particularly rental cars and trucks used by humanitarian organizations, were stolen by SLA forces.86

Rebel movements have also abducted Arab Sudanese working for local NGOs (as well as some international staff), although in most cases these individuals appear to have been released unharmed. According to one humanitarian source, rebel movements have also tried to extort WFP and others to provide vastly inflated amounts of aid. They seek so much aid that it is suspected that the motive is to have enough surplus to sell.87 

U.N. and other agencies have spent considerable time negotiating the release of humanitarian property that has been seized by rebels. After negotiations, rebels have sometimes returned items.  In January 2006, an NGO rental vehicle taken by the SLA in North Darfur was returned to the organization, but without its radio equipment.88 In another incident in January, SLA forces near Nyala, South Darfur, abducted three NGO vehicles and their drivers; the men and vehicles were returned unharmed three days later.89 On March 22, 2006, a driver of a U.N. fuel tanker and his truck that went missing on March 4 in Shangil Tobayi area of North Darfur were handed over to U.N. Department of Safety and Security (DSS) staff by an SLA commander. On March 22, a U.N.-hired commercial truck that was hijacked on March 16 while traveling from Tawilla to Fashir was also handed over to U.N. DSS by an SLA commander in Dar al Salaam, North Darfur.90

On March 23, a Ministry of Health vehicle traveling from Sirba to Abu Suroug in West Darfur was carjacked by armed men whom the United Nations believed to be NMRD insurgents. The vehicle was seized, along with a refrigerator full of medicine; there were no reported injuries.91  NMRD has also been responsible for other thefts of vehicles in West Darfur.92

Rebel attacks against humanitarian convoys have been a persistent problem for well over a year. A May 2005 U.N. Security Council report on Darfur stated that the frequency with which SLA and JEM fighters hijacked commercial, private and NGO vehicles suggested that the attacks had the approval of rebel leaders. Citing reports that it judged to be reliable, the U.N. concluded that humanitarian vehicles were being taken with the aim of converting them into battlefield platforms.93 It noted that the SLA ambushed several convoys belonging to or engaged by humanitarian organizations along the Kebkabiya-Fashir road in North Darfur in May 2005.94

Detention of relief workers

In connection with robbery and for alleged security considerations, rebels have also detained relief workers. In July 2005, the SLA briefly detained ten humanitarian workers in West Darfur.95 Also in July, rebels abducted teams from the Sudanese government Ministry of Health who were carrying out polio vaccinations in North and South Darfur. As a result, the vaccination campaign was prevented from reaching people living in some SLA-held areas in those states.96

On September 29 three SUDO staff were abducted from Zam Zam camp, North Darfur. SUDO reportedly suspected that an SLA faction carried out the abduction,97 in breach of a promise the SLA had made to United Nations officials in a meeting on August 8, 2005, that humanitarian actors would be free to operate in the camp.98 SUDO reported the release of its staff on October 6.99

Interference with air access

The NMRD allegedly threatened to shoot down U.N. helicopters on humanitarian missions in areas of West Darfur, including Seleah and Jebel Moon, in November 2005.100 Seleah, near the border with Chad, was already off-limits by road for security reasons. As a result, humanitarian workers did not visit the town for several months.  The U.N. Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) also had to suspend flights to other areas north of Geneina, West Darfur (including Sirba and Kulbus) following other credible threats.101

As funding for Darfur emergency relief dwindled, the flights were decreased on financial grounds.

[84] “The Special Representative of the Secretary General in Sudan Jan Pronk appeals to SLM/A to stop attacks on humanitarian workers in north Darfur,” UNMIS Press Release, April 28, 2006, at

[85] U.N. OCHA, "Sudan Humanitarian Overview," Vol. 2, Issue 3, March 1 - April 1, 2006, [online]

[86] Confidential e-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, January 26, 2006.

[87] Human Rights Watch, confidential source, April 6, 2006.

[88] Confidential e-mail communication, January 26, 2006.

[89] Ibid.

[90] United Nations Country Team in Sudan, "United Nations Sudan Situation Report," March 23, 2006. [online]

[91] United Nations Country Team in Sudan, “United Nations Sudan Situation Report,” March 26, 2006, [online]

[92] Confidential communication to Human Rights Watch, January 2006.

[93] United Nations Security Council, "Monthly Report of the Secretary-General on Darfur," May 10, 2005, [online]

[94] United Nations Security Council, "Monthly Report of the Secretary-General on Darfur," June 9, 2005. [online]

[95] Confidential communication to Human Rights Watch.

[96] United Nations Security Council, “Monthly Report of the Secretary-General on Darfur,” August 11, 2005, [online]

[97] USAID, "Sudan: Complex Emergency Situation Report #1 (FY2006), October 14, 2005, [online]

[98] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, September 2005.

[99] USAID, "Sudan: Complex Emergency Situation Report #1 (FY2006), October 14, 2005, [online]

[100] Colonel Djibril was mentioned in the confidential annex to the Panel of Experts report on violations of Security Council resolutions. U.N. Security Council, “Report of Panel of Experts established pursuant to paragraph 3 of resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan,” January 30, 2006, S/2006/65, [online]

[101] United Nations Security Council, “Monthly Report of the Secretary-General on Darfur,” December 23, 2005, [online]; UNHCR, “Sudan/Chad Situation Update 50,” March 9, 2006, [online]

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