The UN’s Man in Darfur: The Expedient Mendacity of Ibrahim Gambari

There is widespread international refusal to hold the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and African Union to Darfur accountable for his statements; this will ensure the growing eclipse of Darfur’s agony

By Eric Reeves
September 18, 2011


September 19, 2011 (SSNA) — Ibrahim Gambari is the Joint Special Representative (JSR) of the United Nations and the African Union to Darfur; he now also serves as the chief negotiator in the Darfur peace process, despite his woeful lack of leadership within the UN/AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Recent statements by Gambari deliberately distort Darfur’s realities as a means of claiming success for a failing UNAMID peacekeeping operation and justifying his own performance during a disastrous tenure as JSR. These statements—massively overstating reduction in the levels of violence in Darfur and offering a preposterously untenable figure for the number of returns by displaced persons—are demonstrably false and misleading; they have provoked deep anger among Darfuris, who have called for Gambari to apologize or resign.

Gambari has also worked assiduously to appease the Khartoum regime, yet another motive for his recent lies about conditions on the ground in Darfur. As one highly informed regional source, with particular knowledge of humanitarian conditions in Darfur, put the matter to me, "Gambari has served Khartoum well" (telephone interview, September 16, 2011). There could be no more damning words, given Khartoum’s continuing military ambitions and ethnic targeting in Darfur. The regime’s grim "New Strategy for Darfur," officially promulgated exactly a year ago, has been celebrated enthusiastically by Gambari, even as it is clearly a design to compel the returns of displaced persons and to accelerate the exit of humanitarian organizations. Gambari’s touting of the "New Strategy" has encouraged Khartoum to move forward, thus increasing the violence directed against camps for displaced persons.

All of this comes on the heels of Gambari’s appalling stint as special representative of the UN Secretary General to Burma, a performance that has been well documented by human rights organizations and others. He is, in short, a UN careerist and in that career has become a man without principles. He should be forced to resign immediately. To retain him in his present position, even as he is despised by the very people his peacekeeping force is supposed to protect, would be to perpetuate the culture of incompetence that has thrived for years at the UN, and for which present UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon bears particular responsibility. In fact, Ban’s broader performance as Secretary General has been savagely assessed by those within the UN, including by some of the most seasoned and credible UN officials.

Ban came into office promising to make Darfur a "signature issue." During a tenure that is approaching five years, Ban has seen more than 1 million Darfuris newly displaced by violence in Darfur, even as his special representative suggests that 1 million displace persons have returned home. All the while humanitarian space has contracted dramatically, humanitarian capacity continues to wither, and reports from the ground make clear that there is immense human suffering and destruction. Gambari, Ban, the African Union, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and a range of other international actors of consequence—including the U.S. and the European Union—are in effect collaborating with Khartoum in the continuing destruction of Darfur. The celebration of the July 14 agreement that emerged from the "Doha Peace Process" reflects not a triumph of diplomacy, but a shameful desire to grasp at any fig-leaf of an "agreement," even if the effect is to make true peace less likely. This is especially true of the Obama administration, which remains committed to a policy of "de-coupling" Darfur from the most serious negotiating issues between Washington and Khartoum.

But it is Ibrahim Gambari and his disastrous performance in two critical roles in Darfur who must go, and be replaced by someone with the qualifications to take on this immensely difficult African challenge. Former president of Ghana Jerry Rawlings recently referred to Darfur as a "moral failure" for the African Union, one that he hopes will not be repeated in Somalia. But Darfur is not yet in the past tense, even if many hundreds of thousands have died as a consequence of genocidal violence and its ghastly aftermath, beginning eight years ago. The African Union, to avoid compounding its failure in Darfur, must provide a candidate who is up to the tasks and who will not be intimidated by Khartoum’s many threats.

Peace, justice, and an end to the savage climate of impunity will never come to Darfur without leadership much greater than can be provided by the likes of UN careerist hacks such as Gambari. If the African Union claims it can recommend to the Secretary General no one better qualified than Gambari, this must be understood as the confession of profound failure by an organization whose credibility is slowly dying as well in Darfur. The African Union, and in particular its Peace and Security Council, wants to be taken much more seriously by the rest of the international community and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. But if so, it must show the world that it can do much better than Ibrahim Gambari.

Gambari on returns of displaced persons

On September 14 Gambari declared: "At the height of the conflict in Darfur, 2.7 million people were internally displaced. As we speak, according [to] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates it is now down to 1.7 million" (Radio Dabanga, September 16, 2011). This statement was reported in slightly different terms by CNN International: "Although 2.7 million people ‘were displaced at the height of the conflict,’ [Gambari] said, ‘the estimate now is 1.7 million. Frankly, that is a huge change’" (September 15, [dateline: Khartoum]).

What are the facts from which this disgracefully disingenuous conclusion is drawn? How have 1 million Darfuris been made by statistical contrivance to have left the camps and (we are invited to believe) returned to their homes? What has the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) really said and demonstrated? Since Gambari provides none of the context necessary to understand his claims about this crucial figure of regional well-being, a brief timeline is in order:

•The last UN OCHA "Darfur Humanitarian Profile" (No. 34; OCHA) appeared in March 2009, reflecting conditions as of January 1, 2009; it provided a figure of approximately 2.7 million internally displaced persons in camps in Darfur. But January 1, 2009 was far from the "height of the conflict," as Gambari claims: it was a moment well into a period that I have long called "genocide by attrition," which followed as a direct result of the most violent phase of the Darfur genocide, 2003 into 2005 (with significant surges in violence subsequently).

• In July 2010 the head of OCHA in Sudan, Georg Charpentier, precipitously reduced the figure for IDPs in Darfur camps from 2.7 million to 1.9 million. The only justification for this staggeringly large shift in estimates comes in a single vacuous footnote, one that merely points to an unfinished and unpublished study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which with the UN World Food Program (WFP) was and remains in the midst of a still incomplete re-assessing of camp populations of displaced persons. This reduction of 800,000 IDPs, on the basis of a merely in-process study, was inexcusable and deeply irresponsible. For this cynical reference to a non-existent document ensured that the new OCHA figure for displaced persons would be made without any account of statistical methodology, or the data used in computations, or geographical points of reference. Nonetheless, the figure of 1.9 million internally displaced persons became obligatory in news reporting because there was simply no other source.

Searchable sources suggest that neither the IOM nor the WFP has published the study or the results cited by Charpentier. One certainly searches in vain on the Websites of both organizations for a detailed account of this calculation of IDPs. Moreover, we should recall here that in July of 2010 Khartoum expelled two international staff members of the IOM, significantly reducing operational capacity, including for the tasks of "working with camps that are experiencing large number of returned internally displaced persons," identifying "gaps in services and assistance," and "population tracking." Khartoum offered IOM no plausible explanation for the expulsions, leaving us to draw an obvious conclusion about the regime’s view of their activities.

•Through September 2011 there has been no systematic effort to calculate the number of IDPs who are not in camps but in host communities. We simply have no idea how many hundreds of thousands of Darfuris chose a nearby host community to retain some proximity to their lands—or indeed chose a more distant host community of relatives or a congenial tribal population. As long as this population remains completely unsurveyed—and humanitarians estimate it to be very large indeed—any figure of the sort offered without qualification by the likes of Gambari and Charpentier is disingenuous.

• In Jebel Marra: On August 16, 2011 Radio Dabanga cited an estimate by Oriano Micaletti, head of the UNAMID Humanitarian Protection Strategy. This followed an assessment mission to Jebel Marra that the forces of the Khartoum regime had prevented for almost two years: "’The assessments so far conducted confirm that approximately 400,000 people are displaced in Jebel Marra area’ (Micaletti said]. ‘They have received very limited assistance during the last few years and are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. ‘" Notably, a UNAMID press release of August 17, 2011 (from el-Fasher) claimed that, "The estimated 400,000 displaced in the Jebel Marra are part of the 1.8 million [displaced persons]. The troubled Darfur region as a whole covers territory the size of France [sic — Darfur is not the size of France but of Spain, a difference of almost 60,000 square kilometers]." [There is no account from UNAMID of the status of camps or concentrations of displaced populations in Jebel Marra; certainly there is no humanitarian access of a sort that could begin to maintain camps of any size—ER] [emphasis added]

But this raises an obvious and deeply troubling question: if it is only in August 2011 that UNAMID establishes that 400,000 people are displaced in Jebel Marra, this means that the figure for Darfur outside Jebel Marra is 1.4 million—approximately half the figure cited by OCHA in March 2009. But how to account for the fact that a figure of 1.9 million—excluding the unassessed Jebel Marra—was promulgated by OCHA via Charpentier in July 2010?

• And just as important, how has the figure for IDPs continued to shrink from 1.9 million? In July 2011 Gambari referred to 1.8 million displaced persons; in his September comments he refers to 1.7 million, presumably now including the estimated 400,000 displaced persons in Jebel Marra who had previously been excluded because the were unassessed. The inference we are being invited to make is that the figure for displaced persons in camps outside Jebel Marra has shrunk to 1.3 million from the earlier OCHA estimate of 2.7 million—less than half the original, substantially researched estimate. Gambari offers nothing to support his statistical travesty—just a vague reference to OCHA. This continuing, massive diminishment in the figure for IDPs attaches to no data or specified evidence, to no account of methodology, to no geographic points of reference, and to no authors.

• And yet humanitarian officials outside the UN make clear that there have been no significant returns anywhere in any of the three Darfur states. A small pilot program in North Darfur cost millions of dollars, and settled only a few hundred people. Nor can Gambari identify other locations to which large numbers of displaced persons have returned, either to their homes or to Khartoum’s promised new "model villages" (which of course have yet to be built, or provided with the land and resources that will enable displaced Darfuris to resume agricultural lives). Ban Ki-moon claims in his most recent report on Darfur and UNAMID that 35,000 people have returned this year (mainly from camps in South Darfur to West Darfur) (July 8, 2011; S/2011/422). But no one can identify where these people are—or at least almost no one. Radio Dabanga reports (July 26, 2011) on one group of UN-sponsored returns, and the failure by UNAMID and Gambari to protect or support them:

Voluntary Repatriation: 7 families found in a critical state

"[Seven] families who came back to the Guido region [West Darfur] in the framework of the Sudanese Government’s voluntary repatriation initiative were found in an extremely worrying state. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that they were part of 25 families who left Kalma Camp (South Darfur) as a part of the Voluntary Return program. However, the journey was too dangerous, and 18 families were forced to travel back to their original camp in South Darfur.

Furthermore, they reported to Radio Dabanga that the remaining families did not receive any support from the province of West Darfur, even though it organized the deportation. They now call for international action to save these families, who are currently in a critical state."

"Complaining farmers from Guido Camp (near Garsila, West Darfur) pointed out the deliberate destruction of their farms by shepherds [i.e., nomadic Arab herders]. According to them, the shepherds intentionally set out their cows [i.e., cattle, as opposed to camels] in the farms, setting chaos and destructing their properties.

Protesters are immediately beaten up, and women are raped, making them reluctant to return to their fields. Several female farmers reported the incidents to the local authorities, but no action was apparently taken. They now call on UNAMID and the UN to provide them with the necessary protection."

•There is simply no reason to believe that we can draw any meaningful inferences about returns from the wildly gyrating numbers for IDPs that UNAMID and OCHA—Gambari and Charpentier—are now promulgating. This is especially so since neither Gambari, Charpentier, nor Ban Ki-moon discusses in any meaningful way the vast number of persons newly displaced over the past 5 years. In the same paragraph in which Ban celebrates the return of 35,000 IDPs, nowhere verified by any credible source, he acknowledges that since the beginning of 2011, 70,000 people have been newly displaced by violence.

So, how can there be improvement in the number of displaced persons in Darfur when recent history, as reported by OCHA and others, includes the following record of continuing displacement? –

• Newly displaced civilians in 2007: over 300,000 (source: OCHA)

• Newly displaced civilians in 2008: 317,000 (source: OCHA)

• Newly displaced civilians in 2009: 250,000 (primary source: Canadian "Peace Operations Monitor")

• Newly displaced civilians in 2010: 300,000 (primary sources: International Displacement Monitoring Center and OCHA)

• Newly displaced civilians in 2011 through July 1: 60,000 – 70,000 (source: UN Secretariat) (The Radio Dabanga estimate is double this.)

The total for newly displaced persons, from January 1, 2007 to July 2011 (from above): 1.2 million

Although we know that many of these people were being displaced for the second or third time, this figure of newly displaced persons over the past five years cannot possibly be made to comport with figures promulgated by Gambari and Charpentier—and they know it. They also know that Khartoum has grown increasingly insistent that the camps for IDPs be closed, and that returns occur one way or another. This is the major strategic ambition of the regime’s "New Strategy for Darfur," celebrated by Gambari, as well as by former U.S. special envoy Scott Gration and African Union High-Level Panel chairman Thabo Mbeki, whose efforts in Darfur were dismayingly unproductive and ultimately distracting from meaningful diplomacy.

To be sure, we don’t know how many people are displaced in Darfur. We don’t know how many IDPs are in camps; we don’t know how many are displaced within host communities. And we must accept that estimates for newly displaced persons in recent years are only approximations. Our most accurate census is the estimate by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad: 285,000. Needless to say, Gambari and Charpentier have nothing to say about this immense population of acutely needy and vulnerable Darfuris.

But there are reasonable estimates, reasonable extrapolations about the largely inaccessible Darfur region—and then there are tendentious, disingenuous uses of statistics to obscure human suffering and destruction as a means of furthering one’s career and obscuring massive UN and African Union failure. The latter is what we have been offered by Ibrahim Gambari. What he has attempted is in a painfully clumsy effort at statistical sleight-of-hand. He first takes a figure that OCHA clearly no longer regards as ever having been tenable—2.7 million IDPs in camps. He then adduces the continually reduced new figure (originally 1.9 million, then 1.8 million, now 1.7 million), and subtracts this from the OCHA figure that OCHA now regards as having been in error by approximately 50 percent. The "subtraction," wholly specious, yields a figure of 1 million, and these perversely become "returns," although even Gambari doesn’t dare say as much explicitly, i.e., "1 million people have returned to their homes." Here all evidence makes clear that such an arithmetic conclusion is simply preposterous, too preposterous even for the cynical Gambari. So where are these "1 million people," Mr. Gambari? Where are they?

Gambari on the decline of violence in Darfur

Just as cynical and disingenuous as Gambari’s account of the numbers of displaced persons is his report on a "decline in violence" in Darfur. Radio Netherlands International (September 14, 2011) reports:

"Ibrahim Gambari, who heads the UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID), said as a result of a drop in ‘acts of aggression between the government and armed groups many residents are returning to Darfur.’ According to him there have been 70 percent fewer confrontations between the two sides from January to July in the restive western region of Sudan and one million people appear to have left camps for the displaced." (emphasis added)

It is notable that Radio Netherlands makes precisely the inference that Gambari invites without daring to say so openly: "According to him [Gambari] … one million people appear to have left camps for the displaced." Here we may see exactly how Darfur’s realities are continuing to be obscured—deliberately and dishonestly—by men like Gambari, Charpentier, Gration, and Ban Ki-moon.

The full text of Gambari’s comment at this point in his Khartoum interview makes clear why Radio Netherlands would draw the conclusion it has:

"Our figures have shown that the number of armed attacks in all three Darfur states has fallen by as much as 70% over the past three years, which has resulted in more displaced people returning to their homes." (emphasis added)

What should we make of Gambari’s claim: "the number of armed attacks in all three Darfur states has fallen by as much as 70% over the past three years"? And what rises to the threshold of an "armed attack" in Gambari’s mind? It’s far from clear, and matters aren’t helped by a confusing of exactly what time period Gambari is actually referring to: the past three years? or the past seven months? Gambari’s transcript is clear enough, but the normally highly reliable Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports from Khartoum (September 14):

"Fighting in war-ravaged Darfur involving Sudanese government forces and armed groups have dropped by 70 percent in the first seven months of the year, the head of the peacekeeping mission in Darfur said Wednesday [September 14]. Ibrahim Gambari, who heads the UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID), said as a result of a drop in ‘acts of aggression between the government and armed groups many residents are returning to Darfur.’ According to him there have been 70 percent fewer confrontations between the two sides from January to July in the restive western region of Sudan and one million people appear to have left camps for the displaced." (emphasis added)

It seems likely that Gambari is confused, or conflating data, and perhaps even mistaken in which time period he is referring to and thus which figures and dates are relevant. He is so careless and expedient in his use of statistics that he may simply not know. In either event—a "70 percent decline" in armed attacks over the past three years, or "70 percent fewer confrontations between major combatants"—Gambari is expediently obscuring realities on the ground in Darfur. If he is speaking of the past three years, he is evidently saying that from September 2008 to the present, there has been a 70 percent decline in armed attacks. This claim is conspicuously in error if one only looks at the information that comes from sources other than UNAMID itself.

And this is the key issue: Gambari and UNAMID use only the data for violent events that UNAMID itself is able to confirm; and it is clear from a range of sources that this is only a small fraction of events that occur. The same is true for UNAMID "mortality figures," which record only the deaths that UNAMID has confirmed from violence, and excludes those not confirmed and those that derive directly from antecedent violence in the form of disease and malnutrition.

Whatever claim Gambari was making, it flies in the face of conclusions by human rights organizations, humanitarians, and Darfuris themselves. In January 2011 Human Rights Watch reported:

"Sudanese government and rebel attacks on civilians in Darfur have dramatically increased in recent weeks without signs of abating, Human Rights Watch said today …. ‘While the international community remains focused on South Sudan, the situation in Darfur has sharply deteriorated,’ said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch."

For his part, Gambari is much more inclined to take the view of Khartoum’s Minister of Defense, the brutal General Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein (who in the past has pushed aggressively for forced returns in Darfur): "Hussein … denied on Saturday [August 20, 2011] the presence of any fighting or war in Darfur." The same view is held by UN head of humanitarian operations in Sudan, Georg Charpentier, who told reporters shortly before the release of the Human Rights Watch report, "’We are seeing a trend of decreasing overall violent incidents in Darfur’" (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], January 20, 2011).

What Gambari ignores

[1] Human displacement has been the most reliable indicator of violence in Darfur from the beginning of the conflict. People leave their villages only when attacked or confronting the prospect of attack. The so-called "pull factor," whereby people are attracted to camps because of food, water, shelter, and medical services, has been relatively weak in Darfur, though it has begun to increase in some areas. But displacement is in itself highly revealing of levels of violence. So it is appropriate to recall that in the time period of three years that Gambari invokes, more than 600,000 people have been newly displaced. The claim of reduced armed attacks makes no sense in such a context, particularly when there are countless dispatches of the sort filed by the Sudan Tribune (January 27, 2011):

"Internally Displaced Persons from Darfur told Sudan Tribune that the recent violence displaced thousands of people as the government troops and militias continue to harass the civilians and burn their villages. A female teacher from Tabit reached by Sudan Tribune after their arrival to Zamzam IDPs camp near El-Fasher said since the bombing of 25 January [2011], the villagers, 17,000 families [this number seems too high–more likely 1,700 families–ER], fled to Zamzam, and Rwanda camps near Tawilla. ‘People are homeless in the valleys and roads as the army block the roads,’ she said."

[2] Revealingly, Gambari does not make clear whether his figure(s) for violence includes assault committed solely by militia forces allied with Khartoum. He certainly fails to find occasion to recall examples such as UNAMID’s failure a year ago to respond to the militia massacre of Fur men and boys at Tabarat, or Khartoum’s subsequent refusal to allow UNAMID to investigate or help with the removal of dead bodies and the wounded. More than 50 Fur were executed, most at point-blank range, even as the UNAMID base at Tawila was only 25 kilometers away. Despite a call by the UN human rights investigator for Sudan, Tanzania’s Chande Othman, "for a thorough and transparent investigation," no investigation ever took place and no report was ever made public.

[3] Gambari does not acknowledge the broader problems posed by severe restrictions on UNAMID movement, imposed by Khartoum in areas where the SAF and militia forces have been active; UNAMID reporting ability is thus highly compromised and the data generated comparably so. Indeed, there are countless examples of denial of access to and intimidation of UNAMID by Khartoum’s SAF, as here (Reuters, January 25, 2011): "Sudanese soldiers fired warning shots when they saw a UNAMID patrol on Saturday [January 22, 2011] near the North Darfur settlement of Dar el-Salam and stopped it from entering the area, a UN source said" (dateline: Khartoum). Two days later Reuters again reported on the military response to UNAMID’s presence:

"UNAMID spokesman Kemal Saiki confirmed the bombing was by ‘the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) air force.’ Later on Wednesday [January 26, 2011], a group of 200 Sudanese government soldiers in 40 vehicles arrived at UNAMID’s camp in the nearby settlement of Shangil Tobay, UNAMID said.’ (The soldiers) surrounded the team site’s exit as well as the adjacent makeshift camp, where thousands of civilians recently displaced by the December 2010 clashes have settled,’ read the statement. The Sudanese army detained four displaced people at the camp, said UNAMID. ‘The SAF commander at the scene … then threatened to burn down the makeshift camp and UNAMID team site, if the peacekeepers continued to interfere.’" (emphasis added) (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], January 27, 2011)

There are scores and scores of such instances of obstruction, harassment, and intimidation. Human Rights Watch also reported on UNAMID’s capabilities the same month (January 2011):

"The UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was unable to access most of the areas affected by violence, despite its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence." (emphasis added) (Human Rights Watch, Sudan report for 2010; released January 2011)

[4] Gambari makes no mention of the relentless aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets, or the fact that nearly all aerial attacks on putatively military targets are completely indiscriminate. Again, UNAMID is typically prevented from investigating bombing attacks, and has made only a handful of reports despite extremely strong evidence that there have been almost 100 bombing attacks directed against civilian targets in Darfur so far in 2011—this compares with 90 confirmed attacks in 2010 and 75 in 2009. Since September 2008 (Gambari’s time-frame of three years) there have been approximately 300 confirmed aerial attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets. Each such attack is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005), and collectively they constitute "crimes against humanity" as the term is defined in the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court. The potential extent for human destruction in such attacks is clear from a report by Radio Dabanga that UNAMID failed to confirm:

"18 women and 9 children killed in air strike in Jebel Marra, Darfur

JEBEL MARRA (28 April) Twenty-seven people were killed, including 18 women and 9 children, when an Antonov plane dropped several bombs on the areas of Koloberi and Gurlengbang in the southern part of the Jebel Marra region. Six women were also injured in the air attack. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the airstrikes led to the burning of 27 houses and also the death of sheep and cattle. He stated that the bombed areas had been free of any rebel presence."

[5] Gambari offers no account of the massive violence directed against IDP camps by Khartoum’s regular military, police, and security forces, as well as its allied militia forces, including many that have been recycled into the Border Intelligence Guards and Central Reserve Police (Abu Tira). The latter in particular have been implicated in many scores of deadly attacks:

"Mershing IDPs: militia murdering at will

MERSHING (16 May 2011) The displaced people from Mershing Camp protested Friday against impunity of the Central Reserve Forces, known locally as "Abu Tira." The refugees say the militia are not investigated or prosecuted despite killing operations and threats practiced by them against the displaced of the area. The displaced people revealed that 4 people have been killed by the Abu Tira forces during the month and, through Radio Dabanga, demanded the UN and international community to take immediate procedures to offer them protection or transport them to a safe place."

Other reports are less specific but no less ominous:

"Fears of mass killing of 31 youths after abduction from Darfur camp

ZAMZAM CAMP (June 29, 2011) The displaced people of Zamzam Camp expressed their fears that 31 youths who were abducted from the camp last Thursday were killed by armed militias. A sheikh from the camp told Radio Dabanga that up to now they have no idea about the whereabouts of the abducted youths."

[6] Gambari offers no account of the continuing epidemic of rape that terrorizes women and girls throughout Darfur, in both the camps and rural areas. A Radio Dabanga report on the brutal gang-raping of Darfuri girls, by regime-backed militias, motivated my recent brief analysis in Dissent Magazine:

"Govt-backed militia rapes minors in Darfur

Darfur (September 5, 2011)

Three girls in Garsila and another in Kass were gang raped in two separate incidents

Three minor girls in Garsila and another in Kass were gang raped by government-backed militia wearing military uniforms in two separate incidents on Sunday, sources told Radio Dabanga. While the three girls in Mando area of West Darfur were aged between 14 and 17 years of age, the victim in Kass, South Darfur was 16 years old.

"A relative of the three teenage girls in Mando told Radio Dabanga, ‘An armed group wearing military uniforms intercepted the three girls who were on their way from the village to collect firewood. They then arrested them and raped them for an entire day.’ The girls weren’t released until the next day.

"A relative of the 16-year-old victim in Kass also stated that the six gunmen who attacked the girl were wearing military uniforms. "Four of them were riding on camels and two others on horses. The girl was with her mother on her way back from the farm to the village,” the relative told Radio Dabanga. It was then that the armed group intercepted them and arrested them. The group took turns to rape her for the next 12 hours and also beat the girl’s mother."

On the issue of ongoing rape and sexual violence, Gambari is virtually silent in deference to Khartoum’s sensibilities.

Instead of acknowledging the extremely high levels of violence and insecurity that prevail in Darfur, threatening civilians and severely attenuating humanitarian access, Gambari draws from one narrow statistic—70 percent fewer clashes—an extraordinarily presumptuous conclusion: "UNAMID has significantly stabilised the situation in Darfur" (September 14 press statement). In this callous mendacity, Gambari enjoys the full support of the African Union Peace and Security Council, as well as that of the AU heads of state and government; indeed, these leaders have also declared their support for the president of the Khartoum regime, Omar al-Bashir. This much was clear in a document on Sudan that emerged following an Addis meeting of February 2, 2011. It noted the, "personal and unwavering commitment of President Al Bashir to sustaining peace between northern and southern Sudan and do all he can for the early resolution of the crisis in Darfur."

"All he can do…. " Indeed.


It is clear that the UN/African Union Joint Special Representative for Darfur, and now chief Darfur peace negotiator, does not care about the truth, and ultimately this means he does not care about the people of Darfur—not enough to convey accurately their suffering, the violence they face, and the acute deprivation that comes from living in camps that are intolerably insecure and in far too many cases badly underserved by humanitarian operations that have been stretched beyond the breaking point. He is claiming success where there is none, and where conditions are in many ways deteriorating. It is hardly surprising that Darfuris in camps for the displaced responded with great anger to Gambari’s remarks when they were reported. According to Radio Dabanga (headline story, September 16, 2011): "Residents of Darfuri refugee camps demanded on Friday that Ibrahim Gambari, the Joint Special Representative (JSR) of the UNAMID, apologize to them or resign immediately from his post."

Gambari’s remarks are a disgrace to the UN and the African Union, and his mendacity must be recognized for what it is by the UN Secretariat and the African Union Peace and Security Council. Neither, of course, is at all likely to accept or even respond to the evidence at hand. But in his distorting claims about numbers of displaced persons, returns of the displaced, and the level of violence in Darfur, Gambari is pursuing a despicably personal and self-promoting agenda. It is a pursuit that threatens the lives of many hundreds of thousands of vulnerable human beings.



In late July of this year, I fashioned a compendium of dispatches from Radio Dabanga that give a sense of both the violence in Darfur and the continuing critical humanitarian situation in many locations. In late August, as the Addendum to a broader analysis of the political and humanitarian situation in Darfur, I added dozens of more recent dispatches. And in a broad overview of the humanitarian situation in Darfur in January 2011, I compiled yet more examples. Below are still more examples of this courageous reportage from the past three weeks, dispatches that capture some of the pervasive violence that SJR Gambari finds so much reduced (grimly revealing is the fact that journalists associated with Radio Dabanga in Khartoum are on trial, charged with capital crimes). It bears repeating that other than Radio Dabanga, we simply have no other reliable source of continuous information about conditions on the ground in Darfur, levels of violence, as well as the humanitarian situation. The UN’s Charpentier refuses to make humanitarian data and reports publicly available or even available to the very relief organizations that most desperately need them to guide their work and planning; and for their part, nongovernmental humanitarian organizations don’t dare step beyond these UN limits for fear of being expelled by Khartoum.

From Radio Dabanga:

• Armed violence kills four in North Darfur

EL FASHER (September 14, 2011)

Another refugee shot dead in El Fasher’s Abushok camp

An armed group killed four people in Dermh village of Korma locality in North Darfur on Wednesday. A witness told Radio Dabanga that an armed group riding on the backs of camels and horses raided the village of Dermh in the wee hours of the morning and killed four civilians. The group also looted their property and three camels. The source suggested that panic now grips the village as the hunt for the militants continues.

Refugee shot dead in El Fasher

Meanwhile in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, unknown assailants shot down a refugee in Camp Abushok on Tuesday. A resident of the camp, who does not wish to be named fearing retribution from authorities, told Radio Dabanga, that Ibrahim Yusuf Adam was killed while he was on his way to Asalaam camp.

He also accused the government militias of having a hand in Ibrahim’s murder, "There are random shootings taking place on an everyday basis. Political activists and leaders in the camp get harassed by government authorities to silence their voices."

• Gunmen break into Kalma camp

NYALA (September 18, 2011)

Open fire at residents, spreading fear and panic; perpetrators accused of being backed by LJM [the "Liberation and Justice Movement," which Khartoum now heavily favors as the only "rebel" signatory to the Doha peace agreement of July 14—ER]

A few gunmen broke into Kalma refugee camp in South Darfur on Sunday and opened fire at camp residents spreading terror and panic among them. The gunmen entered block three of the refugee camp and started firing, which led to camp residents fleeing their homes.

Girl raped by gunmen

KASSAB CAMP (September 13, 2001)

A 15-year-old girl was allegedly raped by two gunmen on Sunday in Kassab refugee camp, North Darfur. Witnesses in the camp told Radio Dabanga that they heard heavy firing on Sunday night inside the camp. In the morning, they discovered the girl who was raped by two gunmen. The teenager has been moved to the hospital to receive treatment. A camp resident told Radio Dabanga about the deteriorating security situation in the camps, citing that armed groups often broke into the camps and spread terror among the refugees.

• Two girls raped in South Darfur

KAAS (September 13, 2011)

Three armed men in military uniforms accused of being behind the crime

Two girls were allegedly raped by three armed men in military uniforms in South Darfur’s Margum camp near Kaas on Saturday. The two sisters, one of them 18 years of age and another 13, were on their way back home in Nazhtin from a farm when the incident took place. The armed men met them on the way and kidnapped them into the valleys where they were raped. On noticing the delay in the girls returning home, their parents reported to the police and the UNAMID in the region. What raised the parents’ suspicion was the three armed men patrolling the area, one of whom is infamous for having committed rape crimes previously.

Camp residents told Radio Dabanga that there was a lot of panic in the region as the search for the perpetrators goes on. Several cases of rape by armed men in military uniforms in Darfur were reported by Radio Dabanga in the last week alone.

Difficult conditions in Darfur camps

DARFUR (6 September) – Refugees complain of poor health, burglaries and attacks by Abu Tirat [Central Reserves Police] forces

Camp residents in Al Jabal, Udankhoj and Al Naseem told Radio Dabanga of an unprecedented rise in burglary by two-four militants during the end of the holy month of Ramadan. One of the residents said, "More than 11 houses and shops have been looted in the three camps in the past two nights alone. Even shoes and clothes belonging to children have been looted." The displaced persons are now fearing an outbreak of the looting that used to be commonplace on the roads of Darfur to the camps in the area. The displaced persons have appealed to the United Nations African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the Sudanese police to intensify night patrols in order to protect the lives and property of camp residents, one of the refugees told Radio Dabanga.

Abu Tirat excesses in Rwanda

Meanwhile, there has been an increase in firing carried out by the Central Reserve Forces, or Abu Tirat as they are commonly known, in North Darfur’s Rwanda camp in Tawila locality. A leader of the displaced persons told Radio Dabanga, "Abu Tirat men open fire at the camp from their headquarters, using heavy artillery and RPGs. This is accompanied by cheering from large crowds of the Abu Tirat forces located on the ground. All of this is adding to an atmosphere of fear and panic among the camp population." While claiming that gunfire continued during the day on Monday and Tuesday, the camp leader explained that a constant fear of attack is adding anxiety to the lives of the refugees in the camp. He appealed to Abu Tirat forces to put an end to such horror that causes panic. He also appealed to the UNAMID forces to intervene in order to protect them from the attacks that caused the death of a refugee on Eid ul-Fitr.

• Fresh fighting in Jebel Marra

KHUNJARA (September 8, 2011)

Sudanese forces clash with Abdel Wahid’s Sudan Liberation Movement

Government troops clashed with resistance forces in Khunjara region near Turntura in Jebel Marra on Wednesday, witnesses told Radio Dabanga. The incident that occurred 27 kilometers north of Kaas has left scores dead and wounded who have admitted to Kaas Hospital. Nimr Abdel Rahman, spokesperson of the Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid faction (SLM-AW), told Radio Dabanga that 45 vehicles guarded by militia, who were on horses and camels, attacked their forces south of the Jebel Marra mountains. "We were able to kill more than 40 government troops and destroy six vehicles. We also seized three other vehicles loaded with various weapons and ammunition," Nimr Abdel Rahman said. He added that three of his troop members were killed in the clashes and four others wounded. Radio Dabanga was unable to verify the news with the military spokespersons.

• Two children killed in UXO accident

EL FASHER (September 6, 2011)

Three others sustain serious injuries in the accident

Two children were killed and three others sustained serious injuries in Al Tawisha, North Darfur, while playing with unexploded ordinance (UXO) on August 31. In the incident that took place approximately 190 km south east of El Fasher, one of injured children lost a hand and an eye after they were all admitted to El Fasher hospital for treatment. In a separate incident, near Amdawenpan village in Abu Abajura locality, South Darfur, a 14-year-old girl was injured by a UXO few weeks ago with wounds to her neck and face, while her right hand had to be amputated.

The face of impunity in Darfur—

• For a melon, gunmen brutally beat vendor in Garsila camp

GARSILA (September 3, 2011)

Vendor is beaten, abducted and left bloodied on roadside for dispute over price of a watermelon

An armed yesterday beat the displaced person Kamal Adam Mohammed in Jebelain Camp, Garsila, West Darfur, and he was immediately transferred to the Garsila Hospital for treatment. One of the relatives of the victim told Radio Dabanga that an armed group comprising 12 armed men traveling on a Land Cruiser tried to buy a watermelon from Kamal and insisted on paying five pounds instead of the 10 pounds, which was the price of the melon. When the vendor refused to take the money at the offered price for the melon, the men beat him and threw him on board their car and drove with him to an unknown destination.

Later in the evening he was found on the roadside in the city, covered in blood and was raced to the hospital for medical care.

• Armed group plunders camp in North Darfur

NORTH DARFUR (August 29, 2011)

Perpetrators kill a 55-year-old refugee in the incident

An armed group plundered the Rwanda refugee camp in North Darfur on Sunday, killing a refugee in the incident. The group riding more than ten Land Cruisers broke into the camp on Sunday evening and killed 55-year-old Isaac Sahleh Babur, according to witnesses in the camp. A witness told Radio Dabanga, "The armed group killed Isaac Sahleh Babur and plundered and looted more than 100 displaced people. They looted money, gold, mobile phones, food, clothing, furniture, utensils etc." The witness, who does not wish to be named, fearing retribution from Sudanese authorities, added that the armed group came from Kutum and was led by a man named Musa Leylie. He pointed out that Musa is the same person who had attacked the Tebra [Tabarat] area last year, resulting in the death of more than 69 people. (emphasis added)

Militia men surround camp

Furthermore, witnesses reported that armed militia men on horsebacks and camels surrounded the refugee camp on Monday. "The armed men have been guarding the camp since last evening despite the arrival of the army from Turney to calm and reassure camp residents," a refugee in the camp told Radio Dabanga.

The refugees appealed to the sheikh of the camp, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations to intervene in the situation and protect them.

Eric Reeves is professor of English language and literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He has spent the past 12 years working full-time as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively both in the US and internationally. He has testified several times before the Congress and is author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.”

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