Former Members of the UN Panel of Experts for Darfur Offer a Damning Alternative to the “Official” Report

By Eric Reeves

April 17, 2012 (SSNA) — We now have side-by-side reports on Darfur—one from the present, politically hand-picked UN team and the other from three distinguished former members of the panel who felt obliged to resign because the UN would not allow them to do their job in appropriately professional fashion, with appropriately professional colleagues. Africa Confidential broke the story last week (April 13), and provides important insights into the larger implications of the marked contrasts in substance and authority between the two reports (links at the end of the AC dispatch).  Both are dated January 24, 2012—one month prior to the New York Times dismayingly misleading report from Nyuru, West Darfur.  And in the malfeasance, ineptitude, and sheer political manipulation that underlies the "official report," we begin to see just how tainted are the "sources" cited by the NYT in its dispatch. 

Following the Africa Confidential dispatch, I offer here the first part of a detailed account of the discrepancies between the two reports, and what these discrepancies suggest of UN performance in Darfur, particularly that of UNAMID.  It should be recalled that the senior UNAMID official for West Darfur, Dysane Dorani, figured prominently in the NYT dispatch, declaring rapturously: "It’s amazing. The people are coming together. It reminds me of Lebanon after the civil war."  But on the basis of its reading of the two reports, Africa Confidential reaches a conclusion precisely the opposite of that offered by the NYT correspondent in Nyuru, who found in this one location "a sign that one of the world’s most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled" (emphasis added):

"[The report] argues that the Darfur crisis, far from winding down as Khartoum and some press reports suggest, is worsening, with new incidents of ethnic cleansing, arms deliveries and aerial bombing."

Something is deeply wrong here, and we are compelled to choose between the meticulous, professional work of Darfur experts who spent a tremendous amount of time on the ground in gathering evidence on which to base their lengthy, fully documented report—and a quick in-an-out look during a single, UN-orchestrated visit to a particular location in West Darfur, with constant surveillance by Khartoum’s Military Intelligence and NISS.  Choose we must, for there is no middle ground between the two accounts.

UN clash over Beijing bullets claim

UN experts’ reports differ over Darfur arms violations
Africa Confidential 13th April 2012 (Vol 53 No 8)

A seismic diplomatic row is rumbling at United Nations headquarters in New York over the circulation of a damning report by former UN experts pointing to the supply of Chinese-made ammunition to the Sudan government for use against civilians in Darfur. The row exposes fresh divisions on Sudan at the UN Security Council and disarray in Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office. It may also unpick Beijing’s careful diplomacy as it seeks to realign its relations between Sudan and South Sudan.

The report, which is circulating clandestinely at UN headquarters, was written by three of the original members of the UN’s Panel of Experts, which monitors violations of the UN arms embargo in Darfur. It argues that the Darfur crisis, far from winding down as Khartoum and some press reports suggest, is worsening, with new incidents of ethnic cleansing, arms deliveries and aerial bombingAfrica Confidential has obtained two separate reports on Darfur (available to download at the end of this article), one commissioned by Ban’s Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, which is highly conservative in its findings, and a more forthright, detailed unofficial version by the three specialists who resigned from Pascoe’s appointed Panel on Darfur in 2011.

Weapons experts Mike Lewis (Britain) and Claudio Gramizzi (Italy), and Darfur and Chad specialist Jérôme Tubiana (France) resigned, Africa Confidential has learned, after Pascoe’s department declined to take seriously their complaints about the standards of competence and neutrality on the Panel. The trio have now sent their own report – with lengthy annexes – to the Security Council. This unofficial report details Sudan army ammunition found in Darfur that appeared to be Chinese-made. Some may have been made in the Sudan Technical Centre, a Sudanese military company in Khartoum. The findings upset China, which says the report is not an official document and should not be given a hearing. Diplomats from the United States and Britain are nonetheless backing the report in private.

Targeting Zaghawa

The report also documents the role of the government’s officials and Popular Defence Force militia in recruiting non-Arab militia for a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Zaghawa tribe. The leader of one wing of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, Minni Arkou Minnawi, is Zaghawa. He angered Khartoum by recently withdrawing from the Darfur Peace Agreement, which he had signed in Nigeria in 2006. Deploying non-Arab militia is a new tactic for Khartoum, which has long used Arab Janjaweed to kill. The report says that up to 70,000 civilians have fled their homes in Darfur since recent attacks in 2011, the highest number since the conflict peaked in 2003-06.

It also describes in detail the presence in Darfur of suspect Antonov aircraft from Ukraine. The former Experts obtained photographic evidence of at least one such aircraft parked next to aerial bombs. At least two such aircraft have been serviced in Ukraine and have flown through European airspace in 2009 and 2010. Lewis, Tubiana and Gramizzi also reported aerial bombing of civilians in the Zaghawa strongholds of Shangal Tobay in early 2011; the use of an Armenian-registered Ilyushin to ship cargo between Khartoum and Darfur for the army; and also five Sukhoi ground attack fighters, which the Belarus government confirmed were part of a consignment of 25 bought in 2008-10. A Sudan People’s Liberation Movement official told AC this suggested Khartoum had long planned to attack South Sudan.

These revelations come as the main Darfur insurgent groups consolidate their military and political cooperation with the SPLM/Army-North in the Sudan Revolutionary Front. This new alliance poses problems for UN policy-makers in New York who have to coordinate a global Sudan strategy through two separate peacekeeping operations, the AU-dominated UN-African Union hybrid Mission in Darfur and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Neither addresses the growing crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states and the Nuba Mountains. Khartoum banned UNMISS’s predecessor, the UN Mission in Sudan, after South Sudan’s Independence last July.

In stark contrast, the official UN report was submitted to the UNSC in February by a new Panel appointed by Pascoe and led by Debi Prasad Dash of India. It has just four paragraphs on attacks against civilians in Darfur and was unable to confirm Khartoum’s role in targeting the Zaghawa. It also contains little on current arms embargo violations. Although it sometimes criticises Khartoum piecemeal, it lacks analysis of political or military policy. It often appears to take Khartoum’s assurances at face value, for example, that the Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle, which rebels shot down in Darfur in 2008 and which the UN examined, was there to monitor locusts (AC Vol 49 No 18, The drones club & AC Vol 53 No 6, Opposition turns up the heat). Russia has blocked its publication at the UNSC because it mentions Khartoum’s use of Russian incendiary bombs in Darfur in 2009.

The new panellists are Issa Maraut, a French diplomat once based in Khartoum; Brian Johnson-Thomas, a British arms expert; Mohammed Moufid, a retired Moroccan aviation official; and Rania el Rajji, a Lebanese human rights consultant, formerly with Amnesty International.

[full texts of both reports at end of AC dispatch on-line:]


There are any number of extremely serious questions that emerge from any side-by-side comparison of the two reports, and I highlight here only a first set of some of the most egregious contrasts:

[1]  The Tabarat massacre of September 2010, the single most violent event in 2011 – 2012.  It continues to be the case that this attack has not been investigated by the UN, by UNAMID, or by the "official" UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, despite its brutal savagery; instead the UN Panel chose as its terminus a quo October 2010, which conveniently excluded September.  This is more than peculiar: it smacks of a cover-up by deliberate omission.  To be sure, the previous Panel had submitted its report in October 2010, and the report of the current "official" Panel covered the period October 2010 – January 2012.  But the report of the previous Panel, as the new Panel was well aware, reflected findings only through August 2010.  We must conclude that the decision not to accept investigative responsibility for the widely reported September 2010 Tabarat massacre was at best an act of cowardly avoidance, at worst part of a larger conspiracy of silence with UNAMID, which had a base very near by, but deferred to Khartoum’s demand that they not approach Tabarat.

In contrast to this feckless subservience, Reuters offered an account (September 17, 2010) that demanded a meaningful investigation:

"Darfuri men were shot dead at point blank range during a surprise Arab militia raid on a busy market this month in which at least 39 people were killed and almost 50 injured, eyewitnesses said on Friday. The attack on civilians was reminiscent of the early years of the counter-insurgency operation in Sudan’s west, which took up arms against the government in 2003, complaining that the region had been neglected by Khartoum The International Criminal Court in The Hague has since issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in Darfur, charges he denies."

"Details of the September 2 attack on the market in the village of Tabarat have not previously come to light. The government prevented peacekeepers from visiting the site until days later. But five survivors of the attack told Reuters that heavily armed Arab militia had targeted male victims and shot many at point blank range. One diplomat said the militia were likely from among those armed and mobilized by the government to quell the rebels. Those militia, known as Janjaweed, were responsible for mass rape, murder and looting. Many of the tribal militia still support the government but Khartoum has lost control over some."

"In Tabarat, men were rounded up by militia wearing military uniforms who rode into the market on horses and camels pretending to be buying goods before spraying the shops with gunfire. Then vehicles mounted with machine guns and carrying militia fighters appeared and rounded up some of the men, survivors said. ‘They laid them down and they came up close and shot them in their heads," Abakr Abdelkarim, 45, told Reuters by telephone from the town of Tawilla, where many of the victims had sought refuge and medical help. ‘(Those killed) were all men and one woman – some men were tied with rope behind the cars and dragged until they died.’"

The fact that the Tabarat massacre was never investigated, by any UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, must have weighed heavily in the decision by the three former Experts to resign.  For failure to investigate the Tabarat massacre is a permanent stain on UN peacekeeping, and those with the political responsibility to see that mass atrocity crimes are investigated.

[2]  The "official" Panel of Experts offered only a very superficial account of events in eastern Darfur, especially in the Shangal Tobay region, where violence flared viciously in the wake of Minni Minawi’s defection from the Khartoum regime in late 2010.  But the Panel Experts who resigned investigated much more fully, spent much more time on the ground in the region, and interviewed a much greater range and number of witnesses.  On the basis of this extensive research, they concluded that the attacks on Zaghawa civilians were deliberate (Minawi is the Zaghawa leader of the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi) and that the evidence was sufficiently compelling to characterize the violence as "ethnic cleansing" by the Khartoum regime and militia proxies.

[3]  The "official" Panel of Experts offers only a few weak conclusions (and even less research) about violations of the UN arms embargo on Darfur (monitoring this embargo and the ban on offensive military flights are the primary mandates for the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, per UN Security Council Resolution 1591, March 2005).  For its part, on the basis of wide and impressively deep research, the "unofficial" Panel of Experts finds overwhelming evidence that weapons and ammunition manufactured after 2005 in Russia and China continue to make their way to Khartoum and then onto Darfur. Unsurprisingly, resistance to discussion of the "unofficial" Report comes primarily from these two veto-wielding members of the Security Council.

[4]  Nowhere is the contrast between the two reports greater than in the broader generalizations drawn about insecurity on Darfur.  Again, it must be stressed that in field research, depth of analysis, annexes, footnotes, and time on the ground, there is simply no comparison between the two reports. Indeed, the official report of the UN Panel of Experts has five factitious and skimpy annexes.  The fifth is simply make-work—a "Summary of the Outgoing Communications Sent by the Panel of Experts" (e.g., we learn that on "February 18 Ethiopia [was contacted] for visa assistance"). 

By contrast the report of the Experts who resigned has twenty-eight key annexes.  It also has more than 150 detailed footnotes for references.  For its part, the "official" Panel of Experts typically provides trivial and often meaningless sourcing, a large majority of them baldly citing UNAMID (e.g., Footnote 50, on the important subject of carjackings over the past four years has simply, in toto, "UNAMID source"; Footnote 46 "Figures provided by UNAMID"). Indeed, the entire report by the "official" Panel of Experts reads like an uninspired, uninformed, and dismayingly listless political exercise, allowing the UN to check off a box on the "to do list."

The conclusions drawn about human security are correspondingly, and unsurprisingly, at odds in the two reports.  On the basis of what is finally paltry evidence from the ground, the "official" Report concludes that:

"there has been a clear and relatively positive change compared to the [security] situation in the previous years. Significant and tangible changes have taken place in the political and security situation. The Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) has set in motion a peace process that has been garnering support from the Darfur population at large."

The latter conclusion is simply preposterous: all reporting by Darfuri leaders in the camps suggests that the Doha agreement is a dead letter, a blue-print for nothing other than the perpetuation of the status quo.  This is purely expedient UN posturing in the face of a situation in which it has made no progress either diplomatically or in providing security.  Here the example of Tabarat—both the failure of UNAMID to respond and the failure of the UN to investigate—is all too revealing.  The "official" Report simply does not present the evidence that could possibly justify this global generalization about human security.

By contrast, the report from the Experts who resigned notes:

"Nonetheless, from their [the authors’] experience and direct observation elsewhere in Darfur, and from information and testimonies gathered from sources in Darfur, Khartoum and countries neighboring the Republic of Sudan, the Members of the Panel consider that some elements emerging from the Shangal Tobay case-study represent a reliable illustration of more generic trends of the recent evolution of the conflict in neighboring areas of the same region [i.e., the area of Shangal Tobay, between el-Fasher and Nyala and east], straddling the border between North and South Darfur.  Members of the Panel also found that the most intense violence in Darfur during their mandate happened in those areas of eastern Darfur, and in particular Shangal Tobay area." [ ]

"Members of the Panel found that government officials and forces under the control of the Government of Sudan had a primary role in the violence in Shangal Tobay" [though, they note, some officials also tried to stop the violence].

One way to account for the disparity between the two reports is that the "official" Report simply takes UNAMID at its word—as does the NYT from West Darfur.  For its part, the report of the Experts who felt compelled to resign found:

"that events they themselves witnessed alongside UNAMID personnel were not fully reported in UNAMID Patrol Reports or Situation Reports."

Perhaps most shockingly in the wake of the Tabarat massacre, the "unofficial" Report of the Experts on Darfur found:

"UNAMID forces have not been able to protect Zaghawa or other civilians, including those already living in IDP camps, from attacks, harassment, and displacements, some of which took place just in front of Shangal Tobay UNAMID team site."

These Experts also note that the failure to understand sufficiently the "chain of violence" in Shangal Tobay was due to "under-reporting or deliberately omitting to report some incidents."

This comparison of the two reports will be continued.  But as a concluding note for the present: the "unofficial" report of the Panel of Experts estimates, from the ground, that approximately 70,000 people were newly displaced from the greater Shangal Tobay/Khor Abeche region:

"This cycle of violence provoked one of the most significant displacements that Darfur has experienced since the height of the conflict between 2003-2005, with the reported registration of around 70,000 new IDPs ….  Most of those new displaced persons belong to the Zaghawa group."

They do not speculate about displacement elsewhere in Darfur.  But for the New York Times correspondent in Nyuru, West Darfur to take at face value UN and UNAMID accounts of returns of "over 100,000," while ignoring the realities of late 2010 to early 2012, is but one more sign of journalistic corruption.

Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

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