Darfur in the Still Deepening Shadow of Lies

The United Nations continues with its cynical policy of "see no evil, hear no evil…report no evil" in Darfur.  This institutional corruption, and active distortion of the truth, works to exacerbate massive human suffering and continuing destruction—with the growing risk that Darfur will be entirely eclipsed and engulfed in catastrophic violence. ( http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3165 )

By Eric Reeves

May 25, 2012 (SSNA) — In an interview with Radio Dabanga (May 20, 2012), the spokesman for the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Christopher Cycmanick, "described the security situation in Darfur as ‘relatively calm‘" (all emphases in this brief are added).  Let us for the moment take Mr. Cycmanick at his word, and ask just what "normal" now means in Darfur—and how his appraisal of "security" conditions comports with events reported over the past several months.  For he surely speaks with the authority of his boss, UNAMID Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari.  Here it seems reasonable to recall as well the comments of former UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Georg Charpentier, who offered a similarly optimistic assessment of Darfur last year: "We are seeing a ‘trend of decreasing overall violent incidents in Darfur‘" (January 20, 2011).  

In fact, Charpentier’s comments comported rather poorly with a range of facts, including a nearly contemporaneous statement from UNAMID reported by Reuters on January 27, 2011:

"UNAMID spokesman Kemal Saiki confirmed the [civilian] bombing [near Shangil Tobay] 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.’" (Reuters/Khartoum)

On the other hand, Charpentier’s account of January 2011 and Cycmanick’s of last week do find support in assertions by Khartoum’s Minister of Defense, the brutal General Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, who in the past has pushed aggressively for forced returns of IDPs in Darfur (Hussein has also been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur): "Hussein … denied on Saturday [August 20, 2011] the presence of any fighting or war in Darfur."

For its part, Human Rights Watch (HRW) also offered an account contemporaneous with, but rather different from Charpentier’s:

"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." (January 28, 2011)

In fact, all evidence available from non-UN sources supports the conclusions of HRW, including a magisterially authoritative report issued by former members of the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, which found inter alia that violence against Zaghawa tribal people was so great as to be considered "ethnic cleansing." The leaked report, which deeply offended both Russia and China with its frank account of their massive violations of the Darfur arms embargo, was first reported by Africa Confidential on April 13, 2012; AC summarized its assessment of the report by noting 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." The report had been submitted to the UN in January 2012.

Among other grim accounts rendered by the Panel’s report is an implicit explanation of just why the Tabarat massacre of September 2010 was never investigated by UNAMID, even as it was the single most violent event in the 2011 – 2012 reporting period. Instead, the "official" (i.e., politically acceptable) UN Panel avoided the task by choosing as its starting point of October 2010, which conveniently, and suspiciously, excluded September 2010.   (For a fuller account of the Tabarat massacre and timeline, see Appendix 1 below.)

Moreover, given Charpentier’s authoritarian control of UN discourse concerning Darfur, we should recall here as well his comments about access and "security" for humanitarian organizations: "‘UN humanitarian agencies are not confronted by pressure or interference from the Government of Sudan,’ [Charpentier said in a written statement to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting]" (January 7, 2011). This claim has been widely and decisively rebuked by UN officials, including the head of UNICEF in Darfur, as well as by all humanitarian organizations operating in Darfur (though they are constrained by insecurity from saying so publicly).  It is the most brazen and vicious of all lies uttered to date about the situation in Darfur.

In light of such conspicuous mendacity, we must—in asking about "security" in Darfur—broaden the context to include "security" for humanitarian organizations and personnel, as well as the food "security" for millions of civilian for whom these organizations and the UN World Food Program are overwhelmingly responsible. This expands our "look-back" period to sixteen months, but this hardly seems unreasonable given the breadth of the generalizations offered by Cycmanick and Charpentier, who have of course a great deal of company among UN officials. Indeed, such retrospection seems particularly appropriate in light of intelligence coming to me from a highly authoritative source on the ground in Darfur, highlighting several apparent shortcomings in UNAMID’s provision of "security" in North Darfur (from an email received July 28, 2011):

• "Number of roads cleared for UN travel without armed escort = 0 ;

• "Number of locations outside el-Fasher where international UN staff can stay without armed protection = 0 ;

• "Number of international staff spending the night in deep field positions = 5 or 6 ;

• "Number of locations where international staff spend the night in the deep field = 4."

These are the "security" accomplishments of the force that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations now believes is ready to be drawn down, including its police personnel.  This is the force that the UN and African Union have evidently concluded it is doing an adequate job with its mandate of civilian and humanitarian protection.

In fact, this is a force that has failed and failed badly if judged by any reasonable benchmarks; in declaring that a partial withdrawing of peacekeeping forces from Darfur is appropriate, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is simply attempting to put a happy face on this failure, even as it sees no point in funding at current levels a bloated, badly-led, incompetent, disorganized, and poorly equipped force.  Some of its aircraft and aircraft personnel—critical components of a mission in an area the size of Spain—are evidently being withdrawn because they are so frequently denied clearance to fly by Khartoum’s Military Intelligence. Overall some 4,000 personnel are being withdrawn—including some 800 military police, potentially the most important personnel on the ground.

Recent humanitarian developments

It is important to understand that humanitarian relief in Darfur has been relentlessly obstructed, harassed, and abused by the Khartoum regime and its local officials for more than eight years.  One cannot discuss separately the issues of human security, the security of aid organizations, and the impact of Khartoum’s relentless war of attrition against the broader humanitarian effort in Darfur. We have only to look at the obstruction of all international humanitarian relief to South Kordofan and Blue Nile to see that aid operations, and their denial, are a key part of Khartoum’s military and security strategy.

For example, two days after Cycmanick’s interview with Radio Dabanga, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) took the dramatic step of announcing that Khartoum’s obstruction of their work was so great that they were suspending all operations in key areas of North Darfur:

"MSF said hurdles to procedures like getting permits and shipping in medical supplies forced it to suspend most of its medical activities in the Jebel Si area, a conflict area in North Darfur state, where it is the only healthcare provider. ‘With the reduction of our activities in Jebel Si, more than 100,000 people in the region are left entirely without healthcare,’ Alberto Cristina, MSF’s operational manager for Sudan, said in the statement." (Reuters [Khartoum], May 22, 2012)

In February 2011 Khartoum actually expelled Médecins du Monde, the only medical relief organization working in the populous Jebel Marra. And of course, most notoriously, Khartoum expelled thirteen of the world’s finest humanitarian organizations from Darfur in March 2009—charging the International Rescue Committee, MSF, Save the Children, Oxfam and others with "espionage," and expropriating large amounts of money and property.

But the war on humanitarian efforts continues.  And even more ominous news, at least from the standpoint of food "security," came in the form of an announcement (made the same day as MSF’s) by the UN World Food Program:

"The UN World Food Programme says that 30 percent of the population of Darfur is threatened with food insecurity and in need of urgent aid. The Programme conducted surveys in Darfur finding around 30 percent to be in need of urgent assistance, said WFP Field Coordinator Adham Mesallami to Radio Dabanga." (Radio Dabanga, May 22, 2012)

It should be noted that even before the WFP announcement Radio Dabanga had reported many times on alarming warning signs, such as these:

Food crisis could become ‘disaster’ in El Geneina camps

El Geneina (13 May 2012) – High food prices and the withdrawal of food rations is causing a humanitarian crisis that could become a disaster in El Geneina camps, in West Darfur. Leaders of Tunjaki, Kendebe, Beer Dagig, Serba, Abu Suruj, Saraf Jidad, Armenkol, Ban Jadeed, Munjura and Sileya told Radio Dabanga that the camps have had no humanitarian aid since last October, describing the food situation as ‘catastrophic’ and requiring urgent action. A leader said they did not know why they were being deprived of assistance after being forced off their land, which is currently being occupied by new settlers.

Even taking into account the possibility of overstatement, there can be little doubt that the food crisis is real and growing rapidly more desperate:

Kassab displaced describe situation as famine

Kassab (9 May 2012) – Displaced people in Kassab camp in North Darfur have described their current condition as ‘famine’, due to the reduction in food provided by the World Food Programme and the unprecedented high prices of food at the market. An activist from Kassab told Radio Dabanga that many families are now eating berries and nuts as they are unable to survive on the reduced rations. He said the WFP rations per person, per month only last for 15 days, and as camp residents have no sources of income they cannot go to buy food from the market. He added that the situation must be recognised as famine, rather than a ‘food gap’.

The Sudan Tribune offered a similarly grim account on May 10, 2012.

A Darfuri physician with a wide range of informed contacts on the ground has also given me his sense of present conditions:

"The people at Kalma Camp have not received food for the past 4 months due to a dispute between the residents there and the WFP. The dispute relates to the fact that the WFP wants to set a new distribution census for the IDPs, who are concerned that in other camps when this occurred, thousands were abandoned from the food distribution lists. 

"People think that this is part of the new policy established by the terms of the Darfur Doha peace negotiations to push people to return to their homes when they are not yet prepared to do so—due to no food, security or services in their original lands.  The residents are instead going into town as laborers and earning whatever they can to feed their families.  One year ago, there was 30% or more malnutrition in the camp.  Current rates are not known."

What must be borne in mind is that deliveries of food, especially to West Darfur, have been made intolerably dangerous despite what the UN evidently now considers "normal" security conditions—even as hundreds of thousands of lives are dependent on the secure transport of food.  Many drivers simply refuse to make the trips necessary to move the food where it is needed.  Unsurprisingly, this is insecurity openly countenanced, even encouraged by the Khartoum regime as a way of creating leverage in its dealings with the UN and broader international community, a view shared by the vast majority of those I have spoken with who have experience on the ground in Darfur and among Darfuris who are in active communication with those on the ground. 

Indeed, we might wonder just what sources Mr. Cycmanick relies on in reaching his conclusions.  He was asked by Radio Dabanga about the kinds of incidents this important news source reports with extraordinary frequency and compelling authority:

"’Speaking about the complaints of citizens with respect to militias, road blockades, Abu Tira [Central Reserve Police] attacks, looting and rape, Cycmanick said he had ‘not heard anything about these events, but promised to discuss the matter and carry out an investigation.’"

This is either astonishing ignorance or shameless mendacity. For example, incidents of rape and gang-rape—of women and girls—have been continuously reported by Radio Dabanga for years, with precise geographic information and identification sufficient to make investigation possible, were there any will to investigate.  Beyond these reports there have been many detailed studies of the phenomenon of rape as a weapon of war in Darfur, including one by MSF-Holland that infuriated Khartoum.  And because UNAMID is so intimidated by the regime, or regime-controlled security forces, because of a total lack of moral leadership within the mission, reports of rape are very rarely investigated.  Women and girls remain terrifyingly vulnerable in most of rural Darfur as well as in most of the camps for displaced persons; and yet UNAMID does nothing, indeed now seems to claim it is unaware of such reports and studies.  Here we might begin to wonder just what evidence Mr. Cycmanick relies on in his use of words such as "normal" and "security."

Has it become "normal," we might ask, to expect such events as have been reported (below) just in the last month?  For they are exceedingly numerous (presented here as recorded in various reports by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA):

• Fighting between rebel forces and Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and militia allies in Gereida town; one civilian was killed and thirteen wounded. Gereida has the largest IDP camp in South Darfur (130,000 civilians). (OCHA, May 13, 2012)

• In North Darfur OCHA reports (May 13, 2012) fighting between the SAF and rebel forces of Minni Minawi.  Minawi was the only rebel signatory to the terribly misconceived Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja, May 2006).  Violence between Minawi’s forces and Khartoum’s regular and militia forces has been constant since late 2010; because Minawi is of the non-Arab Zaghawa tribe, Khartoum has targeted the Zaghawa in brutal fashion—again, so brutal that former members of the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur has characterized the violence as "ethnic cleansing."  Many tens of thousands of Zaghawa have been internally displaced, though this is not mentioned by UN officials when celebrating the number of Darfuris "returning" to their homes (see below).

• OCHA also reports (May 6) on the arrest of three relief workers who belong to organizations affiliated with Norwegian Church Aid.  We may be sure that those arrested find this neither a "normal" experience nor reassuring of "security" in Darfur.  All South Sudanese relief workers are being expelled from Darfur by Khartoum.  Earlier Khartoum had expelled the relief staff of the Sudan Council of Churches and Sudan Aid (OCHA, April 29)

• OCHA yet again is the source reporting aerial bombardment of a number of villages in the border region between South Darfur and South Sudan (May 6).  Some 5,000 people have been displaced.  A UNAMID patrol tried to investigate the bombing, an egregious violation of both international law and UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005); they were, however, were stopped at a military check-point, where they were told by Khartoum’s military forces they could not proceed because of "insecurity."

"Security" would seem to be a word with a wide range of meanings in Darfur.

• At the end of April OCHA provided yet another report bearing on the "security" situation in Darfur, noting rebel attacks on Um Dafug locality in South Darfur.  48 casualties were reported.  As a result, "the UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) has requested all humanitarian agencies to suspend their field missions to Um Dukkhun, Mukjar and surrounding areas. Humanitarian personnel based in Um Dukkhun have been requested to relocate to the UNAMID compound. Humanitarian organisations in Um Dukkhun provide assistance to some 6,500 refugees, while in Mukhjar they provide assistance to some 23,500 displaced people" (OCHA Sudan Bulletin April 29, 2012).  In other words, because of this "suspension" for "insecurity," more than 30,000 vulnerable human beings will be put at increased health and food-security risk.

Of course UNAMID itself has been attacked many times, sometimes fatally, by armed elements (including militia backed by Khartoum).  Most recently four UNAMID police officers were wounded when attacked while on patrol in West Darfur (April 20, 2012); one later died of his wounds. We might begin to wonder whether UNAMID’s Mr. Cycmanick bothers to read the reports from UN OCHA, or even UNAMID.  Certainly if he did he would know also that:

"According to the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Government troops have deployed to Khor Ramla in Nertiti locality, Central Darfur, reportedly in preparation for military operations in the Jebel Marra area. Increasing tensions in the area may lead to further movement restrictions on movements of humanitarian organisations and hinder access to people in need. Since August 2011, humanitarian organisations have struggled to get access to the area due to security restrictions. (OCHA April 29)

• Mr. Cycmanick would also know that:

"According to IOM [the International Organization for Migration], some 3,400 newly displaced people have been verified and registered in Zamzam IDP camp, North Darfur. These newly displaced people fled their homes because of inter-tribal fighting between Zaghawa and Birgid tribesmen in Alauna village (approximately 25km north of Dar el Salam, North Darfur) that started on 22 February. The international NGO Plan Sudan estimates that some 8,900 displaced people in Zamzam…." (OCHA April 29)

To be sure, it would take going as far afield as reading Radio Dabanga for Mr. Cycmanick to discover that there are other compelling reports of violent displacement in Darfur, even from camps for displaced persons:

5,000 South Sudanese forced out of Darfuri camp

Sharef (16 Apr 2012) – South Sudanese citizens living in a camp in the Sharef area of East Darfur [formerly South Darfur] had their homes burned down and destroyed on Monday by a group of militia. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga their camp was completely looted yesterday including the clothes they were wearing. They said today the militants came back and indiscriminately burned down their homes forcing the traumatised camp residents out into the surrounding areas.

What Mr. Cycmanick—and Ibrahim Gambari, the man he works for—simply refuses to acknowledge, given comments made to Radio Dabanga, is the extent of ongoing violence in Darfur.  And this violence is nowhere more conspicuous than in the epidemic of rape in Darfur—rape used as a brutal, systematic weapon of war against women and girls throughout Darfur.   

In a March 4, 2012 analysis of rape in Darfur, I provided a lengthy appendix containing dozens of examples, most quite recent. There has been no let up in the epidemic of violence that destroys women and girls, physically and emotionally, and often their families as well.

UNAMID is also particularly weak in confirming reports of aerial attacks on civilians; in fact, investigations occur in only a very small number of instances, and are often forestalled by Khartoum’s denial of access, inevitably on the grounds of "insecurity."  No matter that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed by Khartoum in early 2008 gives UNAMID unrestricted access to investigate precisely such incidents, as well as to protect civilians and humanitarians: UNAMID seems more than willing to watch as Khartoum reneges on yet another agreement (for a timeline of agreements recently abrogated by Khartoum, see this May 7, 2012 narrative).  Since January 1, 2008 when UNAMID formally took up its mandate, there have been well over 300 confirmed aerial attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets by the SAF (see www.sudanbombing.org).  Only a painfully small percentage of these have been investigated by UNAMID, even the most destructive.  To learn what is occurring we must again rely on Radio Dabanga:

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

JEBEL MARRA (Radio Dabanga, 28 April, 2011) 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."

Because this attack occurred in Jebel Marra, to which Khartoum restricts both humanitarian and UNAMID access, our only confirmation of this horrific attack comes from an eyewitness interviewed (and assessed for credibility) by Radio Dabanga.  But even attacks in areas that are accessible go uninvestigated:

Man killed in SAF strikes in Tawila

Tawila (15 May 2012) – A man was killed and eight others wounded in air strikes south of Tawila, North Darfur. A resident described his life as ‘hell’ due to the ongoing aerial bombardment by the Sudanese air force in Numeira, Kouto, Dali, Crowla and Masalit areas of Tawila last Friday to Sunday. He said Muhammed Ab Bakr Muhammed was killed and Fatima Abdullah, Hawa’ Abbaker Yagoub, Maymuna Yahya Abbaker, Mariam Hassan Juma, Abdul Qader Saleh and two children Nur Eldaim Saleh and Ibrahim Musa Saleh, Haroun, Adam Saleh Issa were injured in the attacks. The witness added that 12 cows were also killed along with the destruction of seven houses. He said residents remain living in a state of terror while the SAF planes continue to fly overhead.

It is simply impossible to imagine such a detailed account as factitious.

Two injured in air strikes in South Darfur

Labadu (10 May 2012) – Two herders were injured and more than 80 sheep killed when an Antonov plane dropped four bombs on a valley near Labadu in South Darfur this morning. Witnesses from Labadu told Radio Dabanga that El Tom Bakhit and Abdel Aziz were herding their sheep when a Sudanese army plane dropped the bombs. The two men were taken to hospital in Nyala for treatment. They added that there are no armed rebel movements operating in the area and asked why they were targeted in a civilian area. The witnesses also appealed to the UN to intervene to stop aerial bombardments and targeting civilian areas.

Four killed in strikes

Gereida (9 May 2012) – Citizens in Gereida confirmed that the SRF forces withdrew from the city this afternoon. Witnesses also told Radio Dabanga that air strikes killed four people, Ali Adam El Zain, Adam Hamid, Jumaa Haroun Bashrin and Khaed Beja on Wednesday. Ibrahim Muhammed Hadi Obeid and Khalif Allah Bashir were also injured and are now in hospital.

And the aerial attacks seem to be escalating significantly again as the rebel movements are reported to be moving back into Darfur in force:

SAF increasing Antonov planes taking off from El Fasher

El Fasher (15 May 2012) – Residents residing near El Fasher airport in North Darfur have said the Sudanese air force has increased the number of Antonov planes leaving the base on an hourly basis from last Thursday until Monday afternoon. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the increase is starkly noticeable and has drawn the attention of residents for the first time.

But the deepest of Charpentier’s and Cycmanick’s distortions of the "security" situation in Darfur are most conspicuous when we look at the continuous, brutally repetitive examples from the ground.  The aerial attacks are surely terrifying and destructive; but daily insecurity, the constancy of physical threats, the threats to health and to family well-being, and the complete lack of recourse for justice that defines life for Darfuris—this is what they find soul-destroying.  And here again, far and away our best source is Radio Dabanga, a news organization that must be recognized as a truly extraordinary collaboration between Darfuris in the diaspora and those on the ground in Darfur with the means to communicate outside the region.  Indeed, it marks an historic milestone in on-line news reporting.

Some of the most recent violence—which collectively makes a complete mockery of Cycmanick’s claims of a "normal" level of "security" in Darfur—includes (two days before Cycmanick’s pronouncement on "security" in Darfur):

IDPs flee back to camps after new settlers open fire

El Daein (Radio Dabanga, 18 May, 2012)  Hundreds of displaced people have fled back to Neem camp in East Darfur [formerly part of South Darfur] after new settlers on their original lands attacked them, when they returned with state authorities as part of the programme of voluntary return. Witnesses said on Wednesday the old Neem camp residents were taken with authorities including the state governor to resettle on the land they were originally displaced from. On arrival they said militants started shooting heavily into the air and threatening to kill the returnees if they did not leave the area, even though senior government officials were present.

Such violence would be the fate for nearly all those who continue to live in fetid, underserved, dangerous, and overcrowded camps: these are people longing to return, but who know that to do so would be to incur the risk of deadly violence from Arab groups that have settled on their lands—and Arab groups not just from Darfur but, with Khartoum’s assistance, from Chad, Niger, and even Mali. This acute threat to the "security" of IDPs is almost never articulated honestly by UNAMID or UN officials; and yet both Darfuris and international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations (INGOs) make emphatically clear that such continuing insecurity severely restricts returns, and poses long-term security issues that UNAMID hasn’t begun to address, even as it down-sizes from its bloated and ineffective present form.

Darfuris regularly complain that camp leaders are targeted, as they are perceived by Khartoum as the chief obstacles to forced returns and demolition of the camps (the primary ambition of the regime’s "New Strategy for Darfur," September 2010).  There is much to support such complaints; again, just two days before Cycmanick’s claim that "security" was "normal" in Darfur, Radio Dabanga reported:

Camp leader killed in militia attack

Zalingei (18 May 2012) – A camp leader was killed and another injured when unknown armed men opened fire in Hamidiya camp in Zalingei on Wednesday. Witnesses from Hamdiya camp told Radio Dabanga Abdul Al Jabar Ab Bakr Adam, 31 was walking with Muhammed Yousef Musa in the market when gunmen suddenly appeared and began to shoot. They said Abdul Al Jabar fell to the ground with wounds to his side and chest and died shortly after, Musa was wounded in the stomach. The witnesses accused security agencies of carrying out the attack, saying that youth leaders and elders of Zalingei camps have previously been threatened through leaflets distributed to the camps.

Militia abduct police officers and native leader

Gereida (7 May 2012) – An armed group loyal to the government kidnapped six police officers and the head of the native administration, Umda Jaballah in Abu Rakoba near Gereida in South Darfur. A resident told Radio Dabanga that the incident happened after residents tried to capture a militant that was preventing citizens from accessing a water well. The citizens then contacted the local police who arrived at the same time as a group of pro government militia. The resident said the militia asked police to hand over their weapons and then abducted them along with the Umda, beating them and confiscating their weapons before letting them go the next day

But the attacks can equally well be indiscriminate messages of terror:

Two IDPs wounded in militia attack

Mornei (17 May 2012) – On Wednesday morning, five pro-government militants seriously wounded two displaced people in an assault near Mornei camp. An eyewitness told Radio Dabanga that five owners of horse drawn carts went to fetch firewood from the Arrowo Mountains 10 km south of Mornei camp. As they left the camp five gunmen on camels intercepted them and beat them with sticks and whips before opening fire and seriously injuring two of the men.

Tawila plagued by militia and Abu Tira attacks

Tawila (15 May 2012) – Pro-government militia looted cars traveling from Tawila to El Fasher, taking money, mobile phones and food from passengers. Witnesses said on Sunday and Monday masked militias and others in army uniforms looted ten cars, beating the passengers before stealing their belongings. They said three people suffered head injuries in the attacks. Displaced people in Tawila camps have also reportedly been suffering random attacks from Abu Tira (central reserve forces). A camp resident told Radio Dabanga that Abu Tira forces have been violently attacking and stealing from displaced people, particularly at night time. He said they demand the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur provides them with urgent protection by sending out night patrols to the camps and the road between Tawila and El Fasher.

Violence, especially in the form of kidnapping humanitarians, is also an all-too-common occurrence in Darfur, even of workers for the scrupulously neutral International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC):

ICRC workers abducted in Fatah Borno

Fatah Borno camp (2 May 2012) – An armed group kidnapped an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) along with three local workers in Fatah Borno, North Darfur on Saturday. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the gunmen did not specify where they came from and stopped the workers, traveling in two trucks who were in the area to carry out field surveys…..  The ICRC confirmed that the incident occurred….

All of these attacks came just days before Mr. Cycmanick proclaimed that "security" in Darfur is "normal."  And while the claims of rebel movements in Darfur must always be regarded with appropriate skepticism, Radio Dabanga does an excellent job of culling what seem their most credible reports of violence—and they are often supported by other accounts (see below):

Government accused of razing village near Jebel Marra

Numeira (10 May 2012) – The Sudan Liberation Movement for justice led by Kerubino said government forces burned down Numeira village, east of Jebel Marra on Wednesday. Military spokesman for the movement Muhammed Ahmed Yaqub told Radio Dabanga that the army destroyed the water supply and killed three people. The rest of the villagers fled to the nearby mountains for refuge. He said the SLM-J and the Justice and Equality Movement intervened to protect civilians and fought government troops. Yaqub added that the army convoy coming from El Fasher consisted of 75 vehicles included three gun proof cars. He said that JEM forces defeated the soldiers and forced them to flee to Tabet and Shangil Tobaya with 15 killed, seven vehicles destroyed and nine captured in good conditions.

This is consistent with a "normal security" situation?

As my Darfuri physician contact insists,

"Civilians report that there is very little food distribution and NGOs have very little access.  Some humanitarian organizations are affiliated with the government, so their movements are at the will of the government.  Other international NGOs and local ones that are independent are afraid of being expelled, so they just abide by the government restrictions.  [They believe the] plan is to dismantle the IDP camps as they are a nuisance to the government."

"I am very concerned about access to basic services including water and medical care during this time.  The last press release from the Minister of Health in South Darfur (April 10, 2012) said that of 52 physicians needed, there are only 4.  They are lacking 65% of medical officers in South Darfur.  Pharmacists: 23% gap; nurses: 70%; birth attendants: lacking 42% of those needed. This is a marked deterioration from the earlier numbers, noting that, of course, there have always been gaps." (email received April 17, 2012)

He also offers a highly reliable account of recent violence and the continuing restriction of access to the populous Jebel Marra region:

"Near Korma IDP camp (North Darfur) three girls  (ages 12, 13 and 15) were raped by the Janjaweed (three days ago), and when they asked the Commissioner to protect them, he said that the area doesn’t belong to him (meaning that it belonged to the rebels).  The girls were severely injured and were sent to the El Fasher hospital for treatment.  The government is denying that there is any area or land belonging to the rebels—but at the same time the Commissioner refuses to accept protection responsibility or jurisdiction.

"You probably know that Gereida area and far north Hashaaba area—many atrocities have been recorded in past two months with no response.

"In the recent conflict between the Sudanese government and the rebels in Jabel Marra, the government forces attacked more than five villages from the air and these have been burned two weeks ago.  These are the villages around Rao Fata.  The villagers have fled to nearby villages.  There is no access for humanitarian organizations in Jabel Marra."

The narratives of violence are too numerous to chronicle, even for the past month; but this is the "normal" situation for "security" in Darfur, this is the fabric of life for Darfuris:

Gunmen kill three civilians in Korma

Korma (27 Apr 2012) – Militants loyal to the government shot dead three civilians and wounded two others on Monday in the area of Jebel Krone, Korma in North Darfur. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the men killed were Yahya Ibrahim Musa, Yacoub Abdullah Idris and Siddiq Yacoub Adam. They said they were shot as they were searching for straw in Jebel Krone.

Residents flee Tabet as fighting breaks out

Tabet, North Darfur (11 May 2012) – Fighting between government forces and armed opposition movements has displaced a large number of civilians from Tabet in North Darfur. Witnesses living near Zam Zam camp said they could hear the echoes of bombs and missiles towards Tabet, where soldiers and militias are based. They also said the road between El Fasher and Nyala was blocked yesterday, and vehicles traveling along the road were turned back from Tabet. Other witnesses said government forces were shooting and launching air strikes this morning in Tabet, and the noise of heavy weaponry spread panic amongst residents causing them to flee. They said families fled on foot to Um Kebo village and other villages along the road leading to Zam Zam camp. Reports of civilian casualties or arrests are yet to be verified.

Abu Jabra residents demand protection from random shootings

Abu Jabra (1 May 2012) – Residents in Abu Jabra have demanded that local authorities protect them from random shootings in the area. A resident said the commissioner of Adela needs to send police forces to try to control the area.

Gunmen kill 2 near Gereida camp

Gereida camp (6 May 2012) – A group of 15 gunmen traveling on camels shot two men dead on Friday in Absafariq, three km from Gereida camp, South Darfur. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that Muhammed Adam and Mahjoub Ab Bakr were clearing farms at Absafariq with three other displaced people when they were attacked. The gunmen tried to steal their donkeys and were shot dead when they tried to resist, the other three managed to escape.

Gunmen steal animals, trespass on farmland

Gereida (7 May 2012) -Ten gunmen traveling on horses stole six donkeys from Um Janah near Gereida, South Darfur. A witness said ten armed men threatened farmers and beat them before stealing the donkeys and fleeing. The incident was reported to the police and the local commissioner but neither has as yet responded. The witness said residents are angry about the lack of action and silence on the part of authorities that refuse to provide security and protection from militants operating outside of the law. Residents east of Kutum have also complained of armed camel herders using their land for grazing, destroying crops and farm land. They said authorities disregard their complaints and fail to act to stop the herders.

"Security" for the displaced and those who "return" home

The UN has recently released a census indicating that 140,000 people have "returned" to their homes, suggesting (we are clearly to suppose) that this is a sign of increased "security" (Sudan Humanitarian Update, First Quarter 2012).  Given past manipulation of figures for displaced persons, it is difficult to take this number at face value—and almost impossible to do so for the number of returns from Chad. For purportedly 31,000 of these returns are refugees returning from Chad, although this will come as news to the UN High Commission for Refugees representative in Chad: he declares emphatically that there have been no such returns.  And no Darfuri with whom I’ve spoken knows where any of these "returns" actually are.

Moreover, two important considerations must be borne in mind here: [1] the number newly displaced during this same time period of claimed "returns," [2] and the fate of earlier "returns," a term with considerable ambiguity in the context of Darfur, one that can mean as little as temporarily working fallow land near an IDP camp.  But the UN and Mr. Cycmanick are quick to forget earlier failures in the "return" process, and here we need the attention of Radio Dabanga to see the broader picture (July 26, 2011, Voluntary Repatriation: 7 families found in a critical state):

[Seven] families who came back to the Guido region [of 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.

For many Darfuris, Guido camp (near Garsila) would seem to be emblematic of the insecurity that Mr. Cycmanick declares to be "normal":

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.

More consequentially, a key figure that the UN and Mr. Cycmanick in particular refuse to acknowledge is that derived from aggregated data for displacement over the past five years, i.e., since the UN authorized conversion of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (July 2007).  The figure is well over 1 million newly displaced civilians—a staggeringly large figure, especially when we consider that displacement in Darfur has been a phenomenon driven overwhelmingly by violence.

A refusal to speak honestly about the realities of continuing displacement is all too clearly part of an effort to mask the scale of failure for this first-ever African Union peacekeeping mission.  But because of the restrictive conditions stipulated by Khartoum and accepted by the UN and the international community prior to the July 2007 authorizing resolution, this force was doomed to fail from the beginning.  And evidently the last thing it is interested in is a serious reckoning with recent and continuing displacement (here a fuller excerpt from the dispatch noted above):

5,000 South Sudanese forced out of Darfuri camp

Sharef (Radio Dabanga, 16 April 2012) – South Sudanese citizens living in a camp in the Sharef area of East Darfur [formerly South Darfur] had their homes burned down and destroyed on Monday by a group of militia. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga their camp was completely looted yesterday including the clothes they were wearing. They said today the militants came back and indiscriminately burned down their homes forcing the traumatised camp residents out into the surrounding areas. Sudanese citizens from neighbouring villages went out to help the camp residents and many took families into their own homes. The razed camp was reportedly set up in 1991 and was home to more than 5,000 people of South Sudanese origin. The witnesses said this attack came about after president Bashir gave orders for citizens to mobilise for jihad against rebels.

But again, displacement has been continuous during the entire Darfur conflict, and the primary source of displacement has invariably been violence and insecurity.  These displacement figures cannot be wished away by a UNAMID more interested in repairing its tattered reputation than in representing Darfur’s realities (for more data about displaced persons, see here):

2007: OCHA estimates that 300,000 civilians are newly displaced; approximately half (150,00) from the time UNAMID is authorized (July);

2008: OCHA estimates that 317,000 civilians are newly displaced;

2009: Figures from the Canadian "Peace Operations Monitor" and others suggest approximately 250,000 civilians newly displaced for the year;

2010: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre figures suggest 270,000 newly displaced civilians for the year;

2011: The former UN Panel of Experts on Darfur estimates that 70,000 – 80,000 are newly displaced in the Shangil Tobay and Khor Abeche region alone;

2012: Tens of thousands….

Again, this is well over a million people—newly displaced and yet statistically elided from the UN’s account of Darfur. Some of these people have been displaced two, three or even more times.  The UN has described no methodology that can possibly account for this vast population.  This is in part because the figure for IDPs is almost always given as the total WFP census of the IDP camps.  Such a figure does not take into account the very large number of recently displaced persons or those who are not in camps but with host families or host communities.  The UN no longer even refers to this figure; but in the early days of its Darfur Humanitarian Profiles, OCHA estimated the figure to be half a million civilians.  And of course UNAMID never refers to the refugee population in Eastern Chad—a dismayingly stable 282,000 Darfuris who indicate clearly that the do not consider "security" in their land to be "normal," and that accordingly they will not return.

A history of UN mendacity in Darfur

The lies and distortions emanating from the UN, including UNAMID, have a perversely substantial history in Darfur.  Ibrahim Gambari anticipated his spokesman’s comments by declaring last September that, "’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’" (Radio Netherlands International, September 14, 2011).  This figure is so preposterous, on so many counts, that we must conclude Gambari is completely beyond shame (for a detailed breakdown of this viciously absurd figure, see here). This, in turn, would do much to explain his decision to attend the wedding of Musa Hilal’s daughter to President Idriss Déby of Chad: Gambari was evidently sufficiently up for a good time that it did not matter that the bride’s father is the most notorious of all the brutal Janjaweed leaders in Darfur.

But the history of mendacity on the part of UNAMID officials goes further back—back as far as August 2009, when the two departing leaders of UNAMID claimed that the war in Darfur was over, and had devolved into a "low-intensity" security problem. General Martin Agwai, the Nigerian force commander, declared on stepping down that, "as of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur," but rather "very low intensity" engagements. "What you have is security issues more now. Banditry, localised issues." Rodolphe Adada of Congo, the outgoing joint UN/African Union representative to UNAMID, declared with breathtaking arrogance, "I have achieved results in Darfur." "There is no more fighting proper on the ground." "Right now there is no high-intensity conflict in Darfur. Call it what you will but this is what is happening in Darfur—a lot of banditry, carjacking, attacks on houses." 

This characterization hardly squares with hundreds of aerial attacks on civilians, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Darfuris, the epidemic of rape that continues to ravage the region, or the acute, ongoing threats to humanitarians.  These statements are nothing more than self-serving efforts to escape the opprobrium so richly deserved by both men.

And supporting UNAMID in its lies and distortions, at every step of the way, has been the Obama administration and its disastrously incompetent special envoy Scott Gration. 

It was Gration who chose to acquiesce before Khartoum’s expulsion of humanitarians in March 2009; it was Gration who declared, evidently with a straight face, that the Sudan elections of 2010 would be "as free and fair as possible," despite ample evidence that the census, the registration, and the actual polling were all hopelessly compromised by Khartoum’s machinations; it was Gration who tried to push early returns on Darfur’s IDPs and was rebuked by an extraordinary "inter-agency" gathering of humanitarians; it was Gration who enthusiastically endorsed Khartoum’s remorseless "New Strategy for Darfur" and its implicit policy of forced returns of IDPs; it was Gration who threatened Darfuris with less "bandwidth" (i.e., diplomatic attention) if they didn’t fall in line during the Doha "peace process," which has proved completely disastrous, and which yielded an agreement that virtually all Darfuris have adamantly rejected; it was Gration who pushed for a "de-emphasizing" and finally a "de-coupling" of Darfur from the center of U.S. Sudan policy; it was Gration who foolishly urged Juba to make yet further compromises over Abyei—in effect assuring Khartoum’s military take over of the region exactly a year ago.

And it was Gration—like Cycmanick, Gambari, Charpentier, Adada, and Agwai—who would accommodate Khartoum in the most shameless and cynical fashion at the end of his disastrous tenure:

"At a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Ali Karti this week, Gration praised government cooperation with UN peacekeepers (UNAMID) in Darfur and defended the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commission’s restrictions on aid agencies. ‘The Government of Sudan has taken great steps to lift restrictions on UNAMID,’ he said. ‘We’ve seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs.’" (Reuters [Khartoum],February 11, 2011)

MSF in Jebel Si, North Darfur is likely to find this a peculiar claim, as will the expelled Médecins du Monde and other humanitarian organizations that have either been shut down or hounded into withdrawal.  And Gration’s "improved access," at least for the World Food Program and its implementing partners, seems not to mitigate the dire implications noted above: "30 percent of the population of Darfur is threatened with food insecurity and in need of urgent aid."

Gration’s claim is not simply a lie but a lie with immense implications—it is a lie that is, finally, evil. And in the efforts to preserve their reputations, to impel their careers, to escape the consequences of their ignorance and foolishness, Gambari, Charpentier, Adada, and Agwai have all joined Gration—now U.S. ambassador to Kenya—in a conspiracy of mendacity that is challenged meaningfully only by the people of Darfur themselves.

Appendix 1: The Tabarat massacre

The failure by UNAMID to investigate the Tabarat massacre is more than peculiar: it smacks of a cover-up by deliberate omission.  To be sure, the previous UN Panel of Experts on Darfur had submitted its report in October 2010, and the report of the current "official" Panel covers 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 a robust 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 the UN 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.

In turn, this failure has ripple effects, encouraging Khartoum to believe that it can block atrocity crime investigations and dispose of inconvenient evidence.  This is the most fundamental implication of yet another Radio Dabanga dispatch (April 5, 2012) concerning the infamous Wadi Saleh (West Darfur) massacres of spring 2004:

• Authorities hire new settlers to destroy evidence of mass graves (Wadi Salih, West Darfur)

Sudanese authorities in the Wadi Salih area of West Darfur are reportedly hiring new settlers to destroy the evidence of mass graves in the area. Eyewitnesses said that government authorities have hired groups of new settlers to clear the evidence of mass graves particularly in Mukjar, Bindisi, Arwala, Deleig and Sundu. The groups were reportedly told to burn all traces of bodies and bones to destroy all evidence of extra-judicial killing by the government and its militias. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga Daif al Summah, Al Sadig Salona and Korin Kwei were hired by Ali Kushayb to oversee this operation. [Ali Kushayb is wanted by the International Criminal Court for multiple crimes against humanity in West Darfur; Wadi Saleh was scene of some of the worst mass killings, especially of Fur men and boys, during the early years of the genocide.]

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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