By Eric Reeves
Editor’s note: Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, 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. His new book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012) is available in eBook format, at no cost. www.CompromisingWithEvil.org
October 19, 2012 (SSNA) — Constructing a history of greater Sudan since conclusion of the "Comprehensive Peace Act" (January 2005) faces two dangers. First, there is the pronounced tendency by interested parties to re-write key parts of this history in ways that efface error, ignorance, and moral misprision. Second, archival resources generated during this period have been surprisingly sparse in many areas and often poorly organised.
Nowhere is this truer than Darfur, where human rights organisations have had no sustained reporting presence for several years. The United Nations/African Union (U.N./AU) force charged with protecting civilians and humanitarians in the region has been a catastrophic failure. And since there is very considerable institutional desire to obscure the dimensions of this costly failure, historical and archival records have suffered accordingly. Incidents of violence (including civilian massacres), bombing attacks on non-combatant villages, assaults on displaced persons camps, brutal extortion operations, and an epidemic of rape are nowhere reported, and the U.N. Secretary-General’s reports on Darfur have reflected as much.
Moreover, timid U.N. aid agencies on the ground have been largely silent about what they know of deteriorating humanitarian conditions—this in deference to Khartoum’s sensitivities about reporting on morbidity, morality, and especially rape. In turn, international nongovernmental relief organisations (INGOs) have felt obliged to remain quiet about what they know for fear of being expelled by Khartoum. To date well over twenty INGOs have been expelled or forced to depart by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum.
The result is that we know far too little about humanitarian conditions in Darfur, and catch only occasional glimpses in data that have global import for the region. For this reason Darfur figures prominently in the extensive electronic text (eBook) I am releasing this month, an archival account of conflict—and its consequences—throughout greater Sudan over the past five years.
For Darfur this means assembling all that has been reported by human rights and news organisations, investigative journalism, on-the-ground sources (necessarily confidential), the limited information released by the U.N., and the remarkable dispatches of Radio Dabanga—an effort by Darfuris on the ground and in the diaspora to provide virtually daily accounts of violence and its impact on humanitarian access, as well as the quality of relief efforts.
One of the three main sections in the book is given over to security and humanitarian conditions in Darfur (the two are inextricable), and separate annexes are devoted to key related topics. One annex provides a comprehensive analysis of total mortality in Darfur on the basis of data available as of August 2010; another provides a detailed series of analyses focusing on humanitarian conditions at different points over the past five years; yet another details the impact of relentless aerial bombardment of non-Arab villages and agriculture. And still another annex attempts to summarise what has been reported about eastern Chad over the past six years.
Of all the victimised Darfuri populations, the most invisible are surely the 288,000 people the U.N. High Commission estimates are refugees in this remote region in the center of Africa. Far too little has been reported about these people, who have been unable to return to Darfur because of extreme insecurity, as well as land appropriation by regime-allied Arab groups.
Yet another annex provides an overview of the epidemic of rape and sexual violence that continues to stalk all of Darfur. In one sense, the issue is one of criminality—and the total impunity that allows the epidemic to proceed apace. But as a study by Physicians for Human Rights has shown, the health consequences of rape are staggering, with enormous implications for the well-being of women and girls who have been attacked.
Darfur seems to have slipped entirely from the agenda of the world community, even on the part of those international actors intent on resolving north-south conflict in greater Sudan. Given the millions of people who remain at acute risk in Darfur, it has seemed to me imperative that there be some record of what they face and what they have endured. There is no justice in sight for the victims of massive, ethnically targeted destruction; the least we can provide these people—living and dead—is a record of their suffering and their losses.