Human Security in Darfur, Year’s End 2012: West Darfur

Intolerable human insecurity and threats to humanitarian operations in Darfur remain largely invisible; an overview in three parts: West Darfur (Part 1b) (Part 1b at

By Eric Reeves

December 27, 2012 (SSNA) — The distinguished Gambian jurist Fatou Bensouda, who took up her appointment as Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in June, has brought with her a startling honesty in speaking about Darfur, here to the UN Security Council on December 13, 2012:

"The words of the Government of Sudan representatives, promising further peace initiatives, are undermined by actions on the ground that show an ongoing commitment to crimes against civilians as a solution to the Government’s problems in Darfur."

"It should be clear to this Council that the Government of Sudan is neither prepared to hand over the suspects nor to prosecute them for their crimes."

"There are no words to properly express the frustration of Darfur’s victims, which we share, about lack of any meaningful progress towards arresting those indicted by the Court. The failure of the Government of the Sudan to implement the five arrest warrants seems symbolic of its ongoing commitment to a military solution in Darfur, which has translated into a strategy aimed at attacking civilian populations over the last ten years, with tragic results. [ ] Victims of Darfur crimes can hardly wait for the day that fragmentation and indecision will be replaced by decisive, concrete and tangible actions they expect from this Council."

"I must reiterate that these alleged ongoing crimes, similar to those already considered by the Judges of the International Criminal Court on five separate applications, may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide." (UN News Centre, December 13, 2012)

Associated Press reports (December 13, 2012):

"Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council that crimes continue to be committed under Sudan’s ‘government-avowed goal of stopping the rebellion in Darfur.’  She said the incidents under investigation include bombings and bombardments, the blocking of distribution of humanitarian aid and ‘direct attacks on civilian populations.’"

And Reuters reports further (December 13, 2012):

"The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court accused the United Nations Security Council on Thursday of doing too little to bring Sudanese genocide suspects to justice. [ ] Addressing the Security Council in New York, Fatou Bensouda, the court’s prosecutor, said similar crimes continued to be committed in Darfur. She said her team had identified an ‘ongoing pattern of crimes committed pursuant to the government-avowed goal of stopping the rebellion in Darfur.’" (all emphases in quotations have been added)

Agence France-Presse reports (December 13, 2012):

"'[The UN Security Council] should be even more concerned about the situation in Darfur, given that crimes continue to be committed, including by those already indicted by the Court.  The question that remains to be answered is, how many more civilians must be killed, injured and displaced for this Council to be spurred into doing its part? [Bensouda asked].’"

Bensouda of course echoes much of what was declared by the previous ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina, who was often dismissed as a "tool of Western imperial justice," with an unreasonable focus on African countries.  This can hardly be said of Bensouda, and yet we have heard nothing from those voices within the African Union that were so critical of Moreno Ocampo.  The AU’s record of hypocrisy and expediency remains fully intact.  This is no doubt one reason that aside from wire reports following Bensouda’s Security Council presentation, nothing more of her damning assessment has been heard.

But her words do find an unexpected echo in the departing words of U.S. special representative for Darfur, Dane Smith.  Smith was expediently assigned an impossible task: implement the wildly unpopular Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (July 2011), and improve security and humanitarian conditions in Darfur with only the assistance of UNAMID.  Smith acknowledged the failure of his mission in words that could not be clearer in implication: 

"’My biggest disappointment, a year and a half after the signature of the Doha agreement, is that we have seen very limited implementation, particularly of those provisions that bring tangible benefits to the IDPs (internally displaced people) and refugees,’ he said. He pointed to the lack of money for a fund set up for reconstruction and development in Darfur, and the government’s lack of action to disarm militias as the treaty requiresMilitias were ‘more and more seemingly out of control,’ particularly in North Darfur, Smith said, although other ‘disturbing’ incidents had occurred in Nyala in South Darfur and Misterei in West Darfur this month. The Doha treaty suffered another blow last week when the Liberation and Justice Movement [the small and unrepresentative rebel group that is the sole signatory to the DDPD] accused the government of attacking its forces and spreading false reports about the assault."

"’We have to say, quite honestly, that the rule of law is absent from Darfur," Smith added. The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and other senior Sudanese officials on charges of war crimes and genocide in the region—accusations the officials dismiss as politically motivated fabrications. Smith said attacks on the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) had also hindered efforts to bring peace to the region. The government had shown ‘very little interest’ in seriously investigating the crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice, he added. ‘For some lawless elements of the population this means there’s a perception that it’s open season on UNAMID.’" (Reuters [Khartoum], December 12, 2012)

The evidence at hand makes clear that when perpetrators of attacks on UNAMID can be identified—for example, those who participated in the powerfully armed and well-planned attack on a large UNAMID investigative convoy as it moved toward Hashaba (North Darfur)—they are pro-regime militias.  This is the same Khartoum regime that has for years constrained, abused, and harassed UNAMID and its predecessor mission AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan).  Notably, there has never been a prosecution for any attack on UNAMID forces, even as 43 courageous soldiers have lost their lives since the mission began January 1, 2008.  As Smith puts it, "the government has announced investigations, but ‘there never are any results.’"

Smith also notes what has long been the case but which he highlights at a critical moment: "[international humanitarian relief] donors, including the United States, face an ‘increasingly difficult’ time getting staff into Darfur to assess and supervise their aid projects, Smith said."

Here, unfortunately, Smith understates the gravity of the situation: aid organizations are already withdrawing from Darfur, and many are right now deciding—on the basis of a deteriorating security situation and increasing regime restrictions on movement—whether to stay.  An email from a senior and experienced worker for an important humanitarian organization communicated to me his highly informed assessment (email received December 18, 2012):

"It now looks like our work [in Darfur] may not continue. The government restrictions on us are increasing by significant leaps again for the future and we are in the process of deciding whether we can live with them. My vote is ‘no’ but I’m not sure what the NGO will decide."

"The Sudanese government is deciding who we can hire (especially foreigners, but also to some extent locals), where we can work (no rebel areas), what we can do, and [imposes] controls on our daily movements. This is unacceptable and we can no longer be ‘neutral and independent.’ There are many ethical issues to process. If we are only allowed to do what they want, I think we are in some ways being complicit with helping them achieve their ends. I want no part of that."

The rapidly increasing denial—direct and indirect—of humanitarian access is an issue affecting millions of civilian lives and should command serious attention from Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  Instead, we hear only her silence.  From other UN officials we hear vague exhortations or noncommittal and thus vacuous assessments.  Following a late November assessment mission (during which he was denied access to IDPs in North Darfur, Chaloka Beyani, the Special Rapporteur with the UN on IDP human rights, declared:

"…much remains to be done to fully implement the rights of hundreds of thousands of people living in camps in the region, the size of France. ‘A key step in this direction is addressing the very dire situation of IDPs in terms of safety, and their basic rights to adequate food, shelter, health, education, water and livelihoods.’" (PANA [Khartoum], November 24, 2012)

But how do mere statements advance the "implementation" Beyani speaks of?  What do we gain knowing that he believes "that important opportunities currently existed to address the needs of many IDPs in Sudan"?  What specifically is he talking about?  How does he propose overcoming Khartoum’s resistance to precisely the recognition of these "rights"?

For her part, Aichatou Mindaoudou, Acting Joint Special Representative of UNAMID, announced that the Mission is in the process of developing a "new strategy" to protect civilians in the regions.  But the strategy could hardly be more vaguely defined: "The process is based on cooperation with various parties in order to access some of the targeted areas and remedy the escalating violence" (Radio Dabanga, November 29, 2012).  

It would also seem that Ms. Mindaoudou is ignorant of Khartoum’s own "New Strategy for Darfur," officially promulgated in late summer 2010.  This document is little more than a grim outline for compelling IDPs to return, without regard for their safety, and moving from humanitarian to "development" work—this in a transparent effort to eliminate the rationale for the continuing presence of international humanitarian organizations, with their eyes and ears on the ground.  Whatever the regime may say to Ms. Mindaoudou or her successor (the well-respected Mohamed Ibn Chambas of Ghana), it is the ominous earlier "Strategy for Darfur" that will prevail. 

What have we heard about Darfur from the Independent Expert for Human Rights in Sudan, Mohamed Osman Chande?  Precisely nothing, in part because he can gain no access to the region, in part because he has shown he has no stomach for confronting the Khartoum regime on human rights.  And what about Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?  She is mentioned as having had a statement read for her in Darfur on December 11, 2012; other than that, there has been nothing of substance for months.

For its part, the European Union has made only vague condemnatory noises, but has done nothing to change conditions on the ground.  The AU, which foolishly staked its reputation on the UNAMID mission, has been silent about the comments from Bensouda and Dane Smith—a silence that represents complicity with Khartoum.  And the Obama administration, along with its two special envoys for Sudan—Scott Gration and Princeton Lyman—have made clear that they wish to see Darfur as a "stand alone" issue, an issue that is (in the words of a senior U.S. State Department official) "de-coupled" from broader U.S. policy towards Sudan.

It does seem fair to add that the new UN Expert on Sudan sanctions, Ghassan Schbley, should be forgiven for his silence: though possessing a valid visa, issued by Khartoum, Schbley was denied entrance to Sudan by the regime (which has publicly acknowledged that he is "blacklisted" for his previous work on Somalia and Eritrea).  As is customary of the U.S. at the UN, there was predictable bluster but no meaningful action:

"…unfettered access for Panels of Experts is a fundamental principle. It is unacceptable that Sudan or any country would prevent a member of a Panel of Experts from conducting his or her work as mandated by the Security Council,’ said US Mission’s Deputy Spokesperson Payton L. Knopf."  (Inner City Press [UN/New York] December 7, 2012)

Another UN Security Council diplomat also fulminated in futility:

"’The turning back of the Expert at Khartoum airport despite his being in possession a valid visa was totally unacceptable, particularly since the reason given was that the Expert had been "blacklisted" because of his previous work on the Somalia/Eritrea Monitoring Group.’" (Inner City Press [UN/New York] December 13, 2012)

It is doubtful in the extreme that we will ever learn anything about Darfur or Sudan from the work of Mr. Schbley.

Darfur’s Realities: Rendering them invisible doesn’t change them

Despite its obstruction of journalists, human rights investigators, humanitarian assessments, as well as its intimidation of UN and nongovernmental relief organizations, Khartoum has found no way to silence Radio Dabanga, and those few courageous individuals on the ground who can speak authoritatively to current security and humanitarian conditions in Darfur (the two are inextricably linked).  The realities of human suffering and destruction are unspeakably grim—and getting worse.  Again, as ICC Prosecutor Bensouda stresses in her remarks to the Security Council:

"The words of the Government of Sudan representatives, promising further peace initiatives, are undermined by actions on the ground that show an ongoing commitment to crimes against civilians as a solution to the Government’s problems in Darfur."

"The failure of the Government of the Sudan to implement the five arrest warrants seems symbolic of its ongoing commitment to a military solution in Darfur, which has translated into a strategy aimed at attacking civilian populations over the last ten years, with tragic results."

"I must reiterate that these alleged ongoing crimes, similar to those already considered by the Judges of the International Criminal Court on five separate applications, may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide."

"'[The UN Security Council] should be even more concerned about the situation in Darfur, given that crimes continue to be committed, including by those already indicted by the Court.  The question that remains to be answered is how many more civilians must be killed, injured and displaced for this Council to be spurred into doing its part?‘"

Despite the power of this indictment, Darfur’s suffering has become less, not more visible.  Khartoum’s massive interdiction of humanitarian efforts has resulted in an acute lack of primary medical care and critical medicines, deterioration of water supplies and the diminishment of food portions, and an inability to respond to accelerating epidemics, including Yellow Fever (which has already claimed many lives), malaria, diarrhea and hepatitis—and yet the international community continues to acquiesce before the regime’s brutal "genocide by attrition." 

For the victims of this campaign of humanitarian obstruction are overwhelmingly the non-Arab or African tribes of the region, especially those—more than two million—displaced into camps or host families and villages (and more than 280,000 Darfuris remain in eastern Chad refugees, again overwhelmingly from the African tribes of Darfur) .  Despite widespread ethnically targeted violence, despite the continuing epidemic of rape, despite violent land appropriation by armed Arab groups, the international community simply watches as a hopelessly dysfunctional and ill-equipped UNAMID force becomes steadily weaker.  And perhaps most shamefully, given previous international demands—including from the UN Security Council—Khartoum continues a relentless and utterly ruthless aerial bombing campaign against civilians. 

Darfur’s invisibility derives at least in part because of its remoteness and unfamiliar geography; this unfortunate geographical fate has over ten years created a blurred sense of what is occurring and where, with the inevitable effect of diminishing the power of the reporting that does manage to continue, especially by Radio Dabanga.  In response, I am presenting representative accounts form Radio Dabanga from the past three months, organized by region and beginning with West Darfur.  Along the way I offer detailed cartographic data and nomenclature, administrative divisions, and precise locations of particular incidents. As preface, I offer here a summary account of some key features of Darfur’s geography.

Darfur delineated

I should emphasize that I preserve in this account the old administrative division of Darfur into three states, instituted in 1994 by the National Islamic Front as a means of weakening the Fur politically (the non-Arab, or African, Fur are the largest ethnic group in Darfur).  These states are West Darfur, North Darfur, and South Darfur.  Khartoum’s further administrative division of Darfur last year—creating an "East Darfur" and a "Central Darfur"—has no basis in history or logic.  It is wholly expedient, the administrative version of "divide and conquer."  Areas in this factitious "Central Darfur" were essentially carved from the old West Darfur, and in speaking about areas and locations of this notional "Central Darfur" I have consistently preserved the older state designation of West Darfur

In addition to state administrative boundaries, there are Locality and Rural Council boundaries.  These are best represented in what is unquestionably the most comprehensive extant set of Darfur maps and place names; it was produced by the Humanitarian Information Centre for Darfur in 2005.  These three "Field Atlases," one for each state, are indispensible, both cartographically and as gazetteers with latitude and longitude data (available at West Darfur,  North Darfur, and South Darfur).

Still, there is ambiguity and confusion: sometimes the wide range of transliterations from Arabic makes it difficult to identify specific locations in the Field Atlases; sometimes places that appear in the Atlas gazetteers do not appear on the maps, and sometimes appear on one map but not another (there are a dozen or so maps in each atlas).  Sometimes locations are not mentioned at all and can only be estimated on the basis of proximity to a known location.  Sometimes there are repeated uses of the same name (e.g., the seven "Habila’s" in West Darfur alone).  Sometimes the definite article (al- or el-) appears, sometimes it does not, sometimes if appears one way and other times another way.  There are a great many errors in the data for latitude and longitude, and even in identifying locations.  Still, the detail of these comprehensively researched Field Atlases permits sufficient accuracy that we may gain a clear sense of where most events are occurring and thus see patterns emerging.

One such pattern is the determination of Arab militia forces and armed groups to seize land previously owned and farmed by non-Arab/African tribal groups.  This accounts for a tremendous amount of the current violence, and is clearly accelerating.  Crops are burned, farms themselves are burned, farmers attempting to return to their lands are murdered, women and girls in their families are raped, and intimidation in various forms makes clear that the violent seizure of arable and pasturable land is far from over, and that the armed groups allied with the Khartoum regime continue to have an overwhelming advantage in land disputes.  This can only fuel further fighting by rebel groups.  Thus despite a decade of conflict, the dynamic of violence is largely unchanged.  The failure of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur adds a grim emphasis to this basic fact.

A second pattern emerges from the growing number of attacks by Arab militia forces and heavily armed bandits on local police forces, a few of which have been more responsive to the needs of local people than Khartoum’s SAF or Military Intelligence.  The impunity that allows such brazen attacks on police stations to continue—resulting in loss of life, as well as the heisting of arms and valuables—is largely condoned by Khartoum and the Sudan Armed Forces.  No serious effort has been made to halt this highly consequential threat to regional security.

A third pattern evident is the relentlessness of the aerial assault on civilian life in Eastern Jebel Marra, a populous region of Darfur that has proved largely impregnable to Khartoum’s ground assaults, except for Deribat and Golo (the latter recently captured by one element of the Sudan Revolutionary Front [SRF]).  In turn, the international community has simply refused to hold Khartoum accountable for its continuing and egregious violations of international law—the targeting or indiscriminate bombing of civilian sites—and the demands of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005), which prohibit all military flights over Darfur—flights of the sort chronicled relentlessly by Radio Dabanga on the basis of eyewitness reports.

The reports on West Darfur below, all from Radio Dabanga, are identified by Locality and Rural Council location, and I have highlighted peripheral villages, camps, and towns that are identified by name within the Radio Dabanga dispatches.  A good overview map of Darfur, with nearly all these major geographical markers, can be found in a UN planning map (PDF).  This map will allow a reader of the dispatches below to see clearly just how widespread violence and acute humanitarian distress are, and where civilian insecurity is greatest.

Importantly, I have combined the Radio Dabanga reports on West Darfur with those on "Eastern Jebel Marra," even when this is not strictly the geographical case.  For the Jebel Marra massif lies at the point where the three states of Darfur come together, although the strikingly elevated topography of Jebel Marra is primarily in West Darfur and North Darfur.  When a Radio Dabanga report refers to bombing in "Eastern Jebel Marra," it is often to sites that lie very close—twenty miles or less—to the densely populated West Darfur/North Darfur border.  The Sudan Armed Forces do not discriminate between the two states in their attacks, even as they do not discriminate between civilian and military targets.  Since the subsequent brief on violence in North Darfur will be the most extensive of the three, I have decided that it makes most sense to include all bombing attacks on "Eastern Jebel Marra" in the present West Darfur brief, even if the targets are simply very close to the West Darfur/North Darfur border, as in the case of Suu SawwaTaradonaKatoor, and others. 

There is a larger issue here in offering an overview of West Darfur. UNAMID and the international community have finally found it impossible to continue accepting the rosy picture of Darfur as painted by the likes of former UN/AU special representatives to UNAMID Ibrahim Gambari and Rodolphe Adada.  International actors of consequence now find it untenable to accept claims by the former chief UN humanitarian officer in Darfur, Georg Charpentier, viz., that Khartoum does not interfere at all with humanitarian access and that security is actually improving.  But in moving away from this wholly unwarranted optimism, indeed outright distortion, the face-saving strategy has been to emphasize only violence in North Darfur.  Thus, for example, as recently as mid-September 2012, Dane Smith declared: "West Darfur is relatively stable although there are some problems with criminality there" (Interview with Radio Dabanga, September 21, 2012).

While events since late July justify a particular concern for North Darfur—especially in the areas near Kutum, Mallit, Hashaba, and Tabit—this should not work to obscure the obscene violence that continues in both South and West Darfur.  This is one reason I have begun this three-part overview with a survey of violence and the loss of humanitarian access in West Darfur, and the adjacent region of Eastern Jebel Marra.

Geographical overview of security and humanitarian issues in West Darfur

West Darfur has seven Localities (Kulbus, el-Geneina, Zalingei, Mukjar, Jebel Marra, Habillah, Wadi Saleh); each of these has several Rural Council areas, which will be important identifiers in the accounts that follow (Radio Dabanga frequently uses "Rural Council" and "Locality" interchangeably, which can be a source of some confusion; I have consistently followed the nomenclature of the Darfur Field Atlases).  All this information can be found on the "Administrative Units" page of any one of the Darfur Field Atlases.  What is striking in examining in the dispatches from Radio Dabanga is how dispersed and widespread the violence is in West Darfur, and the foolishness of assessing the region as a whole on the basis of one highly controlled visit to a single location—a visit which in any event would certainly have been permitted only if the Khartoum regime felt it advantageous to have this location seen.

It will be useful, then, to begin with Nyuru (also Nurei and Nuri), the dateline for a New York Times dispatch of February 26, 2012.  Nyuru is in West Darfur, el-Geneina Locality, Mornei Rural Council area (located at 13.19/latitude and 22.83/longitude). The Times dispatch seems an all too fitting example of what happens when the geography of Darfur is ignored, or when excessive generalizations are made on the basis of a very highly limited geographic perspective.  The Times dispatch began by claiming,

"More than 100,000 people in Darfur have left the sprawling camps where they had taken refuge for nearly a decade and headed home to their villages over the past year, the biggest return of displaced people since the war began in 2003 and a sign that one of the world’s most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled."

This claim about "returns" has been comprehensively rebutted by highly informed Darfuris, including the (omdachief administrator for the Mornei Rural Council area following his fact-finding trip to Nyuru to assess the findings of the Times dispatch.  Much of the evidence adduced by Darfuris has to do with the striking geographical improbability of such returns to this particular location, certainly in a way that could manage to go undetected by the Mornei community.  In fact, the only source for the Times on the ground was a hopelessly compromised and powerfully self-interested UNAMID.  The "villagers" interviewed by the Times were almost certainly—as Radio Dabanga later reported—not Darfuri Africans returning to their village but Arab land grabbers, performing as required on the occasion of this visit under the severe scrutiny of Military Intelligence (which has taken the lead intelligence role throughout the Darfur conflict).

The implied claims about returns from Chad, also in the Times dispatch, were decisively rejected by the representative of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Chad.  But since the New York Times is so influential, and because the newspaper—including its foreign editor—insisted on standing by this story, it will be worth noting the proximity to Nyuru of recent violence and insecurity in West Darfur. Now ten months old, the Times dispatch is still the most recent news dispatch with a Darfur dateline outside one of the three state capitals. 

The Times seems entirely ignorant of earlier reports on claimed "returns" of displaced non-Arab civilians:

“[Seven] families who came back to the Guldo 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.” (Radio Dabanga, July 26, 2011, “Voluntary Repatriation: 7 families found in a critical state”)

Nor does the Times make mention of repeated reports that the area of Nyuru has not seen resettlement by those native to the land, but rather by Arab groups from Darfur, from Chad, even from Mali and Niger.  Months before the Times dispatch Radio Dabanga had reported:

"Complaining farmers from Guido Camp (West Darfur [Jebel Marra Locality]) 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." (July 26, 2011)

More recently Radio Dabanga reports that a Khartoum official is selling the land of IDPs in Mornei, West Darfur (about 15 miles south of Nyuru):

"Residents at internally displaced persons camp at Mornei in West Darfur complained that the land they were displaced from named Bobai Amer is being sold off as residential land. A camp leader said to Radio Dabanga the land which is used for farming, is being sold by Muhammed Arbab Khamis of the ruling National Congress Party [as residential land] …. " (27 January 2012)

Most tellingly, Radio Dabanga also reports on the villages and farm areas that have been taken over by Arab groups from their displaced owners—and Nyuru is prominent among these:

New settlers in West Darfur chase displaced people from their lands

EL GENEINA, WEST DARFUR (15 July 2012):  Displaced people returning to their farmlands in West [ ] Darfur were chased from their lands by the new settlers. Sheikh Daoud Arbab Ibrahim Younis, head of the high committee for IDPs of the West Darfur state, told Radio Dabanga this issue is especially prevalent in the villages of Hashaba, Kuka, East Kuka, Krobbe and Ajabun. Some of these areas are completely occupied such as Affen Dibbi, Nurei …

[NB: Nurei is the alternative spelling for NYURU in the West Darfur Field Atlas]

…Tankoa and Takuda and many other areas surrounding El Geneina and For Baranga. Arab settlers, coming from Chad and Niger, moved to these lands after the outbreak of the war in Darfur in 2003 Sheikh Daoud told Radio Dabanga. IDPs often temporarily return to their lands for agriculture during the rainy season only to be threatened or forced to pay a sum of 100 Sudanese Pounds by the new settlers."

This is what the Times correspondent saw at Nyuru in February 2012, and yet there has been no correction or even acknowledgement that there is a problem with the original story.  And the process of violent land appropriation continues:

Armed men seize farms in West Darfur

EL GENEINA, WEST DARFUR (13 July 2012):  A group of pro-government armed men assaulted a number of farmers in West Darfur. After insulting and beating themthey burned down their farms. The men driving a land cruiser attacked the farmers on Tuesday evening in Jimmaizat Babiker and Hajer Bager, west of For Baranga. A farmer told Radio Dabanga that the militants expelled them from their lands and threatened to kill him if they returnedThe farmer said the armed men warned the farmers the area is meant for grazing and not for agriculture according to our source."

It becomes difficult to resist the conclusion that the Times correspondent was allowed to travel to Nyuru only because it could be made to seem a sign of "decisive cooling" in the Darfur conflict.  This was a fabrication in which UNAMID was shamefully complicit with the Khartoum authorities, and makes a mockery of the Mission’s professed concerns for civilian protection, including safe returns of the displaced and peaceful resolution of land disputes.

Certainly the dispatches from Radio Dabanga in the intervening months, and the past three months in particular, suggest no "decisive cooling" of violence in Darfur, which remains directed primarily against civilians.  Indeed, one of the most recent and disturbing Radio Dabanga dispatches reports on the efforts by Ali Kushayb to recruit new troops for his militia in West Darfur.  Ali Kushayb—also known as Ali Mohammad Ali Abdalrahman, and aqid al oqada, or "colonel of colonels"—has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on 42 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.  He was brutally active in West Darfur during the years of worst atrocity crimes:

"Ali Kushayb…has started to mobilize new people, eyewitnesses have told Radio Dabanga. They saw the former Janjaweed commander in the locality of Taham and Umm Nunu at the border of West and South Darfur. He was rallying on Sunday and Monday together with men who were together with him when they allegedly committed war crimes between 2003 and 2005.  [Kushayb] was mainly active in West Darfur (Wadi Salih and Mukjar). Apparently Kushayb is now openly recruiting a new militia." (Radio Dabanga [el-Geneina], December 24, 2012)

Responsible for thousands of killings and rapes, Kushayb is the emblem of the most violent phases of the Darfur genocide; his return to active militia recruitment is ominous in the extreme.

In short, West Darfur and Eastern Jebel Marra provide some of the starkest rejoinders to the Times article, entitled "A Taste of Hope Brings Refugees Back to Darfur"; all the following accounts come from Radio Dabanga.  They have been edited for length; what has been eliminated most often are the desperate pleas for international help (from UNAMID in particular) and the grimly repetitive reports of state and national officials failing to take action in the face of the most brutal crimes, with UNAMID powerless or unwilling to provide protection.

[1]  Farmers attacked by armed herders

MUKJAR (19 December 2012):  A number of farmers from the area of Jerny north of Mukjar in [formerly West] Darfur have reportedly been exposed to severe beatings by armed herders on Tuesday morning, 18 December. Sources told Radio Dabanga that more than 15 armed herders [NB:"herders" is the term typically used by Radio Dabanga to identify nomadic Arab groups and militias—ER], allegedly loyal to the government, attacked a group of 30 farmers while they were working on their farms. It was reported that the herders fired heavily in the air before beating the farmers with whips, crutches and rifle butts. According to onlookers, more than 10 farmers were injured. The herders reportedly released their cattle onto the farms with the purpose of destroying the harvest, the onlookers continued. They added that the farmers reported the incident to the police, but so far no action was taken. 

‘Unprecedented instability’

In West Darfur, villages in a number of areas are facing ‘unprecedented’ instability in the security situation. Sources attributed the reason for the instability to the early start of the outdoor season for herders before completion of the harvest. This has led to frictions between farmers and herders and has already claimed dozens of lives, a source added to Radio Dabanga.

[Again, Radio Dabanga regularly uses the terms "shepherds" and "herders" to refer to nomadic Arab groups, typically heavily armed—ER] [Jerny is in Mukjar Locality, Mukjar Rural Council]

[2]  More than 10 herders’ attacks in a week

MORNEI (15 October 2012):  Residents of camp Mornei in West Darfur complained to Radio Dabanga about the recurring attacks carried out by herders against them and their farms, on Monday 15 October. According to a camp representative the displaced have been exposed to more than 10 attacks during the last week and that the most recent incident happened on Monday morning. The representative said a number of displaced persons were shot and beaten with whips when they tried to prevent herders from entering their farms in Wadi Jangary, south of Mornei. He added that beatings and looting against camp’s residents by herders have increased in the past two days, adding that on farms in all of Wadi Jangary, Arro, Toure, Korney Toura were targeted.

[Mornei camp is in el-Geneina Locality, Mornei Rural Council; it is approximately 15 miles from Nyuru, dateline for the New York Times story, "A Taste of Hope Brings Refugees Back to Darfur"]

[3]  Third day of attacks in Saraf Jidad

SARAF JIDAD (21 November 2012): Armed herders allegedly attacked the area of Saraf Jidad, Sirba locality, in West Darfur on Tuesday November 20 for the third day in a row, Radio Dabanga has learned. An armed group of herders attacked Saraf Jidad camp in Sirba locality on Sunday morning and allegedly kidnapped three policemenThe reason for the attack, according to the perpetrators, is because they believe members of the community police killed a herder. They claimed to have found his body at Mruro area, five kilometers north of Saraf Jidad on Saturday. Additionally, the herders are being accused of torturing more than 60 camp residents and looting of homes, shops and properties. Omda of Saraf Jidad, Yahya Umla, described the situation in the region as ‘chaotic’. He claims that militias have been roaming the area since Friday and are still present, causing residents to flee, while others stay inside their homes in fear and panic.

Bashir al-Sanosi, adviser to [the Justice and Equality Movement] leadership, told Radio Dabanga that the militants attacked the area of Saraf Jidad after looting the local police station. Sanosi said he holds the state authorities responsible for the attacks, adding that ‘the perpetrators are loyal to the National Congress Party and their arms are supplied by the regime as well.’ The adviser continued that the state authorities are also responsible for burning farms in the areas of Bir Dagig and Kendebe about two weeks ago. He accused the government of West Darfur of ‘knowing about the burning of farms on forehand, with the purpose of starving residents and displacing them, to make room for new settlers,’ he added to Radio Dabanga from el-Geneina.

[Seraf Jidad is in Kulbus Locality, Sirba Rural Council]

[4]  Radio Dabanga Sudan: Fire Destroys Large Areas in Sirba

SIRBA (10 November 2012): A fire has reportedly destroyed large farm areas belonging to residents from the Kendebe and Bir Dagiq camps in Sirba locality, West Darfur, on Wednesday evening, 7 November. The fire, which began at 6pm and lasted until Thursday, started at Wadi Naxos and Namaty, Bear Dagiq, and expanded to Adel Tina, Kendebe, witnesses told Radio Dabanga. They said areas of about three to four square kilometers of millet and sorghum farms got completely destroyed. Locals accuse herders of starting the firewhich they said was the biggest—and the fifth—in a period of 10 days. A resident appealed to the Sirba commissioner and to state authorities to intervene and stop fires and attacks carried out by herders in the area.

[Kendebe camp is in Kulbus Locality, Sirba Rural Council]

[5]  Armed herders burn village of voluntary return in West Darfur

MESTERIHA (10 December 2012):  Armed herders have reportedly injured five members of the armed forces and burnt the village of Ronja for voluntary returns as well as two other villages to the ground, destroying crops and around 10 kilometers of agricultural lands, sources informed Radio Dabanga on Sunday, 9 December. The locality of Mesteriha in West Darfur has witnessed a series of attacks which reportedly started on Friday and continued until Sunday evening. Sources from the area reported that the attacks started on Friday when farmers informed the police about trespassing of herders onto their farmlands. [ ]

[Witnesses said] the herders attacked a truck en route from El Geneina and seized large quantities of sugar, flower and 22 thousand Sudanese pounds. They explained that the herders continued towards the village of Ronja for voluntary return near Mesteriha, and assaulted villagers before burning down the village. [ ] Witnesses [also] stressed that the incidents caused widespread fear among residents in the area. They added that residents fear renewed attacks by herders on Mesteriha and neighbouring villages.  They added to Radio Dabanga that the incident has prompted residents to consider fleeing to Chad, in search of safety and protection. 

[Mesteriha is in Mukjar Locality, Mukjar Rural Council]

[6]  Herders burn farms around Sirba camps

SIRBA (6 November 2012):  Residents of Sirba camps in West Darfur complained about herders’ attacks on their farms, pointing out that some farms were burned down, Radio Dabanga has learned on 6 November. The herders, armed and riding camels, also stole cows and sheep from the farms in the areas of Ajre, Denta, Goz Siggiat in western Kendebe area, in addition to burning four millet farms in the southern area of Kendebe, according to residents.

[Sirba camps are in Kulbus Locality, Sirba Rural Council]

[7]  Farmer gets seriously injured by herder

DELEIJ (8 November 2012) A farmer from Deleij area in Wadi Saleh locality, [formerly West] Darfur, got seriously injured after a herder attacked him in his own land, an eyewitness told Radio Dabanga. Abbas Ishaq was reportedly attacked when he tried stopping the armed herder from entering his farm on Monday evening, 5 November. The herder, who was riding a camel, hit the farmer’s head with an ax, according to the onlooker. The witness, who reported the incident to the police, also complained to Radio Dabanga about the repeated attacks on farmers carried out by herders in the area.

[Deleij is in Wadi Saleh Locality, Garsila-Deleige Rural Council; latitude 12.48/ longitude 23.25]

[8]  Tensions continue in Mesteriha, man killed

MESTERIHA (10 December 2012): A resident from the area of Mesteriha, West Darfur, was killed by armed herders on Sunday, 9 December, eyewitnesses told Radio Dabanga. Moreover, tensions continue in the locality of Mesteriha following attacks in the area over the weekend, according to testimonies.   At 5pm on Sunday a group of armed herders opened fire on Abdullah Mohamed Abker, killing him on the spot, as he was returning home from his farm, sources recounted. In the meantime, a witness asserted to Radio Dabanga that the situation in Mesteriha ‘remains tense’. He added that local residents expect the tensions to ‘escalate at any time’ due to the gatherings of armed herders in the area. Radio Dabanga reported that the locality of Mesteriha has witnessed a series of attacks, which sources claim to have occurred between Friday and Sunday. They suggested the events were triggered when farmers informed the police about trespassing of herders onto their farmlands. The attacks left five members of the armed forces injured, sources declared. Besides, they said herders burnt three villages to the ground, including the village of Ronja for voluntary return. Residents from Mesteriha and neighbouring villages have not left their homes since Friday until Monday evening as a result of the ‘tense situation’, a source informed Radio Dabanga. He added that the main roads leading to El Geneina, Foro Baranga and Habila are all blocked

[Mesteriha is in Mukjar Locality, Mukjar Rural Council]

[9]  Herders trespass farms in Umm Dukhum, sources

UMM DUKHUM (10 December 2012): Herders have reportedly trespassed farmlands in several locations in Central Darfur to graze their livestock, a source from Umm Dukhum told Radio Dabanga on Sunday, 9 December. When farmers tried stopping the livestock from entering their land, herders threatened them at gunpoint, the source continued. The farms invaded by herders are located in the following villages: Tagore, Hajar Sultan, Hillat Adam Fur, Geneina, Kemejr and Guntur, according to the source. He stressed that the police and joint forces were informed about the incident; however, no action has been taken so far.  

[Umm Dukhum is in Mukjar Locality, Umm Dukhum Rural Council]

[10]  Farmers complain about herders’ attacks

ABU SURUJ (25 October 2012): Farmers from Abu Suruj camp in West Darfur complained about their farms’ exposure to repetitive attacks carried out by herders, they told Radio Dabanga on Tuesday October 23. A displaced woman from Abu Suruj told Radio Dabanga that the herders enter their cattle into the farms by force. She pointed out that the herders abuse the farmers who try to prevent them from entering their cattle into the farms. It was added that the farmers informed local authorities, as well as the local commissioner, about the attacks but no action has been taken to stop the herders.

At the same time, farmers from El-Geneina and Sirba localities complained about abuse and death threats by herders wearing military uniforms. In addition, they complained about the herders entering their cattle into the farms by force. A source disclosed to Radio Dabanga that 3 herders, wearing military uniforms, amputated the hands of a farmer named Abdullah Nour Ahmed at Bear Kilab area. He added that they beat and whipped a number of other farmers in several areas of Sirba locality, threatening to kill them if they tried to stop their cattle from grazing.

[Abu Suruj camp is in Kulbus Locality, Sirba Rural Council]

[11]  Attacks against women rise in Hamidiya

HAMIDIYA (5 October 2012):  Displaced women living at Hamidiya camp in Zalingei, [formerly West] Darfur, have complained about the rise of pro-government militias’ assaults against them recently. The women said that dozens of them were attacked in the past two weeks, adding that the last attack happened on Wednesday, 3 October, against a woman and her daughter. According to witnesses the victims were working on their farm near the camp when gunmen riding camels shot them after they resisted a rape attempt. Both women got severely injured and are now in a Zalingei hospital for treatment, witnesses explained. A female camp’s leader told Radio Dabanga that women are commonly assaulted by pro-government militia when working in farms, collecting firewood, at markets and on roads. She added attacks include rapes, beating, whipping and looting.

[Hamidiya camp is in in Zalingei Locality, Zalingei-Traige Rural Council (latitude 12.92/longitude 23.48)]

[12]  Two women raped in East Jebel Marra

EAST JEBEL MARRA (5 October 2012):  Eye-witnesses said that a 12-year old girl and a 28-year old woman were raped near the village of Suu Sawa, in East Jebel Marra, North Darfur [less than 20 miles from the West Darfur/North Darfur border—ER] , on Friday afternoon, 5 October. They told Radio Dabanga that members of the Sudanese armed forces were behind the attacks. Witnesses said a convoy of 13 vehicles belonging to the government forces, which was coming from El-Fasher, drove towards a well at about 3pm where some women were fetching water.

NB: Sources recounted that while some forces just stood on the side laughing, others approached them and said they had orders to rape all women suspected of having links with the rebels.  The soldiers added that everyone in the area, including the rebels, should die and that their bodies must be disposed, sources continued. 

The incident took place about 15km north of Kunjara area, east Khazam Tinjur, in East Jebel Marra, where the government troops have a base.  Local residents also blamed Al-Khadi, a pro-government militia leader, for inciting all the crimes and violations in the area. They said he is the "eye of the government" and should be brought to the ICC, in The Hague.

[13]  Series of assaults in Bindissey, two raped

BINDISSEY (11 December 2012): Residents of camp Bindissey in [West] Darfur have witnessed a series of assaults carried out by members of the security services and the Sudanese army last week, they told Radio Dabanga on Tuesday, 11 December. They added two sisters were raped. A camp’s activist said that last Wednesday, two members of the security services abducted the sisters at gunpoint, took them out of the camp and raped them. The sisters’ family reported the incident to the police; however, they did not take any action against the perpetrators, even though they had been identified by the victims.

[Bindissey is in Wadi Saleh Locality, Bundis Rural Council]

[14] Sudanese soldier rapes 15-year-old girl

TENDELTY (30 October 2012): A Sudanese army soldier reportedly raped a secondary school student in the area of Tendelty west of El-Geneina in West Darfur on Monday evening October 29, Radio Dabanga has learned. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the soldier found the girl, who is 15 years of age, studying near the village, and forced her to come with him to a farm nearby. He said that the Sudanese soldier raped the girl at a farm near the village.  [ ] The witness complained to Radio Dabanga about the repetitive violations and abuse, sexual harassment in particular, by Sudanese army soldiers and pro-government militiamen in the area.

[Tendelty is in el-Geneina Locality, Masteri Rural Council] [Hamidiya camp is in in Zalingei Locality, Zalingei-Traige Rural Council (latitude 12.92/longitude 23.48)]

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.

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