Radio Dabanga: The Voice of Truth Amidst a Sea of UN Mendacity

By Eric Reeves

December 14, 2013 (SSNA) — On Friday evening, December 13, 2013, Radio Dabanga celebrated its fifth anniversary of reporting on Darfur from The Netherlands.  It was, inevitably, a somber event—and not simply because of the grim, often unspeakably cruel news that Radio Dabanga daily reports from all corners of Darfur.  On this occasion, Aicha Elbasri, former spokesperson for the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) made clear her intense dismay at the lies that UNAMID tells about itself, lies that are replicated within the UN system: the Secretariat, the humanitarian agencies, and most consequentially, the UN Security Council.  And yet while well aware of realities in Darfur, and the terrible inadequacy of UNAMID in fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians and humanitarians, the Security Council does nothing.  The deeply distorted reports from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on UNAMID and Darfur are also reflections of a fundamental dishonesty in what UNAMID says—and does not say—publicly about the terrifyingly chaotic insecurity that has engulfed the region over the past several years.  Ms. Elbasri has promised a full disclosure of what she has seen and what she knows if the UN does not in short order openly respond to charges she has formally submitted.

As someone who has written critically of UNAMID, and UNAMID (non)reporting, for a number of years, I find vindication but no comfort in the fact that the very harshest of my accusations have already been implicitly confirmed by a senior UN official who was on the ground, if relatively briefly, and that a much fuller confirmation will come from the UN or Ms. Elbasri herself (she resigned because she was not given adequate or accurate information by UNAMID).  A list of my own publications speaking to the dishonesty and incompetence of UNAMID, over several years, is included in Appendix 1.

None of this should be surprising to anyone who has taken the time to read the dispatches from Radio Dabanga.  There is a profound disconnect between what the UN mission reports and what Radio Dabanga conveys in such painful detail from the ground—with precise locations, dates, times, casualties, victims and perpetrators, as well as the specific nature of attacks.  The increasingly numerous humanitarian shortfalls are also reported in a way that we see nowhere else.  In the absence of international news reporting (which is denied all access to Darfur by the Khartoum regime) and the inability of human rights groups to obtain a reporting presence on the ground, UNAMID has felt free to twist, bend, and ignore the deadly truths that are squarely before those leading the operation.

I recently offered an account of one terrible, though not uncharacteristic, week of life in Darfur.  It is important to understand how small a picture this gives us, even as it is more than enough to suggest the sorts of violence, civilian insecurity, deprivation, sexual assaults, murder, and indiscriminate aerial bombardment endured by the people of Darfur (“Darfur Destroyed: A week in the life of a dying land,” November 27, 2013  The same ghastly picture is revealed in the following narrative organization of very recent events inside and outside Darfur.

What is not seen–or ignored

Such brutalized human existence continues unrelentingly largely because of the fundamental incapacitation of UNAMID, and the consequent recourse to mendacity as a means of obscuring the massive failure of this UN-sanctioned mission.  UNAMID has said nothing of consequence about events of recent week, sexual violence in particular, even as Radio Dabanga reported yesterday:

“Women experience violence daily”: West Darfur camp spokesperson

ABU SURUG (13 December 2013) – “The status of displaced Darfuri women is very bad because of the daily crimes and violence against them since 2003,” a spokesperson for the women in the camp of Abu Surug in Sirba locality, West Darfur, said. Halima Ishag Abdallah from the Abu Surug camp for the displaced told Radio Dabanga that the women in Darfur are confronted “with many forms of violence in all phases of their life….” Abdallah has strongly criticised statements by Sudanese officials who claim that there is no violence in Darfur. She believes those statements are completely false. “They experience violence on a daily basis.”

For its part UNAMID not only fails to protect women and girls, but fails to  report sexual violence that continues in epidemic proportions throughout Darfur.  In turn, using this absence of reporting as an excuse—he certainly knows better—Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his four reports on UNAMID and Darfur in 2012 failed even to note the issue of sexual violence in two of these reports, and gave only cursory attention in two others to what are egregious violations of international law, and remain a key weapon of war against the African tribal populations that are unable to work their lands, in large measure because of the threat of sexual violence against girls and women by militias typically allied with or afforded impunity by the Khartoum regime.  If we want to learn about such violence, we must rely on Radio Dabanga:

“Sexual violence a crisis in Sudan”: victims of rape speak out

OTTAWA, CANADA (8 December 2013) – Women who report being raped in Sudan are threatened and often accused of adultery. Victims of sexual violence are denied access to medical treatment, while they face many legal disadvantages.  “The women of Sudan are facing a crisis of sexual violence with no end in sight,” according to the report “Survivors Speak Out: Sexual Violence in Sudan,” released on 6 December. It has documented the pervasiveness of sexual violence against women in Sudanese regions. [Report available as PDF]

What does this report chronicle?  Radio Dabanga offers with painful regularity examples of precisely such sexual violence, most recently in a dispatch that is all too characteristic—and of which there are literally hundreds:

Three women gang-raped in West Darfur

SIRBA (11 December 2013) – Militiamen raped three women of the Bir Dageeg camp for the displaced in West Darfur on Monday. The spokesperson for the Sirba camps told Radio Dabanga that four “government-backed militiamen wearing military uniforms” assaulted three women in the area of Goz Segeit, west of the Bir Dageeg camp in the locality of Sirba. They were tending their farms in the morning, when the militiamen took them at gunpoint to Wadi Goz Segeit. There they alternately raped them. The women were released late on Monday evening. “The incident was reported with the police, but they did not do anything to pursue the criminals.” The spokesperson added that the women, 30, 25, and 18 years old, are in a state of shock. (all emphases in all quotations have been added—ER)

Similarly outrageous is the continuous aerial bombardment of civilians by Khartoum’s military aircraft, deliberately targeting civilians with indiscriminate Antonov bombers or (less frequently) using MiG jet aircraft to kill civilians.  In such cases, given the highly advanced military capabilities of MiG jets (especially the MiG-29s that Khartoum has more recently purchased), there can be no room for doubt about the commission of war crimes, which go unacknowledged and uninvestigated by UNAMID:

Darfur family of four killed by MiG jets strike East Jebel Marra

EAST JEBEL MARRA (12 December 2013) – A family of four was killed by aerial bombardments on Thursday morning in East Jebel Marra. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, a relative of the deceased said that two MiG jet fighters of the Sudanese Air Force dropped six bombs 3km west of Nimra village in East Jebel Marra at about 10.30am. Bahreldin Bashir Saleh, his wife Um El Kheir Yagoub Yahya, their son Jamal (12) and daughter, Samah (7), all died instantly.

Such dispatches inevitably end with a painfully familiar, if futile plea for protection:

The relative reiterated earlier appeals of East Jebel Marra residents to the UN and the Security Council to immediately intervene and “stop the indiscriminate aerial bombardments by the government and protect the civilians in Darfur.”

And in the dry (winter) season, such attacks can have widespread consequences:

Air raids burn villages and 400 acres of farmland in Darfur’s East Jebel  Marra

EAST JEBEL MARRA (26 November 2013) – The Sudanese Air Force have continued their aerial bombardments on the area of East Jebel Marra for the 15th consecutive day, prompting hundreds of families to flee. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, an East Jebel Marra resident said that since two months Antonovs are bombing the region almost daily: “The ongoing air raids torched villages in East Jebel Marra, and at least 400 acres of millet, sorghum, okra and tomatoes were burned.” “For the last two weeks, we have been suffering from high-density aerial bombardments on the areas north of El Malam, east of Deribat, and west of Tabit.”

Life under such constant, “high-density aerial bombardment” is nightmarish and extremely challenging

“We do not dare light a cooking fire”: East Jebel Marra residents

EAST JEBEL MARRA (19 November 2013) – An Antonov of the Sudanese Air Force reportedly killed two men south of Dady in East Jebel Marra. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, villagers in East Jebel Marra reported that Jarelnabi Salem Mohamed and Mahjoub Haroun Musa were killed when an Antonov bombed them at about 12am of 19 November. The men were on their way to Nimra with their carts loaded with sorghum harvested at their farmlands south of Dady. The bombardment also ignited fires in the area that burned until the evening. The villagers noted that the conditions in which they have to live, have become extremely bad. “We are afraid to leave out houses, go to our farmlands or the market, or even to light a fire to cook on.” [Many foods in Darfur require cooking to become edible—ER]

It seems to matter not at all—to UNAMID, to the Secretary-General, or to the Security Council—that all such military flights are clearly in violation of the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005).  And yet there is not a shred of evidence that Khartoum’s SAF or political leadership feels anything but complete impunity in conducting such attacks, which in aggregate are “crimes against humanity,” as defined by the Rome Statute that is the basis for the International Criminal Court (see “They Bombed Everything that Moved,” update of September 2013 for Darfur).

These facts have not escaped the notice of Gambian jurist Fatou Bensouda, currently the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, who recently spoke with extraordinary force and honesty to the Security Council, using language that was widely reported, here by the UN News Centre (December 11, 2013):

It is “an understatement” to say the victims of Sudan’s Darfur conflict have lost all hope, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said today, reiterating her “frustration and despair” at the United Nations Security Council’s “inaction and paralysis,” and urged it to take firm action to bring those indicted for war crimes to justice. In its resolution 1593 (2005), the Council asked the Hague-based Court to investigate war crimes in Darfur, and in 2009, ICC judges issued arrest warrants against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and other top officials for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur.

“The time has come for this Council and States Parties to seriously devise strategies for arresting those alleged to be responsible for these crimes,” Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the 15-member body during her office’s latest briefing on the conflict between the Government and various armed groups which led to the deaths hundreds of thousands of people and displaced two million more since it first erupted in early 2003.

“This is the only way to stop the seemingly endless suffering of the Darfur victims,” she said, calling it a “serious indictment on this Council and on States Parties” that Mr. Bashir and others have been able to show “blatant disregard” for the Council’s resolutions and travel to various countries without fear of arrest. “The situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate and the plight of Darfur victims continues to go from bad to worse,” she stressed noting that this year alone 460,000 people have been newly displaced, with the numbers of people killed, abducted and displaced growing each year.

“This Council’s silence even when notified of clear failures and/or violations by UN Member States of their obligations to comply with this Council’s resolutions only serves to add insult to the plight of Darfur’s victims.” Giving an overview of alleged crimes which continue to be committed and “cry out for full investigations,” Ms. Bensouda cited allegations of Defence Ministry attacks targeting civilians as well as attacks by rebel movements; criminal acts against displaced persons and abductions of, and attacks on humanitarian aid workers and peacekeepers.

She also noted aerial bombardments and “the pervasive and corrosive effect of organized sexual and gender-based violence” on women and girls, which remains seriously under-reported. Ms. Bensouda said Resolution 1593 represented hope for Darfur’s victims: “hope that there would be an end for their suffering; hope that there would be accountability for crimes and that justice would not only be done but would be seen to be done; and above all, hope that lasting peace and security would return to Darfur. That hope was strengthened even further when this Council mandated my Office to report on progress every six months to enable the Council to remain actively seized of their plight. Sadly, with each report provided by my Office to the Council, the hopes of the victims of Darfur have faded. With this eighteenth report, it would be an understatement to say that all hope is lost.”

She noted that the 10-year conflict has cost UN and humanitarian aid organizations more than $10.5 billion and led to the deaths of 47 aid workers, with many more injured and abducted, and with attacks on peacekeepers appearing to become the norm, with a record number of 57 killings.

“In spite of the frustrations, challenges and obstacles, my Office’s determination to carry out the mandate given to it by Resolution 1593 has not and will not waver,” she stressed. But, she added, “Without stronger action by this Council and States Parties, the situation in the Sudan is unlikely to improve.”

Radio Dabanga also reported on Bensouda’s strenuous speech and noted in particular a comment by the French ambassador to the UN: “The chairman of the Council, French Ambassador Gerard Araud, admits the inaction: ‘We are ready to move forward, but the council is blocked by some countries.’”  The reference to China and Russia could not be clearer, highlighting yet again how dysfunctional the Security Council has become, even in responding to urgent humanitarian crises and acute civilian insecurity.  And Bensouda’s explicit conclusion has long been true:

“Alleged perpetrators of serious crimes against the civilian population will continue to commit crimes unless they are brought to justice,” she said. (Associated Press [New York], December 11, 2013)

[ Notably, two days before the Gambian Bensouda spoke, Thabo Mbeki had again trotted out his facile and tendentious argument against the ICC, declaring "he is critical of the International Criminal Court and efforts to impose justice on Africa from the ‘outside,’ when the entire focus should be on bringing peace to the continent."  The assumption that peace and justice are at necessarily at odds makes very poor sense of the extreme violence that continues in Darfur precisely  because Khartoum and its military forces have enjoyed—for more than a decade—complete immunity from prosecution for crimes that should be brought before the ICC. A summary of Al Jazeera radio interview available at "LegalBrief Africa," December 9, 2013, No. 556).  Mbeki’s assessment seems especially perverse given his own decision to throw a diplomatic lifeline to the murderously violent and tyrannical Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. ]

An International Response?

The failure of the UN to act to enforce its own resolutions on Darfur ultimately represents a refusal by China or Russia to acknowledge the criminal nature of the Khartoum regime, and its serially genocidal counter-insurgency campaigns.  Nor is there any evidence that the Western members of the Security Council are willing to confront either China or Russia, despite ongoing genocide by attrition in Darfur, brutal counter-insurgency campaigns in South Kordofan and Blue Nile that have brought more than 1 million civilians into grave peril for lack of humanitarian access—and despite the recent bloody crack-down on political demonstrations, including (according to Amnesty International) “shoot to kill” orders against demonstrators, resulting in some 300 dead and many more wounded; perhaps 2,000 were imprisoned, and many remain incarcerated and tortured to this day.

Here we must ask what sort of signal is sent by the Dutch decision to afford Khartoum $200 million in debt relief.  The decision is hedged in various ways by Dutch officials, but the reality is that the signal is more important than the dollar amount: Khartoum reads this as a reason to hold on, that if The Netherlands can take such a step, perhaps ultimately they can prevail and enjoy debt relief from the more than $45 billion the regime owes externally.  Perhaps, the regime may also believe, this will be a signal to other potential creditors.  But of course the signals should be just the opposite: those with sufficient financial clout should declare publicly that they will not begin even preliminary considerations, or “technical” discussions, of external debt relief until Khartoum grants unfettered humanitarian access to Darfur, Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and Abyei (which would mean allowing Kadugli, South Kordofan, to serve as a humanitarian hub).  Similarly, a complete halt to aerial attacks on civilians must be demanded; this includes all flights by Antonov “bombers,” whose inherently crude and inaccurate bomb delivery method ensures they have no militarily useful precision.

Any discussion or initiation of debt relief, of any sort, is entirely premature and will only encourage the ruthlessly survivalist instincts in the increasingly embattled and financially overwhelmed National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime, which through gross self-enrichment and disastrous military expenditures has created an economic implosion, marked by uncontrolled inflation, a plummeting national currency, and an almost total lack of foreign exchange currency (with which to purchase, for example, wheat for bakers to make the bread that is a food staple for most Sudanese).

At the same time, it is clear that the Obama administration in the U.S.—having “de-coupled” Darfur from strategic negotiations with Khartoum over counter-terrorism intelligence—has also sent a message that it is still willing to “do business” with these génocidaires.  As Princeton Lyman, Obama’s former special envoy, declared in an interview in December 2011:

“Frankly, we do not want to see the ouster of the [Sudanese] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.”

Lyman and the Obama administration know full well that this is a preposterous wish; and if they needed further convincing they should simply review the ways in which Khartoum savagely quelled the demonstrations of this past September/October.  To understand such deep disingenuousness, however, we need to look elsewhere in U.S. Sudan policy.

While the International Community Dithers

The agonizingly slow and desultory peace processes that have dragged on for more than eight years show no signs of progress, and the major rebel groups from Darfur have joined the Sudan Revolutionary Front (which also includes the potent Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North).  The goal, ideally in alliance with northern riverine political forces, is precisely to compel a change of regime. The urgency of such change only grows.  For as a consequence of the lack of progress in peace talks, there is an accelerating change in land ownership, with African farmers suffering dispossession, violence, vicious extortion schemes, and increasingly aggressive Arab groups—and not simply from Darfur:

“New settlers” in W. Darfur demand military training, schools, health centres

KONDOBE (Radio Dabanga, 10 December 2013) – Residents of the Kondobe camp for the displaced have warned the governor of West Darfur of responding to the new settlers’ requests for military training centres, schools, and health centres. The Kondobe camp sheikh reported to Radio Dabanga that the state Governor visited the camp on Monday on the occasion of a programme combating violence against women. “The new settlers on their camels and horses and carrying their weapons, greeted the Governor and put several demands before him: the establishment of military training centres for the youth, and the establishment of schools and health centres in the areas of Korke, Libiri, Moraya and Dumta.” The sheikh explained that these areas are homelands (hawakeer) of people who have been displaced “because of the war and militia attacks. The lands were then inhabited by new settlers from Chad and other areas.” He pointed out that no opportunity was given to the representatives of the displaced, including the representative of the women, to talk to the governor.

Appropriation of land can take many forms, as Radio Dabanga frequently reports:

Herder kills woman farmer, frauds selling farmland in East Jebel Marra

EAST JEBEL MARRA (10 December 2013) – A woman farmer was killed by a herder in the area of Dubo in East Jebel Marra on Sunday morning. According to witnesses who spoke to Radio Dabanga, four residents of the area, known for being frauds, sold the farmland of Shagara Saleh Adam, together with 14 other agricultural plots, to herders in East Jebel Marra. The land of Adam was sold for SDG4000 ($698). When Adam, a displaced woman from the Shangil Tobaya camp, heard that her farmland at Dubo had been sold, she hurried to the place on Sunday morning, where she found a herder grazing his camels on the farmland. The herder told her that the farmland had become his property. When she tried to take the camels to a ring fence, he hit her on the head with his axe, killing her on the spot.

And beyond land appropriation, there is the violent seizure of lands by Arab groups seeking pasturage for their herds, as well as the spill-over effect of intensifying inter-Arab tribal conflict:

Central Darfur’s agricultural season failed, “camps suffer”

GARSILA (6 December 2013) – Farmers of the Wadi Salih locality in [formerly West] Darfur have said that the agricultural season has failed this year. The planting and harvesting have not been fruitful because of the lack of rain and the spread of agricultural pests this year. Their farmlands were destroyed by recent conflicts between Salamat and Misseriya tribes, which have led to clashes, and attacks by militiamen and armed herdsmen. One of the sheikhs of the camp for the displaced in Garsila affirmed the failed agricultural season. “The success rate of this year did not exceed. Another reason for the failure is the lack of the state’s control on armed shepherds attacking the farms during the planting and harvesting. There is no security for farmers on the way out of the camps, to the farmlands.” A chief of the camp that the reduction of food for the displaced has resulted in tense situations.

The overall effect of such actions has been devastating:

Mukjar, Darfur: Herdsmen kill farmer; 30% of crops in destroyed by grazing livestock

MUKJAR  (5 December 2013) – Armed herders killed a displaced man on his farmland, south of Mukjar town in [formerly West] Darfur. Sources from Mukjar reported to Radio Dabanga that Adam Mohamed Abdelrahman (27) was shot dead by armed herdsmen at about 8am on Wednesday. Abdelrahman had found camels grazing on his land and destroying his tomato plants. He led them to the ring fence created for lost livestock in the neighbourhood. When the camel owners arrived at the ring fence, they instantly fired at Abdelrahman, killing him on the spot. ”The shooting happened on a distance of only a few metres from the Abu Tira (Central Reserve Forces) compound, where troops from Khartoum are stationed.” “The herders shot Abdelrahman in front of the Abu Tira troops. They could take their camels and leave the place without any problem,” according to the one of the sources…. The source noted that about 30 per cent of the farms in Mukjar locality have been entirely destroyed as a result of herders’ livestock grazing.

Humanitarian conditions

Although the UN refuses to provide even tentative global figures for malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality, the constant snapshots of conditions provided by Radio Dabanga make clear that any such global statistics would be terrifying, and for just that reason Khartoum refuses to allow their promulgation:

Malnutrition rising in Sirba camps, West Darfur

SIRBA (3 December 2013) – Malnutrition is on the rise in all Sirba camps for the displaced in West Darfur. Many pregnant and lactating women are underfed too. The spokesperson for a Sirba camp told Radio Dabanga about cases of malnutrition in all Sirba camps among children below the age of seven years, as well as among pregnant and lactating women.   He explained that the Tarif Jidad hospital has received eight cases. In Bir Dageeg camp nine cases were recorded and in Armenkol 22, adding that there are many cases not yet recorded.

The spokesman attributed the reasons for the malnutrition to the humanitarian conditions the camp residents are living in. “The situation deteriorated quickly after the relief organisations stopped the distribution of food rations, two years ago. Due to the lack of a healthy diet, the number of pregnant women with anaemia as well as  complicated childbirths and deaths increased.”

Khartoum of course does nothing to alleviate the suffering and hunger of these Sudanese citizen, as has long been true for the peripheral regions.

For its part Radio Dabanga offers reports covering all of Darfur, making clear just how great human need is:

South Darfur camps lack food, health care and medicines

HASHABA / KUBUM (3 December 2013) – In the Hashaba camp for the displaced, Mershing locality, in South Darfur, children are suffering from high fever, coughing, and diarrhoea. The camp lacks medicines and health care. One of the camp sheikhs told Radio Dabanga that many children between 6 months and 9 years have been infected during the past couple of days. He appealed to the authorities and humanitarian organisations to provide the Hashaba camp with medicines and health care “as soon as possible.”  In the Kubum camp in South Darfur, food rations have been halted since the beginning of October. The camp population is also suffering from a lack of health services and medicines, a camp sheikh reported to Radio Dabanga. He noted that Kubum camp houses 2,200 displaced people, in addition to new arrivals and newborns totalling more than 1,500 persons.

Threats to humanitarians, which have increased significantly despite UNAMID’s silence on the issue, are becoming more acute, and the attackers more brazen:

Militiamen plunder compound of aid organisation in Central Darfur

NIERTETI (1 December 2013) – Militiamen have stolen all computers and a large sum of money from the compound of an Islamic aid organisation in Nierteti, Central Darfur, seriously injuring an employee of the organisation. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, a listener reported that eight militiamen wearing military uniforms” stormed the premises of an Islamic aid organisation in Nierteti on Friday at about 2am. They severely kicked Tayeb Hamed Ahmed, the employee present at the time, and beat him with rifle butts, after which they took SDG20,000 ($3,500) and all the computers.

And the number of humanitarian workers actually killed continues to rise remorselessly; most recently:

Two Sudanese aid workers killed in West Darfur

November 29, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – Two Sudanese health workers are killed in West Darfur state while they were participating in a nationwide measles vaccination campaign launched this week. The United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, Ali Al-Za’tari, issued a statement on Friday morning to condemn the killing of the two workers. Al-Za’tari “strongly condemns the killing of two Sudanese Ministry of Health staff, a vaccinator and a driver,” reads a statement released by his office. The humanitarian coordinator did not elaborate on the conditions of their death but called “on all parties” to protect the aid workers throughout the country. The region besides fighting between the rebels and the regular army and militiamen, is now the scene of tribal clashes. Also, armed gangs used to attack commercial convoys, UNAMID and UN agencies vehicles.

The growing insecurity conditions in Darfur region pushed international aid groups to hire Sudanese nationals. OCHA Sudan said last week that 97% of aid workers in Darfur region are Sudanese. Only 3% are international staff. Ten  years after the start of the insurgency and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, there are some 6,600 aid workers providing services to the displaced and vulnerable people.

The quiet but steady exodus of international humanitarian staff from Darfur will have continuing consequences, as they are often the most experienced and highly trained in camp management.  As camps become more frequently the targets by regime-allied militia groups, as humanitarian assistance becomes more erratic and deficient, as assessment capacity declines, and as maintenance issues are left unaddressed, we will see more large-scale morbidity and mortality.

Clean water is just as important as food, and it has become an increasingly scarce commodity, for reasons not unrelated to the withdrawal of international staff.  For the very large camps, such as Kalma and Otash (near Nyala, capital of South Darfur), the consequences may soon be catastrophic:

Acute drinking water shortage, “health disaster” in South Darfur camps

KALMA / UTASH (26 November 2013) – The Association of Displaced Persons and Refugees of Darfur has expressed its grave concern about the “health disaster” in the South Darfur camps for the displaced due to a lack of adequate hospitals and health centres in comparison with the number of camp residents. Hussein Abu Sharati, the spokesperson for the Association explained to Radio Dabanga there are less than five health centres in Kalma camp, while it houses 260,000 people. “The deterioration of the humanitarian and health situation and the lack of potable water have led to the outbreak of diseases among the camp residents, in particular malaria, typhoid, diarrhoea, hepatitis, and urinary retention.”

Reports on water shortages and sanitation issues appear with dismaying frequency in Radio Dabanga, as do reports of inadequate shelter and blanket supplies as Darfur’s winter is upon these people (temperatures can drop quite low in this region after sunset).

Beyond this we gain some sense of the profound demographic and geographic shifts that have occurred over the past eleven years and will continue to occur for means years hence.  Many of the larger camps will become “suburban” slums, especially those around Nyala and el-Fasher, with little employment, few resources, and many potential rebel recruits and outlaws among young men who have had no education and seen the better part of their youth wasted in camps for the displaced.  A recent dispatch from Radio Dabanga gives an ominous vision of the economic future for many displaced persons

Displaced woman assaulted by militiamen in Mershing, South Darfur

MERSHING, South Darfur (13 December 2013) – Militiamen seriously injured a woman from the Silo camp for the displaced in Mershing locality, South Darfur on Thursday. They stabbed her three times in her back and chest outside of the camp. A Silo camp resident told Radio Dabanga that two government-backed militiamen wearing military uniforms” attacked a displaced woman who was collecting straw south of the camp.

Meanwhile, sheikhs of the camps in Manawashi in South Darfur have complained about the “semi-collective displacement” of men and women who are in search of work. This is caused by the failure of the agricultural season, the lack of food provided by humanitarian organisations as well as the lack of security in the region, they have claimed. One of the sheikhs has said that women are mostly moving to localities of Nyala, Kass, Tullus, El Salam, and Katayla to work on the farmlands or in brick factories. Men go searching for work in Khartoum, Gedaref [eastern Sudan], and South Sudan.

It becomes increasingly difficult to see how Darfuri society can be reconstructed along lines that are stable, mutually accommodating, and fair in the treatment of those who have lost land, possessions, towns, family, friends, and virtually all else.  The Darfur that existed before this war will likely never be seen again in recognizable form.  There were visible trends well before full-on violence began in February 2003, indeed since the Fur-Arab war of the late 1980s.  Desertification has played a major role in exacerbating ethnic tensions, as did the importing from Gaddafi’s Libya a hateful Arab supremacism that took form in the guise of the “Arab Gathering.”  But it was Khartoum’s decision in April 2003 to redirect military efforts away from confrontation with the armed rebel groups to the destruction and displacement of civilians perceived as their supporters that marked the beginning of the end for Darfur.

After eleven years of international failure, or refusal, to recognize the Khartoum regime for what it is—and its utter contempt for UN Security Council resolutions—the regime’s unblemished record of reneging on all agreements made with various Sudanese parties stands intact.  It has become virtually impossible to imagine what forces within the UN or the world community will bring to bear the necessary pressures to halt suffering and destruction in Darfur, and the massive threats to human lives and livelihoods in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where many thousands have already died in personal and even statistical anonymity.

The Failure of UNAMID

What of the putative international “responsibility to protect” civilians such as those in Darfur?  In September 2005 the General Assembly voted to include in an “Outcome Document” paragraphs (§138, §139), which make  explicit that this responsibility should over-ride claims of national sovereignty such as Khartoum has insistently made.  The UN Security Council formally endorsed the “Outcome Document” the following year.  What, then, do we say of a UNAMID, which has failed so badly and  yet is being appropriated by many, especially in Africa, as a model for how the “responsibility to protect” should work?  Is this really the best that can be done in situations like that of Darfur in 2006, when in fact the Security Council proposed in Resolution 1706 a robust, fully equipped UN peacekeeping force.  Of course nobody can reasonably argue as much.  For sadly, whatever the original intentions of the mission, Khartoum sufficiently compromised or curtailed its composition, its freedom of movement, and its ability to bring in essential equipment—all so as to render failure inevitable.

Almost inconceivably, since UNAMID’s deployment in January 2008, some 2 million Darfuri civilians have been newly displaced, a staggering figure however we look at it.  And in Darfur we also know that far and away the most powerful engine of displacement is violence, violence that UNAMID has done almost nothing to control.  Thus it is especially dismaying that so many UNAMID soldiers, many of them able and committed, have been killed.  In virtually all cases where there is evidence available, Khartoum-allied militia forces have been responsible.  Ban Ki-moon repeatedly calls for the regime in Khartoum to apprehend quickly those responsible for these many killings (57 since January 1, 2008).  To date, there has not been a single arrest for incidents such as this:

UNAMID peacekeeper killed in North Darfur attack

EL FASHER (25 November 2013) – An African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) convoy came under attack by unknown gunmen on Sunday in North Darfur. One soldier from Rwanda who was shot during the assault died of his wounds in the Mission’s hospital in Kabkabiya. The death of the Rwandan soldier has now raised to14 the number of peacekeepers the Mission has lost in 2013 alone.

The UN Department of Peacekeeping operations is exceedingly reluctant to speak any more honestly than the Secretariat or UNAMID itself; for any honest assessment would necessarily conclude that at almost $1.5 billion per year, the Mission is massively cost-ineffective, even when compared with other UN peacekeeping missions of any substantial size.  Far from being a model “worthy of emulation” as the ever-expedient African Union Peace and Security Council declared last May, it is a case study in how not to approach such a demanding peacekeeping mission, and in particular how not to deal with the host regime or government.  Far from advancing the idea of a “responsibility to protect” endangered civilians from attack, externally or by their own government, UNAMID has shown just how expensive a fig-leaf can be within the currently configured UN, and just how far the African Union has gone in reincarnating itself as the old Organization of African Unity.

Who will tell these truths?

As Radio Dabanga marks its fifth anniversary, it should be noted that not only is it intrepid, not only do people on the ground take extreme risks in conveying information to Radio Dabanga, but its journalistic quality has continued to grow.  We now have—from the very midst of a ghastly maelstrom of suffering and deprivation, in one of the most remote places on earth—a reliable, dedicated, and highly informative news service.  There is precious little for the people of Darfur to be thankful for.  Radio Dabanga should, however, be the source of continual thankfulness on the part not only of Darfuris, but all who care about human rights, humanitarian relief to those severely deprived, and the suffering of our fellow human beings.

APPENDIX 1—Critiques of UNAMID and UNAMID leadership from the past several years:

“Civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region face wholesale destruction,” The Washington Post, July 28, 2013 (Sunday)
“Passive in the Face of Sudan’s Atrocities,” The Washington Post, February 12, 2012
“Genocide by Attrition in Sudan,” The Washington Post (Sunday), April 6, 2008

Academic Publications:

“Humanitarian Obstruction as a Crime Against Humanity,” African Studies Review Volume 54, Number 3 (December 2011), pp. 165 – 74
“Getting Darfur Wrong,” Review of Mahmood Mamdani’s Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on TerrorDissent Magazine, Volume 56, Number 4 (Fall 2009) (quarterly print edition)
“Refusing to Save Darfur,” Dissent Magazine (Fall 2008) (quarterly print edition)
“Genocide Without End: The Destruction of Darfur,” Dissent Magazine (Summer 2007) (quarterly print edition)
“Evil and Ignorance: The Case of Darfur,” Dissent Magazine (on-line), January 26, 2012 (featured article)

Lengthier analyses, most appearing in Sudan Tribune or other on-line news venues:

• “Darfur Destroyed: A week in the life of a dying land,” November 27, 2013:
• “Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: A Climate of Violence and Extreme Insecurity,” August 5, 2013:
• "Killing UN Peacekeepers: A Ruthless Proclivity of Khartoum’s SAF, Militia Proxies," May 9, 2013:
• "Human Security in Darfur Enters Free-Fall," March 20, 2013:
• "Human Security in Darfur, Year’s End 2012: South Darfur," January 11, 2013, Sudan Tribune
• "Growing Violence in Darfur Deserves Honest Reporting, Not More Flatulent UN Nonsense," December 1, 2012:
• "Darfur: Peacekeeping and Atrocity Crimes Don’t Mix," Enough Project, November 21, 2012 [on UNAMID’s medevac of wounded SAF troops]
• "Violence in Hashaba, North Darfur: A brutal portent, another UN disgrace," October 30, 2012:
• “Darfur: UN Failure and Mendacity Culminate in an Avalanche of Violence,” August 12, 2012:
• "Darfur Moves Yet Deeper into the Shadow of Lies," July 22, 2012:
• "UN Chief for Darfur [UNAMID’s Ibrahim Gambari] Attends Celebration Hosted by Top Janjaweed Leader" (Enough Project, February 1, 2012:
• "Darfur: The Genocide the World Got Tired Of," November 24, 2011:
• "Rape as a Weapon of War in Darfur," November 20, 2011:
• "The UN’s Man in Darfur: The Expedient Mendacity of [UNAMID chief] Ibrahim Gambari," September 19, 2011:
• "Darfur: No Way Forward from a Dangerous and Unsustainable Situation," August 30, 2011:
• "Reporting Darfur: Radio Dabanga and the ‘Black Box’ Genocide," African Arguments (on-line), August 18, 2011:
• "Darfur Is Getting Worse," from The New Republic, June 4, 2011
• "Obama and Darfur: The Futility of Mere Hopefulness," Dissent Magazine (lead article on-line), January 21, 2011:
• "Darkness Visible: The UN Looks at Darfur But Refuses to See," Dissent Magazine (on-line), October 26, 2010:
• "Genocide: International Response to Khartoum’s ‘New Strategy for Darfur,’" Dissent Magazine (on-line), October 8, 2010:
• "UN Collaboration in the Silencing of Darfur," Dissent Magazine (on-line), September 5, 2010:
• “Who Speaks for the UN on Darfur?” The Role of Nigeria’s Ibrahim Gambari [UNAMID chief],” Dissent Magazine (on-line), August 25, 2010:
• “Shake Hands with the Devil: UN [UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari] Attends al-Bashir Inauguration,” May 27, 2010:
• “Civilians at Risk: Human Security and Humanitarian Aid in Darfur,” January 17, 2010:
• "Redefining Darfur’s Agony: A Shameless Betrayal," Sudan Tribune, September 26, 2009:
• “Darfur Enmeshed Within Sudan’s Broadening National Crisis,” March 3, 2009:

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author most recently of Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012.

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