El Salam Camp for displaced persons, site of recent Khartoum military assault, is a prism for all Darfur (accompanied by three appendices), 9 August 2014

By Eric Reeves

August 9, 2014 (SSNA) — One would never gather from the most recent report on Darfur and UNAMID by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (July 22, 2014) that the realities of El Salam camp over the past half year are painfully representative of camp conditions throughout Darfur (notably, as of August 9, 2014 this report does not appears on the UN’s UNAMID website).  In fact, Ban far too often settles for vague and unsupported generalizations in many areas, relying chiefly on a UNAMID force whose reporting integrity lies in shambles, given what we have learned from recent investigative journalism and past reporting (see also "Refusing to See Darfur," Sudan Tribune18 May 2014).  The picture of Darfur that emerges in the Secretary-General’s report has little to do with the realities reported from the ground, including by Radio Dabanga, Sudan Tribune, and confidential sources.

There are modest reporting improvements in this quarterly report: it has a brief section on sexual violence (the subject was omitted entirely from two reports from 2013), but the figures used are those provided by UNAMID and vastly understate the scale of this critical issue.  Ban reports, for example, that "there were 58 cases of sexual and gender-based violence, involving 103 victims." This is a preposterously low figure; Kalma camp alone suffered 39 rapes in the months of April and May of this year.

Most notably, however, the report acknowledges that the figure for displaced persons in Darfur is "2.5 million," a remarkable revision of the figure promulgated by the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs just a year ago: "1.4 IDPs registered in Darfur camps (excluding IDPs outside camps)" (Sudan Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 33 | August 12 – 18, 2014).  In other words, the figure OCHA had used for many months understated—if we use the current figure—by 1.1 million IDPs.  The UN push to reduce the number of Darfuri IDPs has been a scandal going back several years, one I have repeatedly detailed.  The figure corresponds well with a recent Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) survey that determined that about 2.3 million remained displaced.  The pre-war population of Darfur was likely between 6 million and 6.5 million; hundreds of thousands have died as a result of the war; 2.5 million people is a staggering percentage of the entire population, and it is overwhelmingly people of non-Arab/African ethnicity.  The DRA is hardly a reliable source, but the coincidence of its findings with the UN figure in notable.

Ban Ki-moon declares more fully in his report that:

Humanitarian needs generated by this new displacement come on top of the needs of some 2.5 million internally displaced persons, 1.7 million of who live in the camps. (§21)

But his report does remarkably little to explain how the humanitarian needs of the 800,000 displaced who are not in camps are surviving, and what kind of humanitarian access they have.  And in fact he can’t: he relies on UNAMID for the vast majority of his information and UNAMID simply does not have a presence outside its bases that would allow for meaningful assessment of this critical issue.  Moreover, Khartoum continues to deny access to both UNAMID and humanitarian organizations, allowing some movements but denying others.  Ban Ki-moon notes, as if this were of consequence, that the UN is now issuing monthly "notes verbales" to the Khartoum regime concerning its obstruction of UNAMID, which are no doubt read as simply comical exercises in diplomatic futility.

Perhaps most disgracefully, Ban indulges in painfully disingenuous accounts of improvement: "humanitarian access [in Darfur] improved in April and May"—but only comparison with an even more repressive period, "the first quarter of 2014" (§19).  And again, Ban is relying on thoroughly discredited UNAMID reporting. At times the disingenuousness is utterly shameless and meant to mollify Khartoum: he speaks, for example, of "the withdrawal in May of an international non-governmental organization from West, South, and East Darfur [that] left gaps in health and nutrition assistance."  But the organization in question, Merlin (UK), was expelled from Darfur by the Khartoum regime; their "withdrawal" was compulsory.

Appendix One (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nQ/) offers a brief overview of key claims, data, and generalizations in the Secretary-General’s report.  It is all too clear that UN deference to Khartoum overrides any commitment to tell the truth about human suffering and destruction in Darfur.

El Salam as our prism for seeing Darfur

I recently posted with brief comments a Radio Dabanga dispatch on the attack by Khartoum’s military and security forces on El Salam camp, just to the southeast of Nyala—the largest town in Darfur and where a very substantial contingent of UNAMID forces is based.  The original dispatch from Radio Dabanga was shocking in implication:

"Military raid on South Darfur’s El Salam camp," Radio Dabanga, 5 August 2014 (El Salam Camp, Bielel Locality, South Darfur)

A large military force stormed El Salam camp for the displaced in Bielel locality, South Darfur, on Tuesday morning [5 August 2014]. The army troops searched the camp and detained 26 displaced. “At 6.30am on Tuesday, army forces in about 100 armoured vehicles raided El Salam camp,” Hussein Abu Sharati, the spokesman for the Darfur Displaced and Refugees Association reported to Radio Dabanga on Tuesday afternoon. “The soldiers searched the camp, treating the displaced in a degrading and humiliating way. They assaulted the people, treating them as suspects, and detained 26 camp residents. The market was pillaged, and the personal belongings of many displaced disappeared.”

According to Abu Sharati, the search for criminals, motorcycles, vehicles without number plates, and weapons in the camp, was done “under the pretext of the new emergency measures issued by the Governor of South Darfur State.”  “But in fact the main objectives of this attack is terrorising the camp population, and the dismantling of the camp.” “Searches in this way constitute a violation of international humanitarian laws. They attacked the camp, beat and robbed the displaced, and pillaged the market. We do not know how many people were wounded yet. We are still are checking them, and inventorying the items missing.” 

On August 8, 2014, Radio Dabanga published a follow-up report on the attack on El Salam:

The displaced of Darfur hold the UN Security Council and UNAMID responsible for the military raid on El Salam camp for the displaced in South Darfur, at the beginning of this week. In a statement to Radio Dabanga, the coordinator of the South Darfur camps said the attack on the El Salam in Nyala is contrary to the rules of displacement and the United Nations. “It is the UN and UNAMID’s responsibility to protect the displaced. The camps are not havens for criminality; people enter these camps because of the ravages of war.”

The leader of El Salam camp, Sheikh Mahjoub Adam Tabaldiya, confirmed to Radio Dabanga that a combined force consisting of security services, the army, and the police stormed the camp with more than 150 military vehicles, led by Abdulrahman Gardud, Commissioner of Nyala locality. Sheikh Tabaldiya termed the raid a farce. “When they entered the camp, they told the elders that they were searching for alcohol and drugs, but they were really looking for vehicles belonging to the armed movements, and families of rebels.

“The military force did not find anything, but arrested more than 75 people and took them to the military court in Nyala. As there was no proof against them, all but four were released.” Aaron Saleh, Jacob Abdul Rahman Abdullah, Mahmoud, and Saleh Abdullah are reportedly still in detention in Nyala. Tabaldiya said that during the raid, 23 displaced people received various injuries as a result of beating and whipping.

To date there has been no public response from either UNAMID or the UN Secretariat, and even if such a response is forthcoming, it will certainly be no occasion for Khartoum to reconsider its actions.  A similar assault could take place tomorrow on any of the camps around Nyala—or el-Fasher, or el-Geneina, or indeed any of the roughly 100 camps, formal and informal, to which displaced persons have fled.  And UNAMID would be just as helpless to respond as it was when "a combined force consisting of security services, the army, and the police stormed the camp with more than 150 military vehicles."  Here we should note that there have been a number of very recent militia assaults on IDP camps, reported in detail by Radio Dabanga.

There are a number of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in such attacks, and at the very least we should hear these enumerated by international actors of consequence.  This is unlikely, and in the case of the African Union Peace and Security Council virtually inconceivable.

This was not always so.  Attacks on the camps began almost a decade ago, and I have regularly chronicled them.  The first major attack occurred in Aro Sharow in September 2005, and at the time the AU Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur (October 1, 2005) spoke forcefully and directly (see analysis of 9 October 2005):

On 18 September 2005, simultaneous attacks at Khartoum Djadeed, Sandego, Khasantongur, Tary, Martal and Djabain resulted in the death of 12 civilians, 5 seriously wounded, and the displacement of about 4,000 civilians. Heavy and small weapons mounted on vehicles were reportedly used by the Government of Sudan, in close coordination with about 300 Janjaweed Arab militia. Most of the displaced people moved to ZamZam and Tawilla Internally Displaced Persons camps. (Transcript of Kingibe press conference, Khartoum, October 1, 2005)

On 28 September 2005, just four days ago, some reportedly 400 Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback went on the rampage in Arusharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur. Our reports also indicate that the day previous, and indeed on the actual day of the attack, Government of Sudan helicopter gunships were observed overhead. This apparent coordinated land and air assault gives credence to the repeated claim by the rebel movements of collusion between the Government of Sudan forces and the Janjaweed/Arab militia. This incident, which was confirmed not only by our investigators but also by workers of humanitarian agencies and NGOs in the area, took a heavy toll resulting in 32 people killed, 4 injured and 7 missing, and about 80 houses/shelters looted and set ablaze.

The following day, a clearly premeditated and well rehearsed combined operation was carried out by the Government of Sudan military and police at approximately 11am in the town of Tawilla and its IDP camp in North Darfur. The Government of Sudan forces used approximately 41 trucks and 7 land cruisers in the operation which resulted in a number of deaths, massive displacement of civilians and the destruction of several houses in the surrounding areas as well as some tents in the IDP camps. Indeed, the remains of discharged explosive devices were found in the IDP camp. During the attack, thousands from the township and the IDP camp and many humanitarian workers were forced to seek refuge near the AU camp for personal safety and security.”

For his part, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon doesn’t even mention the very recent attacks on IPD camps, the most conspicuous evidence of the failure of the UNAMID mission.  Appendix Two (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nP/) offers examples of such violence by Khartoum-allied militias from just the past few weeks.  Again, none of this is discussed by Ban Ki-moon.

The displaced persons of El Salam include some of the most typical of Darfuris affected by relentless violence.  The arrival in early March 2014 of some 6,400 newly (and violently) displaced persons overwhelmed the ability of relief efforts in the camp and the area generally, with the result that Radio Dabanga reported shortly before the attack on the camp:

The 6,387 newly displaced people in El Salam camp in Bielel locality, South Darfur, who arrived at the camp for more than five months ago, have not been provided relief until now. Camp sheikh Mahjoub Adam Tabaldiya told Radio Dabanga that though the newly displaced have been registered, they have not received any aid. “They have nothing to eat, and are still living in the open and sleeping on the ground, since they arrived at the camp early March. The rains have worsened their suffering.”

The newly displaced fled their villages in the area southeast of South Darfur’s capital of Nyala when paramilitary Rapid Support Forces launched widespread attacks on more than 100 villages in the area on 27 and 28 February. Tabaldiya said that the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commissioner of South Darfur State, Jamal Yousif, visited the camp on Saturday. “After the leaders of the newly displaced explained their problems to him, he promised to solve their problems within 48 hours. Nothing happened so far.”  The camp sheikh appealed to relief organisations to provide tents or tarpaulins, and food to the newly displaced “as soon as possible." (Radio Dabanga, 5 August 2014)

Instead of humanitarian relief, the people of El Salam suffered a brutal assault by a large military operation utterly unconstrained by international norms and laws.  But the problem of those who arrived at Al Salam in March is repeated again and again throughout Darfur: 800,000 newly displaced persons over the past two years have overwhelmed humanitarian capacity, given the needs of those already displaced.  Again and again, Radio Dabanga reports on camps that have not received food for months, or where water rations are far below SPHERE standards, or where medical resources are non-existent.  I will be returning in subsequent briefs to particular problems in relief capacity and access in various sectors (water, food, primary medical care, sanitation, education), but for the moment Appendix Three (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nO/) offers various very recent examples of the kinds of acute deprivation that 6,400 people in El Salam camp have experienced for almost half a year.  Again, none of this figures in Ban Ki-moon’s report except in the most general and abstractly statistical form.

Conclusion: El Salam and the Future of Darfur

The future of Darfur may be seen under three aspects.

[1]  UNAMID: So long as the African Union supports this failing operation, the UN will not have the nerve to end it.  Ban Ki-moon’s rambling comments on making UNAMID more efficient, removing the civilian bloat from the mission, mandate review, and increasing the vigor of responses speak to no fundamental change, without which Darfur’s current catastrophe will only increase.  If the African Union Peace and Security Council continues to speak of UNAMID as a force worth "emulating" in future missions, they may think that they are rescuing themselves from immediate association with failure; but in the long run, such an assessment ensures that no one, including the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, will take them seriously.

Adequate human security and humanitarian access simply cannot be achieved by the present force.

[2]  The Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD):  The African Union has few partners who continue to support the DDPD as a means to secure peace in Darfur.  Darfuris—both the consequential rebel groups and Darfuri civil society—have overwhelmingly rejected the DDPD, and for good reasons.  Khartoum, on the other hand, firmly and exclusively supports the DDPD precisely because it is unworkable and it has been rejected by Darfuris.  This provides an excuse not to engage in meaningful peace negotiations under auspices other than those provided by the Qataris; the "failure" of the DDPD is also, perversely, a means of justifying their continuing military efforts in the region, most significantly by way of the reconstituted Janjaweed, the "Rapid Support Forces" (RSF).

Ban Ki-moon, however, speaks as though the DDPD were a viable means of achieving peace in Darfur, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.  His extensive commentary on the DDPD is largely blather and takes no cognizance of the quiet recognition by non-UN and non-AU actors that the DDPD is a diplomatic dead letter, flogged to no purpose by the UN Secretariat because it does not wish to anger Khartoum and because it has no alternative to offer.

The Obama administration privately acknowledges the failure of the DDPD, and indeed the Sudan Tribune reported on April 10, 2014 the views of the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power:

Last month, the US ambassador at the UN, Samantha Power, reportedly called on African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) members to find an alternative forum to resolve the Darfur crisis, saying the DDPD has become outdated and cannot be relied on. Power’s remarks drew strong condemnation from Khartoum which said that US actions encourage the non-signatory groups to impose their own agendas on Darfur people and Sudanese people in general. (http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article50610 )

Bur ironically the incoherence of Obama administration policy toward Darfur was made clear in the same report by the Sudan Tribune, which began by noting:

The United States deputy charge d’affaires in Sudan Christopher Rowan affirmed that the solution to the Darfur conflict could only come through dialogue and negotiations and not through arms, stressing his country’s support for the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD).

Khartoum thrives on such ambiguity and confusion, and the Obama administration sent deeply mixed messages to its European and other potential allies about beginning a serious peace forum for Darfur.

[3]  Regime change: The signing in Paris (August 9, 2014) of an agreement between Sadiq al-Mahdi’s National Umma Party (NUP) and Malik Agar’s Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) has as its clear subtext regime change.  Indeed, the goals agreed to—and much remains to negotiate between the various elements of the SRF and the NUP—all presume removal of the present regime.  None of the announced shared goals can be achieved so long as the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime retains power.  The commitment of the SRF to regime change by force if necessary presents a problem that has been finessed for the present, but there can be little doubt that Khartoum will now resist even more vehemently any truly national dialogue.

For Darfur—and several of the main Darfur rebel groups are part of the SRF—regime change cannot come too soon.  A dismantling of the militia forces; bringing the military under democratic civilian control; and ending the obstruction of humanitarian relief efforts: all these would have an immediately beneficial effect.

But chaos has been sown so deeply by the current Khartoum regime that critical problems will endure for years if not decades.  Land tenure issues and the ability of non-Arab/African farmers to return to their lands in safety will be at the top of the list, but the scars of war are deep, and ethnic hatred of a sort unprecedented in Darfur’s history will be extremely difficult to overcome.  The collapse of the educational system in many parts of Darfur and in the displaced persons camps (the subject of a future analysis) leaves an unnerving prospect for the future.  It is all too well articulated by UNICEF’s Representative in Sudan, Geert Cappelaere:

The UN children’s rights and relief organisation, UNICEF, has warned that an entire generation in Darfur may be lost as a result of more than ten years of violence in the region. “Life in the camps might produce a new generation without ambition,” the UNICEF Representative in Sudan, Geert Cappelaere, said in a press statement issued on Saturday. “In particular as about 60 percent of the displaced in Darfur are minors.” ("’Entire generation may be lost in Darfur’: UNICEF Representative in Sudan," Radio Dabanga [Khartoum] 12 May 2014)

We find no such honesty in the accounts of Darfur offered by Ban Ki-moon or the African Union, and this will do much to contribute to future "El Salams."


Appendix One (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nQ/) offers a brief overview of key claims, data, and generalizations in the Secretary-General’s report.
Appendix Two (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nP/) offers very recent examples of violence by Khartoum-allied militias
Appendix Three (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nO/) on acute humanitarian distress in Darfur

Eric Reeves’ new book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012; www.CompromisingWithEvil.org; review commentary at: http://wp.me/p45rOG-15S)

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