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An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear President Obama,

March 28, 2011 (SSNA) -- I write to you out of a desperate concern for the present consequences of U.S. Sudan policy under special envoy Scott Gration. On February 11 of this year General Gration declared that, “The Government of Sudan has taken great steps to lift restrictions on UNAMID [UN/African Union Mission in Darfur].”   This assessment is sharply contradicted by facts on the ground. General Gration went on to say, “We've seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs [nongovernmental humanitarian organizations].” But again all evidence—including that provided by the organizations themselves—makes clear that both claims were gross misrepresentations, governed more by an expedient desire to present an artificially encouraging picture of the situation in Darfur than by anything actually achieved in negotiations with the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum.

As if to underscore the significance of General Gration’s misrepresentations of humanitarian realities in Darfur, Catholic Relief Services announced Friday, March 25, 2011, that the Khartoum regime has forced the organization to cease its life-saving activities in West Darfur. The regime first suspended CRS operations in late January, even as it was in the process of expelling the important French medical relief organization Médecins du Monde. Both are substantial losses of humanitarian capacity in Darfur, but in remote and war-ravaged West Darfur, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was the essential actor in providing food to more than 400,000 people in the populous corridors north and south of el-Geneina, the state capital. There have been no food distributions since January: both February and March distributions were missed, and CRS has now removed its international staff and let go its large Sudanese national staff—the key workers in a challenging and often very dangerous environment.

As Darfur approaches this year’s hunger gap—April/May through October—the situation for the people in West Darfur looks increasingly grim. There are reports from the ground of people already dying from malnutrition-related causes, especially among children under five. People who have gone two months without regular food distributions will soon become desperate, and more likely to abandon the displaced persons camps in search of other sources of food. Closing down the camps and forcing displaced persons to return “home,” by any means necessary, has long been apriority for the Khartoum regime, and this was confirmed all too clearly in its ominous “New Strategy for Darfur”—promulgated last September, and enthusiastically and repeatedly endorsed by your envoy, General Gration. That endorsement has served to encourage the regime in pursuing its highly threatening policies towards the camps.

Again, what is most worrying about CRS’s departure from West Darfur is that they have been the only significant organization enabling the UN’s World Food Program to distribute food: there is no back-up capacity. Indeed, CRS was already the back-up to previously expelled international aid organizations: thirteen of the most distinguished humanitarian groups in the world were expelled by Khartoum in March2009, representing roughly 50 percent of aid capacity in Darfur. General Gration, whom you appointed the same month to his present position, has consistently misrepresented the extent of lost capacity and overstated what has been replaced. He has been joined in this dismaying disingenuousness by your frequent ad hoc envoy to Sudan, Senator John Kerry.

By failing to accept the seriousness of the situation, by failing to pressure Khartoum adequately on the need for unfettered and unimpeded humanitarian access, General Gration has over the past two years allowed the situation to degenerate badly. But the withdrawal of CRS and its very substantial capacity is especially worrisome: there is now simply no replacement capacity available, no organization in the humanitarian theater that can assume responsibility for distributing food to more than 400,000 needy human beings. Given the rampant insecurity that Khartoum allows to prevail throughout West Darfur—by means of its brutally rapacious militia and paramilitary forces—farming is unlikely. Moreover, the CRS programs to provide seeds and agricultural assistance have also been ended—along with other humanitarian programs in Darfur serving an additional 100,000 people.

The potential for catastrophe here, Mr. President, is extraordinary—dwarfing in prospective loss of life anything we have seen in Japan or the Middle East. And yet your special envoy has not spoken about this crisis—even as it has been clearly in evidence for several weeks prior to the official announcement by CRS—nor is there any evidence that he appreciates the need for an extremely rapid emergency response. His blithe assessment of last month—“We've seen great improvement of access for… the international NGOs”—is a shocking example of either ignorance or disingenuousness; either would be culpable in the extreme.

Even as Darfur faces unprecedented humanitarian shortfalls because of insecurity, lack of access, and obstruction by the Khartoum regime—the worst overall situation since 2004 is the current assessment by a number of independent observers—the rest of your Sudan policy lies in shambles. The Doha (Qatar) peace process has become irrelevant; Darfuris in all quarters have come to despise General Gration; and the belated appointment of Dane Smith cannot change the current dynamic in peace negotiations without a great deal more commitment from higher up in your administration.

This is especially true because Khartoum feels that having allowed for a generally peaceful South Sudan self-determination referendum, it has completed its part of a deal fashioned by General Gration, whereby the U.S. for its part will normalize relations and remove the Khartoum regime from the State Department list of terrorism-sponsoring nations. But this deal is as cynical, or misguided, as General Gration’s claim about humanitarian access in Darfur. For leading up to and following the referendum, Khartoum has made of the Abyei region an acute and highly dangerous crisis—one that threatens to bring war again to the South, especially in the oil regions. Recent information from the UN force on the ground (UNMIS), as well as imagery from the Satellite Sentinel Project, reveals a military posture by Khartoum’s forces in and around Abyei that can have only one goal: taking control of most of Abyei, including Abyei town, in order to negotiate the final status of Abyei on basis of military seizure.

This seizure may take place gradually, with ground forces and militia elements moving incrementally southward—as appears to be the case presently—or with a much larger and more rapid military offensive, using the substantial armor, mechanized infantry power, artillery, advanced rocket launchers, and air power that are either deployed in the region currently or a short distance away. Such a large offensive would certainly be triggered by any effort on the part of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to bring significant defensive military pressure to bear anywhere in Abyei. Khartoum’s actions to date—including yet again bombing areas in South Sudan—have brought the SPLA to the point where it feels it must respond, which is in all likelihood Khartoum’s goal.

How did Khartoum come to believe that it could seize Abyei and negotiate further the region’s final status and boundaries? Here again your special envoy, General Gration, has badly misread the character and instincts of the NIF/NCP regime. Last October he signaled U.S. support for a proposal from Khartoum to divide Abyei yet further between the North and South. Although the State Department subsequently tried to suggest that there was no U.S. proposal on Abyei, several participants in the negotiations—including SPLM minister of regional cooperation Deng Alor—are quite clear that General Gration quickly and eagerly sided with the proposal to divide Abyei yet again. This directly contradicts the terms of the Abyei Protocol (2004), a linchpin of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), and also the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (The Hague, July 2009)—accepted in advance by both the Khartoum regime and the Southern leadership as “final and binding.”

Khartoum, perceiving that the U.S was willing to compromise yet further, has undertaken its extremely dangerous military gambit in Abyei, and yet there has been only bland, even-handed exhortation by your White House, which does nothing to convince Khartoum that your administration understands the very different diplomatic and moral equities of the two parties. The lack of a truly principled commitment to the Abyei Protocol and the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration reveals too much about the expedient fashion in which General Gration has formulated his policies, or more accurately his reactive decisions.

This absence of a clear policy, other than accommodating the Khartoum regime at every possible moment of dispute, has had a profound effect on the perceptions of U.S. policy by Sudanese from all walks of life and all corners of Sudan. I know from many scores of conversations and communications with Sudanese—especially from the South and Darfur—that General Gration has brought your administration into disgrace, and left U.S. policy going forward with the burden of Sudanese skepticism and bitterness at how they have been treated over the past two critical years.

The bill of indictment for General Gration’s tenure is much longer, Mr. President, but all too consistent with the key issues I’ve highlighted here. Expediency and disingenuousness have been his diplomatic tools, and they have all too predictably worked to create a set of circumstances in which vast human suffering and destruction may be precipitated at any moment. Darfur has been effectively “de-coupled” from the largest bilateral issue between the U.S. and Khartoum—certainly from the regime’s point of view—even as atrocity crimes of the worst sort continue to be perpetrated by Khartoum and its militia proxies. The coming famine in West Darfur—and famine is the word that seems most appropriate at the moment—has been engineered by Khartoum, with no resistance from your special envoy. Parts of Abyei are already in flames, and escalation seems inevitable. And the U.S. has nothing more to show for its efforts than a Southern self-determination referendum that is even now being actively and dangerously undermined by Southern renegade militia forces supported by Khartoum.

Nor has there been any progress in democratizing governance in Khartoum, where flagrant human rights abuses are the order of the day. As SPLM leaders have recently told me in the most direct fashion possible, unless the process of democratization begins in the North—unless the NIF/NCP regime is forced to open political space for opposition parties and forces—it is highly unlikely that peace will be sustained after Southern independence on July 9, 2011. And yet this pressure on Khartoum over its brutal domestic repression has been entirely missing during the tenure of General Gration, signaling to the regime that there will be no costs in relations with the U.S. no matter how appalling its human rights record or how politically ruthless it chooses to be.

General Gration is soon to leave his position, though I believe his appointment to be ambassador to Kenya is deeply mistaken, especially given the important challenges facing our diplomatic leadership in Nairobi. But the damage he leaves behind, the threats he leaves unaddressed, the dangers he has allowed to fester—all oblige on your part, Mr. President, a sober recognition of General Gration’s destructive legacy, and a near-term commitment to ensure that officials from the highest levels of your administration conduct an urgent review of the consequences of the past two years of our Sudan policy. It is far past time to re-set the U.S. course of action vis-à-vis Khartoum, and this should begin with a suspension of any process of normalization or change in the present regime of sanctions and the status of diplomatic relations. The immediate demands should be that the regime fully abide by agreements it has already signed, both for Abyei and for humanitarian access in Darfur. A strong and unambiguous signal is required, given the immediacy of dangers faced by many Sudanese populations—in the South, in Darfur, in the Nuba Mountains, and in southern Blue Nile. I believe you personally should send that signal, Mr. President.

If your administration simply continues on the course set by General Gration, your administration will bear increasing moral responsibility for the many hundreds of thousands of lives presently acutely endangered by his actions and decisions of the past two years.

Sincerely,

Eric Reeves, Professor of English Language and Literature
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Amidst Accelerating Darfur Violence: Human Rights Reporting by Darfuris

Radio Dabanga is now providing virtually all human rights reporting from Darfur, as well as updates on conditions in the camps for displaced persons

By Eric Reeves

March 24, 2011 (SSNA) -- The upheavals within the Arab world, military action in Libya, and the unprecedented catastrophe in Japan have commandeered virtually all international news coverage. And to the extent there is reporting on Sudan, the focus has been on the south rather than the west of Sudan. All this works to push Darfur further into the news shadow, which is just what the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum wishes. The regime permits no regular journalists in the region, no human rights reporting presence, and no international presence that enjoys true freedom of movement.

This restriction of movement—both for humanitarians and the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)—ensures that we receive very little information about what is occurring. For despite a self-serving news conference on January 14th during which UNAMID’s political leader, Ibrahim Gambari, celebrated an increasingly “robust” force that would now demand freedom of movement on all occasions, there is little evidence of this reported by Darfuris on the ground—and theirs is a conclusion shared by a number of UN Security Council members during consultations with Gambari a week later (http://www.sudantribune.com/UNAMID-chief-s-performance,37773 ). Khartoum continues to restrict the force in highly consequential fashion—as it has done since signing a Status of Forces agreement in March 2008, guaranteeing freedom of movement. Gambari’s upbeat January assessment was nothing but bombast, as UNAMID’s own press releases reveal all too clearly.

Gambari is joined in this absurd optimism by U.S. special envoy Scott Gration, who declared in February, “The Government of Sudan has taken great steps to lift restrictions on UNAMID.” Gration compounded his highly misleading claim by declaring, “We've seen great improvement of access for UNAMID and for the international NGOs” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], February 11, 2011). And to round out this cabal of international cynicism and mendacity, Georg Charpentier, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, insists that “‘UN humanitarian agencies are not confronted by pressure or interference from the Government of Sudan,’ [Charpentier] said in a written statement to IWPR]” (Institute for War and Peace Reporting, “UN Accused of Caving In to Khartoum Over Darfur,” January 7, 2011, http://iwpr.net/report-news/un-accused-caving-khartoum-over-darfur ).

But the realities are clearly otherwise, as I have recently argued at length (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article298.html ) using reports from Radio Dabanga and the Sudan Tribune (both with significant sources on the ground in Darfur), Human Rights Watch, confidential communications from the field, UNAMID’s own reports (frequently acknowledging that they have been denied access by Khartoum’s forces), and an extensive new report from Tufts University, “Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur” (presently not fully publicly available). Of these, Radio Dabanga is especially important because it now serves as the essential clearing-house for news about Darfur, particularly about human rights violations and atrocity crimes; without it there would be almost no human rights reporting from the region at all.

[Human Rights Watch has offered the only other recent human rights report of note: “Sudan: New Attacks on Civilians in Darfur,” January 28, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/01/28/sudan-new-attacks-civilians-darfur

[Amnesty International has recently issued a strong statement, but offers no new human rights reporting (Amnesty International Public Statement, AI: Index: AFR 54/008/2011 3 March 2011)]

Certainly the current UN “Independent Expert” on human rights for Sudan, Chande Othman, has been a dismal failure. Besides failing to report meaningfully on human rights abuses in Darfur, he will leave a grim legacy of expediency and weakness, conspicuously including his demand that Khartoum must conduct “as a matter of urgency a thorough and transparent investigation into the attack on civilians in [Tabarat] North Darfur,” (September 2, 2010, http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10322&LangID=E ). Half a year later no report has appeared nor is there any evidence than any sort of meaningful investigation has been conducted—by any party—despite the dozens killed and scores wounded in the militia assault on this militarily defenseless village. Predictably, UNAMID was denied access to the scene of this atrocity crime for a week, providing ample time for the regime’s forces to remove the most incriminating evidence. Even so, survivors speaking with Reuters correspondent Opheera McDoom have provided us with a searing look at the realities of brutal ethnic slaughter in Darfur (http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/09/17/us-sudan-darfur-survivors-idUSTRE68G1N020100917 ).

In the absence of a sustained international news and human rights reporting network, Darfuris in the diaspora, communicating with Darfuris on the ground, have created a relay network of detailed information found nowhere else in the news world. The present, essentially editorial effort attempts to provide a compendium of recent reports on human rights violations in Darfur, organized around three particular issues for the year to date (January 1, 2011 to the present). It will not attempt to assess humanitarian conditions: there is no evidence that the bleak analysis of humanitarian conditions offered in my analysis of January 30, 2011 has improved (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article298.html ). On the contrary, Radio Dabanga reports continued massive human displacement as a result of Khartoum’s scorched-earth offensive against rebel forces, and a relentless campaign of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and assaults by helicopter gunships and military jet aircraft, including advanced MiG-29s. A March 14, 2011 dispatch from Radio Dabanga (“Darfur’s Zamzam camp population explodes by 83,000 since January”) gives a sense of how consequential this displacement has become for camps already operating desperately short of humanitarian capacity:

“The number of refugees who arrived at Zamzam camp between 25 January and 13 March reached 83,000. The new arrivals came from the areas East Jebel Marra, Shangil Tobaya, Shaddad, Tutumarre, Wadi Murra, Mashru Sag Al Na’am and Abu Deleig. The refugees from these regions comprise the populations of dozens of villages affected by aerial bombardment and militia attacks orchestrated by the government. One of the community activists in Zamzam camp said that the number of the registered new IDPs up until yesterday was 58,000 while another 25,000 have not yet been registered. He explained that only 4,000 of the total refugees have received any assistance so far.”

Newly displaced persons continue to arrive every day, according to intrepid humanitarian workers on the ground in Darfur. Radio Dabanga continues:

“The total population of Zamzam Camp at present is over 200,000 people. Community leaders at the camp have appealed to aid organizations and the international community to take action to help the displaced. On Saturday three children died in the camp, and yesterday another two died. According to the community activist, the mortality rate among children is high, about 5 to 6 children per week due to malnutrition and diarrhea. He said that the camp faces a shortage of drugs and medical care due to the sudden and massive expansion in the number of newly displaced people. Food prices at Zamzam have risen dramatically, by approximately 100%.”

Estimates by “camp activists” need to be recognized as in many cases simply best guesses. But even if the figures here are significantly overstated, they still point to a massive humanitarian emergency within the larger crisis, with an emergency-level Crude Mortality Rate (CMR, deaths per day per 10,000 of population). Reports from others camps reaching Radio Dabanga suggest that other locations are also experiencing emergency conditions:

“Nine dead from malnutrition in Garsila, suffering increases at Kalma Camp”
Nine displaced people died from malnutrition in Garsila in the last two weeks at Jeddah, Al Jiblein and Ardiba camps, according to health sources in the region. One of the camp elders told Radio Dabanga that no food aid has reached them during the last three months. He explained that most of those who died in the camp are elderly or children. He appealed to aid organizations to expedite the provision of food for the displaced.”

“In Kalma Camp, aid organizations reduced food rations. One of the elders of Kalma Camp told Radio Dabanga that food is being distributed to them at a quarter of the amount per card that it had been in the past. They now receive a ration that can last for one week rather than one month.” (Radio Dabanga [Kalma/Garsila], March 22, 2011)

Even as humanitarian need is growing dramatically, Khartoum continues to attenuate humanitarian capacity and access. It expelled Médecins du Monde, and has attempted to intimidate Catholic Relief Services—a critical provider of food to hundreds of thousands in West Darfur:

“The Government of Sudan has asked two staff of an international NGO to leave West Darfur. On Thursday the government ‘requested’ that the two staff with the international NGO Catholic Relief Services (CRS) leave the state, according to a statement by the UN African Union Peacekeeping Mission. The UN peacekeepers sent military patrols to remove the CRS workers from their stations in the outlying areas of El Geneina, West Darfur. The UN said the workers had received ‘indications of threats’ before the government made its request.” (EL GENEINA, January 21, 2011)

There are many other such reports, as Khartoum’s assault on humanitarian relief capacity continues apace.

But ultimately the humanitarian crisis is a function of sustained, systematic human rights abuses, and this most fundamental truth about human suffering and destruction in Darfur cannot be neglected without distorting the overall situation. The vast majority of these human rights violations and atrocity crimes have been committed by the Khartoum regime, its regular military and militia forces, its security services, and the armed elements in Darfur that the regime has allowed to create what Human Rights Watch has appropriately described as “chaos by design” (http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/09/19/darfur-2007-chaos-design ).

Many forms of human rights abuse are not represented in this Radio Dabanga compendium—not because they haven’t been reported, but because they would push beyond what can be presented without unwieldiness in a single installment. So there is relatively little in this present survey about the vast number of atrocity crimes that continue on the ground, away from the camps, including attacks on villages with no military presence; there is nothing on the deeply disturbing increase in the ethnic targeting of Zaghawa civilians (Minni Minawi, the recently “defected” rebel leader who signed the 2006 Abuja peace agreement with Khartoum, is ethnically Zaghawa); there is also relatively little about the deliberate, systematic obstruction, harassment, and impeding of humanitarian access (in the context of Darfur, these are clear violations of international human rights and humanitarian law). This compendium is very far from a complete survey. But it is representative of all we have concerning the three primary human rights issues addressed; and it provides more than enough to reveal fully the utter contempt for human rights that the Khartoum regime at once embodies and encourages on the part of its proxies.

More than enough….

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, 2011
(all emphasis of particular phrases has been added)

•Rape as a weapon of war

There has been almost no recent reporting by news or human rights organizations on rape and gender-based violence (GBV) as a weapon of war, even as it has been one of the most brutal features of Khartoum’s counter-insurgency warfare. There are several excellent studies of the phenomenon, though none representing the last two years and more:

[1] A powerful study of sexual violence in Darfur was published in fall 2004 and deserves the closest attention. Written by Tara Gingerich, JD, MA and Jennifer Leaning, MD, SMH, “The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the conflict in Darfur, Sudan” (October 2004) was prepared for the US Agency for International Development/OTI under the auspices of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights (available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/fxbcenter/ ).

[2] An extraordinary body of first-hand evidence appeared in a study by Doctors Without Border/Médecins San Frontières (MSF)/Holland in March 2005 (“The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur,” MSF-Holland, March 2005, http://www.artsenzondergrenzen.nl/index.php?pid=338 ). The release of the report was the occasion for Khartoum’s arrest of the two senior MSF officials working in Sudan, and eventually was part of the decision to expel the organization, along with twelve others, in March 2009.

[3] The psychological, physical, and social destructiveness of rape as a weapon of war can scarcely be overstated. As deployed in Darfur, it is meant to destroy family structures within the non-Arab or African populations that have been overwhelmingly been the target of campaigns of rape. The best account of the devastation occasioned by rape in Darfur is a May 2009 study by Physicians for Human Rights, “Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women” (http://darfuriwomen.phrblog.org/nowhere-to-turn/ ). The effects of eight years of displacement by genocidal counter-insurgency warfare have left civilians suffering from a wide range of severe mental disorders, particularly the tens of thousands of girls and women who have been victims of rape. In its meticulously researched study, PHR chronicled in soul-destroying detail some of the devastation among Darfuri refugee girls and women in eastern Chad:

“Researchers asked women to rate their physical and mental health status in Darfur and now in Chad on a 1-5 scale with 1 being ‘very good’ and 5 being ‘poor.’ Women reported a marked deterioration in their physical health status since leaving Darfur, with an average ranking of 3.99 for health in Chad versus 2.06 for Darfur.”

Even more alarmingly,

“The study indicated a marked deterioration in self-reported mental health, where the average score in was 4.90. ‘I am sad every day (since leaving Darfur). I feel not well in my skin,’ explained one respondent. [ ] Women who experienced rape (confirmed or highly probable) were three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than were women who did not report sexual violence.”

Although Khartoum would never allow such a study to be conducted in Darfur, we should expect comparable results. Without further human rights observation and analysis, we are left to draw our conclusions on the basis of these excellent studies (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-article509-p1.html ). Recent reports from Radio Dabanga certainly confirm that rape and GBV remain a prominent and unconstrained weapon of war. Particularly appalling are the rapes of girls, some as young as 8 years of age. The victims in the following incidents reported by Radio Dabanga are all from non-Arab or African tribal groups.

•6 Darfuri women raped by soldiers, 1 shot dead
Soldiers in Darfur killed one woman and raped six others. They opened fire on Mariam Isaag Adam, the 18-year-old mother of a baby girl, near Attash Camp in South Darfur on Friday. She died. They raped six other women, aged between 15 and 25 years and all residents of Attash Camp. A relative of the slain victim told Radio Dabanga that the seven women were on their way to collect palm fronds outside of the camp when they were ***assaulted by regular troops stationed near the camp***. Mariam Isaag Adam tried to escape. The soldiers shot her dead. The soldiers halted and raped the other women. (ATTASH CAMP, January 3, 2011)

•Militia troops assault 2 girls at Al Salaam Camp, Darfur
***Three soldiers belonging to the Border Guards severely beat two girls*** using sticks and batons at Al Salaam Camp in El Fasher yesterday. The two girls were transferred to the city hospital in critical condition. (EL FASHER, January 4, 2011)

•Adolescent girl kidnapped in North Darfur
A 13-year old girl was kidnapped Sunday in North Darfur. She was taken by an armed group from Koro Koli village in Seraf Omra area. One of her relatives said that the region is plagued by kidnappings – including one reported recently by Radio Dabanga involving a businessman – besides also ***murder and looting by armed men on camels***. Camps of conflict-displaced people are particularly affected by the violence. (SERAF OMRA, January 11, 2011)

•Six girls raped in Darfur
An armed group raped six girls between the ages of 14 to 20 years old in area Dorma near Tawila in North Darfur. Omda Atim, the coordinator of IDP camps in North Darfur, told Radio Dabanga that the girls went out last Thursday to collect firewood. They were accompanied by two men. ***A number of gunmen came on camels***. They attacked the men, tied them up and beat them severely. Then they raped the girls. (TAWILA, January 17, 2011)

•Woman raped and killed in West Darfur
An armed group killed a woman last Friday at Kandibei Camp in Sirba Locality in West Darfur. A relative of the victim told Radio Dabanga that woman was attacked by the armed group while she was on her way to cut firewood. She was found dead with three stab wounds on her abdomen after being raped and thrown into the bottom of a wadi (dry river). The relative noted that the murdered woman, Simeinj Yahia, was the 28-year old mother of two children. (SIRBA, January 25, 2011)

•Two girls raped by uniformed gunmen near Kutum, Darfur
A group of armed men raped two girls in Kutum Locality in North Darfur. One girl was 18 years old and the other was 21 years old, according to a relative of the girls. The source told Radio Dabanga that someone was accompanying the girls as they were on their way from their village of Diliba to the town of Kutum. ***They were intercepted by an armed group made up of more than 11 uniformed men***. The group severely beat the girls’ escort and then alternately raped them. The third person managed to escape despite attempts to shoot him. In another assault, an armed group shot a farmer, Ismail Mohamed Abdel Mola, near Rwanda displaced camp in Tawila. He was taken to the hospital in El Fasher for treatment. A relative of the injured man told Radio Dabanga that Ismail was shot while he was working in his farm near Tawila. The source added that doctors were able to extract several bullets from his stomach and back after an operation conducted in El Fasher on Wednesday. (KUTUM/TAWILA, February 5, 2011)

•Woman raped near Kutum; daughter escapes
Two herders last Wednesday raped a woman from Kurgi village, eight kilometers southeast of Kutum. The gunmen also attempted to rape the woman’s daughter, but she managed to escape by climbing up a tree. Sources told Radio Dabanga that the woman herself and her daughter were on their way from their farms to Kurgi when attacked by armed pastoralists.

Witnesses said that the girl managed to escape by climbing a tree, while her mother did not get away and was raped at gunpoint. Sources said the woman who was raped decided not to open a police case. The daughter was taken to receive medical treatment for cuts she suffered during her escape.

In a related incident near Kutum, a woman was shot dead when she resisted a pair of rapists. (KUTUM, February 7, 2011)

•Woman shot dead by rapists in North Darfur
A woman was killed by gunmen Saturday afternoon in Hilla Goz in the area of east Kutum. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the victim was Hassiniya Ibrahim Kuluk, a farmer, age 27, mother of four children including an infant son of five months. The killers were two armed herders. They arrived on camels and sought to rape her. The victim refused and said she would not comply even if it meant her death. Witnesses said the herders immediately shot her and left her to die. They left her baby under a tree. The witnesses said that village men took her to the hospital but she died en route. (KUTUM, February 7, 2011)

•2 Darfuri girls raped near Kutum and El Geneina
An armed group raped a girl at Kassab Camp last Tuesday. The girl, 18 years old, had been out collecting firewood. The same armed group on Wednesday also beat two men from the camp. People in the camp told Radio Dabanga that the armed group accosted the girl while she was on her way to collect firewood north of the camp. [ ]

Another case of rape was reported in El Geneina near Martyr Airport. A 16-year-old girl from Ardamata Displaced Camp was raped at gunpoint. She was later taken to the hospital in El Geneina after opening a police case at the Ardamata Police Department. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the girl was among four who went to the area near the airport to collect firewood. (KUTUM/EL GENEINA, February 13, 2011)

•17-year-old girl abducted by mounted gunmen
***Seven gunmen riding camels kidnapped a girl, 17 years old***, from the village of Torgo in Garsila Locality in West Darfur. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the gunmen abducted the girl at 6:00 last night while she was on her way to fetch a donkey near the village. The witnesses added that the gunmen took the girl southward from the village. (GARSILA, February 17, 2011)

•Three girls, aged 10, 12 and 15 raped by Darfur gunmen
An armed group last Wednesday in Garsila Locality raped three girls. A relative of one of the girls told Radio Dabanga that ***6 gunmen came on camels and raped two girls***. One of the victims is 10 years old and the other is 15 years old. They were on their way from their village to Targo, south of Garsila in West Darfur. In a separate incident, three gunmen who arrived on motorcycles raped a 12-year-old girl, in Wadi Galanja, east of Garsila. (GARSILA, March 7, 2011)

•Darfur woman raped by gunmen in Sirba, Darfur
An armed group on Saturday raped a woman, 25 years old, at Kandiba Camp in Sirba Locality. Three others were able to escape, according to a witness. The witness told Radio Dabanga that ***the gunmen were riding horses and camels when they attacked the four girls near the camp*** on Saturday. The victim was alternatingly raped by the gunmen. In another incident near the camp, gunmen robbed five people who were on their way to the camp with donkeys carrying flour. The victims were flogged with whips and treated at El Geneina hospital. (SIRBA, March 7, 2011)

•Gunmen in military uniforms rape two refugee girls in Darfur
***Gunmen dressed in military uniforms raped two girls from Hamidiya Camp*** for displaced people on Sunday. The camp is located outside of Zalingei town in West Darfur. One of the displaced people told Radio Dabanga that one of the victims is 12 years old. The girls had gone out of the camp to fetch firewood. The gunmen attacked them and took them to a remote place and then gang-raped them. (ZALINGEI, March 8, 2011)

•7 rape cases in Shagra and 1 in Garsila by uniformed Darfur militia
Armed men wearing uniforms and mounted on camels committed seven rapes in Shagra area, targeting displaced women who had gone out of their camps to harvest crops. Seven rape victims were from Abu Shouk Camp. Another girl was raped elsewhere in Darfur, in Garsila. A women’s rights activist in El Fasher told Radio Dabanga that a first incident occurred when camel herders attacked and raped women farm workers last Wednesday. The second incident occurred Friday, also in Shagra, when herders raped three women at night near the farms. According to the activist, the women were first severely beaten with sticks, then raped. Afterward they were taken to the hospital in El Fasher to receive treatment.

In Garsila Locality in West Darfur, an armed group on Sunday raped a 15-year old girl. A relative said that the ***perpetrators were gunmen who came on three camels and horses and were wearing military uniform***. They intercepted the girl as she was on her way to gather firewood. They raped her alternately and then slashed her ears (in order to mark her permanently as a rape victim). (SHAGRA/GARSILA, March 15, 2011)

•Rapes prevalent in Menawashi district of Darfur, residents say
The residents of the village of Amar Jadeed in Menawashi Locality in South Darfur complained of nighttime attacks on their wives and daughters by armed men. One villager told Radio Dabanga that ***elements of the border guards*** come nightly from their camp, which is located near the village, and rape women and girls. The ***attacks occur even within the homes of victims and sometimes while husbands and fathers are present and held at gunpoint***. The villager said that the attacks do not stop until 10:00 the following morning. (AMAR JADEED, March 15, 2011)

[Two reports from the closing days of 2010]

•Government troops rape 2 girls in Darfur camp, terrorize refugees
(TAWILA, December 28, 2010)
***Government forces stationed in the area of Rwanda camp in Tawila in North Darfur raped two girls, 15 and 19 years old***. Government forces stationed in the area of Rwanda camp in Tawila in North Darfur raped two girls, 15 and 19 years old. A witness said that the forces entered Rwanda camp on Saturday, firing heavily in the air, then began breaking into shops and looting. They wounded someone in the leg with gunfire and also killed a donkey. The witness said that the displaced heard there were 200 vehicles coming from Kebkabiya to the area and they fled for protection to UNAMID camp.

•Darfur woman shot dead fleeing rapists
***Four armed men on camels and wearing military uniforms shot dead a woman*** near Hassa Hissa Displaced Camp in Darfur. Khadija Abu, 45 years old, was shot dead on Saturday in area by Mount Kono near Zalingei. Witnesses said that about 11 woman from the camp had gone out that day to collect firewood and harvest crops. The ***witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the militants tried to rape the women***, but the women ran away, prompting the gunmen to open fire on them, causing the death of Khadija Abu. Other women fled and dispersed. (HASSA HISSA, December 21, 2011)

•Targeting camps for displaced persons with arson, gunfire, arbitrary arrest, and obstruction of humanitarian operations.

There has been a marked increase in attacks on and destruction of camps for displaced persons since the Khartoum regime settled on its “New Strategy for Darfur” (August/September 2010, see http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online.php?id=394 )—a policy repeatedly and enthusiastically endorsed by US envoy Gration. The “New Strategy” has as its primary purpose the dismantling of these camps, which are the basis for an international humanitarian presence in Darfur. And even without any ability to report on human rights abuses—for fear of expulsion by the regime—their presence is an obstacle to Khartoum’s attaining full control over the region, and they represent possible witnesses to atrocity crimes. The logic is simple: if the camps disappear, so will the international humanitarian presence.

Moreover, there is a dreadful synergy between the massive civilian displacements of recent months—almost certainly in excess of the 70,000 reported by the UN—and the vulnerability of these populations when they arrive in already overcrowded and underserved camps. Security is especially precarious.

There has been a dramatic uptick in the number of fires in the camps. Not all these fires are arson; but a great many are extremely suspicious, and there are no forensic resources available to determine whether or not arson is the cause (arson is a notoriously difficult crime to determine even in more auspicious circumstances).

The physical assaults on the camps should be shocking, given what they represent: military firepower directed against women, children, the elderly, the infirm who have no shelter and no way to defend themselves. They are also directed at humanitarian workers. These attacks have been occurring since the notorious attack on Aro Sharow (West Darfur) in September 2005; but their recent sharp increase is unmistakable. The Aro Sharow incident is the harbinger of what is to come. The attack was publicly confirmed not only by investigators of the African Union Mission in Sudan [AMIS], but also a number of humanitarian organizations):

“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, AMIS reported:

“[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.”
(Transcript of press conference by Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur, Khartoum, October 1, 2005)

These attacks continue; so too do violent threats and intimidating actions that must be taken extremely seriously by the beleaguered populations of these camps. The destructiveness and debilitation is extreme, as Radio Dabanga makes clear:

•Fires rage in Riyadh, Sakali camps in Darfur
A fire in Riyadh Displaced Camp in Darfur killed one refugee and resulted in serious burns to another three. The huge fire broke out on Monday afternoon in part C of the camp, which is located near the West Darfur capital of El Geneina. At least 150 houses were devoured in the blaze. The fire brigade did not arrive until after the fire, which refugees quelled using primitive means. When a car from the fire brigade arrived late, it was surrounded by angry people. The firemen were later accused of beating protesting children and firing warning shots in the air.
***The Riyadh Camp fire is the latest in a series of fires without explanation.*** (RIYADH CAMP, February 8, 2011)

•Militias loot village and new IDP camps near Shangil Tobaya
Local militias loyal to the government in the area of Um Darsiya, west of Shangil Tobaya, on Tuesday killed a man and beat an elder. Mohamed Nur Hamid is the name of the man reported killed. The omda of the area, Mohamed Al Duma, an elderly man, was beaten. ***A witness told Radio Dabanga that the militia burned the village and adjoining camp for displaced people***. They looted property, saving and livestock from the displaced and caused thousands of people in the region to flee.

In another report, local pro-government militias in Shangil Tobaya on Tuesday stormed Shaddad IDP camp and burned part of the camp. A witness said the militias looted during the operation all the property of displaced persons and their savings. There were also beatings and arrests of an unknown number of the displaced. The assault caused the flight of thousands of displaced from the camp. (SHANGIL TOBAYA, February 18, 2011)

•21 homes destroyed in fire at El Geneina camp
A fire broke out in Abuzar Camp in El Geneina in the early hours of Thursday morning, fully destroying 21 houses. Although residents did not know the exact cause of the fire, they said it is the third one in the camp during this month. Families affected by the blaze are now living in the open because there are no aid organizations working other than one that provides care for the elderly. ***The organization Catholic Relief Service had worked in the camp but authorities last week suspended the agency’s work in West Darfur State***. (EL GENEINA, February 28, 2011)

•Fire damages school in Abu Shouk Camp
A fire broke out Friday afternoon in Abu Shouk Camp for displaced persons in El Fasher. The fire burnt five classrooms of Al Salaam School 4 to their foundations. The blaze was the third of its kind in the camp. Witnesses said the school had been built of straw. Camp residents said they lacked means to put out the blaze, but they managed to do it with dirt, otherwise it would have spread to other parts of the camp. (ABU SHOUK CAMP, February 28, 2011)

•Major fire in Attash Camp in South Darfur
More than 100 houses burned in Attash Camp for displaced people in Nyala, South Darfur on Thursday. The displaced people in the camp told Radio Dabanga that the fire broke out suddenly in a mosque in the camp, and spread to the surrounding houses. IDPs appealed to the humanitarian organizations to speed up relief for the victims who are now living in the open without food or shelter.

Also, in Djabal Camp for Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad, a fire broke out yesterday, destroying 4 houses and 6 shops. One refugee whose house was burned told Radio Dabanga the fire had consumed all his possessions, savings and food stocks. (ATTASH CAMP, March 7, 2011)

•Militias burn down village near Shaddad, Darfur
***Local militias loyal to the Sudanese government burnt down a new village near Shaddad IDP camp on Monday night***. The gunmen came in four vehicles and burned about 30 homes in Karko village. The incident sparked terror in the hearts of citizens in the camp. ***Sources said the same militia was also responsible for burning down nearly all of Shangil Tobaya***. Citizens who spoke to Radio Dabanga appealed to the United Nations and the Security Council to intervene to protect civilians and their property in the region and throughout Darfur. (SHADDAD, March 17, 2011)

•Gunmen open fire on WFP distribution point in Darfur
An unidentified armed group on Wednesday night opened heavy fire on the headquarters of a distribution point of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Darfur. There were no casualties reported. The attack in Hassa Hissa in Zalingei Locality, West Darfur, prompted anger from displaced persons in the camp, who blamed elements of the government. A refugee source argued that the attack was linked to the speech of President Al-Bashir during his visit to Nyala, when he said that Darfur does not need any camps or relief. ***The coordinator of camps around Zalingei told Radio Dabanga that the goal of the attack on the WFP distribution headquarters was to intimidate humanitarian organizations and force them to leave. This step would be followed by the eviction of refugees from the camps, he speculated***. (ZALINGEI, January 7, 2011)

•Two dead, 80 detained after government raid on Darfur camp
At least two people were killed in the recent events in Zamzam Camp in North Darfur. One of the victims has been identified as Ismail Abakr Sabun, whose body was found inside the camp. ***IDPs blamed government elements for the killings***. One displaced person told Radio Dabanga that the UN –African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) came and took the bodies. Zamzam Camp yesterday was still surrounded by police and armoured vehicles. The southern gate of the camp is still closed to vehicular traffic and travel to the city and beyond is blocked. The source in the camp reported that the displaced are living in a state of terror. The government had conducted house-to-house searches in Zamzam on Sunday starting before dawn. ***Schools and health clinics were closed in the camps and aid organizations were prevented from working***, with the exception of UNHCR and UNICEF. (ZAMZAM CAMP, January 25, 2011)

•Raid on Darfur camp violated agreement with UN: spokesman
***The security raid on Zamzam camp in North Darfur violated an agreement between the Sudanese government and the United Nations***, according to a statement Sunday by the press division of the UN – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The Sudanese government that morning had conducted an extensive cordon-and-search operation in the Zamzam internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, which is nominally under the protection of UNAMID. The authorities claimed to have arrested 37 individuals and seized three magazines for assault rifles and other ammunition. The raid began before dawn at about 6:00. According to an e-mailed press statement from UNAMID, “the action did not abide by an agreement between UNAMID and the Government.” The peacekeeping mission had agreed with the government on “notification and consultations prior to any actions regarding IDP camps.” (EL FASHER, January 25, 2011)

[This account was confirmed by sources for Human Rights Watch:
“On January 23, heavily armed government forces surrounded and entered the Zamzam displaced persons camp in North Darfur. They rounded up and detained 37 people; at least 27 men remain in detention facilities. Human Rights Watch received reports that the government forces entered civilian homes, looted properties and beat several people, killing one man. The government publicly stated that the operation aimed to retrieve arms and drugs, and arrest ‘criminal elements.’ It did not give notice to the UN mission, despite requirements in the Status of Forces Agreement between Sudan and the peacekeeping mission that require consultation on actions related to displaced persons camps.” (see reference above)]

•Sudan army surrounds, threatens to burn down UNAMID camp
A Sudanese army force of 200 soldiers on 40 vehicles surrounded the exit of an UN – African Union military camp yesterday in Shangil Tobaya. A senior officer at the head of the force then threatened to burn down the military camp and an adjoining refugee camp. The threat came at about 6:00 p.m., after the UN forces unsuccessfully tried to prevent the army from threatening and arresting refugees at the neighboring camp. The army arrested three people in the camp. “The SAF commander at the scene stated that they were carrying out their duties and intended to persuade the IDPs to return to their original camps. ***He then threatened to burn down the makeshift camp and UNAMID team site, if the peacekeepers continued to interfere,” UNAMID reported in an e-mailed statement yesterday***.

The makeshift camp next to the UNAMID base sheltered thousands of people who had fled during the events of December 2010. ***UNAMID also reported that it was unable to complete a “verification mission” from its Shangil Tobaya base to Tabit, where fighting broke out Monday, due to “resumption of aerial bombardment in the area***.” (SHANGIL TOBAYA, January 28, 2011)

[This incident, coming two weeks after Gambari’s bombastic promise of a more robust, less constrained UNAMID force, is particularly revealing of Khartoum’s attitudes towards both displaced persons and the UNAMID force. Radio Dabanga’s account was confirmed by the Sudan Tribune and Agence France-Presse:

•Sudan army bombs north Darfur, threatens to burn down UNAMID base
(The Sudan Tribune January 27, 2011)
***Sudanese army*** on Wednesday carried out an aerial bombardment on rebel-controlled areas in north Darfur and ***threatened to "burn down" a base of the UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) in the area***. [ ] On Wednesday, SAF forces resumed bombardment of Tabit area, which prevented a UNAMID’s verification team based in Shangil Tobaya from accessing the area, the hybrid operation said today. The mission further reported that at 06:00pm (local time) approximately 200 SAF soldiers, on 40 vehicles, surrounded the mission’s base in Shangil Tobaya and the adjacent makeshift camp.

The commander of SAF forces, who detained four people in the area, initially said they were there to persuade displaced persons to return to their homes. Moreover, ***the SAF commander later threatened to "burn down" the makeshift camp and the UNAMID site if the peacekeepers continued to interfere***.

•Agence France-Presse (dateline: Khartoum), January 27, 2011:
“The Sudanese army threatened to ‘burn to the ground’ makeshift camps for people left homeless by the eight-year-old conflict in Darfur in a tense standoff with peacekeepers, UN sources said Thursday. The army's move came on the same day that the United States led calls for the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission to be more ‘aggressive’ in protecting civilians. Around 200 Sudanese soldiers confronted UNAMID troops at their camp in Shangil Tobay, in North Darfur, on Wednesday evening, surrounding the road in, as well as the adjacent camp for the thousands displaced by fighting in December, UNAMID said. ‘The commander said he was going to burn down all the makeshift camps in the area if the peacekeepers don't stop interfering in the government's internal affairs,’ a UNAMID source told AFP.”]

•IDPs: Hamadiya Camp under imminent threat of invasion
***Displaced people (IDPs) in Hamidiya Camp in Zalingei expressed fears of a reportedly imminent attack by the government on the camp***. The government may suspect the presence of weapons inside the camp, a charge that camp leaders strongly deny. Plans call for the search to begin Thursday. IDP leaders demanded that the UN – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) intensify its presence and patrols inside and around the camp. [ ] This report comes only one week after a cordon-and-search operation in Zamzam Camp in neighbouring North Darfur Sate. Although that operation was bloodless, Hamadiya Camp itself suffered an invasion in September 2010, when a death squad entered the camp at night and killed at least eight people, including three camp leaders whom the government had sought to arrest. More than two dozen others were wounded. (ZALINGEI, February 2, 2011)

•Security in Darfur arrests 12 staff workers Médecins du Monde, international staff in hiding
***At least twelve staff workers of Médecins du Monde working in central Darfur, have been arrested today in Nyala***. Two international staff members fled the scene and are in hiding at the compound of the UN OCHA. According to a police source, the staff workers are accused for collaborating with the rebel leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), Abdel Wahid al Nur. The French based NGO was almost the last NGO present, providing services for the mountainous area of Jebel Marra. (NYALA, February 12, 2011)

•Gunmen loot school in Garsila, Darfur
Gunmen yesterday in Darfur ransacked a school, taking everything. The group of armed men, mounted on a Land Cruiser, targeted Khalta school in Daba district, in Garsila in western Darfur. They looted all of the contents of the school including chairs, books and chalk. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the gunmen threatened the sentry who was at the school. They also looted the school store, classes and teachers’ offices. (GARSILA, February 7, 2011)

•World Food Program suspends aid distribution in Darfur camp after threats
The World Food Program stopped distribution of monthly food rations to Hamadiya displaced camp in Zalingei yesterday after receiving threats. Staff received orders from their safety and security department that gunmen had threatened to attack the WFP office in Zalingei. Radio Dabanga learnt that staff involved in the planned distribution were withdrawn. ***Consequently, the distribution of relief to the displaced, which began yesterday in Hamidiya Camp, was stopped. Program staff and officials were prevented from going to their offices today in Zalingei***.

For their part, displaced people in Zalingei reacted with fear that the World Food Programme would suddenly halt distribution of food. The coordinator of IDP camps in Zalingei told Radio Dabanga that 38,000 displaced people depend on the aid. He accused the government of using the visit of Dr. Ghazi Salah Al-Din, the official in charge of the Darfur file, to intimidate organizations to stop distribution of relief to the displaced people and then force them to evacuate the camps. (ZALINGEI, February 10, 2011)

•Gunmen entered Hamadiya camp, wound two
Four gunmen yesterday opened fired on two residents of Hamadiya Camp. The gunmen entered the camp and wounded one man in the head and another in his hand. They then fled, according to the coordinator of IDP camps around Zalingei. This source accused the Sudanese government of responsibility and appealed to the Security Council to grant more authority to UNAMID to protect displaced people. (HAMADIYA CAMP, February 16, 2011)

•Gunfire in El Geneina IDP camps
***Gunmen wearing military uniforms started shooting at random within IDP camps in El Geneina, West Darfur***. Witnesses reported intensive gunfire inside Riyadh Camp last Monday after a fight between members of the police and army inside the camp. The witnesses described panic in the camp after the gunfire broke out. One resident of Riyadh Camp, in an interview with Radio Dabanga, appealed to military leaders to forbid their subordinates from entering the camps with weapons. He also requested that UNAMID peacekeepers intensify patrols around the camps, especially in the evenings. (EL GENEINA, March 4, 2011)

•Sudan forces kill refugee in Zamzam Camp, make 21 arrests
One internally displaced person (IDP) was killed Sunday in the market of Zamzam Camp and 21 people were arrested. The camp hosts at least 200,000 people. Witnesses said government forces made three arrests the day before yesterday, including Omda Ismail Ahmed Rabah. A larger force entered the camp late Sunday afternoon, killing a man in the market and arresting 15 others. ***Witnesses said that the entry of government troops caused panic and fear in the hearts of the camp residents***. (ZAMZAM CAMP, March 21, 2011)

•Terror at growing Zamzam Camp as militia open fire in air
Central Reserve Force soldiers in Darfur fired into the air yesterday in Zamzam market, sowing terror among the displaced. The militia, known locally as “Abu Tira”, entered the camp market on two vehicles. Nobody was hurt during the incident Thursday afternoon. Zamzam Camp has swelled in recent months as government airplanes, soldiers and allied militias attack villages across a wide area of central Darfur. The number of newly displaced people who were registered up until yesterday rose to 64,000 people. (ZAMZAM CAMP, March 18, 2011)

•UN: 32,000 new Darfur refugees since 10 December, 2011
The United Nations said that the number of people displaced by the bloody battles which began on 10 December in the areas of Khor Abeche, Shearia and Shangil Tobayi left 32,000 people displaced. (SHANGIL TOBAYA, December 31, 2011)

This last figure strongly suggests that the total number displaced by violence since December 10, 2011 through March 23, 2011 is closer to 100,000. Heavy civilian displacement was also reported for early January. In Zamzam camp alone, Reuters reports on March 22, 2011: “About 44,000 people have arrived at the Zam Zam camp alone near Darfur's capital of El Fasher, a UN humanitarian official said. Local leaders say an additional 17,000 people have also arrived in the camp, but their verification has not yet begun, the official said.” The total of the two figures would exceed 60,000—and this is but one camp. (Radio Dabanga estimates that “the number of refugees who arrived at Zamzam camp between 25 January and 13 March reached 83,000.” Aggregated data suggest that the total number of civilians newly displaced since UNAMID took up its mandate on January 1, 2008 is well over 800,000 (see my brief tabulation of February 13, 2011, http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article304.html ; this assessment does not include displacement over the last month).

• Indiscriminate bombing and deliberate targeting of civilian and humanitarian targets in Darfur.

For well over a decade the NIF/NCP regime in Khartoum has engaged in a sustained, systematic, and immensely destructive campaign of deliberate aerial military attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets in Sudan. These attacks have been only fitfully condemned by the world community, and no effective action has been taken to halt them, even when the attacks have been authoritatively documented—in South Sudan, in the Nuba Mountains, and now in Darfur. Such barbarism occurs nowhere else in the world: nowhere else does a nominally sovereign government, represented at the United Nations and within various international organizations, engage—over many years—in deliberate, systematic aerial attacks on its civilians and on humanitarians as part of a counter-insurgency strategy.

It has been widely reported by human rights organizations, the UN, and news organizations that Khartoum has made frequent use of helicopter gunships in attacks on purely civilian villages, especially earlier in the Darfur genocide. Jet combat aircraft have also targeted civilian villages. The word “indiscriminate” does not do justice to the deliberate disregard for any distinction between military and civilian targets. The same must be said of bombing attacks by Antonov aircraft.

Indeed, the Antonov is a Russian-made cargo plane, and in no way designed for use as an attack aircraft. There are no bomb sighting mechanisms; there are no bomb racks or bays; crude (and cheap) barrel “bombs” are filled with scrap metal, unusable ordnance, and other shrapnel-producing materials. It explodes not with a large blast capability, but with enough force to generate a hail of deadly shrapnel in all directions. Moreover, for protection against ground fire and anti-aircraft fire, the SAF Antonovs typically fly at altitudes of about 5,000 meters—far too high to permit any kind of militarily purposeful targeting. They are not by nature a military weapon, but a tool for civilian destruction and terror. And for this they are exquisitely well designed.

In a forthcoming report on aerial military attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets—from the period 1999 to March 2011—this writer tabulates more than 1,200 such assaults. They are all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and in aggregate constitute crimes against humanity as defined by the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Article 7.1-2). In Darfur, all such offensive military flights are also in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1591. The UN Panel of Experts on Darfur created by this resolution to monitor compliance has reported many of these attacks, but an assemblage and collation of all reliable data sets reveals a much larger, almost incomprehensible pattern of carnage and horror.

For 2011 Radio Dabanga reports the following aerial assaults (excluding dispatches which have only rebel sources):

•Air strike in Darfur kills 10, including 5 children
A government aircraft on Sunday conducted an air raid in Darfur that killed 10 people, including at least five children, and wounded many more. The attack occurred in the area of Abu Deimat, south of Khazan Jadeed in South Darfur. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the raid took place at 02:00 a.m. in the morning. Among the dead was the farmer Hamada Abdelrahman Dualbeit, 30 years of old, and with his wife and his three sons and Muriam Ismail Abakr, student at the University of Nyala, in addition to her son, and Nasreddin Ahmed Bushara, and his wife and baby. (KHAZAN JADEED, December 28, 2010)

•Warplanes fly over Kutum, heavy activity at El Fasher airport
MiG warplanes in the skies over Kutum provoked fears on Tuesday among the local population. Displaced persons, especially in Kassab Camp, were afraid that the flights of the aircraft might bring military battles and attacks on civilians.
Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that fears had also increased on Monday evening when a major military force was seen north of Kutum, which shot in the air when it encountered civilians. Witnesses in El Fasher on Monday also noticed unusual activity of Antonov and MiG fighter aircraft, taking off and landing continuously at the airport in El-Fasher Airport. (KUTUM, January 5, 2011)

•Almost daily Antonov flights in Khor Abeche region
Refugees in the area of Khor Abeche, South Darfur, said the region has been relatively calm, but expressed fear of renewed fighting cautious due to the almost daily flights of Antonov aircraft in the region’s skies. The displaced persons said they also fear the spread of diseases due to lack of food rations and the deteriorating health environment and crowding of 12,000 people. The refugees further said that the recent events in the area led to the displacement of more than 1,200 pupils from the basic school and the burning of at least 60 houses and property, which resulted in the destruction of all the citizens’ savings and food, in addition to 300 head of cattle. (KHOR ABECHE, January 22, 2011)

• Newly displaced reach camps around Tawila on foot
About 73 families fleeing from recent attacks, especially around Tabit and Tarne, have reached camps around Tawila, which include Argo Camp and Rwanda Camp. One of the witnesses in the camps around Tawila told Radio Dabanga that those who arrived are in a bad situation. The man said that Antonov airplanes had bombed near the villages of the people, causing panic and forcing them to flee. He added that there are about 250 more families coming from Tabra and Funga in very bad condition. One of their leaders reported that there has been no assistance for them. (TAWILA, January 28, 2011)

•Antonov drops bomb near Darfur village; no casualties
An Antonov aircraft on Sunday dropped a bomb near a village in North Darfur. There were no casualties. The bomb fell near Serifai village, west of El Fasher, causing panic and fear among the people. Witnesses said that the bomb dropped by the plane did not explode. However, a tremor from the bomb was felt and there was a large crater. The residents of the village fled and took refuge in the hills and valleys near the area. (SERIFAI, January 25, 2011)

•Fighting, air strikes in Darfur rebel zone force thousands to flee
Heavy fighting erupted between government forces and the movement of Abdel Wahid on Saturday and Sunday in Rokero Locality, north-east of Jebel Marra. Nimr Abdelrahman, military spokesman of the rebel movement, announced to Radio Dabanga that the government forces bombed the area, which led to the displacement of more than 7000 citizens of that region. He said that the SLA forces won the battle.

The air strikes on areas of north-east of Jebel Marra in Rokero on Saturday led to the abandonment of eight villages. Witnesses said that a number of people were wounded in the air raids on the village. They were taken to the hospital at Kagora. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the air strikes began after a large force of infantry from the Sudanese army battled Abdel Wahid’s forces in those areas. The government aircraft appeared to be bombing at random in the region from 7:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. The bombardment targeted the villages Awsajank, Bargu, Gamra, Bola, Kuju, Koja, Tago, and Neiri. (ROKERO, January 31, 2011)

•Bombing east of Jebel Marra kills 3 women, 2 children
Government warplanes killed three women and two children in central Darfur yesterday and Wednesday, according to an official in a rebel movement present in the area. A large number of cattle also perished in the air strikes in the area of East Jebel. Mohamed Ahmed Yagub, Secretary of Humanitarian Affairs of the Liberation and Justice Movement, told Radio Dabanga that Antonov planes and helicopter gunships bombarded areas of East Jebel including the villages of Tokumarre, Masalit, Hashaba, Wadi Mora and Dali. The attacks killed three women, two children and a large number of livestock and camels, he said. The bombs also destroyed water sources and caused people in these villages to flee. He added that bombardment is still going on west of Shangil Tobayi and near Shaddad Camp.

Two people were also injured in an air strike at dawn yesterday on a village southwest of Tabit, by two planes belonging to the Sudanese Air Force. The air strikes Thursday morning burnt three buildings in the village of Krokuli and part of the village mosque. A witnesses told Radio Dabanga that of the two men injured in the bombing, one was seriously wounded in the abdomen. He was taken yesterday afternoon for medical treatment at Zamzam Camp, but the medical clinics there were closed due to two-day government blockade of the camp. (EAST JEBEL, February 18, 2011)

•31,000 new arrivals at Zamzam Camp following Darfur bombing
About 31,000 displaced people arrived at Zamzam Camp during the past days, fleeing from Shangil Tobaya Camp and the surrounding villages following aerial bombardment there on 17 and 18 February. A witness in Zamzam described the conditions of the thousands of newly displaced people as “very bad”. He said there is no process to record their arrival or provide them with any food or tents for shelter. Cases of diarrhea have emerged among children of the new arrivals, the witness at Zamzam told Radio Dabanga. One of the leaders of Zamzam Camp appealed to international organizations and the United Nations to immediately intervene and provide humanitarian and medical aid to the tens of thousands of newly displaced people in the camp. In remarks broadcast today on Radio Dabanga, the leader described the situation of the new arrivals as grave. (ZAMZAM CAMP, February 21, 2011)

•5 people killed and 32 wounded in air strikes on Korofola village
The death toll from air strikes Sunday on the village of Korofola, south of Tawila, is five people. Another 32 people were wounded. Witnesses said that the village burnt down entirely after aerial bombardment at one in the morning. The villagers have fled to Zamzam and Tawila. Witnesses in Tawila said that the number of people displaced from Korofola is 800. Speaking from Tawila, a witness told Radio Dabanga that some of the wounded were taken to El Fasher, some are still receiving treatment in Tawila.

Other bombing occurred in Dirma on Monday. At least one citizen was injured in aerial attacks on the village, which is east of Jebel Marra. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the bombing, which occurred in the early hours of the morning, was carried out by two Antonov planes. Four homes were burned and a number of cattle killed. (TAWILA, February 23, 2011)

•Air strikes west of Shangil Tobaya, Darfur cause thousands to flee
Two attacking Antonov bombers and invading ground forces yesterday caused thousands to flee to the hills and valleys around North Darfur villages. More than 4 thousand people yesterday fled from the region of Abu Hamra, west of Shangil Tobaya in North Darfur. The ground forces consisted of more than 20 vehicles and local militias, according to one villager who fled from the region. He told Radio Dabanga that two Antonovs dropped a number of bombs on the region before the entry of government forces and local militias from the area Um Dereisaya. The source pointed out that a number of shells fell near a school during school hours. (SHANGIL TOBAYA, February 24, 2011)

•100,000 people flee from aerial bombardments in Darfur
While the world is shouting shame about the use of warplanes against Libyan civilians, the use of air power against civilians in Darfur is off the radar of the world’s attention. While the world is shouting shame about the use of warplanes against Libyan civilians, the use of air power against civilians in Darfur is off the radar of the world’s attention. Since mid-December 100,000 people have fled for safety. An estimated 120 people have been reported killed in the renewed fighting between Darfurian rebel groups (JEM, JLM and SLA-MM) and government forces (SAF) and factions loyal to the government. In the fighting, Antonov aircrafts, MiGs and helicopters were used in bombing, in support of vehicle-mounted troops and horse and camel riders. Civilians were also targeted. (KHARTOUM, March 4, 2011)

•Sudan government bombs east of Jebel Marra
Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that government aircraft yesterday renewed attacks on the eastern Jebel Marra region. Antonov aircraft, MiGs and helicopters, supported by a ground force of more than 150 vehicles and 6 tanks, heavily bombarded the villages Tutumarre and Hashaba and the surrounding hills. One man who fled from Dale village told Radio Dabanga that the shelling caused a fire that burned parts of Dale village. Other shells destroyed a herd located west of the village, including at least 30 of the cattle, sheep and camels. Hundreds of people fled the village for the peaks and villages around it. People in the area are in need of food, medicine, and protection from government air attacks. (JEBEL EAST, March 11, 2011)

One of the dispatches above carries the title “Antonov drops bomb near Darfur village; no casualties.” But in fact there are always casualties from bombing attacks that occur in such a sustained campaign of civilian terror. Perhaps there is no immediate physical wounding or killing; but the terrible toll is too often taken in other ways. Displacement, loss of cattle, destruction of water sources, villages destroyed—all are hallmarks of Khartoum’s aerial campaign against Darfur’s civilian population. Perhaps most consequential are the profound psychological and emotional casualties, what leads many to despair. Typically, this despair is internalized in an unlifting darkness. But not always, as this last Radio Dispatch makes clear:

“On the same day [March 1, 2011], a young man from the Zamzam camp for displaced persons near El Fasher committed suicide. He hanged himself on a rope over a tree at a distance of half a kilometre from the camp. He had been shocked to learn what happened to his family, which was forced to flee their village due to aerial bombardment and invasion of government forces. A witness said that thousands of newly displaced people coming to Zamzam are affected by shock and some of them are screaming at night. Others are affected by depression or horror at what they’ve seen.” (ZAMZAM, March 1, 2011)

These people must be also be counted among the victims in the terrible reckoning that we must hope will someday be made, not to absolve us of our moral failure, but precisely to remind us how great that failure has been.

Eric Reeves 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.

Abyei Update: Continued Military Advance by Khartoum’s Forces, Increasing Risk of Major Confrontation

By Eric Reeves

March 23, 2011 (SSNA) -- Though the possibility of a large-scale offensive military action by Khartoum remains dangerously high, the most recent intel from the Satellite Sentinel Project (March 23, 2011) suggests another disturbing possibility: a slow-moving military takeover of Abyei, pushing incrementally southward from present positions, some of which are revealed in today’s satellite imagery as new or newly expanded. At the same time, very substantial numbers of troops and arms remain in South Kordofan (for an excellent account of the regime’s ominously large military resources close to Abyei, see the March 2011 update from Small Arms Survey, “Armed Entities in South Kordofan”).

The title of the new report from SSP gives a sense of what has been most recently discovered: “Satellite Images Reveal Movement of More Forces Backed by Government of Sudan into Contested Abyei Region.” Near the village of Goli (also Golae) on the Abyei/Diffra road, there is a significant new military encampment, not previously seen. The previously identified military encampment at Bongo has been increased by 25 percent, perhaps sufficient to house a battalion-sized unit. Bongo is only 15 miles NNW of Abyei town. There are also new photographs of Khartoum’s military forces in Diffra. (For a scalable and highly detailed map of Abyei, see http://avidpdf.com/ebook/agany-pdf.html .)

Given the current extremely tense relations between the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Juba, this is the worst moment to be heightening military tensions. Yet this is precisely what the NIF/NCP leadership has done:

“‘Satellite imagery confirms reports of the deployment of large numbers of northern forces as well as newly fortified encampments. This should be sounding alarms about the human security of all civilians in Abyei,’ said Dr. Charlie Clements, Director of Human Rights Documentation of the Satellite Sentinel Project, and Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School.”

We should be alarmed as well by the pretext for renewed war in Abyei that Khartoum put forward 10 days ago:

“Al-Dirdiri Mohammed Ahmed, the National Congress Party's chief negotiator on Abyei, warned of ‘a lot of skirmishes’ unless the southern army withdraws thousands of ‘irregular’ troops from the volatile district by Monday [March 14, 2011].” (Agence France-Presse, Radio Netherlands)

“‘If the SPLA is not going to withdraw the police ... the situation in Abyei might deteriorate, and could prove to be very serious within the coming few days,’ [Dirdiri] said.”

What we are seeing now are preparations for creating precisely the “serious” and “deteriorating” situation Dirdiri speaks of; and what he refers to as “a lot of skirmishes” will not be localized and confinable fighting but the inevitable prelude to relentless military encroachment by the regime’s forces and militia allies, perhaps leading to large-scale combat, with the likelihood of a resumption of war greatly increased.

The view from Abyei’s Ngok Dinka population confirms a slowly whelming offensive that will be irresistible, but perhaps accomplished incrementally rather than by large offensive maneuvers—though such are still a clear possibility if the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) decides to halt the continuing encroachment on territory defined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (July 2009). Associated Press reports today:

“The top government official in the one region most likely to send north and south Sudan back toward conflict said Wednesday he believes the northern government is massing military forces outside Abyei in order to occupy the town and claim it permanently. [ ] ‘Of course the Misseriya are being instigated by the (north's) National Congress Party,’ said Deng Arop Kuol, the chief administrator in Abyei. ‘The military build up ... has no other explanation other than occupying Abyei.’” (dateline: Juba, March 23, 2011)

Compounding military tensions is the report of yet more Antonov bombing attacks on Southern territory, specifically Raja County in Western Bahr el-Ghazal. In the recent past, Khartoum has either dismissed such attacks as “accidents” or denied them altogether (even when confirmed by UN investigators and on-site journalists). On this occasion there can be no mistaking the regime’s intent: it is signaling that it has a substantial military air force that it is prepared to use, including:

20 MiG-29s, a highly advanced Russian-built fighter aircraft
11 Su-25 ground attack aircraft, acquired 2007–08 from Belarus*
12 - 20 Fantan (A-5) ground attack aircraft, acquired 2002 from China*
44 Combat helicopters (armed Mi-17 or Mi-24), acquired from Russia*
* (Source: Small Arms Survey, Report No. 15, December 2009)

Additional acquisitions have likely been made over the past year and a half. Khartoum is making clear that if the SPLA resists the slow move southward by the SAF and its militia forces, then it will set in motion conflict in which overwhelming force will be brought to bear, including all available military aircraft.

The simple truth, however, is that the SPLM will not and cannot allow Abyei to be usurped militarily. This should have been abundantly clear to US special envoy Scott Gration and President Obama’s clumsy intermediary Senator John Kerry (the latter dismissed concerns over a further divided Abyei as a trivial dispute over a “few hundred square miles”). Instead, Khartoum was given the signal that more could be extracted—on Abyei and other issues; and now the regime is acting on that signal, and the misplaced evenhandedness which blames Juba as much as Khartoum for this escalating crisis. A major escalation of violence in the region, which will likely precipitate much wider fighting—perhaps all-out war—would then be the final legacy of General Gration’s two-year tenure as President Obama’s special envoy for Sudan.

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade.  He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

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