By Eric Reeves
November 20, 2014 (SSNA) -- On November 12, 2014 Agence France-Presse reported exclusively on the real findings of the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) investigation of mass sexual violence at Tabit town, North Darfur. This must be distinguished from the publicly released document of November 10 that concludes by saying of Tabit:
Village community leaders reiterated to UNAMID that they coexist peacefully with local military authorities in the area. The team also interviewed the local Sudanese Armed Forces Commander.
None of those interviewed confirmed that any incident of rape took place in Tabit on the day of that media report. The team neither found any evidence nor received any information regarding the media allegations during the period in question. (UNAMID press release, 10 November 2014)
Agence France-Presse did not release the entire document; it did, however, reach the appropriate conclusions:
The report by the joint UN-AU mission in Darfur suggests that a visit by a team of monitors to the village of Tabit was carefully prepared by the Sudanese military to prevent witnesses from coming forward. During the team visit, there was a heavy presence of Sudanese soldiers who followed the monitors and recorded interviews with the villagers, according to the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) report obtained by AFP.
"The behavior and responses of interviewees indicated an environment of fear and intimidation," said the report on the Sunday visit. "Some of the sub-teams had to ask the military personnel to stop following them and also asked them to allow the conduction of interviews in some privacy," it added. The report quoted a villager in Tabit who said the soldiers had told the community "not to provide information to UNAMID" and that "reportedly a committee was formed to interact" with the fact-finding mission. (AFP, 12 November 2014 | http://news.yahoo.com/sudan-military-sought-intimidate-during-mass-rape-probe-200354793.html)
The document, in its entirety, has been leaked further and appears below. Khartoum is reportedly furious at the leak from within UNAMID and understandably so. The disparity between what was said publicly seemed to end the "Tabit issue" and obviate any further investigation; what is reported privately in the document below makes clear this is not so. The document should also give considerable pause to anyone who has credited the report commissioned by Ban Ki-moon that exonerates UNAMID's cover-ups and failures to notify appropriate personnel of evidence of atrocity crimes. Even so the report found at least five instances in which UNAMID did not report or report adequately on such crimes. To which the Secretary General found it sufficient to issue a statement through his spokesman declaring:
A review, initiated by the Secretary-General, was conducted into recent allegations that the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) intentionally sought to cover up crimes against civilians and peacekeepers. The Review Team examined all the material related to 16 incidents, which were the basis of these allegations. It also interviewed former and current staff in UNAMID and at UN Headquarters. The Review Team did not find any evidence to support these allegations. (Statement attributable to the spokesman for the Secretary-General, 29 October 2014)
But in fact what was released shows that UNAMID, on a number of occasions, deliberately withheld critical information from the UN and UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. This recent UN report on UNAMID's performance—coming in the waking of authoritative accusations of malfeasance, negligence, and mendacity by Aicha Elbasri, former UNAMID spokeswoman—has not been released publicly, but Colum Lynch of Foreign Policy has posted the text in connection with his current analysis of the findings; Lynch broke the original story in Foreign Policy in which Ms. Elbasri's account of UNAMID's deliberate under-reporting and non-reporting of serious crimes was presented in very considerable and persuasive detail.
The UNAMID press release concerning Tabit also does not comport well with what Radio Dabanga reported the following day:
A delegation of five members of the Coordination Committee of Refugees and Displaced Persons in Darfur had also visited the village: “We just returned from Tabit on Friday [November 7] with a delegation, after two days of investigation. There we met 60 women and girls, we looked into their eyes while they told us they were raped by soldiers from 8 pm [on Friday, October 31] until 5:00am [on Saturday, November 1]. (Radio Dabanga [Tabit] 11 November 2014; full text of this crucial dispatch appears at https://www.radiodabanga.org/node/83429)
More importantly, the public press release by UNAMID gives no sense of what investigators actually encountered at Tabit—that was clearly to have remained an internal matter. This in itself is merely an extension of the Mission's reflexive defensiveness in the face of continuing failures to protect civilians or to investigate atrocity crimes targeting civilians.
Here is the internal UNAMID document in its entirety as I have received it today (20 November 2014):
African Union United Nations
Tabit Integrated Field Mission
On 3 November 2014, Radio Dabanga reported that “More than 200 women and girls were collectively raped in their village on Friday 31 October 2014 evening, reportedly by Sudanese soldiers belonging to a military garrison south of El Fasher in North Darfur. 80 of the victims were schoolgirls, 105 were unmarried girls. The other victims were married women. The residents of Tabit have not been able yet to transfer the wounded to other towns or medical centers.
The number of women allegedly raped in Tabit was quite high. Sexual violence in Darfur, since the start of conflict (2003), is a key issue. However, it can be said that since the early days of conflict, allegation of such massive rapes were not received. This allegation was a serious cause of concern for UNAMID as well as for international community because even during the intense fighting between GoS forces and SLA/MM and JEM in December 2010 and January 2011, such violations were not reported. The Rapid Support Force (RSF) activities in South and North Darfur created a lot of concerns and allegations of violations were raised. However, even during RSF actions, such heinous and massive allegations were not received.
These concerns led to a UNAMID verification attempt via Shangil Tobaya team-site on 4 November 2014. This verification field mission was denied access outside Tabit by GoS military on the pretext of not obtaining permission from GoS authorities.
On 05 November 2014, SN organized a joint visit to Zam Zam IDPs camp including HRS, RoL, Humanitarian Section, Child Protection Unit, CAS and UNPoL. The purpose of the visit was to verify the information received that there were new arrivals in the camp from Tabit area, following an alleged mass rape of about 200 girls which may have occurred in that area. The team interacted with the Omda of Tabit Mr. ADAM and the Chief of Omdas of Zam Zam Mr. ALI ISHAG. According to them, there is no new arrivals in the camp and the situation is normal.
UNAMID SN then intensified its engagement with GoS authorities in El-Fasher to gain access to Tabit via El-Fasher route. The access was achieved on 9 November 2014.
Date: 9 November 2014Coordinates of Tabit: (N 13018’00” E 25005’00”)
Distance: About 48/50 km (Vehicle speedometer reading, end and start: 77679 – 77622 = 57. The vehicle was used for moving inside the town; also came to town after departure to conduct interview with SAF commander).
Time: The field mission arrived in Tabit at 1316 hours, left at 1618 hours
Population: The number of population is not certain. Different estimates provided by different interlocutors. The maximum was about 7/8 thousands individuals.
Tribes: Not exact numbers or figures. But it was mentioned that Fur (Basinga), Tama and Tunjur are the main tribes.
III. Methodology of information collection
The UNAMID field mission was an integrated type; 18 representatives from different sections/units participated in the mission; most of the team was from Sector North with some from HQ.
Due to shortage of time, as well as the issue of GoS curfew after 1600 hours, the team was divided into sub-teams to facilitate wide reach and to obtain higher quantity of interviews. It was decided to seek out and conduct interviews with citizens, students, native administrators, females, persons present in Tabit market, students and other groups. It was also decided to attempt to trace the family, which was allegedly detained by SAF and also to meet with the SAF commander in the end of field interviews.
The interviews were conducted in group as well as isolation format. Attempts were made to conduct the interview in confidential setting but it was not always possible. The sub-teams introduced themselves and the explained the purpose and objective of the mission; consent were sought before the interviews and the interviewees were given time to ask question or pose comments.
Beside access issue, significant challenges were faced on the ground during verification exercise. The SAF personnel were present in sizable numbers – in uniform and civil clothing – in Tabit. They followed the sub-teams during the verification exercise. Some of the sub-teams reported the interviews being captured on recording devices (mobile phone) by the SAF members. The behavior and responses of interviewees indicated an environment of fear and intimidation. Some of the sub-teams had to ask the military personnel to stop following them and also asked them to allow the conduction of interviews in some privacy.
The integrated mission was launched suddenly. A short debriefing was done but the lack of time to properly organize created logistical and substantive challenges. The format or types of interviewing tools were not finalized. An agreed set of questions were not developed and deployed. Each sub-team had to rely on their own previous experience and expertise to find the information required.
The issue of GoS curfew after 1600 hours on the movement of UNAMID convoys also limited the time available at the verification site.
IV. Consolidated Assessment
The sub-teams attempted verification in different parts of Tabit town. A consolidated assessment of the situation, issues and events are as follows:
• The overall security situation was observed to be okay.
• The area is under robust control of GoS military forces.
Environment during mission
• During the verification exercise, there were a high number of military personnel, in civil clothing and in uniform present in the Tabit village.
• The sub-teams also observed a small number of adult population (male and females) available in the town. It was informed that a lot of people go out to farms in the morning but compared to the SAF personnel numbers present, the low number of town people was quite conspicuous.
• The public was shy to openly discuss the allegation of mass rape in Tabit. An environment of fear and silence prevailed. A number of interviewees refused to interact or responded that they were unaware of the incident.
• One of the professional (teacher) in Tabit informed UNAMID that SAF had previously informed community not to provide information to UNAMID forthcoming field mission. Reportedly a committee was formed to interact with UNAMID field mission.
• The military personnel attempted to follow each sub-team and to remain present during interviews. There were complaints of recording and picture taking of the sub-teams during interviews by military personnel.
• One sub-team observed that local population consider SAF to be the lesser evil as compared to SLA forces. The improved economic conditions in Tabit (good fertile land, Qatar developmental projects, etc.) may also influence locals not cooperate frankly with UNAMID field mission.
Most of the persons interviewed denied the allegation of mass rape. However, one sub- team was informed about 15 illegitimate pregnancies in the town.The incident of an affair between a local girl and a military solider was widely reported with some discrepancies.
The disappearance of SAF soldier was also widely reported.The detention and interrogation by SAF of the family of the girl including the girl was generally reported. Though there are important discrepancies about the number of people detained as well as the length and location of this detention.
Integrated Field Mission
• In the future to avoid delays in the reaching areas that need verification, UNAMID flight as means of transport is highly recommended to ensure timely protection of civilians.
• Delay of UNAMID fact finding mission to Tabit is due to the late government permission for UNAMID to access the area a trend that resulted in disappearing of material evidence. Thus, it is highly recommended that UNAMID should be able to move freely and as soon as possible to the affected areas without hindrance from the government authorities as SOFA stated.
[The document as I received it was a text with numbers indicating footnotes; there were no footnotes, however, and so the numbers have been removed. Nothing else in format or content has been altered in any way—ER.]
Appendix One: Below are the five instances cited in the publicly released report on UNAMID commissioned by Ban Ki-moon after serious allegations of failures to report on atrocity crimes. Ban Ki-moon in reaching his preposterous conclusion ("The Review Team did not find any evidence to support these allegations") evidently sees a distinction between "covering up" and deliberately "not reporting." UN-speak at its worst…
 Tawilla (North Darfur): UNAMID failed to share with DPKO a copy of the verification report on the attacks, rapes and looting at four villages in Tawilla by pro-Government forces. As a consequence and while the initial incident was brought to the attention of the Security Council, the verified findings were neither brought to the attention of Council members nor included in the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council. [all emphases have been added—ER]
 Kushina (North Darfur): In reporting an aggressive overflight by two Government attack helicopters, UNAMID did not report to UNHQ the verbal threat by the Government to bomb/attack the convoy from the air or mention that it was carrying an arms expert from the Panel of Experts on the Sudan. Full disclosure of the incident only came to the knowledge of the Security Council through an incident report from the Panel of Experts.
 Hashaba (North Darfur): There was reasonable evidence, including as reported internally within UNAMID, that members of the Border Guards were involved in this attack and went on to commit crimes and human rights abuses. This was not reported by UNAMID to UNHQ nor was there ever a public statement issued condemning the criminal action.
 Sigili (North Darfur): UNAMID chose not to report to UNHQ the threat by PDF members to identify and kill Zaghawas travelling in a UNAMID convoy carrying two Zaghawa villagers. The patrol returned to base only after the PDF searched the UN vehicles and began aggressive questioning of Sudanese national staff of UNAMID. The Mission reported the patrol as being aborted due to time lost at a check point, making it unable to fulfill its mission.
 Muhajeria Team Sit (South Darfur): There was considerable evidence and reason to believe that the fatal attack on this Team Site was carried out by pro-Government forces. A military investigation, the report of an integrated mission and the report by the Panel of Experts on the Sudan all confirm this. Although there were two attacks that night, only the second and fatal attack was ever reported publicly. DPKO described the attackers as “unidentified assailants” due to lack of certainty in the identity and affiliation of the assailants. The Government agreed to investigate, but after more than a year justice has still not been done.
Eric Reeves' 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)