An assessment of the most violent region of Darfur since July 2012 (Part 3 of 3), including the grim first weeks of 2013
By Eric Reeves
January 17, 2013 (SSNA) -- In an interview with Radio France (January 14, 2013), former U.S. special envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman declared himself worried about an "uptick" in violence in Darfur. "Uptick" is such a preposterous understatement as to amount to a dismissal, given present extraordinary increases in violence and civilian displacement. I have recently offered overviews of violence in West Darfur (December 27, 2012 at http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3692) and South Darfur (January 11, 2013 at http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3727). In the case of North Darfur, such an overview is considerably more challenging in light of the extent of the violence, its various causes, and geographic extent.
Yet again Radio Dabanga is our primary source of information about what is occurring on the ground, as the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) continues in its completely dysfunctional ways, reporting painfully little, and denied access to the most important sites of reported violence—and showing only indifference in the face of too many such incidents. Notably, UNAMID has done nothing to slow the relentless aerial onslaught on civilian targets, especially in the eastern Jebel Marra region where the three Darfur states come together. Military aircraft regularly depart from the airbase at el-Fasher, capital of North Darfur and UNAMID headquarters. This is so despite the fact that UNAMID is responsible for enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005), which bans all military flights over Darfur. The impotence and silence of UNAMID and the international community in the face of such continuous, egregious violations of international law stands in sharp contrast with the active debate about how to respond to the well-reported violence of the Assad regime in Syria. One must wonder why there is such a bizarre mismatch in reporting and concern; the answers that come most readily to mind don't bear moral scrutiny.
In the case of North Darfur the timeline must be extended further back than my overviews for West and South Darfur and return to events of July 2012. This is still in many ways an arbitrary point from which to begin; violence in North Darfur—as well as the other two Darfur states—has always been considerable, and has again risen to extreme levels over the past three years. But beginning at the end of July 2012, violence exploded in North Darfur—no mere "uptick" as the disingenuous Lyman would have us believe. I have offered extensive reviews of particular moments in this six-month history, all of them offering a great many contemporaneous accounts by eyewitnesses in North Darfur as reported by Radio Dabanga, UNAMID itself, and confidential sources.
• "Darfur Moves Yet Deeper into the Shadow of Lies," July 22, 2012, http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3344
• "Darfur: UN Failure and Mendacity Culminate in an Avalanche of Violence," August 12, 2012, http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3376
• "The Avalanche of Violence Continues to Accelerate in Darfur," October 11, 2012,
• "Violence in Hashaba, North Darfur: A brutal portent, another UN Disgrace," October 30, 2012, http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3525
• "UNAMID Evacuates Wounded SAF Soldiers in Darfur: Larger Implications," November 18, 2012, http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3576
• "Growing Violence in Darfur Deserves Honest Reporting, Not More UN Nonsense," December 1, 2012, http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3627
Only very recently has the international community found it necessary to offer a significant corrective to the UN/UNAMID assessment, which has for more than three years depicted a conflict winding down and a steady decrease in violence. This assessment has found dismayingly broad international acceptance. Indeed, as recently as September 2012, the U.S. diplomat working on Darfur, Dane Smith, declared the security situation in West Darfur to be "relatively calm." In an interview with Radio Dabanga (May 20, 2012), the spokesman for UNAMID, Christopher Cycmanick, also "described the security situation in Darfur as 'relatively calm.'" Former UN/AU joint representative Ibrahim Gambari celebrated his retirement by declaring in September 2012 that he was "gratified to note that barely 31 months on, all the objectives I set out to meet [in Darfur] have largely been met."
Such grotesque misrepresentation of Darfur's realities only works to confirm that the region and the suffering of its people have fallen off the map of international concern, despite the persistence of violence that once galvanized a broad advocacy and even political movement to halt genocide. This is in large measure because Khartoum has succeeded in making of Darfur a "black box": the regime permits no journalists into Darfur (with extremely rare and tightly controlled exceptions), permits no human rights monitors, regularly denies access to various UN officials, and blocks investigations by UNAMID. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has, in typically expedient fashion, allowed the UN Panel of Experts for Darfur to become a non-functioning collection of political appointees—an assessment rendered by a distinguished former member of the Panel, Jérôme Tubiana.
Notably, Tubiana and fellow researcher Claudio Gramizzi published in July 2012 an extremely important study of violence in the eastern part of Darfur, a region on which Radio Dabanga reports relatively less frequently. In their report Tubiana and Gramizzi define "eastern Darfur" as roughly the strategic region straddling North and South Darfur, lying east of the axis between el-Fasher and Nyala, including Shangil Tobay. Released through the authoritative Small Arms Survey (Geneva) in July 2012, "Forgotten Darfur: Old Tactics and New Players" is based on field research conducted from October 2011 through June 2012 and supplemented by extensive interviews, a full desk review of available reports, and a wide range of communication with regional and international actors. The opening paragraphs in their Executive Summary gives a sense of what UNAMID has resolutely chosen not to see:
"Since 2010 Darfur has all but vanished from the international agenda. The Sudanese government has claimed that major armed conflict is essentially over, that armed violence of all kinds has declined significantly, and that such violence is now dominated by criminality rather than by military confrontation [ ]. This view has been bolstered by statements from the leadership of the joint United Nations–African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur and by those invested in the under-subscribed 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur who have hailed declining violence and wider regional transformations as conducive to a final resolution of the conflict [citation of statements by Ibrahim Gambari]."
"Notwithstanding such celebratory assertions, Darfur’s conflict has moved largely unnoticed into a new phase. While several parts of Darfur have become demonstrably more peaceful since 2009—particularly as the geography of conflict has shifted eastwards away from West Darfur and the Sudan/Chad border—late 2010 and the first half of 2011 saw a significant offensive by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and militias, backed by airstrikes and aerial bombardments, targeting both rebel groups and the Zaghawa civilian population across a broad swathe of eastern Darfur." [all emphases in all quotations have been added—ER]
Although this generalization about the geography of violence has been partially overtaken by events, it is notable that the authors highlight yet again the ethnic targeting of a non-Arab/African tribal group, the Zaghawa. The "old tactics" of genocidal destruction are indeed at work. (For an overview of the geography, locations, and administrative organization of Darfur, see my initial account of West Darfur: December 27, 2012, http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3692.)
It is extraordinary and beyond shame that Darfuris in the diaspora, even those with excellent contacts on the ground in the region, have found their voices silenced in the international community by virtue of this broad indifference. In the main, with some important exceptions, only Radio Dabanga persists in chronicling the violence, displacement, suffering, and deprivation that define the lives of millions of Darfuris, including a refugee population in eastern Chad that has recently begun to increase with the extremely intense fighting in the Jebel Amer area of North Darfur, which has displaced well over 100,000 civilians. Recent fighting in the Golo area of West Darfur has displaced an additional 30,000 people. And of course mortality in the Darfur conflict—once a subject of considerable controversy, even notoriety—is no longer an issue for investigation, largely because Khartoum has insisted—to the UN and international relief organizations—that no relevant data be released. Certainly, however, it is difficult to believe that the figure of approximately 500,000 dead, supported by data extant in August 2010, has not grown significantly.
The Elements of Violence in North Darfur
Like both West Darfur and South Darfur, North Darfur has seen a continuation of an atmosphere of near total impunity for Arab militia groups allied with the regime, as well as the Central Reserve Police (Abu Tira), both of which are repeatedly cited by the eyewitnesses Radio Dabanga interviews. Violence in the camps, rapes, murder, intimidation of those seeking to return to their lands—even to villages designated as "return villages"—is widespread and completely out of control. Numerous examples of the latter—in all three Darfur states—are of particular note since they run so directly counter to attempts by the Khartoum regime, UNAMID, and the UN generally to emphasize the importance of displaced persons returning: either to their own lands (despite the fact that these are often newly settled or used for grazing by nomadic Arab groups) or to designated "return villages." But returnees are often those most particularly targeted for attack by militia forces and Arab groups that have seized control of land they have no intention of giving back; these Arab groups come not only from Darfur, but Chad, Niger, and even as far as Mali, according to numerous reports.
[ The Appendix to this overview offers a representative compendium of more particular violence from the past month in North Darfur. ]
Most notable in several respects are recent reports of massive displacements in North Darfur and West Darfur—notable in part because they have been reported by international news organizations. Reuters is, typically, leading the way:
"A surge in violence in Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region has killed more than 100 people and forced 100,000 to flee, the United Nations said on Wednesday, sharply increasing its estimates after weeks of clashes. Fighters caught up in a dispute over control of a gold mine had set fire to around three dozen villages in the north of the region, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Ali Al-Zatari, said in a statement. More than 100 people had died and around 70,000 people had been displaced by the fighting between rival Arab tribes that broke out in the Jebel Amer area last week, he added. Another 30,000 people had left their homes after separate fighting between the army and a rebel group in the central Jebel Marra area that started late in December, the UN said." (Reuters [Khartoum], January 16, 2013)
The engine of displacement in the Jebel Amer area has been best and most authoritatively described by Radio Dabanga (January 10, 2013):
"Abbala gunmen have enclosed the capital of al-Sref Beni Hussein locality, North Darfur, and burned another four villages in the vicinity on Thursday, 10 January, according to the local omda. Noreen Abkar Ishaaq of the Khedera area, near al-Sref Beni Hussein, told Radio Dabanga that fighting continues in the region for the fifth consecutive day. He claimed to still hear sounds of gunshots and to see large clouds of smoke rising from communities located near al-Sref Beni Hussein city. Ishaaq is the omda of six villages and affirmed that four of those were burned. He gave Radio Dabanga the names of three of them: Dur Dur, Sugra, She’era. The population of the four villages that were set ablaze has currently moved to the omda's Khedera, which on its turn has also been set on fire by Abbala men 'riding horses.'"
"Ishaaq affirmed these villagers decided not to abandon their homes, but predicted that another attack may happen at any time. He told Radio Dabanga that no government officials have yet come to the region and complained about its 'neglect.' Although 'very high,' exact death figures are still unclear, the omda said, adding he saw several bodies 'lying around out in the open near creeks and valleys.'" ("Gunmen enclose capital, burn another four villages in North Darfur," Jebel Amer, January 10, 2013)
Radio Dabanga also offers a much larger figure for displaced persons, referring not to 100,000 people, but 100,000 families:
"More than 100,000 displaced families have arrived in the capital of al-Sref Beni Hussein locality, North Darfur, following clashes between the Arab tribes of Abbala and Beni Hussein that began one week ago at the gold mining area of Jebel 'Amer." ("Tribal clashes displace over 100,000 families to N. Darfur town," AL-SREF BENI HUSSEIN, 14 January 2013)
In a matter of weeks violence has newly displaced more people than the UN claims have "returned" in the past year (see my skeptical assessment of UN accounts of numbers of returns and newly displaced, January 11, 2013 at http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3727). And it is likely that many more than the 100 confirmed dead will be added to a grimly rising mortality total. Humanitarian resources are already stretched to the breaking point, even as Radio Dabanga reports that the figure for displaced,
"does not include families displaced to other localities, such as Kabkabiya and Saraf Omra or those who are still wandering around. Commissioner Haroun Hussein declared on Monday, 14 January, that a committee has been working continuously for the last three consecutive days to count the exact number of displaced. The commissioner pointed out that some of them are living in schools, in government buildings, at the locality's headquarters, or in homes of residents of al-Sref Beni Hussein city. However, he continued, many others are living under trees or completely out in the open, without any food or water. Hussein pointed out their condition is getting more critical as the winter approaches and that help is need 'now, not within days.' The locality has nothing left to provide support to the displacement families, he added."
In another dispatch (January 10, 2013), Radio Dabanga reports on the assessment of the omda (chief coordinator) for the North Darfur camps:
"Omda Ahmed Ateem, coordinator of North Darfur camps for displaced, declared the government has closed off all access ways to East Jebel Marra, North Darfur, trapping civilians in the area. Speaking to Radio Dabanga on Thursday, 10 January, he said that citizens are now prevented from fleeing to nearby displaced camps like Zam Zam and Tawila. According to Ateem, this is a strategy of the government to keep civilians living under 'deteriorating humanitarian circumstances' in order to 'wipe them out,' as there is not any kind of control in the area and the movement of UNAMID is restricted."
And yet again there is the anguished plea for rescue from what is felt to be genocidal destruction:
"Residents of East Jebel Marra are suffering as a result of the continuous aerial strikes carried out by the Sudanese air force, the omda claimed. He said the shelling is focused on civilian areas, such as villages, water sources and farms. 'Livestock are killed and water supplies are destroyed, leaving citizens without any kind of provision,' Ateem asserted. The following villages are being persistently targeted by the government, according to the omda: Fanga, Aradib El-Ashara, North Darfur, and Hasina though Jilbat, Golo and Jildu, [formerly West] Darfur. He said the current situation is worse than in 2003 when the war started and that people 'no longer have a reason to live.' In addition, medicine, food and basic provisions are lacking, which is negatively affecting women and children in particular, Ateem stated to Radio Dabanga. The omda urgently called on international organizations and on the UN Security Council to immediately intervene and stop the 'genocide' of civilians in East Jebel Marra."
There are countless such reports from East Jebel Marra (lying at the convergence of the three Darfur states), North Darfur, and other parts of Darfur; they make painfully clear the pervasiveness of violence, displacement, and acute deprivation.
Current fighting in Jebel Marra is between the SLA rebel faction of Abdel Wahid el-Nur and Khartoum's Sudan Armed Forces (SAF); in North Darfur, the fighting in the Jebel Amer area is between two Arab groups fighting for control of a potentially gold-rich area (the Khartoum regime has placed a tremendous emphasis on gold production as a means of generating the foreign exchange it so desperately needs as the economy continues to implode). In both cases, responsibility for violence and displacement clearly belongs to Khartoum.
The consequences of the violence in Jebel Amer are already being felt in eastern Chad, to which many people have fled, and many have died in the attempt to flee or been left behind:
"About 40 families fleeing the week-long tribal clashes between Abbala and Beni Hussein members in North Darfur arrived at the Touloum refugee camp in eastern Chad on Monday, 14 January, a source told Radio Dabanga. The families from al-Sref Beni Hussein, North Darfur, traveled for nine days by foot and by donkey before reaching the camp, the refugee Soukara Adam Hashim recounted. She left five of her children, aged between three and 14 years old, behind. Hashim told Radio Dabanga that, with the exception of two elderly men, all of the families arriving at the camp consist of only women and children. Several other people fleeing the clashes in North Darfur did not manage to reach the refugee camp. (Radio Dabanga, "Families fleeing North Darfur tribal clashes arrive at Chad camp,"TOULOUM CAMP, 15 Jan 2013)
The violence in Jebel Amer, Jebel Marra, Hashaba, Kutum, Kabkabiya, Kassab camp and so many other locations in North Darfur has left civilians completely without protection. And within this security vacuum, into which UNAMID refuses to enter, the consequences are all too predictable:
"Pro-government militiamen alleged looted a village for voluntary return located near Kabkabiya, North Darfur on Monday, 14 January. On the same day, another group seized two trade cars and raped four passengers, also near Kabkabiya, eyewitnesses say. The voluntary return village of Marghouba, situated about 14 kilometers west of Kabkabiya, was invaded from different directions by gunmen riding horses, camels and driving Land Cruisers, different sources affirmed. According to testimonies, the perpetrators looted a Central Reserve Forces (known as Abu Tira) police base in the town forcing them to withdraw to Kabkabiya. Next, the pro-government militia group looted 'all houses' of the village and fled.
"Another militia group looted two fully-loaded trade vehicles traveling from Kutum to Kabkabiya also on Monday. Sources reported that the vehicles were intercepted by militiamen at the Arimba area, located seven kilometers from Kabkabiya. Before seizing the vehicles with its contents, the perpetrators beat the passengers, looted all of their belongings and raped four students who were also in the cars, one of the witnesses said." (Radio Dabanga,KABKABIYA,15 Jan 2013)
There are several prominent and recent precedents for the current violence in North Darfur. See in particular the detailed contemporaneous accounts at:
• "Darfur: UN Failure and Mendacity Culminate in an Avalanche of Violence," August 12, 2012, http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3376
• "The Avalanche of Violence Continues to Accelerate in Darfur," October 11, 2012, http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3473
• "Violence in Hashaba, North Darfur: A brutal portent, another UN Disgrace," October 30, 2012, http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3525
August 2012: Kutum and Kassab Camp
In early August 2012 various paramilitary elements, including the Abu Tira (Central Reserve Police, CRP), and Border Intelligence Guards—often divided along Arab tribal lines—engaged in massive killings and looting. A well-placed and exceptionally well-informed source on the ground reports of Kutum, a major town in North Darfur:
"Kutum town has been overrun by Arab militia since last Thursday [August 3, 2012]…all of the INGOs [International Nongovernmental Humanitarian Organizations] and UN offices in the area have been thoroughly looted and their staff relocated to el-Fasher. All of the IDPs from Kassab IDP camp have been displaced. The markets in Kutum and in Kassab have booth been thoroughly looted." (email from North Darfur received August 5, 2012; also source for following two quotes)
This source goes on to note that in the case of the fighting in and around Kutum, while beginning in a personal dispute between individual members of two Arab tribal groups:
"The fighting, however, has not been between the two tribes but focused on looting the IDP camps and the INGOs and the markets in the town."
The implications of this violence have not been reported anywhere—by the UN, UNAMID, or even Radio Dabanga. But they are enormous:
"Most of the north part of North Darfur (all the way to Chad) is served from Kutum and now all [humanitarian] organizations have lost all capacity because of the looting, and I do not see the humanitarian community reinvesting in the basic infrastructure because of what has happened. This is going to cause huge humanitarian issues in Kutum and the IDP camps there. All the fuel at the INGOs was looted. This fuel is for vehicles but also for the generators to run water pumps in town and outside of town. This could turn bad, as it is the rainy seasons right now."
Radio Dabanga (August 2, 2012—Kutum) also reports eyewitness accounts of the destruction of compounds belonging to (among others) the UN World Food Program and (Irish) GOAL, as well as Kutum's market areas:
"Eyewitnesses from Kutum, North Darfur, told radio Dabanga that pro-government militias stormed the Al Gusr, Al Dababeen and Al Salam areas and the entrance of a large market. They added that the pro-government militias attacked humanitarian organizations' compounds in Kutum town."
Agence France-Presse reported (August 10, 2012) on UN OCHA's finding that "'during the violence, the premises of five humanitarian organisations were looted. Humanitarian staff have been evacuated to El Fasher town.' The World Food Programme previously announced that its Kutum compound was looted for about 12 hours from around midday on August 2" (Khartoum).
This violence defines the environment into which more than 100,000 people have been newly displaced. Humanitarian capacity is woefully inadequate and far too often relief workers and supplies have no access, especially to Jebel Marra and North Darfur. And yet UNAMID was largely silent or perfunctory in comments offered in the wake of its own painfully weak response to events in and around Kutum. The violence against IDPs, overwhelmingly from non-Arab or African tribal groups, anticipated much of what we are now seeing, making a mockery of the plans for "returns" and "return villages." And yet UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous has declared that conditions on the ground have improved sufficiently to warrant a draw-down of UNAMID forces—a preposterous conclusion meant only to justify the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in its reduction of the world's largest, costliest, and least effective UN-funded peacekeeping operation.
September – October 2012: Hashaba
The atrocity crimes in North Darfur do not occur in a political or military vacuum. Khartoum has settled upon a policy of supporting, actively and implicitly, "security forces" that rule by terror. In the case of Hashaba, in late September to early October 2012 this clearly meant Arab paramilitary forces. The village of Hashaba North and its environs (approximately 55 kilometers northeast of Kutum in North Darfur) were attacked from September 26 through October 2 by what have been repeatedly described by eyewitnesses as Arab militia forces and Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) aerial military assets. Very high numbers of civilian casualties were soon reported by Radio Dabanga ("between 250 and 300 people," October 4, 2012), along with repeated descriptions of the attackers on the ground as belonging to "pro-government militias." Many thousands of civilians were newly displaced.
Even more disturbing and significant, however, was a subsequent attack on the follow-up investigation, an unusually robust UNAMID patrol comprising 16 vehicles in all. On October 17, 2012 a very heavily armed militia group—which had carefully anticipated the route of the UNAMID convoy traveling to North Hashaba—fired from high ground down upon the highly vulnerable UNAMID forces. UNAMID returned fire, but faced intimidating weaponry and overwhelming tactical disadvantage; with the killing of one UNAMID soldier and the wounding of three others (one critically), the force retreated back to Kutum. The South African soldier killed was the 43rd to die in a mission that has been consistently poorly led, betrayed by militarily capable nations such as the U.S. that have for years refused to help equip the force properly, and by a lack of political will on the part of UN and African Union leadership in demanding of Khartoum security and access for UNAMID personnel, and accountability for atrocity crimes committed by the NIF/NCP regime's soldiers and militia proxies.
The character of the weapons used in this attack on UNAMID forces was reported in uncharacteristic detail (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], October 22, 2012):
"'[The attackers] used arsenals of high-calibre weapons that were never used before,' UNAMID spokeswoman Aicha Elbasri said in a written reply to AFP questions. 'This includes mortars, medium machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47 rifles, and anti-tank guns.'"
Edmond Mulet, deputy head of UN peacekeeping operations, would later declare in an October 24 briefing of the UN Security Council that the attacking force used "heavy machine guns," a fearsomely destructive weapon when fired with the advantage of significantly higher ground position.
This was no ordinary militia assault: it is clear that the UNAMID convoy was attacked, on the basis of advance intelligence, so as to prevent the investigation of atrocity crimes reported from Hashaba. Indeed, although the UN itself has merely hinted at this reality, no analyst not connected with the UN or UNAMID has disputed this conclusion or offered a plausible alternative explanation. At the time UNAMID declared that it would proceed with a third mission to investigate the crimes at Hashaba, but yet again the site of atrocity crimes was sanitized before UNAMID actually reached the area.
This attack on the UN must also be seen in light of the regime’s repeated claims about human security in Darfur, chiefly that there is no major fighting in Darfur and that civilians are secure and able to return safely to their homes and lands. In the words of Deputy Governor of North Darfur, al-Fateh Abdel Aziz Abdel Nabi:
"'[T]here is very good improvement in the security situation' compared with its peak in 2004, he said, with incidents limited to Kutum and Mellit. 'And they are isolated and they are under control.’'" (Agence France-Presse [el-Fasher], October 17, 2012)
The assault on UN Security Council-authorized peacekeepers attempting to investigate at Hashaba was designed to ensure that this perverse narrative was preserved as much as possible, at least with respect to civilian massacres and other atrocity crimes. The perversely limited truth of this claim by Khartoum about "the peak [of violence] in 2004" has somehow—in some quarters—made it acceptable to consign these early years of the genocide to a past that no longer concerns us directly or bears on an understanding of recent events such as those at Hashaba. This inevitably works to skew the history of the region profoundly, from 2005 to the present (see the sections on Darfur in my recent Compromising with Evil: An archival account of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012).
Indeed, the evidence is so clear in this attack on civilians in Hashaba, and in the subsequent assault on UNAMID, that there is only one issue left undetermined: what was the degree of command responsibility for the specific atrocities in Hashaba on this particular occasion? How far up the Military Intelligence chain-of-command did foreknowledge of the attack on Hashaba go? (Military Intelligence long ago took the lead in organizing “security” for Darfur.) And more importantly, how far up the Military Intelligence (MI) chain-of-command did foreknowledge of the assault on UN peacekeepers go? UNAMID has never answered these questions, but given evidence of growing powers for the military and security elements within the NIF/NCP regime, it is highly unlikely that such an action would have been undertaken without at least tacit prior approval from someone senior in the Army or Military Intelligence/Khartoum.
The alternative is to believe that a field officer for MI with foreknowledge of the attack felt it to be insufficiently important to report back to Khartoum. For certainly some MI officer(s) in North Darfur was involved in or knew of the attack, especially given the nature of the weaponry—again, a UNAMID spokesperson has spoken of "arsenals of high-calibre weapons that were never used before,"and deputy head of UN peacekeeping operations Edmond Mulet reported specifically on the attackers use of "heavy machine guns." This kind of weaponry simply could not have gone unnoticed, and yet the UN was characteristically diffident in drawing the most obvious of conclusions.
Further, Radio Dabanga reported in late September that the governor of North Darfur had been warned of the impending militia attack on Hashaba by a local official from the town itself, Abdella Rifa:
"Rifa blamed the Jangaweed militias for carrying out the 'barbaric attack' [on Hashaba] and held the government responsible for the incidents. [ ] Rifa said that the leader of the Jangaweed militia that carried out the attack is called Al-Nur. He also said that the group moved to attack from their base in Damrat Al-Quba. According to Rifa, they knew beforehand that the militia was going to attack and they informed the authorities including the governor of the state, Mohammed Osman Kibir, 'but they did nothing.'" (Radio Dabanga, September 28, 2012)
"They did nothing": this will be a phrase that does too much in providing an appropriate summary of international response to Darfur's agony, whenever it may end.
November 2012: Abu Delek/Sigili, North Darfur
By November of 2012 it had become increasingly difficult not to highlight specific atrocity crimes that were being reported in detail by Radio Dabanga. An especially brutal and deadly attack on the village of Sigili, near Abu Delek, proved to be a catalyst, although its distinction lies in the fact that it was much more widely reported, not that it was yet another village was attacked by pro-regime militia forces. Reuters reported:
"Peacekeepers said they had discovered homes burned and dead animals and ammunition littering the ground in a Darfur village allegedly attacked by pro-government forces last week…. Events in Darfur are often hard to verify because journalists' access is restricted. An African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) team that went to Sigili on Tuesday found the village 'completely deserted, with apparent signs of an abrupt departure,' the peacekeepers said in a statement late on Wednesday. It also noticed several signs of destruction of housing and property, killed animals, and burnt houses. Ammunition was also found in different sites across the village."
"Last week, UNAMID said government forces had blocked an earlier attempt to access the site, which is about 40km southeast of North Darfur's capital El Fasher. On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said 13 civilians including two infants were killed in Sigili on 2 November, when scores of armed men in vehicles and on camels attacked the village, firing on civilians and looting and burning shops and homes. It said witnesses identified the attackers as ethnic Berti members of the Popular Defence Forces, a militia the government has deployed alongside the army, but added it could not confirm this.
"UNAMID said it had also tried to go to the Abu Delek area southeast of El Fasher, but was stopped by members of the Popular Defence Forces. 'After lengthy discussion, the team decided to turn back to El Fasher and postpone the mission to Abu Delek,' UNAMID said. The attempt was the peacekeepers' second to get to Abu Delek to check reports of clashes between government forces and armed groups. During an 25 October attempt, the team came under heavy gunfire from an unidentified armed group, it said." ("Homes burned at Darfur attack site,"(Reuters [Khartoum], November 8, 2012)
Human Rights Watch reported, on the basis of its own sources (November 7, 2012):
"Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that at around 8 am on November 2, scores of heavily armed men in vehicles and on camels attacked Sigili, an ethnic Zaghawa village 40 kilometers southeast of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur [the North Darfur Field Atlas does not list in its Gazetteer or on its maps "Sigili," though it does locate the town of Abu Delek "40 kilometers south of El Fasher," presumably defining the location of Sigili—ER]. The attackers entered the village, fired on civilians, and looted and burned shops and homes. Thirteen civilians, including two infants, were killed and several more were wounded or abducted."
"A shopkeeper told Human Rights Watch that a vehicle full of armed men arrived at the market, and then one of the attackers shot dead an unarmed man standing near his shop. 'I was afraid. My whole body was shaking when someone shouted loudly, "Janjaweed [militia] attack, run!"' the shopkeeper said. 'I found myself running like everyone else. I left behind my shop but saved my life.'"
"Several hundred villagers fled the village to El Fasher and nearby villages. That afternoon, villagers brought the bodies of their relatives to the El Fasher hospital. The next day, hundreds marched with the bodies in a funeral procession from the hospital to the UNAMID headquarters, demanding justice and compensation for the loss of life and property."
"Authorities prevented displaced villagers from returning home on November 3 to attend the burial of their relatives. The village representative, Sheikh Musa Mukhtar, lodged a complaint against the attackers with the police, petitioned the governor's office for justice, and asked UNAMID to investigate the case independently, victims' families told Human Rights Watch. But local authorities have yet to investigate the incident, despite a report by the government-run SUNA news service that authorities had established an investigative committee. Domestic as well as international law applicable in Darfur obligates the Sudanese authorities to investigate the killings, Human Rights Watch said."
"The authorities blocked UNAMID peacekeepers from visiting the area until November 6, according to UN sources. Sudan has repeatedly blocked UNAMID from visiting various locales in Darfur, seriously undermining the mission's ability to carry out its mandate to protect civilians and investigate human rights abuses."
The consequences of the Khartoum regime's refusal of more than ten years to hold accountable those responsible for atrocity crimes in Darfur are all too clear in such accounts. In turn, the willingness of the international community to permit such obduracy by these brutal men, to abandon its commitment to the International Criminal Court (whose Prosecutor is now Gambian jurist Fatou Bensouda—see her recent comments on Darfur to the UN Security Council), to pretend that security has improved sufficiently to draw down UNAMID forces—rather than create a robust force capable of truly protecting innocent civilians—and to abandon any effort to secure compliance with UN Security Council resolutions bearing on Darfur…this willingness is all the encouragement Khartoum's génocidaires have needed. And if we wish to understand current realities in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and Abyei, we can do no better than to start with what the regime has learned in Darfur about the meaning of impunity.
The Face of Impunity
The Seraf Omra merchant Abbakar Ismail Musa is only one among the countless dead and dying in Darfur, but the manner of his death is all too revealing. Seraf Omra town lies on the volatile border between North and West Darfur, and is the location for a large camps for displaced persons. It should be an obvious location for a robust UNAMID presence; instead, a recent dispatch from Radio Dabanga reveals in excruciating detail the reality of impunity in Darfur:
"Two people were killed and a third was severely injured after a gunman refused to pay for the chicken he had just purchased at the Saraf Omra market, North Darfur, on Tuesday, 15 January. An onlooker told Radio Dabanga the perpetrator, a pro-government militiaman, shot and killed the merchant Abbakar Ismail Musa after he demanded him to pay for the chicken. Next, the gunman started firing randomly at the market, killing another merchant and severely injuring a third one, a source recounted. Following the events, civilians, the police and security forces, who were at the market during the shooting, fled the scene and shops were closed. The pro-government militiaman escaped….." (SARAF OMRA, 15 January 2013)
Until the world re-awakes and responds vigorously to the continuing horror and suffering of Darfur, to Khartoum-supported destruction that is nothing less than a grim "genocide by attrition," we may be sure that countless civilians will be murdered, thousands of girls will be raped, indiscriminate military aircraft will bomb with relentless ferocity civilian targets, hundreds of thousands of people will be newly displaced (well over a million people since UNAMID took up its mandate in January 2008), humanitarian capacity and access will continue to wither, the appropriation of land belonging to African tribal groups by heavily armed Arab militias will be ongoing—and thus provide a continual impetus for new conflict.
Appendix of incidents from the past month;
Radio Dabanga is the source unless otherwise indicated:
• Militiamen loot North Darfur voluntary return village, rape four
KABKABIYA (15 January 2013): Pro-government militiamen alleged looted a village for voluntary return located near Kabkabiya, North Darfur on Monday, 14 January. On the same day, another group seized two trade cars and raped four passengers, also near Kabkabiya, eyewitnesses say. The voluntary return village of Marghouba, situated about 14 kilometers west of Kabkabiya, was invaded from different directions by gunmen riding horses, camels and driving Land Cruisers, different sources affirmed. According to testimonies, the perpetrators looted a Central Reserve Forces (known as Abu Tira) police base in the town forcing them to withdraw to Kabkabiya. Next, the pro-government militia group looted "all houses" of the village and fled.
Another militia group looted two fully-loaded trade vehicles traveling from Kutum to Kabkabiya also on Monday. Sources reported that the vehicles were intercepted by militiamen at the Arimba area, located seven kilometers from Kabkabiya. Before seizing the vehicles with its contents, the perpetrators beat the passengers, looted all of their belongings and raped four students who were also in the cars, one of the witness.
• Militias 'sent to village by North Darfur security' loot, rape
EL-FASHER (8 January 2013): Pro-government militiamen, allegedly sent by the North Darfur security from El-Fasher to the village of El-Ayet Jar El-Nebi, raped three women and looted eight people in the area in two consecutive days of attacks, according to local reports. The troops entered the town located in the eastern part of the state, El-Ayet locality, on Sunday morning, 6 January, and began the plundering in the same evening, witnesses recounted to Radio Dabanga. Three men were looted and were stripped from all of their belongings, including of their mobile phones. Their names are Mohammed Bireedo, Ahmad Nour al-Din and Osman Ali. On the same occasion, three women were collectively raped by the perpetrators, sources added. According to them, the militia group is composed of about 150 members and is led by an army Lieutenant. The day after, local residents gathered a delegation of seven people responsible for informing the El-Ayet commissioner about the incidents and for asking him to expel the militias.
Nevertheless, they predicted the request would lead to more looting and decided to shut down the market before anything happened. Reports suggest that citizens also gathered any kind of weapons they could find to protect themselves from attacks by the militiamen. Yet, five people were looted on Monday morning in a neighborhood in the eastern side of El-Ayet, sources informed Radio Dabanga, adding that all of their money and mobile phones were taken. Three of the victims are Abdullah Mohamed Adam, Mohammed Dualbet and Ibrahim Mohamed Ali.
This event led residents from the western part of the town to create popular patrols to protect their homes and possessions, one of them said. But members of the patrols eventually clashed with the perpetrators, what led to the injury of two people: Adel Abdullah Nur and Abdul Baki Mohamed Seddik, sources asserted.
• Gunmen accused of raping 14-year-old girl
KASSAB CAMP (23 December 2012): An armed group reportedly raped a 14-year-old displaced girl from Kassab camp, locality of Kutum in North Darfur, on Friday, 21 December. Head of Kassab camp, Sheikh Taher Ismail, told Radio Dabanga that an armed group, allegedly pro-government, attacked a number of women who were collecting firewood in the area of Jebel Mary, about 3 kilometers north of the camp. The gunmen reportedly fired heavily in the air before capturing the girl. While some of the women managed to escape, the 14-year-old girl was raped by several of the gunmen. The sheikh added that the girl was taken to the hospital in Kutum for treatment and that the incident was reported to the army.
• Displaced Dankoj reject camp relocation plans
DANKOJ CAMP (23 December 2012): Residents from Dankoj camp in Saraf Omra locality, North Darfur, have rejected the locality’s decision to move the camp. The locality’s leadership has announced its decision to move the camp to a new location, at about 2 kilometers northeast of the city. A camp activist told Radio Dabanga on Friday, 21 December, that the executive director of Saraf Omra locality, Ismail Ahmed, informed the displaced in a meeting on the decision to move the camp to an area northeast of the town. It was reported that the executive director also announced that the price for a piece of land in the new area would be around 900 Sudanese pounds and to obtain a piece of land certain documents would be required.
The activist explained that the displaced rejected the decision for a number of reasons; the displacement is temporary and they will return to their areas of origin when peace and security prevails, the new area lacks basic services such as water, schools and health care in addition to the lack of financial means for the relocation. He has appealed to the local authorities not to add any more burdens and troubles to the present ones and to cancel the plans for the relocation of the camp.
• UNAMID: alleged air strikes cause displacement North Darfur
EL FASHER (21 December 2012): A press statement issued by UNAMID on Friday, 21 December, claims that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have allegedly carried out air strikes in Shangil Tobaya and Tawila localities, North Darfur. It was added that UNAMID deployed a patrol to Dalma and Dady villages to verify the reported air strikes in the area, but was denied access by SAF. The statement said that UNAMID received reports of an increased number of displacement of civilians from Daly, Kotto, Msaleet, Nomaira, Dawa Sharafa, Dolma and Hemaida villages in Shangil Tobaya area. According to the mission’s sources, a clash between SAF and an unidentified armed group at a village south-east of Shangil Tobaya, resulted in the death of one combatant and the wounding of two civilians. Rape and looting by the armed groups was also reported.
Furthermore, reports were received claiming that civilians from Kunjura, Hashaba, Namira and Masal villages have fled to Argo camp in Tawila area as a result of air strikes allegedly carried out by SAF on 18 December. It was added that UNAMID is arranging for further verification of the incidents. Lastly, UNAMID called on all parties involved to keep civilians out of harm's way and unrestricted access and freedom of movement across Darfur. NB: The Mission also warned that continued fighting could lead to a catastrophic humanitarian situation for the displaced civilians in North Darfur.
• Sudanese army bar UNAMID from investigating fresh clashes in North Darfur (Sudan Tribune, December 21, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese army prevented an investigation team from the joint peacekeeping mission from investigation recent fight that caused new wave of internal displacement in North Darfur.The African Union—United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in a statement released on Friday said concerned "about the safety of civilians and the humanitarian situation in these IDP camps," which is the core of its mandate.According to the Mission, new civilians, displaced from different villages in Shangil Tobaya and Tawila areas, arrived to Naivasha and Tawila camps in North Darfur following new attacks by alleged armed groups and air strikes by the Sudanese army.Shangil Tobaya attacks occurred on 12 December while the clashes in Tawila villages took place on 19 December.Citing its sources, the UNAMID further said one combatant was killed and two civilians were wounded during a clash between Sudanese forces and an unknown armed group at Tibadiyat village, in the south-east of Shanghil Tobaya.The hybrid mission also reported unverified reports about rape and looting by the armed groups.Following these reports, UNAMID dispatched a patrol to investigate the ground and air attacks but it was denied access at Shanghil Tobaya.North Darfur state is one of the most troubled states in the region where different rebel groups clash regularly with the Sudanese army.
• Tens of families flee Numu after fighting between militia and Darfur police
KABKABIYA (28 December 2012): Approximately hundred families have left the Numu village in Wadi Bare near Kabkabiya in North Darfur after clashes between pro-government militia and the police forces. Several families found refuge in Muhallaga and others went to the central town Kabkabiya.The administration told Radio Dabanga many families have left Numu for security reasons. On Thursday 27 December, the commissioner of Kabkabiya, security officers, peacekeepers from UNAMID and representatives of the displaced families tried to find a solution to prevent mass migration. The discussion will continue on Friday, the commissioner's office explained to Radio Dabanga. The families refused to return unless the government and UNAMID can protect the village from further attacks by Border guards and other pro-government militias. The community head of Dar Tia, Altayeb Abdukora, has been asked to convince the villagers to return to their home-area.
On Tuesday four policemen were injured when a government-armed militia attacked a police station in the village of Numu. After the shooting, the militants looted the police station and seized the weapons. They also fired shots in the air to scare the local population, Radio Dabanga reports. Frightened citizens asked the governor to take action and protect the civilians in the locality.
• Abu Tira injure displaced, loot Zam Zam market
ZAM ZAM CAMP (7 January 2013): A large group composed of Central Reserve Forces (known as Abu Tira) and of "local forces trained and armed by the government" attacked and "completely looted" the central market of the Zam Zam camp, North Darfur, different sources told Radio Dabanga. The assault, which occurred at 3:30pm on Monday, lasted for more than two hours, camp leaders, witnesses and activists reported. According to them, several Abu Tira and local militiamen infiltrated the market and pretended to be "shopping" before they began firing gunshots in the air. Next, they divided themselves into three groups and launched a "fully organized" attack, as an onlooker described it.
The first group would shoot in the air, the second would stab and beat up victims and the third would loot "money and any other goods they could carry with them from the market," one of the sources recounted. Eight victims were critically injured and taken to a hospital for treatment, including the displaced Mukhtar Adam Rajab and Najib Adam Mohamed. Witnesses said four of these victims were stabbed and the others were injured from beatings. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, a witness explained that this attack occurred at a time in which the flow of displaced to Zam Zam has significantly increased, with several people coming in from East Jebel Marra. NB: He pointed out that about 600 individuals are currently arriving at the camp on a daily basis.
"UNAMID merely monitored"
A witness told Radio Dabanga that Zam Zam's traders' union informed the military and the police about the assaults, who "helped evacuating the displaced to the hospital."
UNAMID, on its turn, "merely monitored" the ongoing attacks at the camp from its watchtowers, according to testimonies. Different sources called the circumstances of the incident at the market as "strange," given it happened in the afternoon and in front of the police, of the army, and of UNAMID. The camp's population called on UNAMID's headquarters in El-Fasher to assume its responsibility of protecting the "defenseless displaced." A displaced student called on the North Darfur government to assume its responsibility and protect its people from those who are armed by the government, or to resign, if it cannot fulfill its duty. The student pointed out that normally attacks by Abu Tira or pro-government militias occur in much smaller-scale, with no more than four members attacking small groups of displaced. She stressed not seeing an attack of this magnitude in about four years now.
And as is the case in so much of Darfur, the absence of primary health care—to which far fewer than half the population has access—is responsible for a sharp uptick in disease:
• Almalha residents complain about spread of diseases
AL MALHA (31 December 2012): The locality of Almalha in North Darfur is suffering from spreading diseases such as 'kala azar,' typhoid, abdominal pains as well as the prevalence of malnutrition, lack of health care services and high prices of medicine. Citizens told Radio Dabanga that the region has recently witnessed a spread in 'kala azar' disease, especially in the area of Jebel Issa in addition to rising malnutrition and paralysis among children. A source stated that diseases such as kidney problems, abdominal pains and typhoid are also spreading and attributed the emergence to water pollution and poor health care services. He added that the rising spread of diseases is also due to the instability of available doctors in locality, as a result of a conflict with the local authorities as well as the high prices of medicine.
And finally an honest assessment from UNAMID about humanitarian conditions:
The Mission also warned that continued fighting could lead to a catastrophic humanitarian situation for the displaced civilians in North Darfur. (EL FASHER (21 December 2012)
Fighting has continued, and there is no sign of any diminishment—nor any sign that Khartoum is feeling international pressure to improve human security in Darfur. The worst is yet to come.
Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, is author most recently of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012; www.CompromisingWithEvil.org