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Mr. Nafie Goes to Washington

By Eric Reeves

May 2, 2013 (SSNA) -- There has been a good deal of understandable outrage at the decision by the Obama administration to invite to Washington Nafie Ali Nafie, senior advisor to President Omar al-Bashir of the Khartoum regime.  Al-Bashir himself could not be invited, of course, because he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, crimes in which Nafie is deeply complicit and for which he bears major responsibility.  But al-Bashir's voice and that of others in the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime will be well represented by Nafie.  Indeed, like other members of the regime already indicted by the ICC—including Defense Minister and former Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein—Nafie's own future lies in The Hague if justice is done.  His central role in orchestrating the Darfur genocide is well known, indeed is acknowledged by Nafie himself.

There are other reasons for incomprehension at the Obama administration's decision to invite Nafie.  Such a meeting in Washington is an extraordinary reward to a regime that is guilty of serial genocide: in the Nuba Mountains in the 1990s, in the oil regions along the North/South border from 1998 to 2002, and in Darfur, where vast ethnically-targeted violence broke out in 2003 and continues to this day.  We must wonder with Congressman Frank Wolf:

• "In a letter to President Barack Obama, Wolf said that he was not opposed to diplomacy but that talks could take place at other locations such as the US embassy in Khartoum. 'With Darfur worsening and continued indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the Nuba mountains displacing thousands, why would your administration reward Khartoum with an invitation to Washington?' Wolf wrote." (Agence France-Presse [Washington], May 1, 2013)    

Indeed, the invitation of Nafie is perhaps the most dismaying decision U.S. officials could have made.  Among other things, it gives him a leg up in his competition with First Vice President Ali Osman Taha to succeed al-Bashir, who is very ill with throat cancer.  Africa Confidential (26 April 2013, Vol. 54 - No. 9) has very recently provided a superb overview of the dynamics of this competition, something that certainly should have figured in the Obama administration's choice of interlocutors.  Moreover, while Nafie may well have the ear of al-Bashir, his own actions and attitudes must make us wonder further about what guided the process of invitation. 

Nafie was head of Khartoum's ruthless security services, for example, when Khartoum orchestrated an assassination attempt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa (1995); various investigations made clear Nafie's role, and the Egyptians insisted that he be removed from his position, which he was, though this was only a minor speed-bump in gaining ascendancy within the regime.  As head of security he presided over countless arrests, extra-judicial executions…and torture.  Some have described his presence during torture sessions as surreally calm—the Los Angeles Times reported on an interview conducted with Nafie in Khartoum (October 2008), in the course of which a torture incident was discussed:

"'[Nafie] was my interrogator,' said Farouk Mohammed Ibrahim, a former University of Khartoum science professor and government critic who was arrested in 1989 and held in one of Sudan's notorious, secret 'ghost houses' for 12 days. 'I was tortured, beaten, flogged in his presence,' Ibrahim said. '[Nafie] was administering the whole thing. He did it all in such a cool manner, as if he were sipping a coffee.' In his characteristic style, Nafie expressed no regrets, saying opposition activists at the time were planning counter-coups and civil war. 'We were there to protect ourselves,' he said with a shrug. 'Definitely we were not there to play cards with them.'" (Los Angeles Times [Khartoum], October 26, 2008)

More consequentially, if just as brutally, Nafie—more than any other senior NIF/NCP official—has charted the ongoing course of the Darfur genocide following the death of Majzoub al-Khalifa in June 2007.  Khalifa had represented Khartoum all too effectively in the Abuja talks that yielded the exceedingly misguided and destructive "Darfur Peace Agreement" (2006).  (At the same time it should be noted that over the past two years senior military and security officials within the regime have achieved increasing power, especially in decisions about war and peace.)  All this comes against the backdrop of the deep division within the regime between Nafie and Taha.

In short, the Obama administration has provided an extraordinary reward to a regime that craves nothing so much as legitimacy, and to a man who is utterly ruthless and savagely cruel—and who may well trade on this visit in asserting himself as al-Bashir's successor.  For Khartoum's chief foreign policy goal, certainly in its bilateral relations with Washington, is removal from the U.S. State Department's list of terrorism-sponsoring nations.  And perhaps an additional gift awaits Nafie.  But let's be clear about who will be the bearer of this gift, about the man who is already celebrating having been selected to make such a high-profile trip to Washington.  Larry Adre, "the top State Department official on Sudan," is simply being disingenuous in claiming that "we do not view this visit as a reward, but as a continuation of a dialogue on issues of concern to the U.S. government" (Agence France-Presse [Washington, DC], May 1, 2013).  And the "dialogue" must "continue" in Washington precisely why, Mr. Adre?  And how is not a "reward" when it is so desperately desired by the Khartoum regime?

Part of the quid pro quo, which we will see only partially, no doubt included the demand that Khartoum negotiate with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N), the rebel movement that is fighting Khartoum's tyranny in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.  And a few days ago talks did begin, only to collapse almost immediately because of Khartoum's bad faith; but Nafie's visit remains on track. 

Abyei also remains an unresolved flashpoint of renewed conflict, an issue on which we might have expected more cooperation from the regime (accepting the fully endorsed African Union proposal would be a good start); and yet as things stand, major fighting between South Sudan and Khartoum could easily be re-ignited.  Notably, it was Nafie who declared for the regime that the Abyei self-determination referendum would not take place as scheduled (January 9, 2911) by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005).  Subsequent tensions and Arab militia violence led to Khartoum's military seizure of Abyei in May 2011, and subsequently to the regime's assaults on South Kordofan (June 5, 2011) and Blue Nile (September 1, 2011).  Fighting continues, and displacement is massive.  Hundreds of thousands of people face starvation in the two regions, and yet Nafie and his colleagues have remained adamant for almost two years in obstructing all international humanitarian relief aid to civilians in rebel-controlled areas.

But during Nafie's time in Washington we may also wish to focus on his record of anti-Semitism, which typically takes the form of anti-Zionism and a railing against the "Jewish lobby" in the United States.  This is certainly well known to the Obama administration; indeed, former U.S. charge d'affaires in Khartoum, Alberto Fernandez, spoke bluntly about Nafie in a "wiki-leaked" cable of March 3, 2009:

• "Senior Presidential Advisor Nafie Ali Nafie, the hardline NCP Secretary for Political Affairs who holds the Darfur portfolio within the Sudanese Government, accused [SLA leader Abdel Wahid] Al Nur of planting Sudanese in Israel to convert them to Judaism and to effect a normalization of relations between Khartoum and Jerusalem.  'Opening an office in Israel is material proof that the Darfur crisis is manipulated by foreign hands and the Jewish lobby,' said Nafie." (US embassy cable - 08KHARTOUM340, at

Of course Nafie has much company within the regime; an earlier cable provides a revealing account of the views of Defense Minister Hussein:

• "On July 26 the Arabic pro-government Al-Rai' Al-Aam reprinted an interview with Sudanese Minister of Defense Abdelrahim Hussein in which he claims that 24 Jewish organizations are provoking the conflict in Darfur. In the article, reprinted from an earlier interview from the influential Saudi newspaper Al-Ukaz, Hussein claims 'holocaust groups' have penetrated tribes in Darfur, carried out a propaganda campaign, and used their political and financial power to influence decision makers." (July 29, 2007, "wikileaked" cable from U.S. embassy in Khartoum, UNCLAS KHARTOUM 001174, at

But it is when he speaks for himself and the regime that Nafie is most revealing:

• "'[We have] been monitoring the movements of the forces of evil and aggression represented by American imperialism, world Zionism, and neo-colonialism that are trying to eradicate the cultures of people, plunder their wealth and conquer their will.'" (Sudan Tribune, March 3, 2012)

• "Nafie further accused Israel of transporting Darfurian refugees to South Sudan's military camps for training before to send them to wage war in Darfur against the government troops. 'Jewish and Western circles want to make Darfur a dagger in the heart of the country to hinder its march towards renaissance and progress,' he said."  (Sudan Tribune, May 20, 2012)

• "'Zionist institutions inside the United States and elsewhere . . . are exploiting the latest economic decisions to destabilize the security and political situation,' the state-linked Sudanese Media Centre quoted presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie as saying. Nafie said the government had evidence of collusion between rebel groups in Darfur, politicians in arch-foe South Sudan and Zionist institutions in the United States to sabotage Sudan. He did not present the evidence." (Reuters [Khartoum], July 1, 2012) 

• "Presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie ruled out the conclusion of a peace agreement with JEM and the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdel Wahid Al-Nur. 'They want that Darfur issue remains unresolved to use it as a means of public action by the opposition coalition or the Zionist lobbies to change the regime,' Nafie said." (Sudan Tribune, June 4, 2011)

• "The Sudanese presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie on Saturday said that his country is in possession of evidence proving the involvement of external players including Jewish groups and neighbouring South Sudan in attempts to exploit the country's recent austerity decisions to create domestic instability." (Sudan Tribune, June 30, 2012)

• "Nafie also lashed out at the French government and dismissed its proposal to resolve the International Criminal Court row. The French role in supporting the charges against Al-Bashir is a result of the growing Zionist influence in France. 'I see no taste or smell or use from the so-called French initiative,' [Nafie] said." (Sudan Tribune [Paris], August 17, 2008)

• "Dr. Nafie pointed out that the government exerted all efforts to make the secession peaceful, but the SPLM and the Zionist lobby work together to hinder that." (Sudan News Agency [SUNA], August 20, 2011)

And of course there are a great many other examples of similar tenor.

There is no satisfactory answer to the question of why Nafie was invited by the Obama administration, and why now.  At the very least the Obama administration should have secured beforehand from Khartoum explicit and detailed commitment to allow the creation of humanitarian corridors into the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, with clear and painful consequences for any reneging on such agreement.  Certainly massive displacement and vast suffering will continue until such corridors are secured.  Instead, without securing any visible concessions of consequence, the U.S. has invited for discussions a virulently anti-Semitic génocidaire with ties to terrorism (not only did he play a central role in the Mubarak assassination attempt—an act of terrorism—but he cozied up to Osama bin Laden during his years in Khartoum, formative for al-Qaeda).

Those who have held out hope that the U.S. might move beyond the misguided policies of appeasement so consistently promoted by former Obama special envoys Scott Gration and Princeton Lyman must be sorely disappointed.

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

A Key Report on Darfur by UN Panel of Experts Consigned to Oblivion

To understand the surging violence in Darfur over the past year, a lengthy and highly authoritative "unofficial" report covering most of 2011, from former members of the UN Panel of Experts on Sudan (Darfur), is critically important.  Why does the UN continue to keep it confidential?  The answer lies in the incompetence and political bias of successors on the Panel, and the failure of the "unofficial" report to square with the highly distorted UN/African Union narrative about Darfur.

By Eric Reeves

April 27, 2013 (SSNA) -- Reporting on Darfur by non-Sudanese news organizations has picked up significantly in recent months as violence accelerates dramatically, massive new human displacements occur continually in all three major regions of Darfur, and large-scale fighting continues between the Khartoum regime's regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), along with its militia allies, and rebel forces that have become stronger and more aggressive.  These dispatches have come from Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).  Although not allowed into Darfur for a number of years, journalists are finding that enough information is making its way out that reporting has become obligatory. To be sure violence in Darfur has long continued, at much higher levels than the UN and African Union have reported, either via the UN/AU "hybrid" Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) or the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Former UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator George Charpentier set the terrible precedent of refusing to speak honestly about humanitarian and security conditions on the ground, declaring with an utterly shameful mendacity:

"'UN humanitarian agencies are not confronted by pressure or interference from the Government of Sudan,' [Charpentier said in a written statement to the Institute for War and Peace reporting (IWPR)]." ("UN Accused of Caving In to Khartoum Over Darfur: Agencies said to be reluctant to confront Sudanese government about obstructions to humanitarian aid effort," January 7, 2011) (all emphases in all quotations have been added) 

This statement was and is patently untrue, and was contradicted at the time by UN officials speaking on and off the record, and by non-UN relief workers in confidential interviews.  But Charpentier set the tone, and international non-governmental humanitarian organizations were forced to follow suit or face expulsion by the Khartoum regime—a regime that has expelled a great many organizations over the years, and made the work of many others impossible.

The UN and AU continue their disingenuous ways, but no longer do we see such deeply misleading reporting as appeared in The New York Times just over a year ago.  With a dateline of Nyuru, West Darfur (less than 20 miles north of the major town of Mornei), the Times dispatch ("A Taste of Hope Brings Refugees Back to Darfur," February 26, 2012) provides an astonishingly misleading account of realities in Darfur:

"More than 100,000 people in Darfur have left the sprawling camps where they had taken refuge for nearly a decade and headed home to their villages over the past year, the biggest return of displaced people since the war began in 2003 and a sign that one of the world's most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled." 

A UN official cited in the dispatch declared simply: "there are pockets of insecurity in Darfur."

"'It's amazing,' said Dysane Dorani, head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission [UNAMID] for the western sector of Darfur. 'The people are coming together. It reminds me of Lebanon after the civil war.'"

"On a recent morning, thousands of Nyuru's residents were back on their land doing all the things they used to do, scrubbing clothes, braiding hair, sifting grain and preparing for a joint feast of farmers and nomads. Former victims and former perpetrators would later sit down side by side together, some for the first time since Darfur's war broke out, sharing plates of macaroni and millet—and even the occasional dance—in a gesture of informal reconciliation."

In fact, what is "amazing" is not the returns, many of whom do not, in fact, stay in areas to which they have "returned" because of security concerns; the UN makes no mention of these, although Radio Dabanga has repeatedly.  What is truly of note is the number of newly displaced civilians—more than 1.2 million since UNAMID took up its mandate on January 1, 2008 (see Appendix One).  Some fifty thousand people have recently not returned from but fled to eastern Chad from Darfur, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), increasing the number of Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad from 280,000 to 330,000 (see Appendix One).  For those interested in the realities of Darfur—instead of the UN propaganda to which the Times correspondent succumbed during his highly controlled visit to one location in West Darfur—Radio Dabanga and the Sudan Tribune have long reported in detail on developments relating to both security and humanitarian conditions.  In a series of contemporaneous articles, Radio Dabanga offered detailed research and interviews with people from the Nyuru region that completely undermined the credibility of the Times' claimed findings.  Highly informed Darfuris with whom I spoke and communicated directly expressed their disbelief that a distinguished American newspaper could so misrepresent the situation in Darfur.  

It should be noted in this context that Radio Dabanga (  has become a truly extraordinary resource, offering both a substantive and textured sense of what is occurring on the ground in Darfur.  Developed by Darfuris, operating out of Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Radio Dabanga has an astonishing number of contacts on the ground in Darfur, including sheikhs, omdas, nazirs, camp leaders, and the leadership of the various rebel factions.  The standards of their journalism continue to improve at a rapid rate, with particularly valuable instruction coming from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which has co-produced Radio Dabanga since its initial reporting in late 2008.  For every disingenuous, misleading, or mendacious declaration by the UN and AU leadership (see brief compendium in Appendix Two), Darfuris have been able to respond in their own voices.

But there was in fact also much in the "unofficial" report from the former members of the Panel of Experts that sharply and directly contradicted the UN's politically motivated official accounts, especially from eastern regions of Darfur.  From January 2011 through August 2011 three members of the UN Panel of Experts on the Sudan (Darfur) conducted the last professional investigation as mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005): (1) monitoring the arms embargo on Darfur and (2) monitoring compliance with the Security Council "demand" that the Khartoum regime cease all aerial military assaults on Darfur.  Following their resignation from the Panel in August and September 2011, weapons experts Mike Lewis (Britain) and Claudio Gramizzi (Italy), and Darfur and Chad specialist Jérôme Tubiana (France) prepared a last, extensive report on their findings.  This document has, unfortunately, not been widely circulated outside the UN (where it remains "confidential"), even as it remains the most authoritative account we have from any international investigators on the ground in Darfur.  It also provides a clear warning of what was to come in the following two years.  What appears now a vast and incoherent mélange of violence has a great deal more intelligibility if we examine closely this highly detailed, professional, ground-based research from 2011. The document is available at:

The Document

In a significant scoop, the highly authoritative Africa Confidential provided the first account of the report in April 2012 (along with the URL for the report itself):

"UN clash over Beijing bullets claim: UN experts' reports differ over Darfur arms violations," Africa Confidential, 13th April 2012:

"A seismic diplomatic row is rumbling at United Nations headquarters in New York over the circulation of a damning report by former UN experts pointing to the supply of Chinese-made ammunition to the Sudan government for use against civilians in Darfur. The row exposes fresh divisions on Sudan at the UN Security Council and disarray in Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office. It may also unpick Beijing's careful diplomacy as it seeks to realign its relations between Sudan and South Sudan.

"The report, which is circulating clandestinely at UN headquarters, was written by three of the original members of the UN's Panel of Experts, which monitors violations of the UN arms embargo in Darfur. It argues that the Darfur crisis, far from winding down as Khartoum and some press reports suggest, is worsening, with new incidents of ethnic cleansing, arms deliveries and aerial bombing.  Africa Confidential has obtained two separate reports on Darfur (available to download at the end of this article), one commissioned by Ban's Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, which is highly conservative in its findings, and a more forthright, detailed unofficial version by the three specialists who resigned from Pascoe's appointed Panel on Darfur in 2011.

"Weapons experts Mike Lewis (Britain) and Claudio Gramizzi (Italy), and Darfur and Chad specialist Jérôme Tubiana (France) resigned, Africa Confidential has learned, after Pascoe's department declined to take seriously their complaints about the standards of competence and neutrality on the Panel. The trio have now sent their own report—with lengthy annexes—to the Security Council. This unofficial report details Sudan army ammunition found in Darfur that appeared to be Chinese-made. Some may have been made in the Sudan Technical Centre, a Sudanese military company in Khartoum. The findings upset China, which says the report is not an official document and should not be given a hearing. Diplomats from the United States and Britain are nonetheless backing the report in private."

I have also written previously (April 17, 2012) about this report and its striking contrasts with the "official" UN Panel of Experts report submitted by the highly politicized Panel that succeeded that of Gramizzi, Tubiana, and Lewis.  This "official" report is, by comparison, a travesty:

[1]  The "official" Panel of Experts offered only a very superficial account of events in eastern Darfur, especially in the Shangal Tobay region, where violence flared viciously in the wake of Minni Minawi's defection from the Khartoum regime in late 2010.  But the Panel experts who resigned investigated much more fully, spent much more time on the ground in the region, and interviewed a much greater range and number of witnesses.  On the basis of this extensive research, they concluded that the attacks on Zaghawa civilians were deliberate (Minawi is the Zaghawa leader of the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi, or SLA/MM) and that the evidence was sufficiently compelling to characterize the violence as "ethnic cleansing" by the Khartoum regime and militia proxies.

[2]  The "official" Panel of Experts offers only a few weak conclusions—and even less research—about violations of the UN arms embargo on Darfur (again, monitoring this embargo and the ban on offensive military flights are the primary mandates for the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, per UN Security Council Resolution 1591).  For its part, on the basis of wide and impressively deep research, the "unofficial" Panel of Experts finds overwhelming evidence that weapons and ammunition manufactured after 2005 in Russia and China continue to make their way to Khartoum and then onto Darfur. Unsurprisingly, resistance to discussion of the "unofficial" Report comes primarily from these two veto-wielding members of the Security Council.

[3]  Nowhere is the contrast between the two reports greater than in the broader generalizations drawn about insecurity on Darfur.  Again, it must be stressed that in character and quality of field research, depth of analysis, annexes, footnotes, and time on the ground, there is simply no comparison between the two reports. Indeed, the official report of the UN Panel of Experts has five factitious and skimpy annexes.  The fifth is simply make-work—a "Summary of the Outgoing Communications Sent by the Panel of Experts" (e.g., we learn that on "February 18 Ethiopia [was contacted] for visa assistance").

By contrast the report of the Experts who resigned has twenty-eight key annexes.  It also has more than 150 detailed footnotes for references.  For its part, the "official" Panel of Experts typically provides trivial and often meaningless sourcing, a large majority of them baldly citing UNAMID (e.g., Footnote 50, on the important subject of carjackings over the past four years has simply, in toto, "UNAMID source"; Footnote 46 declares equally baldly, "Figures provided by UNAMID"). Indeed, the entire report by the "official" Panel of Experts reads like an uninspired, uninformed, and dismayingly listless political exercise, allowing the UN and AU to check off a box on the "to do list."

The conclusions drawn about human security are correspondingly, and unsurprisingly, at odds in the two reports.  On the basis of what is finally paltry evidence from the ground, the "official" Report concludes that:

"there has been a clear and relatively positive change compared to the [security] situation in the previous years. Significant and tangible changes have taken place in the political and security situation. The Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) has set in motion a peace process that has been garnering support from the Darfur population at large."

These conclusions are simply preposterous: all evidence suggested that even at the time of this statement violence was significant and expanding; it has continued to escalate dramatically.  And reports from Darfuri leaders in the camps make clear that the Doha agreement is a dead letter, a blue-print for nothing other than the perpetuation of the status quo.  This "agreement" is purely expedient UN political posturing in the face of a situation in which it has made no progress either diplomatically or in providing human security.  Indeed, the Sudan Tribune reports (April 25, 2013) that relations between Khartoum and the one small rebel group to sign the peace "agreement" in July 2011 (el-Tigani Seisi's "Liberation and Justice Movement") are on the verge of collapse—a collapse that cannot be averted by the recent signing on to the agreement by a Justice and Equality Movement splinter group.

By contrast, the report from the Experts who resigned notes:

"Nonetheless, from their [the authors'] experience and direct observation elsewhere in Darfur, and from information and testimonies gathered from sources in Darfur, Khartoum and countries neighboring the Republic of Sudan, the Members of the Panel consider that some elements emerging from the Shangal Tobay case-study represent a reliable illustration of more generic trends of the recent evolution of the conflict in neighboring areas of the same region [i.e., the area of Shangal Tobay, between el-Fasher and Nyala and east], straddling the border between North and South Darfur.  Members of the Panel also found that the most intense violence in Darfur during their mandate happened in those areas of eastern Darfur, and in particular Shangal Tobay area." [ ]

"Members of the Panel found that government officials and forces under the control of the Government of Sudan had a primary role in the violence in Shangal Tobay” [though, they note, some officials also tried to stop the violence]."

The scandalous lack of even desk research by the "official" Panel of Experts is constantly in evidence.  So too is the inadequacy of desk research, given the reporting patterns of UNAMID.  The "unofficial" report, for example, notes that,

"…events [the former members of the Panel] witnessed alongside UNAMID personnel were not fully reported in UNAMID Patrol Reports or Situation Reports."

The largest conclusion of the "unofficial" Report of the Experts on Darfur is reflected in the violence that has been exploding in Darfur since last July:

"UNAMID forces have not been able to protect Zaghawa or other civilians, including those already living in IDP camps, from attacks, harassment, and displacements, some of which took place just in front of Shangal Tobay UNAMID team site."

These Experts also note that the failure to understand sufficiently the "chain of violence" in Shangal Tobay was due to "under-reporting or deliberately omitting to report some incidents."  This has been true for years and includes the dramatically inadequate and misleading reporting by the AU and UN leadership (again, see Appendix Two for some of the most telling examples).  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Secretariat as a whole, in various reports on UNAMID and Darfur, have been either spectacularly credulous or disgracefully disingenuous.  One revealing example: in the first two reports on Darfur and UNAMID in 2012, Ban's report mentions not a single incident of sexual violence—not one—even as the epidemic of rape continues unabated; reporting by Radio Dabanga also makes clear that UNAMID refuses to respond to threats or acts of rape.

This "under-reporting or deliberately omitting to report" has contributed greatly to the failure of the international community to understand the dynamics by which violence has escalated to the point where there is simply no security anywhere in Darfur, and mass civilian displacements from violence are reported on an almost daily basis. This comparison of the two reports will be continued in subsequent briefs.  Of particular significance for this period, the "unofficial" report of the Panel of Experts estimates that approximately 70,000 people were newly displaced from the greater Shangal Tobay/Khor Abeche region during their time on the ground in 2011:

"This cycle of violence provoked one of the most significant displacements that Darfur has experienced since the height of the conflict between 2003-2005, with the reported registration of around 70,000 new IDPs….  Most of those new displaced persons belong to the Zaghawa group."

Presently human displacement is surging throughout Darfur and into Chad; MSF reports some 50,000 new refugees in eastern Chad in recent weeks, including 40 percent of the major town of Umm Dukhum in West Darfur.  Altogether, many hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes within Darfur over the past months and years into highly uncertain circumstances, amidst rapidly decreasing security (see Appendix One).

Indeed, as I have argued in a series of recent analyses, security in Darfur is in "free-fall":

"Human Security in Darfur Enters Free-Fall," March 20, 2013

"Human Security in Darfur, Year's End 2012: North Darfur," January 17, 2013

"Human Security in Darfur, Year's End 2012: South Darfur," January 11, 2013

"Human Security in Darfur, Year's End 2012: West Darfur," December 27, 2012

"Growing Violence in Darfur Deserves Honest Reporting, Not More Flatulent UN Nonsense," December 1, 2012

"Violence in Hashaba, North Darfur: A brutal portent, another UN disgrace," October 30, 2012

Despite overwhelming evidence of a rapidly deteriorating security environment—posing a wide range of acute dangers for civilians, both in the camps and rural areas—the UN and African Union continues to minimize the scale of current violence, as it has done for many years now; this is true even as UNAMID's performance continues to deteriorate and morale falls.  It is especially revealing that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and its Undersecretary Hervé Ladsous, continues to claim that circumstances on the ground actually permit a draw-down of peacekeeping forces.  There is evidently no inclination within UN DPKO to continue funding at present exorbitant levels a peacekeeping force that is performing so poorly, given other acute needs for peacekeepers around the world.


The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) has very recently offered not only a more realistic assessment of the total number of displaced—2.3 million in Darfur and Chad—but cites an estimate by the International Monitoring Centre:

"An estimated 2.3 million people remain displaced by Darfur's decade-long conflict.  A number of peace agreements - most recently the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur—have failed to halt the intermittent clashes between the government and rebel groups in the region…. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, more than 150,000 people were displaced by renewed violence in Darfur in the first three months of 2013." (April 19, 2013) 

Many additional tens of thousands of people have been displaced since violence began to accelerate so dramatically last July, producing a figure of newly displaced that dwarfs highly dubious UN claims about the number of "returning" displaced persons (see Appendix One).  An epidemic of rape continues to surge throughout Darfur amidst a climate of complete impunity; displaced persons camps are increasingly attacked or subject to brutal, often violent extortion schemes by militias and the feared Abu Tira (Central Reserve Police); major roads are too insecure for travel except with the heaviest of armed escorts.  Relief efforts are ever more endangered, and there is a steady increase in reports of food shortages, food inflation, lack of clean water and primary medical care, and a lack of livelihoods.  In many cases, returns by displaced persons to their villages and lands is impossible because they are now occupied by Arab pastoralists—typically armed and threatening—including groups from Chad and Niger. 

Indiscriminate aerial bombardment continues unabated (see, particularly in the Jebel Marra region, but in a great many other locations in Darfur.  UNAMID confirms virtually none of these, in part because it is so frequently denied access by the security forces of the Khartoum regime.  Humanitarian access—both because of insecurity but also because of Khartoum's denial of access—continues to deteriorate rapidly.  Assaults on camps and even in towns have become more frequent and more indiscriminate.  Basic services, including water and always sparse electricity, continue to be degraded.  And there is no end in sight to the violence.  But current realities have a history, and our most detailed account for 2011 comes from the reporting work of Mike Lewis, Claudio Gramizzi, and Jérôme Tubiana. §

§ The report of the former members of the Panel of Experts, with its highly defined mandate, is amply supplemented by a report from the Small Arms Survey by Claudio Gramizzi and Jérôme Tubiana.  They have provided a remarkably full overview of this violence in a report from the Small Arms Survey (Geneva): "Forgotten Darfur: Old Tactics and New Players,” (July 2012).  Their report 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.

APPENDIX ONE: Displacement, "returns," and current trends (a compendium of reports; see also,  “How many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are there in Darfur?” Dissent Magazine [on-line], April 28, 2011):

It is important to realize that the UN, in totaling the number of returning IDPs, takes no obvious account of those who must abandon their attempt to regain their lands and way of life.  For example,

"[Seven] families who came back to the Guldo region [West Darfur] in the framework of the Sudanese Government’s voluntary repatriation initiative were found in an extremely worrying state. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that they were part of 25 families who left Kalma Camp (South Darfur) as a part of the Voluntary Return program. However, the journey was too dangerous, and 18 families were forced to travel back to their original camp in South Darfur. Furthermore, they reported to Radio Dabanga that the remaining families did not receive any support from the province of West Darfur, even though it organized the deportation. They now call for international action to save these families, who are currently in a critical state.” (Radio Dabanga, July 26, 2011, "Voluntary Repatriation: 7 families found in a critical state")

Displacement and returns have been central issues in Darfur since the beginning of major fighting in 2003.  Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 34 (representing conditions as of January 2009) was the last that OCHA produced. Its release in March 2009 came just as Khartoum was expelling thirteen distinguished international humanitarian organizations and closing three important Sudanese relief organizations—altogether roughly half the humanitarian capacity in Darfur.  This last Profile found that there were "nearly 2.7 million Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur."  An accompanying graph showed a slow but steady increase, much of it clearly the result of massive civilian destruction and attacks such as had occurred in the Muhajeriya area of South Darfur (October 2007) and the regions north of el-Geneina in West Darfur (February 2008), the latter described in brutal detail by one of the last meaningful UN human rights reports on Darfur (March 20, 2008):

"Military attacks in Sirba, Silea and Abu Suruj (8 February), involved aerial bombardments by helicopter gunships and fixed-wing aircraft, accompanied by ground offensives by militia and SAF. Consistent information gathered by UNAMID Human Rights Officers indicated that these actions violated the principle of distinction stated in international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives. Moreover, the scale of destruction of civilian property, including objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy. Information on extensive pillaging during and after the attacks was also gathered. In addition, consistent and credible accounts of rape committed by armed uniformed men during and after the attack in Sirba were collected."

Such reports worked to explain the steady rise in IDPs that had featured prominently in news and human rights reporting on Darfur; both the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center used the 2.7 million figure. But OCHA issued a massive (and unexplained) "correction" in July 2010, tied to no public or private report. As of July 2010 OCHA referred to 1.9 million IDPs—800,000 people had suddenly become "undisplaced" ( ). The only "source" offered by OCHA for this radical downsizing of an intensely distressed population was buried in a terse footnote, referring simply to work by the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration (IOM): "IOM Sudan (2009)." There was no indication of precise date, title, researchers, links, or anything that would allow a reader to understand what was signified by this reference.

The IOM did not announce a publication or completed study on displacement in Darfur; nor did OCHA subsequently explain what IOM had uncovered that justified such an enormous decline in the population considered "displaced." IOM's 2009 annual report makes no reference to research on IDPs in Darfur, although the report does note that Khartoum prevented IOM missions from traveling to South Darfur for much of the year (in summer 2010 Khartoum expelled two senior IOM officials for no reason).

What had happened? Since 2009, many within the humanitarian community in Darfur had thought some recalibration of IDP numbers was necessary, for a variety of reasons: double-counting of people registered in two locations; manipulation within the camps of UN World Food Program ration cards; the many deaths (but of course also many births) that had occurred in the camps; and confusion over whether a person already displaced counted for one or two "IDPs" if displaced a second time.

But the new IOM "figure" was relevant for the year 2008, not 2010, even less for 2011, 2012, and 2013. Moreover, during the period of study IOM's database was significantly incomplete. For example, only 488,997 IDPs were registered with IOM in South Darfur, a region with half of Darfur's total population (6.5 million). Some camps and concentrations of IDPs had never been registered. This was not an issue of bad faith on the part of IOM, which was simply doing the best it could with limited data (including data from the UN World Food Program). For the beginning of 2008, a figure of 1.9 million was at least representative of the data available to IOM. IOM made clear to OCHA that the figure was a work-in-progress with very significant limits; OCHA ignored this and peremptorily reduced the figure on the basis of the "IOM Sudan (2009)" reference. IOM had no intention of the figure of 1.9 million IDPs replacing earlier assessments, precisely because of the issues that are raised here, according to former IOM officials.

The Data Extant

To gain any true sense of scale of displacement in Darfur, we should also bear in mind UN and other figures for total displacement, of all kinds, in the immediately preceding years. 

• OCHA estimated that 300,000 Darfuris were newly displaced in 2007;

• OCHA estimated that 317,000 Darfuris were newly displaced in 2008;

• In 2009—the year of humanitarian expulsions—OCHA promulgated no figure of its own, but the Canadian "Peace Operations Monitor" found evidence suggesting that "over 214,000 people were newly displaced [in Darfur] between January & June [2009] alone ( Given the reports of violent displacement that followed June 2009, a total figure for the year of 250,000 seems conservative;

• The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre collected data suggesting that in 2010 approximately 300,000 people were newly displaced.  The OCHA Sudan Bulletin (January 7 - 13, 2011) reported that the "overall number of people displaced during the December 2010 fighting in the area of Khor Abeche stands at 43,000." 300,000 newly displaced for the year again seems a conservative figure;

• UN IRIN (Nairobi) reports, March 16, 2011:

"Tens of thousands of people continue to flee their homes in Sudan's western region of Darfur for the safety of internally displaced people's camps after recent fighting between government forces and armed militias.  According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 66,000 IDPs have arrived in camps in North and South Darfur since JanuaryAt least 53,000 are in and around North Darfur State's Zam Zam IDP Camp." 

Radio Dabanga alone reported on March 27, 2012 a finding by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (these are precisely the sorts of stories—accounts from UN humanitarian agencies—that so rarely figure in international reporting on Darfur):

"The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN said on Monday [March 26, 2012] that about 3,000 people from the areas of Dar Es Salam and Zam Zam camps in North Darfur have been displaced to Kalimdo and other areas with El Fasher. The FAO said that the displaced people are in need aid, food and medicines."

• Radio Dabanga reportedApril 2, 2012:

7,000 flee after government forces raze villages in North Darfur

"More than 7,000 people have fled their homes in North Darfur after government forces and militants reportedly burned down their villages last week. '7,000 have left the villages of Adam Khatir, Nagojora, Hamid Dilli, Amar Jadid, Koyo and Duga Ferro near Donki Hosh and fled to the surrounding areas where there is no food, water or shelter,' said a newly displaced witness to Radio Dabanga from a safe area. 'They attacked us for three days, from Tuesday until Thursday evening. They burned down five villages, looted more than 20 and destroyed water wells and pumps,' added the witness. She appealed to the UN and humanitarian organisations to protect them and provide them with desperately needed assistance."

• Radio Dabanga reported, April 16, 2012:

5,000 South Sudanese forced out of Darfuri camp (Sharef [South Darfur] 16 Apr 2012)

"South Sudanese citizens living in a camp in the Sharef area of East [formerly South] Darfur had their homes burned down and destroyed on Monday by a group of militia. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga their camp was completely looted yesterday including the clothes they were wearing. They said today the militants came back and indiscriminately burned down their homes forcing the traumatised camp residents out into the surrounding areas."

• UN OCHA reported, April 29, 2012:

"According to IOM [the International Organization for Migration], some 3,400 newly displaced people have been verified and registered in Zamzam IDP camp, North Darfur. These newly displaced people fled their homes because of inter-tribal fighting between Zaghawa and Birgid tribesmen in Alauna village (approximately 25km north of Dar el Salam, North Darfur) that started on 22 February."

• August 5, 2012: a report from a highly reliable and experienced source on the ground in North Darfur (received via e-mail):

"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 [approximately 30,000 civilians—ER].  The markets in Kutum and in Kassab have both been thoroughly looted."

• Radio Dabanga reported, August 9, 2012:

"Representatives of the Kassab and Fatta Barno camps in North Darfur, revealed on Wednesday that the situation in both camps remains critical and over 70,000 IDPs fled so far.  UNAMID promised to provide support to both camps within 24 hours."

• Radio Dabanga reported, September 30, 2012:

"[M]ore than 2,000 people who fled the recent attacks around Hashaba have arrived to Ba’ashim area, north of Mellit, North Darfur, on Sunday, 30 September. Sources told Radio Dabanga that these people traveled for three days by foot, hiding around mountains and valleys when it was light and moving only by night. This way, sources explained, the victims could avoid being found by pro-government militias.

"Witnesses said these people are suffering from fatigue, adding that they barely ate or drank anything during the three days they traveled. Upon arrival in Ba’ashim, a remote area, most people were transferred to Mellit city where there are enough facilities to support them, sources explained. They added that the 2,000 people who arrived in Ba’ashim represent only one fourth of the victims who fled the Hashaba attacks."

 UN IRIN reported February 8, 2013:

"The Darfur-based Radio Dabanga reported on 6 February that some 16,000 newly displaced people had arrived in the North Darfur towns of Kabkabiya and Saraf Omra following threats by rival tribal militias. Many of the displaced are living on the streets with no humanitarian support."

• Reuters (AlertNet), reported (February 13, 2103):

"The latest violence left more than 100 people dead and forced some 100,000 to flee their homes in what aid agencies say is the largest displacement in recent years inside Sudan's troubled western region of Darfur. The United Nations said in mid-January it was alarmed by confirmed reports of killings of civilians, as well as the burning of more than three dozen villages."

• Radio Dabanga reported (March 19, 2013):

"Some 4,000 people in South Darfur were displaced after having their villages 'burnt by aerial bombings by the Sudanese air force' during last week's battles." (

• Radio Dabanga reported, March 26, 2013:

"A Nertiti camps activist disclosed on Tuesday [February 26, 2013] that between 23,000 and 25,000 families [likely over 100,000 civilians] have arrived in the area fleeing the battles between government and rebel forces in [formerly West] Darfur that erupted on 23 December last year. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, he noted that some 15 or 20 families continue arriving in the camps every day from Golo and the Jildu garrison area in West Jebel Marra, where much of the fighting took place. Nertiti is already home to more than 42,000 displaced persons according to the UN OCHA."

 Radio Dabanga reports, April 23, 2013:

"Pro-government militias reportedly attacked 300 civilians who were fleeing battles between government forces and rebels in South Darfur on Monday. The displaced were heading to El Salam camp near the state’s capital which has received '7,000 families' [perhaps more than 30,000 civilians] since March."

• Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported, April 26, 2013:

"TISSI, CHAD/NEW YORK, APRIL 26, 2013—Violent clashes in Sudan's Darfur region have driven approximately 50,000 people across the border into southeastern Chad since early March, where a lack of food, water, shelter, and basic services is developing into a humanitarian crisis, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today."

• UN IRIN reported, April 19, 2013:

"An estimated 2.3 million people remain displaced by Darfur’s decade-long conflict.  A number of peace agreements—most recently the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur—have failed to halt the intermittent clashes between the government and rebel groups in the region…. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, more than 150,000 people were displaced by renewed violence in Darfur in the first three months of 2013." 

Radio Dabanga reports, April 26, 2011:

2,200 families fleeing Sudan army, rebels battles arrive in camp (KALMA CAMP)

"In line with “preliminary assessments” at least 2,200 families have arrived in a South Darfur camp over the last month due to clashes between Sudanese and rebel troops in two states of the region."

NB: the IRIN figure in its April 19 dispatch evidently includes much of what is excluded from the commonly cited UN figure of "1.4 million internally displaced in Darfur":

• 330,000 refugees in Chad;

• 300,000 IDPs registered in camps, but not registered for feeding by the UN's World Food Program (OCHA weekly report, Issue 06 | September 2, 2012); it is this population that when omitted yields the figure of 1.4 million displaced that OCHA itself has done far too much to promulgate without qualification.

• Recently displaced persons who figure in no census—perhaps as many as 200,000, judging from reports from the UN, Radio Dabanga, and other sources (see above);

• Those displaced but living with host families or villages, not in camps; early in its reporting, the UN Darfur Humanitarian Profiles estimated this figure to be as high as 600,000.

This readily available data, in aggregate suggests that more than 1.2 million civilians have been newly displaced since January 1, 2008, the official beginning of UNAMID's mandate.  Indeed, the figure may be much greater than 1.2 million. Yet despite these data, most news reports continue to cite a figure of "1.4 million" as "remaining displaced" in Darfur; this is a gross misrepresentation of realities on the ground.  Even so, the new UN/AU Joint Special Representative Aichatu Mindaoudou claims on the basis of this figure that "the numbers of people affected by violence had decreased each year between 2008 and 2011." It did not take Ms. Mindaoudou long to learn the mendacious ways of UNAMID (see Appendix Two below).

APPENDIX TWO: UN and African Union misrepresentations of Darfur's realities

[ It is worth noting here that the spokesman for UNAMID, Aicha Elbasri, resigned on April 23, 2013, as Radio Dabanga and the Sudan Tribune reported (April 23, 2013):

"The spokesperson of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Aicha Elbasri, announced her resignation on Tuesday eight months after her appointment, saying she was blocked from accessing information. 'I resigned from my post because I wasn't receiving the support I needed in terms of access to information in a timely manner, including the accurate and up-to-date information the media was asking for,' Elbasri told Radio Dabanga."

A "rogue's gallery" of UN and AU commentary:

• August 2009 statement by departing head of UNAMID forces Martin Agwai: "as of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur, [but rather] very low intensity engagements."

[In 2009 data suggest that some 250,000 Darfuris were newly, and typically violently displaced—ER]

• Departing UN/AU special representative to UNAMID, Rodolphe Adada (August 2009):

"'I have achieved results' in Darfur. [ ] 'There is no more fighting proper on the ground.' 'Right now there is no high-intensity conflict in Darfur. Call it what you will but this is what is happening in Darfur—a lot of banditry, carjacking, attacks on houses.''' ( )

• UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Georg Charpentier offered a similarly optimistic assessment of Darfur in early 2011: "We are seeing a 'trend of decreasing overall violent incidents in Darfur.'" (January 20, 2011)

• In a truly despicably moment of mendacity, Charpentier declared: "'UN humanitarian agencies are not confronted by pressure or interference from the Government of Sudan,' [Charpentier said in a written statement to the Institute for War and Peace reporting (IWPR)]." (January 7, 2011)

• A year and half ago former JSR Ibrahim Gambari gave a statistical account of UNAMID's success: "Our figures have shown that the number of armed attacks in all three Darfur states has fallen by as much 70 percent over the past three years, which has resulted in more displaced people returning to their homes." (Radio Netherlands International, September 14, 2011)

• In an interview with Radio Dabanga (May 20, 2012), the spokesman for the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Christopher Cycmanick, "described the security situation in Darfur as 'relatively calm.'"

• Former JSR Gambari declared in anticipation of his retirement party in September 2012, "I am gratified to note that barely 31 months on, all the objectives I set out to meet have largely been met." 

Fearing no contradiction, UN and AU officials—including senior UN officials in New York—have deliberately and disastrously understated the scale of insecurity and humanitarian need in Darfur.

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

The Darfur Genocide at Ten Years: A Reckoning

By Eric Reeves

April 19, 2013 (SSNA) -- There is in Darfur no end in sight for conflict, murder, rape, assaults on displaced persons camps, agricultural and village destruction, brutal extortion schemes, and continuing violent human displacement.  The primary targets of this mayhem overseen by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum continue to be primarily civilians from African tribal groups surviving tenuously in an increasingly chaotic Darfur; it is the cruelest of counter-insurgency strategies, since the military opponents of the regime are rebel groups that refuse to accept a peace agreement contrived in Doha (Qatar), not ordinary farmers and landholders.  Moreover, for several years an increasing number of Arab tribal groups have been drawn into the fighting, often pitting one Arab group against another; this has produced rapidly growing "collateral damage" as Khartoum seeks to subdue Darfur by means of a war of attrition in which impunity, chaos, and inter-ethnic violence serve the regime's ultimate military and political purposes.  The insecurity consequent upon such polices threatens international relief organizations, many of which have already withdrawn or been expelled, and many more are contemplating withdrawal.

International civilian protection—publicly called for since 2003—has been disastrously inadequate.  Since January 1, 2008 the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has failed miserably in providing basic civilian protection, even as it began as the most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world (and is now only one of three in greater Sudan).  Throughout Darfur, even as humanitarian assistance is increasingly attenuated and severely threatened, neither the UN nor the AU will speak honestly about these realities, or risk any confrontation with Khartoum and its primary supporters: the Arab League, China, Russia, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and sadly many within the AU.  On countless occasions public statements by officials from both the AU and UN have been marked by either disingenuousness or outright mendacity, particularly concerning levels of violence, displacement, and humanitarian conditions and access.  Of human mortality totals the UN has long ceased to speak for fear of angering Khartoum; in fact, the extant evidence and data, while certainly incomplete, strongly suggest that half a million people have died from violence and its consequences: exposure, dehydration, disease, and starvation. [1]

The international community, long unwilling to act meaningfully, pretends that a raft of ignored UN Security Council resolutions—filled with "Chapter 7 authority" and various "demands" that have gone entirely unmet by Khartoum—is an adequate diplomatic response.  Peace negotiations, under myriad auspices, produced first the disastrously ill-conceived and ill-fated "Darfur Peace Agreement" (2006, Abuja)—an agreement that ensured the fragmentation of Darfur's rebel movement.  More recently (July 2011) the "Doha Document for Peace in Darfur" (DDPD) has served as the diplomatic point of departure, and touchstone for all comments about ending violence in Darfur.  This is so even as the DDPD has been overwhelmingly rejected by the major rebel groups and Darfuri civil society, and whose terms have been almost entirely ignored by the Khartoum regime since the time the agreement was signed twenty-one months ago.

The "Responsibility to Protect" (unanimously ratified in the UN General Assembly "Outcome Document" of September 2005 and UN Security Council Resolution 1674 [April 2006]) is among the most serious and conspicuous casualties of the Darfur genocide, and for evidence we need look no further than current international failure to halt Khartoum's ongoing campaigns of civilian annihilation in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and in Blue Nile. The impunity that sustains the Khartoum regime in its serial atrocity crimes in these two southern states grows directly out of the impunity that has prevailed from the beginning of major violence in Darfur.  The deliberate destruction of agricultural production in the Nuba and Blue Nile should remind us of the systematic destruction of food-stocks and seed-stocks, the poisoning of water sources, and the looting or killing of livestock during the Darfur genocide.  These are all actions that continue to be reported in Darfur, along with relentless aerial bombardment that directly violates the UN Security Council "demand" (Resolution 1591, March 2005) that all aerial military assaults in Darfur be halted. [2] 

And it is of course indiscriminate bombing of civilians and civilian targets that for almost two years has defined Khartoum's military assault on the Nuba and Blue Nile, where the regime permits no humanitarian relief efforts to reach civilians in rebel-held territory.  The bombing attacks—primarily conducted by highly inaccurate Antonov cargo planes from which crude, shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs are simply rolled out the cargo bay—are all war crimes under the Rome Statute that provides the statutory basis for the International Criminal Court.  Collectively the attacks constitute crimes against humanity under the Statute.

So many and so great are the Khartoum regime's violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Darfur that a detailed retrospective seems urgently required as violence reaches a new crescendo throughout the region, and the prospects for peace rapidly recede.  This brief is the first of several accounts focusing on specific violations of international law—on this occasion analyzing the tactic of deliberately disguising of military aircraft so as to be either unidentifiable or appear to be those of the UN or humanitarian organizations.

[ For a recent overview of security conditions in Darfur, see:

"Human Security in Darfur Enters Free-Fall," 20 March 2013 at 

For a recent overview of humanitarian conditions in Darfur, see:

"Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: The most recent reports reveal a relentless deterioration," 10 February 2013 at ]

Disguising Military Aircraft in a Humanitarian Theater

Resolution 1591, in addition to demanding a halt to all aerial assaults in Darfur, created a UN Panel of Experts (on Darfur), both to verify compliance with the demand that aerial military attacks be halted and to monitor the arms embargo placed on the region.  The earlier Panels did a commendable job, identifying not only egregious violations of the arms embargo, but confirming a great many aerial military attacks that violated Res. 1591.  Of particular note, the earlier Panels also established early on that Khartoum was clearly deploying aircraft disguised as UN aircraft or painted the white color that ensures the humanitarian neutrality of planes and their cargo.  Perhaps in response, the regime has more recently settled on the tactic of marking Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) aircraft with military insignia far too small to be identified from the ground.

Such disguising of aircraft is an extremely serious violation of international law.  The significance of such violation was very recently highlighted in The New England Journal of Medicine (March 21, 2013; 368:12):

"In June 1968, a clearly marked Swedish Red Cross plane that was flying relief supplies into the breakaway state of Biafra was shot down by Nigerian fighters.  Before the was over, many relief planes would be shot down and far more would crash because the Nigerian government's shoot-to-kill order forced them to fly at night.  The brazen targeting of Red Cross relief flights was hard to imagine.  In the minds of some people, however, these attacks were justified by another clear violation humanitarian neutrality: on at least one occasion, a plane painted with the Red Cross insignia was actually carrying weapons.  That rare instance of military action masquerading as humanitarian relief completely undermined the neutrality of everyone who operated by the accepted rules of humanitarian assistance, cost the lives of both aid workers and aid recipients, and provided a blanket of impunity for future criminal actions of the Nigerian government." (p. 1073)

Given this ghastly precedent, why have the UN and the international community been so reluctant to call forceful, consequential attention to these violations in Darfur, which continue on a regular basis?  For the use of disguised military aircraft continues to this day, as confirmed to me by two highly experienced regional experts with extensive knowledge of the situation on the ground in Darfur (emails received April 17/18/19, 2013).  The UN Panel of Experts on Darfur has repeatedly called attention to this violation of international law in its publicly released UN reports, indeed has provided voluminous evidence, both photographic and by means of eyewitness accounts from vast numbers of Darfuris (all report titles, dates, and key findings about disguised aircraft and ground vehicles may be found in Appendix 1 at; links to the all the reports through 2009 can be found at a Small Arms Survey listing).  Here are a few excerpts from the reports:

§45. The Panel has evidence that the Government of the Sudan leased at least one Mi-8 helicopter from a local leasing company of foreign origin. This "white" helicopter has been at the centre of controversy, as it was reported to be previously leased by AMIS and was later leased to the Government of the Sudan with the AMIS sign still affixed (as shown in fig. 2). The continued use of unmarked and/or white helicopters for military use indicates reluctance on the part of the Government to seriously consider the threat this action poses for the United Nations and AMIS.

§46. On several occasions SLA and NMRD [rebel] operatives have threatened to shoot down any white helicopters, including United Nations and AMIS [African Union Mission in Sudan] helicopters, that fly over certain areas in Darfur. They claim this is in response to the Government's practice of using white helicopters similar to those used by the United Nations and AMIS. This situation has led to at least one incident where United Nations pilots had to take evasive action to avoid bullets fired from the ground, reportedly by members of SLA.  (April 2006 report; AMIS was the exceedingly small and weak predecessor to UNAMID)

Offensive military overflight

§201. On 30 June 2006, Panel members travelling by UNMIS helicopter visited Umm Sidr, a position in Northern Darfur held by the G19 ["Group of 19" rebel force]. During discussions with some of the rebel leaders, soldiers and villagers, at about 1200 hours they observed an unmarked white Antonov aircraft circling the area for approximately 45 minutes. The villagers and rebel leaders told the Panel that it was a Government of the Sudan military aircraft, painted white to camouflage as a United Nations or AMIS aircraft, that such intimidating overflights were a regular occurrence in their area, and that they felt threatened as the aircraft often came close to the ground. The Panel members noted the location of the place on the GPS monitor at 25° 09' 15" East and 14° 25' 23" North. (Panel report to the Security Council, October 2006)

The reports offer a great many other highly detailed examples:

(Figure 9, Unmarked white Antonov aircraft at El-Fasher airport 7 August 2006)

§207. Contrary to the claim of the Government of the Sudan, on 7 August, the Panel saw one white Antonov aircraft stationed at the El-Fasher airport bearing two numbers: one on its tail (7705) and another on its body (26563) (see fig. 9). The aircraft did not bear any emblem or logo. Since the aircraft was guarded by the Sudanese Armed Forces, it is believed to be a Government of the Sudan aircraft. (August 2007 report)

The October 2008 report by the Panel of Experts gives the broadest sense of their collective findings:

                       SAF white aircraft:

§89. In all of its reports to date the Panel has recorded the ongoing use of white aircraft in Darfur by SAF [the Sudan Armed Forces]. The Panel continued to observe such activities, involving both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, during the present mandate.

Human Rights Watch drew all the appropriate conclusions in their important report of September 2007 ("Chaos by Design"):

"Government forces have used military aircraft painted white—the color used by UN and AMIS forces—for reconnaissance, supply operations, and attacks. At a distance, the aircraft resemble United Nations and AMIS planes and Mi-8 helicopters; sometimes they even have UN markings. Use of these white aircraft for military purposes is a violation of international humanitarian law, specifically the improper use of the United Nations emblem, and, when simulating the protected status of peacekeeping forces and humanitarian operations to conduct attacks, the prohibition against perfidy. Use of these planes puts genuine UN, humanitarian, and AMIS flights at risk because rebels might mistake them for legitimate military targets. People in desperate need of aid may flee from humanitarian flights if they cannot distinguish them from government military aircraft. [36]

[36] UN Panel of Experts, “Interim report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan, submitted pursuant to resolution 1713 (2006),” unpublished, paras. 93-98 and 136.

The Human Rights Watch report continued:

"The United Nations has in the past urged the Sudanese government not to use white aircraft that resemble its own, saying it endangers the peacekeepers. The UN Panel of Experts' 2007 report described multiple sightings of white helicopters in Darfur during 2007. The report described two white Mi-171 helicopters painted with military registrations, neither of which displayed a Sudanese flag painted on the aircraft. 'The Panel believes this is a method to further conceal their identity so that from a moderate distance they resemble United Nations or AMIS Mi-8 helicopters used in Darfur.'"

"Photos from the report, all dated from 2007, show a white Fantan A-5 helicopter at Nyala airport, a white Mi-24 at Khartoum International Airport, a white Antonov (An-12) plane at El-Geneina, a white Antonov (An-26) with UN markings at El Fasher, and another white Antonov (An-26) at Khartoum airport.

"The UN Panel of Experts said, 'the extensive use of white aircraft by the Government of the Sudan, including the use of white Antonov aircraft in some of the 66 aerial attacks catalogued by the Panel between September 2006 and July 2007, constitutes a serious obstruction to the work of AMIS and the United Nations. In one instance the Panel found that the Government of the Sudan had used a white Antonov aircraft with "UN" markings in offensive military overflights' A Security Council resolution prohibits Sudan from conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region."

The highly authoritative Small Arms Survey (Geneva) provided a detailed account of the aircraft in question:

"Russian Mi-17 and Mi-32 helicopter gunships, Sukhoi and MiG-29 fighter jets, and Chinese-made A-5 'Fantan' jets have all been sighted in Darfur, as well as white Antonov 26 transport aircraft used as crude bombers. The UN Panel has provided evidence that Antonovs have been painted white—the colour of many UN and relief agency planes flying in Darfur. One had 'UN' painted on a wing in a clear attempt to disguise its identity." (November 2010)

The follow year (2008) Sudan Tribune reported on another highly consequential violation, one of many that could have been reported:

"A white helicopter not marked with the UN emblem or any identifiable markings was seen Monday flying over a southern area of North Darfur state, where the majority of villages are controlled by the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction led by Abdel Wahid Al-Nur.

"White government aircraft have previously attacked civilians in both the current conflict in Darfur and during Sudan's 1983-2005 civil war. A September 2007 report to the UN Security Council by a five-person panel of experts revealed that white-painted government military planes were used for aerial surveillance, arms shipments and attacks on villages. Consistent use of white aircraft for military operations could make them a more likely target for rebel fighters, thus raising the danger for UN aircrews. Rebels from both SLA and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have already demonstrated their ability to down helicopters in multiple confirmed instances." (Sudan Tribune, September 23, 2008)

The danger to peacekeepers was underscored in the same Sudan Tribune dispatch:

"A helicopter of the hybrid peacekeeping force was shot at in western Darfur on [Monday] August 11, [2008] and another was damaged by gunfire on September 14, [2008] as it was on its way to Shangil Tobaya from Tawila town, about 37 km before Shangil Tobaya UNAMID base camp. In this instance [of a SAF disguised aerial military flight], the helicopter appears to have been scouting an area southeast of Kabkabiya."

Again, the Panel of Experts was explicit in its findings about not only disguised white SAF aircraft, but the actual use on the UN emblem on aircraft:

"The panel noted with concern that the [SAF] plane had a UN logo painted on the top of its left wing."

The dangers created by such disguise are made all too explicit by the Panel in its October 2008 report:

"§92. The Panel gained first-hand knowledge of this threat on 11 August 2008, when a white United Nations Mi-8 helicopter transporting the Panel to the Jebel Moon area of Darfur for a verification mission was targeted and fired upon by JEM combatants. Subsequent communications with JEM on the issue revealed that the combatants on the ground had mistaken the United Nations aircraft for a Government white helicopter and as such perceived it to be a viable military target."

All this should be borne in mind not only for Darfur, but for South Sudan, where Khartoum also uses disguised white or UN-marked aircraft to deliver military supplies to the increasingly violent rebel force of David Yau Yau in Jonglei State, as well as other renegade rebel groups.  The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) mistakenly shot down a Russian helicopter from the very area in Jonglei where this aerial re-supply has occurred; and yet it was not Khartoum that was the focus of international outrage but Juba.  Coming so quickly in the wake of the shoot-down, and in the absence of an investigation, such condemnation was entirely premature (see That Khartoum has not been held accountable—either for its disguised military aircraft in Darfur or its similar tactics in supplying Yau Yau—does much to explain the regime's diplomatic intransigence.

[ Reports from the ground in South Sudan also indicate that at on at least one occasion crude "UN" lettering was painted on an SAF aircraft, with the two letters disproportionate in size. ]

In Darfur, reports of disguised military aircraft have continued to pour in from a range of sources—including various reports from the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur—and it is clear that the practice continues.  As a token gesture Khartoum sometimes now puts on its military aircraft very small SAF roundels or and a tactical (military) SAF registration on the tail or body (usually a four-digit number).  But these are both far too small to be seen or identified from the ground, especially on an Antonov, which frequently flies as high as 5,000 meters so as to avoid ground fire.  This is an obvious and highly consequential violation of Preambular Paragraph 7, Resolution 1841 (2008), which "[demands] that there should be no aerial bombings nor the use in Darfur, by any party of the conflict, of white aircraft or aircraft with markings resembling those on United Nations aircraft."

Much of this was detailed in an extraordinary report by former members of the UN Panel of Experts (on Darfur) that first appeared in .early in 2012.  There they observe that:

"As during previous mandates, the Members of the Panel have on numerous occasions (detailed below) observed white Antonov-26 and Antonov-32 aircraft on the military aprons at both El Fasher and Nyala airports, marked with small military (numerical) registrations, operated by military personnel, and in El Fasher surrounded by visible aircraft bombs."

It is also reliably reported from the region that SAF Antonovs sometimes carry Sudanese civilian registrations alongside their military registrations.  An eyewitness reports that one SAF aircraft often seen in Darfur is all-white, with no markings except very small SAF roundels. This is an Ilyushin-76, formerly ST-AZZ of Azza Transport.  It is reportedly used for military transport rather than aerial assaults, but still constitutes a significant violation of international law and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Why has nothing been done in response to this outrageous endangerment of humanitarians and peacekeepers traveling by air?  To be sure, the U.S., the UN Secretariat, and the EU on occasion register their disapproval:

"The European Union condemned on Tuesday the Sudanese military's use of white aircraft in strife-torn Darfur, calling it a deliberate attempt to create confusion with UN planes. 'The European Union calls on the Sudanese authorities to put an immediate end to the military operations which started a few days ago in Darfur,' the bloc's French presidency said in a statement. 'It condemns the use of white aircraft in these operations, which is deliberately intended to create confusion with United Nations aircraft,' it said, calling on all parties to abide by international law." (Agence France-Presse [Brussels], September 23, 2008)

But of course such condemnations are completely ignored by Khartoum; it is likely that the EU issued a similar statement the preceding year, and subsequently—to no effect, with not credible threat of sanctions.  Indeed, in the end it was the regime's own blustering anger that seems to have forestalled sanctions by the UN Security Council, which actually has a committee tasked with monitoring Darfur sanctions issues.  In 2007, in response to the leaked UN Panel of Experts report, Khartoum's representative to the UN fulminated mindlessly, but with clearly implicit threats:

"Sudan lashed out on Thursday at a leak of a UN report that accused Khartoum of violating an arms embargo by flying military aircraft in Darfur and painting planes to make them look like UN aircraft. Khartoum's UN ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, in a letter to the head of the Security Council's sanctions committee on Sudan, said the 'enemies of peace and stability in Sudan' leaked the report to overshadow recent positive peacekeeping developments for turbulent Darfur, where 2 million people have been made homeless. The report was compiled by outside experts for the council's committee, which includes all 15 member nations, and was published by The New York Times on its Web site on Tuesday." (Reuters [UN/New York], April 19, 2007)

Those who leaked this report, compiled by distinguished experts in their respective fields, are "enemies of peace and stability in Sudan"—and faced with such "enemies," Khartoum will take the opportunity to expel any who might be among their number.  Of course the first major expulsions were to be of humanitarian relief organizations: thirteen were expelled in March 2009, representing roughly the total humanitarian capacity in Darfur at the time (there had been previous expulsions and many subsequently).  The "expulsion" of the UN Panel of Experts, authorized by a UN Security Council Resolution, proved to be more difficult and required different tactics.  Putting immense pressure on the feckless UN Secretariat—and assisted by arms suppliers China and Russia (China has repeatedly objected to reports that name Beijing as a violator of the Darfur arms embargo)—Khartoum demanded in effect that newly mandated Panel members be to their liking.  And over time they have got their way.  This acquiescence comes at considerable cost to the effectiveness of the international presence in Darfur. 

The Panel made clear in its October 2007 report that its work was already seriously compromised by Khartoum's actions:

"the use of white Antonov aircraft in some of the 66 aerial attacks catalogued by the Panel between September 2006 and July 2007, constitutes a serious obstruction to the work of AMIS and the United Nations."

Undoubtedly there were a great many more such attacks that went un-cataloged—perhaps many times as many.  The refusal to take such concerns seriously, the refusal of the UN Security Council to support its own Panel of Experts, was one reason that three of the most capable former members of the Panel circulated to the Security Council last year an unofficial report on the situation in Darfur, one that contrasted sharply with the inept and slovenly report by the "official" Panel covering the same period of time (see  The current nominations for the Panel are indeed much more to Khartoum's liking; several are of Arab descent or from Arab countries or are known to have pro-Khartoum sympathies—hardly appropriate choices given Arab/non-Arab tensions in Darfur—and their qualifications and neutrality have been sharply questioned by those who know their work best.  All three former experts resigned from the Panel in disgust at the politicization of the work in Darfur, and the carelessness with which this critical research is destined to be conducted for the foreseeable future.


What is perhaps most striking about the reports is the precipitous fall-off in accounts by the Panel of disguised or white-painted aircraft and ground vehicles. The report of November 2008 runs to many pages on the subject; the report of October 2009 has no references to white or disguised aircraft—none.  Intervening of course is the March 2009 expulsion of thirteen humanitarian organizations, together constituting roughly half the relief capacity in the region.  News and human rights organizations had been barred from Darfur for some time, and the intimidation of UNAMID increased dramatically during this period.  Denials of access and aggressively hostile accusations become standard burdens for the Mission.  In 2008, the first year of UNAMID's official deployment, Khartoum mounted two extremely serious military attacks on UNAMID—one with SAF forces, another deadly assault by means of militia proxies (see and   More recently, the October 2012 attack on a large, well-armed UNAMID convoy attempting to investigate atrocity crimes at Hashaba (North Darfur) was also the work of regime-allied militias.  In this attack one peacekeeper was killed and several seriously wounded (see

There can be little doubt that both the UN and AU have been thoroughly intimidated, and despite the Status of Forces Agreement (January 2008)—guaranteeing UNAMID freedom of access—such access has not and will not be granted, not without international pressure of a sort not seen in the more than five years of UNAMID's existence.  Most consequentially, UNAMID has proved itself—as a UN/AU "hybrid"—incapable of halting Khartoum's continuing use of disguised military aircraft, inviting precisely the sort of disaster that occurred in Nigeria in summer 1968.  There are few better measures of the Khartoum regime's callousness than such conspicuous violation of international law. 


[1] The last professional epidemiological study of mortality in Darfur was conducted by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Violence (CRED) (Olivier Degomme and Debarati Guha-Sapir in “Patterns of mortality rates in Darfur conflict,” The Lancet, January 23, 2010 (pages 294-300,  Although likely accurate in its estimate of those who had perished from the consequences of violence—primarily displacement without the resources necessary for survival—the report bewilderingly uses a fully discredited UN State Department estimate for violent mortality in the first year of conflict—perhaps the most violent and destructive year of all.  This leads to a gross understatement of overall violent mortality.  The document is also very poorly informed in its understanding of the dynamics and history of the conflict in Darfur, and Sudanese political history generally.  The report was also unable to take advantage of important data promulgated in summer 2010 by "Darfurian Voices"; it was on the basis of these data that I calculated approximately 300,000 had died directly from violence (or its immediate aftermath), and approximately 200,000 from the effects of that violence (this is the figure that accords with the CRED finding).  There have been no mortality studies of any sort since my effort of August 2010, more than two and a half years ago (

[2] The actual language of Resolution 1591 is important: "[The UN Security Council] Demands that the Government of Sudan, in accordance with its commitments under the 8 April 2004 N’djamena Ceasefire Agreement and the 9 November 2004 Abuja Security Protocol, immediately cease conducting offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region."  This includes all military flights, since the Darfur theater does not provide occasion for "defensive" military flights.   All military flights are thus ipso facto violations of this "demand."

The rebel groups have no military aircraft, so they cannot be used as a justification for aerial military responses by Khartoum.  Military aircraft might conceivably be used to defend threatened military positions, but such a joint ground/air operation seems exceedingly unlikely and almost certainly beyond the ability of the SAF air force.  The blunt truth now is the same as it was more than eight years ago when Resolution 1591 was passed by the Security Council: the overwhelming number of aerial attacks are directed not against military targets, but civilians and civilian resources—mainly by Antonov cargo planes, which have no militarily useful bombing accuracy.  The violations of the arms embargo on Darfur, which has never meant anything to the regime, are also conducted by military aircraft.

As the UN Panel of Experts put the matter in its October 2008 report:

Offensive military overflights

§95.    In line with past practice the Panel continues to define as offensive military overflights acts falling within the following categories:

(a) Disproportionate use of aircraft beyond that which is required to neutralize a clear and imminent threat;

(b) Unprovoked attack with aircraft, such as strafing or indiscriminate bombardment of civilian targets;

(c) Use of aircraft in support of ground operations preparing for or engaging in an attack;

(d)  Retaliatory attack, i.e. action in response to a prior attack;

(e)  Flights that deposit troops for participation in an attack;

(f)  Operation of aircraft in such a manner to intimidate, frighten or harass;

For example, flying mock attack runs, circling over an area for a considerable period of time, destroying buildings with rotor wash, generating sonic booms, etc.

Since the passage of Resolution 1591, more than 500 confirmed offensive bombing attacks against civilians in Darfur have been recorded (see spreadsheet).

APPENDIX—This Appendix includes all references to disguised white aircraft (as well as to SAF use of the UN logo) as well as to disguised white ground vehicles—from all Panel reports through 2009 (Appendix available at

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

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