On April 4, 2012 I published an extensive challenge to the claims of the New York Times dispatch from Nyuru, West Darfur (February 26, 2012) by Jeffrey Gettleman, this in the form of an open letter to the Public Editor, nominally charged with “representing the readers of the NYT.” My subsequent communications with the New York Times have not produced any acknowledgement of errors or problems in the reporting from Nyuru: there has been no recognition of how deeply problematic it is to use self-interested UNAMID sources, and even the in-country personnel of UN humanitarian agencies (I attach at the end of this brief links to a series of analyses of demonstrable mendacity on the part of senior UNAMID and UN humanitarian officials). Nor has there been a meaningful response to the substantial issues raised by a lengthy series of reports by Radio Dabanga in the wake of the NYT dispatch, as well as in its general reporting from the region.
Most significantly there has been no acknowledgement by the NYT that the dispatch as it was published clearly implies that there have been massive returns of refugees from eastern Chad. This is simply not the case, as Radio Dabanga has conclusively demonstrated on the basis of interviews with the leaders of all twelve Darfuri refugee camps in eastern Chad and with the Chad representative of the UN High Commission for Refugees. Moreover, the NYT seems unaware that the total Darfuri refugee population living in eastern Chad outside the camps is unlikely to exceed 20,000. UNHCR reports a total registration in the twelve camps as a highly stable 282,000.
The most recent of the relevant Radio Dabanga dispatches—all from this month—are attached below. They all speak to the terrifyingly high levels of violence that persist in most of West Darfur, as well as in the other Darfur states. Rape continues in epidemic proportions. Residents of displaced persons camps are constantly brutalized, subject to extortion, and killed. Nor are the locations of this violence far from Gettleman’s dateline of Nyuru: Mornei, for example, is less than fifteen miles from Nyuru and the focus of three of the dispatches below.
The February 26 dispatch from the NYT declares, on the basis of what is seen at this single location, that we have “a sign that one of the world’s most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled” [emphasis added]. The global implications of this adverb “decisively” are in fact disturbingly presumptuous, given the high levels of ongoing violence being reported near Nyuru. Many will have cringed when the NYT correspondent then goes on to quote an ecstatic UNAMID official, Dysane Dorani, speaking about a Darfur recognized by no Darfuris with whom I have communicated: “It’s amazing. The people are coming together. It reminds me of Lebanon after the civil war.”
Such self-serving rapture, let us be clear, comes from a senior official in an operation that has failed miserably by any reasonable peacekeeping standards, certainly in fulfilling its primary mandate of civilian protection. In order to obscure the scale of UNAMID’s failure, Dorani and other UNAMID leaders deeply distort the situation in West Darfur, certainly as presented by Radio Dabanga over many months, indeed years. And what must be recognized is that, unlike the NYT, Radio Dabanga has an extraordinarily extensive network of contacts on the ground and in the Darfuri diaspora, as revealed in part by the April dispatches excerpted below. Nor is Radio Dabanga dependent upon regime-approved translators. In this it should be noted that the New York Times did not speak with one Darfuri who could have spoken without threat. For whether Gettleman was aware of it or not, his trip to Nyuru was closely monitored by Khartoum’s Military Intelligence/NISS.
Moreover, Gettleman says nothing about how he came to have this singular opportunity to gain access to West Darfur after months during which there has been no international news reporting with a dateline in the region—and there have been none subsequently to confirm Gettleman’s “findings.” Does he imagine that there are no other journalists interested in traveling to West Darfur? And why Nyuru? Why should we not surmise that this is Khartoum’s “Potemkin village” in Darfur? If the situation were indeed so encouraging, Khartoum would be eager to show off the changed situation. In fact, there is no evidence that Khartoum is at all eager to have Gettleman’s reporting supplemented, which is more than curious.
[Notably, the assessment of the April 5 dispatch below—accusing Gettleman of “peddling government propaganda”—was reiterated very recently to me in just these words by one of the most experienced and intelligent observers of eastern Chad and West Darfur I have encountered over the past nine years—a true regional expert with impressive professional qualifications, publication credentials, and language skills relevant to the region. He has requested anonymity because of his ongoing work in the region.]
We are left with the stark fact that Gettleman’s account will stand as “definitive” for Western journalistic accounts of Darfur’s present realities. This should have imposed a much greater sense of research responsibilities on Gettleman; correspondingly, his misrepresentations now demand that the continuing reporting by Radio Dabanga on Nyuru and its environs be taken much more seriously as a counter-weight. Western readers wondering about Darfur are otherwise left with Gettleman’s facile and presumptuous characterization: developments in Nyuru are “a sign that one of the world’s most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled.”
Particularly disturbing among the recent Radio Dabanga dispatches is an account (April 10, 2012) of the Farsha (Omda) of Mornei (also Morney) after his own recent trip to Nyuru to follow up on the New York Times dispatch:
• Farsha of Morney: no voluntary return of refugees to Nuri (Nyuru), Nuri/Nyuru, West Darfur (10 Apr 2012)
The highest native administrator of Morney, Izzedeen Abdurrahman, told Radio Dabanga “there is no voluntary return of refugees from eastern Chad to their villages in Nuri [Nyuru].” He added that if anybody claimed he had been to Nuri and saw refugees returning “he must have confused trees with human beings.” [ … ]
The Farsha returned to Nuri [Nyuru] and found not a single returnee. He explained that he did not deal with voluntary return files, as the most pressing issue in Nuri [Nyuru] and surroundings is the lack of security: “80% of the people from Nuri [Nyuru] are still living in refugee camps in eastern Chad.” The rest of the people found shelter in camps in El Geneina, Morney and Cisse: “These places are deserted, every school is destroyed.”
• Series of rape crimes throughout Darfur, Nyala (12 April 2012)
Relatives of rape victims reported on violent attacks on female camp residents from North, South and West Darfur. Three displaced women from camp Armankul in West Darfur, Sirba locality, were abducted some kilometers away from the camp by ten gunmen loyal to the government. The girls were on their way to collect wood. A relative said the girls were found in a forest by camp residents. The residents went to the Armankul police to report on the incident, but the police refused to file the rape crimes. Earlier this week, two women from the same camp were raped.
• Women from camp Bear Dagig raped by gunmen, Sirba, West Darfur (10 April 2012)
An armed group loyal to the government raped two displaced women from camp Bear Dagig of Sirba locality in West Darfur on Monday. A relative of the victims told Radio Dabanga the women were on their way back from work at a farm close to the camp. He explained that the gunmen raised weapons and attacked the women before they were raped repeatedly.
• Authorities hire new settlers to destroy evidence of mass graves, Wadi Salih, West Darfur (5 April 2012)
Sudanese authorities in the Wadi Salih area of West Darfur are reportedly hiring new settlers to destroy the evidence of mass graves in the area. Eyewitnesses said that government authorities have hired groups of new settlers to clear the evidence of mass graves particularly in Mukjar, Bindisi, Arwala, Deleig and Sundu. The groups were reportedly told to burn all traces of bodies and bones to destroy all evidence of extra-judicial killing by the government and its militias. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga Daif al Summah, Al Sadig Salona and Korin Kwei were hired by Ali Kushayb to oversee this operation. [Ali Kushayb is wanted by the International Criminal Court for multiple crimes against humanity in West Darfur; Wadi Saleh was scene of some of the worst mass killings, especially of Fur men and boys, during the early years of the genocide.]
• Four more Chad camp leaders deny voluntary return to Darfur, Eastern Chad (5 April 2012)
Four more camp leaders from Goz Amir, Um Nabuk, Tolom, Berayjin in eastern Chad have confirmed to Radio Dabanga that there has not been any voluntary return to Darfur from their camps. Camp leader Ahmed of Goz Amir said there had been a steady increase of Darfuri refugees to the camp which is home to more than 27,000 people. The other camps number between 19,000 and 37,000 residents and were set up in 2004. The leaders all said that the claims that large numbers of people have repatriated to Darfur from Chad as implied by Jeffrey Gettleman’s article in the New York Times is “peddling government propaganda intended to promote the Doha peace agreement.
• Camp leaders in eastern Chad deny voluntary return to Darfur, Eastern Chad (3 April 2012)
The leaders of seven refugee camps in eastern Chad have denied claims of voluntary return to Darfur by the UN and the Sudanese government. They told Radio Dabanga that the recent promotion of refugees leaving the camps in Chad in the international media is ‘false and misleading’. The camp leaders of camp Arka, Soni, Furshana, Jebel, Terayjin, Kulungo and Gaga gave unanimous statements to Radio Dabanga: local authorities must first guarantee security and provide basic services before refugees will voluntary return to their villages in Darfur.
• Five Mornei residents taken to hospital after militia attack, Mornei, West Darfur (3 April 2012)
Around 20 gunmen loyal to the government attacked ten people from Mornei camp in West Darfur. The militia arrived on horses and camels as the displaced people were preparing coals four km outside of the camp. Witnesses said the gunmen used whips and rifles to beat the camp residents. They said the attack left five people seriously injured. They were taken to the hospital in Mornei for treatment.
• UNHCR confirms no refugees have returned to Darfur from Chad, N’Djamena, Chad/El Fasher (2 April 2012)
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has confirmed that no refugees repatriated to Darfur from Chad as suggested by the New York Times. UNHCR Chad representative Jean Bosco spoke to Radio Dabanga. Here is the full interview:http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/27865
On the credibility of UN officials in Darfur:
• “The UN’s Man in Darfur: The Expedient Mendacity of Ibrahim Gambari” (September 19, 2011)
• “UN Collaboration in the Silencing of Darfur,” Dissent Magazine (on-line) (September 5, 2010)
• “How many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are there in Darfur?” Dissent Magazine (on-line) (April 28, 2011)
• “Darfur: Life in the Darkening Shadows,” Dissent Magazine (on-line) (May 18, 2011)
• “Who Speaks for the UN on Darfur?” The Role of Nigeria’s Ibrahim Gambari Dissent Magazine (on-line), (August 25, 2010)
• “UN Chief for Darfur Attends Celebration Hosted by Top Janjaweed Leader,” The Enough Project (February 1, 2012)