Violence in Hashaba, North Darfur: A brutal portent, another UN disgrace
Eric Reeves, 30 October 2012
Yet again the UN is managing to say little if anything about atrocity crimes in Darfur—crimes in which Khartoum’s National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime is clearly implicated. It is implicated by virtue of its support, active and implicit, for “security forces” that rule by terror in Darfur; in the present case—as so often in the past—this has meant Arab paramilitary forces. The village of Hashaba North and its environs (approximately 55 kilometers northeast of Kutum in North Darfur) were attacked from September 26 through October 2 by what have been repeatedly described by eyewitnesses as Arab militia forces and Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) aerial military assets. Very high numbers of civilian casualties were soon reported by Radio Dabanga (“between 250 and 300 people,” October 4, 2012), along with repeated descriptions of the attackers on the ground as belonging to “pro-government militias.” Many thousands of civilians have been newly displaced.
Even more disturbing and significant, however, is a subsequent attack on the follow-up investigation, a robust UNAMID patrol (UN/African Union Mission in Darfur) comprising 16 vehicles in all. On October 17, 2012 a very heavily armed militia group—which had carefully anticipated the route of the UNAMID convoy traveling to North Hashaba—fired from high ground down upon the highly vulnerable UNAMID forces. UNAMID returned fire, but faced very intimidating weaponry and overwhelming tactical disadvantage; with the killing of one UNAMID soldier and the wounding of three others (one critically), the force retreated back to Kutum. The South African soldier killed was the 43rd to die in a mission that has been consistently poorly led, betrayed by militarily capable nations such as the U.S. that have refused to help equip the force properly, and by a lack of political will on the part of UN and African Union leadership in demanding of Khartoum security and access for UNAMID personnel, and accountability for atrocity crimes committed by the NIF/NCP regime’s soldiers and militia proxies.
The character of the weapons used in the attack on UNAMID forces was reported in uncharacteristic detail (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], October 22, 2012):
“‘[The attackers] used arsenals of high-calibre weapons that were never used before,’ UNAMID spokeswoman Aicha Elbasri said in a written reply to AFP questions. ‘This includes mortars, medium machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47 rifles, and anti-tank guns.’” Edmond Mulet, deputy head of UN peacekeeping operations, would later declare in an October 24 briefing of the UN Security Council that the attacking force used “heavy machine guns,” a fearsomely destructive weapon when fired with the advantage of significantly higher ground position.
This was no ordinary militia assault: it is clear that the UNAMID convoy was attacked, on the basis of advance intelligence, so as to prevent the investigation of atrocity crimes reported from Hashaba. Indeed, although the UN merely hints at this reality, I am aware of no analyst not connected with the UN or UNAMID who disputes this conclusion or has offered a plausible alternative explanation. UNAMID has declared that it will proceed with a third mission to investigate the crimes at Hashaba, but given the motive for the attack on this most recent mission, it will likely take a great deal of time in obtaining adequate security guarantees from Khartoum and the SAF. As on countless previous occasions, after Khartoum’s proxies finish sanitizing the site there will little be left in the way of evidence from the attacks of late September/early October.
Further, this attack on the UN must be seen in light of the regime’s repeated, utterly false claims about human security in Darfur, chiefly that there is no major fighting in Darfur and that civilians are secure and able to return safely to their homes and lands. In the very recent words of Deputy Governor of North Darfur, al-Fateh Abdel Aziz Abdel Nabi:
“‘[T]here is very good improvement in the security situation’ compared with its peak in 2004, he said, with incidents limited to Kutum and Mellit. ‘And they are isolated and they are under control.’” (Agence France-Presse [el-Fasher], October 17, 2012)
The assault on UN Security Council-authorized peacekeepers was designed to ensure that this perverse narrative was preserved as much as possible, at least with respect to civilian massacres and other atrocity crimes. The excruciatingly limited truth of this claim by Khartoum about “the peak [of violence] in 2004” has somehow—in some quarters—made it acceptable to consign these early years of the genocide to a past that no longer concerns us directly or bears on an understanding of events such as those at Hashaba. This inevitably works to skew the history of the region profoundly, from 2005 to the present (see the sections on Darfur in my recent Compromising with Evil: An archival account of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012).
Indeed, the evidence is so clear in this attack on civilians in Hashaba, and in the subsequent assault on UNAMID, that there is only one issue left undetermined: what is the degree of command responsibility for the specific atrocities in Hashaba on this particular occasion? How far up the Military Intelligence chain-of-command did foreknowledge of the attack on Hashaba go? (Military Intelligence long ago took the lead in organizing “security” for Darfur.) Of course we can’t yet be sure. But the more important question is how far up the Military Intelligence (MI) chain-of-command did foreknowledge of the assault on UN peacekeepers go? Again, we can’t be sure, but given evidence of growing powers for the military and security elements within the NIF/NCP regime, it is highly unlikely that such an action could be undertaken without at least tacit prior approval from someone senior in the Army or Military Intelligence/Khartoum. The alternative is to believe that a field officer for MI with foreknowledge of the attack felt it to be insufficiently important to report back to Khartoum. For certainly some MI officer(s) in North Darfur was involved in or knew of the attack, especially given the nature of the weaponry—again, a UNAMID spokesperson has spoken of “arsenals of high-calibre weapons that were never used before,” and deputy head of UN peacekeeping operations Edmond Mulet reported specifically on the attackers use of “heavy machine guns.” This kind of weaponry simply could not have gone unnoticed, and yet the UN is characteristically diffident in drawing the most obvious of conclusions.
Further, Radio Dabanga reported in late September that the governor of North Darfur had been warned of the impending militia attack on Hashaba by a local official from the town itself, Abdella Rifa:
“Rifa blamed the Jangaweed militias for carrying out the ‘barbaric attack’ [on Hashaba] and held the government responsible for the incidents. [ ] Rifa said that the leader of the Jangaweed militia that carried out the attack is called Al-Nur. He also said that the group moved to attack from their base in Damrat Al-Quba. According to Rifa, they knew beforehand that the militia was going to attack and they informed the authorities including the governor of the state, Mohammed Osman Kibir, ‘but they did nothing.’” (Radio Dabanga, September 28, 2012)
[ For a highly detailed account of the locations and purposes of bases such as that at Damrat al-Quba, see Sudan Tribune (October 1, 2012) " Darfur war crimes, changes in demographic composition, and ethnic displacement," by Hamid Eltgani Ali of the American University in Cairo.]
In short, the UN—by refusing to do more than plead with Khartoum to investigate crimes committed by the regime’s own proxies forces—is complicit in an appalling silence despite clear evidence that Khartoum is responsible for a brutal attack on a major UN peacekeeping convoy. Again, on October 17 when it was attacked, the UN force was approaching Hashaba to investigate credible reports of atrocity crimes. The UN is refusing to make the obvious connections between the nature of that mission and what we know of Hashaba, what has been reported by several news sources, what we know of the circumstances of the attack on UNAMID, and what we know of previous regime complicity in attacks on UNAMID (see my 2008 account). Such complicity in silence, concerning egregious violations of international law, is finally of a piece with the absurdly mendacious claims by various UNAMID and UN officials about human security in Darfur (see Appendix 1).
These self-serving and deeply dishonest comments provide the context in which to assess the meaning of UN calls for an investigation of the attack on UNAMID near Hashaba, a call sternly echoed by other international actors. Here we are being asked to believe that Khartoum will somehow feel more pressure to find those responsible for the attack than it has previously when confronted with such “calls” and even “demands.” For we should not forget that on October 2, 2012, four UNAMID soldiers were killed and eight injured in West Darfur, not two kilometers from their main base in el-Geneina (and very close to a Khartoum-allied militia checkpoint). Reuters reported (October 2, 2012) a UNAMID statement that the force “came under fire from all sides,” and we heard then from the UN:
“In a statement to the press, Council President Gert Rosenthal of Guatemala said the Council members called on the Sudanese Government to swiftly investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
And from the U.S. State Department:
“The State Department said on Thursday [October 4] it was ‘appalled’ by an attack that killed four Nigerian peacekeepers and wounded eight others earlier this week in Sudan’s western Darfur region. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States condemns the ambush on UNAMID personnel that occurred on October 2, and called for an investigation into the attack and for those responsible for the violence to be held accountable.”
The European Union completed the familiar refrain with its own entirely predictable statement (October 4, 2012):
“[EU High Representative Catherine Ashton] deplores the attack on UNAMID peacekeepers that left four Nigerian peacekeepers dead and eight others injured in an ambush in El Geneina, West Darfur. She strongly condemns the attack and calls on the Government of Sudan to work closely with UNAMID to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Almost as if to emphasize the impotence of this condemnation and demand, Ashton also speaks vaguely about “reports of a violent incident in Hashaba,” the very “incident” that would lead to a UNAMID investigating force, and the brutal assault upon that force by Khartoum-allied (and likely -armed) militia forces:
“The High Representative is also deeply alarmed at reports of a violent incident in Hashaba in North Darfur, which appears to have cost the lives of large numbers of civilians, including through aerial bombardment. She calls for UNAMID to be allowed immediate access to the area and urges all Parties to end the cycle of violence in Darfur and to pursue a comprehensive and inclusive peace settlement.”
To date there has been no accountability for the October 2 killings, though Khartoum claims to have made arrests in the case. Here it might be useful to keep in mind what Agence France-Presse (October 22, 2012) reports concerning comments by UN officials about previous attacks on UNAMID:
“The dead South African is the 43rd peacekeeper from UNAMID to be killed in hostile action, but UN sources have said they were unaware of anybody previously being brought to justice for the attacks.”
Hashaba and Tabarat
Although violence has been accelerating for well over a year in Darfur—despite UN and African Union claims to the contrary—what we have seen in North Darfur over the past three months offers a grim view of the region’s increasingly likely future, especially as the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) begins to draw down its forces, claiming “realities on the ground” justify such diminishment of a force that never achieved 90 percent of its mandated strength, and has proved itself disastrously incapable of protecting civilians and humanitarians—and itself.
To date, UNAMID has not investigated the events of September 26 through October 2, although Radio Dabanga has provided a number of eyewitness accounts that make for chilling reading and suggest that civilian casualty figures are indeed frighteningly high. UNAMID had sent a small, preliminary investigating force to Hashaba on October 3 shortly after events were first reported; but the only follow-on was the ill-fated October 17 mission that was so brutally attacked.
It should be noted that this is certainly not the first time UNAMID has been prevented from investigating atrocity crimes in North Darfur, as it continues to acquiesce weakly before Khartoum’s denial of access. On September 2, 2010 in the market area of the village of Tabarat, some 20 kilometers west of Tawilla (south of Kutum and site of a UNAMID base), more than 50 ethnically African men and boys were killed, most by gunshots at point-blank range. Despite desperately urgent reports carried by survivors to the UNAMID force stationed at nearby Tawilla that evening, UNAMID refused either to intervene or to evacuate the scores of wounded, many of whom subsequently died of their wounds. Reuters reported (Khartoum, 17 September 2010) various eyewitness accounts from Tabarat, which give us some sense of what likely occurred in Hashaba. In Tabarat as well, Khartoum’s security forces prevented UNAMID from investigating for over a week, and it is still the case that what we know comes primarily from a series of Reuters interviews with survivors of the massacre:
“Darfuri men were shot dead at point blank range during a surprise Arab militia raid on a busy market this month in which at least 39 people were killed and almost 50 injured, eyewitnesses said on Friday. The attack on civilians was reminiscent of the early years of the counter-insurgency operation in Sudan’s west, which took up arms against the government in 2003, complaining that the region had been neglected by Khartoum. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has since issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in Darfur, charges he denies.
“Details of the September 2 attack on the market in the village of Tabarat have not previously come to light. The government prevented peacekeepers from visiting the site until days later. But five survivors of the attack told Reuters that heavily armed Arab militia had targeted male victims and shot many at point blank range. One diplomat said the militia were likely from among those armed and mobilized by the government to quell the rebels. Those militia, known as Janjaweed, were responsible for mass rape, murder and looting. Many of the tribal militia still support the government but Khartoum has lost control over some.
“In Tabarat, men were rounded up by militia wearing military uniforms who rode into the market on horses and camels pretending to be buying goods before spraying the shops with gunfire. Then vehicles mounted with machine guns and carrying militia fighters appeared and rounded up some of the men, survivors said.
“‘They laid them down and they came up close and shot them in their heads,’ Abakr Abdelkarim, 45, told Reuters by telephone from the town of Tawilla, where many of the victims had sought refuge and medical help. ‘(Those killed) were all men and one woman—some men were tied with rope behind the cars and dragged until they died.’”
RUN FOR HIS LIFE
“Adam Saleh said he had run for his life and hidden in nearby fields to watch from afar. ‘They were targeting men—all of them were shot in the head and chest, only those who were running away got shot in their legs and arms.’ Nour Abdallah, 45, said the attackers let most of the women run away. She could not escape and so lay face down in the dirt. ‘They told me not to lift my head up or I would be shot too.’
“Saleh and others said after the attack they had gone to the joint U.N.-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping base in Tawilla to ask peacekeepers to come to Tabarat but they had refused. ‘They also refused to come and help us recover the bodies,’ Saleh added. UNAMID has said both rebels and the government prevented it getting access to the area.
“A UNAMID spokesman said he could not comment on the witness reports but an internal document seen by Reuters showed UNAMID had received similar witness reports of men being executed. The only aid agency working in Tawilla, Médecins Sans Frontières, said it could confirm 39 people died and it had treated 46 injured, many with ‘serious gunshot wounds.’ ‘We saw only men,’ said MSF head of mission Alessandro Tuzza. He said he could not comment on how the victims were shot but that MSF was still negotiating with the government to get access to the area in North Darfur province.
“The witnesses said they had buried 41 bodies in common graves but more were still in the bushes around the market. Sudan’s army denied involvement in the attack and said the local government was investigating. ‘The North Darfur government have formed a security committee to investigate this.’ Presidential adviser Ghazi Salaheddin visited the area on Friday on a fact-finding mission.”
(Opheera McDoom for Reuters [Khartoum], September 17, 2010)
There never was a proper investigation or account of the Tabarat massacre by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur, and there is strong evidence that this was deliberate on the part of the UN Secretariat (see my April 17, 2012 analysis of a powerful unofficial report by the last credible UN Panel of Experts for Darfur, a panel originally authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1591, March 2005).
North Hashaba and the Broader Reign of Violence in North Darfur
Little notice was taken when Arab militia groups attacked and looted Kutum town in early August, and also attacked nearby Kassab camp for displaced persons, despite the immense implications of these attacks. There was also nearly contemporaneous violence in Mellit and Tabit, as well as the huge Zam Zam IDP camp outside el-Fasher—all in North Darfur (see my compendium of reports on violence in the region from August through September 2012).
In the twelve weeks since the attack on Kutum, a major town and a center for relief efforts, tens of thousands of civilians have been newly displaced. Humanitarian supplies (including fuel for water pumps) were looted and infrastructure destroyed; built over a number of years, these facilities have not been replaced and are unlikely to be rebuilt. A highly-informed and thoroughly reliable source on the ground in North Darfur reported to me at the time, in urgent terms, the nature and implications of this attack:
“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.” (email received August 5, 2012)
This source goes on to note that in the case of the fighting in and around Kutum, while beginning in a personal dispute between individual members of two Arab tribal groups:
“The fighting, however, has not been between the two tribes but focused on looting the IDP camps and the INGOs and the markets in the town.”
The implications of this violence have not been reported anywhere—by the UN, UNAMID, or even Radio Dabanga. But they are enormous:
“Most of the north part of North Darfur (all the way to Chad) is served from Kutum and now all [humanitarian] organizations have lost all capacity because of the looting, and I do not see the humanitarian community reinvesting in the basic infrastructure because of what has happened. This is going to cause huge humanitarian issues in Kutum and the IDP camps there. All the fuel at the INGOs was looted. This fuel is for vehicles but also for the generators to run water pumps in town and outside of town. This could turn bad, as it is the rainy season is right now.”
Radio Dabanga (August 2) also reports eyewitness accounts of the destruction of compounds belonging to (among others) the UN World Food Program and (Irish) GOAL, as well as Kutum’s market areas:
“Eyewitnesses from Kutum, North Darfur, told radio Dabanga that pro-government militias stormed the Al Gusr, Al Dababeen and Al Salam areas and the entrance of a large market. They added that the pro-government militias attacked humanitarian organizations’ compounds in Kutum town.”
But Kutum was only the start: violence has continued, and the brutal assault on Hashaba in particular demands a reckoning that was never accorded the Tabarat massacre. Here a timeline reveals actions taken and not taken, as well as reports heeded but for the most part unheeded (dates, major events, military forces, and casualty reports are highlighted; all highlightings throughout this brief have been added).
September 28, 2012: Radio Dabanga—
As it has so often, Radio Dabanga provided the first and what is still likely the most comprehensive and authoritative account of atrocities committed in and around Hashaba. The September 28 dispatch also strongly suggests that the militia forces which attacked the UNAMID convoy on October 17 were those responsible for the carnage in Hashaba:
“A heavily-armed militia group linked to the Sudanese government has attacked and killed 87 people, including children and women, over the last three days in North Darfur State, eyewitnesses said. According to the witnesses, government-backed militias groups riding on four-wheel-drive vehicles and with an unusual amount of heavy arms wreaked havoc between September 25 and September 27, in Hashaba area of Kutum locality in North Darfur State. The witnesses said that the assailing groups destroyed properties, blocked main roads and killed 87 people including women and children. More than 60 people were also injured in the attack and are being treated in the hospital of Al-Fashir. A local official in Hashaba, Abdella Rifa, said the militias burned and depopulated three villages in the suburbs of Hashaba, including Khashim Al-Wadi village, Um La’ota village, and Tabaldia village.
“The official painted a grim picture, [ ] saying that the displaced population is living under dire humanitarian conditions and there are no available paramedics to treat the wounded. Rifa blamed the Jangaweed militias for carrying out the ‘barbaric attack’ and held the government responsible for the incidents. [ ] Rifa said that the leader of the Jangaweed militia that carried out the attack is called Al-Nur. He also said that the group moved to attack from their base in Damrat Al-Quba. According to Rifa, they knew beforehand that the militia was going to attack and they informed the authorities including the governor of the state, Mohammed Osman Kibir, ‘but they did nothing.’”
September 30, 2012: Radio Dabanga—
“[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. Most of the victims fled to Dar Zaghawa, north of Hashaba and others fled to El-Fasher, sources pointed out. According to witnesses accounts, Hashaba and surrounding villages saw intense aerial bombardments last Wednesday and Thursday, 26 and 27 September. In addition, pro-government militias were also accused by sources of invading the area during the same period. The attacks allegedly resulted in more than 80 people dead or injured around Hashaba area, sources told Radio Dabanga. They added that villages were also looted and plundered.”
October 2, 2012—
A deadly attack on UNAMID peacekeepers is reported from West Darfur, only two kilometers from their major base in el-Geneina and very close to a checkpoint manned by pro-Khartoum militia forces. Four peacekeepers are killed and eight wounded.
October 3, 2012—
A preliminary UNAMID investigative team travels to Hashaba; sufficient evidence is found to warrant a very substantial follow-on investigation; this would take form as the October 17 UNAMID convoy of 16 vehicles.
October 4, 2012: Radio Dabanga—
“According to a survivor, between 250 and 300 people got killed or injured following last week’s attacks in Hashaba, North Darfur. The survivor Ishaaq Adduma Adam Ishaaq, who got seriously injured, told Radio Dabanga he witnessed the burial of 168 victims, from Friday, 28 September until Tuesday, 2 October. He added that there are still tens of bodies lying in the vicinity of the battlefield that have not yet been buried. Ishaaq, who previously owned a water supply tank in the area, said that hundreds of people who fled Hashaba are still wondering around valleys, mountains and deserts. He suggested the people who fled Hashaba, hiding mostly around Jaira, Anka, Amorai, Guadara, Baashim and Umm Sidr, could die soon due to thirst or starvation.
“The source also told Radio Dabanga that at about 10:45am on Tuesday, gunmen coming from several different directions attacked the area. They were riding horses, camels and Land Cruisers, he added. According to Ishaaq, just about 15 minutes after the gunmen attack, an Antonov plane bombed the area. He said these attacks lasted four days, from Tuesday to Friday.
“Ishaaq also reported that gunmen attacked three different markets on Tuesday. He saw at least 25 people being killed, at least 10 who got injured and several other seeking refugee inside wells. According to the source, the markets in Kutum, El-Fasher and Zanga Zanga (in Hashaba area) were attacked and looted.”
October 9, 2012: Radio Omdurman (Khartoum)—
“The authorities arrested those who are involved in the [October 2, 2012] attack on UNAMID near El-Geneina, in West Darfur,” Radio Omdurman reported in a Sudan Media Center news alert, which gave no more details” (via SAPA, October 9, 2012).
Reuters also reported Khartoum’s claim that “‘suspects involved in the killing of (U.N.) soldiers have been detained,’ Sudanese government radio said in a text message sent to mobile phones. It gave no further details” (Reuters [Khartoum], October 9, 2012).
Three weeks later there are still no further details.
[ From October 4 – 17 only Radio Dabanga reported on violence in greater Darfur, including North Darfur—see Appendix 2. The focus on attacks in Hashaba and on UNAMID troops should not obscure the larger collapse of human security in Darfur: see http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=3473 ]
October 17: Sudan Tribune reports the attack on UNAMID, offering the first full account—
“A South African peacekeeper of the United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was killed on Wednesday [October 17] and three others were injured in an ambush by unknown gunmen, which took place in North Darfur. The morning incident occurred approximately 10km from Hashaba North, North Darfur, while a UNAMID convoy was on its way from Kutum to assess the situation in the area, following recent reports of violence. The investigation mission, which consisted of military, police and civilian personnel, followed an initial UNAMID assessment mission carried out on 3 October.
“Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General has condemned the attack and called for immediate investigations into the incident. Aichatou S. Mindaoudou, the Acting Joint Special Representative and Joint Chief Mediator also condemned in the “strongest possible terms the second criminal attack on our brave peacekeepers in the course of this month, during which we have lost five peacekeepers. These attacks will not shake our resolve to fulfill our mandate and help the people of Darfur.” ‘I call on the Government of Sudan to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice,‘ she added.
“The UN Security Council (UNSC), in a statement issued on Thursday [October 28], says it condemns ‘in the strongest terms’ the 17 October attack on the UNAMID peacekeepers, and expressed their condolences to the family of the peacekeeper killed in the attack, as well as to the Government of South Africa and to UNAMID. They too called on the Government of Sudan to swiftly investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
But we have heard such “calls” and “demands” too many times before. Two weeks later there is no evidence whatsoever that those responsible for the attack will be held accountable, even as there are no further details from Khartoum on the claimed arrests of those responsible for the October 2 killing of four UNAMID soldiers. Given the obvious motive for the October 17 attack, and the character of the weaponry, and the deliberation with which the convoy was assaulted a mere ten kilometers from its destination, it is extremely unlikely that Khartoum will do anything to arrest those responsible. Perhaps some straw-men suspects will be set up, or the rebels will be blamed—but this makes no sense of the evidence as we have it. Khartoum’s security forces simply have no record whatsoever in “bringing to justice” those responsible for war crimes and atrocity crimes in Darfur. Here again we should recall the assessment offered by UN officials to Agence France-Presse (October 22, 2012): “UN sources have said they were unaware of anybody previously being brought to justice for the attacks.“
“Condemnations,” “demands,” “callings upon” are all part of a wearyingly familiar refrain that Khartoum has been ignoring for over eight years. Indeed, Darfur’s recent history has been largely determined by Khartoum’s ignoring of demands from the international community. UN Security Council Resolution 1556 (July 30, 2004)
Demands that the Government of Sudan fulfill its commitments to disarm the Janjaweed militias and apprehend and bring to justice Janjaweed leaders and their associates who have incited and carried out human rights and international humanitarian law violations and other atrocities….
This “demand” has of course been contemptuously ignored, creating a dismal precedent: Khartoum’s disarming of its militia proxies was also part of the Abuja “Darfur Peace Agreement” (May 2006), as well as the “Doha Document for Peace in Darfur” (July 2011). Yet as U.S. special representative for Darfur Dane Smith concedes in a recent interview with Radio Dabanga, the Doha agreement has yielded “nothing yet on disarmament of militias, nothing yet on the issue of land” [seized by Arab militia groups from African farmers]“ (Interview with Radio Dabanga, September 21, 2012).
October 19, 2012: Radio Dabanga—
“Residents from Hashaba, North Darfur, estimate that between 12 and 13 thousand people have fled the area due to recent attacks, Radio Dabanga was informed on Friday, 19 October. They described the region as “virtually deserted” after the militia attacks and aerial bombings last September . According to witnesses, Hashaba and surrounding areas including Umm Laota, Khashim Wadi and Tabadiya are completely abandoned. They said some residents fled to El-Fahser, Mellit and Noam Valley, while others fled to El Sharkeya, the only remaining village around Hashaba area. Witnesses asserted that those who fled Hashaba and surroundings lost their properties and livestock. Sources added that villages got completely burnt during the recent attacks and that the situation in the region is now tense, as fear and insecurity dominate local residents.”
It is hardly surprising that Khartoum did not want a UN investigation and the consequent publicity that might highlight these large-scale atrocities—so clearly reminiscent of precisely “the violence of 2004.” It was to halt the investigation that Khartoum’s militia proxy attacked the UNAMID convoy.
October 18, 2012: Radio Dabanga—
“Witnesses claimed pro-government militiamen carried out the attacks that left one [UNAMID] soldier dead and three injured. The four victims come from South Africa. Al-Basri said that two of the wounded peacekeepers were transferred to an El-Fasher hospital for treatment. However, she said one of them was subsequently taken to Khartoum as a surgeon described his situation as ‘critical,’ on Thursday.
“Witnesses claimed pro-government militiamen carried out the [October 17] attacks that left one [UNAMID] soldier dead and three injured.”
Such eyewitness accounts reported by Radio Dabanga have been repeatedly confirmed, even as they are consistently ignored by UNAMID, especially concerning aerial attacks on civilians and sexual assaults on women and girls. Here, however, ignoring these reports means ignoring strong evidence concerning an attack on UNAMID itself.
Radio Dabanga’s dispatch notes as well:
“Senior government officials from West Darfur announced in a press statement earlier this week that the perpetrators who ambushed UNAMID troops in El-Geneina, West Darfur, have been arrested. The officials include West Darfur governor Haider Galukoma and the head of the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) Dr. Tijani Sese. As reported, the attack on 3 October left four soldiers dead and another eight injured. Radio Dabanga asked [UNAMID spokeswoman Aisha] al-Basri whether UNAMID had been officially notified about these arrests, to which she answered the mission was aware of reports stating that individuals were arrested in connection with the attacks. She appealed to the government to arrest the perpetrators connected to these crimes and to bring them to justice.”
[ The direct answer to Radio Dabanga's question—"has UNAMID had been officially notified about these arrests?"—is clearly "no." ]
“Despite announcing the arrests, the officials did not provide any further details about the detainees, such as where they were arrested, what their names are, which group they are affiliated to, and the motives for the attack. The government also did not announce when and where the perpetrators will be brought to trial.”
October 17, 2012: Agence France-Presse [el-Fasher, North Darfur]—
The response of European countries and the U.S. were tepid, not to say euphemistic in the face of evidence that an avalanche of violence is rolling through Darfur:
“‘We are concerned about the recent deterioration in security in some parts of Darfur,’ said Tomas Ulicny, the EU ambassador leading a two-day visit by six other top diplomats to North Darfur state.”
“The European Union is one of Sudan’s major donors, and Ulicny said the bloc is committed to its assistance, but development needs peace and stability. Recent reports ‘were not that positive,’ he said.”
Moreover, a Khartoum-appointed official took the opportunity to remind the visiting Europeans that the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) reserve “the right to expel any person who is deemed to be posing threat to national security (Sudan Tribune, October 17). The context, notably, was expanded humanitarian and development assistance to the region. (On the issue of “humanitarian” vs. “development” assistance in Darfur, see my analysis of Khartoum’s “New Strategy for Darfur” [September 2010], a clear attempt to downplay the need for humanitarian assistance and thus the need for a continuing presence by international relief organizations.)
October 18, 2012: Radio Dabanga reports on a UNAMID press release, as well as further details from eyewitnesses to the attack:
“[UNAMID] peacekeepers were victims of a combined arms attack involving automatic weapons and mortar fire, a UNAMID press statement reads. Witnesses recounted to Radio Dabanga that the UN convoy was ambushed by pro-government militiamen. They said that an unknown armed group opened fire on the convoy from one of the mountains in Wadi Berbey, at around 30 kilometers north of Kutum. The witnesses noted seeing a number of Land Cruiser vehicles and camels and horses inside the valley behind the mountains. UNAMID peacekeepers returned fire and withdrew its convoy back towards Kutum.”
October 22, 2012: Agence France-Presse—on the nature of weaponry used in the attack on UNAMID:
“A deadly attack on peacekeepers in Sudan involved weapons ‘never used before’ and may have aimed to prevent them reaching an area where violence had been reported, the mission told AFP on Monday. The ambush on Wednesday about 10 kilometres from Hashaba North in North Darfur state killed one South African member of the African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and wounded three others. ‘This criminal attack against a UNAMID convoy of 16 vehicles was carried out by unidentified assailants who have used arsenals of high-calibre weapons that were never used before,’ UNAMID spokeswoman Aicha Elbasri said in a written reply to AFP questions. ‘This includes mortars, medium machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47 rifles, and anti-tank guns.’”
October 24, 2012—Edmond Mulet, deputy head of UN peacekeeping operations, reveals yet more about the weaponry used in the attack:
“The attackers who fired heavy machine guns, mortars and rocket propelled grenades from high ground withdrew as UNAMID peacekeepers returned fire. The patrol then returned to base without having reached Hashaba.
Following this dispatch there has been no further reporting of substance on either the Hashaba atrocity crimes or the assault on UNAMID forces seeking to investigate those crimes. Hashaba seems destined to become another “Tabarat,” reported briefly—and in appalling detail—even as it reveals a disgraceful failure by UNAMID to respond. The disgrace in the present case is not, of course, that of the courageous men on the ground but rather UNAMID leadership as embodied in men like Gambari and Adada.
To date Aichatou S. Mindaoudou, the Acting Joint Special Representative and Joint Chief Mediator to UNAMID, has given no indication that she is prepared to be more robust in confronting Khartoum over its continuing violence against civilians, humanitarians, and peacekeepers. Moreover, she is the political leader of a UNAMID force that is contracting, never having reached even 90 percent of its mandated size. Hervé Ladsous, the French head of UN peacekeeping operations, claims the draw-down is justified to “reflect the realities on the ground,” implying among other things that there has been an increase in human security—making some soldiers and police redundant—when just the opposite is all too clearly the case.
This is sheer expediency, an effort to reduce the size and expense of the world’s largest, most expensive, and least successful UN peacekeeping mission without admitting this conspicuous lack of success. But the answer is not to abandon the people of Darfur, who have in the main only become less secure in recent years, but to commit to a meaningful force on the ground, backed by a clear political determination to confront Khartoum over its intransigence and obstructionism, and to demand that the regime ends all responsibility, direct and indirect, for assaults on UN-authorized peacekeepers.
On present evidence, it is difficult to believe that Mindaoudou has either the political will or power to salvage what remains of UNAMID and begin to reverse the current slide toward even greater catastrophe. Certainly she is finding no help in the UN Secretariat, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, or influential international actors such as the U.S., the EU, the AU, and others. The complete abandonment of Darfur is impending.
APPENDIX ONE: UNAMID assesses itself
• Former special joint representative to UNAMID Ibrahim Gambari declared in anticipation of his retirement party in September, “I am gratified to note that barely 31 months on, all the objectives I set out to meet have largely been met.” Gambari might tell the families of the murdered UNAMID soldiers of his comprehensive success.
• A year ago Gambari gave a statistical account of his 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)
This is pure mendacity, reflecting only the hopeless constraints on UNAMID’s investigative powers.
• Of course Gambari’s outrageous claims are nothing new: his African Union predecessor, Rodolphe Adada of Congo, declared on the occasion of his departure: “‘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’” (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], August 27, 2009). In retrospect, this assessment looks spectacularly foolish and pompously self-serving—nothing new for Adada.
• UNAMID spokesman Chris Cycmanick, in a May 2012 interview with Radio Dabanga, “described the security situation in Darfur as ‘relatively calm’” (Radio Dabanga, 20 May 2012).
• Former UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Georg Charpentier offered a similarly optimistic assessment of Darfur last year: “We are seeing a ‘trend of decreasing overall violent incidents in Darfur‘” (January 20, 2011).
APPENDIX TWO: Only Radio Dabanga reported on violence in North Darfur from October 4 – 17
Only Radio Dabanga has reported on violence in North Darfur between October 4 and the murderous attack on the UNAMID convoy (October 17). Aerial attacks on eastern Jebel Marra have been particularly frequent, and the Kutum/Kassab area remains the target of relentless violent attacks—rape in particular continues in epidemic fashion (vicious and cruelly destructive attacks that Ban Ki-moon chooses no longer to mention in his reports on Darfur and UNAMID).
Gunmen rape 18-year-old woman
KASSAB CAMP (10 October 2012) -Two gunmen raped a young displaced woman in Kassab camp, North Darfur on Wednesday October 10, Radio Dabanga has learned. A witness told Radio Dabanga that the gunmen arrived on camels and attacked five displaced women when they were on their way back to the camp from nearby farms. The gunmen seized one of the displaced, an 18-year-old woman, and raped her several times. The four others managed to escape from the insurgents and fled back to the camp. The witness explained that the incident was reported to the police, UNAMID as well as the Sudanese armed forces. The perpetrators have not yet been persecuted, the witness continued. He noted that rape incidents keep reoccurring, without any action of police or UNAMID troops, the witness continued. Gunmen break into the camp at night-time with the purpose of raping women and looting properties, he added to Radio Dabanga from Kassab camp.
Ten gunmen rape 16-year-old girl
KASSAB CAMP (14 October 2012) – An armed group of ten raped a 16-year-old girl on Saturday October 13 in Kassab camp, North Darfur, sources informed Radio Dabanga. Kassab camp sheikh, Taher Ismail, told Radio Dabanga that a gunman in military uniform abducted the displaced girl, while threatening her at gunpoint, from the camp on Saturday afternoon….
Three gunmen rape girl in Zam Zam
ZAM ZAM CAMP (18 October 2012) – Zam Zam camp, near El-Fasher in North Darfur has witnessed three separate incidents in one week, including one rape case, a camp activist told Radio Dabanga on Thursday, 18 October. He explained that unidentified gunmen carried out the attacks, which took place on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, after a period of relative calm. Witnesses said the first incident involved a rape case, in which three gunmen raped a 20-year-old girl in her home when her parents were away. [ ] A witness informed Radio Dabanga that the mission halted night patrols at the camp about one year ago and that day patrols were halted six months ago.
The complaints of Darfuris in all regions are no longer regarded with any apparent seriousness, even as their urgency continues to grow.
Tawila citizens complain about insecurity
TAWILA (12 October 2012) – Citizens from Tawila locality, North Darfur, have complained about the constant attacks they suffer from pro-government militias, Radio Dabanga has learned on Friday, 12 October. They said attacks commonly happen on roads, markets, and farms, adding that especially the road between Tawila and El-Fasher is often targeted. Besides, due to the road insecurity, traffic and trade between El-Fasher and Tawila has almost stopped, they stressed.
When speaking to Radio Dabanga, residents used a recent example to illustrate the seriousness of the situation in the city. They said that last Tuesday a vehicle carrying 19 passengers traveling on the road between El-Fasher and Tawila was attacked by pro-government militias. According to sources, eight passengers got injured, five of which were transferred to a hospital in El-Fasher due to their critical condition.
Citizens said that two policemen tried chasing the militia who attacked the passengers’ vehicle, but that the gunmen killed one of the officers and injured the other before stealing their car. Residents from the area accused pro-government militias of carrying out attacks in the region for a long time now. They demanded that state and local authorities secure the road between Tawila and El-Fasher, arrest these militias and bring them to justice.
Gunmen open fire on citizens in Kabkabiya
KABKABIYA (14 October 2012) – Three citizens were severely injured on Saturday October 13 in the area west of Kabkabiya in North Darfur, when an armed group opened fire on them, Radio Dabanga has learned. A witness told Radio Dabanga that an armed group, in military uniforms, driving a Land Cruiser vehicle opened fire on a group of citizens, who were on their way back from the market. (See also my overview of such violence, July 22, 2012)
Notable also, however, are the increasing reports of attacks by Darfuri rebel groups now part of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), including an attack with artillery on the military airbase outside el-Fasher (October 26, 2012). Earlier Radio Dabanga had reported:
Militiamen killed in battle with SRF
ABU DELEK / ABU ZEREIGA (18 October 2012) – The Darfur rebel coalition, Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), announced killing dozens of pro-government militiamen on Wednesday in the area of Abu Delek southeast of El-Fasher. The rebels have claimed control of the area. Mustafa Tambour, military spokesman of SLM-Abd al-Wahid al-Nur, told Radio Dabanga that SRF troops, consisting of SPLM-MM, SPLM-AN, Karbino and JEM, attacked pro-government militias in the area of Abu Delek, southeast of El-Fasher at approximately 8:00 Wednesday morning. Tambour added that 63 government troops were killed and dozens injured during the battle. He explained that among the victims is militia commander Lieutenant Saif al-Din Mohamed Adam. In addition, SRF troops seized 19 Land Cruiser vehicles and destroyed eight other vehicles, as well as seizing several light and heavy machine guns and ammunition.
Abu Zereiga airstrikes
Residents from south of Abu Zereiga, Mashrou’ Sag al-Ne’am and east Dar al-Salaam, told Radio Dabanga they were exposed to heavy airstrikes from 7:00 Wednesday morning until 2:00 in the afternoon. In addition, the residents said that the villages of Mashrou’ and Sabi, East Jebel Marra, were exposed to an airstrike carried out by a Sukhoi fighter jet at two in the afternoon. The airstrike sparked fires in the surrounding areas and poison is feared to have spread among residents.
See also an important new report from Small Arms Survey (Geneva) on military violence in Darfur, especially eastern Darfur: “Forgotten Darfur: Old Tactics and New Players, Claudio Gramizzi and Jerome Tubiana (July 12, 2012)
Available for download at http://smallarmssurveysudan.org/pdfs/HSBA-SWP-28-Forgotten-Darfur.pdf