[ 2 December 2014 update: The threats discussed in this analysis were ultimately confirmed by the Secretary-General, in the form of:
“Report of the Secretary-General on the African-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur,” S/2014/852 (26 November 2014) ]
Highly reliable sources in Darfur report the ominous prospect of a wholesale assault by Khartoum’s military and security forces on Kalma camp for displaced persons, near Nyala, capital of South Darfur (contact details for an Arabic speaker receiving this information as well are available upon request). The pretext will be the “need to conduct searches” of the camp, according to a UN account from last month (see 14 September 2014 OCHA report); but this will be merely pretext. And judging by previous assaults, including the recent assault on nearby al-Salam camp, we may expect serious violence and human rights abuses. In al-Salam, too, the “need to search” was asserted by Khartoum’s forces, but despite a brutal and humiliating ransacking of the camp, nothing was found.
In the case of Kalma—the largest and most notoriously abused of the camps—the prospect of a “search” is especially alarming. For Kalma has a long and horrific history of violence against its displaced civilians. If the assault occurs this weekend or next week, as my Darfuri source indicates, there may be a very serious number of casualties, killed and wounded. This will not be without precedent. A military attack on Kalma occurred in August 2008, and was without meaningful response by the UN on the ground. Using public and confidential sources, I wrote (with Mia Farrow) the following:
At 6am on the morning of August 25,  Kalma camp, home to 90,000 displaced Darfuris, was surrounded by Sudanese government forces. By 7am, 60 heavily armed military vehicles had entered the camp, shooting and setting straw huts ablaze. Terrified civilians—who had previously fled their burning villages when they were attacked by this same government and its proxy killers the Janjaweed—hastily armed themselves with sticks, spears and knives. Of course, these were no match for machine guns and automatic weapons. By 9am, the worst of the brutal assault was over. The vehicles rolled out leaving scores dead and over 100 wounded. Most were women and children.
The early morning attack ensured that no aid workers were present as witnesses. Doctors Without Borders did manage to negotiate the transportation of 49 of the most severely wounded to a hospital in the nearby town of Nyala. But beyond this, aid workers have been blocked from entering the camp. Military vehicles have now increased in number and massed around Kalma. They have permitted no humanitarian assistance to reach the wounded. People already hard hit by recent floods and deteriorating sanitary conditions have received no food, water or medicine since Monday. The dead cannot even be buried with the white shrouds requested by the families of the victims. (Wall Street Journal, 6 September 2008)
Some of the scores killed in the August 2008 assault on Kalma camp
No one was held accountable, and the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) proved helpless, despite significant protection resources nearby. We should recall that the primary mandate of UNAMID is to protect civilians. Shielded from international criticism by the UN and the African Union at every turn, UNAMID continues to be the largest, most expensive, most disastrous failure in UN peacekeeping history. Even Ban Ki-moon was recently obliged to note that UNAMID failed to report serious human rights abuses and atrocity crimes (UNAMID provides the information that serves as the basis for the Secretary-General’s quarterly reports on the mission and Darfur). But the report was a necessary whitewash, coming in response to the extremely serious charges of malfeasance reported earlier this year in a devastating three-part report in Foreign Policy (“They Just Stood Watching,” 7 April 2014); it was based largely on observations made on the ground in Darfur by former UNAMID spokeswoman Aicha Elbasri. The first installment ends with might have served as an epigraph:
Elbasri says that she raised concerns about UNAMID’s refusal to acknowledge the government role with one of the peacekeepers’ local commanders, Maj. Gen. Wynjones Matthew Kisamba. She still remains shaken by his answer. The UNAMID forces, she recalls Kisamba saying, had to occasionally massage the truth. “You know, sometimes we have to behave like diplomats,” he told her. “We can’t say all what we see in Darfur.”
Colum Lynch of Foreign Policy (2014 October 29) provides an excellent account of why we should take such comments seriously—and as characteristic of UNAMID behavior (UN Secretary-General admits only five cases in an unreleased report—a ludicrous figure, given what has been reported by multiple highly reliable sources).
UNAMID inert in the face of a militia attack on civilians near Kutum, North Darfur
There have been other examples of UNAMID’s complete failure to protect civilians, even when their assistance is urgently requested. In the village of Tabarat, North Darfur, Reuters alone reported on the 2 September 2010 slaughter of villagers that UNAMID neither halted nor investigated (indeed, no report was ever produced by UNAMID):
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.
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.”
Adam 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. (Opheera McDoom for Reuters [Khartoum], 17 September 2010)
The most recent attack, which included members of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) as well as allied militia forces, was a savage assault on al-Salam camp, reported only by Radio Dabanga:
“Military raid on South Darfur’s El Salam camp”
Radio Dabanga (5 August 2014 [El Salam Camp, Bielel Locality, South Darfur])
A large military force stormed El Salam camp for the displaced in Bielel locality, South Darfur, on Tuesday morning [5 August 2014]. The army troops searched the camp and detained 26 displaced. “At 6.30am on Tuesday, army forces in about 100 armoured vehicles raided El Salam camp,” Hussein Abu Sharati, the spokesman for the Darfur Displaced and Refugees Association reported to Radio Dabanga on Tuesday afternoon. “The soldiers searched the camp, treating the displaced in a degrading and humiliating way. They assaulted the people, treating them as suspects, and detained 26 camp residents. The market was pillaged, and the personal belongings of many displaced disappeared.”
According to Abu Sharati, the search for criminals, motorcycles, vehicles without number plates, and weapons in the camp, was done “under the pretext of the new emergency measures issued by the Governor of South Darfur State.” “But in fact the main objectives of this attack is terrorising the camp population, and the dismantling of the camp.” “Searches in this way constitute a violation of international humanitarian laws. They attacked the camp, beat and robbed the displaced, and pillaged the market. We do not know how many people were wounded yet. We are still are checking them, and inventorying the items missing.”
On August 8, 2014, Radio Dabanga published a follow-up report on the attack on El Salam:
The leader of El Salam camp, Sheikh Mahjoub Adam Tabaldiya, confirmed to Radio Dabanga that a combined force consisting of security services, the army, and the police stormed the camp with more than 150 military vehicles, led by Abdulrahman Gardud, Commissioner of Nyala locality. Sheikh Tabaldiya termed the raid a farce. “When they entered the camp, they told the elders that they were searching for alcohol and drugs, but they were really looking for vehicles belonging to the armed movements, and families of rebels.
“The military force did not find anything, but arrested more than 75 people and took them to the military court in Nyala. As there was no proof against them, all but four were released.” Aaron Saleh, Jacob Abdul Rahman Abdullah, Mahmoud, and Saleh Abdullah are reportedly still in detention in Nyala. Tabaldiya said that during the raid, 23 displaced people received various injuries as a result of beating and whipping.
So feckless, so impotent is UNAMID that Khartoum’s forces think nothing of threatening even UNAMID forces themselves. Reuters reported a particularly shocking case from North Darfur in January 2011; it came in the immediate wake of yet another aerial attack on civilians:
UNAMID spokesman Kemal Saiki confirmed the bombing [of civilians] was by “the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) air force.” Later on Wednesday [January 26, 2011], a group of 200 Sudanese government soldiers in 40 vehicles arrived at UNAMID’s camp in the nearby settlement of Shangil Tobay [North Darfur], UNAMID said. “(The soldiers) surrounded the team site’s exit as well as the adjacent makeshift camp, where thousands of civilians recently displaced by the December 2010 clashes have settled,” read the statement. The Sudanese army detained four displaced people at the camp, said UNAMID. “The SAF commander at the scene … then threatened to burn down the makeshift camp and UNAMID team site, if the peacekeepers continued to interfere.” (Reuters [Khartoum], January 27, 2011)
Attacks on camps for the displaced in Darfur are nothing new: before UNAMID deployed and the only protection force on the ground was a very small African Union mission (AMIS), we at least had some honest and forthright reporting. The first major attack occurred in Aro Sharow (West Darfur) in September 2005, and at the time the AU Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur (October 1, 2005), spoke forcefully and directly:
On 18 September 2005, simultaneous attacks at Khartoum Djadeed, Sandego, Khasantongur, Tary, Martal and Djabain resulted in the death of 12 civilians, 5 seriously wounded, and the displacement of about 4,000 civilians. Heavy and small weapons mounted on vehicles were reportedly used by the Government of Sudan, in close coordination with about 300 Janjaweed Arab militia. Most of the displaced people moved to Zam Zam and Tawilla Internally Displaced Persons camps.
On 28 September 2005, just four days ago, some reportedly 400 Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback went on the rampage in Aru Sharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur. Our reports also indicate that the day previous, and indeed on the actual day of the attack, Government of Sudan helicopter gunships were observed overhead. This apparent coordinated land and air assault gives credence to the repeated claim by the rebel movements of collusion between the Government of Sudan forces and the Janjaweed/Arab militia. This incident, which was confirmed not only by our investigators but also by workers of humanitarian agencies and NGOs in the area, took a heavy toll resulting in 32 people killed, 4 injured and 7 missing, and about 80 houses/shelters looted and set ablaze.
The following day, a clearly premeditated and well rehearsed combined operation was carried out by the Government of Sudan military and police at approximately 11am in the town of Tawilla and its IDP camp in North Darfur. The Government of Sudan forces used approximately 41 trucks and 7 land cruisers in the operation which resulted in a number of deaths, massive displacement of civilians and the destruction of several houses in the surrounding areas as well as some tents in the IDP camps. Indeed, the remains of discharged explosive devices were found in the IDP camp. During the attack, thousands from the township and the IDP camp and many humanitarian workers were forced to seek refuge near the AU camp for personal safety and security.” (Transcript of Kingibe press conference, Khartoum, October 1, 2005)
Kalma camp is now at acute risk; indeed the risk of wholesale slaughter in an effort to close the camp has never been greater. Khartoum has long made clear its plans to dismantle the camps and deny international humanitarian organizations a rationale for remaining in Darfur (there is virtually no humanitarian presence anywhere in Darfur except in the camps and nearby towns and cities). Most recently, the leaked minutes of an August 31 meeting in Khartoum by the most senior military and security officials in the regime gave the summary recommendations of Major General and Vice President Bakri Hassan Saleh concerning Darfur:
“Support the mechanism intended to disperse or empty the IDP camps.”
“Create differences and security strikes in the IDP camps.”
“Support the mechanism intended to disperse or empty the IDP camps”—although the “mechanism” is not specified, it may be readily inferred from previous and increasingly numerous and violent assaults on camps for displaced persons. Kalma camp, the largest and most volatile of all the camps, would mark the start of the offensive implicit in Bakri’s “mechanism.”
My Darfuri sources indicate that UN humanitarian personnel have been urgently discussing among themselves contingency plans, but not with the displaced people of Kalma—this evidently for fear raising the ire of Khartoum. For its part, UNAMID will find a way to be absent from Kalma at the time of the attack. If the attack occurs as predicted, it will likely mark the true beginning of the “New Strategy for Darfur” first announced in September 2010. It is little more than an elaborate justification for the new “policy” on camps, requiring that remaining international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations convert their work to “development,” even as acute humanitarian needs are everywhere to be seen.
Malnutrition threat confronting the displaced and the non-displaced alike
The UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs has finally begun to report, if exceedingly tersely (and without disaggregation of data for Darfur specifically), on the most significant barometer of malnutrition for purposes of humanitarian assessment, Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM). The public use of this vital statistic appeared for the first time in years only in July 2014; at the time OCHA reported the “GAM Caseload” as 1.4 million. In its most recent reports, the “GAM Caseload” figure is 2 million people—catastrophic malnutrition for a country the size of Sudan. These are people who are seriously malnourished (in a climate of violence such as that in Darfur, the threshold for a humanitarian emergency is a GAM rate of 10 percent among children under five).
We learn even more of what malnutrition data the UN has been withholding concerning Darfur in an internal UNICEF document posted by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times (5 September 2014), indicating that only (the truncated) West Darfur has a GAM rate for children below the emergency humanitarian threshold for an environment of conflict; all the other states are above the threshold. In North Darfur the rate of Global Acute Malnutrition for children under five is 28 percent.
“Chronic malnutrition” (or “stunting”) of children under five is another key malnutrition measure. The UN World Health Organization threshold for “high prevalence” of Chronic Malnutrition is 30 percent; the threshold for “very high prevalence” is 40 percent. Four of the five Darfur states as presently configured have a “high prevalence” of Chronic Malnutrition; Central Darfur and East Darfur have a “very high prevalence” of Chronic Malnutrition among children under five. Sudan as a whole ranked fourth from the bottom in the UNICEF document recording measurements of “Percent of Under-Fives Moderately or Severely Wasted.”
Kalma in the aftermath
These figures reflect, inter alia, the consequences of Khartoum’s war of attrition against humanitarian organizations operating in Darfur. And this poses a critical problem for the people of Kalma camp. If these displaced civilians are forced to leave the camp, where will they go? All the camps in the area are overflowing with displaced persons and have inadequate humanitarian resources. At the same time, the UN is reporting that more than 400,000 people have been newly displaced so far in 2014, adding to the figure of 2 million for 2013: some 2.5 million internally displaced persons and 350,000 refugees in neighboring eastern Chad remain victims of Khartoum’s grim genocide by attrition. The huge population of Kalma will be disastrously affected by forced removal.
Will this attack mark what one Darfuri told me is another translation from the Arabic for the phrase “A New Strategy for Darfur” … “The Final Resolution of the Darfur Crisis”? What is clear is that UNAMID is unprepared to halt whatever military and security decisions Khartoum makes, and that the UN is unprepared to confront Khartoum politically, even knowing what is impending.
A massive catastrophe looms.