A critique of the UN Secretary General’s report on UNAMID and Darfur (July 22, 2014)
It would take a great deal of work and writing to point out all the errors, tendentiousness, expediency, and disingenuousness in the Secretary-General’s “Report on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur,” 22 July 2014. I have highlighted here moments that seem to me egregious.
§2 The SG claims that, “The operations of the Rapid Support Forces were considerably reduced during the reporting period.” How could he know if UNAMID has so little presence in so much of Darfur? Reduced from what to what? And certainly in recent weeks we have seen no diminishment in militia activity. The suggestion implicit, that somehow violence has diminished in Darfur, has no justification; militias in general are as active as ever, if not more so.
§3/4 While the SG lists a number of aerial attacks on civilian targets, the dozen or so named don’t begin to represent the scale of bombardment inflicted by the air force of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). UNAMID is still denied access to eastern Jebel Marra, where the bombings have been concentrated. To imply that this list of aerial attacks is representative, given what we know from the reports of Radio Dabanga and others, is simply disingenuous. (Compare the SG’s earlier reports on UNAMID and bombing attacks with those listed in www.sudanbombing.org: it is clear that understatement has been deliberate.)
§12 The SG reports that “In South Darfur, six attacks mainly targeting internally displaced persons were reported by affected communities.” Here again the SG grossly understates what has been reported, at least if we move beyond the compromised and highly limited reporting and data collection by UNAMID. There were a great many more than “six attacks” during the reporting period.
§18 The SG reports:
Criminal activities included attacks on villages, rapes, hijacking and abduction. Recorded crimes increased from 331 cases in the previous reporting period to 422 cases in the current period. Several alleged cases of abductions of internally displaced persons by criminal groups were recorded. Most of the incidents occurred in areas located near the perimeter of the internally displaced persons camps.
The claim is accurate only insofar as it stressed the violence near displaced persons camps, where UNMID should be providing protection but is not. The suggestion that there were only 422 cases of “rapes, hijacking and abduction” is both a gross understatement and in its very precision reveals that the figure represents only the data collected by UNAMID—circumscribed in movement, often unresponsive to civilian complaints, and corrupt in its commitment to report all that it finds. For its part, Radio Dabanga offers any number of reports—none meaningfully disputed—that suggest the absurdity of the SG’s implicit claim about the scale o violence in Darfur.
§19 The SG reports that, “Despite multiple challenges, humanitarian access improved in April and May compared with the first quarter of 2014.” Since humanitarian access during the first three months of 2014 had fallen to an all-time low, this comparison as it stands is deeply misleading and does not indicate the overall pattern of declining access that has been evident for more than two years. Moreover, the general evidence adduced by the SG in this section does not adequately support even what amounts to a largely insignificant claim.
§23 The SG reports:
The two-month blockade by the Northern Rizeigat of the road connecting El Sireif with Saraf Umra, Kabkabiya and Tine prevented the movement of goods into El Sireif, further exacerbating rising food prices and contributing to the deterioration of the nutrition situation. Humanitarian actors had to devise alternative arrangements to deliver humanitarian aid, mainly through commercial transporters and the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service.
The SG seems unprepared to discuss or acknowledge the implication of this section. The “alternative arrangements” he speaks of include the use by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) of food “agents” or “brokers,” signaling a breakdown in the distribution system that requires, for any real efficiency, implementing INGO partners. Food prices are spiking in many locations, a sure sign of dangerously growing food shortages (see Appendix Three at http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nO).
§24 The SG reports:
Restrictions of movement of UNAMID decreased considerably during the reporting period. Between 1 April and 30 June, UNAMID land movements were restricted on 21 occasions, compared with 72 restrictions in the previous reporting period. Restrictions were highest in East Darfur. The authorities also denied 15 of 3,432 planned flights compared with 72 of 4,386 planned flights in the previous period.
This is presented as “good news” when in fact it chiefly reflects the vagaries of Khartoum’s security decisions and ignores the most fundamental reality: there are a great many requests that UNAMID does not make because they know that they will be refused. These statistics do nothing to represent the degree of access, by UNAMID or humanitarians. It is the perfect example of UNAMID keeps statistics that can make it seem as though progress is being made when in fact there is none. Indeed, UNAMID itself frequently makes decisions that reduce its ability to access endangered camp residents:
The UNAMID teams stationed at the Fata Borno and Kassab camps for the displaced in Kutum locality moved their bases to the town of Kutum on Friday. One of the sheikhs of Fata Borno camp reported to Radio Dabanga that on Friday morning, the UNAMID team stationed in the camp “took all its equipment for water supply, electricity, wires, and tents, and loaded them into large lorries. They transported the equipment to Kutum town, 17km east of the camp.” The sheikh said that the Mission did not tell them the reasons for this move. “They assured the camp population that it would continue its morning and night patrols around the camp.” (Radio Dabanga, 25 May 2014)
§29 The SG speaks disingenuously of “the withdrawal in May of an international non-governmental organization from West, South and East Darfur left gaps in health and nutrition assistance.” What the SG does not say is the NGO (Merlin/UK) was expelled by Khartoum; this was the reason for their “withdrawal.”
§31/32 The SG acknowledges the shortcomings of UNAMID by UN peacekeeping standards, but this is couched in language that does not adequate represent the degree of failure:
With regard to the 43 military and police units currently deployed to UNAMID, 15 have achieved an equipment serviceability rate of 90 per cent. Unfortunately, the serviceability rate of three units has fallen below 50 per cent. Shortfalls in contingent-owned equipment and self-sustainment, especially in the areas of catering, communications and level-1 medical capacities, put a burden on the Mission’s resources and limit the much-needed temporary deployment capability of the troop-contributing countries. Moreover, continued shortfalls in major equipment, mainly armoured personnel carriers, undermine the effectiveness of UNAMID military operations, including long-range patrols crucial to the protection of civilians in remote localities.
In other words, of the 43 military and police units deployed only about 35 percent have a serviceability of at least 90 percent, and even this includes a great deal of fudging of data. And we must ask what use are the three units whose serviceability rate has fallen below 50 percent? Why has this been allowed to happen? Why do so few meet the 90 percent serviceability standard more than six years after deployment? Other comments on serviceability by the SG only make an accounting the more urgent.
§34 – 44 What we have in these sections is an elaborate, meaninglessly detailed account of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) and the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA). The account is meaningless because the DRA is viewed as a betrayal by Darfuris, who have also rejected overwhelmingly the DDPD (see body of this analysis). What the SG is attempting to do is give the impression that somehow the DDPD is a diplomatic achievement and the DRA has been at least a partial success story. Given the views of Darfuris themselves, this amounts to a charade that the SG dutifully engages in every three months.
§47 Some of the statistics that the SG presents are simply ridiculous on their face: “During the reporting period, [UNAMID] prevented two attacks on civilians by armed elements.” Two attacks? What could be more absurd than presenting this as anything other than evidence of the grossest failure in fulfilling the primary mandate of the mission, civilian protection? There were hundreds of attacks on civilians during the reporting period—in some cases before the very eyes of UNAMID. Why were they not protected? What can such a damning statistic (UNAMID “prevented two attacks on civilians”) tell us but that UNAMID is failing utterly?
§53 The SG apparently is infatuated with UNAMID patrol numbers, no doubt because these inflated figures make it appear that UNAMID is far more active that it actually is:
During the reporting period, UNAMID military personnel conducted 13,511 patrols, including 7,063 routine patrols, 2,485 night patrols, 1,162 administrative patrols, 1,240 humanitarian escorts, 1,241 short-range patrols and 320 long-range patrols. UNAMID police conducted a total of 7,253 patrols, including 3,911 inside internally displaced persons camps, 254 firewood and farm patrols, 3,043 patrols in villages, towns and markets, 873 medium-range patrols and 259 long-range patrols.
But we are told nothing about the effectiveness of these “patrols”—and some have reported from the ground that a UNAMID “patrol” can amount to little more than peering out a garrison window. And most significantly we are not told where these “patrols” occur, and how many are conducted in areas of greatest danger to civilians. As they stand, these statistics—like so many deployed by the SG—are meaningless.
§56 The SG reports, “the Mission documented 209 human rights violations and abuses involving 484 victims, compared with 156 incidents involving 314 victims in the previous reporting period.” These numbers so clearly understate, by orders of magnitude, the human rights abuses in Darfur that we must conclude that they are included as a means of obscuring, yet further, what is actually occurring on the ground in Darfur. The very decision to include such preposterous figures is deliberate dissimulation. In passing, the SG does briefly note both the failure of UNAMID to report what it finds to the regime officials—and the impunity that continues to accompany all crimes in service of Khartoum: ” Of the 209 cases recorded by UNAMID, only 96 were reported to Government authorities. Investigations were initiated in 39 cases, leading to 15 arrests, with six arrested perpetrators eventually released on bail.” No doubt it is only a matter of time before the remaining nine are released.
§59 Nowhere has the SG failed more consequentially than in speaking about rape and sexual violence in Darfur. In this report, not only does his account reveal more of the impunity that is so pervasive in Darfur, but in relying on UNAMID statistics he understates in shocking, finally cruelly dishonest fashion the reality of rape throughout the region: “UNAMID documented 58 cases of sexual and gender-based violence involving 103 victims (27 minors), an increase from 35 cases involving 53 victims in the previous reporting period.”
First it should be noted that UNAMID troops and police frequently refuse to respond to the reports of rape and sexual violence, even when they come directly from the victim herself or her family. Rape remains an extremely sensitive issue for Khartoum, and the UN and UNAMID have responded to this sensitivity by consistently downplaying the issue or simply refusing to address it. In his reports of 2013, the SG does not even mention sexual violence in two. The hostility of the Khartoum regime to reporting on sexual violence became clear early on: a reports by MSF/Holland in 2005 (“The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur“) prompted the arrest of senior MSF officials, and was certainly one reason that MSF/Holland was among the humanitarian organizations expelled in March 2005.
Second, the SG here again relies completely on UNAMID figures in quantifying incidents of rape, and thus uses numbers that have no relation to the epidemic of sexual violence that continues to sweep across Darfur. To give a sense of how Ban Ki-moon’s figures compare with those of Darfuris reporting from the ground via Radio Dabanga, consider the statistic from a single camp in a June 5, 2014 dispatch: “A total of 39 displaced women and girls from Kalma camp in South Darfur, were the victims of rape during April and May 2014” (https://www.radiodabanga.org/node/74402). Kalma is a large camp, but it is only one. There are scores of other camps reporting rapes on a large scale, and yet the UN Secretary-General relies on UNAMID for data on these immensely consequential atrocities, indeed often war crimes when part of the conduct of war, which has been the case since the beginning of violence in Darfur in 2003 (See “RAPE AS A CONTINUING WEAPON OF WAR IN DARFUR: Reports, bibliography of studies, a compendium of incidents,” 4 March 2012).
There is no more disgraceful section in the SG’s report.
§71 – 76 These sections discuss in detail what is never mentioned explicitly: UNAMID is a failed mission, and is being drawn down at the behest of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. This is not because security has improved, but at $1 billion per year UNAMID is almost certainly the least cost effective peacekeeping mission in the world. All this is disguised as part of a “strategic review.”
§77 / §84 The SG claims under his final section (“Observations and Recommendations“) that “during the reporting period, the security situation improved slightly,” and that “despite recent gains, the humanitarian situation in Darfur remains acutely fragile….” His lengthy report offers no significant evidence for either claim. He relies on UNAMID for his data, and those data are corrupt, incompetently collected, and exceedingly limited by the constraints on where UNAMID actually goes. The report temporizes in ways that are extremely dangerous, and does so for reasons of expediency. It is less than worthless: it is positively harmful in many of its suggestions, claims, and statistical representations. In his geopolitical calculations, Ban Ki-moon has “traded out” Darfur, despite the fact that when he became Secretary-General (2007) he promised to make the conflict a defining issue. Seven years later, Darfur defines Ban all too fully.
It should also be noted that the SG omits any number of figures that would be of considerable interest to those who wish to understand the situation on the ground in Darfur. What data, for example, have been collected and/or collated reflecting levels of Global Acute Malnutrition? The UN has refused to report on this key humanitarian barometer for years. And what of data bearing on civilian mortality? Is there any collation of data that indicate mortality levels in the camps? If not, why not? And if the data exist, why are they not publicly promulgated? To ask the question is to see all too clearly the answer: the UN is deferring here, as on other critical issues, to Khartoum’s sensitivities.
Of course the greatest omission in the SG’s report is the significance of a demand by the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Gambian jurist Fatou Bensouda:
ICC demands investigation of UNAMID in Darfur NEW YORK / THE HAGUE (18 June 2014) – The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, requested the UN on Tuesday to investigate allegations that UNAMID intentionally covered up crimes in… FULL STORY
Although Darfur was referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council in 2005 for prosecution of crimes under the Rome Statute, nothing has come this referral. Khartoum stonewalls the court, and is vigorously supported by most African Union countries.
[ For numerous examples of what is not investigated or reported, see “Recent examples of violence UNAMID has been unable or unwilling to prevent or investigate,” 2 August 2014 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1nH]