APPENDIX B: How Darfur’s realities were rendered invisible
Eric Reeves | May 23, 2016 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1TO
(My commentary, where it is provided, is always in blue italics, in [brackets], followed by my initials)
In early 2004, I argued strenuously in the Washington Post that the evidence from Darfur obliged a characterization of Khartoum’s counter-insurgency effort as genocide:
The racial animus is clear from scores of chillingly similar interviews with refugees reaching Chad. A young African man who had lost many family members in an attack heard the gunmen say, ‘You blacks, we’re going to exterminate you.’ Speaking of these relentless attacks, an African tribal leader told the UN news service, “I believe this is an elimination of the black race.” A refugee reported these words as coming from his attackers: “You are opponents to the regime, we must crush you. As you are black, you are like slaves. Then the entire Darfur region will be in the hands of the Arabs.”
An African tribal chief declared that, “The Arabs and the government forces…said they wanted to conquer the whole territory and that the Blacks did not have a right to remain in the region.”
There can be no reasonable skepticism about Khartoum’s use of these militias to “destroy, in whole or in part, ethnical or racial groups”—in short, to commit genocide.
Khartoum has so far refused to rein in its Arab militias; has refused to enter into meaningful peace talks with the insurgency groups; and most disturbingly, refuses to grant unfettered humanitarian access. The international community has been slow to react to Darfur’s catastrophe and has yet to move with sufficient urgency and commitment. A credible peace forum must rapidly be created. Immediate plans for humanitarian intervention should begin. The alternative is to allow tens of thousands of civilians to die in the weeks and months ahead in what will be continuing genocidal destruction.
And so it has continued, though I hadn’t the foresight to see that I should have been speaking in terms of years, not “weeks and months”—nor hundreds of thousands instead of “tens of thousands.”
I soon found my conclusion echoed in a number of quarters: by intrepid New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, by Samantha Power (now U.S. ambassador to the UN), Susan Rice (now President Obama’s National Security Advisor), human rights organizations (including Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First), genocide scholars from around the world, the U.S. State Department, and a unanimous U.S. Congress, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (Committee on Conscience, Vad Yashem in Israel, and many others.
Even those who have come to snipe and equivocate about the applicability of the term “genocide” spoke decisively early on. Alex de Waal, who has advised failed African Union diplomatic efforts declared in August 2004:
But [counter-insurgency in Darfur] is not the genocidal campaign of a government at the height of its ideological hubris, as the 1992 jihad against the Nuba was, or coldly determined to secure natural resources, as when it sought to clear the oilfields of southern Sudan of their troublesome inhabitants. This is the routine cruelty of a security cabal, its humanity withered by years in power: it is genocide by force of habit. (“Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap,” London Review of Books, August 15, 2004)
But precisely because the designation of genocide seemed an American one, despite broad international support for this characterization, the term came to be one of controversy. This was in large measure because the UN Commission of Inquiry set up by then Secretary-General Kofi Annan found, on the basis of a pitifully weak, finally dishonest investigation, that while massive “crimes against humanity” had been committed, the definitional threshold for “genocide” had not been crossed. Annan himself had made explicit the comparison between Rwanda and Darfur in April 2004 on that grim 10th anniversary—and had gone so far as to suggest that international intervention might be necessary to halt the slaughter.
What is little known is that the man in charge of the Commission of Inquiry had made it clear to his team, before they arrived in Darfur, that they would not be finding genocide.
Information from Deborah Bodkin, Canadian police officer and member of both the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (2004 – 2005) and the Coalition for International Justice study of Darfur (August – September 2004) has been extraordinary revealing:
“Commissioner Antonio Cassese, who had traveled to Khartoum and some parts of Darfur for a few days and had conducted some interviews, stated that he felt that we would find that there were two elements of genocide missing: (1) target group (victims are from mixed tribes) and (b) mens rea (intent). He talked for a while and my personal opinion was that he was telling us that the outcome of the investigation would show that it was not genocide which was occurring. He did not specify how long he had visited nor how many interviews he had conducted but I don’t believe either were extensive. I felt it was very inappropriate for him to plant this opinion in the investigators’ minds prior to starting the investigation and other investigators felt uncomfortable about it as well. (Sam Totten, “US Investigation into the Determination of Genocide in the Darfur Crisis and its determination of genocide,” Genocide Studies and Prevention, 2006-1,1 57-78: Footnote 50). (email received by author Sam Totten on April 15, 2006).
In an interview I conducted myself with Officer Bodkin at Concordia University (Montreal), November 1, 2005, she made the following points to me emphatically:
• Forensic experts did not do their specialized jobs but rather interviewed victims, for which they were not trained; they did not put a spade in the ground;
• Khartoum’s Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) consistently interfered (insisting on being present, despite terms of reference for COI activities);
• Khartoum created visa delays;
• The investigation was plagued by hastiness, lack of preparation, and too short a time-frame for the work;
• UN Commissioner Antonio Cassese declaring at outset, before going to Sudan, that “they would not be finding genocide”;
• The UN inquiry was the shoddiest, poorest investigation she had ever been part of;
• Politics saturated the report, which had been deeply politicized by the commissioner.
The report itself contained little that had not already been better reported by human rights groups, in part because the Commission (as Bodkin notes) did no forensic work, even at such notorious sites as those in Wadi Saleh, where in one massacre more than 150 Fur men and boys were executed with gunshots to the back of the head in March 2003 (reported in detail by both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International). In the document that became the Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur was a travesty, an attempt to use the 1948 UN Genocide Convention in the most tendentious and illogical of ways. See:
Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur: A critical analysis (Part I) | February 2, 2005 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-o
Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur: A critical analysis (Part II) | February 6, 2005 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-o0
But the document did succeed in raising doubts about whether or not Darfur was the site of genocide, and would continue to assist those intent on denying there was a rationale for forceful humanitarian intervention in Darfur. The ultimate consequence was that there was no international will to intervene in Darfur. Instead, a fig leaf of civilian protection was provided by the UN and African Union: a “hybrid” force—the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID. This force has failed badly and is now hopelessly demoralized and suffering from the loss of key contributions from African countries (South Africa and Burkina Faso most recently announced they would no longer participate in UNAMID).
The force, which officially deployed in January 2008, has been scandalously under-equipped from the beginning. Forces had virtually no “inter-operability” (the cohesion necessary for various elements of a military mission to work effectively), and faced severed and relentless restrictions by Khartoum on weaponry and, even more consequentially, access. Khartoum continually denied the mission access to key areas, especially those in which large-scale atrocity crimes continued to occur. Khartoum’s denial of access to investigate the massacre of men and boys in Tabarat, North Darfur (September 2010) is perhaps the most notorious, but there have been countless others.
But both the AU and the UN had much at stake in the performance of UNAMID, and its “success” was constantly touted by both, especially the African Union, whose Peace and Security Council declared in 2013 that UNAMID was a mission whose “success” was “worthy of “emulation” in future peacekeeping missions in Africa” (PANA, March 20, 2013). Needless to say, no mention was made of the rapidly accelerating violence in Darfur at the time—and that continues to this day.
In surveying the current destruction and suffering in Darfur it is worth pausing on one location, Ain Siro, for it became celebrated as an example of Darfur “putting itself together again”—and on its own. Former U.S. special envoy for Sudan Scott Gration placed Ain Siro on his itinerary for one of his few visits to Darfur because if offered “hope.”
Most telling, however, is the assessment offered by Alex de Waal writing in a May 2009 blog (“A Taste of Normality”):
A few days in Ain Siro is a reminder of what life used to be like in Darfur. The village is nestled in the spine of hills that runs due north from Jebel Marra into the desert. Protected by the mountains, the SLA has controlled the area for the last four years, and for many of the people in the vicinity, allowed an element of normality to return. Villages have been rebuilt, a rudimentary health service set up—and the school re-opened. (http://africanarguments.org/2009/05/28/a-taste-of-normality-in-ain-siro/ )
From the example of Ain Siro, de Waal draws a conclusion that:
Ain Siro shows how people on all sides are tired of war and, when given the chance, can make their own small but significant steps towards peace and normality. When Julie Flint first wrote about Ain Siro “saving itself” in 2007, most were sceptical that it represented anything significant. Two years on, not only has Ain Siro survived, but its model of self-help is less exceptional than it was.
Today, Ain Siro is at “ground zero” in the massive military offensive by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces in East Jebel Marra (North Darfur) and the Jebel Marra massif itself (Central Darfur). De Waal, who has enjoyed a strangely influential position within the international community, and especially the African Union, has not commented on the glaring disparity between his wildly optimistic assessment of 2009 and current realities in Ain Siro. But there can be little doubt that his vision of a Darfur peacefully putting itself back together again was greatly pleasing to the African Union, for which he has previously served as a consultant, particularly to the incompetent and corrupt Thabo Mbeki, head of the AU diplomatic mission for the Sudans.
Indeed, de Waal has gone so far as to use UNAMID statistics on violence to suggest the mission’s success, and the onset of peace. He provided “expert” justification for the preposterous claim by UNAMID head Ibrahim Gambari, who declared in September 2011:
“Our figures have shown that the number of armed attacks in all three Darfur states has fallen by as much as 70% over the past three years, which has resulted in more displaced people returning to their homes.”
But Gambari was using a highly specious methodology, talking only about UNAMID-confirmed armed conflict between the SAF and rebel groups—not militia assaults on civilians. And crucially, Gambari was using only data gathered by UNAMID itself—which was, again, not simply demoralized, but continually denied access. It also had a clear self-interest in providing figures that demonstrated their success. But on the basis of this specious decline in violence, Gambari also reduced the number of displaced persons in Darfur from the UN OCHA figure of 2009 (2.7 million) to 1.7 million:
“At the height of the conflict in Darfur, 2.7 million people were internally displaced. As we speak, according [to] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates it is now down to 1.7 million” (Radio Dabanga, September 16, 2011).
This statement was reported in slightly different terms by CNN International: “Although 2.7 million people ‘were displaced at the height of the conflict,’ [Gambari] said, ‘the estimate now is 1.7 million. Frankly, that is a huge change’” (September 15, Khartoum).
This figure was utter nonsense, based largely on demonstrably specious calculations by then head of UN humanitarian operations in Darfur, Georg Charpentier (see a critical statistical assessment of Charpentier’s shoddy work here). There is simply no reason to credit the figures cited by Gambari and Charpentier: they were little more than self-flattering distortions that worked to diminish the sense of urgency in Darfur.
Here it should be noted here that present UN OCHA and UNHCR calculations make clear that the number of people displaced from their homes in Darfur is well over 3 million, almost twice Gambari’s “1.7 million”:
More than 300,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad
2.5 million internally displace persons in Darfur at the end of 2014
250,000 newly displaced persons in Darfur during 2015
150,000 newly displaced persons in Darfur so far in 2016
In many ways, Gambari was simply carrying on in the tradition of his predecessor. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Gambari in December 2009 to be the UN/African Union Joint Special Representative to UNAMID, replacing the bombastic and hopelessly incompetent Rodolphe Adada. Adada shared de Waal’s view of Darfur and declared at the end of his own foreshortened tenure (August 2009):
“I have achieved results” in Darfur. [ ] “There is no more fighting proper on the ground.’ ‘Right now there is no high-intensity conflict in Darfur. Call it what you will but this is what is happening in Darfur—a lot of banditry, carjacking, attacks on houses.” (http://inform.com/politics/darfur-war-departing-chief-646947a)
This is the African Union’s version of de Waal’s Ain Siro vision. But realities of the time were quite otherwise, and I have archived a series of detailed analyses and compendia on the years that followed the deployment of UNAMID, and they make clear just how perverse the assessment by de Waal, Adada, Gambari, Charpentier, and others were:
[These archival materials are distilled in Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012 (2012). Earlier archival materials are distilled in A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide (2007)]
Any survey of what has been archived in the way of reports, dispatches, human rights reports, humanitarian assessments, and other relevant material will reveal just how stark the contrast is between the claims of these men and what was actually occurring in Darfur. Ban Ki-moon’s quarterly assessments of UNAMID and Darfur have been based largely on the information and data provided by UNAMID. They have consistently and consequentially misrepresented the situation in Darfur. Thus it is not so surprising that despite the continuous epidemic of sexual violence against girls and women throughout Darfur, in at least two of his quarterly reports the Secretary-General does not refer once to sexual violence or a single instance of rape. Khartoum had sent very strong signals that it did not want rape reported, and for far too long the Secretariat accommodated the regime’s “red line.”
In another glaring omission, Ban’s reports did not begin to provide full accounts of the range and extend of aerial attacks on civilians in Darfur. Resolution 1591 (March 2005) imposed a total ban on offensive military flights; and yet the flights have continued and have been constant features of the military assaults on East Jebel Marra and Jebel Marra. UNAMID is, in turn, barred from investigating the sites of reported bombings. Ban and Gambari have said nothing of significance about this massive reporting omission. In a substantial monograph and data spreadsheet, I have chronicled—on the basis of all credible extant reports—the extent of this bombing (“‘They Bombed Everything that Moved’: Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2013,” www.sudanbombing.org/).
THE CONSEQUENCES OF A DISTORTED HISTORY
The consequences of the misrepresentation of Darfur by de Waal, Gambari and others have been enormous, and did much to deflate the Darfur activist movement in the U.S. and elsewhere. President Obama, who cynically campaigned on Darfur as a moral issue, soon revealed that he had no intention of responding meaningfully. He selected as his first Special Envoy for Sudan a military man who had helped him considerably with his presidential campaign. But Air Force Major-General (retired) Scott Gration was hopelessly incompetent and wholly unprepared (his real ambition was to be U.S. ambassador to Kenya, an appointment he received immediately after his tenure as Special envoy—he was fired by the State Department for incompetence in less than a year).
Gration quickly decided that there were only “remnants of genocide” in Darfur (June 2009)—a way of at once acknowledging the repeated and decisive declarations by candidate and President Obama that Darfur was the site of genocide, but also trivializing a still massive crisis as representing mere “remnants.” Gration would act on this absurd conviction with enormously destructive consequences (he also celebrated Ain Siro as a “symbol of hope”). It was Gration more than anyone else who convinced the Obama administration that engagement was the proper course with the NIF/NCP regime.
The following year (November 2010) a “a senior administration official” publicly declared that on the key bilateral issue between Khartoum and Washington—counter-terrorism intelligence in exchange for a lifting of U.S. sanctions and removal of Sudan from the State Department list of “state sponsors of terrorism”—the Obama administration would be “de-coupling” Darfur. Khartoum was delighted, and understandably took this as a signal that it could continue as it had for the preceding seven years.
[For a lengthy survey of military, political, and humanitarian conditions in Darfur on the “eve” of the Obama administrations survey, see my August 2010 overview.]
Yet at the same time, Human Rights Watch was offering a very different assessment, one that comported with neither de Waal’s idyllic Ain Siro nor Gration’s “mere remnants of genocide” depiction:
“While international attention has focused on the Sudanese elections and the referendum on Southern Sudan, Darfur remains in shambles,’ said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. ‘The new fighting and rights abuses across Darfur show clearly that the war is far from over and that the UN needs to do more to protect civilians.'” (http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/07/19/un-strengthen-civilian-protection-darfur)
THE END OF ACCURACY IN REPORTING ON DARFUR
Perhaps the final blow to international perceptions of what was really occurring in Darfur was a report by New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman, who filed a dispatch from Nyuru, West Darfur, that waxed rapturous about a new Darfur. One caption to a photograph in the dispatch declared “peace has settled on the region,” and this is what Gettleman depicted following his visit to Nyuru, West Darfur—a place that had clearly been turned into a “Potemkin Village” designed by Military Intelligence to suggest that peace had indeed come—that (as Gettleman puts the matter), “one of the world’s most infamous conflicts may have decisively cooled.” (“A Taste of Hope Sends Refugees Back to Darfur,” New York Times 26, 2012 | http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/27/world/africa/darfur-refugees-returning-home.html )
But there was no return of refugees to Nyuru, as the local Farsha (chief administrator) from Murnei made clear (Nyuru is in Murnei Locality). The Farsha traveled to Nyuru and saw no evidence whatsoever for what Gettleman had reported—precisely what could have been expected given the real nature of Nyuru without the presence of Military Intelligence. Indeed, there was no return of any refugees from eastern Chad to Darfur, as the UNCHR spokesman declared to Radio Dabanga. Nor was there a significant movement of internally displaced persons returning to Nyuru. Gettleman had been completely taken in, partly because he relied almost exclusively on his UNAMID handlers, who provided absurdly self-serving characterizations.
I spoke at length with a highly knowledgeable Darfuri at a conference in Italy shortly afterwards, looking at a highly detailed map of West Darfur. For countless reasons, he stressed over the course of our two-hour interview, a return to Nyuru by large numbers of either refugees or internally displaced persons was impossible and finally nonsensical. His arguments were detailed, specific, and highly informed; he was aghast not only that the New York Times would publish such a story without further research, but also that it would issue no correction. In the eyes of the myopic “Public Editor,” “peace has settled on the region.” One wonders why the New York Times did not interview men like my Darfuri interlocutor.
There has been no major news organization with a Darfur dateline since Gettleman’s dispatch, at least outside the capital cities and the camps to which visitors are routinely taken when access is granted by Khartoum. And these are all under extremely tight military and security control.
Yet even as Gettleman was writing, military violence was rising sharply, and has continued to rise in the intervening four years. This is why the number of people displaced from their homes exceeds 3 million, roughly half the population of pre-war Darfur. And we should always keep in mind that the number is so great not because Darfuris wish to remain in often squalid and dangerous camps, whether in Darfur or Chad—it is because they are simply too fearful of the violence they are sure they will encounter if they leave, fears borne out every day.
UNAMID has continued to provide scanty reports and data to the UN Secretary General, and UN humanitarian officials are afraid to speak out. The expulsion this past week of the head of UN OCHA in Sudan may have had no justification, but did serve Khartoum’s purpose of instilling fear within UN agencies that might speak out about what they know or have seen. International nongovernmental relief organizations can go no further than the UN does, or they face almost certain expulsion—the fate of more than two dozen distinguished organizations, most recently Tearfund (2016), Merlin/UK (2015), and MSF-Belgium (2015). As has often the case, MSF-Belgium was driven out of Darfur and Sudan as a whole by Khartoum’s imposition of intolerable conditions.
News organizations, following Khartoum’s success with the New York Times, are simply not permitted the access that would allow them to file stories containing genuine news. Notably, two journalists courageously traveled into Darfur last year without Khartoum’s permission and brought back extraordinarily revealing photographs, as well as bearing witness the ongoing ethnically targeted-human destruction. But human rights organizations are not allowed into Darfur; even so, Human Rights Watch has produced two extraordinary accounts on the basis of many scores of interviews with survivors of atrocities:
“Men With No Mercy”: Rapid Support Forces Attacks against Civilians in Darfur, Sudan” | September 9, 2015 | https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/09/09/men-no-mercy/rapid-support-forces-attacks-against-civilians-darfur-sudan/).
“Mass Rape in Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks Against Civilians in Tabit” | February 11, 2016 | https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur/sudanese-army-attacks-against-civilians-tabit
But the world appears to have no interest in what is really occurring in Darfur, or has been for many years. “Remnants of genocide,” “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,” “violence has decline by 70 percent,” “displacement is down from 2.7 million to 1.7 million”—or idyllic visions of what Darfur once was: they are the perceptions interested parties would have us share. The betrayal of the real Darfur is beyond shame.