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U.S. Special Envoy Donald Booth in Khartoum—and Darfur: Consequences and Responsibilities

It is telling that a visit to Khartoum by the U.S. Special Envoy for the Sudans, Donald Booth, generated not a single bit of international news coverage, even as his schedule was known to include a “fact-finding” trip to Darfur. According to one highly reliable Sudanese news source, the Khartoum regime didn’t have to bother with requests from journalists asking to accompany Booth during his visit to Darfur: there weren’t any. Among other things, this encourages Khartoum in its already strongly held belief that the world has forgotten about Darfur, and that it can simply wait for the final stages of “genocide by attrition” to accomplish themselves.

Special Envoy Donald Booth

To be sure, the lack of non-Sudanese journalists is perhaps understandable, given the tight control by Military Intelligence and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) over every moment Booth was in Darfur, every location to which he would travel—something that could easily have been foreseen on the basis of previous highly controlled “fact-finding” missions.

But at least Booth went to the right places: North Darfur and what is now called “Central Darfur” (formerly part of West Darfur). The latter is where the Jebel Marra massif is located, site of the particularly savage military assault by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces beginning in January of this year. We still have no fully reliable figures for how many were displaced during the campaign on the ground and from the air; 200,000 seems a reasonable estimate based on UN figures and reports from Radio Dabanga and Sudan Tribune, although it may well be higher. We certainly have no data that can establish mortality totals, but the reports from these two Sudanese news sources, as well as a range of other sources, makes clear that the death toll has been very high, as have the number of rapes, assaults on villages, and instances of large-scale looting and destruction.

North Darfur is the location of what is somewhat loosely referred to as “East Jebel Marra,” the region east of the massif itself and heavily populated, primarily by people of the African Fur tribe. Over the past four years this region in North Darfur has seen the worst violence in all of Darfur, rivaling in intensity and brutality the early years of the genocide (see my January 2016 report on the mass rape of girls and women and “Changing the Demography”: Violent Expropriation and Destruction of Farmlands in Darfur, November 2014 – November 2015" [November 2015]).

Pain, suffering, loss--the constants of Darfur

Booth has become notorious for not making statements, according to a Sudanese journalist colleague, even when meeting with opposition groups in Paris or Addis Ababa. And true to form, Booth has so far made no statement during his current (and presumably now concluding) trip to Sudan. He did meet with some of those who have witnessed the horrors of recent years, and some apparently spoke honestly, acts of extraordinary courage. Booth was in Nierteti (Central Darfur) and Tawila (“East Jebel Marra” in North Darfur), scenes of some of the very worst human rights abuses and violent destruction. He reportedly also met with civil society representatives in el-Fasher, capital of North Darfur.

For their honesty, outspoken displaced persons and civil society representatives will pay a heavy price, as Radio Dabanga reported yesterday:

Agents of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) detained five men in Nierteti in Central Darfur today. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, multiple sources reported that Adam Siddig, of the Northern Nierteti camp for the displaced, and Abdelkarim Adam Abdelkarim, of the Southern Nierteti camp were held at the town's bus station this morning. Nasreldin Yousef and Adam Mohamed, the owner of a welding workshop, were detained in the market of Nierteti. Ahmed El Tijani Abdeljabar Yousef was taken from a house in the Dar El Naeem district. The sources said that the NISS officers seem to be still searching for others. Last week, the US special envoy for Sudan, Donald Booth, paid a visit to Darfur. In Nierteti, he reportedly spoke with a number of displaced (July 31, 2016).

Reporting today (August 1, 2016) Sudan Tribune offered a fuller account of events in Nierteti:

Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on Monday has arrested at least 21 leaders of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the locality of Nirtiti, Central Darfur state following a meeting with the United States Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth, said IDPs official. On July 26, the American envoy started a visit to Darfur states to assess the security and humanitarian situation on the ground particularly in Jebel Marra area. Deputy Chairman of IDPs and Refugees Association Adam Abdalla Idris told Sudan Tribune that the NISS is now making intensive efforts to arrest dozens of IDPs leaders after it accused them of providing Booth with misleading information pertaining to the security and humanitarian situation in the region particularly in areas of east Jebel Marra. He added that several IDPs leaders have disappeared from sight for fear of being arrested by the NISS, pointing the latter has a list including names of all IDPs who met with the American envoy.

According to Idris, a security source disguised as an IDP has attended the meeting with Booth and submitted a report including details of the meeting to the NISS. Idris pointed that the hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), human rights groups operating in the area and the IDPs have provided identical reports to the American envoy including numbers of those killed in the recent clashes in Jebel Marra besides numbers of the newly displaced persons and the rape incidents. “The humanitarian situation is at its worst particularly after food and drug supply have stopped besides the lack of blankets and other basic necessities” he said. He added that the American envoy will likely delay his visit to South Darfur state in fear of subjecting dozens of IDPs to harassment and detention by the NISS.

[These reports are partially confirmed by another Darfuri source on the ground near Nierteti—ER]

Despite his reluctance to issues statements, it would seem incumbent upon Ambassador Booth to demand publicly that Khartoum provide assurances that his fact-finding mission did not result in the large-scale arrests of displaced persons, and that he be provided evidence of the safety of those with whom he spoke.

Not to speak out is to allow diplomatic tactical calculations to outweigh the clear risks to those who dared to speak with Booth, at his request, in order to provide what the U.S. surely already knows from the many reports that have appeared in the last year: from UN OCHA, from other UN agencies and humanitarian organizations, from Human Rights Watch (two important reports in 2015, focusing on the mass rape of girls and women at Tabit, East Jebel Marra, by Khartoum’s regular army forces, and the ghastly predations of recent years by Khartoum’s current militia force of choice, the Rapid Support Forces). The Special Envoy’s office is also in possession of a great deal of research—including first-hand interviews of victims—that reveals the scope of human devastation from this year’s campaign against the people of Jebel Marra.

© 2016, The Huffington Post

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