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Violent Mortality in the Darfur Genocide: A matter of international indifference and prevarication–a

Extant data from a range of sources, as well as reports, analyses and limited surveys, make clear that more than 600,000 people have died, directly or indirectly, from the violence orchestrated by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum over the past 14 years of genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur. The victims are overwhelming from the non-Arab/African tribal groups of Darfur, although there has been substantial concomitant violent mortality among some Arab tribal groups, primarily a result of inter-tribal violence.

More than a decade ago Khartoum made the reporting of mortality data by the UN a forbidden activity for both the UN and International Nongovernmental Humanitarian Organizations (INGOs): mortality data collection could result in threats of violence or expulsion against those collecting or promulgating data. This fact was conveyed to me directly by the senior UN official overseeing the last collection of data in Darfur, Dr. David Nabarro of the UN’s World Health Organization (2005 – 2006). It is for this reason that former head of UN humanitarian operations, John Holmes, was obliged in a press conference in April 2008 to offer an extrapolation from the data that Nabarro’s team had been able to collect in earlier years:

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N.’s humanitarian chief on Tuesday updated the estimated number of conflict-related deaths in Darfur to about 300,000 and lamented that efforts to solve the crisis were stalled on all fronts. In a briefing to the Security Council, John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said that continued attacks make it more difficult for aid workers to reach vulnerable people, food aid is about to be halved, the deployment of peacekeepers is beset by obstacles and the peace process has stalled. “I am saddened and angry that after five years of suffering and four years since this council became actively engaged, we have still not been able to find a lasting solution to the suffering of these millions of men, women and children,” he said. (Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2008 |

Sudan Tribune did the best job of capturing the nature of this estimate:

Holmes predecessor Jan Egeland estimated in 2006 that 200,000 people had lost their lives because of the conflict including deaths from violence, disease and malnutrition. He said this was based on an independent mortality survey released in March 2005 by the U.N. World Health Organization. “That figure must be much higher now, perhaps half as much again,” Holmes said Tuesday.

Queried by reporters, Holmes said the estimate of 300,000 dead “is not a very scientifically based figure” because there have been no new mortality studies in Darfur. But “it’s a reasonable extrapolation,” he said. “What I’m saying is if that figure of 200,000 was anything like right in 2006, then that figure must be much higher now,” he said. (Sudan Tribune, April 24, 2017 |

Holmes was certainly right that the figure “must be much higher now [2008]” than it was in 2006. But Khartoum’s prevention of mortality data collection meant that all he could offer was a “guestimate,” and not an unreasonable one with no new data and an original focus on mortality in the camps, not mortality outside the camps—something stressed emphatically to me by Dr. Nabarro.

But this was nine years ago, and the violence has continued, with a dramatic escalation beginning in 2012. The years 2013 through 2016 were ones of tremendous violent mortality, disproportionately by the Rapid Support Forces, following the urging of Vice President Hassabo Mohammed Abdel Rahman (reported to Human Rights Watch by a defecting militiaman named “Ahmed”):

Ahmed, a 35-year-old officer in the Border Guards, spent two weeks at a military base in Guba in December 2014 before being sent to fight rebels around Fanga. Two senior RSF officials, the commanding officer, Alnour Guba, and Col. Badre ab-Creash were present on the Guba base.

Ahmed said that a few days prior to leaving for East Jebel Marra, Sudanese Vice President Hassabo Mohammed Abdel Rahman directly addressed several hundred army and RSF soldiers:

“Hassabo told us to clear the area east of Jebel Marra. To kill any male. He said we want to clear the area of insects… He said East Jebel Marra is the kingdom of the rebels. We don’t want anyone there to be alive.” “‘Men With No Mercy’: Rapid Support Forces Attacks against Civilians in Darfur, Sudan” (September 9, 2015)

My detailed study of the violence in Darfur during the period November 2014 – November 2015 confirms the effectiveness of Hassabo’s urging (“Changing the Demography”: Violent Expropriation and Destruction of Farmlands in Darfur, November 2014 – November 2015″ | December 1, 2015 |

In August 2010, in the wake of critically important data assembled in eastern Chad by “Darfurian Voices,” I wrote a new analysis of violent mortality and reached the conclusion that mortality at that time exceeded 500,000. I had offered more than a dozen previous such efforts, trying as others had to extrapolate from the equally substantial data collected by the Coalition for International Justice (CIJ) in August – September 2004 at the behest of the U.S. State Department. These CIJ data and the accompanying report seemed to me to justify an estimate of some 400,000 deaths directly or indirectly related to violence; others reached similar conclusions. By April of 2006, a survey of all extant reports and data strongly supported an estimate of 450,000. It should be emphasized again that UN estimates were primarily of mortality among those driven by violence into camps for displaced persons where humanitarian assistance was often woefully inadequate.

The data from “Darfurian Voices” formed the primary basis for my conclusion that by August 2010 more than 500,000 Darfuris had died directly or indirectly as a result of violence.

These present paragraphs serve the purpose of contextualizing my re-circulation of that analysis and conclusion. Given the continuing irresponsible and uncontextualized citation by news organizations of the UN “guestimate” of 300,000 in April 2008—nine years ago—it seems a warranted effort. The document I re-circulate here has an update from a finding of 2011 by the Small Arms Survey (Geneva) concerning the calculation of violent mortality on the basis of a particular ratio:

A reasonable estimate would be an average ratio of four indirect deaths to one direct death in contemporary conflicts.

It is on this basis, as well as the analysis of the year November 2014 – November 2015 (and it implications for the preceding and following years) that I now estimate approximately 600,000 Darfuris have died from violence, directly or indirectly.

This is a staggering figure—and twice the one reported by virtually every news organization in the world. One notable exception was a dispatch from The Guardian in July 2016, which used my figure at the time of 500,000. The range of estimates for mortality during the Rwanda genocide of 1994 is roughly 500,000 – 1 million, though 800,000 is the most commonly cited figure. Darfur’s mortality now has entered this range of estimates—and violence continues in many areas of what is now a “militia state.” (See on this characterization the important and very recent reports by Small Arms Survey and the Enough Project; there is a terrifying congruence of conclusions.)

Some will argue that neither the CIJ study nor the “Darfurian Voices” report is a mortality study per se. And while this is certainly true, the implications of the data presented simply cannot be ignored, even if requiring assumptions—always conservative—at various junctures of statistical analysis. I would note that the news reporting world seems untroubled in using the figure offered nine years ago by John Holmes, self-described as “not a very scientifically based figure” but “a reasonable extrapolation.”

My own view, shared by some prominent epidemiologists, is that morally we simply cannot ignore conspicuously large, violent mortality and wait for the violence to end to allow for professional epidemiological analysis—not when the figures are as staggeringly, unforgiveable great as they are in the Darfur genocide. Moreover, the report by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Violence (CRED) (Leuven, Belgium) provides a case study in how badly even professional epidemiologists can misread data and reports when insufficiently familiar with the broader political, military, and ethnic realities of a region such as Darfur; the egregious errors in the CRED report of January 2010 are discussed at length in my August 2010 analysis. Most notably, the authors use a discredited (and withdrawn) U.S. State Department document to reach the utterly preposterous conclusion that there were in Darfur “1,000 – 4,500” deaths—from all causes—in the period February 2003 through August 2003, a period during which massive militia and SAF violence was killing tens of thousands of people directly and through the terrible effects of violent displacement.


Darfur Mortality Update, 6 August 2010—an update, November 2016

[1] [Of note: The Guardian (UK), July 7, 2016 uses my estimate of 500,000 dead from all causes in Darfur and eastern Chad:]

[2] I have only recently come upon this notable if brief assessment by Small Arms Survey (Geneva), based on a wide range of reports by the organization:


Indirect Conflict Deaths

• The lethal impact of modern war extends far beyond the number of soldiers and civilians who die violently in armed combat or clashes. Although male and female combatants are the most obvious casualties, armed conflicts also contribute to excess mortality and morbidity in the civilian population—largely through the spread of infectious disease, destruction of assets, the loss of entitlements, and the diversion of scarce resources away from basic services.


  • A reasonable estimate would be an average ratio of four indirect deaths to one direct death in contemporary conflicts.

To be sure, in Darfur the distinction between “direct” and indirect” deaths can be extremely difficult to draw, and much depends upon specific assumptions about what constitutes “direct” deaths. But if this estimate from Small Arms Survey holds for Darfur, one of the conflict sites most heavily studied by the organization, and if there have been even 100,000 “direct” violent deaths—an extremely conservative figure—then more than 500,000 people have died. Since violent mortality as estimated in this report (as of August 2010) is much higher (although it does not attempt to distinguish “direct” from “indirect” deaths), the figure for total mortality using the Small Arms Survey ratio far exceeds 600,000 from direct and indirect deaths.


© 2017 · Eric Reeves

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