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Report on UNAMID in Darfur by Secretary-General António Guterres: More Misrepresentations than Truth

The most recent Report of the Secretary-General on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) offers up a familiar diet of truths, half-truth, and outright distortions and misrepresentations. It is a “feel good” document, designed to convince readers in the international community that while things are not ideal in Darfur, they are getting better. It helps that Guterres relies so heavily in reporting about UNAMID on the reporting of UNAMID itself, which has proved appallingly self-serving and grossly inadequate in previous reporting. Here is important to recall the egregious reporting failures—over more than a decade—of this failing mission (a particularly notorious case appears as Appendix A).

Guterres’ Report and Sexual Violence in Darfur

Shortcomings in reporting on cases of sexual violence are arguably the most disturbing and statistically dramatic example of UNAMID’s failure to provide the kind of information that would allow for an adequate assessment of human security in Darfur. Perhaps most notoriously, UNAMID failed to find any evidence of rape in Tabit, North Darfur (October 2014), following its belated investigation mission. In February 2015, Human Rights Watch published its authoritative report on Tabit:

The 48-page report, “Mass Rape in Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks Against Civilians in Tabit,” documents Sudanese army attacks in which at least 221 women and girls were raped in Tabit over 36 hours beginning on October 30, 2014. The mass rapes would amount to crimes against humanity if found to be part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population. (Human Rights Watch, February 2015)

And in fact, the rape of many tens of thousands of Darfuri non-Arab/African women and girls over the past fifteen years has been a primary weapon of war in the Khartoum regime’s genocidal counter-insurgency (see my brief monograph and data spreadsheet on sexual violence for the two-year period of January 2014 – December 2015 | ).

Sexual violence continues to be dramatically under-reported and poorly investigated by UNAMID, which now operates at much reduced strength. The June 2017 Security Council resolution (2363) dramatically reduced UNAMID’s presence in Darfur: 44 percent of the troops strength is being withdrawn and 30 percent of the police force. This dramatic reduction in force size ensures that what has always been poor or non-existent reporting will decline in quality and quantity (the statistics cited by Guterres are virtually all from UNAMID and are transparently inadequate, particularly on questions of humanitarian access).

As a counter-weight to the figures provided to the Secretary-General by UNAMID—and on which he relies without evident skepticism—Radio Dabanga just today reports:

Figures from South Darfur on sexual violence against children in 2017 released this week paint a dismal picture, with four to six new cases reported to police in the state every day. Government sources acknowledge that the actual number might be far higher. According to official statistics released in the South Darfur state capital of Nyala, there were 1,800 reports of sexual assaults on children in the 21 localities of South Darfur during 2017. A government source said that 70 per cent of the complaints were filed by the newly established children’s court in Nyala, set-up in response to an increase in cases. Other reports have been filed to the police and prosecution as a result of incomplete investigations.

An official source at the family and children’s office said the rate of sexual assaults on children ranged from four to six cases a day. “South Darfur: ‘Four to six reports of sex assault on children a day in 2017’” | Radio Dabanga, March 9, 2018 | Nyala )

This is from Khartoum’s own regional officials, and for children only—and only for South Darfur. Reading Guterres’ report one would never begin to understand the overwhelming scale of sexual violence in Darfur. Here he is entirely consistent with former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who in two of his mandated quarterly reports on UNAMID failed to mention sexual violence even once.

A much better guide to the current situation is the recent statement by Gurerres’ Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten. I cite at length here her most important remarks from February 27, 2018, reported only by Sudan Tribune (February 27, 2018) and Radio Dabanga (March 1, 2018) (contextualizing commentary from Radio Dabanga):

“A key observation from my visit to Sudan is the existence of a deep-seated culture of denial which enhances and feeds the culture of silence about sexual violence. Unlike victims of other crimes where perpetrators are condemned, it is usually the victims of sexual violence who are shamed or stigmatised. As a result, victims of sexual violence are very often fearful of reporting the crime or seeking assistance, further compounding their suffering. Because sexual violence is so vastly underreported, the lack of reported cases cannot be equated with the absence of violence. It deeply saddened me to hear interlocutors in Sudan doubting and questioning victims as well as the appalling nature of these crimes. The pervasive culture of denial is the most serious obstacle to eradicating this heinous crime.”

Special Representative Patten observes in her statement that in many of her meetings, “senior government officials explained that there is no sexual violence in Sudan because such violence is strictly prohibited by the Islamic religion.” Patten argues that “no religion or faith, however, is immune from sexual violence. Paradoxically, religious institutions can provide much needed emotional and social support, but may also perpetuate silence when they use religion to deny that sexual violence occurred in the first place. I therefore call upon religious leaders in Sudan to speak out on the need to protect and support survivors, and to hold perpetrators accountable…”

“During my brief visit, I learned that women continue to be raped while collecting water or firewood, or when they leave camps to pursue livelihood activities. I also heard from women who are unable to return to their pre-war homes due to the absence of security and fears of being raped. In addition, women told me about sexual violence committed in the context of inter-communal conflicts over land and natural resources…”

“In El Fasher, I met with the Prosecutor General of the Special Court for Darfur, which has jurisdiction over conflict-related crimes committed in Darfur since February 2003. I was dismayed to learn that, to date, the Special Prosecutor’s Office has not investigated a single case of conflict-related sexual violence. In contrast, there continue to be references to conflict-related sexual violence in Security Council resolutions and reports relating to Sudan, including those of the Secretary-General, the International Commission of Inquiry established under UN Security Council resolution 1564 (2004), the Panel of Experts on Sudan established under UN Security Council resolution 1591 (2005) and the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. I also learned that there are no female judges in any of the five states of Darfur. There is a need for female judges as well as more female police investigators and prosecutors.”

“In Khartoum, I had the opportunity to meet representatives of NGOs, including women human rights defenders. I observed, however, that NGOs feel restricted from voicing their views or carrying out programmes on conflict-related sexual violence for fear of reprisal and other consequences. A society in which women human rights defenders have the freedom and space to be vocal and proactive is a society in which women flourish and participate in decision-making, and in which there is absolute intolerance for sexual violence.”

Special Representative Patten underlines that “sexual violence in conflict ruins the lives of individuals, destroys families, breaks up communities and prevents societies from achieving sustainable peace. For too long, sexual violence in conflict has gone unacknowledged and unpunished. There must be no doubt that perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations will be held accountable. To this end, my office stands ready to support efforts to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence. However, we can only do so where governments are genuinely committed to combatting conflict-related sexual violence and are willing to translate that commitment into concrete actions and results,” Patten concludes.

How can such a damning assessment—reflecting what has been reported by human rights and humanitarian organizations for many years—be ignored by the UN Secretary-General, which is precisely what Guterres has done in his report on UNAMID, coming as it did in the midst of Patten’s assessment mission in Sudan (February 19 – 25)? How could he even presume to speak about UNAMID, Darfur, and sexual violence knowing such a consequential mission was underway?

Patten’s statement gives new meaning to many of Guterres’ claims: “The overall security situation in Darfur has remained stable” (§2). If “stability includes “1,800 reports of sexual assaults on children in the 21 localities of South Darfur during 2017”—and South Darfur is no more or less “secure” that Central and North Darfur—what does this say about the status quo? How are we to make sense of Guterres’ statistical summary of UNAMID’s findings about sexual violence in all of Darfur: “There were 35 cases of sexual and gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, in the form of rape and attempted rape, involving 43 victims, including 22 children (with one male minor)…”? Again, Radio Dabanga today reports, “South Darfur: ‘Four to six reports of sex assault on children a day in 2017.’”

Guterres blithely reports:

The Women’s Protection Network reported that two girls aged 12 and 13, and a 22-year-old woman were allegedly gang raped on 16 December 2017 by eight armed men at Kargo, 10 km east of Nertiti. The incident was reported to Sudan Police and one suspect was apprehended and is awaiting prosecution.”

But Patten reports:

“In El Fasher, I met with the Prosecutor General of the Special Court for Darfur, which has jurisdiction over conflict-related crimes committed in Darfur since February 2003. I was dismayed to learn that, to date, the Special Prosecutor’s Office has not investigated a single case of conflict-related sexual violence.

The disconnect between the reality of sexual violence in Darfur, on the one hand, and UNAMID’s reporting on and Khartoum’s responding to that reality on the other, is simply shocking and reveals the deepest disingenuousness and/or culpable ignorance.

Insecurity on Other Fronts

Guterres’ assemblage of data from UNAMID about violence in other forms is of a piece with his reporting on sexual violence. In broadest terms, Guterres never squarely confronts the implications of 2.7 million persons remaining internally displaced in Darfur (the figure cited in the June 2017 Security Council resolution), and another 320,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad (see the UN chart, reflecting UNHCR’s figure, in Appendix B)—more than three million Darfuris, overwhelmingly non-Arab/African. This is almost half the pre-war population of Darfur, and does not reflect the terrible mortality total from violence over the past 15 years (now in excess of 500,000 human beings, again overwhelming non-Arab/African (see | ).

Continued displacement reflects the judgments of those displaced that returning to their homes and villages and lands is simply too dangerous. Their farms have been largely violently expropriated by Arab militia groups and armed opportunists, and this fact more than any other accounts for whatever diminishment of violence we have seen in Darfur (for an account of this violent expropriation of farmland and its implications for any just peace in Darfur, see | ). And yet Guterres barely touches on the issue, preferring instead to talk about the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) (July 2011) as if it were still a viable diplomatic vehicle. It is not, and any who are honest—including U.S. government officials and many other diplomatic observers—acknowledge as much, if only privately. The DDPD is a fig-leaf—an excuse for not finding a more effective diplomatic initiative. Guterres’ unctuous deploring of the absence of peace in Darfur takes no account of the failure of the DDPD, now representing almost seven years of failure and bad faith on the part of the Khartoum regime:

It is regrettable, however, that no tangible progress has been made in finding a comprehensive political solution to the conflict in Darfur. The Doha Document for Peace in Darfur constitutes a viable framework for the peace process in Darfur and I call upon the rebel groups to demonstrate leadership and courage by engaging positively in its implementation for the benefit of the Darfuris. In this regard, I commend the continued efforts made by the African Union High-level Implementation Panel,supported by the African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative, to bring the parties to the negotiation table. (§51)

Guterres himself acknowledges that despite the almost seven years since the signing of the DDPD, the Khartoum regime has yet to implement key elements of the document in Darfur. And given the ongoing collapse of the Sudanese economy—something Guterres again glosses over, with only a few passing comments about the catastrophic 2018 budget—there is no way that Khartoum will expend the resources required to fulfill its obligations under the DDPD. Guterres simply ignores this basic reality.

Nor does Guterres acknowledge the flaws built into the DDPD, including an almost total absence of participation in or acceptance of the agreement by Darfuri civil society, or the major rebel groups on the ground. The DDPD was the expedient contrivance of the Qataris, Muamar Gadhafi, U.S. special representative for Sudan Scott Gration, and the Khartoum regime, which controlled the agenda and the participants in the negotiations. No agreement based on such flimsy construction and participation can possibly succeed. And Guterres celebration of the work of a corrupt and inept Thabo Mbeki and his “African Union High-Level Implementation Panel” (i.e., implementation of Mbeki’s 2009 “Roadmap to Nowhere,” which was also dead on arrival) is simply expedient and disingenuous.

Guterres, like his predecessor UN Secretaries-General, simply refuses to acknowledge that peace will not come to Darfur without a fundamentally different regime in Khartoum. The present National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime—fighting for its life amidst the economic disaster it has created—has no incentive to change tactics. It will not rein in the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which have been implicated in far more instances of violent assaults on civilians than Guterres acknowledges. Indeed, the savage RSF remains the primary “military muscle” exercised by the regime in Darfur, and its brutality in carrying out the “disarmament campaign” is given only exceedingly slim acknowledgement by Guterres. (On the character of the RSF, see | “Men With No Mercy”: Rapid Support Forces Attacks Against Civilians in Darfur, Sudan,” Human Rights Watch | September 9, 2015 .)

Moreover, Guterres has nothing to say about Khartoum’s repeated, increasingly insistent threats to dismantle the camps and compel displaced persons to return to their “homes,” which no longer exist or are hopelessly insecure. He has far too little to say about the violence directed against the camps by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces. And he has nothing of use to say about the essential issue for peace in Darfur, a full and just addressing of the need for land restitution. Lands seized violently by Arab militias on Khartoum’s behalf (and of course opportunistically) must be returned to their rightful owners. The DDPD does nothing remotely adequate on this score, nor does Mbeki’s worthless “Roadmap for Peace in Darfur.” Until this fundamental diplomatic truth is acknowledged, Darfur will remain a cauldron of suffering and destruction—in which UN Secretary-General Guterres has now made himself complicit.

Appendix A: UNAMID and the Tabarat Massacre

There have been few examples more revealing of UNAMID impotence and cowardice than the Tabarat (North Darfur) massacre of September 2011—coming just three months of the signing of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. The singular news dispatch (Tabarat was never accessed by UNAMID) came from prize-winning journalist Opheera McDoom for Reuters:

Darfur attack survivors tell of brutal killings | KHARTOUM | Fri Sep 17, 2010 (Reuters)

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.

One diplomat said the militia were likely from among those armed and mobilized by the government to quell the rebels. Those militia, known as Janjaweed, were responsible for mass rape, murder and looting. Many of the tribal militia still support the government but Khartoum has lost control over some.

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 said he had run for his life and hidden in nearby fields to watch from afar. “They were targeting men—all of them were shot in the head and chest, only those who were running away got shot in their legs and arms.” Nour Abdallah, 45, said the attackers let most of the women run away. She could not escape and so lay face down in the dirt. “They told me not to lift my head up or I would be shot too.”

Saleh and others said after the attack they had gone to the joint UN-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.

UNAMID has said both rebels and the government prevented it getting access to the area. [The claim by UNAMID that it was prevented by “rebels” from accessing Tabarat is almost certainly a self-exculpating lie—ER]. A UNAMID spokesman said he could not comment on the witness reports but an internal document seen by Reuters showed UNAMID had received similar witness reports of men being executed. The only aid agency working in Tawilla, Médecins Sans Frontières said it could confirm 39 people died and it had treated 46 injured, many with “serious gunshot wounds.” “We saw only men,” said MSF head of mission Alessandro Tuzza. He said he could not comment on how the victims were shot but that MSF was still negotiating with the government to get access to the area in North Darfur province.

The witnesses said they had buried 41 bodies in common graves but more were still in the bushes around the market. Sudan’s army denied involvement in the attack and said the local government was investigating. “The North Darfur government have formed a security committee to investigate this.” Presidential adviser Ghazi Salaheddin visited the area on Friday on a fact-finding mission.

Kidnapping and violent banditry have become frequent in Darfur where years of impunity and the ready availability of arms have fueled a breakdown in law and order, with foreign workers targeted for abductions even in the main towns. Bashir expelled 13 of the largest aid agencies working in Darfur after the ICC arrest warrant last year and many gaps in the humanitarian operation have yet to be filled.

(c) 2018 SUDAN Research, Analysis, and Advocacy

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