UNAMID Withdrawal and International Abandonment: Violence in Darfur 2017 – 2019, a statistical analy
This brief monograph attempts to give as comprehensive an overview as possible of violence during a period in which the international community has largely abandoned efforts to protect civilians, specifically the non-Arab/African populations of Darfur. Although Arab groups have suffered from significant violence at various points over the sixteen years of the Darfur conflict, particularly inter-tribal violence in East Darfur—and continue to suffer from violence in some areas—the genocidal ambitions of the Khartoum regime’s counter-insurgency campaign against Darfuri rebel groups has been directed overwhelmingly at non-Arab/African tribal groups. For this reason, human rights and Sudanese democracy groups have long warned about the ominous consequences of a premature removal of what is primarily a protection force for civilians and humanitarians.
Although the period broadly surveyed here includes all years subsequent to my 2012 archival history of Darfur and greater Sudan, the focus is on the years 2017 to the present. During this time there has been no report on Darfur from a major human rights organization. My own two monographs on violence during the years 2014 – 2015 provide what I think is a representative account of the period 2012 – 2015; moreover, these two documents comport extremely well with the two important reports from Human Rights Watch in 2015 and a major report on the military campaign against Jebel Marra released by Amnesty International in 2016 (these reports, as well as my monographs, appear in the accompanying Bibliography).
The period January 2017 to the present is significant not only because of the extent of continuing genocidal violence directed against non-Arab/African civilians, but because it is the period during which the peacekeeping operation of the UN and African Union began the process of withdrawal—a withdrawal based on serious misrepresentation of the levels of continuing violence and civilian insecurity in Darfur, and the corresponding need for effective protection.
The grim truth, tragically, is that UNAMID (UN/African Union Mission in Darfur)—an unprecedented “hybrid” mission—has been a grotesque failure, perhaps the most serious in UN peacekeeping history (for recent assessments of UNAMID performance, see here). Since its official deployment in January 2008—over eleven years ago—it has allowed itself to be thoroughly compromised in all ways by the Khartoum regime. Indeed, Khartoum’s militia forces have repeatedly attacked UNAMID contingents, sometimes in deadly fashion. These attacks have sometimes been confirmed by UN officials, although without holding the al-Bashir regime accountable.
The “Status of Forces Agreement” negotiated by UNAMID (January 2008), allowing timely and unfettered access throughout Darfur, was a supreme example of the al-Bashir’s regime’s bad faith. Such unfettered access was never the case, and indeed Khartoum has repeatedly, pointedly, and consequentially denied both protective and investigative missions by UNAMID for the entire term of its deployment. Even as it was in the midst of planning for withdrawing entirely from Darfur, UNAMID was impeded and restricted in its movement. One finds in the reporting record constant dispatches such as this:
Sudan restricts UNAMID’s movement, says force commander | Sudan Tribune, May 9, 2018 (KHARTOUM) | UNAMID Force Commander, Leonard Muriuki Ngondi, Wednesday said the Sudanese government has often restricted the Mission’s freedom of movement…
The force itself has become hopelessly demoralized, and is given a shabby “success” only in the form of egregious misrepresentations by UNAMID officials and the UN (particularly the Secretariat and Department of Peacekeeping Operations).
[One reason that the reports of the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur figure so little in my assessment here is the failure of UNAMID to provide the access necessary for the Panel to do its reporting work. In the early years of the Panel—established by UN Security Council Resolution 1591 in March 2005—some very helpful reports emerged. But the Panel became increasingly politicized. With growing obstruction by the Khartoum regime and the Panel’s dependence on UNAMID for logistics and security clearances, its reports have devolved into largely meaningless accounts of the level and nature of violence in Darfur.]
Moreover, as UNAMID has begun to withdraw from various bases in different areas of Darfur, these bases have been converted by the Khartoum regime for use by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in violation of commitments made by Khartoum (including the Status of Forces Agreement) and in violation as well of international law. Publicly UNAMID officials declare its bases are or have been converted to civilian uses, as stipulated in agreements with Khartoum. I have been informed, however—by a source with authoritative access to UNAMID officials and thinking—that UNAMID admits privately that all but one of the bases it has surrendered have been converted to use by the RSF. UNAMID itself has expressed concern about the transfers, but has not changed plans that result in augmentation of the RSF. There could be no grimmer conclusion to the work of UNAMID over the past eleven years.All this duplicity and acquiescence is of course well known to rebel groups on the ground and works in part to account for their suspicions of international mediation efforts. (Appendix A gives a timeline for UNAMID withdrawal by means of the consistently useful Sudan Tribune updates on decisions by the Mission leadership and the UN Security Council).
REPRESENTING VIOLENCE IN DARFUR
By “violence” in this monograph I mean not only actual physical assault, including rape, murder, and abduction, but actions by the various elements of the Sudan Armed Forces, militia forces (particularly the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF), and the various armed elements that have created an intolerable level of insecurity among a wide range of civilian populations, many of which have been either newly displaced, seen their lands violently expropriated, or experienced terrible agricultural losses, either by deliberate destruction (including cutting down or burning of mature fruit trees) or allowing livestock to graze on cultivated and fruitful lands.
I should emphasize that a great deal has not been included, and this should be borne in mind when examining the final mapping of the data for violence on five separate maps: South Darfur, what is now “East Darfur,” West Darfur, what is now “Central Darfur,” and North Darfur.
Important categories of reporting not represented in this mapping include:
• Many reports of arrests—or of releases following arrests (arrests in which abuse or torture is a clear possibility have been included);
• Executions, if “legally” carried out;
• Civil society protests and strikes;
• Self-serving “news” from UNAMID (which is typically disingenuous and/or incomplete);
• Road accidents;
• Fires—all too frequent in the camps—are not included unless there is some suggestion of arson (a notoriously difficult crime to prove, even with willing investigators). And it must be borne in mind that the very nature of IDP camps—with often flimsy shelters and dangerous cooking circumstances—makes them extremely vulnerable to fire, especially in the dry season;
• Humanitarian issues, unless they are directly related to ongoing violence;
• Non-violent criminal activity and law enforcement, including the ongoing campaign against cannabis trafficking and the many thefts reported in IDP camps, with the perpetrators from outside the camps;
• Reports on the Khartoum regime’s “disarmament campaign,” unless these reports include violent consequences to confiscation of weapons. In general, it should be noted that the “disarmament campaign” disproportionately targeted non-Arab/African civilians, and has been an excuse for a great deal of the violence of the past two years and more. The use of the RSF for “disarmament” has ensured that this often undisciplined force has severely abused its powers;
• Military developments outside Darfur, including violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and military casualties in Yemen, most of them from Darfur (and a great many of them children):
South Darfur receives bodies of 17 militiamen killed in Yemen | Sudan Tribune, November 11, 2018 (NYALA) | At least 20 fighters from the government militia Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been killed and more than 100 wounded in the fierce fighting that has been going on for days in Yemen, a reliable source told (...)
21 Sudanese troops killed in Yemen: Military sources | Sudan Tribune, May 27, 2017 (KHARTOUM) | Sudanese military sources Saturday have dismissed media reports that 80 Sudanese troops have been killed in Yemen saying only 21 were killed, including 4 officers. Sudanese soldiers carry the coffin (…)
Finally, it falls outside the scope of this report to chronicle in detail the brutal treatment of Darfuris seeking to escape the region via Libya. They have frequently been victims of terrible violence: kidnapped, tortured for ransom in torture centers, detained in no less violent official detention centers, and forced to work as slaves. They have also been forcibly recruited as fighters. In Niger many have been deported to Libya; many more have drowned in the Mediterranean. It is also the case that the Rapid Support Forces have been authoritatively shown to be trafficking in migrants, including Darfuris. Migrants smuggled by the RSF are often sold to Libyan traffickers. See on this topic:
“Multilateral Damage: The Impact of EU Migration Policies on Central Saharan Routes,” Clingendael, September 2018
“Remote-Control Breakdown: Sudanese paramilitary forces and pro-government militias,” Small Arms Survey (Switzerland), April 2017
CONTEXT FOR THIS REPORT
This monograph has been prepared with the extraordinary national uprising in Sudan as backdrop (beginning December 19, 2019). The ferociously determined and morally urgent demonstrations have focused on a single goal: removing the al-Bashir regime—and all vestiges of the “deep state” his regime created over thirty years—as a way of restoring peace, freedom, and justice, however imperfectly. The fate of Darfur is in many ways being determined even as I write these words; there is, nonetheless, much evidence that violence and insecurity remain at intolerable levels, despite the disingenuous, expedient, and often mendacious claims from the UN and African Union.