UNAMID Withdrawal and International Abandonment: Violence in Darfur 2017 – 2019, a statistical analy

Report/Data Introduction

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[1] 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.

I would again note in particular the continuing attacks of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), essentially those under the command of Lt. General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, more commonly known as “Hemeti.” Hemeti, as I will refer to him, has assumed a position in the Transitional Military Council (TMC) now governing Sudan that makes him the equivalent of “Vice President”—second in command to his colleague in Darfur atrocities and the military activities of Sudan in Yemen, Abdel Fathah al-Burhan, head of the TMC. Attacks by the RSF on peaceful civilians continue in Darfur and South Kordofan, and there is no evidence that Hemeti is using his now immense (and growing) power to restrain these forces. Very recent reports (May 9, 2019) of violence against demonstrators have specifically pointed to the RSF as the responsible party.

The Sudanese Doctors Central Committee estimates that at least 90 people have been killed violently by regime elements during the current uprising. Estimates of the number of RSF troops under Hemeti’s command in the greater Khartoum urban area reach to 15,000—an army unto itself (although formally incorporated into the Sudan Armed Forces, the commander of the RSF is not in the army’s regular chain of command). It is Hemeti’s RSF who have been responsible for most of the genocidal violence in Darfur since the Force was constituted in 2013. (See Jerome Tubiana, "The Man Who Terrorized Darfur Is Leading Sudan’s Supposed Transition," Foreign Policy, May 14, 2019.)

European countries, the U.S., and many other important state actors in Africa, the Arab world, and Asia have allowed narrow national self-interest to define Sudan policies, policies that encouraged the al-Bashir regime to believe that even the most ruthless and brutal crackdown on demonstrators would not bring real, consequential international pressure. Some countries, especially Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Russia and China, have actively supported al-Bashir and now his successor regime, the Transitional Military Council. To my knowledge, not a single Arab or African country has uttered anything like a full condemnation of the savagery by the Khartoum junta’s security forces, savagery that rages across the country.

Darfur has of course not been spared; but in addition to the violent repression of political protests, intolerable levels of violence and insecurity keep some 2.5 million Darfuri people trapped in camps for internally displaced persons and refugees in eastern Chad.[2] Despite their terrible conditions, the camps may soon suffer a grimmer fate: exactly a year ago, then-President al-Bashir promised that as a way of restoring Darfur, “the government would work to dismantle the IDPs camps.”

This vast population—more than a third of Darfur’s pre-war population—has nowhere to go, despite grand promises by al-Bashir and other regime officials that “services” and “new villages” would be provided. The simply fact is that there are neither the economic means nor any meaningful commitments to address the massive needs of this vast population: in the main their villages and lands have been destroyed or seized by Arab forces or settlers. And yet still the determination to “dismantle” camps, especially those perceived as troublesomely “political,” is urged as regime policy:

South Darfur governor reiterates threats to dismantle Kalma camp | Sudan Tribune, April 26, 2018 (KHARTOUM) - The governor of South Darfur State Adam al-Faki Thursday repeated threats that his government is determined to dismantle Kalama camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and threatened to arrest the arrest the camp’s leaders who are accused of inciting the residents to reject returning to their areas of origin.

Those who attempt to return to their homes are typically greeted with hostility and violence. They are celebrated by the UN and African Union for “returning,” but typically no mention is made of the countless failed attempts to return, resulting in people going back to the camps, or being killed. It is for these very reasons they stay in camps that are squalid, constantly at risk of violence, and desperately under-served; “dismantling” them—whatever “services” are promised—will create vast, deeply depressing slum suburbs of the major towns, although without employment opportunities, decent health care, or education. It is a shameful scandal that the world ignores this looming catastrophe in its efforts to negotiate “peace” in Darfur.

In fact, the only peace that has come after sixteen years of war is the peace of the dead. The grimmest statistic for the Darfur genocide is the mortality total: by my calculations, some 600,000 people have died as a direct or indirect result of violence loosed by the al-Bashir regime, targeting non-Arab/African villages, populations, and camps. The last UN estimate of mortality occurred in April 2008, when the UN head of humanitarian operations at the time, John Holmes, offered a figure of 300,000—the figure still almost always cited by current news reports. Over eleven years, there has been no update from the UN, no promulgation of data bearing on mortality, and no inclination to undertake this terrible reckoning. (I have received no meaningful critique of the data or methodology or conclusions in my analysis of August 2010 (updated 2012)—from the UN or any other source.)

Rape of girls and women also continues throughout all regions of Darfur, and my monograph of 2016 makes clear that while we can only estimate, based on all evidence I cannot believe that the total figure for sexual assaults on non-Arab/African girls and women is not in the many tens of thousands.

Unexploded Ordnance (UXO): There are continuous reports of people—primarily children—killed or badly injured by explosions of UXO. UNAMID has again failed badly in clearing the various regions of Darfur of these deadly objects, typically belonging to or fired by the SAF or RSF;

It should be noted—in ways the UN and UNAMID never do—that the overwhelming majority of displaced persons and victims of violence have been non-Arab/African. Given the continuing rates of ethnically-targeted human destruction and suffering—and what the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide specifies as “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”—it is important to underscore that genocide continues in Darfur, if with deaths directly resulting from violence significantly reduced from the most violent periods of the conflict (2003 – 2006, 2012 – 2016).

UNDERSTANDING THE REPORT DATA

The data in this report comes mainly from Radio Dabanga, which continues to rely on an extraordinarily wide range of contacts on the ground in Darfur. Most dispatches concerning violent incidents have, in addition to dates, the locations of specific events, often names of victims, and detailed context for the violence. It is safe to say that without Radio Dabanga—given the appallingly inadequate reporting record of UNAMID—the al-Bashir regime would have succeeded in turning Darfur into a “black box” from which no information emanates.

In addition to the reports from Radio Dabanga—all represented in the data spreadsheet and data mapping—I have relied on numerous dispatches from Sudan Tribune and African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACPJS), other open sources (especially human rights groups), as well as reports from confidential sources I know to be fully reliable.

Reports that have as their source rebel groups in Darfur are always indicated as such, but cannot be ignored simply because of sourcing concerns. Some information comes from confidential sources, unwilling to identify themselves publicly for security reasons.

The data generated from these dispatches can hardly be considered definitive; indeed, it is likely that many fewer than half the violent incidents have been reported by any source—perhaps as little as 20 – 30 percent. But they are so numerous that creation of data spreadsheets and subsequent data mappings is distinctly possible, and this gives us an approximate view of the scale and concentration of violence. The data comport fully with human rights reporting by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Small Arms Survey (see bibliography below). And this is the context in which we must judge the decision, accepted by all international actors of consequence, to withdraw UNAMID.

What becomes clear looking at the data collected in this report is that Darfur has been recently, and remains, a dangerous, violent, and highly insecure environment for non-Arab/African Darfuris (for an overview of a single month of violence from late 2018, see HERE.

[A full explanation of the data is appears below.]

DARFUR, GENOCIDE, AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

The UN Security Council, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Secretary Generals, and the African Union Peace and Security Council have all given their blessing to the withdrawal of UNAMID, which however great its failings—and they are massive—provides at least the cover of international protection, primarily in the form of deterring even more brazen and larger violent attacks on civilians, especially those in IDP camps. East Darfur, South Darfur, and West Darfur are to see the complete withdrawal of UNAMID by June 2019—one month from now. All UNAMID forces are to be withdrawn from Darfur—including the still extremely violent regions of Central Darfur and North Darfur—by June 2020. This will mark the ignominious end to UNAMID’s terrible and shamefully profligate history. (Again, my detailed overview assessments of UNAMID’s relatively recent performance [2017 – 2018] can be found HERE.)

UNAMID’s withdrawal thus confers a terrible distinction upon Darfur: it is site of the longest and most successful genocide in over a century.

Because the international community gives no sign of pushing for a new body to provide civilian protection in Darfur, it seems appropriate to survey the circumstances in which the victims of genocidal violence are being abandoned, as reflected in the most recent data concerning violence in the region. What we can see from the collated data is the scale and frequency of violence in the relatively recent past—this as a way of understanding what will confront the non-Arab/African populations of Darfur as the last remnant of protection is withdrawn; and absent success of the current popular uprising, provision of “security” will fall entirely to the new Transitional Military Council, and in particular its “new Janjaweed,” the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), involved in a tremendous number of attacks on civilians in camps and rural areas. Various Arab militia forces continue their predations as well, and all too often the local police—even if they are disposed to help—are overwhelmed by the sheer military force of the RSF.

UNAMID has never dared to confront either the Sudan Armed Forces or the Rapid Support Forces—or even investigate atrocity crimes without Khartoum’s explicit permission, which is typically denied. In this sense, withdrawal will not be as significant as it might have been had the Mission taken on its mandate. Withdrawal is most significant because it sends an incomprehensibly scandalous message to would-be génocidaires: “Genocide as a tool of domestic policy, including counter-insurgency efforts, can be successful.”

There can be little else to say about the failure of UNAMID—and the international community’s failure to make of UNAMID an effective force for halting genocide.

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Footnotes:

[1] I will use this combinatory phrase throughout as a means of skirting the controversy over nomenclature: while ethnicity is an enormously complex issue in Darfur, the fact remains that ethnic identity is highly significant and has become even more salient over the past fifteen years, particularly in ethnic self-identification. It is not accidental that the victims of militia and regular force attacks are overwhelmingly from the Fur, Massalit, Zaghawa, Berti, Bergid, Tama tribes. This is true whether we look at the vast population of internally displaced persons and refugees in eastern Chad, or those who have died directly or indirectly from Khartoum-sanctioned violence.

[2] In 2017 the UN OCHA figure for Internally Displaced Persons was 2.7 million/; the UNHCR figure for Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad in October 2018 was 337,000.

It is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of these people—displaced by violence and insecurity from their homes and lands—wish to return, but cannot because violence and insecurity remain at intolerable levels.

UNDERSTANDING THE DATA

The data underlying this report take three forms (all with separate links on my website): compilations of reports of violence from Darfur, the vast majority, as I have indicated, from the dispatches of Radio Dabanga, an extraordinary news organization in exile that has drawn from an extremely wide range of sources—in Darfur particularly, but Sudan generally as well. Having recently visited Radio Dabanga headquarters in Amsterdam, and followed the development of the news organization for more than a decade, I have complete confidence in its integrity. Dutch journalistic society has ensured that the same standards of integrity that obtain in other Western news organizations defin