Thursday, April 22, 2004

Reuters News Agency Obtains Copy of Unreleased UN Report on Darfur: Human Rights Team on the Chad/Sudan Border Finds a "Reign of Terror" 

Reuters News Agency Obtains Copy of Unreleased UN Report on Darfur: Human Rights Team on the Chad/Sudan Border Finds a "Reign of Terror"

Eric Reeves
April 22, 2004

Reuters is discreet in registering its journalistic coup, but in speaking of a UN human rights investigative report on Darfur, "obtained by Reuters on Wednesday [April 21, 2004]," Reuters is revealing a truly extraordinary document, one that had unconscionably been suppressed by the UN Human Rights Commission. The UN investigative report finds, on the basis of its recent 10-day assessment along the Chad/Sudan border, that "[Khartoum's regular] troops and Arab militias appear to have launched a reign of terror against black Africans in Sudan's western Darfur region," and that the investigative team has found compelling evidence of "human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity" (Reuters, April 21, 2004).

To understand how significant this is document is, and how shockingly expedient its suppression has been, we must bear in mind the forces at play here. Khartoum's National Islamic Front regime had bargained forcefully for the continued withholding of this document by the UN. Indeed, Khartoum has finally granted (at least nominally) access inside Darfur to the previously obstructed UN human rights investigative team, but only in return for suppression of the team's report from the Chad/Sudan border. The purpose here was to ensure that in today's debate about Khartoum's human rights record, especially in Darfur, this document would not be part of the evidence considered. The UN expediently went along with this deal in order to obtain access to Darfur for its human rights investigative team. As Reuters reports in its April 21, 2004 dispatch:

"Some diplomats say the Sudanese pledge late on Monday to let the [UN human] rights team in may have been intended to delay presentation of the report and influence the outcome of a vote on Sudan in the Commission, due on Thursday [April 22, 2004]." (Reuters, April 21, 2004)

Human Rights Watch, which is present in Geneva where the UN Human Rights Commission is today scheduled to take up the issue of Khartoum's human rights record, immediately caught on to this shameful bargaining, and in a press release of yesterday circumspectly, but unambiguously, declared:

"Unexpectedly, the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights decided yesterday [April 20, 2004] not to release its report [of the UN human rights investigative team] on Darfur to the Commission, which on Friday will conclude its annual six-week session. The decision came at the same time as a move by the Sudanese government, which had denied the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights access to the country for the past two weeks, to finally grant it travel authorization. The Sudanese government had allegedly called for a delay in the release, arguing that the report would be 'incomplete' without a visit to Sudan."

As Joanna Weschler, Human Rights Watch's U.N. Representative more forcefully declared: "Denying the United Nations access is one of the delaying tactics the Sudanese government is using to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community. The [UN] High Commissioner [for Human Rights] office has an obligation to present the best available information on Darfur to the Commission while it is still in session" (Human Rights Watch [Geneva], April 21, 2004).

What Reuters is able to convey of the now-revealed UN report comports fully with the findings of other human rights investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, humanitarian organizations, and journalists. The UN team found the same savage weapons of war on civilians, in particular the African tribal groups of the region, primarily the Fur, Massaleit, and Zaghawa: "rape, pillage, torture, murder and arson in villages and towns across Darfur, as well as attacks by helicopter gunships and by aircraft dropping bombs" (Reuters, April 21, 2004). It cannot be stressed too often that the only aerial military assets in the Darfur conflict belong to Khartoum, and that Antonov bombers are actually retrofitted cargo planes, with a highly limited accuracy that makes them primarily weapons for attacks on civilian targets.

We must also recall that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and others have found numerous, independently confirming reports of close military coordination between Khartoum's regular forces and its Arab militia allies (the Janjaweed), and that these reports relentlessly highlight the vicious racial/ethnic animus in what is overwhelmingly civilian destruction.

But still there is something of particular importance in a UN investigative body finding in Darfur a "reign of terror" and compelling evidence of "human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity" (Reuters, April 21, 2004). Insofar as the UN claims to be the embodiment of the international community, these findings have both special authority and impose special obligations. If the UN shirks these obligations, and doesn't demonstrate itself worthy of this authority, then its claims about embodying the "international community" are deeply morally compromised.

That the first response of the UN was one of shameful expediency---a withholding of the report of its own human rights investigative team as part of some under-the-table deal with Khartoum---is already deeply dismaying and profoundly undermines the credibility of the UN generally, but particularly in its response to the Darfur catastrophe. This expediency also calls into question the integrity of UN responses going forward in responding to "crimes against humanity" in Darfur, indeed genocide.

There are immediate steps the UN can take to correct this present course of expediency. If "crimes against humanity" are indeed being committed in Darfur, an area the size of France, then it will take a great many more than the five persons of the present UN investigative team. The UN and others in the international community must demand an immediate and highly substantial increase in both personnel and logistical support. If access is threatened by security concerns in some areas, the UN must be willing to deploy the military forces that can protect human rights investigators---and humanitarian assessment workers, if access is ever secured (Khartoum has twice now denied such access, even as the humanitarian crisis continues sliding towards utter catastrophe).

The urgency guiding the investigating team must be dramatically increased, and the mandate very substantially expanded as well. This is especially true in light of highly credible reports of impending exterminations in the concentration camps for displaced African populations. The numerous and highly credible reports of Khartoum's efforts to conceal evidence of genocidal destruction in Darfur also require an increased urgency and dramatically expanded mandate. And again, this can only be accomplished with a much larger, more robust, and fully equipped and well-protected human rights investigating team. There must also be a full complement of appropriate Arabic-speaking translators who have no connection to the Khartoum regime and who will not be at risk when UN personnel depart the areas of investigation.

Further, the team must be prepared to stay as long as the investigation warrants: Khartoum cannot be allowed to impose any artificial deadline. Senior UN officials have previously described the realities of Darfur as "scorched-earth" warfare leading to "ethnic cleansing"; the present UN investigating team reports "crimes against humanity," as does Human Rights Watch:

"Hundreds of thousands of people have been victims of crimes against humanity committed by government forces and allied militias, and many are currently concentrated in camps and settlements around the major towns, where they continue to be attacked and looted by government-backed militias" (Human Rights Watch press release [Geneva], April 21, 2004)

There can be no deadline for this investigation that is governed by anything other than the gravity of these monstrous crimes.

Here we must bear in mind that the UN has recently increased its estimate of those displaced in Darfur to over 1 million, with an additional population of well over 100,000 having fled into Chad (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [al-Fashir], April 19, 2004). This enormous population is at the most acute risk, both from military predations (which continue to be reported in large numbers, despite the April 8, 2004 cease-fire signed by Khartoum) and from the growing threat of famine and disease (see the terrifying assessment from the US Agency for International Development, predicting a major famine by November/December 2004 (US AID "Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, Sudan 2004-05" (data at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/subsaharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf).

These vast numbers, the repeated finding of "crimes against humanity" by the UN and Human Rights Watch, and others, and the compelling evidence that these brutal realities of human destruction and displacement in aggregate constitute genocide---all demand that the investigation in Darfur be dramatically increased in size, be guided by a much greater sense of urgency, and have a mandate to investigate all credible reports of human rights abuses, "ethnic cleansing," "crimes against humanity," and genocide. Khartoum's clear efforts to conceal these crimes must also be vigorously investigated.

This is what should be done. But what will be done? An answer here must confront the clear prospect that the Khartoum regime will, in light of the disclosure of this deeply damning report, simply deny access to the UN human rights investigative team presently in the region. The pretext for denial will certainly be outright prevarication, wrapped in an unctuous self-righteousness. But unless the UN and the international community are prepared to respond immediately, the regime's decision will govern. This will provide terrifying incentive for Khartoum to accelerate its campaign of human destruction and the obliterating of as much evidence as possible evidence of genocide.

Another possibility is that Khartoum will nominally grant "access" to the UN human rights team, but work to curtail meaningful access. Various locations will be denied because of "insecurity"---as determined by Khartoum. There will be contrived logistical problems. There are a host of measures by which Khartoum can undermine the integrity of this investigation.

But the only acceptable response by the UN and the international community, in light of all that is known and for which there is highly credible evidence, is to begin an unfettered investigation immediately with the team presently in the region and prepared to move into Darfur, and to insist on a dramatic increase in the size of the investigating team and to expand the mandate guiding the investigation. Above all, there must be a dramatic increase in urgency: Khartoum's obstructionism, delaying tactics, and time-consuming hindrances must be swept away by clear international resolve to halt "ethnic cleansing," "crimes against humanity," and genocide.

If Khartoum refuses to accept immediate entrance of a large, mobile, fully logistically supported investigating team, such a team must be moved into Darfur under substantial international military protection. Such a military force should also be large enough to begin the critical process of protecting those civilians at greatest risk: the African populations in the concentration camps controlled by the Janjaweed (see previous dispatches on these camps by from this writer; available upon request). There are highly credible and extremely alarming reports that the populations in these camps are at risk of "extermination." Given the utterly defenseless situation of these people, huge numbers can be killed in a very short period of time---either violently, or by the total denial of water and food. Conditions conducive to such extermination are already being reported in a number of camps.

This is the very moment of truth for Darfur, for the UN, and for the entire international community. Either we intervene to stop what all evidence suggests is genocide, or we will be acquiescing in the continuing perpetration of this ultimate crime. We will also be accepting Khartoum's brutal obduracy in trying to conceal its crimes.

Is there an "international community"? We will soon find out; the signs are not encouraging.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA

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