Friday, April 23, 2004

UN Commission on Human Rights Shamefully Fails the People of Darfur, Even as UN Human Rights Report Catalogs "Crimes Against Humanity" 

Eric Reeves
April 23, 2004

As the travesty that is the UN Commission on Human Rights today formally registered its indifference to the catastrophe in Darfur, Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC) issued its latest gruesome findings on the very realities the Commission has chosen to ignore:

"In a joint operation in the Darfur region of Sudan, [Khartoum] government troops working with Arab militias detained 136 African men whom the militias massacred hours later. [ ] The 136 men, all members of the Fur ethnic group aged between 20 and 60, were rounded up in early March in two separate sweeps in the Garsila and Mugjir areas in Wadi Saleh [south of Zalingei in West Darfur]. They were then taken in army lorries to nearby valleys where they were made to kneel before being killed with a bullet in the back of the neck." (Human Rights Watch, April 23, 2004)

A lone survivor, left for dead, was able to escape later that night and tell his story to human rights investigators.

Human Rights Watch also makes clear both that these actions are those of the Khartoum regime, not simply its Arab militia allies (the Janjaweed), and that there is a clear racial/ethnic animus in the attacks. Having documented dozens of attacks, Human Rights Watch said that "all but two of the attacks against black Africans were carried out
in conjunction with government forces."

"The janjaweed are no longer simply militias supported by the Sudanese government," Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch's executive director, said in the statement. "These militias work in unison with government troops, with total impunity for their massive crimes" (Human Rights Watch, April 23, 2004).

Indeed, in what is perhaps the most significant conclusion of the Human Rights Watch press release, the organization finds:

"The Wadi Saleh massacres conform to a well-established pattern of joint operations by government and janjaweed forces. Until early this year, the janjaweed had the support but not the active participation of the government army in their operations. In recent months, however, the vast majority of the attacks against the African population of Darfur
have been joint attacks by the regular army and the militias." (Human Rights Watch, April 23, 2004)

Dozens of such joint attacks have been documented by Human Rights Watch; dozens more have been documented by Amnesty International; and many, many more have been documented by other investigators---and by the UN human rights team, whose report was suppressed at the now adjourned annual meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Presumably this suppression of a UN report made it easier for fifty nations to support a resolution that did little more than politely ask the brutal Khartoum regime to be more considerate of people in Darfur.

The very regime that is engaged in mass executions, mass destruction and displacement, that has sponsored devastating military actions against civilian life and livelihood, and that has now made a famine in Darfur virtually inevitable, with the clear potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people---this is the regime that has, ever so temperately, been informed by the UN Commission on Human Rights that there is "deep concern" about the people of Darfur.

But in fact this is a shameful lie. There is no real concern represented in this resolution. The vote in Geneva today is a contemptible moral failure---a refusal to do anything meaningful in response to unambiguous and utterly authoritative evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, indeed genocide.

Alone among the nations represented in Geneva, the United States dared speak the truth. Making explicit again the comparison to the Rwandan genocide---a comparison previously made explicit by the former UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila---US Ambassador Richard Williamson declared:

"Ten years from today the only thing that will be remembered about the 60th annual Commission is whether we stand up on the ethnic cleansing going on in Sudan." (Reuters, April 22, 2004)

This massive failure on the part of the UN Commission, in light of so many current and previous failures, sounds the death knell for what should be one of the world's great forums for addressing human rights abuses.

But the vote of the Commission on Darfur does nothing to changes the realities on the ground, or to change the meaning of the human rights investigative document which was suppressed during deliberations on Darfur. A copy of the document has been obtained by this writer, and its findings are as horrifying as the many other reports on Darfur already in the public domain.

This UN human rights investigative team found "disturbing patterns of massive human rights violations in Darfur, many of which may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity." It concluded by noting that there is a "reign of terror in Darfur," comprising:

"[a] Repeated attacks on civilians by Government of Sudan military and its proxy militia forces with a view to their displacement;

"[b] The use of systematic and indiscriminate aerial bombardments and ground attacks on unarmed civilians;

"[c] The use of disproportional force by the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed forces;

"[d] That the Janjaweed have operated with total impunity and in close coordination with the forces of the Government of Sudan;

"[e] The attacks appear to have been ethnically based with the groups targeted being essentially the following tribes reportedly of African origin: Zaghawas, Masaalit, and Furs. Men and young boys appear to have been particularly targeted in ground attacks; and

"[f] The pattern of attacks on civilians includes killing, rape, pillage, including of livestock, and destruction of property, including water sources."

("Report of the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights mission to Chad, April 5-15, 2004," received in email as photocopy, embedded in PDF file, April 22, 2004; available upon request)

The team that concluded its thirteen-page report with these findings has detailed a great deal more of extraordinary significance, even as these findings and specific incidents are entirely consistent with what we already know because of the now very large body of human rights reporting on Darfur.

[The UN team, which was forced to remain for ten days (April 5 through April 15, 2004) on the Chad/Sudan border because the Khartoum regime refused it access to Darfur, and which was scheduled to enter Darfur yesterday (April 22, 2004), appears to have been forced to remain in Khartoum, as of late on Friday, April 23, 2004. It is already too late
for a flight to take off from Khartoum for any airport in Darfur; the mission is thus now apparently again delayed, presently for two days.]

Even if access is secured, we may expect to see a good deal more of this delay, as well as manipulation of access in a variety of ways---the contrivance of logistical problems, factitious "security concerns," "communications problems," and so on. The Khartoum regime is a master of such techniques, as it has demonstrated so impressively over
so many years in southern Sudan.


The UN human rights team visited the northern portion of the very long border between Chad and Darfur (Sudan). It is exceedingly important to note that all human rights investigations, along the entire border (over 600 miles in length), are remarkably similar in their accounts and in the nature of the details reported by widely separated refugee
populations. The UN team itself reports that "there was a remarkable consistency in the witness testimony received by the mission in all places visited and in discussions with refugees who had entered Chad both many months ago and also very recently" (Paragraph 15).

What did the UN human rights investigation ("Report of the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights mission to Chad, April 5-15, 2004") find of particular note?

One ominous finding takes on particular significance in light of the incident of mass execution reported by Human Rights Watch (see above):

"A significant majority of the refugee population appeared to be comprised of women and children; at one site---Tine---it was estimated that some 80% of the refugee population was made up of this group." (Paragraph 13)

The report later notes that "there were frequent reports of killings. More specifically, a number of refugees alleged that men, and even boys, were particular targets" (Paragraph 19). It also notes the Khartoum and its militia allies "indiscriminately attacked those who had not fled, such as the elderly and disabled [ ] with a particular emphasis on men
and boys" (Paragraph 35).

The inference that men and boys of African tribal groups are being summarily executed in very large numbers is inescapable.

Another deeply ominous finding, especially since the team was in the region as a "cease-fire" was nominally committed to by Khartoum:

"The earliest reports of attacks about which the mission heard took place in March 2003 with the most recent having allegedly occurred in April 2004: there were indications that these attacks had been intensifying in violence." (Paragraph 14)

The "intensifying" of violent attacks flies, of course, in the face of National Islamic Front President Omer Beshir's claim in early February 2004 that the fighting in Darfur had been ended with a "crushing" victory by Khartoum.

Like all other human rights reports on Darfur, the UN report offers evidence of a clear racial/ethnic animus in the human destruction. The UN human rights report declares that "refugees interviewed invariably described the Janjaweed [attackers] as being exclusively 'Arab,' as opposed to 'black' or 'African. [ ] There were frequent references by
the refugees to the Janjaweed and the Government of Sudan engaging in a policy designed to remove Africans from Darfur in order to obtain additional land" (Paragraph 21).

Here we must bear in mind that all evidence available has relentlessly revealed that displacement in Darfur is a means of destruction. The massive, "systematic" destruction of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, agricultural areas, water wells and irrigation (Paragraph 39) not only ensures displacement but also puts those displaced in extremely precarious and threatening situations. Many will clearly, inevitably die; and this is certainly known by the attackers. We cannot avoid the conclusion that, given the arduous difficulties of life and survival in Darfur, these attackers know that those civilians they are deliberately displacing will perish.

They are, in other words, "deliberately inflicting on the [African peoples of Darfur] conditions of life calculated to bring about [their physical destruction in whole or in part" (from clause [c], Article 2 of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide).

This is, of course, in addition to the direct human destruction of so many of these people. In speaking of those who have "disappeared" in Darfur, for example, the UN report finds that "the majority [of those who have 'disappeared'] appear to have been civilians: women, children, the elderly, and the sick, disabled, and wounded who were unable to
flee. [ ] Enforced disappearances constitute a crime against humanity when they are committed as part of a widespread of systematic attack directed against the civilian population" (Paragraphs 48, 49).

The UN team also reports on evidence that there is in Darfur "a policy of using rape and other serious forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war" (Paragraph 37).

And the report also discusses Khartoum's campaign of aerial military assaults, in very considerable detailed:

"Numerous witnesses interviewed in different locations described a consistent pattern of attacks comprising air bombardments using an Antonov military plane, ground troops in military vehicles and militias on horses and camels. All reports indicated that such bombardments are indiscriminate." (Paragraph 32)

"Bombs were sometimes dropped on crowded areas such as markets or communal wells; homes, shops, and fields were also destroyed. Some refugees reported that they were the object of such aerial attacks even as they were fleeing." (Paragraph 33)


The people of Darfur may perhaps be forgiven for taking little comfort from the fatuous sympathy of the UN Commission on Human Rights:

"The Commission expresses its solidarity with the Sudan in overcoming the current situation." (Resolution on Darfur, the UN Commission on Human Rights [Geneva], April 23, 2004)

Such "solidarity" is a contemptible scrap of factitious pity. It means nothing. All that will matter is a full investigation of the "crimes against humanity" that have already been ascertained by the UN investigative team evidently still in Khartoum. Moreover, unless this team is substantially augmented, guided by a much greater sense of urgency, and given a significantly wider mandate, no adequate investigation can be conducted.

Today's shameful vote by the UN Commission on Human Rights makes distinctly more remote the prospects for such investigation.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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