On July 13, 2013, Darfur witnessed another deadly attack on the personnel of the African Union and United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), in the outskirt of Nyala City. According to the reports, 100-150 gunmen carried out the attack and they outnumbered the UNAMID forces. The ambush resulted in the killing of seven Tanzanian soldiers and 17 were wounded, including two female soldiers. The UNAMID’s officials described the attack as a sustained heavy fire from machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. No doubt, this detailed information suggests clearly that the perpetrators were well-equipped, well-armed and probably well-informed about the UNAMID’s forces movements and patrols.
This incident has exposed previous reports and statements by UNAMID and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to a new scrutiny. UNAMID’s leadership repeatedly claimed that the security situation in Darfur had improved considerably, and therefore, the conflict in Darfur can be newly classified as a low intensity conflict. This latest incident proves beyond a doubt that Darfur is not safe. Are these false claims made to justify the reduction of the Mission’s forces for some financial and political calculations? In any case, these statements and announcements by UNAMID officials have been opportunistically exploited and used by Bashir’s regime in advancing its military strategy and war propaganda.
Undoubtedly, the incident constitutes a clear violation of the provisions of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions as well as the UN General Assembly Convention on the Safety of the United Nations and Associated Personnel of 1994, known as “Safety Convention”, which protect this Mission and its personnel as a part of the UN peace-keeping missions around the world.
Thus, the following questions should be raised: Who did commit this serious crime? And why did they commit it? Does anyone have a track record and interest in killing UN personnel? What kind of message would this incident send if it was meant as a message? And what are lessons learned and what need to be done about it?
To answer the above questions, one would start by providing some contextual facts about the area of Khor Abeche, the site of the incident and the armed forces and militias that normally operate in it. This area is a vast fertile land, which is suitable for farming and grazing. It also includes a huge forest, known as (Ghabat Hamada (Arabic) – the Forest of Hamada) which makes it a convenient place for various activities and purposes. Many ethnic groups live in this area. The older inhabitants are the Birgid, Tunjur, Zaghawa and other non-Arab ethnic groups. Nonetheless, since the early days of the Darfur conflict, Khor Abeche area has also been known as the stronghold for some of the regime’s Janjaweed militia, namely the Messiriya-Netaiga group. This Militia has been incorporated by the Government in its Border Guards and Central Reserve Police (Abu Taira). The Netaiga-Janjaweed Militia is one of the most notorious forces available to GoS. This group has been involved in series of crimes against the civilian populations in that area. For instance, The African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS)’s Ceasefire Commission (CFC) in Darfur, in it its Report of April 5, 2005, stated that,
‘the team established that about 200 Mesiriya/Janjaweed Militia under the command of Nasr Altijani Abdel Gadir attacked Khor Apache at 0800hrs, killing 4people, injuring many others, destroying everything except school, mosque and few huts. Fifteen villagers were declared missing.’ (http://www.africa-union.org/darfur/Reports%20of%20the%20cfc/88-05.pdf).
The AMIS’s Ceasefire Commission’s Report went further to state that “The Governor of South Darfur confirmed to the CFC that Nasr Altigani Abdel Gadir under his control.’ ( http://www.africa-union.org/darfur/Reports%20of%20the%20cfc/88-05.pdf).
This is just one single example of the serious crimes that were committed in this area by this particular Janjaweed group. According to the AMIS’s Report in April 7, 2005, the Governor of South Darfur clearly admitted and took the responsibility for the Leader of Mesririya- Netaiga and his actions.
To date, the Sudanese government has not prosecuted this Janjaweed Leader for the crimes that he committed against innocent civilians, nor has it stopped him and his militia from committing further atrocities. In fact, the Janjaweed are a part and parcel of the broad regime’s military and security strategy in Darfur.
The objective of the Bashir regime’s orchestrated pattern of attacks is to terrorize and force UNAMID and the remaining aid organizations to leave Darfur. Consequently, dismantle the IDP camps and transform Darfur into a black-box genocide site. The recent attack on the UNAMID forces can have no other logical motive.
When this tragic attack on the UNAMID personnel occurred, the regime’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to divert culpability away from the regime because they knew they themselves were responsible. In front of the cameras of the international community, the regime’s Foreign Ministry swiftly condemned the incident and accused the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) of Minie Arko Minnawi of committing it. Nonetheless, that couldn’t change the fact that it is well known that particular area, the scene of the crime, is controlled by the regime’s armed forces and its allied Janjaweed Militia, namely the Masiriya-Netaiga militia, also known as Border Guard or Central Reserve Police (Abu Taira). However, this dosn’t suggest in any way that the entire ethnic group was involved in this criminal incident.
Only journalists outside Sudan can safely report what reliable inside sources believe is true: the regime’s Janjaweed militia committed this crime against UNAMID.
Furthermore, the sources on the ground indicate that this attack on UNAMID personnel in Khor Abeche was spearheaded by a well-known Janjaweed commander who looted the vehicle that was carrying the UNAMID salaries inside Nyala City in August 2012. Not surprisingly, this Janjaweed commander was freed by his militia from inside the court in Nyala. Also some sources confirmed that the government was aware of this fact that is why it rushed suspiciously to condemn the incident and blamed it on the SLA/Minie Minnawi’s faction, in order to divert the attention, protect its allied militia and avoid any criminal or political or diplomatic responsibility consequential to this crime.
Thus, this pattern of attack on UNAMID is not a unique one and it is likely to continue, given the previous numerous deadly attacks and kidnapping of the aid workers and UNAMID’s personnel in the government controlled areas in Darfur. It is a well-established fact that almost all these criminal activities and incidents took place in the Government controlled territories. Not only that, many attacks and kidnapping of the peacekeepers and aid workers took place inside Nyala City, the Capital of South Darfur. For instance, the kidnaping of Bulgarian citizen in January 2012, who used to work for the World Food Program (WEP); South African UNAMID personnel who were kidnapped in 2009; and the Jordanian UNAMID police who were also kidnapped by government allied militia. All these incidents occurred inside Nyala City which clearly suggests the government was either conspiring in committing these crimes or had lost control and the ability to keep the law and order in Darfur. In both cases the regime should be held responsible and accountable.
Therefore, The UNSC should hold a special emergency session to discuss the current status and future of UNAMID as a part of broad strategy for holistic change in Sudan. Moreover, the ICC has to take this case seriously and investigate it; it is a serious violation of the provisions and norms of international law. The ICC should also investigate all abductions and attacks against UNAMID and aid workers in Darfur and make more indictments if necessary. To this end, it is vital that the ICC should establish a new genuine witness protection program according to its Statute and vigorously pursue the current and pending cases.
The ICC should shake up its approach and mechanisms too, if it is going to fulfill its duty in fighting impunity, realizing accountability and standing as a real voice for the victims. The UNSC should act seriously and without any delay to execute the current arrest warrants against Bashir and his associates. The public relations lip-service about Bashir’s arrest is an insult and slap in the face of the victims and survivors. In addition, the current behavior of inaction by the international community, particularly the UNSC with regard to the ICC’s Darfur’s case, is clearly undermining and failing the ICC and international justice as a whole.
Ahmed Hussain Adam is a Visiting Scholar and Co-Chair of the Two Sudans Forum at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR), Columbia University in the City of New York. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org