Monday 10 October 2016
We are left to wonder—twelve days after Amnesty International’s compelling report on the Khartoum regime’s devastating assault on the Jebel Marra region of Darfur this year—whether the international community is prepared to move beyond the few brief moments of condemnation that followed release of the report (“Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra, Darfur,” Amnesty International | 109 pages; released September 29, 2016).
Much of the report was given over to the use of chemical weapons in Khartoum’s military offensive, directed overwhelmingly against civilians. Given the massive evidence assembled there can be no reasonable doubtin
g the use of chemical weapons—certainly not in light of the professional analysis by experts in non-conventional weapons and the scores of photographs that reveal destruction of human flesh, internal organs, and illnesses that cannot be accounted for my any known human pathogen. We lack physical evidence in the sense that we don’t have soil or bomb fragments samples, or blood samples. But there is simply no other reasonable explanation for what is revealed in these gruesome photographs, or in the remarkably consistent accounts that came from widely separated areas of the Jebel Marra massif.
Moreover, Khartoum’s previous use of chemical weapons has been frequently reported by highly reliable sources, including Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (see http://sudanreeves.org/2016/09/29/7469/). We may well conclude that what brief round of condemnation we have heard will exhaust international concern, and reflects how little comprehension there has been of the larger conclusion of the Amnesty report: as a means of crushing the rebellion in Darfur once and for all, the Jebel Marra redoubt of the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdel Wahid (SLA/AW) has been laid waste. Civilians were overwhelmingly the targets of Khartoum’s military offensive, and many times more victims died, were wounded, or displaced by conventional weapons than by chemical weapons. The attacks included indiscriminate assaults by military aircraft on civilian villages with no military presence. Looting, village destruction, rape, murder, and a general destruction of civilian life were the primary goals of the offensive—again, typically in areas with no rebel presence. Amnesty estimates that 250,000 civilians were displaced by the violence.
In short, the counter-insurgency in Darfur remains genocidal in character: those targeted in Jebel Marra were overwhelming members of the Fur tribe, non-Arab/African and perceived as the civilian base of support for the SLA/AW. Destruction of civilian life in Jebel Marra, by ethnically-targeting the Fur population as a means of waging war, leaves no room for skepticism about the relevance of the various genocidal acts delineated in Article 2 of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
WILL THERE BE AN INVESTIGATION?
Obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention
Chemical weapons, as hideous as they are, are simply targeting the civilian destruction by other means. They are, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has declared (speaking of chemical weapons use in Syria), a “moral obscenity” (notably, Kerry has offered no similar expression of outrage in the case of Amnesty’s crushingly persuasive evidence about what has occurred in Jebel Marra). But the use of such weapons must be investigated—they are banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC—see Article 10); and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has a clear mandate to investigate credible allegations of chemical weapons use. Indeed, the OPCW “Mission Statement” could hardly be clearer:
The mission of the OPCW is to implement the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in order to achieve the OPCW’s vision of a world that is free of chemical weapons and of the threat of their use, and in which cooperation in chemistry for peaceful purposes for all is fostered. In doing this, our ultimate aim is to contribute to international security and stability, to general and complete disarmament, and to global economic development.
To this end, the Secretariat proposes policies for the implementation of the CWC to the Member States of the OPCW, and develops and delivers programmes with and for them. These programmes have four broad aims:
to ensure a credible and transparent regime for verifying the destruction of chemical weapons and to prevent their re-emergence, while protecting legitimate national security and proprietary interests;
Member states of the OPCW represent approximately 98 percent of the world’s population, and Sudan is a signatory to both the CWC and the OPCW. The United States has an elaborate Web page given over the CWC (http://www.cwc.gov/).
Realistic Assessment of prospects for an investigation
Of course, there will be no investigation of Khartoum’s use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra. The regime will never permit such an investigation, and international acquiescence will again follow such obduracy. Moreover, as the West dithers, the obstacles to investigation grow greater. As Sudan Tribune reports today, Khartoum’s génocidaires are now receiving help from the hopelessly ineffective and morally compromised UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID):
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry has said that the head of the hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) Martin Uhomoibhi stressed that his mission didn’t receive any piece of information that chemical weapons have been used in Darfur….
In a press statement extended to Sudan Tribune on Sunday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Gharib Allah Khidir said Uhomoibhi told [Foreign Minister Ibrahim] Ghandour that in spite of the almost 20,000 UNAMID personnel on the ground in Darfur, none of them has seen any Darfuri with the impact of the use of chemical weapons as described by Amnesty International’s report.
He added the UNAMID chief informed Ghandour that not one displaced person meeting such description has shown up at any UNAMID Team Site clinics where they would have naturally gone for help.
Perhaps we may leave aside the habitual mendacity of Ghandour, given the fact that Nigerian Martin Uhomoibhi has proved as feckless and ineffective as the disingenuous and corrupt previous heads of UNAMID, most notably Rodolphe Adada and Ibrahim Gambari. He is all too likely to have said what Ghandour has attributed to him. Uhomoibhi is simply untrustworthy and has proved himself a tool of Khartoum on too many occasions—nowhere more conspicuously than in these comments.
It should be noted first that it has been years since UNAMID has had any real access to Jebel Marra, in particular to the areas where chemical weapons are reported by Amnesty. It is telling that Uhomoibhi does not explain why his force of 20,000 personnel doesn’t gather evidence disconfirming Amnesty’s findings. The reason is simple: the Mission can’t gain access to the areas specified in Amnesty’s report.
As a reporting source, no one seriously engaged in assessing realities in Darfur regards UNAMID reporting as anything but a failing Mission trying to do what it can to disguise that failure. To be sure, we can’t know whether UNAMID has indeed failed so miserably as to have heard none of what Amnesty reports on the basis of more than 250 interviews that serve as the evidentiary backbone of its report, along with the searing photographs of chemically ravaged flesh—or whether there is lying or concealment of evidence at some level in whatever passes for a “reporting chain of command” in this deeply demoralized and impotent force. It is difficult to know which of these failings is greater, given the history of UNAMID over the past nine years (as of January 1, 2017).
The international community, then, has a stark choice:
 Believe UNAMID chief Uhomoibhi—and Ibrahim Ghandour, who represents a regime that has lied and abrogated treaty obligations on countless occasions, including continuously denying access in Darfur to UNAMID, despite having signed the Status of Forces Agreement of January 2008, which explicitly guarantees unfettered access to the Mission;
 Even in accepting that Khartoum will refuse to allow an investigation under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, demand that such an investigation be conducted, thereby compelling Khartoum to violate again, and conspicuously, its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The head of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping operations, Hervé Ladsous, has a dismal record on Darfur, but was cited by the UN News Center, several days after the release of the Amnesty report:
Regarding allegations that the Government had used chemical weapons in Jebel Marra, Mr. Ladsous said that the UN had not come across any evidence to support such claims. He pointed out, however, that UNAMID had consistently been denied access to conflict zones in Jebel Marra, and that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had stated, in an initial assessment, that it was not possible to draw any conclusions without further information and evidence being made available. (UN News Centre, October 4, 2016)
In fact, Ladsous seriously misrepresents here what OPCW has said to date; it does not include language supporting Ladsous’ claim that OPCW had declared “it was not possible to draw any conclusions without further information and evidence being made available.” Here, in its entirety, is all that OPCW has reported on its website:
OPCW Examining NGO Report on Allegations of Chemical Weapons Use in Sudan
Thursday, 29 September 2016
In response to questions regarding the Amnesty International report, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is aware that Amnesty International issued the report, “Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra, Darfur,” which includes some allegations of the use of chemical weapons in the Darfur region of Sudan. OPCW shall certainly examine the reports and all other available relevant information.
Such disingenuous construal of the OPCW statement does little to encourage belief that the UN will take any meaningful part in at least forcefully demanding an investigation, even as it is the only way in which Amnesty’s conclusions can be confirmed or disconfirmed on the basis of physical forensic analysis. In the end, Khartoum’s view of things as represented at the UN by the regime’s representative, Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed, will prevail by default:
Sudan’s UN Ambassador Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed responded in a statement calling the Amnesty report “baseless and fabricated” and denying that his country had any chemical weapons. (Associated Press, October 1, 2016 | New York)
It is hardly headline news, but the Parliament of the European Union has demanded an investigation of Khartoum’s chemical weapons use; but, conveniently for the countries nominally represented, the Parliament has negligible power or influence within the EU. In another quarter, France, Britain, the UK, and the U.S. have been mooted as possible initiators of a petition for investigation by the OPCW; but every day that passes makes this look less likely. The “moral obscenity” of chemical weapons use, as John Kerry would have it when it was expedient to say as much, is but another obscenity in an unfathomably grim and destructive genocidal counter-insurgency, now very nearly fourteen years in duration.
Eric Reeves has written extensively on Sudan for almost two decades; he is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights