Just how credible are UNAMID monthly mortality figures? Consider the February 2009 figure of 98 violent deaths.
February was the month in which Khartoum’s forces retook the town of Muhajeria in South Darfur, displacing (according to UN reports) more than 30,000 civilians. Some fled toward Nyala, more toward el-Fasher; some fled east. 100,000 civilians in the region were forcibly denied humanitarian assistance by the regime:
“UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Ameerah Haq, calls for immediate access to over 100,000 civilians in Muhajariya, Sheria and Labado areas of South Darfur. International humanitarian agencies have attempted to reach the area four times since 7 February but are unable to obtain clearance for humanitarian flights.” (United Nations Country Team in Sudan, Khartoum, February 12, 2009)
At the time, the implications of this denial of access were all too clear:
“‘As each day passes, people’s need for assistance increases and the humanitarian imperative to reach them becomes more pressing,’ UN coordinator Toby Lanzer said in [a] statement.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], February 6, 2009]
Were deaths within this forcefully isolated and vulnerable population considered “violent” by UNAMID? How thorough was UNAMID’s surveying of the tens of thousands of displaced persons? Were there any surveys conducted of populations during the dangerous flight from Muhajeria, Labado, Shereia and surrounding villages? Did UNAMID investigate all the bombing attacks reported away from Muhajeria and other larger targets? A large Janjaweed presence was reported to be attacking the fleeing populations: did UNAMID survey the dead in rural areas? How many died subsequently from the consequences of violent displacement? Were surveys conducted in any of the IDP camps to which people fled?
And just how aggressively did UNAMID pursue its mandate as Khartoum retook Muhajeria? One prominent humanitarian organization reports confidentially that UNAMID’s first reaction to Khartoum’s demand that the 190-man contingent withdraw from Muhajeria was to run and abandon the town; in the end they did not, but only because Alain Le Roy, head of UN peacekeeping, made the decision to stay, supported by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. This hardly augurs well for the careful preparation of mortality surveys. Another humanitarian source reported contemporaneously from the Muhajeria area that only the lack of transport prevented UNAMID from completely abandoning the people depending upon them for protection. At the same time, a distinguished humanitarian organization reported confidentially that during the earlier bombing and insecurity around el-Fasher (the week of January 28), “UNAMID appeared to go into lock-down and restrict their movement—at a time when civilian protection and assessment/verification of attacks was needed.” And of course UNAMID has failed to investigate a great many bombing attacks in the more remote areas of North Darfur.
Nor is there a frank acknowledgement of how timid UNAMID is in the face of obstruction by Khartoum. In the course of his December 2008/January 2009 bimonthly report on Darfur, Ban Ki-moon noted, inter alia:
“During the reporting period, UNAMID continued to face restrictions on its freedom of movement. On 10 December 2008, a UNAMID patrol was blocked by Arab militia near Kile Kile (30 kilometres south of Muhajeria, Southern Darfur), who asked to be informed in advance of any patrols in the area. On 31 December, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) denied a UNAMID patrol access to Abu Surug (30 kilometres north-west of El Geneina, Western Darfur) and prevented it from undertaking a routine assessment mission. On 28 January 2009, a UNAMID water escort patrol in Shaariya, Southern Darfur, was stopped at an SAF checkpoint and was not allowed to proceed. It was accused by the SAF commander of providing the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) with equipment and weapons. In another serious development, on the same day a UNAMID patrol was stopped by members of a Chadian armed opposition group in Manzula village, near El Geneina, Western Darfur, and was told that UNAMID must seek permission from the Government of the Sudan to move through the territory.” (§23)
The unhappy truth is that UNAMID is weak, ineffectual, widely despised by Darfuris, and has a clear interest in minimizing mortality so as to make its failure less conspicuous.
I regard 98 “violent deaths” as a deeply misleading figure to cite in assessing current mortality in Darfur, the more so for its absurd precision. We simply don’t have adequate data with which to estimate mortality from violence, let alone all causes. But for those who take seriously the language of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, this does not imply that there is insufficient evidence of genocidal activity:
“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
[a] Killing members of the group;
[b] Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
[c] Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
[d] Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
[e] Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
All of these acts continue to occur in Darfur and Eastern Chad—all of them. Certainly there have been many changes since the height of violence in 2002-2005, although large-scale violence has continued to be orchestrated by Khartoum on an ethnic basis, even if the Janjaweed are less reliable allies and there are many hundreds fewer surviving villages. But given Khartoum’s expulsion of roughly half the humanitarian capacity in Darfur, and the present onset of the rainy season, we are obliged to take particularly seriously clause 2 [c]: “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
Either one sees the relevance of this language to the “conditions of life” endured by 3 million displaced Darfuris—overwhelmingly from non-Arab or African tribal groups—or one is obliged to ignore a very great deal. How many infants died for lack of supplementary or therapeutic feeding directly after the humanitarian expulsions of March (many feeding centers were unstaffed)? How many have died for lack of the primary medical care provided by the expelled sections of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)? How many will die from the communicable diseases that are poised to spread rapidly in camps that have an insufficient number of latrines or adequate latrine maintenance (both critical problems)? How many people will be driven to drink contaminated ground water during the rainy season for lack of adequately maintained water systems? How will food distribution be managed on an ongoing basis without implementing partners? (Nearly all humanitarian officials acknowledge that the current stop-gap measures by the UN’s World Food Program are unsustainable in the longer term.)
Such questions could be multiplied endlessly, and it is in answering them that we will answer the question about continuing genocide in Darfur.
Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College, Massachusetts. His website is www.sudanreeves.org