[EDIT: This post was published after a weekend of intense violence in Sudan, starting 15 April. The violence has involved deadly clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces to wrest control of the country, totally against the will of the Sudanese people.]
It has been exactly ten years since I blew the whistle on Darfur, and twenty years since the world learnt about the government-sponsored massacre of civilians in this western region of Sudan from the first UN whistleblower on Darfur, Mukesh Kapila. There is no single word to describe the plight of the people of Darfur over the past twenty years. They have been let down not only by the international community, but by Sudanese themselves, by those who claimed to fight for their human rights.
At least 3.1 million people are still forced to survive as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Darfur, many of whom have been displaced for one or two decades. In neighbouring Chad, some 400,000 people from Darfur are living in refugee camps, losing hope to return home. Many say their homes have been either occupied by Arab settlers or burned to the ground. What the media presents every now and then as flares of ‘tribal violence’ in Darfur is nothing but the continuation of hideous crimes involving the Rapid Support forces (former Janjaweed militias) and other government security forces.
The popular uprising that overthrew the President Omar al-Bashir brought hope for peace and justice. Many hoped to see al-Bashir and his top aides finally handed over to the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes committed against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in Darfur. However, fresh hopes were killed by the counter revolution led by al-Bashir’s army and militias, especially the leader of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (alias Hemeti), and top general Abdelfattah al-Burhan. Hemeti’s rise to power is a testimony of the failure of the UN Security Council to protect civilians in Darfur, or to press on the Sudanese government to stop its atrocities, despite its numerous irresolute resolutions.
In the early years of the war, the 2004 Council Resolution 1556 acknowledged that “forced displacements, rapes and ethnic violence [were] carried out by the Janjaweed against civilians.” In its 1559 resolution of 2 September 2004, the Council gave Khartoum 30 days to disarm the Janjaweed and bring their leaders to justice, or face “further actions”. Had the Council been willing to implement this resolution, Hemeti would have been in jail now for having admitted publicly that he was a militia (Janjaweed) leader and that his militiamen had committed grave crimes. Worse still, instead of holding him to account, the European Union, including France and Britain, recruited Hemeti to patrol the Sudan-Libya border on its behalf, and stop migration at any human rights cost.
Hemeti was emboldened by his former enemies who used to cast him as a ‘genocidaire’, namely the leaders of the two main rebel groups he defeated in Darfur: Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Both Minni Minawi and Jibril Ibrahim turned their back on Darfur’s people to shake the bloody hands of Hemeti and Burhan. In exchange for their alliance with the devil, Jibril became Minister of Finance with Burhan’s backing, while Minnawi was nominated Governor of Darfur under the patronage of Hemeti.
The people of Dafur were betrayed by the so-called Sudanese ‘democrats’ too. Former Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok abdicated to Burhan, Hemeti and other al-Bashir’s top aides who insisted on kicking out the peacekeepers deployed under the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) before peace could prevail in Darfur. A peace agreement was signed in August 2020 in Juba between the Transitional Government of Sudan – counter-revolutionaries – and SLM/A and JEM. However, as expected, the Juba peace accord remains a dead letter.
Hamdok made al-Bashir’s wildest dream come true. He called on the Security Council to end the presence of UNAMID, ignoring the calls for protection by Darfur’s displaced population, and the warnings of human rights organisations. Accordingly, the UN and the African Union simply threw the people of Darfur to the wolves, by handing the protection of civilians to the perpetrators, to the joint government-rebel forces, including the RSF/Janjaweed.
Hundreds of Zaghawa protestors brought 10 corpses to the gate of UNAMID’s headquarters in Al Fasher on 3 November 2012. These were the victims of a deadly attack targeting their village, Sigili, in North Darfur. Photo by Kirk Kroker, Chief of UNAMID Publications.
The departure of the last peacekeeper in June 2021 left millions of civilians with nowhere to hide. It also turned Darfur into what Eric Reeves calls a “black box” from which little information escapes. Darfur is still bleeding and burning under the radar. Despite continued reports of Radio Dabanga, one of the few reliable sources of information in Darfur, we may never know exactly what’s happening in this remote and abandoned region of Sudan.
Darfur was betrayed by all. Yet, it is the only conflict that prompted two UN whistleblowers to expose the UN inaction and cover-up in Darfur. Mukesh and I gave up our posts, exposed what we knew about the atrocities mainly committed by the security apparatus of the Islamist-military and Arab-dominated regime against non-Arab groups. We took action and left no stone unturned to help protect the people of Darfur. It was certainly not enough to reverse what Mukesh rightly calls the “Tide of Evil”. My experience with Darfur made me reach this conclusion: It takes more than a whistleblower to stop genocide. It takes a whole world.
Aicha Elbasri is the former spokesperson for the African Union and UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur and the winner of the 2015 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling. She resigned and blew the whistle on the UN cover-up of atrocities in Darfur.