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AMSTERDAM - 7 Apr 2014

Sudan Leaks: ‘UN withheld key information on ethnic cleansing in Darfur’

The UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has omitted key information on a suspected ethnic cleansing operation in 2012 from its reports to the UN Security Council, according to leaked internal documents.

The mission has also not provided all the evidence it had on banned offensive air raids and joint attacks on civilians by the Sudanese government and Arab militias known popularly as 'Janjaweed.'

Confidential internal reports published starting today by Radio Dabanga and Foreign Policy, a website linked to the Washington Post company, show that the UN did not seek enforcement of a ban on aerial bombing despite having evidence of repeated violations.

Since the start of 2014 the aerial bombing campaign of villages in Darfur has increased to its highest intensity since 2005 despite the UN Security Council resolution to ban ‘all offensive military flights in Darfur.’

The leaked documents from the UN peacekeeping operation show how the mission deliberately sought to avoid connecting attacks on civilians to the Sudan army. An example was the reported massacre by government militia in Sigili town in November 2012, which was initially reported by Radio Dabanga.

While the Sudan air forces raided the village, an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed started to enter the village, killing and raping local citizens. The outraged local population wrapped the dead in white cloths and brought them to the gates of the UNAMID headquarters in El Fasher.

In March 2013 in Um Ajaja (Um Agaga) a combined bombardment followed by a militia attack killed four adults and a child, according to an internal report. A UNAMID staff member even witnessed this attack by the Sudanese air forces. Local witnesses provided details on the number of casualties to UNAMID police, but these reports and evidence never reached the UN Security Council.

Foreign Policy writes that Herve Ladsous, a French diplomat heading the UN global peacekeeping operations department, “omitted key information collected by UNAMID peacekeepers about a suspected government role in an ethnic cleansing operation by Arab tribesmen in Jebel Amer, a gold mining center in north Darfur, in late 2012.”

The fighting triggered the flight of more than 30,000 civilians, mostly from the tribe targeted in the attacks on the mining center.

Aicha El Basri, the former UNAMID spokesperson who leaked some of the confidential information, has raised concerns about the UN’s unwillingness to admit that the government was deeply involved in mass killings. She released pictures of an attack that was carried out on 5 September 2012 right under the observation of UNAMID and even filmed by the peacekeepers (see: pictures 1-4).

Yet in spite of clear documentation of the incident and knowledge of the identity of the perpetrators, UNAMID stated in its 9 September 2012 report merely that “armed men allegedly fired at local civilians, resulting in additional casualties.”

In fact, pro-government militia killed a civilian and wounded 8 people right in front of the UNAMID watchtower (seen in pictures taken by UNAMID). The incident that took place directly outside the fence of UNAMID was reported by Radio Dabanga, but for its part the mission reported to the UN Secretary General that the casualties were the result of a ‘crossfire’ between different armed groups on the ‘outskirts of the town’ (Report of the UN Secretary-General on UNAMID, 16 October 2012. S/2012/771).  

The report omitted that the deliberate targeting of civilians took place right in front of the UNAMID premises and was monitored and witnessed by the peacekeepers, who did not respond to the incident.

Aicha El Basri, the former UNAMID spokesperson, decided to break silence: “I believed in the UN, I wanted to serve the peacekeeping mission, being transparent.

“But in fact I did not receive any information. They even deliberately excluded me to inform the press about what we saw. Only Radio Dabanga reported the truth, not the UN. I was astonished,” she explained.

“First I thought it was incompetence – for example, I had to find out from Radio Dabanga that UN peacekeepers were kidnapped – but I found out that it was a policy, ordered by the mission’s leadership to withhold information,” she said.

“After they refused to tell the truth, I thought it was time to break the silence. I resigned from my UN position and decided to release all the information the people need to know what is going on,” she added.

By Hildebrand Bijleveld

Interview with Aicha El Basri by Klaas van Dijken.

Coverage to follow:

  • Interview with Aicha Elbasri: ‘Because the world needs to know…’
  • Sudan Leaks: Inside the United Nations’ Darfur debacle
  • Documents on the abduction of IDPs from UNAMID custody

Link to Foreign Policy: ‘They just stood watching’ 

Photo: Men burying a victim of clashes between Al-Rezeigat and Beni Husein nomadic tribes in Jebel Amer area. The clashes erupted in 5 January 2013 and resulted in over 100 deaths  and the displacement of over 100,000 civilians. UNAMID did not report on the suspected role of the government in the killings (Al-Sereif resident/Radio Dabanga)


Picture 2: 5 Sept. 2012 from 7:45 to 11:25 a.m. UNAMID in Kutum (Darfur) monitors how an armed pro government militia is attacking civilians right outside their fence.

Picture 3: 5 September 2012, pro government militia fires on civilians, killing 1, injuring 8 right outside the fence of UNAMID reported by UN as ‘cross fire incident outside town’ (Photo UNAMID)

Picture 4: 5 September 2012, After militia have left the scene, UNAMID peacekeepers come out of their compound to carry the dead body and 8 wounded. (Photo UNAMID)