The Refusal to See Darfur's Agony: Myopic and lazy reporting, political expediency has left millions to suffer and die invisibly

Eric Reeves, 17 May 2014
( all links in text at http://wp.me/p45rOG-1iL )

While the news media in most of the world focus with relentless obsession on some three hundred girls kidnapped in Nigeria by the barbaric Boko Haram, stories of much greater human magnitude continue to unfold without so much as a glancing notice. It is hard not to feel the pain of these girls and their families; but it is dwarfed by the plight of so many girls, in so many places around the world. And yet, as if determined to attune U.S. foreign policy to the most telegenically compelling news stories from around the world, the Obama administration's response has been absurdly out of proportion, given the reality of places like Darfur. There many tens of thousands of girls have been killed during what has become a grim genocide by attrition, now entering its second decade with almost complete invisibility. It is almost certain that tens of thousands of girls, many very young, have been raped—some brutally, even fatally gang-raped. These outrageously cruel assaults often occur in front of families in order to magnify the social stigma attached to rape. Thousands of non-Arab or African girls and women have been abducted to become sexual slaves of Arab militia groups, sometimes for extended periods of time.

Why do these massive atrocities receive no commensurate attention from either the news media or the Obama administration? To be sure, the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum grants no news-reporting access to Darfur, except for an occasional carefully controlled visit to one of the three capital cities of the region. The fact that Radio Dabanga so regularly and fully reports on developments in Darfur must also be discouraging of international news efforts, which at best could glean, even with Arabic speaking journalists, but a few telling facts from interviews in the limited time that Khartoum might allow them. Moreover, all signs are that the regime is cracking down yet harder on news media, both domestic and international. Without greater resourcefulness by journalists, Darfur will move even further into eclipse.

This, however, is no excuse for the Obama administration, which must be fully aware of what is occurring—if only because so reliably and consistently reported by Radio Dabanga. Also, humanitarian aid organizations and their staff can be confidentially de-briefed on returning from Darfur; satellite imagery can be readily produced; communication with various leaders and figures of importance in Darfuri civil society is also possible (including those in the diaspora). But the U.S. seems determined to ignore Darfur. Indeed, it was well over three years ago that the Obama administration explicitly "de-coupled" Darfur from the key issue of counter-terrorism cooperation between Khartoum and Washington (the word "de-coupled" was used by a "senior administration official," unnamed in the State Department transcript). But if nominally bearing only on counter-terrorism cooperation, the "de-coupling" of Darfur has in fact become complete, and the signs of this are everywhere in the administration of a president who did not hesitate to make bold use of the Darfur issue in 2008, deploying the strongest possible rhetoric in demonstrating his "Darfur credentials" to voters.

This suggests why senior officials of the Obama administration have waxed so indignant about the Boko Haram kidnappings, and "declared to Congress that freeing the schoolgirls abducted by the radical Islamist group last month has become one of the Obama administration's top priorities" (Associated Press [Washington], May 15, 2014). This is a shameful pandering, and badly skews real priorities. Republicans have behaved in a manner just as appalling and self-serving, trying to politicize the issue by asking why then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not declare Boko Haram a terrorist organization in 2012. The narrowness of vision, the parochialism, the constant testing for the most visceral issue on the minds of voters—all this grotesquely distorts public understanding of the problems that really deserve to be "top priorities."

Why isn't the terrible and much greater plight of hundreds of thousands of girls in Darfur a "top priority" for the Obama administration? The answer all too clearly is that the Darfur crisis is challenging and would require commitment of substantial resources; international consensus is thin; and responding meaningfully would endanger the counter-terrorism cooperation that defines U.S. Sudan policy in the Obama administration. There is, finally, no evidence that this administration is committed to ending the suffering, insecurity, and human destruction endured by millions of Darfuris.

As I've argued previously, the case of Syria has also provided occasion for hypocrisy on the part of the Obama administration. The administration response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, including hundreds of children, has created an expedient moral framework out ultimately in service of political goals. The implicit claim has been made repeatedly, most notably by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, that children’s deaths from chemical weapons are more "heinous" or "morally obscene” than all others. I believe this to be a dismayingly invidious comparison. The claim that a child who dies from a chemical attack dies a more horrible death than the child in Darfur who dies in agony—over many hours, having been eviscerated by the shrapnel exploding out a bomb dropped from a high-flying, grossly inaccurate Antonov cargo plane—is perversely expedient.

In fact, the Obama administration has a dismally weak record of condemning the many hundreds of aerial attacks on civilians in Darfur, as well as in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Certainly nothing that is said amounts to more than boilerplate, a fact not lost on the Khartoum regime. It's hardly surprising that U.S. and international condemnation of such war crimes has been not only tepid but utterly inconsequential. Khartoum bombs civilians wherever and whenever it wishes, not deterred in the slightest by international statements. Indeed, every aerial attack in Darfur—whether it be of military or civilian targets—is a direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005). And although the UN/African Union "hybrid" peacekeeping force (UNAMID) is scandalous in its failures to report such attacks, a number of the UN Panels of Experts on Darfur—created to monitor compliance with the arms embargo and a ban on all military flights in Darfur—have reported in detailed fashion on numerous egregious violations of all terms of Resolution 1591. There have been no consequences, and Khartoum's violations continue apace.

In effect, the international community—led by the U.S., the UN, the EU, and the African Union—has conceded Khartoum's "victory" in Darfur. There has been no concerted effort to control the violence that has now spiraled out of control, imperiling all remaining humanitarian capacity. The more than 2 million internally displaced persons are more vulnerable than ever—from lack of food, water, and medicine, but also from attacks by the ever more brazen reincarnation of the Janjaweed known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Rape of girls and women, by the thousands, continues with complete impunity. Displaced persons camps are attacked more frequently and more violently. Land appropriated from African farmers by Arab pastoralists has permanently changed the demographics of Darfur, precisely the genocidal ambition announced in August 2004 by Musa Hilal, the most infamous of the Janjaweed leaders earlier in the conflict and still a cruel and potent force in the region:

The ultimate objective in Darfur is spelled out in an August 2004 directive from [Janjaweed paramount leader Musa] Hilal’s headquarters: "change the demography" of Darfur and "empty it of African tribes." Confirming the control of [Khartoum's] Military Intelligence over the Darfur file, the directive is addressed to no fewer than three intelligence services—the Intelligence and Security Department, Military Intelligence and National Security, and the ultra-secret "Constructive Security," or Amn al Ijabi. (Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War, Zed Books, 2005)

Accepting that this ambition continues to animate Khartoum's actions in Darfur has proved too awkward for the Obama administration, despite the success of the strategy announced a decade ago. For of course the overwhelming number of displaced persons are African; those who have lost their lands and livelihoods are overwhelmingly African; and the some 500,000 people who have died from violence and its consequences in Darfur and eastern Chad (including violent displacement) are overwhelmingly African. The people bombed by Khartoum are overwhelmingly African; the girls and women raped, often while being forced to hear hateful racial epithets, are overwhelmingly African. The fact that Arab tribal groups have also begun to fight one another in much more serious fashion changes none of this.

And yet it is clear that the international community has essentially conceded victory to Khartoum's génocidaires. Stopping the regime's efforts, which now take a wide range of forms, including denial of humanitarian access to critically needy civilians, would require real effort. Building consensus among those with the power to threaten Khartoum economically is challenging. And the UN/AU force on the ground, while a terrible failure, at least provides the fig-leaf of protection in the region, however ineffective UNAMID is in preventing or reporting violence against civilians. When these challenges are coupled with the lack of news reporting and the absence of any credible human rights reporting presence, even public opinion—so strong in the years leading up to Obama's election as president—is no longer a problem. Few still care about Darfur and even fewer have any real sense of what is happening.

In response to this last challenge I can do no more than organize the recent dispatches from Radio Dabanga, by date and the nature of events. But let us be clear that there is not a total absence of information. And the UN, which has performed erratically in Darfur over the years, has issued a statement through UNICEF that should put the kidnapped girls of Nigeria in at least statistical perspective:

The UN children’s rights and relief organisation, UNICEF, has warned that an entire generation in Darfur may be lost as a result of more than ten years of violence in the region."Life in the camps might produce a new generation without ambition," the UNICEF Representative in Sudan, Geert Cappelaere, said in a press statement issued on Saturday. In particular as about 60 percent of the displaced in Darfur are minors."He warned that the children growing up in the Darfur camps for the displaced may not be able to return to a normal life. Many are traumatised after having witnessed attacks against their families or being themselves subjected to violence, abduction, and other assaults.In addition, the malnutrition figures are very high. Cappelaere pointed to North Darfur which is listed first of the Darfur states suffering from an acute food crisis. "More than 80,000 children in North Darfur are severely malnourished. South Darfur State comes second in the list.""The world should not turn its back to the tragedy of the children in Darfur," the UNICEF official urged. (Radio Dabanga, May 12, 2014) ("Severe Acute Malnutrition" [SAM] is typically fatal in children under five if untreated with therapeutic feeding—ER)

Search engines suggest that only Radio Dabanga and Thomson Reuters Foundation (London) reported on this extraordinary announcement by UNICEF. A similar search for "Nigerian girls" + "Boko Haram" yields a figure measured in the millions.

Perhaps this is a moment in which news organizations might feel compelled to reflect on their journalistic choices. They may continue to report as they have, driven by what seem the "sexiest," most audience-drawing, most accessible stories of human tragedy. Or some may see that the obsession with Malaysian Flight 370 and the Boko Haram kidnappings permits consumers with a prurient love of spectacle to drive news content, indeed to define "news." Perhaps, just perhaps this may be a catalyst for re-committing to reporting news that is most consequential, in the broadest terms, for well-informed citizens of the world. A present, however, such commitment is nowhere in sight, so for Darfur at least we must rely on Radio Dabanga.

FROM DISPATCHES OF THE PAST FEW WEEKS (with links)

• Rape of women and girls, sexual violence

Abu Tira rape seven, destroy water tank in North Darfur’s Zamzam camp

ZAMZAM CAMP (15 May 2014) - Militiamen and troops of the paramilitary Central Reserve Forces (known as Abu Tira) gang raped seven women of the Zamzam camp for the displaced in El Fasher locality, North... FULL STORY

Rapes in Shangil Tobaya and Tawila, North Darfur

SHANGIL TOBAYA / TAWILA (11 May 2014) - Militiamen raped three women of the Shadad camp for the displaced in Shangil Tobaya, 60km south of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, this morning (Sunday). On Friday... FULL STORY

Woman, children tied to tree at North Darfur market

BIRKAT SEIRA (11 May 2014) - Militiamen captured a woman and two of her children in Birket Seira town in North Darfur’s Saraf Umra locality on Saturday evening. A witness at the central market of Birkat Seira... FULL STORY

Women gang-raped, man murdered in Sani Deleiba, South Darfur

BIELEL (5 May 2014) - Uniformed gunmen raped two women of El Salam camp for the displaced in Bielel locality, South Darfur, on Saturday and Sunday. A resident of El Salam camp resident was shot dead on... FULL STORY

Three young women gang-raped in South Darfur

NYALA LOCALITY (4 May 2014) - Elements of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) gang raped three young women of the Kalma camp on Thursday. Yagoub Mohamed Abdallah, the coordinator of the South Darfur... FULL STORY

South Darfur’s Kalma camp registers 19 rape cases within 12 days

KALMA CAMP (1 May 2014) - The Kalma camp for the displaced in Nyala locality, South Darfur, has witnessed 19 rape cases within a period of 12 days. Eight men were assaulted. Saleh Eisa, the secretary-... FULL STORY

Woman raped in North Darfur; commission to investigate murder of two women

TAWILA / KHARTOUM (27 Apr 2014) - Militiamen raped a young woman from the Rwanda camp for the displaced in Tawila locality, North Darfur, on Saturday. “Two government-backed militiamen assaulted a young woman (16... FULL STORY

Gunmen kill Darfur displaced women resisting rape

NYALA/GARSILA (25 Apr 2014) - The residents of El Salam camp, south of Nyala in South Darfur, gathered for a mass demonstration against the killing of a displaced woman by pro-government militiamen on Friday.... FULL STORY

Five women raped in South Darfur wadi

KALMA CAMP (22 Apr 2014) - Five displaced women from Kalma camp in South Darfur were seized and raped by government-backed militiamen in North Darfur on Tuesday. Jaqoub Mohammed Abdula, coordinator of Kalma... FULL STORY

Militiamen attack, abduct woman in Kutum, North Darfur

KUTUM (18 Apr 2014) - Elements of a pro-government militia have abducted a woman in Disa in Kutum locality, North Darfur, on Thursday. The mother of a four months old baby is called Maida Yousif... FULL STORY

• Aerial attacks on civilians:

Sudan aircraft bombs health center in Darfur's Jebel Marra

ROKORO (16 May.) - The Sudanese Air Force destroyed a health center in Kaguro, northwest of Fanga, in East Jebel Marra on Friday afternoon. A resident told Radio Dabanga that the Antonov aircraft... FULL STORY

Three children killed in missile attack in Darfur's Nierteti

NIERTETI (16 May 2014) - Three children were killed south of Golo town in Central Darfur state in a missile attack by government forces on Wednesday. One of the relatives of the dead child herders told... FULL STORY

Sudan Air Force bombs market in Darfur’s East Jebel Marra

EAST JEBEL MARRA (15 May 2014) - Aerial bombardments in East Jebel Marra on Wednesday caused the death of two men and a woman, and the injury of others. Livestock died, and a number of houses, and shops caught... FULL STORY

Three dead, two injured as missiles hit Tabit, North Darfur

TABIT (28 Apr 2014) -Three sisters were burned to death, and two others sustained injuries when the Sudan Armed Forces… FULL STORY

Air raids destroy only water source of Orschi, North Darfur

ORSCHI (27 Apr 2014) - Aerial bombardments on the area of Khazan Orschi, Um Baru locality in North Darfur on Saturday, destroyed the Orschi water reservoir, the only source of water in the region, and a... FULL STORY

Air raids on Darfur's Jebel Marra kill woman, injure son

JEBEL MARRA (29 Apr 2014) - A woman was killed and her son (8) seriously injured when the Sudanese Air Force bombarded the area west of Jebel Marra on Tuesday morning. “An Antonov fighter jet dropped three... FULL STORY

One of three Darfur child bomb victims dies, two cling to life

ANKA (20 Apr 2014) - The nine-year-old Khaled Isa Mohamed has died of severe head wounds he received last Sunday when a bomb he and two friends found at a roadside in North Darfur detonated. As... FULL STORY

• Humanitarian indicators, conditions in displaced persons camps and urban areas (including security conditions):

Two children starve to death in North Darfur's Shangil Tobaya

SHANGIL TOBAYA (8 May 2014) - Haroun Yahya Abakar (4) and Dar Elnaeem Omar Saleh (3) died of starvation in the area of Shangil Tobaya on Wednesday. Their families belong to the more than 3,000 newly displaced... FULL STORY

Food rations stopped in South Darfur camps without knowledge WFP

KUBUM (7 May 2014) - The displaced in the Kubum and Shattai camps in South Darfur have not received food rations since nine months, without the knowledge of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). A... FULL STORY

Acute drinking water crisis in West Darfur’s Murnei camp

MURNEI (15 May 2014) - The 76 water pumps at the Murnei camp for the displaced in Kereinik locality, West Darfur, have been idle for three months. “The Murnei camp population, consisting of 127,000... FULL STORY

Abu Tira rape seven, destroy water tank in North Darfur’s Zamzam camp

ZAMZAM CAMP (15 May 2014) - Militiamen and troops of the paramilitary Central Reserve Forces (known as Abu Tira) gang raped seven women of the Zamzam camp for the displaced in El Fasher locality, North... FULL STORY

Two children killed, three maimed by ammunition in South Darfur

NYALA (13 May 2014) - Two children were killed and three others seriously injured in South Darfur’s capital of Nyala on Monday, when the ammunition they had found detonated. “Three children of Dagash... FULL STORY

Janjaweed beat, rob, abduct displaced in South Darfur

KALMA CAMP (13 May 2014) - Militiamen assaulted residents of the Kalma camp for the displaced in South Darfur on Monday. They stole their horses and donkeys, beat a man, and abducted another. On Sunday... FULL STORY

"Militiamen around Otash camp [should] be expelled": South Darfur displaced

OTASH CAMP (15 May 2014) - The residents of the Otash camp for the displaced in Nyala locality, South Darfur, are complaining about the ongoing insecurity in the area. “Government-backed Janjaweed continue... FULL STORY

151 displaced families reach Kassab camp, North Darfur

KASSAB CAMP (11 May 2014) - 151 newly displaced families have arrived at Kassab camp in North Darfur’s Kutum locality. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, Sheikh Taher Ismail, the head of Kassab camp in Kutum... FULL STORY

"Attacks in North Darfur’s El Fasher displaced 27,751": MP

KHARTOUM (11 May 2014) - The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces’ (RSF) widespread attacks on rural areas in El Fasher locality, North Darfur, last month, caused the displacement of 27,751 people... FULL STORY

Gunmen fire over South Darfur camp, UNAMID policemen flee

KALMA CAMP (8 May 2014) - On Wednesday, militiamen stormed Kalma camp for the displaced in Nyala locality, South Darfur. They said they were searching for their stolen sheep. Speaking to Radio Dabanga,... FULL STORY

Large numbers of militiamen enter Kabkabiya, North Darfur; policeman shot

KABKABIYA (7 May 2014) - Large numbers of militia troops are entering Kabkabiya town in North Darfur since Friday. On Monday evening, a policeman was killed by bullets. “Large numbers... FULL STORY

Acute food shortage, people raid ant hills in East Darfur

SHEIRIA LOCALITY (7 May 2014) - An acute shortage of staple food in Sheiria locality, East Darfur, is forcing people to dig into ant hills in search of stored sorghum grains. The director of the Department of... FULL STORY

Cataloging of the bulk of Radio Dabanga dispatches continues at http://wp.me/p45rOG-1iK