A UN Security Council (UNSC) panel report that links Sudanese militia leader Musa Hilal to vast gold sales in Darfur, has been put on hold by Russia, thereby temporarily blocking the extension of contracts for the experts in the UN Monitoring Panel for Sudan.
As a Permanent Member of the UNSC with the power of veto, Russia seeks to redact key details on the Sudanese gold trade in the United Nations Security Council’s Panel of Experts’ report, and blocked its publication. The report also documents obstructions by the Sudanese government in investigating a deadly attack on Unamid peacekeepers in Darfur.
Musa Hilal, a key leader of the Janjaweed, the large numbers of militiamen on horseback who terrorised civilians in Darfur at the start of the conflict in 2003, earns about $54 million a year in profits from North Darfur’s Jebel ‘Amer. It is one of the largest unregulated gold mines in the conflict region, according to the confidential report obtained by Foreign Policy.
The panel’s report claims that the gold trade has put more than $123 million into the pockets of armed groups throughout Darfur, in addition to Hilal’s earnings. Russia’s demand to edit these paragraphs was met with rejection from the US and Western allies.
“Once these sections are edited, Russia will approve the publication,” a well-informed source in the UN told Radio Dabanga. “But taking out paragraphs nullifies the report’s credibility. Once this is allowed, other member states will want to edit sections to their advantage, too.”
Other findings by the panel have highlighted the failure of UN sanctions to constrain the ongoing fighting by the Sudanese military, allied militias, and opposition groups, that has kept the troubled region mired in a state of chaos and violence.
More attacks on Unamid
Foreign Policy magazine obtained the Panel of Expert’s report, which also documented a 225 percent increase in attacks against Unamid in the last year.
The Sudanese government refused the panel’s request to interview a suspect in an attack in May 2014 on the peacekeeping mission in North Darfur’s Kabkabiya, where militant Arab tribesmen opened fire on four Rwandan peacekeepers, killing one. Sudan’s refusal to make the suspect available “adversely affects the panel’s ability to gather information, including biometrics” needed to complete the investigation into the attack, according to the panel report.
The Sudanese Air Force, meanwhile, continues to deploy attack helicopters and Antonov An-26 bombers in violation of a UN arms embargo, according to the report. The panel also uncovered “clear evidence” that Sudan has deployed cluster munitions in Darfur.
The experts found that in general, violence was continuing in Darfur, reinforcing reports by Human Rights Watch that a government-backed armed group, the Rapid Support Forces, committed atrocities, including widespread sexual assault.
“Russia's hold on the re-appointment of the panel members comes at the expense of their research time in Darfur.”
Russia has also put on hold the appointment of the panel’s five members for the latest mandate. The panel should have taken office on 13 March, as the mandate in Resolution 1591 was extended in February. A well-informed source told Radio Dabanga that “starting that day, the mandate kicked-off; however no expert on Sudan has been appointed so far. It is a distressing fact that there is no active panel now that keeps track of the situation in Darfur."
“Most likely, the pause also affects the quality of future reports from the panel, as it is left with a shorter time frame to travel to Sudan and Darfur, research, and write their report,” the source said.
The Panel of Experts is to provide a midterm update on its work to the UN Sanctions Committee no later than 12 August this year, and to submit a final report to the Security Council by 13 January 2017. “The tight schedule makes investigations on Darfur difficult.”
Resolution 1591 also placed a travel ban and asset freeze on those “impeding the peace process” in Darfur since 2005; individuals including Musa Hilal.
Hilal heads the Revolutionary Awakening Council (RAC), an association of his combatants and native administration leaders in North Darfur. Its military commanders have taken control of the Jebel ‘Amer gold mining area in El Sareif Beni Hussein locality. The RAC established a management board for the area in December 2014, announcing that all visitors have to be permitted by the board.
In the past, Russia, China, as well as some non-permanent Security Council members were opposed to an adjusted version of the resolution by the US and the UK, that would sanction individuals who impose illegal taxes on traditional gold miners and are engaged in illegal gold trafficking. The US Chargé D’Affaires in Khartoum was summoned by the Sudanese Foreign Ministry to explain the added restrictions in the draft resolution.
Gold has been the main source of income in Sudan since it became an oil importer when South Sudan seceded in 2011. Khartoum expects the country’s gold production to reach 100 tonnes this year.
The Janjaweed leader gained notoriety after conflicts in Darfur erupted into a full-scale war in April 2003. Hilal was released from prison and tasked by the Sudanese government with the mobilisation of militiamen, who mainly targeted unarmed civilians in the region and attacked Darfur villages.
After working as the presidential assistant for federal affairs, Hilal returned to North Darfur after 2013, where his fighters launched widespread attacks on government forces and allied militias.
(Source: Foreign Policy)
Sudan Foreign Ministry summons US diplomat over draft resolution (11 February 2016)
Sudan says 2015 gold production reached 54 tons (10 September 2015)
'Darfur possible breeding ground for radical Islam': UN experts (24 January 2015)