The killing of 14 and wounding of 167 others in El Geneina locality in West Darfur in January is attributable to the inability of the authorities to protect the people in the state and the impunity government-backed militiamen enjoy, says the Darfur Bar Association (DBA).
The DBA published a preliminary report on 25 January on the events that took place between 8 and 15 January in the West Darfur capital El Geneina and a number of villages, 8-15 kilometres south of the town.
The Darfur lawyers decided to form a committee to investigate the “underlying causes and subsequent repercussions of the events” on 10 January. In addition, the DBA is providing the necessary legal aid to the victims of the incidents, and has filed “legal cases against the culprits to strip them of the impunity they used to enjoy”.
The inquiry committee reported that on 8 January, an unidentified young herdsman was found dead near Mouli. The sheikh of the village immediately informed the police in El Geneina, and the police started its investigation.
The next morning, a number of herdsmen came to Mouli. They accused the villagers of killing the young herder, and demanded them to pay blood money. The villagers denied any link with the death of the young man, and refused to pay compensation for a crime they did not commit.
In the early morning of 10 January, the village was attacked by the herdsmen who “shot at anyone they saw in front of them”, whipped a number of women and children, and plundered and torched the houses. The herdsmen then attacked the villages of Atia and Bertino, southwest of El Geneina. The investigators also received reports about attacks on 11 other villages.
Three villagers died in the initial assault on the three villages. The residents fled towards El Geneina. Upon arrival, a number of villagers went to the residence of the West Darfur Governor and demanded to meet him.
When the angry villagers were unable to meet the Governor, they headed towards the West Darfur state buildings. Before reaching the West Darfur government secretariat, they were stopped by “a hail of bullets from various types of rifles”. Four people died instantly and a large number were injured.
By 14 January, 14 people were dead and 167 people sustained injuries, the DRA investigation team reports.
The DBA investigation team found that about 14 villages were attacked by the herdsmen. All these villages are inhabited by members of the Masalit tribe and some “small tribal groups that have lived in peaceful coexistence with them for a long time”.
The DBA investigators found evidences that the dead herder is not an Arab, and has no relation with the militant Arab herdsmen. According to their findings, “the herdsmen who attacked Mouli “did not ask about the murderer”, but acted as if the killing itself did not concern them, and demanded the payment of the blood money without proving their relationship to the dead herder found near the village. They did not even disclose his name.”
The DRA says that assaulting herdsmen belong to various Arab tribes with one aim in common: getting the blood money for the dead herder. There is evidence that there was someone who “assumed the position of a government official” on 10 January, and told the villagers gathered at the governor’s residence that he refused to meet them. “That is why the crowds headed for the West Darfur government secretariat, and events unfolded as described earlier.”
The present West Darfur Governor, Khalil Abdallah, adopted a policy of good governance since he was appointed early 2015. “He cracked the corrupt power circles of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the state, and denied them a safe haven for corruption. [..] Soon they started to fight back.
“The corrupt NCP power circles developed tactics to influence the decisions of the Governor, including playing with innocent human lives, to regain power. Evidence suggests that the criminal tactics of these power circles in the state fomented the recent incidents.”
The DBA insists that “there is no evidence of the presence of Darfur rebel fighters in West Darfur”.
The DBA states in its report that the events that took place in the villages south of El Geneina “clearly demonstrate the absence of the role of the authorities to protect the citizens and secure their property in West Darfur state. […] It is evident that the militiamen use the barrels of their guns to dictate their own order, with impunity.”
The Darfur lawyers also deem it “evident that the governor lacks the political, administrative, and security expertise necessary to administer such a border state. The governor actually lacks the knowledge and information on the social, security and political complexities this border state is replete with.
“Moreover, dependence on tribal quotas in the distribution of government positions, without giving due observance to competence and qualifications, are examples of drawbacks that contributed to the slackness of the state government apparatus.”
The report further points to “the distribution of firearms and ammunition to tribes loyal to the authorities, with the presumption of fighting rebel combatants. The result is that these tribes have taken on the role of the regular forces, and commit heinous crimes punishable by law. The policy of arming the tribes proved to be, beyond any doubt, a catalyst for insecurity in the state.
“It has become evident that the West Darfur government’s claim that the state is secure and safe is baseless.”
The DBA states that it is “extremely important to put a lasting end to the government policy of arming tribes to fight alleged enemies on its behalf. All arms must be in the hands of the regular armed forces so that they can be directly accountable for their acts. This needs to be implemented in all parts of Darfur, especially in West Darfur”.
The perpetrators and the government officials in West Darfur must be held accountable for their deeds.
The victims of the events must be compensated for the loss of their properties.
Civilian search parties must be controlled by the authorities.
“Unamid must be empowered and entitled to use force to protect civilians. The regular armed forces must be empowered to play a proactive rather than the current reactive role in the protection of civilians”, the DBA report concludes.