Useful Background To Crisis In Khartoum, Sudan.

"He is reported to be the commander of the militias known as the “border intelligence brigade” in Misteriya and Musa Hilal is the second in command.16Some of the forces in Misteriya are known as Al Motaharik Al Khafif, Al Saria, Al Morea or the Mobile, Light, Quick and Horrible forces".

This analytical report is an old publication of Human Rights that enlightens the path to the current crisis in Khartoum, Sudan (Ed, Gurtong).

Entrenching Impunity
Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur

[In Darfur] there are scattered tribes battling over meager resources. There is no organization, except for the rebels…. [The militias] have no hierarchy. The leadership of the tribe can be disputed and people are acting on their own at times, without the knowledge of the tribe.

--Dr. Abdul-Moniem Osman Mohammed Taha, head of the Sudan Human Rights Advisory Council7
Despite persistent Sudanese government characterization of the Darfur conflict as a “tribal conflict,” and repeated denials of state coordination of abusive militia groups, there is irrefutable evidence of a Sudanese government policy of systematic support for coordination of and impunity from prosecution granted to the “Janjaweed militias,” a policy that continues to this day.

The logic behind this policy is clear. Distrusting the armed forces, many of who were originally from Darfur, the Sudanese government recruited the “Janjaweed” militias as the main ground forces for the government’s counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur.8 Although the government issued a general call to arms, recruitment was selective and based on ethnicity. Certain ethnic groups with historical grievances against those ethnic groups constituting the rebel movements or with strong interests in gaining access to land and other resources became the mainstay of the government’s militia force.9

To successfully recruit these groups, the Sudanese government provided incentives in the form of payment and access to loot, as well as promises of access to land and administrative power. Sudanese officials also identified key tribal leaders from the northern Riziegat to coordinate the recruitment: Sheikh Musa Hilal, a leader of the Um Jalul clan of the Mahamid, became the lynchpin for recruitment of militias in northern Darfur. Since June 2003, he has become emblematic of the role of the militia forces in the attacks on civilians and the impunity conferred upon them by the Sudanese government.

A. Musa Hilal: Lynchpin of Militia Recruitment
The worst atrocities are committed by the Um Jalul of Musa Hilal because historically they have tensions with the Fur and Zaghawa. They’re all camel herders, not cattle herders, and they have no respect for farmers, they have a superiority complex and they need their camels. When the war started, the Sudanese government asked Musa Hilal to be the leader of the Janjaweed.

--Neutral Arab nomadic leader from West Darfur10
Sheikh Musa Hilal has become internationally synonymous with the Janjaweed, the government-backed militias who have earned notoriety for their brutal attacks in Darfur over the past few years.11His role in the crimes committed in Darfur and his current freedom within Sudan—flying in Sudanese military transport between his homes and wives in Khartoum and his base in Misteriya, North Darfur—illustrate the broader role and impunity of the militias throughout Darfur.

The Sudanese government has repeatedly stated that it cannot pursue individuals responsible for crimes in Darfur if the victims and witnesses are unable or unwilling to name them. Dr. Abdul Moniem Osman Taha, head of the government’s Advisory Council on Human Rights (and brother to Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha) told Human Rights Watch in October 2004, that “Even Pronk [Jan Pronk, Head of the U.N. Mission in Sudan] tells us it’s important to try the leaders. If the name of the leaders is mentioned by defendants or witnesses, we could do that. Until now, no one mentioned any names.”12 This statement came months after six alleged militia leaders, including Musa Hilal, were named by the U.S. State Department in July 2004.13 Scores of victims, witnesses of attacks, and even members of the Sudanese armed forces have named Hilal as the top commander for Janjaweed militias in North Darfur and elsewhere in Darfur. His Um Jalul tribesmen have played a prominent role among the attackers responsible for many atrocities across Darfur.14 As of December 2005, Musa Hilal remains at liberty, free from any investigation or prosecution for his role in numerous attacks in Darfur.

Since 2003, Hilal has operated from his base in Misteriya, southwest of Kebkabiya in North Darfur, under the direction of the Sudanese army; his immediate superior is a Sudanese army officer named Lt. Col. Abdul Wahid Said Ali Said. Misteriya is now one of the largest militia training bases in the region, although initially it was merely a satellite settlement of the nomadic Um Jalul. Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Wahid functions as one of the main liaisons between the Janjaweed militias recruited and trained in Misteriya and the Sudanese army.15 He is reported to be the commander of the militias known as the “border intelligence brigade” in Misteriya and Musa Hilal is the second in command.16Some of the forces in Misteriya are known as Al Motaharik Al Khafif, Al Saria, Al Morea or the Mobile, Light, Quick and Horrible forces.17 According to a former legal advisor to the brigade, Lt Col Abdul Wahid’s orders for the brigade come directly from the Sudanese army headquarters in Fashir.18

In a Human Rights Watch interview with Musa Hilal, he denied that he commanded any “military group.” He stated that his men are always under the command of the military and that he was merely a “coordinator.” Hilal told Human Rights Watch, “The training, the uniforms, the guns, they are the responsibility of the government.” Hilal said that he and his men were involved in what he called “joint patrols” in the area from Zalingei to Abata to Kutum (an area that extends from southwest of Jebel Marra north around Jebel Marra and includes much of central North Darfur), and that the Sudanese government had provided them with weapons for these patrols.19The responsible army officials confirm that all of Hilal’s operations have been under the control of the army.20

Numerous community leaders from different parts of Darfur, interviewed independently by Human Rights Watch, said that Musa Hilal held a leadership role in the Tajamu al Arabi or Arab Gathering (or Coalition or Alliance) since the 1990s. He had close ties to Maj. Gen. Abdallah Safi el Nour, an Ireqat from Darfur and former air force pilot, who was the governor of North Darfur from 2000 to January 2002, and a federal minister in Khartoum in 2003-2004.21 During Safi el Nour’s tenure as governor of North Darfur, tribal tensions increased dramatically due to perceptions that the Sudanese government was aligning itself with and arming the Arab militias.22 “Wali Safi al Nour, an army officer, is the one who gave Arabs the authority to devastate the farms,” a group of Fur and Tunjur community leaders from North Darfur told Human Rights Watch.23

The governor who followed Safi el Nour in North Darfur in 2002, Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Suleiman Hassan, an ethnic Berti from North Darfur and ruling party member, was concerned about the increasing tensions in Darfur. It was during Governor Ibrahim Suleiman’s tenure as chair of the North Darfur state security committee that Hilal was detained and sent to prison in Port Sudan.24 At the time, local community leaders named Hilal in many complaints of clashes and incitement, and he was said to have been levying excessive fines and imposing corporal punishment on members of his own tribe.

On account of the complaints of his tribes people, he was removed as nazir or tribal leader by Ibrahim Suleiman and another person was put in his place.25 During Hilal’s time in detention, attacks by Arab militias on other ethnic groups decreased. A Zaghawa tribal leader told Human Rights Watch, “While Musa Hilal was away from Darfur, the Janjaweed had fewer activities. They were still attacking, but not that much. When he returned, the burning of houses and villages started.”26

Hilal was released from detention after the SLA’s April 24, 2003 attack on Fashir; a few days after this attack, Governor Ibrahim Suleiman was removed from his post by President El Bashir. Upon returning to Darfur in June 2003, Hilal based himself in the Kebkabiya area and organized a meeting of the leaders of all the local Arab tribesmen, including the Awlad Rashid, Ireqat and Um Jalul.27

According to a person present at the Kebkabiya meeting, Musa Hilal ordered tribesmen to attack and burn non-Arab villages and loot livestock. He reportedly said, “The government is with us, so you have no accusations to fear.”28 Some of the tribes refused; even some of his own Um Jalul tribesmen apparently refused to obey the orders. A community leader from Kebkabiya who knew Hilal in previous years said, “Musa Hilal compelled every Arab tribe member to participate, even those who refused. He acts as king of the Arabs, the guide of all. How does he force them to fight? He beats those who refuse and takes their animals, killing some of them.”29

The Kebkabiya meetings were a turning point in the government’s involvement with Musa Hilal—and with the Janajweed militias. “Guns flowed to them after that” said one local community leader.30
B. Musa Hilal’s Role in the Attacks in North Darfur

By July 2003, Musa Hilal’s militia base in Misteriya was established. Misteriya was not an army base—that was located in Kebkabiya. With the first Janjaweed forces mobilized, the Sudanese government launched a major ground offensive in North Darfur in mid-2003. A former soldier in the army who participated in these attacks noted the close coordination between Musa Hilal, other tribal militia leaders and the military prior to and during the attacks:

In Kebkabiya, at the Sudanese army camp, there were Janjaweed. It was actually a small group of thirteen leaders under the command of “Abu Ashreen.”31 The Janjaweed troops used to stay in the vicinity of Kebkabiya, in Misteriya. Misteriya is a training camp for Janjaweed. Musa Hilal came more than twenty times to our camp in Kebkabiya while I was there. I saw him myself, with my own eyes, more than ten times. He always came with two cars, one for him and one for his guards. He had meetings with officers. Three or four days after each of his visits, we were attacking a place.

I don’t know how they were organizing and coordinating the troops, by phone or not, but on the day of an attack, hundreds of Janjaweed were coming to our camp in Kebkabiya, on horses and camels. We were asked to prepare our stuff too, to get ready and at some point we were ordered to get into our vehicles. We were never told that we were about to attack a village. We were always told that there were groups of Zaghawa or Fur militiamen operating where we were going and that we had to “finish them.” That is the expression that was used.32

Villages around Kebkabiya were among the first to be attacked by Musa Hilal’s men and government troops in the government’s first major campaign in July 2003. The same former soldier participated in the attacks. He said:

We were asked to clear the way and the area [the Eid en Nabak area east of Kebkabiya] for the Janjaweed to attack, burn, and loot the village. It was on July 5, 2003. That day, too, Antonovs came during the attack and dropped three bombs on the mountains near the village. People were running away. I saw seven villagers being killed. I saw three old guys captured by the Janjaweed and handed over to the commander of our army. They were later taken to Kebkabiya and put in jail. Some soldiers burned huts and buildings in the village along with the Janjaweed. Three hundred fifty soldiers participated in this attack. Only five of us refused to shoot or shot in the air. Three of the five were later arrested, court-martialed and sentenced to three years in jail. In Eid En Nabak that day, there were no SLA, only civilians.33

After destroying their villages and displacing the population around Kebkabiya, the forces moved north, towards the Zaghawa areas that were home to the SLA. In July and August 2003, large swathes of North Darfur, including villages in the Abu Gamra area between Kebkabiya and Karnoi and the Beré area north of Kutum, were attacked and burned in what was to be the start of a two-year campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed militia.

It is unclear whether Musa Hilal himself led the forces in the Abu Gamra attacks, but several local leaders interviewed independently, some of whom knew him personally, named him as one of the overall leaders of the militia forces in the area, and he is known to have operated in the area in later attacks. Sudanese forces attacked the town of Abu Gamra and its fifteen surrounding villages repeatedly during 2003-2004.

Human Rights Watch documented four major attacks on the area, and a number of smaller attacks. These major attacks took place in July-August 2003, December 2003 and January 2004, February-March 2004, and July-August 2004. More than three hundred people were killed in the attacks between May 2003 and August 2004.34 Witnesses noted that each large attack involved Antonov aircraft, helicopters, Janjaweed militias on horses and camels, and the Sudanese military in vehicles.

Some civilians living in Dar Zaghawa learned how to predict the bombing attacks and take refuge in caves or hand-dug shelters before the aircraft arrived. They listened to radio exchanges between the pilots on simple FM radios which picked up the radio frequencies used by the planes:
We heard the names of the [government army] pilots and conversations.… That is how we know some of the pilots. One was Egyptian, because of the way he spoke in clear Egyptian Arabic. One officer is Gadal in the army, because we heard him on the radio organizing the attacks. They called him Janabo Gadal or Officer Gadal. Also, Afaf Segel, who is a woman pilot from Sudan. She said things like “Nas Kornoi na dikim fatuur” which means “I am going to give breakfast to the peasant from Karnoi,” before Karnoi was bombed. Captain Khalid was another pilot. In their conversations on the radio they called us “Nuba, abid,” and said things like, “I am going to give those slaves a lesson they will not forget.”35

On February 9, 2004, after a massive government offensive forced almost one million people from their homes, including one hundred thousand Sudanese citizens into neighboring Chad, President El Bashir announced that the government had won the war.36 The next day the Sudanese government agreed, in theory, to allow international organizations to have access to Darfur.37 In order to rebut the government announcement of its defeat, the SLA moved its forces to West and South Darfur to open a new front.

The Sudanese government and Janjaweed militias moved into the areas of North Darfur that the SLA had partially vacated. According to government memoranda obtained by Human Rights Watch, this movement of government and Janjaweed forces into North Darfur appears to have been ordered to occupy the area and prevent an SLA return.38

Another government document from the same period specifically names Musa Hilal, and orders all security units to “allow the activities of the mujaheedin and the volunteers under the command of Sheikh Musa Hilal to proceed.…”39 Setting up several new Janjaweed militia camps in North Darfur was done to deter return of the rebel movements and also of civilians expelled from their homes by Janjaweed and government forces’ attacks.

Musa Hilal was seen at various attacks in North Darfur in February and March 2004; he and his forces were apparently responsible for a large part of North Darfur. He himself was frequently transported by Sudanese government helicopters. Several witnesses identified him as a commander of the forces who attacked Tawila on February 27, 2004, and noted that he was brought there by helicopter. A man from Kebkabiya who overheard one of Hilal’s conversations prior to the Tawila attack said, “I heard them on Thurayas [satellite phone] with someone in Khartoum, to arrange the point where the plane should land to bring the required ammunition.”40

Another witness placed Musa Hilal at the scene of crimes in the Abu Leha area in March 2004.41 Refugee women from villages near Furawiya, in the far north of North Darfur, named Hilal as leader of the forces attacking their village, Omda Dabo, in early 2004.42 A forty-two-year-old Zaghawa man who was arrested and then tortured by Janjaweed militia members after a joint army-Janjaweed attack on Abu Leha in March 2004, told Human Rights Watch:
They hung me with hooks piercing my chest. They also burned me. I was arrested with thirty other men. They tied us together and interrogated us about animals. We said we did not know so they called us liars and shot and slaughtered some of [the men] in front of my eyes.… The biggest boss of the Janjaweed is Musa Hilal. I saw him before the events, but also when I was tortured. He came by helicopter with soldiers. He gives orders to both soldiers and Janjaweed.43

When Hilal was interviewed by Human Rights Watch in September 2004, he deferred responsibility for the attacks to the Sudanese armed forces, denying that he had any official military rank or responsibility beyond “mobilization” or recruitment of militias. He said, “I have not led military groups, I only asked our people to join. I am only a coordinator for the PDF, training, uniforms, guns are the responsibility of the military people.”44

C. Government-Militia Coordination
The pattern of joint army-militia attacks supported by intensive aerial bombardment demonstrated in North Darfur became standard as the conflict spread to other areas of Darfur. In many cases, villages were first heavily bombed, then the Janjaweed and army ground forces moved in, again with aerial support, to ensure the “cleaning up” of any remaining civilian presence.

In contrast to the Sudanese government’s depictions of the militia activity in Darfur as unorganized and lacking hierarchy, many of the tribal militias used in the government’s campaign were highly structured. Many of the nomadic fighters were led by the agid or war leader. Agids and tribal leaders were in regular contact with military officials or civilian administrators at the local level, either provincial commissioners or state governors. In South Darfur, for example, the governor reportedly met with tribal leaders and agids on an almost daily or weekly basis. Witnesses and observers from different ethnic groups told Human Rights Watch that the agid traditionally plays an important role in mobilizing and leading the fighters in battle, often carrying a red flag.45 The agid and tribal leaders were also used for distribution of arms, and as liaisons between the militiamen and the government. A well-informed observer from a neutral Arab tribe told Human Rights Watch:
Every Arab tribe has an agid. The government contacted the agid and other leaders…. They get salaries and ammunition from the PDF office near the market. The agid are the real power to mobilize the Arabs. The hakama [women singers] are one of the dangerous tools…but the word is with the agid, he can mobilize the men.46

As described by an A.U. monitor who investigated numerous attacks in Darfur and spoke to militia leaders, the militia attacks were highly organized, with “echelons” of militia attacking in waves. Militia members on horses were often the first to attack, because of their speed and the fact that they presented a smaller target. Militiamen on camels followed in a second echelon.47

Joint government-militia offensives were well-coordinated. In North Darfur, for instance, Musa Hilal and other militia leaders met, discussed and planned offensives together with the Sudanese military prior to implementing the offensives. In the South Darfur “road clearing” offensive of December 2004 (see Section VI below), the Sudanese armed forces coordinated with the militias not only in carrying out the attacks but in the systematic sealing off of villages and the methodical looting and destruction that followed.

The looting was not random; it was clearly organized and premeditated. In many cases, it appears to have been organized by the military commander and conducted in a methodical way. The troops and Janjaweed used in attacks south of and around Kutum were told that they could keep their looted goods if they “fight well.”48 Prior to attacking Anka, a town northeast of Kutum, the army commander ordered the militia men to enter the village first and burn everything, after taking “what you like.” The army followed and “collected chairs and beds.” Numerous witnesses, in North Darfur and other states, described seeing army troops and Janjaweed militiamen collecting furniture, other goods and livestock, and loading the items into trucks and on camels.49

A twenty-five-year-old former government soldier described the looting policy to Human Rights Watch, “You keep what you have taken. It applies to the officers too. One exception: the animals. The animals are given to Janjaweed nomads who keep them. Then they are sold.”50 After the government soldiers and Janjaweed militia conducted fighting and looting operations, large army trucks would transport the looted livestock back to the Janjaweed camp, according to this former government soldier who was stationed in Kutum, North Darfur. He told Human Rights Watch that after destroying villages around Enciro, North Darfur, in June 2003, the Sudanese government commander ordered the militia to take the looted cattle and cows to Damrat Sheikh Abdel Bagi, a Janjaweed camp located less than twenty kilometers northeast of Kutum, and from there some of the livestock were distributed onward in trucks: one interviewee told us, “Big lorries from Omdurman arrived.… They loaded up with sheep from the base and took them away. Three times these lorries came… and transported camels and cows.”51

Several witnesses of attacks who hid in the vicinity also noted that in some cases, the army left after any initial fighting between the attackers and the SLA or self-defense groups was over, and the militia men were left to loot, plunder and then destroy the villages alone. In one such attack in South Darfur described to Human Rights Watch, the militia leaders “wore a red cloth over the left shoulder, no flag. Afterwards they showed a white flag and the fighting stopped.… After they showed the white flag and the army vehicles had left, the Janjaweed looted.”52



RSS comment feed
There are currently no comments, be the first to post one.
Add Comment

Name (required)

Email (required)


Enter the code shown above in the box below
Designed and built by Brand X