Sudan defends promotion of Janjaweed war criminal

The US State Department has condemned the Sudanese government for appointing purported Janjaweed commander Musa Hilal as a special advisor to President Omar al-Bashir. Said spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos: “We deplore the government of Sudan’s decision to name him to a senior position. He is under both US and UN sanctions for the role he played in Darfur.” In April 2006, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Hilal and three other Sudanese nationals accused of war crimes in Darfur, freezing their financial assets. On a visit to Turkey, Bashir defended Hilal’s appointment: “Musa Hilal is an influential person in Darfur. Through his leadership, he has contributed greatly to security and stability in the region. We believe the accusations against him are baseless.” (AFP, Jan. 22)

Bron to be hereditary leader of Arab Mahameed clan in Darfur, Hilal inherited a land empire in the Amu region which his father had acquired from local Black African farmers through forgery and bribing local officials. Hilal was arrested in 1997 for killing 17 Black African tribesmen in the ongoing battle for control of lands, but was not convicted. However, he was convicted in 1998 for leading an armed robbery of the Central Bank of Nyala in which one police officer was killed. With the outbreak of the Darfur rebellion in 2003, Hilal was released from prison to help lead the Arab militias. Sudan’s First Vice President Ali Osman Taha and armed forces chief Abdullah Safi al-Nur are said to have secured his release. (Sudan Tribune, Jan. 22)

Although Hilal denies being a leader of the Janjaweed, Human Rights Watch interviewed several witnesses to militia rallies at Kebkabiya in North Darfur where he presided and boasted of his “victories” against rebels forces. Other witnesses related how they were evicted from lands at nearby Merguba, told that the lands were now the property of Hilal. Witnesses said Hilal’s local base was Misteriya (also rendered Mustariya), where he closely collaborated with army commander Hassim Mangari. HRW has also procured a Feb. 13, 2004 government memorandum from the office of a sub-locality in North Darfur in which authorities urge all “security units in the locality” to “allow the activities of the mujahedeen and the volunteers under the command of Sheikh Musa Hilal to proceed in the areas of [North Darfur] and to secure their vital needs…. We also highlight the importance of non-interference so as not to question their authorities and to overlook minor offenses by the mujahedeen against civilians who are suspected members of the rebellion.”

While denying being a militia leader himself, Hilal told HRW interviewers on videotape: “All of the people in the field are led by top army commanders… These people get their orders from the Western command center, and from Khartoum.” (HRW profile, 2005)

In a 2004 interview with BBC’s Panorama, Hilal denied there is genocide in Darfur: “Where are the graves and the bodies? Yes there is death in this war. It is not as they exaggerate… My words are very clear in this regard… The rebels started this war. They started burning and destroying many of the villages. They started destroying our villages first.” (BBC, Nov. 14, 2004)

See our last posts on Sudan and the Sahel.