March 3, 2005

In late September 2004, a Human Rights Watch delegation interviewed Musa Hilal, a tribal leader from North Darfur who has allegedly organized Janjaweed militia to attack non-Arab tribes.

* * *

VO: Human Rights Watch confronted Musa Hilal with reports that he had personally commanded the Janjaweed militia that attacked and killed civilians in Tawila in February 2004. He denied leading his tribesmen into battle, stating that they were organized into official militia, known as PDF, led by Sudanese military commanders.

MH: Regarding the problem of Tawila, I already told you about the issue of the commanders, and as for newspaper reports, actually, I’ve said enough already. All of the people in the field are led by top army commanders. The highest rank is major, and officers, and some sergeants, and some captains, and so on. These people get their orders from the western command center, and from Khartoum.

I’ve never thought of becoming a soldier, or a military commander, and of leading troops and attacking the rebels’ command areas in Tawila, or anywhere else. That’s not true.

As a coordinator and mobilizer, as I said before, yes, it’s true, I mobilize people, I coordinate with recruiters. I’ve been with the PDF commanders, but I was never a commander of troops in a war zone, here or there.

VO: Hilal’s denial of leadership is contradicted by eyewitness testimony. Several men interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Kebkabiya, North Darfur, said that they had twice seen Musa Hilal dressed in a military uniform, leading his troops in celebrating military victories. Both instances occurred in January 2004, when Musa Hilal gathered townspeople in the market in Kebkabiya and announced he had rid fifty villages north of town of the “opposition.” He also accused Kebkabiya residents of supporting the opposition. After he spoke, the witnesses said, Janjaweed militiamen on horses and camels looted the marketplace.

Human Rights Watch challenged Musa Hilal’s claim that he had never participated in attacks, citing evidence that he had led groups that committed attacks in the Kebkabiya area.

MH: Listen, Doctor, they have to get this idea out of their heads. These troops in the west of Kebkabiya, in the north of Kebkabiya, in the south of Kebkabiya, inside the mountains of Jebel Marra -- these troops have commanders leading them, in accordance with military rules.

I’m from Kebkabiya. I come and go with groups there, and I travel with the nomads; I visit their families. This much is true. I attended a small conference on reconciliation, and I’m very involved in establishing relationships of mutual coexistence, specifically west of Kebkabiya. It’s very peaceful from the Mea area up to Wadi Bare, especially my area, which is called Serif Umra, there are about 86 villages made up of different tribes -- Arabs, Fur, so many tribes, Tama, Gimir. I’m involved in encouraging good relationships and establishing local defense forces, made up of Arabs and Fur, to defend Arab and Fur villages. We have to make sure that the Arabs patrol Fur villages, and Fur patrol Arab villages, to defend them from attack.

There are some people in this war that are not part of the joint patrols, and they’re not rebels – they’re criminals; they want to profit off the situation. We build the joint defense forces from different tribes to defend these villages. We’ve secured the area very well, especially west of Kebkabiya. This area is not affected by the war: there’s no displacement, no one is fleeing, the markets are open, the roads are open – it’s a very secure area right now. It’s my area, I’m not denying that I’m involved in this, and I’ll continue to be involved: it’s a good thing that I’m doing.

But as for the military units, with guns, that move around to attack rebel areas or that are attacked by rebels – they’re under the orders of field commanders.

VO: The government of Sudan maintains that the Janjaweed militia is not under army supervision but rather is independent of government control or influence. But Musa Hilal claims that his tribesmen are organized into government-sponsored militia, and that he does not have the power to demobilize or disarm them. He says that this responsibility rests with the Sudanese government.

MH: It’s the government’s concern. They’re the ones that gave the PDF the guns; they’re the ones that recruited the PDF; they’re the ones that pay their salaries; they give them their ID cards. They can disarm them or they can leave them alone; that’s the government’s concern.

Our job is to mobilize the people – the government has told us to mobilize people. We’ve gone to the people to tell them to join the PDF and defend your country, defend the land, defend the country’s most important things, and that you have to fight for your survival and the country’s stability. If the government comes back to us and tells us that they want to demobilize the people that we brought to them, that’s the government’s concern.

VO: On July 30, 2004, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that gave the government of Sudan thirty days to disarm the Janjaweed. But Musa Hilal claims that the government of Sudan has never asked him to tell his tribesmen to disarm.

MH: I don’t have a relation or link by which they can talk to me personally. If they want to talk they can talk to the tribal leaders’ conference and issue the orders, like previous orders to disarm the rebels or the Janjaweed. I think the PDF is a military organization. There’s no link by which they can come talk to me.

VO: Musa Hilal specifically denies that his tribesmen have committed attacks independently, outside of government control. He blames unidentified criminals for such attacks.

MH: Is this question specifically directed to me and my people: are you saying that we attacked the rebels without the presence of the military? That’s not true. I just want to tell you something there’s criminals on all sides, from all tribes in the area, whether my people or other people. There are people who aren’t part of the PDF or the rebels. These people are greedy and selfish. I’ll give you an example: when the bull or the cow dies, all the vultures come from the sky to feed off the carcass. The problem between the government and the rebels -- sometimes criminals take advantage of the situation and they commit crimes. And these crimes exist and you can’t say who’s responsible for them. There’s a lot of propaganda made up about this. You can’t tell who did them, where they went; everything is hazy.

VO: But as a tribal leader in the Kebkabiya area of North Darfur, Musa Hilal is in an excellent position to know exactly who is committing major, large-scale crimes such as massacres and the destruction of villages. All the witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed in Musa Hilal’s region reported that the military attacks were coming from his people. There is nothing hazy about it: Musa Hilal is covering up his major role in the destruction of Darfur.

Human Rights Watch has obtained Sudanese government documents that show Musa Hilal’s responsibility for leading Janjaweed militia. A memo dated February 13, 2004 from a local government office in North Darfur orders “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.” The memo specifically tells security units not to interfere in the activities of Hilal’s volunteers.

Despite the evidence against him, Musa Hilal shows little concern about the possibility that he might someday be found criminally responsible. Asked if he feared prosecution, he said:

MH: With common criminals? First, I am not a criminal. Thank God I’m not afraid. I’ve never had any fear. If there’s a concrete complaint and an investigation is opened against me, I can go to court -- nobody is above the law -- but not because of allegations made by Ali al Haj and Khalil Ibrahim, who are rebel leaders, who make up dark information and give to the UN, and they put my name on the list. That’s not right.

VO: On January 25, a U.N.-sponsored Commission of Inquiry presented a report on the gross violations of human rights committed in Darfur, based on extensive fact-finding and evidence collection conducted in the region. The report stated that the government and Janjaweed militia “conducted indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement, throughout Darfur. These acts were conducted on a widespread and systematic basis, and therefore may amount to crimes against humanity.”

The Commission of Inquiry strongly recommended that the Darfur situation be referred to the International Criminal Court. It said that the prosecution of those likely responsible for the most serious crimes in Darfur would contribute to peace in the region. The report identified individuals possibly guilty of these abuses, but withheld their names from the public. It is likely that the Commission of Inquiry included Musa Hilal on this list of individuals alleged to be guilty of crimes against humanity.