Eric Reeves: An Apologist for Murder

It is difficult to know exactly how to describe Eric Reeves and his claims about Sudan. He is either a classic example of what Lenin referred to as a "useful idiot", a blindly ideological defender of questionable claims, or he is a blatant apologist for cold-blooded murder. He has in any instance shown remarkable intellectual dishonesty in the allegations he has made about the Sudanese government and people.

Reeves, an English teacher at Smith College in Massachusetts, in the United States, has been active for some time in a campaign against Sudan. In the course of this campaign Mr Reeves has written dozens of articles making serious allegations about events within Sudan. His claims have been exposed as either consciously dishonest or at the very least unforgivably naïve. Several measured criticisms of Reeves’ approach, methodology –” and especially the sources he has relied upon for his claims –” have been published and republished.[1] Reeves continues to make, or repeat, serious claims about the situation in Sudan –” most recently focusing on Darfur –” without any means of verifying them. He has, for example, made numerous allegations of genocide –” in so doing parroting the electorally opportunistic claim of the Bush Administration about the ongoing conflict in western Sudan.[2] He has engaged in attempts at statistical sleight of hand, claiming, for example, that as of January 2005, 400,000 people had died in the Darfur "genocide" –” almost six times the number of people who are feared to have died through violence or disease.(3) Reeves’ 400,000 number jumped from his own earlier statistical extrapolations that deaths were "already approaching 100,000" in late June 2004.[4] That is to say Reeves now says that between July and December 2004 over a third of a million civilians died in Darfur –” apparently without being documented either by the thousands of aid workers, dozens of aid agencies present in, or the many foreign journalists and diplomats who have visited, Darfur.[5]

Reeves’ claims of genocide in Darfur are contradicted by well-respected humanitarian groups such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, also known as Doctors without Borders), the largest aid group present in Darfur.[6] MSF President Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol, for example, has described American claims of genocide in Darfur as "obvious political opportunism".[7] Dr Bradol had previously stated that the use of the term genocide was inappropriate: "Our teams have not seen evidence of the deliberate intention to kill people of a specific group."[8] Dr Mercedes Taty, MSF’s deputy emergency director, who worked with 12 expatriate doctors and 300 Sudanese nationals in field hospitals throughout Darfur at the height of the emergency, has also warned: "I don’t think that we should be using the word ‘genocide’ to describe this conflict. Not at all. This can be a semantic discussion, but nevertheless, there is no systematic target –” targeting one ethnic group or another one. It doesn’t mean either that the situation in Sudan isn’t extremely serious by itself."[9] Despite having previously lauded Médecins Sans Frontières, stating that the group "has performed superbly in the field", when MSF contradicted his claims of genocide, Reeves abruptly turned on MSF, accusing the organisation of being "disingenuous" and that it had made "ignorant and presumptuous statements about the issue of genocide" in Darfur. In other words, a white, middle-class intellectual, living in his comfortable ivory tower in affluent suburbia, thinks he knows better than those heroic aid-workers working around the clock to save lives in the environmentally desolate Darfur. His arrogance is breathtaking.

Reeves’ capacity for intellectual dishonesty and arrogance, however, pales into insignificance when set against his role as an apologist for cold-blooded murder in Darfur. A war broke out in 2003 in Darfur between two rebel groups, one of which was the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), and the Khartoum government. In a 17 December 2004 commentary, Reeves acted as an apologist for the cold-blooded murder by SLA gunmen of two Save the Children (UK) aid workers, in an attack on their clearly-marked vehicle, in Darfur on 13 December 2004.[10] The United Nations special envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, unambiguously confirmed rebel involvement in these deaths. Reeves, however, claimed there were "somewhat conflicting accounts" of the crime. He claimed that the "perpetrator was drunk" while at the same time admitting this may not be true. He claimed that there was "a heated debate … about what to do with the aid workers". Reeves then claimed: "The person responsible for shooting the two aid workers … was himself summarily shot and killed by his fellow combatants." All these assertions are untrue. Reeves attempted to downplay the murders by claiming that "the insurgents have shown inadequate discipline, even as they confront appalling provocation." Quite what "appalling provocation" by aid workers helping to keep civilians in Darfur alive justifies cold-blooded murder is not made clear by Reeves. He also queried whether the SLA had been responsible for the October 2004 murder of two other Save the Children aid workers in a land-mine attack. The United Nations has also confirmed SLA responsibility for those two murders. [11]

The United Nations Panel of Experts, reporting in early 2006, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1591, exposed Reeves’ claims as lies. Their January 2006 report focused on the murder of the two British aid workers:

"SLA Field Commander Salah Bob is believed to have been responsible for the killing of two Save the Children UK workers on 12 December 2004. The workers were attacked while travelling in a clearly marked convoy on the main road between Mershing and Duma in Southern Darfur. Salah Bob was also involved in the detention of two British nationals working for the British Charity Kids-4-Kids together with two national staff from their partner international non-governmental organization north-west of El-Fasher on 19 February 2005. As far as the panel has been able to determine, Salah Bob has not been held accountable for these actions."[12]

Reeves’s attempt to downplay the December 2004 murders as an "action … by a single drunken soldier" is sickening. This rebel attack on aid workers was part of a clear and systematic pattern and follows recent rebel threats against aid workers.[13] In his January 2005 report on Darfur –” and referring to rebel actions –” the United Nations Secretary-General reported on what he termed a "new trend" in the pattern of attacks on, and harassment of, international aid workers: "While previous incidents have only been aimed at looting supplies and goods, December has seen acts of murder and vicious assaults on staff, forcing some agencies to leave Darfur." [14] Reeves has also claimed that there are "no credible reports of rebel attacks on civilians as such".

Even avid critics of the Khartoum government such as Julie Flint have admitted that the rebels have been responsible for "heavy civilian casualties" and that rebel attacks have "resulted in the deaths of numerous civilians".[15] In its November 2004 report, in a section entitled "Attacks on Civilians", Human Rights Watch admitted that "the rebel movements have been responsible for direct attacks on civilian objects in violation of international humanitarian law, and for causing deaths and injuries to civilians." Reeves’ attempts to whitewash the atrocious human rights record of the Darfur rebels are breathtaking in their dishonesty.

In an independent American critique of media coverage of Darfur, the American ‘Online Journal’ has openly criticised Reeves’ claims about Darfur, stating that he "may be the major source of disinformation (he calls it ‘analysis’) about Darfur which is then spread throughout the U.S.A. … How curious that the American media latches on to Mr Reeves’ one-sided falsehoods by way of presented out-of-context half-truths while at the same time ignoring the dispatches of other journalists, including those who have provided eyewitness accounts." [16]

Reeves’ white middle-class naivety about Africa would be fairly amusing in its gaucheness in any other context. Eric Reeves, in his crass selectivity and grotesque distortion of events in Darfur, however, is clearly intent on attempting to get the United States militarily involved in western Sudan on as questionable a series of pretexts as those used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Any such intervention will resulted in another Iraq-type quagmire in another strategic part of the world, and the loss of thousands more American lives together with the lives of the very Africans he claims to care so much about.


[1]. See, for example, "The Return of the ‘Ugly American’: Eric Reeves and Sudan", European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, December 2000, available at and "Smith College, Eric Reeves and Sudan: What Price a Reputation?", European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, August 2001, available at as well as "Eric Reeves’ ‘Reporting Credibility’ on Sudan Devastated by Reuters Report", European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 16 February 2001, available at; "Eric Reeves, The World Food Programme and Displacement", European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 23 February 2001, available at; "Allegations of Oil Development Displacement Assessed Against Independent Sources", European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, March 2001, available at; "Eric Reeves’ Credibility on Sudan Further Damaged by British Satellite Picture Analysis of Sudanese Oil Fields", Media Monitors Network, May 2001; "Eric Reeves Against Africa", Media Monitors Network, May 2001; "Eric Reeves, Sudan, Displacement and Double Standards", European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 15 June 2001, available at

[2]. See, for example, Eric Reeves, "Stopping Genocide in Darfur: What Must Be Done", 17 May 2004,; "The Data of Destruction: Accelerating Genocide in Darfur", 27 May 2004,

[3]. See, Eric Reeves, "Darfur Mortality Update", 18 January 2005,

[4]. Eric Reeves, "Quantifying Genocide in Darfur: A Summary and Update", 28 June 2004,

[5]. For a detailed critique of Reeves’ repeated abuse of statistics, see "’Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics’: Eric Reeves on Darfur", European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 2005, available at

[6]. See, for example, "Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières Challenges US Darfur Genocide Claims", Media Monitors Network, 5 October 2004, available at .

[7]. "From One Genocide to Another", Article by Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol, 28 September 2004, available at Médecins Sans Frontières (UAE) website,

[8]. "Thousands Die as World Defines Genocide", ‘The Financial Times’ (London), 6 July 2004. See also, Bradol’s views in "France Calls on Sudan to Forcibly Disarm Darfur Militias", News Article by Agence France Presse, 7 July 2004.

[9]. "Violence in the Sudan Displaces Nearly 1 Million. An Aid Worker Describes the Gravity of the Humanitarian Crisis", News Article by MSNBC, 16 April 2004.

[10]. See, for example, Eric Reeves, "Humanitarian Aid in Darfur Threatened with Utter Collapse", 17 December 2004, The murders were condemned by the international community: "UN envoy for Sudan condemns ‘brutal’ murder of humanitarian workers in Darfur", Press Release by UN News Center, New York, 13 December 2004.

[11]. "UN Envoy Blames Darfur Rebels for Deaths of Aid Officials", News Article by Agence France Presse, 27 October 2004.

[12]. ‘Report of the Panel of Experts Established Pursuant to Paragraph 3 of Resolution 1591 (2005) Concerning the Sudan’, S/2006/65, United Nations, New York, 30 January 2006, p.47.

[13]. "Darfur Rebels Threaten Humanitarian Aid Workers", News Article by UPI, 23 October 2004.

[14]. Report of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Sudan Pursuant to Paragraphs 6, 13 and 16 of Security Council Resolution 1556 (2004), Paragraph 15 of Resolution 1564 (2004) and Paragraph 1574 (2004), S/2005/10, United Nations, New York, January 2005.

[15]. See, for example, "Sudan: Peace, But at What Price? Testimony by Julie Flint Before U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee", Human Rights Watch, New York, 2004, available at

[16]. Kersap D. Shekhdar, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Media Coverage of Darfur (But Were Afraid to Ask), ‘Online Journal’, 12 September 2004 .

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