ASA Adjudication on Save Darfur Coalition
Save Darfur Coalition t/a
Globe for Darfur
2120 L Street NW
The Holocaust Centre
8 August 2007
Number of complaints:
A national press ad, for campaigning group Globe For Darfur, stated " ... SLAUGHTER IS HAPPENING IN DARFUR. YOU CAN HELP END IT. In 2003, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir moved to crush opposition by unleashing vicious armed militias to slaughter entire villages of his own citizens. After three years, 400,000 innocent men, women and children have been killed ... ".
The European Sudanese Public Affairs Council (ESPAC) challenged the claim "400,000 innocent men, women and children have been killed".
CAP Code (Edition 11)
Save Darfur Coalition and the Aegis Trust (SDC & AT) provided a submission to support the use of the claim. The submission explained the background to the Darfur crisis and explained how both organisations became involved in trying to raise awareness of the Darfur crisis. They said they had based the claim of 400,000 deaths on a report issued by the Coalition for International Justice (CIJ) in April 2005, which was based on interviews conducted by the CIJ in Chad refugee camps in 2003. They said the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) had undertaken a study to assess the reliability of six mortality studies, including the CIJ report, and had concluded that none could be considered to have a "high level of accuracy", due to the difficulties in carrying out such studies. SDC & AT pointed out factors such as the age of the report, the period it covered and the ongoing conflict would result in no one report being authoritative.
SDC & AT also provided a statement from Dr Hagan, Professor of Sociology and Law at Northwestern University, which explained that a death toll of 400,000 was "within the realms of possibility". Dr Hagen explained that his research, published in the peer-reviewed journal of Science in September 2006, had analysed the available data and had used two estimation methods to generate a range of figures, within which the actual mortality figure was likely to be located. He explained that the range was between 170,000 and 250,000 deaths, but made clear that this range was based on available data only and pointed out that there was no data for the 2005 to 2006 period of the conflict. He also explained that the range was a likely underestimation for the following reasons: the challenging research environment; the available data did not cover the full four years of conflict (31 months only); the data excluded missing people (not included as presumed dead) and did not include the Darfur population affected by the conflict but who the interviewers had no access to.
The SDC & AT believed their submission showed that 400,000 deaths over the conflict period was a credible statistic.
ESPAC pointed out that various different estimates of the number of deaths in Darfur had been reported and that GAO's report had considered the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) report to be the most objective and methodologically the strongest. The May 2005 CRED report estimated 120,000 deaths attributable to the conflict over 17 months, between September 2003 and January 2005. They provided a copy of a letter, published in The Financial Times newspaper in May 2005, from CRED's Director, Professor Debarati Guha-Sapir, which criticised the claims of 300,000 to 400,000 deaths in the CIJ report, of which Dr Hagan was a co-author, as sensational. They also said the mortality in Darfur in 2006 had decreased below emergency levels and provided copies of The World Health Organization's Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Bulletins as substantiation for that. They also presented comments from Jan Pronk, a UN Sudan Special Representative, which stated that the mortality and malnutrition rates had decreased dramatically in 2005, due to the aid received. ESPAC believed the information they had supplied showed that the claim of 400,000 civilian deaths was misleading, because the study relied upon was ranked lower than the CRED report and the situation in Darfur had improved.
The Authority noted the GAO experts had not consistently rated any of the death estimates as having a high level of accuracy and that they all had methodological strengths and weaknesses. We also noted the research published in Science, by Dr Hagen, was not considered by the GAO report because it was not publicly available at the time and that the CRED report was considered more reliable than the CIJ report, which the SDC & AT had partly relied upon for the claim. We understood that Dr Hagen believed 400,000 deaths and disappearances (presumed dead) could be estimated to have been caused by the conflict during February 2003 and April 2005. However, we noted the 400,000 figure was not quoted in the Science article, but that it stated the estimation was that more than 200,000 people had died and that it was quite possible for this death toll to be substantially higher. We noted SDC & AT had shown the figure quoted in the ad was cited by the author of a published and peer-reviewed article as a possible estimation of the death toll, including disappearances.
We acknowledged that it was highly unlikely that a definitive figure for the number of deaths caused by the Darfur conflict would be decided upon and that the scientists had based their estimates on extrapolation and assumptions in order to be able to estimate a figure in the first place. Although the claim appeared in a strongly worded campaigning ad, and SDC & AT were entitled to express their opinion about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur in strong terms, we concluded that there was a division of informed opinion about the accuracy of the figure contained in the ad and it should not have been presented in such a definitive way.
The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.2 (Division of opinion) and 8.1 (Matters of opinion).
We told SDC & AC to present the figure as opinion not fact in future. We urged them to consult the CAP Copy Advice team for help in amending their ad and we also advised them to state the source for such claims in future.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)