Darfur conflict

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 The country of Sudan
The country of Sudan
 This article documents a current event.
Information may change rapidly as the event progresses.

The Darfur conflict is an ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, mainly between the Janjaweed, a government-supported militia recruited from local Arab tribes, and the non-Arab peoples of the region.

The resulting refugees include non-Arab victims of non-Arabs, Arab victims of non-Arabs, and Arab victims of Arabs; however, the large majority are non-Arab black Africans fleeing Janjaweed attacks [1]. Note that both sides are largely black in skin tone, and the distinction between "Arab" and "non-Arab" common in Western media is heavily disputed by many people, including the Sudanese government. The conflict has been widely described as "ethnic cleansing", and frequently as "genocide".

The UN, prior to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, called the Darfur conflict the world's worst current humanitarian crisis. However, intervention by the UN is unlikely as the governments of key members of the Security Council are constrained in their ability to react to the conflict both pragmatically and ideologically. The Russian government, with its weakened economy, struggles to meet its internal security dilemmas in light of its persistent border conflicts, while the United States force deployments in Iraq and elsewhere, make intervention a difficult proposition. The United States also faces difficulty stemming from its commitment to and extensive involvement in the peace process ending the Second Sudanese Civil War, which it fears may be derailed. Finally, setting up No-Fly Zones is logistically difficult considering the remoteness of Darfur, the lack of infrastructure in potential airbase neighbors, and the issue of airspace rights for flyovers to Darfur from other neighbors.

Moreover, in both of these nations, along with Britain and France, a strong lobby exists opposed to intervention in countries whose internal strife is not clearly related to the nation's own interest (America and France having suffered demoralizing losses in Vietnam, as well as in Somalia and Algeria, respectively). A precedent to this effect has been established by the lack of a capable contingent of foreign peacekeepers during the troubles in both Rwanda and Liberia. While it is likely that there will be some accountability for those who have engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region on all sides of the conflict, it is not yet clear whether the mechanism by which such prosecution will be made will be via the International Criminal Court, or through an ad hoc tribunal as was used at Nuremberg, and following the ethnic conflicts in Rwanda and in the Balkans. The current Bush administration has stated explicitly that it remains opposed to the ICC and supports the special tribunal mechanism as a general principle.


Origins of the conflict

Darfur is inhabited by a variety of peoples, generally constituting two distinct groups: non-Arab black peoples such as the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa, and Arab tribes collectively termed Baggara (also black by the standards of most non-Africans), who settled the region from about the 13th century onwards. Both groups are Muslims. However, relations between the two groups have long been tense; the pre-colonial Fur kingdom regularly clashed with the Baggara, particularly the Rizeigat. Moreover, before the 20th century (and by some accounts well into it) Darfur was a center of the slave trade, and Fur slavers competed with Arab ones to raid the nearby Bahr el Ghazal to obtain slaves for the coastal regions. The two groups also have differing economic needs, which has led to clashes: the Fur and Masalit are primarily sedentary farmers, while the Arabs and Zaghawa are nomadic herdsmen, which has brought them into conflict over access to land and water resources.

The government of Sudan has had a strongly Arab character since the country's independence in 1956; it has been a series of military dictatorships since 1958. The First Sudanese Civil War, between the Muslim government and the mostly non-Muslim population of the southern Sudan, started in 1955 and ended with the 1972 Addis Ababa Accords. In 1983, the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out when the president declared Shari’a law in the south. Peace conferences in 2005 ended the 21 year civil war and produced an agreement under which state revenues — oil money in particular — would be shared between the government and the southern rebel groups.

In early 2003 two local rebel groups — the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) — accused the government of oppressing non-Arabs in favour of Arabs. The SLM is generally associated with the Fur and Masalit, while the JEM is associated with the Zaghawa of the northern half of Darfur.

Course of the conflict

The conflict began in February 2003 when JEM and SLM rebels attacked government forces and installations. The government, caught by surprise, had very few troops in the region, and — since a large proportion of the Sudanese soldiers were of Darfur origin — distrusted many of its own units; its response was to mount a campaign of aerial bombardment supporting ground attacks by an Arab militia, the Janjaweed, recruited from local tribes and armed by the government. (The government, however, denies any connection to the Janjaweed militia and calls them "thieves and gangsters" [2].) While the conflict has a political basis, it has also acquired an ethnic dimension in which civilians were deliberately targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, and an economic dimension related to the competition between pastoralists (generally Arab) and farmers (generally non-Arab) for land and water.

A United Nations observer team reported that non-Arab villages were singled out while Arab villages were left untouched:

The 23 Fur villages in the Shattaya Administrative Unit have been completely depopulated, looted and burnt to the ground (the team observed several such sites driving through the area for two days). Meanwhile, dotted alongside these charred locations are unharmed, populated and functioning Arab settlements. In some locations, the distance between a destroyed Fur village and an Arab village is less than 500 meters. (UN Interagency Report cited below, 25 April 2004)

The Janjaweed are also said to have "torched dozens of mosques and torn up and defecated on copies of the Qur'an." (The Economist, May 15, 2004).

Both sides have been accused of committing serious human rights violations, including mass killing, looting, and rapes of the civilian population. However, the better-armed Janjaweed quickly gained the upper hand. By the spring of 2004, several thousand people — mostly from the non-Arab population — had been killed and as many as a million more had been driven from their homes, causing a major humanitarian crisis in the region. The crisis took on an international dimension when over 100,000 refugees poured into neighbouring Chad, pursued by Janjaweed militiamen, who clashed with Chadian government forces along the border. More than 70 militiamen and 10 Chadian soldiers were killed in one gun battle in April.

The scale of the crisis has led to warnings of an imminent disaster, with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warning that the risk of genocide is "frighteningly real" in Darfur. The scale of the Janjaweed campaign has led to comparisons with the Rwandan Genocide, a parallel hotly denied by the Sudanese government.

July 2004

In early July 2004, Annan and United States Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Sudan and the Darfur region, and urged the Sudanese government to stop supporting the Janjaweed militias. Annan described the trips as "constructive".

According to the BBC in July[3], analysts estimate that at least 15,000 soldiers would be needed to put an end to the conflict.

On 23 July 2004, the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed a joint resolution declaring the armed conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur to be genocide and calling on the Bush administration to lead an international effort to put a stop to it.

On 30 July, the United Nations gave the Sudanese government 30 days to disarm and bring to justice the Janjaweed, in UN Security Council Resolution 1556; if this deadline is not met in 30 days, it "expresses its intention to consider" sanctions.[4] The Arab League asked for a longer term and warned that Sudan must not become another Iraq. Resolution 1556 also imposed an arms embargo on the Janjaweed and other militia.[5]

From the Sudanese government's point of view, the conflict is simply a skirmish. The Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, said, "The international concern over Darfur is actually a targeting of the Islamic state in Sudan." Sudan has warned Britain and the United States not to interfere in the internal affairs of the East African country saying it will reject any military aid, while asking for logistic support.

August 2004

Destroyed villages as as of August 2004 (Source: DigitalGlobe, Inc. and Department of State via USAID)
Destroyed villages as as of August 2004 (Source: DigitalGlobe, Inc. and Department of State via USAID)

In August 2004, the African Union sent 150 Rwandan troops in to protect the ceasefire monitors; however, "their mandate did not include the protection of civilians." [6] Rwandan President Paul Kagame declared that "if it was established that the civilians are in danger then our forces will certainly intervene and use force to protect civilians"; however, such an effort would certainly take more than 150 troops. They were joined by 150 Nigerian troops later that month.[7][8]

Peace talks, which had previously broken down in Addis Ababa on July 17, were resumed on August 23 in Abuja. The talks reopened amid acrimony, with the SLA accusing the government of breaking promises[9] that it made for the little-respected April ceasefire.

The UN's 30 day deadline expired on August 29, after which the Secretary General reported on the state of the conflict. According to him, the situation "has resulted in some improvements on the ground but remains limited overall". In particular, he notes that the Janjaweed militias remain armed and continue to attack civilians (contrary to Resolution 1556), and militia disarmament has been limited to a "planned" 30% reduction in one particular militia, the Popular Defense Forces. He also notes that the Sudanese government's commitments regarding their own armed forces have been only partially implemented, with refugees reporting several attacks involving government forces.[10] He concludes that:

Stopping attacks against civilians and ensuring their protection is the responsibility of the Government of Sudan. The Government has not met this obligation fully, despite the commitments it has made and its obligations under resolution 1556 (2004). Attacks against civilians are continuing and the vast majority of armed militias has not been disarmed. Similarly, no concrete steps have been taken to bring to justice or even identify any of the militia leaders or the perpetrators of these attacks, allowing the violations of human rights and the basic laws of war to continue in a climate of impunity. After 18 months of conflict and 30 days after the adoption of resolution 1556 (2004), the Government of Sudan has not been able to resolve the crisis in Darfur, and has not met some of the core commitments it has made.

and advises "a substantially increased international presence in Darfur" in order to "monitor" the conflict. However, he did not threaten or imply sanctions, which the UN had expressed its "intention to consider" in Resolution 1556.

September 2004

On September 9, 2004, then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell declared to the US Senate that genocide was occurring in Darfur, for which he blamed the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed. This position was strongly rejected by the Sudanese foreign affairs minister, Najib Abdul Wahab. The United Nations, like the African Union and European Union, have not declared the Darfur conflict to be an act of genocide. If it does constitute an act of genocide, international law is considered to allow other countries to intervene.

IDP camp near Nyala, South Darfur
IDP camp near Nyala, South Darfur

Also on September 9, 2004, the US put forward a UN draft resolution threatening Sudan with sanctions on its oil industry.[11] This was adopted, in modified form, on September 18, 2004 as Resolution 1564 (see below.)

On September 18, 2004, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1564, pressuring the Sudanese government to act urgently to improve the situation by threatening the possibility of oil sanctions in the event of continued noncompliance with Resolution 1556 or refusal to accept the expansion of African Union peacekeepers.[12]. Resolution 1564 also established an International Commission of Inquiry to look into human rights violations, and to determine whether genocide was occurring.[13] In the wake of this resolution, the peacekeeper force was to be expanded to 4,500 troops.[14]

On September 30, 2004, during the first of three U.S. presidential debates, Jim Lehrer, the moderator, asked why neither candidates had discussed committing troops to Darfur. Senator John Kerry replied that "one of the reasons we can't do it is we're overextended," but agreed that he'd use American forces "to some degree to coalesce the African Union." President Bush cited aid committed to the region and agreed that action should be taken through the African Union. Both candidates agreed that what was happening in Darfur was genocide. WikiSource Transcript

October 2004

On October 15, 2004 World Health Organisation official David Nabarro estimated that 70,000 people had died of disease and malnutrition in Darfur since March.

The United States transported Nigerian soldiers on October 28
The United States transported Nigerian soldiers on October 28

The African Union had expected to have 3,000 additional troops in place in the region sometime in November, but cited lack of funds and 'logistical difficulties' in delaying this deployment, waiting on the AU's Peace and Security Council to meet on October 20 and decide on the expanded duties and numbers of the force. It was decided that these AU troops, from both Nigeria and Rwanda, will be deployed by October 30.

The United Nations pledged $100 million dollars to support the force, about half of the $221 million cost to keep them deployed for a year. The European Union mobilised the remainder, an additional EUR 80 million on October 26 from their African Peace Facility to support the deployment and operations of the 3144-strong AU observer mission which will monitor the implementation of the cease-fire agreement.[15]

Peace talks between Sudan and Darfur rebels were scheduled to resume on October 21 in Abuja, Nigeria. However, rebels showed up late and the talks did not begin until October 25. Two more rebel groups now want in on the negotiations, and an existing cease-fire agreement is considered shaky. The talks are still in progress, but a humanitarian agreement is expected to be hammered out during the course of the talks.

November 2004

A village health post destroyed by a Janjaweed militia attack.
A village health post destroyed by a Janjaweed militia attack.

On November 2 the United Nations reports that Sudanese troops have raided the Abu Sharif and Otash refugee camps near Nyala in Darfur, moving a number of inhabitants and denying aid agencies access to the remaining inhabitants inside. [16]. Meanwhile, the Abuja talks continued, with attempts made to agree on a no-fly zone over Darfur in addition to a truce on land and a disarmament of the militias.[17]

Despite the November 9 accords, violence in Sudan continued. On November 10—one day after the accords—the Sudanese military conducted attacks on Darfur refugee villages in plain sight of UN and African Union observers. [18] [19] On November 22, alleging that Janjaweed members had refused to pay for livestock in the town market of Tawila in Northern Darfur, rebels attacked the town's government-controlled police stations. The Sudanese military retaliated on November 23 by bombing the town. [20]

January 2005

The International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur hand their report to the Secretary General on January 25 [21]. The Commission found that the Government of the Sudan and the Janjaweed are responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law, however the government of Sudan had not pursued a policy of genocide in Darfur. The Commission identified 51 individuals responsible for the violation of human rights and recommended immediate trial at the International Criminal Court.

March 2005

IDP camp
IDP camp

On March 7, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke to the UN Security Council requesting that the peacekeeping force in Darfur be increased to support the 2000 African Union troops already deployed [22]. A resolution for the deployment of an additional 10 000 peacekeepers has been delayed by the failure of the Security Council to agree on the mechanism to be used to try war criminals and the application and extent of sanctions [23]. A number of Security Council members want war criminals to be tried by the International Criminal Court, however the United States refused to support that proposition. An African-run tribunal has been proposed as a countermeasure, and proposals have been made for trials to be held in Tanzania and Nigeria [24]. The current resolution has also been criticized, as it is unclear as to whether the peacekeepers will be deployed to Darfur or to monitor peace in the south of Sudan [25]. On March 24 a peacekeeping force was approved to monitor peace in the south of Sudan, however the Security Council still remains deadlocked over Darfur [26].

On March 29 Security Council Resolution 1591 was passed 11–0 [27]. The Resolution strengthened the arms embargo and imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on those deemed responsible for the atrocities in Darfur. It was agreed that war criminals will be tried by the International Criminal Court [28] .

April 2005

On April 5 it was reported that the UN has given the ICC the names of fifty-one people suspected of war crimes. The list may include high government officials of Sudan. The Sudanese Government has said it will not hand over the suspects.

The sealed list, presented to the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, was drawn up following an investigation by the UN into claims of killings, torture and rape committed by Government forces and militias in the Darfur region. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, backed by huge protests against the UN in Sudan's capital of Khartoum, snubbed the UN resolution passed last week to bring the suspects to trial before the court, adding that he "shall never hand any Sudanese national to a foreign court".

May 2005

IDP mother and malnourished child in North Darfur
IDP mother and malnourished child in North Darfur

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has somewhat championed the cause of African unity. This sentiment has led him to invite the leaders of Sudan, Nigeria, Egypt, Chad and Eritrea to a summit in Tripoli regarding the conflict in Darfur.

It seems that a possible hinge of the negotiations is compliance or refusal of handing over war crime suspects to organizations such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Medecins Sans Frontieres doctor Paul Foreman was arrested by Sudanese authorities over the publication of a report detailing hundreds of rapes in Darfur [29].

Claims began to surface that the Bush administration's noticeable toning down of its description of the situation in Sudan - it stopped calling the Darfur conflict a genocide, and claimed that United Nations death toll estimates may be too high - was due to increased co-operation from Sudanese officials towards the War on Terrorism. The claim asserted that Major General Salah Abdallah Gosh who is said to have been involved in training the Janjaweed, was flown to Washington for high-level talks with his United States counterparts, related to global terrorism.

July 2005

Security in the region is improving, according to the commander of the African Union peacekeeping force. There have been no major conflicts since January, and the numbers of attacks on villages has been dropping. There are currently around 3,000 troops there to keep the peace, and more are due to arrive in the coming months, expecting to reach 7,000 troops in September. In keeping with a decision made by the Peace and Security Council, Nigeria sent a battalion of 680 troops on Wednesday, July 13, 2005 with two more coming soon thereafter. Rwanda will send a battalion of troops, Senegal, Gambia, Kenya and South Africa will send troops as well. Canada is providing 105 armoured vehicles, training and maintenance assistance, and personal protective equipment in support of the efforts of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). [30]

On July 10, Ex-rebel leader John Garang was sworn in as Sudan's vice-president. A new constitution was adopted, and all parties should be represented more fairly. The United States Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has applauded the political changes and the improving security. Kofi Annan and South African President Thabo Mbeki watched the ceremony.

August 2005

On August 1, John Garang, a former leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), who was seen by many to be a crucial element of a Sudan that is free of genocide, died in a helicopter crash [31]. This has sparked renewed concerns, throughout the international community, of Sudan's ability to unite in the face of genocide.

The long-term implications of Garang's death are still unclear; and, despite the recently improved security, talks between the various rebels in the Darfur region are going slowly, with no sight of a final peace agreement.

October 2005

After a government-supported Arab militia attacked the Aro Sharow refugee village on September 28, killing at least 32, the African Union on October 1 accused both the Sudanese government and rebels of violating the ceasefire agreement. [32] [33] Associated Press reports the African Union as condemning the government's "acts of 'calculated and wanton destruction' that have killed at least 44 people and displaced thousands over two weeks." [34]

On October 9, a rebel group abducted 18 members of an African Union peacekeeping team, but released most of them after negotiations. [35] [36]

Following an increase in fighting in the region, on October 13 the UN announced that it will withdraw all non-essential staff from Darfur. West Darfur is reportedly too dangerous for aid-agencies to operate [37].

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