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Darfur Genocide

Genocide in Darfur

The ongoing genocide in Darfur has multiple interwoven causes. While rooted in structural inequity between the center of the country around the Nile and the “peripheral” areas such as Darfur, tensions were exacerbated in the last two decades of the twentieth century by a combination of environmental calamity, political opportunism and regional geopolitics.

Darfur is itself a very diverse place, made up of over 90 tribes and countless sub-clans. It is situated in western Sudan and covers an area the size of Texas, with a pre-conflict population of 6 million people. Darfur was an independent sultanate until it was incorporated into the rest of Sudan by British forces in 1916; however, it never received nearly the level of investment and development that Eastern Sudan and the Nile River Valley did under British rule. This marginalization continued under the string of central Sudanese governments that followed independence in 1956.

Conflict Background

While the conflict in Darfur is most frequently described as one between distinct “Arab” and “non-Arab” (or “African”) tribes, the more accurate distinction between population groups in Darfur is not ethnic, but economic. The incredibly arid northern part of Darfur, populated mainly by tribes claiming “Arab” descent, developed an economy based on nomadic cattle- and camel-herding. The more arable south, where the majority of the population traces “non-Arab” (i.e., “African”) descent, developed a subsistence farming economy. Centuries of intermarriage and slave trading have blurred the lines between distinguishing physical ethnic characteristics, but for the most part this economic division has remained.

Starting in the 1980s, drought, famine and the spread of the deserts caused increased competition for land, severely upsetting the structure of Darfuri society. Farmers had claimed every available bit of land to farm or forage for food, closing off traditional routes used by the herders. The herders, desperate to feed and water their animals in a dwindling landscape, tried to force the southern routes open, attacking farmers who attempted to block their paths. Traditionally, conflicts were settled with little or no violence by respected local councils. These were abolished by the Bashir regime after it came to power in a coup in 1989, leaving no mechanisms for resolving disputes peacefully.

Spurred by this increasing conflict over scarce resources and wedge politics played by the central government in Northern Sudan, nomadic and farming tribes began to polarize along ethnic lines. To Darfuris facing starvation, the dichotomous ideology of African versus Arab began to have explanatory power. Amongst some sedentary “Africans”, the ideas that uncaring “Arabs” in Khartoum had let the famine happen and then Darfuri “Arabs” armed by their Libyan allies had attacked “African” farmers began to gain credence. Similarly, semi-nomadic Darfuri “Arabs” began to seriously consider that “Africans” had vindictively tried to punish them for the famine by trying to keep them from pastureland.

For a number of years Darfur was the scene of sporadic clashes between “African” farming communities such as the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa, on the one hand, and “Arab” nomadic groups on the other. These clashes lead to many deaths and to the destruction and looting of homes. The government blamed competition over scarce resources for the clashes, and in fact, did nothing to try to resolve the problems in Darfur.

In 2002-2004, Darfuri leaders were excluded from the US backed peace talks, considered irrelevant in the context of the Second Sudanese Civil War. The proposed settlement agreement would ostensibly bring great economic development into Sudan, but none of the opportunity would benefit the people of Darfur. Darfuri leaders demanded political reform and economic assistance, but to no avail.

Rebellion Begins

The conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region flared in 2003 when two rebel groups rose up against the government, accusing it of neglect. The government of Sudan moved swiftly to crush the revolt by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

The government’s counterinsurgency campaign aimed to “get at the fish by draining the sea.” Civilians of the same ethnic group as the rebels were targeted for destruction, considered potential threats by the government for their potential kinship to and support of rebel armies. The government of Sudan armed militias, known as the Janjaweed (“evil man on horseback” in Arabic). The Janjaweed, drawn from Arab tribes, have used scorched-earth tactics against civilians similar to those used in the North/South Civil War. The Janjaweed are blamed for killings, widespread rape and abductions. Refugees describe them as ferocious gun-wielding men riding camels or horses who burn villages and steal whatever they can carry.

On September 9, 2004, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility–and that genocide may still be occurring.” President George W. Bush echoed this in July 2005 when he stated that the situation in Darfur was “clearly genocide.”

Analysts estimate that up to 400,000 civilians have been killed through war-related violence, disease and starvation. Women and girls are under particular threat as rape is used as a weapon of war and a tool of genocide. 2.7 million civilians are internally displaced and an additional 250,000 live as refugees in neighboring countries such as Chad and the Central African Republic. In all, 4.7 million conflict-affected people live in desperate need of humanitarian aid for their daily survival.

In early 2008, a hybrid United Nations-African Union force took over peacekeeping in Darfur from a purely African Union force. The 7,000-strong AU force had been massively overstretched and unable to quell the violence or protect civilians. The U.N. Security Council authorized up to 26,000 troops and police for the new hybrid force, but as of March 2009, only 60 percent were on the ground. The resultant UNAMID (United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur) force has been unable to adequately protect civilians on the ground; despite a relatively strong peace-enforcement mandate, UNAMID is stymied at once by obstructionism on the part of the Sudanese government and lack of supplies, funding and equipment by the international community.

Recent Events

The Sudanese government and rebels agreed to direct peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, in November 2005. But progress was painfully slow. Khartoum and SLA factional leader Minni Arcua Minnawi finally signed a deal in May 2006, but it was rejected by JEM and the leader of a rival SLA faction, Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur.

The agreement served mostly to fracture Darfuri rebel groups along tribal lines. Refugees rioted against the agreement in several camps and students protested in Khartoum. Since the peace deal, the fighting has shifted from a mostly two-way conflict between the Khartoum government and rebels to a more complex war also involving heavy fighting between various rebel factions. Rebel groups have fractured into dozens of smaller factions, often fighting each other.

Renewed peace talks between the Government of Sudan and rebel factions took place in Sirte, Libya on October 27, 2007. However, limited rebel participation and continuing disagreement about objectives and processes limited the effectiveness of these talks. Following the Sirte talks, the SPLM hosted workshops in Juba, Southern Sudan, to unite the rebel groups and allow them to come together to present a common front during negotiations. The Juba talks led to a consolidation of rebel factions down to five groups from an estimated 27. On December 21, 2007, President Bush announced the appointment of Ambassador Richard S. Williamson as Special Envoy for Sudan, following the resignation of Andrew S. Natsios.
In May 2008 the rebel group JEM launched a shock attack on Khartoum, infiltrating close to city borders and threatening the capital. Dozens of Darfuri civilians living in Khartoum were arrested along with captured JEM soldiers. Since then Qatar, representing the Arab League, began working with the African Union and United Nations in mediating peace talks.

On July 14, 2008, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced that he was seeking an arrest warrant for President Bashir for allegedly masterminding genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur. In order to move quickly to find a solution to the violence in Darfur under the pressure of a possible ICC indictment, Sudan opened the Sudan People’s Initiative in October 2008. The conference brought together many Darfur rebel groups with the government for a conference to explore solutions and how to better implement the existing framework of the DPA. It culminated in the announcement of a unilateral Darfur ceasefire, which was reportedly violated within days of the declaration.

In March 2009 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir for seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, accusing him of responsibility for atrocities in the Darfur region. The three-judge panel that issued the warrant did not feel there was enough evidence to include the crime of genocide on the warrant. The arrest warrant is the first of its kind issued against a sitting head of state. President Bashir retaliated by expelling the 13 largest international aid organizations from Sudan and dismantling 3 Sudanese aid organizations as well, accusing them of passing information on to the ICC. The expulsion put millions of lives at immediate risk; while some of the aid has been restored, mainly through other aid organizations filling in the shortfall, many wide gaps in services still exist. In particular, services protecting women and girls from sexual violence, or treating them after attacks, have not been restored by any measure. Despite the warrant for his arrest, Bashir has traveled freely to a number of countries in Africa and the Middle East since his indictment. In July 2010, the International Criminal Court issued a second arrest warrant for Bashir on three counts of genocide.

Doha Peace Process

In early 2009, the Joint African Union-United Nations Chief Mediator Djibril Bassole convened talks in Doha, Qatar, between the Government of Sudan and several Darfuri rebel groups, most notably JEM. Although JEM and the government signed a goodwill agreement in February 2009, talks collapsed in May over prisoner swaps and humanitarian access. Throughout the summer of 2009, the AU-UN mediation team worked individually with the parties and civil society to prepare for a new round of negotiations, while President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan, Major General (Ret.) J. Scott Gration, supported these efforts by working to unify a number of splintered rebel factions in preparation for negotiations, and pressing the government to commit to a new round of talks. In November 2009, the mediation team organized a series of meetings in Doha between the parties and Darfuri civil society in an effort to better represent the voices of the Darfuri people in the peace process.

On January 15, 2010, Sudan and Chad signed an accord in N’Djamena, Chad, to secure their joint border and remove the threat posed to one another by cross-border rebel proxies operating on Sudanese and Chadian territory. The U.S. supported the signing of this agreement, which, if fully implemented, could help to improve the security situation on the ground in Darfur.

On February 20, 2010, the Government of Sudan and JEM signed a 12-point framework agreement in which the parties agreed to a ceasefire, a prisoner release, and the opening of a new round of formal negotiations. The parties have assembled in Doha under the auspices of the mediation team to begin negotiations. Several SLA factions, unified by the efforts of the U.S. and Libya, have joined together in Doha under the umbrella of the Liberation and Justice Movement to participate in this next round of negotiations.

JEM is considered the most powerful rebel group and has been a notable holdout in previous efforts. The U.N. Security Council lauded the agreement, calling for both sides to move quickly, and urged all rebel factions in Darfur to join in the agreement. Although the agreement is essentially a pledge for further negotiation, it included a two-month ceasefire with JEM effective immediately, the release of JEM prisoners, including JEM leader Dr. Khalil Ibrahim’s half-brother, and recognition of JEM as a political party.

The agreement states that formal talks will address power and wealth sharing, as well as compensation for Darfuri victims. Notably, it sets March 15 as the date for conclusion of negotiations, which is logistically unrealistic, being only 3 weeks from the signing of the truce agreement.

On February 24, 2010, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir declared that the Darfur war was over, as he announced the release of 57 rebels from prison in Khartoum. However, just one day later on February 25, the rebel group Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) accused the Sudanese government of renewed attacks on its positions in central Darfur. The SLA has long refused to negotiate with the Sudanese government, and it has now rejected the deal between the Sudanese government and JEM, demanding that security be restored before talks begin. The French aid group Medicins du Monde reported that 100,000 civilians are now displaced in the area and that it has suspended medical aid. The UN has confirmed the displaced, despite Khartoum denials of the attacks.

These reports cast doubt on the commitment of Khartoum to peace in Darfur and to its ceasefire agreement with JEM. The agreement is exclusive to JEM rebels, and is widely considered to have left out the concerns of Darfuri refugees and IDPs (internally displaced persons). JEM itself has not been supportive of allowing smaller rebel groups and civil groups to take part in negotiations.

There remain unresolved issues over national elections, currently scheduled for April 2010. Under the current climate of violence and political intimidation, the elections cannot and will not be free or fair. In December 2009, the government of Sudan violated the rights of Sudanese to peaceful assembly by arresting dozens of northern and southern opposition leaders, protesting the lack of electoral reforms promised by the CPA. Concerns are also increasing over potential violence that could surround the referendum for Southern independence in January 2011.


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