Darfur conflict

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Military History and War

Darfur Conflict

Irregular combatants in North Darfur. The Arabic text on the bumper says "The Sudan Liberation Army" (SLA).
Date 2003–present
Location Darfur
Result Humanitarian catastrophe (est. 200,000-400,000 or more dead and 2,500,000 refugees)
Merged into the Central African War
JEM factions
NRF alliance
Alleged: Flag of Chad Chad
SLM Minnawi Faction
Flag of Sudan Sudan
Ibrahim Khalil
Ahmed Diraige
Omar al-Bashir
Minni Minnawi
7,000 (March 2007)
At least 2 KIA

The Darfur conflict is an ongoing armed conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, mainly between the Janjaweed, a militia group recruited from the tribes of the Abbala Rizeigat ( Bedouin Arabs), and the non- Baggara people (mostly land-tilling tribes) of the region. The Sudanese government, while publicly denying that it supports the Janjaweed, has provided money and assistance and has participated in joint attacks with the group, systematically targeting the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit ethnic groups in Darfur. The conflict began in July 2003. Unlike in the Second Sudanese Civil War, which was fought between the primarily Muslim north and Christian and Animist south, in Darfur most of the residents are Muslim, as are the Janjaweed.

After fighting worsened in July and August 2006, on August 31, 2006, the United Nations Security Council approved Resolution 1706 which called for a new 17,300-troop UN peacekeeping force to supplant or supplement a poorly funded, ill-equipped 7,000-troop African Union Mission in Sudan peacekeeping force. Sudan strongly objected to the resolution and said that it would see the UN forces in the region as foreign invaders. The next day, the Sudanese military launched a major offensive in the region. (See New proposed UN peacekeeping force)

There are various estimates as to how many deaths have occurred. However they all concur that the range is within the hundreds of thousands. The UN estimates that the conflict has left as many as 450,000 dead from violence and disease. Most NGOs (non-governmental organizations) use 200,000 to over 400,000, a figure from the Coalition for International Justice that has since been cited by the United Nations. Sudan's government claims that 9,000 people have been killed, however this figure is seen as counterfactual. As many as 2.5 million are thought to have been displaced as of October 2006. (See Counting deaths section, below) The mass media once described the conflict as both " ethnic cleansing" and " genocide," and now do so without hesitation. The United States government has described it as genocide, although the United Nations has declined to do so. (See List of declarations of genocide in Darfur) In March 2007 the U.N. mission accused Sudan's government of orchestrating and taking part in "gross violations" in Darfur and called for urgent international action to protect civilians there.

List of abbreviations

The following is a list of abbreviations used in this article:

AU: African Union
DLF: Darfur Liberation Front
IDP: Internally Displaced Person
JEM: Justice and Equality Movement
NRF: National Redemption Front
SLA: Sudan Liberation Army
SLM: Sudan Liberation Movement
SPLA: Sudan People's Liberation Army
UN: United Nations
UNSC: United Nations Security Council


The conflict taking place in Darfur has many interwoven causes. While rooted in structural inequality between the centre 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 politics. A point of particular confusion has been the characterization of the conflict as one between ' Arab' and ' African' populations, a dichotomy that one historian describes as "both true and false". Western powers have also been accused of covertly exacerbating tensions to counter recent Chinese-Sudanese oil cooperation, and to deter further oil deals by China in the region.

In the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, the Keira dynasty of the Fur people of the Marrah Mountains established a sultanate with Islam as the state religion. The sultanate was conquered by the Turco-Egyptian force expanding south along the Nile, which was in turn defeated by the Muhammad Ahmad, the self-proclaimed Mahdi. The Mahdist state collapsed under the onslaught of the British force led by Herbert Kitchener, who established an Anglo-Egyptian co-dominium to rule Sudan. The British allowed Darfur de jure autonomy until 1916 when they invaded and incorporated the region into Sudan. Within Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, the bulk of resources were devoted toward Khartoum and Blue Nile Province, leaving the rest of the country relatively undeveloped.

An internally displaced persons camp in Darfur
An internally displaced persons camp in Darfur

The inhabitants of the Nile Valley, which had received the bulk of British investment, continued the pattern of economic and political marginalization after independence was achieved in 1956. In the 1968 elections, factionalism within the ruling Umma Party led candidates, notably Sadiq al-Mahdi, to try to split off portions of the Darfuri electorate either by blaming the region's underdevelopment on the Arabs, in the case of appeals to the stationary peoples, or by appealing to the Baggara semi-nomads to support their fellow Nile Arabs. This Arab-African dichotomy, which was not an indigenously developed way of perceiving local relations, was exacerbated after Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi became focused on establishing an Arab belt across the Sahel and promulgated an ideology of Arab supremacy. As a result of a sequence of interactions between Sudan, Libya and Chad from the late 1960s through the 1980s, including the creation of the Libyan-supported Islamic Legion, Sudanese President Gaafar Nimeiry established Darfur as a rear base for the rebel force led by Hissène Habré, which was attempting to overthrow the Chadian government and was also anti-Gaddafi.

In 1983 and 1984, the rains failed and the region was plunged into a famine. The famine killed an estimated 95,000 people out of a population of 3.1 million. Nimeiry was overthrown on 5 April 1985, and Sadiq al-Mahdi came out of exile, making a deal with Gaddafi, which al-Mahdi did not honour, to turn over Darfur to Libya if he was supplied with the funds to win the upcoming elections.

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. The SLM, which is much larger than the JEM, is generally associated with the Fur and Masalit, as well as the Wagi clan of the Zaghawa, while the JEM is associated with the Kobe clan of Zaghawa. Later that year, leaders of both groups, the Sudanese Government and representatives of the International diplomatic community were brought together in Geneva by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue to look at ways of addressing the humanitarian crisis. In 2004, the JEM joined the Eastern Front, a group set up in 2004 as an alliance between two eastern tribal rebel groups, the Rashaida tribe's Free Lions and the Beja Congress. The JEM has also been accused of being controlled by Hassan al-Turabi.

On January 20, 2006, SLM declared a merger with the Justice and Equality Movement to form the Alliance of Revolutionary Forces of West Sudan. However, in May of that year, the SLM and JEM were again negotiating as separate entities.

History of the conflict, 2003-2007

Darfur conflict
Government - Janjaweed

International response
African Union Mission in Sudan

History of Darfur

The starting point of the conflict in the Darfur region is typically said to be 26 February 2003, when a group calling itself the Darfur Liberation Front (DLF) publicly claimed credit for an attack on Golo, the headquarters of Jebel Marra District. Even prior to this attack, however, a conflict had erupted in Darfur, as rebels had already attacked police stations, army outposts and military convoys, and the government had engaged in a massive air and land assault on the rebel stronghold in the Marrah Mountains. The rebels' first military action was a successful attack on an army garrison on the mountain on 25 February 2002 and the Sudanese government had been aware of a unified rebel movement since an attack on the Golo police station in June 2002. Chroniclers Julie Flint and Alex de Waal state that the beginning of the rebellion is better dated to 21 July 2001, when a group of Zaghawa and Fur met in Abu Gamra and swore oaths on the Qur'an to work together to defend against government-sponsored attacks on their villages. It should be noted that nearly all of the residents of Darfur are Muslim, as are the Janjaweed and the government leaders in Khartoum.

On 25 March, the rebels seized the garrison town of Tine along the Chadian border, seizing large quantities of supplies and arms. Despite a threat by President Omar al-Bashir to "unleash" the army, the military had little in reserve. The army was already deployed both to the south, where the Second Sudanese Civil War was drawing to an end, and the east, where rebels sponsored by Eritrea were threatening the newly constructed pipeline from the central oilfields to Port Sudan. The rebel tactic of hit-and-run raids using Toyota Land Cruisers to speed across the semi-desert region proved almost impossible for the army, untrained in desert operations, to counter. However, its aerial bombardment of rebel positions on the mountain was devastating.

At 5:30 am on 25 April 2003, a joint Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and JEM force in 33 Land Cruisers entered al-Fashir and attacked the sleeping garrison. In the next four hours, four Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships, according to the government, (seven according to the rebels) were destroyed on the ground, 75 soldiers, pilots and technicians were killed and 32 were captured, including the commander of the air base, a Major General. The success of the raid was unprecedented in Sudan; in the 20 years of the war in the south, the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) had never carried out such an operation.

Unleashing the Janjaweed (2003)

Internally displaced persons camp
Internally displaced persons camp

The al-Fashir raid was a turning point both militarily and psychologically. The armed forces had been humiliated by the al-Fashir raid and the government was faced with a difficult strategic situation. The armed forces would clearly need to be retrained and redeployed to fight this new kind of war and there were well-founded concerns about the loyalty of the many Darfurian non-commissioned officers and soldiers in the army. Responsibility for prosecuting the war was given to Sudanese Military Intelligence. Nevertheless, in the middle months of 2003, the rebels won 34 of 38 engagements. In May, the SLA destroyed a battalion at Kutum, killing 500 and taking 300 prisoners and in mid-July, 250 were killed in a second attack on Tine. The SLA began to infiltrate farther east, threatening to extend the war into Kordofan.

However, at this point the government changed its strategy. Given that the army was being consistently defeated, the war effort depended on three elements: Military Intelligence, the air force, and the Janjaweed, armed Baggara herders whom the government had begun directing in repression of a Masalit uprising in 1996-1999. The Janjaweed were put at the centre of the new counter-insurgency strategy. Military resources were poured into Darfur and the Janjaweed were outfitted as a paramilitary force, complete with communication equipment and some artillery. The probable results of such a strategy were clear to the military planners; similar strategies undertaken in the Nuba Mountains and around the southern oil fields during the previous decade had resulted in massive human rights violations and forced displacements.

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

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

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.

In 2004, Chad brokered negotiations in N'Djamena, leading to the April 8 Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement between the Sudanese government, JEM, and SLM. A group splintered from the JEM in April — the National Movement for Reform and Development — which did not participate in the April cease-fire talks or agreement. Janjaweed and rebel attacks have continued since the ceasefire. The African Union (AU) formed a Ceasefire Commission (CFC) to monitor observance of the putative ceasefire.

The scale of the crisis 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 led to comparisons with the Rwandan Genocide, a parallel hotly denied by the Sudanese government. Independent observers noted that the tactics, which include dismemberment and killing of noncombatants and even young children and babies, are more akin to the ethnic cleansing used in the Yugoslav Wars but have warned that the region's remoteness means that hundreds of thousands are effectively cut off from aid. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group reported in May 2004 that over 350,000 people could potentially die as a result of starvation and disease.

On 10 July 2005, Ex-SPLA leader John Garang was sworn in as Sudan's vice-president. However, on 30 July 2005, Garang died in a helicopter crash. His death had long-term implications and, despite improved security, talks between the various rebels in the Darfur region went slowly.

An attack on the Chadian town of Adre near the Sudanese border led to the deaths of three hundred rebels in December 2005. Sudan was blamed for the attack, which was the second in the region in three days. The escalating tensions in the region led to the government of Chad declaring its hostility toward Sudan and calling for Chadian citizens to mobilise themselves against the "common enemy". (See Chad-Sudan conflict)

May Agreement (2006)

Minni Minnawi was granted a press opportunity with U.S. President George W. Bush after signing the May agreement.
Minni Minnawi was granted a press opportunity with U.S. President George W. Bush after signing the May agreement.

On May 5, 2006, the government of Sudan signed an accord with the faction of the SLA led by Minni Minnawi. However, the agreement was rejected by two other, smaller groups, the Justice and Equality Movement and a rival faction of the SLA. The accord was orchestrated by the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, Salim Ahmed Salim (working on behalf of the African Union), AU representatives, and other foreign officials operating in Abuja, Nigeria. The accord calls for the disarmament of the Janjaweed militia, and for the rebel forces to disband and be incorporated into the army.

July-August 2006

During July and August 2006, fighting had been renewed, "threatening to shut down the world's largest aid operation" as international aid organizations considered leaving due to attacks against their personnel. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for bringing a force of 18,000 international peacekeepers to the region in order to replace the African Union force of 7,000 ( AMIS).

Internally displaced women in North Darfur.
Internally displaced women in North Darfur.

On August 18, the deputy head of the UN Peacekeeping Forces, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi, warned during a private meeting that Sudan appears to be undertaking preparations for a major military offensive in the region. The warning came a day after UN Commission on Human Rights special investigator Sima Samar stated that Sudan's efforts in the region remains poor despite the May Agreement. On August 19, Sudan reiterated its opposition to replacing the 7,000 AU force with a 17,000 UN one, resulting in the US issuing a "threat" to Sudan over the "potential consequences" of this position.

On August 24, Sudan rejected attending a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting to explain its plan of sending 10,000 Sudanese soldiers to Darfur instead of the proposed 20,000 UN peacekeeping force. The UNSC announced it will hold the meeting despite Sudan's refusal to attend. Also on August 24, the International Rescue Committee reported that hundreds of women were raped and sexually assaulted around the Kalma refugee camp during the last several weeks. The Janjaweed has used rape as a weapon. Culturally in the region, raped women are considered unclean, and are ostracized. Women are even raped in open, public places to increase humiliation for them and their families. The extent of rape used in attacks is likely greater than documented, because women who have been raped are usually reluctant to come forward. On August 25, the head of the US State Department's Bureau of African Affairs, Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer, warned that the region faces a security crisis unless the proposed UN peacekeeping force is allowed to deploy.

On August 26, two days before the UNSC meeting, and on the day Frazer was due to arrive in Khartoum, Paul Salopek, a US National Geographic Magazine journalist appeared in court in Darfur facing charges of espionage; he had crossed into the country illegally from Chad, due to the strict rules against foreign journalists. He was later released after direct negotiation with President al-Bashir. This came a month after Tomo Križnar, a Slovenian presidential envoy, was sentenced to two years for spying.

New proposed UN peacekeeping force

On August 31, 2006, the UNSC approved a resolution to send a new peacekeeping force of 17,300 to the region. Sudan has expressed strong opposition to the resolution. On September 1, 2006, AU officials reported that Sudan has launched a major offensive in Darfur. According to the AU, over 20 people were killed and 1,000 were displaced during clashes that began earlier in the week. On September 5, Sudan has asked the AU force in Darfur to leave the region by the end of the month, adding that "they have no right to transfer this assignment to the United Nations or any other party. This right rests with the government of Sudan." On September 4, 2006, in a move not viewed as surprising, Chad's president Idriss Déby voiced support for the new UN peacekeeping force. The AU, whose peacekeeping force mandate expires on September 30, 2006, has confirmed that they will do so. The next day, however, a senior US State Department official who declined to be identified, told reporters that the AU force might remain in the region past the deadline, citing this possibility as a "viable, live option."

Implementation failure (September 2006)

On September 8, 2006, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, said Darfur faces a "humanitarian catastrophe." On September 12, 2006, Sudan's European Union envoy Pekka Haavisto claimed that the Sudanese army is "bombing civilians in Darfur" . A World Food Program official reported that food aid has been cut off from at least 355,000 people in the region. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the UNSC that "the tragedy in Darfur has reached a critical moment. It merits this council's closest attention and urgent action."

On September 14, 2006, the leader of the now defunct Sudan Liberation Movement, currently Senior Assistant to the President of the Republic and Chairman of the Regional Interim Authority of Darfur, Minni Minnawi, stated that he does not object to the new UN peacekeeping force, thereby breaking ranks with the Sudanese government who consider such a deployment to be an act of Western invasion. Minnawi claimed that the AU force "can do nothing because the AU mandate is very limited." Khartoum, however, remained sternly against the UN peacekeeping force, with Sudanese president Al-Bashir depicting it as a colonial plan, and stating that "we do not want Sudan to turn into another Iraq."

Deterioration (October-November 2006)

On October 2, with the UN force plan indefinitely suspended on account of Sudanese opposition, the AU announced that it will extend its presence in the region until December 31, 2006. Two hundred UN troops were sent to reinforce the AU force. On October 6, the UNSC voted to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sudan until April 30, 2007. On October 9, the Food and Agriculture Organization listed Sudan's Darfur region as the most pressing food emergency out of the forty countries listed on its Crop Prospects and Food Situation report. On October 10, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, claimed that the Sudanese government had prior knowledge of attacks by Janjaweed militias in Buram, South Darfur the month before, an attack which saw hundreds of civilians killed.

Children in the camps are encouraged to confront their psychological scars. The clay figures depict an attack by Janjaweed.
Children in the camps are encouraged to confront their psychological scars. The clay figures depict an attack by Janjaweed.

On October 12, the Foreign Minister of Nigeria Joy Ogwu arrived in Darfur for a two-day visit. She urged the Sudanese government to accept a UN formula. Speaking in Ethiopia, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke against "stand[ing] by and see[ing] genocide being developed in Darfur." On October 13, US President George W. Bush imposed further sanctions against those deemed complicit in the Darfur atrocities under the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006. The measures were said to strengthen existing sanctions by prohibiting US citizens from engaging in oil-related transactions with Sudan (although US companies were prohibited from doing any business with Sudan since 1997), freezing the assets of complicit parties and denying them entry to the US.

Because the African Union Mission in Sudan is underfunded and badly equipped, it is said that until December 31, violence in Darfur will worsen, with government troops and allied militias, as well as rebels, blamed for new attacks. But so far there is no agreement on what will happen after that date. Aid workers say their access is severely limited by fighting, and some have warned the humanitarian situation could deteriorate to levels seen in 2003 and 2004 when U.N. officials called Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

On 22 October 2006, the Sudanese government told U.N. envoy Jan Pronk to leave the country within three days. Pronk, the senior U.N. official in the country, had been heavily criticized by the army after he posted a description of several recent military defeats in Darfur to his personal blog. On November 1, the US announced that it will be formulating an international plan which they hoped the Sudanese government will find more palatable. On November 9, senior Sudanese presidential advisor Nafie Ali Nafie told reporters that his government is prepared to start unconditional talks with the National Redemption Front (NRF) -the rebel alliance in Darfur- but noted he saw little use for a new peace agreement. The NRF, who had rejected the May Agreement (only an inter-SLM faction was signatory to it), did not issue a comment. It had previously sought a new peace agreement. In late 2006, Darfur Arabs started their own rebel group, The Popular Forces Troops, and announced on December 6 that they had repulsed an assault by the Sudanese army at Kas-Zallingi the previous day. In a statement, they called the Janjaweed mercenaries who do not represent Darfur's Arabs. Since 2003, numerous Darfur Arab groups have announced their opposition to the government's war, some signing political accords with rebel movements.

Proposed compromise UN force and Sudanese offensive

On November 17, reports of a potential deal to place a "compromise peacekeeping force" in Darfur were announced, but would later appear to have been rejected by Sudan. The UN, nonetheless, claimed on November 18 that Sudan agreed to the deployment of UN peacekeepers. Sudan's Foreign Minister Lam Akol stated that "there should be no talk about a mixed force" and that the UN's role should be restricted to technical support. Also on November 18, the AU reported that Sudanese military and Sudanese-backed militias had launched a ground and air operation in the region which resulted in about 70 civilian deaths. The AU stated that this "'was a flagrant violation of security agreements.'"

On November 25, a spokesperson for United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour accused the Sudanese government of having committed "a deliberate and unprovoked attack" against civilians in the town of Sirba on November 11, which claimed the lives of at least 30 people. The Commissioner's statement maintained that "contrary to the government’s claim, it appears that the Sudanese Armed Forces launched a deliberate and unprovoked attack on civilians and their property in Sirba," and that this also involved "extensive and wanton destruction and looting of civilian property."

January - April 2007 cease-fire agreement and its rapid dissolution

According to the Save Darfur Coalition, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and President al-Bashir have agreed to a cease-fire whereby the Sudanese "government and rebel groups will cease hostilities for a period of 60 days while they work towards a lasting peace." In addition, the Save Darfur press release stated that the agreement "included a number of concessions to improve humanitarian aid and media access to Darfur." Despite the formality of a ceasefire there have been further media reports of killings and other violence. On Sunday April 15, 2007 African Union peacekeepers were targeted and killed. The New York Times reported that 'a confidential United Nations report says the government of Sudan is flying arms and heavy military equipment into Darfur in violation of Security Council resolutions and painting Sudanese military planes white to disguise them as United Nations or African Union aircraft'. The violence has spread over the border to Chad. On March 31, 2007 Janjaweed militiamen killed up to 400 people in the volatile eastern border region of Chad near Sudan. The attack took place in March 31 in the border villages of Tiero and Marena. The villages were encircled and then fired upon. Fleeing villagers were later subsequently chased. The women were robbed and the men shot according to the UNHCR. There were many who despite surviving the initial attack, ending up dying later due to exhaustion and dehydration, often while fleeing.On April 14, 2007 more attacks within Chad were reported by the [UNHCR] to have occurred again in the border villages of Tiero and Marena. On April 18th President Bush gave a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum criticizing the Sudanese government and threatened the use of sanctions if the situation does not improve. Sanctions would involve restriction of trade and dollar transactions with the Sudanese government and 29 Sudanese businesses.

International Criminal Court charges

Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister Ahmed Haroun and a Janjaweed militia leader, known as Ali Kushayb have been charged with 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, by the International Criminal Court. Ahmed Haroun said he "did not feel guilty", his conscience was clear and that he was ready to defend himself.

May 2007

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Chad president Idriss Deby signed an peace agreement On May 3, 2007 aimed at reducing tension between their countries. The accord was brokered by Saudi Arabia. It sought to guarantee that each country would not be used to harbour, train or fund armed movements opposed to the government of the other. The Reuters News Service reported that "Deby's fears that Nouri's UFDD may have been receiving Saudi as well as Sudanese support could have pushed him to sign the Saudi-mediated pact with Bashir on Thursday". Colin Thomas-Jensen, an expert on Chad and Darfur who works International Crisis Group think-tank has grave doubts as to whether "this new deal will lead to any genuine thaw in relations or improvement in the security situation". Additionally The Chadian rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) which has fought a hit-and-run war against Chad President Deby's forces in east Chad since 2006 stated that the Saudi-backed peace deal would not stop its military campaign. Only the carrot and stick of Saudi aid to the UFDD may have forced the Chad government to the table. Thus the agreement may end up hurting the Sudanese rebels the most, leaving the Sudanese government with a freer hand.

International response (2003-2004)

The Save Darfur Coalition advocacy group coordinated a large rally in Washington, D.C. in April 2006
The Save Darfur Coalition advocacy group coordinated a large rally in Washington, D.C. in April 2006

International attention to the Darfur conflict largely began with reports by the advocacy organizations Amnesty International in July 2003 and the International Crisis Group in December 2003. However, widespread media coverage did not start until the outgoing United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, called Darfur the "world's greatest humanitarian crisis" in March 2004. A movement advocating for humanitarian intervention has emerged in several countries since then.

Gérard Prunier, a scholar specializing in African conflicts, argues that the world's most powerful countries have largely limited their response to expressions of concern and demands that the United Nations take action. The UN, lacking both the funding and military support of the wealthy countries, has left the African Union to deploy a token force ( AMIS) without a mandate to protect civilians. In the lack of foreign political will to address the political and economic structures that underlie the conflict, the international community has defined the Darfur conflict in humanitarian assistance terms and debated the "genocide" label.

Genocide claims

On September 18, 2004, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1564, which called for a Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to assess the Sudanese conflict. The UN report released on January 31, 2005 stated that while there were mass murders and rapes, they could not label it as genocide because "genocidal intent appears to be missing".

In 2005, Rep. Henry Hyde ( R- IL) and Sen. Sam Brownback ( R- KS) introduced the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which calls on the United States to take a more active role in stopping the alleged genocide, encourages NATO participation, and endorses a Chapter VII mandate for a UN mission in Darfur. The bill was passed by the House and Senate and as of August 2006 is in conference committee. In August 2006, the Genocide Intervention Network released a Darfur scorecard, rating each member of Congress on legislation relating to the conflict.

Criticism of international response

On October 16, 2006, Minority Rights Group (MRG) published a critical report, challenging that the UN and the great powers could have prevented the deepening crisis in Darfur and that few lessons appear to have been drawn from their ineptitude during the Rwandan Genocide. MRG's executive director, Mark Lattimer, stated that: "this level of crisis, the killings, rape and displacement could have been foreseen and avoided ... Darfur would just not be in this situation had the UN systems got its act together after Rwanda: their action was too little too late." On October 20, 120 genocide survivors of the Holocaust, the Cambodian and Rwandan Genocides, backed by six aid agencies, submitted an open letter to the European Union, calling on them to do more to end the atrocities in Darfur, with a UN peacekeeping force as "the only viable option." Aegis Trust director, James Smith, stated that while "the African Union has worked very well in Darfur and done what it could, the rest of the world hasn't supported those efforts the way it should have done with sufficient funds and sufficient equipment."

Activists have recently focused their attention on China in particular, because of their financial and diplomatic support for Omar al-Bashir and the Sudanese government's proxy militias. Calls for sustained pressure and possible boycotts of the Olympics have come from French presidential candidate François Bayrou, actor and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow, Genocide Intervention Network Representative Ronan Farrow, author and Sudan scholar Eric Reeves and The Washington Post editorial board. Sudan divestment efforts have also concentrated on PetroChina, the national petroleum company with extensive investments in Sudan.

On the opposite side of the issue, publicity given to the Darfur conflict has been strongly criticized in the Arab and Muslim world as exaggerated, an attempt "to divert the attention from the crimes being committed every day in Palestine and Iraq," and "a cover for what is really being planned and carried out by the Western forces of hegemony and control in our Arab world." While "in New York, ... there are thousands of posters screaming 'genocide' and '400,000 people dead," in reality only "200,000 have been killed and that what has been done" in Darfur is "not genocide," simply "war crimes." Another complaint is that "there is no ethnic cleansing being perpetrated" in Darfur, simply "great instability" and "clashes between the Sudanese government, rebel movements and the Janjaweed."

Counting deaths

This mother had just arrived with her sick baby at Abu Shouk IDP camp in North Darfur.
This mother had just arrived with her sick baby at Abu Shouk IDP camp in North Darfur.

Accurate numbers of dead have been difficult to estimate, partly because the Sudanese government places formidable obstacles in front of journalists attempting to cover the conflict. In September 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated there had been 50,000 deaths in Darfur since the beginning of the conflict, an 18-month period, mostly due to starvation. An updated estimate the following month put the number of deaths for the 6-month period from March to October 2004 due to starvation and disease at 70,000; These figures were criticized, because they only considered short periods and did not include violent deaths. A more recent British Parliamentary Report has estimated that over 300,000 people have died, and others have estimated even more.

In March 2005, the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland estimated that 10,000 were dying each month excluding deaths due to ethnic violence. An estimated 2 million people had at that time been displaced from their homes, mostly seeking refuge in camps in Darfur's major towns. Two hundred thousand had fled to neighboring Chad.

In an April 2005 report, the most comprehensive statistical analysis to date, the Coalition for International Justice estimated that 400,000 people in Darfur had died since the conflict began, a figure most humanitarian and human rights groups now use.

On 28 April 2006, Dr. Eric Reeves argued that "extant data, in aggregate, strongly suggest that total excess mortality in Darfur, over the course of more than three years of deadly conflict, now significantly exceeds 450,000," but this has not been independently verified.

A 21 September 2006 article by the official UN News Service stated that "UN officials estimate over 400,000 people have lost their lives and some 2 million more have been driven from their homes." This now appears to be the official UN figure.

In popular culture

  • The Song "Al Genina (Leave The Light On)" by Our Lady Peace was influenced by lead singer Raine Maida's visit to war torn Darfur.
  • A documentary, The Devil Came on Horseback, is expected early 2007.
  • A story arc spanning several episodes and featuring several major characters of the television show ER takes place in the region.
  • An episode in the seventh season of the television show The West Wing, " Internal Displacement," deals with the conflict in Darfur. Actor Bradley Whitford later spoke out about the need for international involvement in Darfur.
  • A campaign was placed on MTV about raising the need for awareness about Darfur
  • On the popular CW show 7th Heaven, two episodes are dedicated to this crisis.
  • The comic book Squadron Supreme: Hyperion vs. Nighthawk, published by Marvel Comics, takes place in the region and highlights the conflict
  • In 2006 rapper Lupe Fiasco appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien as a musical guest and ended his performance with the statement "Peace in Darfur ladies and gentlemen".
  • The metal band 2050 released a song and music video named "Darfur" speaking of the conflict. The music video can be viewed at: Darfur Music Video.
  • Many Reggae and Dancehall artitst and DJs have expressed a concern about the situation and in the 2006 Dancehall tune, artist Capleton sings, "Dem nuh like we true mi a speak out fi Sudan."

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