Darfur is a region in northwest Sudan, covering an area approximately the size of Spain. It is a multi-ethnic country with a dictatorial government dominated by an Arab and Islamist elite who are based in Khartoum, the country's capital. Since early 2003, Sudanese government soldiers and their proxy militia, known as Janjaweed, have fought rebel groups in Darfur.
Between 2003 and 2005, an estimated 200,000 civilians died from violence, disease, and starvation as a result of the conflict, and 2 million were displaced from their homes. The violence has continued, claiming over 100,000 additional lives.
In 2004, the US Secretary of State termed the Sudanese government's campaign of violence in Darfur a genocide.
From 2003 to 2005, Sudanese forces, in cooperation with the Janjaweed, engaged in a scorched earth campaign characterized by the intentional burning of homes, villages, and crops and the systematic destruction of food stores. Government and Janjaweed forces systematically depopulated land inhabited by Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa communities through forced displacement and violent attacks on civilians amounting to ethnic cleansing and genocide. Additionally, refugee and displaced persons settlements have long been targets of further violence by government and Janjaweed forces, including looting relief supplies, killing, and widespread rape. Between 2003 and 2005, these measures resulted in the deaths of 200,000 and forced displacement of two million people.
In the course of Khartoum’s genocidal campaign in Darfur, a pattern of government-sponsored actions included:
- Backing Janjaweed militias in systematic attacks against civilians from the same ethnic groups as rebel forces, primarily the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit;
- Bombing civilians from aircrafts; committing massive human rights abuses including murder, rape, and persecution based on race, ethnicity, and religion;
- Impeding international humanitarian access, resulting in deadly conditions of life for displaced people; and harassing internally displaced persons;
- The use of rape as a tool of social control and a weapon of war.
Although large-scale government attacks against civilians have declined since 2005, millions remain at risk as the fighting continues. Most of those displaced have not returned home for fear that their villages will be attacked again.
The violence in Darfur received enormous public and international attention. Partially in response to pressure from human rights advocates, members of the United States government were some of the first international figures to label the violence in Darfur a genocide. In 2004 and 2005, respectively, Secretary of State Colin Powell and President George W. Bush issued statements condemning the ongoing genocide for which the Janjaweed and Sudanese government were considered responsible. While the UN, the African Union (AU), and the European Union disagreed that genocide had occurred, they all accused the Sudanese government and its allied militias of committing crimes against humanity.
In 2004, the African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS) was established to monitor the Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement signed earlier that year. African Union and UN efforts to negotiate a permanent settlement expanded in the years following the initial AMIS deployment, resulting in the short-lived Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) in 2006. In 2007, the United Nations Security Council authorized a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force to oversee the implementation of the DPA. Since its inception, the force has been underfunded, understaffed, and vulnerable to attacks from Sudanese government forces and rebel groups alike. While UNAMID was the largest peacekeeping force in the world from 2007 to 2014, with roughly 27,000 military and police personnel, its force has since been decreased to just over 17,000 personnel in 2016.
In March 2005, the UN Security Council referred the case of Sudan to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. In July 2008, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested the court issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charging him with crimes against humanity and war crimes for the government's role in orchestrating violence in Darfur. In 2010, three counts of genocide were added to the list of charges. However, in 2014, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the case against Bashir would be suspended because of lack of enforcement by international actors, which was then demonstrated in 2015, when the government of South Africa failed to arrest President Bashir when he visited for an African Union conference.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What pressures and motivations may have motivated or hindered the responses of international organizations and government officials?
- Investigate contemporary conditions in Darfur. What has changed? What is different?
- What responsibilities do (or should) other nations have regarding mass murder within another country?