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In this report, Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of human rights violations in West Darfur that amount to a government policy of “ethnic cleansing” of certain ethnic groups, namely the Fur and the Masalit, from their areas of residence.114  Other credible sources, in particular the Emergency Relief Co-ordinator of the U.N. system and the former Resident Co-ordinator of the U.N. system in Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, have made similar claims.115  

Although “ethnic cleansing” is not formally defined under international law, a U.N. Commission of Experts has defined the term as a “purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas. . . . This purpose appears to be the occupation of territory to the exclusion of the purged group or groups.”116

The Commission of Experts elucidated the meaning of “ethnic cleansing” as it occurred in the former Yugoslavia:

The coercive means used to remove the civilian population from the above-mentioned strategic areas include: mass murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual assault; severe physical injury to civilians; mistreatment of civilian prisoners and prisoners of war; use of civilians as human shields; destruction of personal, public and cultural property; looting, theft and robbery of personal property; forced expropriation of real property; forceful displacement of civilian population. . . . 117

The United Nations has repeatedly characterized the practice of ethnic cleansing as a violation of international humanitarian law, and has demanded that perpetrators of ethnic cleansing be brought to justice.118  The individual human rights abuses that characterize ethnic cleansing are crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Human Rights Watch has found credible evidence that the government of Sudan has purposefully sought to remove by violent means the Masalit and Fur populations from large parts of Darfur in operations that amount to ethnic cleansing. The attacks directed against civilians, the burning of their villages, the mass killings of persons under their control, the forced displacement of populations, the destruction of their food stocks, livelihoods and the looting of their livestock by government and militia forces are not merely a scorched earth tactic or an element of a counterinsurgency strategy. Their aim appears to be to remove those ethnic groups from large areas of the region and redistribute this population, mainly into the vicinity of government-controlled towns where they can be concentrated, confined and controlled. 

The subsequent denial of humanitarian assistance to this population by the government of Sudan, in conditions where the population has been rendered entirely dependent on relief, can also be considered as part of a strategy to weaken and perhaps destroy a large proportion of the displaced population and prevent their return to their home villages. The situation has been exacerbated by the occupation and apparent resettlement of some Masalit and Fur areas by Janjaweed and related Arab ethnic groups. The ethnic make-up of the region will be permanently altered if the large-scale displacement that has occurred is not urgently addressed and reversed.

Human Rights Watch’s general findings of ethnic cleansing are set out below. Independent and impartial investigations, such as by a U.N. Commission of Experts, are necessary to pinpoint individual criminal responsibility for ethnic cleansing, including related crimes against humanity and war crimes.

First, the government of Sudan is responsible for recruiting, arming, and participating in joint attacks with militia forces that have become the main instrument for attacks on and the displacement of the civilian population. As documented here and elsewhere, Sudanese army and militia forces have been responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law.

Second, the attacks on Masalit and Fur villages by Sudanese government and militia forces follow clear patterns and were carried out in what appeared to be coordinated and planned operations.  Villages were not attacked at random, but were emptied across wide areas in operations that lasted for several days or were repeated several times until the population was finally driven away.  While Human Rights Watch was in Darfur, fourteen villages south-west of Geneina were attacked and burned in a single day, March 27, 2004. The same month, government forces and Janjaweed cleared and burned dozens of villages in the Millebeeda area, close to the Chad border, burning eight villages in a single day in early March. Human Rights Watch surveyed an area of approximately sixty square kilometres or twenty-five square miles, and found the area, once well-populated and intensely farmed, to be completely deserted.

Third, many of the attacks were carried out in a similar manner: aerial support in bombing and reconnaissance by the Sudanese air force followed by ground attacks by government forces and Janjaweed. Janjaweed have been given explicit and implicit authority over areas vacated by those they have forced out. The Janjaweed man checkpoints on main roads and regulate the movement of goods and people.

Fourth, the government and militia attacks on the Masalit and Fur villages appear intended to discourage continued habitation by the population.  Of fourteen villages in the area examined by Human Rights Watch, eleven had been completely burnt – including Hajjar Suleiman, Terbeba, Sanyabey, Tirti, Nyaltita (two separate villages), Abojey, Khair Wajid and Kenyimeje. Three were abandoned because of the burning: Diridida, Barida and Onyanata.  In all the villages visited, food stores had been systematically looted and burned even when a few grass huts, known as tukls, remained standing.  Everything necessary for the storage and preparation of food – pots, bowls, glasses for tea – lay smashed.  

Fifth, government-supported militia forces have been deployed in and around destroyed villages, preventing the displaced population from returning.   Militias continue to attack displaced civilians after they escape into camps and settlements, beating women and children who attempt to leave these settlements in order to collect firewood, wild foods or other essential items, and sometimes killing them; women have been raped.   Men residing in camps and towns controlled by the Janjaweed have been tortured and killed.  Individuals who have tried to return to their villages, even after paying sums of money to Janjaweed in order to do so, have been attacked yet again. There have also been reports of families of Janjaweed militia moving into Masalit and Fur areas.

Taken together, these elements provide compelling evidence of a government policy of ethnic cleansing in Darfur.

[114] While a similar pattern may be in effect in North Darfur, in the Zaghawa homeland, the scope of this report is limited to West Darfur. For further information on abuses in the Zaghawa homeland in North Darfur, please see Human Rights Watch report Darfur in Flames.

[115] See A Briefing Paper on the Darfur Crisis: Ethnic Cleansing, Office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator for the Sudan dated March 25, 2004 on file with Human Rights Watch; U.N. press release, “Sudan: Envoy warns of ethnic cleansing as Security Council calls for ceasefire,” New York, April 2, 2004. (accessed May 4, 2004).

[116] Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 (1992), 27 May 1994, section III.B at  Commenting on the situation in the former Yugoslavia, the Commission further stated, ”There is sufficient evidence to conclude that the practices of ‘ethnic cleansing’ were not coincidental, sporadic or carried out by disorganized groups or bands of civilians who could not be controlled by the Bosnian-Serb leadership.  Indeed, the patterns of conduct, the manner in which these acts were carried out, the length of time over which they took place and the areas in which they occurred combine to reveal a purpose, systematicity and some planning and coordination from higher authorities.  Furthermore, these practices are carried out by persons from all segments of the Serbian population in the areas described: members of the army, militias, special forces, the police and civilians.  Lastly, the Commission notes that these unlawful acts are often heralded by the perpetrators as positive, patriotic accomplishments.”

[117] Ibid.

[118] See Security Council resolutions 771 (1992), 780 (1992), 808 (1993), 820 (1993), and 941 (1994), and U.N. General Assembly resolutions 46/242 and 47/80.

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