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Ten years after the Rwandan genocide and despite years of soul-searching, the response of the international community to the events in Sudan has been nothing short of shameful. The initial reason for deferring consideration of the war in Darfur was that serious peace talks had started in mid-2002 to end the twenty-year war between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), a mostly-southern Sudanese force. The parties were making progress but the war in western Sudan, which only started in 2003, was not on the agenda at these Naivasha, Kenya talks.

The diplomatic community feared that too much attention to Darfur would distract from the attention and energy the parties and the Troika (U.S., U.K., and Norway) were bringing to the successful conclusion of these talks, still pending.  As various Troika-suggested deadlines were missed by the parties, Darfur began to overshadow Naivasha as the scope of the human rights and humanitarian crisis began to shake public opinion.

Response of the Sudanese government and the rebel groups: The ceasefire agreement

Sudanese President Omar El Bashir prematurely declared victory over the rebels in Darfur and promised full humanitarian access to the international relief community on February 9, 2004146. The victory was prematurely claimed, and access was not forthcoming.

The government of Sudan almost completely banned humanitarian agencies from Darfur for four crucial months, from late October 2003 through late-February 2004. The government’s continued violence and forced displacement of civilians had and continues to have enormous humanitarian consequences.147  More than a million people are estimated to be displaced from their homes, the vast majority still within Darfur.

Access only began to improve in March after months of NGO and U.N. lobbying, but the government continued to impede humanitarian access, imposing bureaucratic procedures on visas and layers of “travel authorizations” for aid workers. The U.N. humanitarian mission to Darfur warned on May 1 that “the crisis in Darfur, western Sudan, will worsen dramatically unless security there is immediately improvement and humanitarian agencies have better access to those in need.”

Under pressure, another round of peace negotiations between the rebels and the Sudanese government was held in N’djamena, Chad, under the auspices of Chadian President Idriss Deby, in late March; a previous ceasefire in August 2003 was long dead.148

The Sudanese government rejected “internationalizing” the Darfur conflict and tried to obstruct E.U. and U.S. participation in the talks, perhaps because it has greater ability to influence the fledgling A.U. and its ally, Chadian President Idriss Deby, whom it helped come to power in 1990—his military coup was launched from Darfur. Despite Sudanese government foot-dragging, the talks were attended by representatives of the European Union and the United States who offered to support the process and a ceasefire with personnel, logistics, funding, and other support.149

It nevertheless took strong statements by both the U.N. Secretary-General and the U.S. president, on April 7 and 8 respectively, to pressure the government to take any action. The Sudanese government and the two rebel groups hastily signed a minimal “humanitarian” ceasefire agreement on April 8, also committing themselves to further political negotiations to resolve the war.

The ceasefire came into effect on April 11, 2004, but was followed almost immediately by allegations of violations, mainly continuing Janjaweed attacks on civilians.  This was unsurprising given the government’s lack of commitment to disarm and disband the groups. The ceasefire agreement referred to the government’s responsibility to “neutralize” the militias, but did not define this term. Many observers are concerned that the government may simply incorporate the militias into the police and regular armed forces, an alarming possibility given the gravity of their crimes.

Additional flaws in the April 8 ceasefire agreement included the lack of a clear timetable and structure for international monitoring and the lack of any mechanism to monitor ongoing human rights abuses which continue to affect thousands of Darfurians. The ceasefire also lacked measures to reverse ethnic cleansing, such as an agreement that the Sudanese government would immediately withdraw the Janjaweed militia from those parts of Darfur it seized from 2003 to the present.

By late April, political talks in N’djamena had begun amid reports that the Sudanese government was attempting to split the rebel coalition along ethnic lines. The ceasefire monitors had not yet deployed. Reports of ceasefire violations and the consistent lack of protection for civilians continued to grow.

The United Nations: strong statements from U.N. staff

United Nations officials have played a key role in raising the awareness of international governments and media to the gravity and scale of the abuses in Darfur, but the U.N.’s political bodies such as the Security Council and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights have failed to respond adequately to the crisis, thus far.

Several leading U.N. human rights officials and experts made strong statements of concern about Darfur in January and February 2004.150  On March 19, 2004, the then United Nations Resident Representative for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, speaking to reporters in Nairobi, made the strongest statement thus far, describing the situation in Darfur as “ethnic cleansing”. 151 He said some Arab groups, backed by the government, were conducting a campaign affecting one million persons that was comparable in character with the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

On April 2, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Darfur which he described as one of “ethnic cleansing”152 and expressed his hope that the Council would remain seized of the matter and would consider taking further action if the situation did not improve. 153  Despite these strong remarks, the Security Council President issued a pre-approved, tepid statement to the press in which he expressed concern at the “humanitarian crisis” in Darfur but refrained from acknowledging that the human rights situation is the cause of the humanitarian crisis.154

U.N. concern about the situation in Darfur was strongly expressed yet again on April 7, when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke before the Commission on U.N. Human Rights on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, referred to Egeland’s ethnic cleansing remarks, and cautioned that the international community would have to take action if full access was not given to human rights and humanitarian workers.155 He noted that reports of the large-scale human rights abuses in Darfur:

leave me with a deep sense of foreboding. Whatever terms it uses to describe the situation, the international community cannot stand idle.

At the invitation of the Sudanese government, I propose to send a high-level team to Darfur to gain a fuller understanding of the extent and nature of this crisis, and to seek improved access to those in need of assistance and protection. It is vital that international humanitarian workers and human rights experts be given full access to the region, and to the victims, without further delay. If that is denied, the international community must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action.

By “action” in such situations I mean a continuum of steps, which may include military action.156

The mission referred to in Annan’s remarks was due to leave in mid-April, led by Under-Secretary Jan Egeland, but was delayed by the Sudanese government, which refused visas to several of its members, including Egeland. The mission finally left in late April, under the leadership of WFP Executive Director James Morris and was due to be completed in early May.157

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights: more heat than light

Despite the strong words of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the Commission for Human Rights and an earlier statement, on March 26, 2004, by eight human rights experts of the Commission who took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement of concern “at the scale of reported human rights abuses and at the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Darfur, Sudan . . . .”, the final deliberations of the Commission were disappointing for those who had been hoping that the world’s premier human rights entity would set a strong moral tone on this issue. 158 

In early April, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) sent a team of human rights experts to investigate the Darfur abuses.159 This was to be a separate mission from the humanitarian assessment mission being conducted in April under the direction of Jan Egeland.

From April 5-15 the OHCHR team conducted research among the Sudanese refugees in Chad, then more than 100,000 people. Its efforts to investigate abuses from inside Sudan were initially rejected by the Sudanese government, which refused to issue visas to the delegation. However, the Sudanese government, a member of the Commission, suddenly had a change of heart and reversed its refusal of visas for the OHCHR team the day the report was to be released– in the opinion of most, to prevent the report from being distributed at the Commission.

The report, never officially released, strongly condemned the Sudanese government’s abuses in Darfur, which it said might constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. The government, it asserted, was conducting a “reign of terror” directed at the African Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa.160

On April 20 the OHCHR fact-finding mission left Geneva for Darfur.161 The strong OHCHR “reign of terror” report was quickly leaked and was instantly news.162 Some members of the Commission expressed outrage over the leak, and the governments of Pakistan, Sudan, and others demanded an investigation of the leaks.163

The Commission vote on Sudan was postponed until the last day of the yearly Commission session, April 23. At the last minute the E.U., which had co-sponsored a strong resolution condemning the abuses and re-establishing the mandate for a special rapporteur for human rights, backed down.  E.U. members reportedly feared insufficient support from key African and Arab members of the U.N. body, who had bowed to Sudanese pressure. Instead, a weaker decision eventually passed.  This decision included the appointment of an independent expert on human rights but failed to condemn the crimes against humanity and war crimes or other violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Sudanese government. Only one member voted against this watered-down statement—the United States—and two members abstained, Australia and Ukraine.

The U.S. asked for a special session of the Commission to consider the situation in Darfur following the return of the OHCHR from Sudan in early May. In a speech to the Commission, U.S. Ambassador Richard Williamson warned:

ten years from now, the 60th Commission on Human Rights will be remembered for one thing and one thing alone: Did we have the courage and strength to take strong action against the ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Darfur. We will be asked, ‘Where were you at the time of the ethnic cleansing?’ ‘What did you do?’164

The world’s preeminent human rights body failed to perform the role for which it was created, limiting itself to expressions of “deep concern”—rather than condemnation—over the situation in Sudan. It appointed an independent expert to assess Sudan’s human rights performance rather than the stronger special rapporteur.165

The European Union and European member states

European reaction to the situation in Darfur has been mixed. The European Union on February 25 expressed its “serious concern” and said it was “alarmed at reports that Janjaweed militias continue to systematically target villages and centres for IDPs in their attacks. The EU strongly condemns the attacks and calls upon the Government of Sudan to put an end to Janjaweed atrocities.”166 The European Parliament also issued strong statements and resolutions on the Darfur crisis. Some individual European countries lobbied strongly behind the scenes for improvements in Sudan’s human rights performance and the E.U. response to it.

Despite some strong public statements from the European Union, however, there has been little public condemnation from key individual European governments such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France, all of which have embassies in Khartoum, relations with the government of Sudan, and longstanding interests in the IGAD peace talks taking place in Naivasha, Kenya to end the war in southern Sudan. Indeed, despite growing awareness of the scale of the abuses in Darfur, European governments until April appeared loath to apply serious pressure on the Sudanese government, at the risk of allowing Darfur to undermine two years of Naivasha talks. 

Europeans also have preferred to let the African Union take the lead on ceasefire monitoring, choosing instead to offer personnel, funding and logistical support to an A.U.-led mission. But a German minister urged that U.N. troops be used to monitor the ceasefire, instead of the A.U. troops contemplated.167

The E.U.'s rapid response mechanisms do not seem to have worked in political, diplomatic, or practical terms to alert the E.U. to take prompt and effective measures on Darfur. The U.N. had been warning of the humanitarian emergency since late 2003. The E.U., and other donors, did not react to the Sudanese government's denial of humanitarian access or early reports of abuses.  Instead the human rights abuses generating the displacement continued, unmentioned by European governments until one million Darfurians had already been forced out and a humanitarian catastrophe was inevitable.

The African Union and African member states

Individual African member states have made little or no public condemnation of the government of Sudan’s abuses. African members of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, acting as a group, helped to undermine the resolution proposed at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in April to appoint a special rapporteur and to condemn the Sudanese government’s abuses in Darfur.

The African Union has played an observer role at the ceasefire and political talks in N’djamena, Chad, and was delegated the task of setting up the ceasefire commission in Darfur pursuant to the April 8 ceasefire agreement.

In a communiqué issued at an April session, the A.U. Peace and Security Council expressed its concern over “the grave humanitarian situation in Darfur” and called on the government of Sudan to “bring to justice those responsible for violations of human rights,” but has since concentrated on deployment of the ceasefire monitors. 

The African Union appealed for U.S. $ 10 million for the ceasefire observer mission and humanitarian assistance to Darfur.168 The A.U.’s proposal for the establishment of a ceasefire commission is lacking in several respects, namely in specifying the number of monitors. It also proposes that 100-200 troops participate as “protectors” for the ceasefire observers, should they be required,169 and suggests Ethiopian and Chadian troops. Neither country can be considered as neutral with regard to Sudan. 

As of the writing of this report, one month (thirty days) after the signing of the month-and-a-half (forty-five days) ceasefire agreement, no monitors are on the ground although a reconnaissance mission may be undertaken shortly.

The United States

The U.S. government has taken the strongest public stance on Darfur of any individual government, with repeated statements condemning the human rights abuses and calling on the government of Sudan to address the situation. On April 7, U.S. President George Bush condemned “atrocities” in Sudan and called for unrestricted humanitarian access.170

The U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on Darfur, or in which Darfur was prominently mentioned.171 U.S. aid officials have frequently drawn attention to the enormous humanitarian needs in the region, with repeated visits to Darfur and statements. U.S. AID’s chief executive Andrew Natsios held a press conference to denounce the Sudanese government’s stalling on visas for twenty-eight U.S. emergency relief workers.172

The fact that the U.S. and European policy-makers have not been unified in their approach to Darfur, however, permitted the government of Sudan to play various governments against each other to its own advantage, with the Europeans implicitly criticizing the U.S. for being too aggressive and perhaps threatening the Naivasha talks. As momentum gathered, however, the U.S. pushed for having Darfur before the Security Council while both the E.U. and U.S. have deferred on the ceasefire commission to the A.U.

The humanitarian response

The vast majority of civilians at risk have been stripped of their assets, land, security, and freedom of movement. Confined in camps and settlements for the displaced and unable to access their land or even the wild foods, markets, and labor migration that could normally sustain them in times of crisis, they are entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance.  To date, the humanitarian assistance available to civilians in Darfur remains far from adequate. Only a few international humanitarian agencies are active in Darfur, and they say the needs far outstrip the capacity of the existing humanitarian operations.

In many areas of Darfur, malnutrition is on the increase and health conditions are rapidly worsening.  In some locations, people’s food stocks were exhausted in early April.173  There is a potential humanitarian catastrophe looming, with some observers estimating that at least 100,000 individuals could die from disease, malnutrition and other conditions if assistance is not dramatically increased.174 

[146] “Statement by His Excellency Omar Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir, President of the Republic of Sudan,” Khartoum, February 9, 2004.

[147] “Confirming Massive Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur, UN demands better Security,” U.N. News, May 1, 2004, at (accessed May 2, 2004).

[148] See "Resumption of ceasefire unlikely, say Darfur rebels," IRIN, Nairobi, Dec. 3, 2003  ("This ceasefire is a waste of time," said the SLA. "There is no ceasefire.").

[149] Amb. Michael Ranneberger, special advisor on Sudan, U.S. Department of State, on "Death and Displacement in the Sudan," NPR radio broadcast, Washington, D.C., April 30, 2004, (accessed May 3, 2004).

[150] “Acting Rights Chief Concerned Over Deteriorating Situation In Darfur Region Of Sudan,” Geneva, January 29, 2004 and Gerhart R. Baum, Press release, Cologne, Germany, February 2, 2004. Baum was head of the German delegation to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights from 1992-1998 and its Special Rapporteur  for Human Rights in Sudan from 2000-2003.

[151] BBC Online, “Mass rape atrocity in west Sudan,” March 19, 2004. (accessed April 30, 2004, as were all the websites in this section).

[152] U.N. Press Release, “Sudan: Envoy warns of ethnic cleansing as Security Council calls for ceasefire,” April 2, 2004.

[153] United Nations, “Press briefing on humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan,” New York, April 2, 2004.

[154] U.N. Security Council, press release, "Press Statement on Darfur, Sudan, by Security Council President," New York, April 2, 2004, (accessed May 3, 2004).

[155] “Secretary-General Observes International Day Of Reflection On 1994 Rwanda Genocide,” Kofi Annan speech, Geneva, April 7, 2004.

[156] Kofi Annan, speech, “Secretary-General Observes International Day of Reflection on 1994 Genocide,” Geneva, April 7, 2004.

[157] IRIN, “UN mission arrives in Khartoum, leaves for Darfur,” Nairobi, April 29, 2004.

[158] U.N. Press Release, “Eight Un Human Rights Experts Gravely Concerned About Reported Widespread Abuses In Darfur, Sudan,” Geneva, March 26, 2004.

[159] “UN mission.n starts probe into atrocities in western Sudan,” AFP, Geneva, April 6, 2004,

[160] The report is posted at

[161] IRIN, “UN human rights mission heads for Darfur,” Nairobi, April 22, 2004.

[162] "Sudan 'atrocity' report withheld," BBC Online, April 22, 2004, (accessed May 3, 2004).

[163] "UN vote on Sudan delayed amid accusations over leaked Darfur report," AFP, Geneva, April 22, 2004.

[164] U.S. Ambassador Richard Williamson, Statement at CHR, Geneva, April 23, 2003,

[165] UNCHR press release, “Commission on Human Rights Expresses Deep Concern over Human Rights Situation in Western Sudan,” Geneva, April 23, 2003, 

[166] Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on the situation in Darfur (Sudan), 6750/04, P 26/04, Brussels, February 25, 2004.

[167] German Ministry of Development, press release, "UN Blue Berets should monitor cease-fire in western Sudan," Berlin, April 29, 2004, (accessed May 3, 2004).

[168] “African Union asks for 10 million dollars for Sudan's troubled Darfur,” AFP, Addis Ababa, April 22, 2004.

[169] African Union, Proposals for the establishment of the ceasefire commission, undated. The proposal specifies that “disengagement of forces” take place within two weeks of the signing of the ceasefire agreement and that a reconnaissance mission occur within thirty days—very late considering the urgency of the situation.

[170] George Bush, statement, “President condemns atrocities in Sudan,” April 7, 2004. 

[171] U.S. House of Representatives, International Relations Committee, Africa Subcommittee, hearing, “Sudan: Peace Agreement Around the Corner?” Washington, D.C., March 11, 2004.;  U.S. Senate, Foreign Relations Committee, Africa Subcommittee  U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, statement, “The Situation in Darfur,” U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., March 30, 2004; Senator Edward Kennedy, statement, “On Sudan,” U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., April 29, 2004.

[172] Press conference, Washington, D.C., April 27, 2004.

[173] “Measles and malnutrition increasing in Sudan’s Darfur region,” Medecins sans Frontieres press release, Paris, April 28, 2004.

[174] Statement of Roger Winter, USAID Assistant Administrator For The Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Bureau, N'Djamena, Chad, March 31, 2004, (accessed May 3, 2004).

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