Background Briefing

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Continuing Violence

Following the government’s February and March 2004 offensive, most, if not all SLA forces in the Sindu Hills were forced out of the area; some moved into South Darfur.  Despite the absence of SLA fighters (which previously provided an excuse for government attacks in the area), violence against civilians has continued at a lower level. This violence terrorizes and prevents people from returning to claim their homes and farms, on both sides of the Sindu Hills, Mukjar-Garsila as well as Shattaya.

During a Human Rights Watch visit to Wadi Saleh and Mukjar localities in October 2004, it was apparent that the vast majority of the civilian population remains displaced in the major towns, despite the often minimal protection they offer. Deleig, Garsila, Mukjar and Bindisi continued to host sizeable displaced communities who remain in the towns for fear of further Janjaweed militia attacks should they venture back to their villages.65 Given the scale and severity of the attacks experienced in February and March 2004, the fact that the leaders of these atrocities, including key government officials and militia leaders remain in positions of authority, often in the same areas, and that displaced people have been constantly attacked when they have ventured outside the larger towns, it is clear why the climate of fear persists.

Sexual violence and rape of women and girls remain a serious ongoing problem in these areas. Human Rights Watch heard daily accounts of rape, sexual violence and assaults on women and girls who leave the relative safety of the towns to collect firewood. Sometimes the rapes and violence are committed by Janjaweed militia members, but sometimes they are committed by members of nomadic communities passing through the area. 

Large herds of camels and Arab pastoralists were evident along the route from Deleig to Mukjar in October 2004. These camels were grazing without any apparent restrictions in many deserted farms and destroyed villages of the Fur.  In some parts of Wadi Saleh, displaced individuals have tried to cultivate crops in their former village areas, usually leaving the towns in the morning and returning before nightfall. Despite these efforts, local residents estimate that less than 25 percent of the usual farmland was cultivated in 2004, due to the continuing climate of fear and violence restricting freedom of movement. This minimal 2004 cultivation and harvest have led to warnings of a food crisis in 2005.66

In addition, many of the displaced Fur from Wadi Saleh, Mukjar and other Fur areas are concerned that their displacement, and the subsequent entry of the Janjaweed and other camel and cattle-herders into their areas, is a prelude to long-term ethnic cleansing.  This concern can only be reduced if greater international presence secures the area to permit freedom of movement, if there are clear strategies put in place to reverse the ethnic cleansing, and if the government of Sudan clearly and unequivocally states that no one is entitled to retain or use of any land illegally acquired during the conflict. A temporary measure interdicting any land transfers would also help boost confidence.

Despite the ongoing violence in Wadi Saleh and its importance as an agricultural region, the farming areas of Wadi Saleh have little international presence. There are few international humanitarian agencies and no African Union forces stationed anywhere near the region, although it could benefit enormously from strategic deployment of A.U. forces in key towns such as Garsila and Mukjar. Pro-active A.U. patrolling along the main roads and larger villages would also help create a more stable climate.

The continuing presence of Janjaweed militias and their institutionalized impunity remain key factors in the ongoing violence. All militia leaders and government officials responsible for the atrocities in the region remain at large, and even prosper from their deeds. As time passes without accountability, some members of nomadic communities take advantage of the opportunity to roam far and wide through previously interdicted farms, occasionally assaulting displaced people and committing more robberies.

A serious risk exists that the ethnic polarization that has been created by this conflict has signaled that targeted and subjugated communities, such as the Fur, do not deserve rights and protection. Acts of violence by Arab civilians, not just militias, against such communities may become more prevalent as time passes without justice and as impunity becomes more entrenched, creating conditions that could lead to future communal violence and retribution.

Without serious measures to address and account for the crimes committed, ethnic cleansing will be consolidated and most of the Fur population will remain trapped in towns, dependent on international humanitarian assistance and unable to rebuild their lives and or return to economic self-sufficiency. Darfur’s once fluid ethnic cohabitation may be irreparably damaged if serious, immediate action is not taken to prevent further instability and a new cycle of violence.

[65] See also Human Rights Watch report “If We Return, We Will Be Killed,” pp. 10-18.

[66] International Committee of the Red Cross, “Food Needs Assessment Darfur,”October 2004 at This survey from all three states of Darfur noted that “Most of the rural communities assessed were found by the survey to be suffering from food shortages which are expected to become worse in the longer term. On average the communities had planted less than one third of the usual crop areas.”

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