Background Briefing

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No Improvements in Security: continuing attacks on civilians

The Sudanese government and the United Nations signed a Joint Communiqué on July 3, 2004 in which the government committed to carry out specific actions in four areas: humanitarian access, human rights, security, and political resolution of the conflict, elements that were reiterated in the UNSC’s resolution 1556 of July 30.

To date, while humanitarian access has improved significantly since April 2004, progress in the areas of human rights, security and political resolution remains minimal to non-existent. Despite Sudanese government pledges to improve protection of civilians, its good faith and credibility in this regard is seriously undermined by its past and ongoing record of systematically targeting civilians in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, not only in Darfur, but in other parts of Sudan. 

Insecurity continues to be rife throughout Darfur despite the April 8, 2004 ceasefire between the Sudanese government and the two rebel groups. Civilians continue to be attacked by Sudanese government forces and the Janjaweed militias, sometimes with aerial support from government aircraft.   Hostilities between rebel and government forces have continued and there have been several incidents in which the rebels temporarily held aid workers hostage and are alleged to have attacked aid convoys.

Rebel forces are also alleged to be failing to respect the civilian nature of camps for the displaced and refugees in some instances, a situation that has been complicated by the presence of armed “self-defense groups” among many of the Fur and Masalit villagers.28 While self-defense group members have fought with Janjaweed militias in attacks, they do not appear to be organized as part of the SLA, although it is likely there are links between individuals.29

Patterns of violence differ in the three states of Darfur (North, South and West), as has the form of the government’s military campaign. These differences appear to be partly based on the differences in attitudes of tribal leaders and local government officials; some have been more willing than others to participate in the campaign against the rebel movement, as well as different levels of SLA presence. Although military offensives and large-scale displacement of civilians in North and West Darfur have diminished in the past few months probably largely due to the fact that large swathes of the rural areas under government control have been “cleansed” of their rural inhabitants, violence there has not ceased.

In government-controlled areas, particularly in rural areas of West Darfur, displaced civilians have remained largely at the mercy of the Janjaweed militias even after they fled their homes into locations where official government forces and civilian administration are in place. Displaced civilians living under government control in these areas remain virtual hostages—confined to camps and settlements with inadequate food, shelter and humanitarian assistance, at constant risk of further attacks, rape and looting of their remaining possessions. Even if incidents are reported to police or government officials, little or no action is taken to arrest perpetrators. Displaced communities therefore find what little security they can by remaining in large groups in small and large towns.  Freedom of movement is almost non-existent as a result, which further exacerbates the precarious humanitarian situation.

There have also been numerous reports of continuing attacks by groups of Janjaweed militia, often aimed at raiding camels, cattle and other livestock, although the precise identity of the attackers in some of these incidents is not always clear. Government-backed Janjaweed militia raids on new areas in South Darfur have also been reported, and there have been continuing militia incursions along the border and into Chad, often with the apparent aim of raiding cattle and other livestock (see below).

An unknown number of displaced civilians and residents continue to live in areas under rebel control, such as in northern parts of North Darfur and in the Jebel Marra area.  Despite their flight from their homes, these displaced and resident civilians continue to face regular attacks and cattle raids by Janjaweed militias working together with government forces as well as by other armed groups taking advantage of the conflict to opportunistically loot, raid and rape.

Killings of civilians in July

Civilians continue to be attacked and killed in joint government and Janjaweed militia raids, particularly in South Darfur. In certain incidents, civilians appear to be deliberately targeted, such as in the July 3 attack in the Suleya area, which was investigated by African Union ceasefire monitors. They concluded that the attack was committed “by militia elements believed to be Janjaweed.  The attackers looted the market and killed civilians, in some cases, by chaining them and burning them alive.” Separate reports noted that amongst the victims burned alive were eight schoolgirls who had been shackled together.30 

In other incidents, attacks appear to indiscriminately target civilians when the government forces and Janjaweed militias attack civilian locations with suspected rebel presence.31 For instance in late-July four people were reportedly killed when Janjaweed militia and government forces attacked Abu Dilake “where they believed…rebels were present.”32  The Abu Dilake attack apparently targeted a “crowded market place” and “Janjaweed and government soldiers …were shooting at people from all sides.” These descriptions of the attack are telling and reflect numerous reports collected by Human Rights Watch in which government forces and Janjaweed militias indiscriminately attacked civilian locations. For instance, Human Rights Watch has documented at least four such attacks on crowded markets by government forces and Janjaweed militias since May 2004. These attacks are apparently instigated by the suspicion that rebel forces are present among the crowd. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, attacks have been launched simply because of reports that a rebel combatant was seen in a market place.

Rape and sexual violence against women and girls

Rape and other forms of sexual violence against Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa women and girls from the displaced communities is taking place on a daily basis in Darfur.33 Reports from numerous small and medium-sized towns in North, South and West Darfur consistently describe a near-total climate of intimidation, violence and fear. Incidents of daily assaults on displaced women and girls—often committed by members of the Janjaweed militia, but also sometimes by government troops and civilians from nomadic Arab communities—are taking place in all three Darfur states.34

Among the cases of rape documented by Human Rights Watch was the experience of a forty-five-year old Zaghawa woman who described how she and three others, a woman and two girls, were attacked by five government soldiers near Am Barou (Umbarou) on their way back from collecting water in the river-bed:

When we left the well, the soldiers circled around in front of us on foot by another way and stopped us. They were wearing khaki camouflage and hats. They stopped our donkey and went to Muna, she is sixteen. She ran over to me and the soldier came and said “Leave the girl” but I said “No.” They spoke in broken Arabic, they were not from Darfur. They shot at [me], then he caught Elham to go with them but she was fighting so the soldiers took her stick and beat her on the leg and she fell down. I was twenty-five meters away and I could see what was happening. When the soldiers attacked her, Muna sat down and closed her legs, she fought with them, but when she got tired that’s when they started.35

Even when displaced women and girls remain in or around the government-controlled towns, they continue to be regularly raped and often brutally beaten. In some small towns in the rural areas government-backed Janjaweed militia and in some cases, members of Arab nomadic communities, commit daily assaults and sexual violence on women and girls of all ages.36 Of necessity, displaced women and girls sometimes walk considerable distances to collect firewood, wild foods and water, and are therefore especially vulnerable to attacks when they are alone or in small groups a few kilometers from the towns.

Witnesses in one such location in West Darfur —a town of about ten thousand residents before the conflict doubled its size due to the influx of displaced told Human Rights Watch that at least five women and girls suffered serious life-threatening abuses each day, often including severe beatings and rape due to such attacks.37

Among scores of recent examples of this type of violence was a fairly typical incident on July 7, 2004 in West Darfur in which two women in their fifties and a twenty-three-year old woman who was six months pregnant were among a group of eight women collecting firewood approximately two kilometers from the town. Two nomadic tribesmen of Arab ethnic origin riding on camels tried to abduct the pregnant woman. When her mother and another older woman intervened, all three women were brutally beaten all over their faces, heads and bodies. The assault ended only when the young woman’s mother was beaten so badly that the attackers believed she was dead and left the women.

Human Rights Watch documented incidents of rape by Janjaweed militia members in numerous areas of Darfur.  In a Sudanese village near the Chadian border, south of Adré, a seventeen-year-old Masalit girl was raped multiple times by one of three men who captured her and her father. 

The Janjaweed took me alone from my father. They untied one of my hands and left the other, the right hand, tied with the rope. The other end of the rope was tied to the tree….He forced me down by my forearm. Then he raped me and said: “Come with me to the place of your father”. When we got to where my father was they untied us, me and the other two girls and told us that we were free to leave: “Go and tell the people that we lost two camels. Tell them to bring us two camels and we will give you back your father”. Then we began walking back but I was suffering a lot with great pain because I was bleeding. I was crying, weeping. The two young girls helped me back to the village. When we got close to the village near the border then people from the village came and helped me.38

A displaced Fur woman from Mukjar, in the Wadi Salih province of West Darfur, who fled the town due to the lack of security, told Human Rights Watch, “I did not feel safe in Mukjar. I was very scared of the soldiers. They take the children for training and we did not see them back anymore. They kidnap the young girls for the night. I have daughters and I tried always to keep them at home, not let them out.”39

Even when women and girls are not raped, attacks appear to be aimed at intentionally humiliating and degrading them. A twenty-five year-old Fur woman displaced from her village in South Darfur said “I have been stripped of my clothes at least four times over the last two months when I was getting firewood. The last time was ten days ago. The men on horses lash us with whips, take all our clothes and leave us naked on the road. They even take the clothes from our babies.”40

Attacks are often accompanied by racial insults.  A group of women and girls who were stopped at a government-backed militia checkpoint near Habila, in West Darfur were told by Janjaweed militia members “the country belonged to the Arabs now and as they were there without permission, they would be punished.”41 All the women were beaten and then older ones were dismissed. Six girls aged thirteen to sixteen were then raped.

Fear and insecurity

Men who remain in government-controlled towns or who are caught by members of the Janjaweed militias in the rural areas are constantly at risk of beatings or worse. In one such incident in early June a forty-six-year-old Masalit farmer was caught and beaten by Janjaweed militia near Wadi Kaja, which marks the border south of Adré. He managed to escape after being severely beaten:

The Janjaweed hit me with a camel whip [he showed numerous whipping marks across his back] and with the handle of a gun [showed wounds on arms]. They whipped me many times but I can’t remember how many times, across my back. And they hit me also several times on the right hand side of my ribcage. They also hit me on the upper part of my arm. The men pressed their fingers into my throat, below and behind my ear. I was flat on the ground and they dragged me. Two men dragged me, they pulled on the rope. There was a total of three Janjaweed and also there were two young girls with them, about 15 – 16 years old, with the Janjaweed. The girls hit me, too, and said “You are a slave”. This was at about 8 p.m. at night when the moon had risen.42

Displaced men in towns under government control are constantly at risk of being arbitrarily detained and seriously assaulted by Janjaweed militia members who accuse them of “being rebels.”  Sometimes, if family members possess sufficient resources they can “buy these men free.”43 One man described the situation “the main security issue inside town is false accusations. The soldiers and Janjaweed take people for investigation and keep them in jail. The day before yesterday they took six sheiks to jail for investigation….”44  In some locations, local town commissioners apparently keep lists of individuals they suspect, particularly tribal leaders.45

Displaced civilians in some areas of Darfur are under constant threat of attacks outside the towns because the government-backed Janjaweed militias often control circulation along the roads and between villages in the rural areas through a combination of violence, intimidation and taxation. At some of these checkpoints, in addition to the Sudanese national flag, the Janjaweed militia have erected their own special flags—a white horseman upon a blue background.46 In some places, taxation consists of weekly “protection” money that must be paid by residents of certain villages or towns.47 In other instances, men in particular are forced to pay sums of money such as 1000 Sudanese Dinar [approximately U.S. $ 2.00] to leave a village or town and travel to another location.

Even women who want to travel to the market are sometimes required to pay sums of money. A twenty-seven-year-old woman from South Darfur said, “we have to pay 1000 Sudanese dinars every week. If we have no money, we can try to give them sorghum, wheat or anything you have in your house.”48 Another woman from Wadi Salih province in West Darfur said “we don’t have to pay anything to stay inside the [the town] and security is good inside town. But to go outside, we do. To go to the market for instance. The other villages around [the town] have to pay a monthly fee.”49

This absolute lack of security clearly exacerbates the humanitarian situation since it restricts people’s movement and their ability to gather wild foods, plant and cultivate crops or vegetable gardens, collect firewood or other items for sale in local markets or develop other coping mechanisms.  Instead they face increased dependence on relief aid.

Cattle raiding and looting

Livestock remain a key resource in a poor region, and a prime economic incentive for continuing attacks by government-backed Janjaweed militias, independent groups of armed men, and common criminals. Knowing who are the attackers in incidents of cattle or other livestock raids is not easy given that victims now tend to describe all attackers as “Janjaweed.” However, there seem to be key distinctions between the way that the Janjaweed militia raid cattle and the kinds of random robbery taking place. For instance, several displaced men from the Kulbous area of West Darfur, located along the border with Chad, noted “the Janjaweed militia always come in the day, in big numbers, and they take lots of cattle.”50  A twenty-seven-year-old farmer from Sileya, West Darfur, added, “bandits tend to be maybe four, five or six men, but when they come in big numbers—eighty or so—then it’s Janjaweed.”51

In some areas of Darfur in recent months, the government-backed Janjaweed militia activity appears to have shifted from repeated attacks on villages and communities to mainly targeting livestock resources.  This is likely because many of the villages of the targeted ethnic groups have now been emptied of their inhabitants. Janjaweed militia members appear to be intent on raiding and stealing the remaining livestock and other possessions of displaced civilians.

In several instances documented by Human Rights Watch, Janjaweed militias have stolen livestock and then been supported by government forces in their theft. On July 7, a group of 80-90 Janjaweed militia raided hundreds of sheep and killed a thirty-five-year old displaced man near the village of Berri, North Darfur. Twenty men from the village gathered to track the stolen flock but after a short distance, the men saw four army pickup trucks carrying up to 70 soldiers following in the same direction as the Janjaweed militia. The army troops began firing upon the villagers using heavy guns with a range of about one kilometer, dispersing the villagers.52

On July 15, a sixty-year old man from Berri, North Darfur, was beaten by a group of eighty to one hundred Janjaweed militia members who stole 400 sheep. Some armed villagers, possibly members of an organized self-defense group, then went in search of the militia group and the stolen sheep and tracked them for three kilometers. They began shooting at the Janjaweed militia group, but shortly after the shooting began, seven vehicles from the Sudanese army appeared and opened fire on the villagers, who withdrew. The militia also left, with the stolen sheep.53 

These continued raids of livestock, one of the only remaining assets for many resident and displaced civilians, deprive the civilian population of those elements that are indispensable to their survival, such as foodstuffs, crops and drinking water installations. Under principles of international humanitarian law these objects are entitled to protection and they must be preserved whenever they constitute the means of subsistence of civilians trapped in an armed conflict situation.54

[28] Many of these groups have existed for over a decade, formed in response to continuing attacks and cattle raids by Arab nomadic groups, and were generally composed of a few lightly-armed men, generally less than a dozen, who rarely possessed more than five or six automatic rifles per village. See also Human Rights Watch, Darfur in Flames, at pp. 28-29.

[29] Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, June 2004.

[30] Marc Lacey, “Despite Appeals, Chaos still stalks the Sudanese,” New York Times, July 18, 2004.

[31] All parties in the conflict in Darfur are obliged to respect fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. These include that all parties to the conflict distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and between civilian property and military objectives. 

[32] Gethin Chamberlain, “Sudanese forces ‘directly involved in slaughter of civilians,’” The Scotsman, August 4, 2004.

[33] See also Darfur: Rape as a Weapon of War: Sexual Violence and its Consequences, Amnesty International, July 19, 2004.

[34]Names and other potentially identifying details of the locations of these attacks has been withheld in order to protect the security of the victims and witnesses.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 11, 2004.

[36] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, June 23, 2004.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview, July 23, 2004.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 17, 2004.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview, July 2004.

[40] Communication to Human Rights Watch, July 2004.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview, July 23, 2004.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 17, 2004.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview, July 23, 2004.

[44] Communication to Human Rights Watch, June 2004.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 2004.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview, July 23, 2004.

[47] Confidential communication to Human Rights Watch, July 24, 2004. 

[48] Human Rights Watch interview, July 23, 2004.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview, July 23, 2004.

[50] Human Rights Watch interviews, Chad, June 2004.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview, Chad, June 9, 2004.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview, July 24, 2004.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview, July 24, 2004.

[54] The rationale behind this provision is that it is prohibited to deliberately starve civilians as a method of combat. Article 14, Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977. Article 14 lists the most usual ways in which starvation is brought about. Specific protection is extended to “objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population,” and a non-exhaustive list of such objects follows: “foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works.”

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