Darfur: A Human Rights Catastrophe

Darfur: A Human Rights Catastrophe

Since early 2003, the people of Sudan's western Darfur region have experienced a brutal government campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against civilians that share the same ethnicity as members of the rebel movements, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

In this ongoing campaign, the government of Sudan and its militias have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes. The government's strategy combined two key elements with devastating consequences for civilians. One is the use of ethnic proxy forces, known as "Janjaweed" militias, who were recruited from landless Arab nomadic tribes, some of whom have been involved in past clashes with the farming communities, now branded as supportive of the rebels. The second key element is a government policy of impunity for its own and its proxy forces. Efforts of displaced persons to return home and start planting have been prevented for the third year by Janjaweed militia, who continue to attack civilians, humanitarian aid workers, and African Union peacekeeping forces, burn rebuilt homes and destroy crops to preserve their control of the land and consolidate ethnic cleansing of the two million people they drove from their land.

Almost all of Darfur's population has been affected by the conflict, either directly through attacks on villages, killings, rape, looting and destruction of property, and forced displacement, or indirectly through the near total collapse of the region's economy. An estimated 1.8 million people have been displaced inside Darfur in three years of conflict, and almost that many again (1.7 million) are in need of humanitarian assistance; a total of 3.5 million are at risk-this is more than half Darfur's estimated population of 6 million. Another 207,000 Darfurians are refugees in Chad.

An accurate estimate of conflict-related civilian deaths from disease, malnutrition and violence is currently unavailable. but is likely more than 200,000.

To date, the Sudanese government has neither improved security for civilians nor ended the impunity enjoyed by its own government and military officials and militia leaders, despite its promises and Security Council resolutions. The African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) has a mandate to monitor the April 2004 ceasefire with the rebel movements (SLA and JEM) and to protect civilians in imminent danger. Its role has been constantly thwarted by actions of the government of Sudan and rebel forces. Following reports of the Security Council Sanctions Committee, the Security Council voted on April 25, 2006, to impose travel and asset freeze sanctions on four low-ranking individuals, including two rebels, one former government military officer and a Janjaweed leader.

AMIS now has almost 7,000 troops, including protection forces (mostly Nigerian and Rwandan), military monitors, and civilian police, but grossly inadequate equipment and numbers for a region that is about the size of Zimbabwe or France. The government of Sudan has placed obstacles at every step, such as by delaying for months the delivery of 105 armored personnel carriers donated by the Canadian government to AMIS in November 2005. On May 15, 2006, the African Union (A.U.) Peace and Security Council resolved to hand over the mission to the United Nations.

On May 5, the African Union mediated a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M), Minni Minawi Arkau group, in Abuja, Nigeria. It gave the two other rebel groups until May 31 to join in the signing, but they refused.

On June 27 the A.U. Peace and Security Council said it would increase the mandate of AMIS to support the Darfur Peace Agreement, but would not expand the size of that force.

Sudan continues to oppose a U.N. mission in Darfur. "This shall never take place," said President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, regarding the U.N. deployment. On June 4-10 the U.N. Security Council visited Khartoum and Darfur and asked President Bashir to support the transition from an A.U. to U.N. force in Darfur, but he responded that a U.N. mission, particularly under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, would be unacceptable to Sudan. The African Union at its Summit on July 1-2, 2006, decided to extend its mandate in Darfur until January 2007 to provide more time for the Sudanese government to agree to, and the U.N. to implement, the transition from AMIS to a U.N. force.

Even if the Sudanese government finally consents to its deployment, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO) will not be ready to transition for several months, so AMIS needs continued and increased international support for its civilian protection mission until then.

The Sudanese government has been unwilling and unable to hold perpetrators of atrocities to account: a January 2005 presidential inquiry into abuses disputed evidence of widespread and systematic abuses and only recommended the formation of a committee. On March 31, 2005, the United Nations Security Council referred the situation of Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for prosecution. This was the first Security Council referral to the ICC. Shortly thereafter, the government of Sudan established a special criminal court to try those accused of crimes in Darfur. It has had no discernible impact on impunity.

The Darfur conflict has been steadily bleeding into neighboring Chad, a weak state sharing a long border; members of the many Arab and non-Arab ethnic groups are found in both Chad and Darfur. Both governments and their members have supported rebel forces belonging to their neighbors. In Chad, various ethnic Zagahawa relatives of President Idriss Deby's and officers have supported some in the SLA and JEM. The Sudan government is giving shelter and supplies to thousands of Chadian rebels in West Darfur, greatly adding to insecurity there as those rebels as well as Sudanese Janjaweed launch attacks on Chad and then withdraw to Darfur.

After a Chadian rebel attack in December 2005 on Adré, Chad, the two countries met and agreed in Tripoli in February 2006 to cease all such support and asked the A.U. to monitor this agreement. In April, however, before any A.U. deployment of troops on each side of the border, Chadian rebels launched strikes with new tanks and other equipment from Darfur and the Central African Republic into Chad and reached the Chadian capital, N'djamena, on April 13. They were defeated. Chad accused the government of Sudan of supplying arms and even Sudanese soldiers, and broke off relations with Sudan. Cross-border attacks from Darfur continue to displace Chadians.

As a result of continuing attacks, some 50,000 Chadians are internally displaced with scant assistance from the government of Chad or the international community. At least 13,000 Chadians have even sought refuge inside Darfur in an attempt to escape the escalating violence.