Skip to main content

Sudan: Safe Darfur Returns Imperative

Nairobi UN Security Council Session Must Act

The U.N. Security Council must take immediate action to reverse ethnic cleansing and avert further displacement in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. On November 18-19, the Security Council will convene in Nairobi for a special session on Sudan.

In a new 43-page report, “If We Return, We Will Be Killed,” Human Rights Watch documents the continuing climate of violence and insecurity in Darfur, and the urgent need for an expanded international protection force, especially near the camps that hold many of Darfur’s 1.6 million displaced persons. Just this week, as the U.N. Security Council prepared to meet in Nairobi, Sudanese security forces brazenly overran camps for the displaced persons.

“The Sudanese government continues to terrorize its own citizens even in the face of the U.N. Security Council arriving in Africa,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. “Unless the Security Council backs up its earlier ultimatums with strong action, ethnic cleansing in Darfur will be consolidated. And hundreds of U.N. personnel will be on the ground helplessly watching as it happens.”

The special session of the Security Council is intended to bring pressure on the Sudanese government and the southern rebel movement, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), to finalize a peace agreement that has been almost three years in the making. The Naivasha agreement would settle the 21-year conflict waged mostly in southern Sudan, and provide for a referendum in the south on self-determination in six and a half years. Human Rights Watch expressed concern at the absence of any substantive human rights language in the Naivasha peace accord.

“The Naivasha peace agreement fails to address responsibility for the massive human rights abuses in the devastating war in southern Sudan and the ongoing cycle of impunity that has contributed to what we now see in Darfur,” said Takirambudde. “Unless the international community squarely faces the fact that Khartoum is using both militias and its military to target ethnic groups in Darfur as it did in the south, the appalling violence will continue.”

Human Rights Watch’s latest mission to Darfur and Khartoum documented many cases where displaced communities were unable to return and reclaim their land due to the climate of fear and violence maintained by the government-backed Janjaweed militias. The report also describes rebel abuses, including abductions of civilians and looting of civilian property such as livestock.

The report also spotlights the urgent need for international prosecutions of leaders of the Sudanese government, military and Janjaweed militias for systematically committing ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although Sudan has promised to bring members of the Janjaweed to justice, Human Rights Watch said that Khartoum’s efforts were mainly for show.

Human Rights Watch said that the Nairobi Security Council session should adopt a strong new resolution on the crisis in Darfur. However, the current draft resolution does not place any sanctions on Khartoum for its direct participation in the brutal ethnic cleansing of Darfur’s civilians.

Human Rights Watch’s new report documents how Darfurians who try to return to their homes have been attacked yet again by Janjaweed forces which continue to operate with impunity. Khartoum repeatedly pledged to disarm and disband the Janjaweed militias. Not only has Sudan failed to honor these pledges, but some Janjaweed members responsible for atrocities have been absorbed into the police and government forces and were now allowed to “guard” the camps of the very same displaced civilians whom they had originally burned out of their villages.

“When families try to go home, they are attacked again by Janjaweed forces,” said Takirambudde. “The practical effect here is that this consolidates the ethnic cleansing.”

Human Rights Watch said that the recent raids and forced relocations in camps such as the El-Geer displaced persons camp in Nyala, South Darfur, represents yet another phase of Sudan’s ethnic cleansing of Darfur’s civilians.

“It’s important to understand that ethnic cleansing in Darfur consists first of forcibly displacing people, then preventing them from returning home safely,” said Takirambudde. “What we are seeing with these raids and tear-gassing of displaced camps is the government violently relocating people to areas other than their homes.”

Human Rights Watch said that Sudanese authorities must ensure security so that Darfurians could safely return to their homes and farms. Instead, the government has demonstrated time and again that it is fundamentally unwilling and unable to rein in the militias, maintain law and order, and protect civilians.

In addition to calling on the Security Council to increase the numbers of African Union ceasefire monitors and protective troops and provide these A.U. forces with a U.N. mandate to protect civilians, Human Rights Watch called on the Security Council to extend the arms embargo to the Sudanese government, impose travel sanctions and asset freezes on key government and military officials, and ensure that ethnic cleansing in Darfur is reversed through the safe and voluntary return of displaced people to their homes. Human Rights Watch said further that Khartoum should provide reparations — possibly from the government’s oil revenues — to persons who have been victims of abuses by government forces or militias.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country