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Militias backed by the government of Sudan are committing crimes against humanity in Darfur, western Sudan, in response to a year-long insurgency. The past three months of escalating violence threaten to turn the current human rights and humanitarian crisis into a man-made famine and humanitarian catastrophe.

Using indiscriminate aerial bombardment, militia and army raiding, and denial of humanitarian assistance the government of Sudan and allied Arab militia, called janjaweed, are implementing a strategy of ethnic-based murder, rape and forcible displacement of civilians in Darfur as well as attacking the rebels.

The African or non-Arab Fur, Masaalit, and Zaghawa communities, from which the rebels are drawn, have been the main targets of this campaign of terror by the government. Almost one million Darfurian civilians have been forced to flee their homes in the past fourteen months and many have lost family members, livestock and all other assets.

The janjaweed militias are drawn from Arab nomadic groups. Their armed encroachment on African Zaghawa, Masaalit and Fur pastures and livestock in past years resulted in local armed self-defense measures by the targeted communities when they realized the government would not protect them. Instead of quelling the friction, the Sudanese government has increased its backing for the Arabs. Khartoum has recruited over 20,000 janjaweed which it pays, arms, uniforms, and with which it conducts joint operations, using the militias as a counterinsurgency force.

While many of the abuses are committed by the janjaweed, the Sudanese government is complicit in these abuses and holds the highest degree of responsibility for pursuing a military policy that has resulted in the commission of crimes against humanity.

The two rebel groups in Darfur—the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)—claim that they seek redress of decades of grievances over perceived political marginalization, socio-economic neglect, and discrimination towards African Darfurians by successive federal governments in Khartoum. In reaction to the insurgency, government forces and allied Arab militias are implementing a scorched earth campaign that has depopulated and burned hundreds of villages across the region, seeking to destroy any potential support base for the rebels.

More than 110,000 Zaghawa and Masaalit have fled across the border into neighboring Chad and at least 750,000 people, many of them Fur, remain displaced within Darfur, constantly vulnerable to attacks by predatory militia who rape, assault, abduct and kill civilians with full impunity. Attacks are on-going and the number of displaced persons grows by the day.

Amid increasing national and international awareness of the abuses taking place in Darfur, the government of Sudan has denied the existence of this situation and refused to provide protection or assistance to the affected population of Darfur. Despite warnings from the international community, led by the United Nations, that the Sudanese government must take immediate steps to end the abuses and provide security to the targeted villages and persons already displaced, the government’s forces continue to recruit new militia members, displace civilians, and burn villages.

The government’s recruiting, arming and otherwise backing bands of janjaweed militia has built on and drastically escalated ethnic polarization in Darfur. The janjaweed are encouraged by their freedom and impunity to loot, rape, pillage, and to occupy the lands vacated after attacks, and have even launched cross-border attacks into Chad, which is currently hosting more than 110,000 refugees from Darfur. Chad, itself home to Zaghawa, Masaalit, and Arab ethnic groups currently involved in the Darfur conflict, is receiving the spillover of a conflict believed, by its victims, to be a campaign to destroy them based on their ethnic and racial origin.

The strategy pursued by the government of Sudan now risks destabilizing the region and the ongoing peace talks aimed at ending more than twenty years of war in the south—where the same government strategies of massive forced displacement, scorched earth campaigns, and arming militias have repressed the southern population beyond endurance.

If abuses do not end immediately, the human rights and humanitarian consequences in Darfur, already appalling, will worsen. Food security, always precarious in Darfur, is already seriously affected by the events, and with more than 750,000 persons internally displaced—the bulk of the region’s farming community—this year’s harvest will sorely decline. There are increasing signs that Darfur could face a man-made famine if no intervention takes place, adding thousands of lives of men, women and children to the unknown number of victims the government of Sudan has already destroyed.

index  |  next>>April 2004