In April 2003 a simmering low-intensity conflict dramatically escalated when rebel groups attacked the airport in El Fashir, the capital of North Darfur, destroying several Sudanese air force planes.2 In response to this and subsequent rebel attacks the Sudanese government launched massive military operations against civilian populations primarily of the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit ethnic groups—the same ethnicities as the majority of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The campaign was carried out by government forces and by militias known as the Janjaweed, whom the government recruited, supported, armed, and coordinated in many of the attacks.3 By mid-2004 tens of thousands of civilians had been killed and more than a million people displaced, and hundreds of villages had been burned and looted.4 Rape and sexual violence against women and girls has been a prominent feature of the ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by government forces and militias, both during and following displacement in Darfur.5

Ethnic distinctions in Darfur are highly politicized and complex. The region is home to numerous groups who generally identify themselves as either “Arab” or “non-Arab,” and tensions between people belonging to these broad categories have existed for decades. In the 1960s Darfur was used as a base by largely “Arab” Chadian rebel groups fighting to overthrow their country’s government. In the 1970s Libyan leader Col. Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi, bent on “Arabizing” Chad and Sudan, created and supported militant “Arab” groups in Darfur whose aim was to overthrow the governments of both countries. Neither plan succeeded, but the population of Darfur continued to become polarized into opposed “Arab” and “non-Arab” groups.6

In the 1980s climate change, famine, and the intensifying conflict in southern Sudan brought further political instability to Darfur. During the dry season nomads from the northern Sahel have long migrated south into the fertile belt of central Darfur mainly occupied by non-Arab farmers. Disputes over trampled crops and grazing land have been common, but in the past were usually settled through traditional reconciliation methods. In the mid-1980s the government of Sudan began arming Arab militia groups to aid its campaign against southern Sudanese rebels and the communities perceived to be supporting them. The introduction of modern weaponry, along with a severe drought, further polarized ethnic relations in the Darfur region. Clashes over land, grazing, and water resources intensified in the 1990s, and the underfunded and under-resourced Sudanese police rarely responded appropriately; nor did the central government invest in the type of development activity that might have calmed and prevented further conflict. Some non-Arab communities, particularly the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa, perceived the federal government as biased in favor of Darfur’s Arab communities for both racial and political reasons.7 It was these non-Arab grievances that culminated in the attacks on the El Fashir airport.

In 2003 the Sudanese government exploited tensions in the region further by mobilizing thousands of desperately poor men, most of whom identify themselves as Arabs, from land severely scarred by desertification and water shortages, into Janjaweed militias. The Janjaweed went on to commit widespread atrocities against the largely non-Arab African communities of settled farmers throughout the region, reaping the war booty and causing mass flight into internally displaced person (IDP) camps and over the border into Chad. The ongoing terror prevents displaced people from returning home.

International attention in Darfur often focuses on aerial bombardments and the burning of villages in violation of international humanitarian law. While such attacks continue to drive people into camps, it is constant harassment and abuses primarily by the government, Janjaweed, and former rebels that keeps them there. Police, who are responsible for protecting people inside and outside camps, lack the political will and resources to prevent these abuses, and on numerous occasions have themselves committed abuses. The climate of fear, along with the land occupations and almost total lack of accountability for war-related crimes, is essentially consolidating the ethnic cleansing campaign and allowing it to continue.

During the past three years, Darfur has experienced changes in the dynamics of the conflict, but there has been no dramatic or sustained improvement in security for civilians. Attacks may subside during the dry season, when farms are idle and nomads and farmers are in less contact with each other, and people have also learned to avoid provoking attacks by remaining indoors or traveling to and from markets at night. While this temporarily lowers the number of reported abuses, it does not indicate that the situation is improving.

In April 2004 the Sudanese government and the two rebel movements signed a humanitarian ceasefire agreement mediated by the Chadian government with support from the African Union. This led to the establishment of an AU peacekeeping mission, the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which was at first mandated to provide military observers to monitor and report on the ceasefire; an armed force to protect civilians and humanitarian aid workers; and an unarmed civilian police force and support teams were added later.8 Since that time, AMIS has increased its forces to over 7,000 personnel (including 612 military observers, 5,202 force protection personnel, and 1,425 civilian police).9 This is now being supplemented by a “Light Support Package” (LSP) and a “Heavy Support Package” (HSP) that will provide additional personnel and resources as a build up to the eventual transition of AMIS to UNAMID.

Most of the LSP has been deployed, which included small numbers of military, police, and civilian personnel, as well as medical and public information equipment, and armored personnel carriers (APCs). The HSP includes 2,250 military personnel to focus their efforts on transport, engineering, logistics, surveillance, aviation, and medical service, as well as 301 police and three police units. Civil affairs, humanitarian liaison, public information, mine action, and political support officers are also included, as well as military, police, and civilian support staff. The HSP also includes attack helicopters. As of September 2007 at least 35 percent of the HSP civilian personnel were deployed and countries had pledged to provide nearly all the additional resources, with the exception of the helicopters.10

In an effort to strengthen the international response to the crisis, the UN Security Council has passed various resolutions imposing an arms embargo and calling for an end to offensive military flights and for the disarmament of the Janjaweed.11 Resolution 1593, passed in March 2005, referred the situation in Darfur to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and imposed an obligation on Sudan to cooperate fully with the court’s investigations. On April 27, 2007, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber issued arrest warrants for Sudan’s state minister for humanitarian affairs, Ahmed Haroun, and the Janjaweed militia leader, Ali Kosheib, for a series of attacks in West Darfur in 2003 and 2004 (see also below).12

A second Security Council resolution established a sanctions committee that has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on four individuals from different sides of the conflict (see also below).13 The US government has also placed unilateral sanctions on three Sudanese individuals and 30 companies owned or controlled by the Government of Sudan, and one other Sudanese air transport company that violated the arms embargo.14

A third Security Council resolution established the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and provided additional UN non-military resources to the Darfur region. At first it was envisaged that UNMIS would only facilitate the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which brought an end to the 21-year civil war between north and south Sudan, but it was also mandated to provide non-military resources to Darfur as well.15

At the same time, the situation on the ground in Darfur has grown increasingly complicated as the number of actors has proliferated. From the start, AMIS has been understaffed, under-resourced, and beset with command and control problems, and the fighting, displacement, and abuses continued. Then, in October and November 2005, the SLA rebel movement, which constituted the main military rebel force on the ground, began to splinter significantly at a conference in the eastern Darfur village of Haskanita that was supposed to unify the movement—instead, it did the opposite. Abdul Wahid Mohamed al Nour, a prominent rebel leader with support from the Fur ethnic group, refused to attend and Minni Arku Minawi, who drew support mainly from the Zaghawa, was elected leader. Three months later, the resulting rift culminated in heavy fighting in North Darfur between SLA fighters loyal to these two leaders.16 Many civilians were killed in the fighting and others were forced to flee, as each group targeted not only fighters but also civilians from the opposing tribes. 17

The SLA fractured further in the run up to, and aftermath of, the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) between the government and Mini Minawi’s SLA faction (SLA/Minawi) in Abuja, Nigeria in May 2006. Thereafter, Minawi was appointed special assistant to the president of Sudan and moved to Khartoum. The DPA further inflamed relations among rival “signatory” and “non-signatory” rebel groups, and the government also escalated attacks against non-signatories. Since then a small number of other rebel leaders and their followers have entered into agreements with the government, including Abul Gassim Imam Elhag Adam, who was subsequently appointed governor of West Darfur.

Meanwhile, Chadian rebels bent on deposing Chadian President Idriss Déby have been operating out of West Darfur, and Sudanese rebels have been operating out of Chad. In 2006 and 2007 Libya and Saudi Arabia brokered peace agreements committing the governments of Sudan and Chad to cease providing support to the other country’s rebel groups.18 The February 2006 Tripoli Agreement proposed a mechanism to enforce these commitments in the form of joint patrols that would be deployed to both sides of the Chad-Sudan border.19 Libya also hosted peace talks between Déby’s government and the Chadian rebels, but on July 2, 2007, after having dropped their demands that Chad’s political parties be included in the negotiations and that President Déby step down, the rebels threatened to return to all-out hostilities due to lack of progress.20 With peace in Chad far from secure, United Nations and European Union (EU) personnel traveled to Chad in August 2007 to assess the prospects for deploying a proposed joint UN-EU civilian protection force to eastern Chad (the force is also designed to have a presence in the northeastern region of the Central African Republic). The EU is making preparations for sending the force and President Déby has agreed to the force in principal.

An often overlooked aspect of the Darfur conflict is the political and social dynamics of the Arab communities in the region. While some Arab militia are still being organized, armed, and supported by the government and often do its “dirty work,” some Arab communities have remained neutral. Some individuals have spoken out against government and militia abuses and some joined the rebels. Groups with a predominantly Arab base have also taken up arms against the government independently, in protest against underdevelopment and the exploitation of their grievances for political ends. On August 14, 2007, the secretary-general of one of these rebel groups, the Democratic Popular Front Army (DPFA), informed Reuters they had kidnapped 12 Sudanese soldiers.21 “The government took advantage of our sons and paid them and gave them arms and used them to fight against others,” he said, “We want them to stop, [we want the Popular Defense Force] to leave people to live their lives and be able to farm and feed their cattle and eat and live in peace.”22 The government denied the kidnapping allegations.23 Since January 2007 Darfur has also been the site of intense inter-tribal fighting amongst members of various Arab groups, many of whom belong to Sudan’s security forces.

It would be impossible to list every human rights abuse and violation of international humanitarian law that has taken place so far in Darfur in 2007.24 The accounts in this report sketch the broad contours of the conflict in Darfur’s three main states and in the especially volatile Jebel Marra region. The final sections of the report attempt to convey the everyday experience of millions of Darfurians caught up in the conflict, the obstacles faced by humanitarian groups and peacekeepers trying to assist them, and the steps UNAMID and the international community should take to improve the human rights situation in Darfur. This report is based on information not only about the situation of the 2.2 million people in Darfur who fled their homes, but also about the approximately 4 million people who have not been displaced from their towns and villages, around half of whom also have humanitarian needs resulting from the conflict (see “Everyday Life for Civilians in Darfur,” below). UNAMID will face huge challenges in trying to fulfill its mandate to provide civilian protection, create a safe environment for humanitarian workers, and support the implementation of a fragile peace agreement, but for Darfur’s civilians successful implementation of these tasks could be the difference between life and death.

2 Human Rights Watch, Darfur in Flames: Atrocities in Western Sudan, vol. 16, no. 5 (A), April 2004,, p. 9.

3 The terms “militia” and “Janjaweed” are used interchangeably throughout this report. Although the term “Janjaweed” is controversial, it and the term “militia” are used to refer to men who were armed by the government and fought, or continue to fight, alongside the government or independently as informal fighters or as formal members of government paramilitary groups such as the Popular Defense Forces and Border Intelligence unit. The terms “militia” and “Janjaweed” are not used to describe members of the regular security services, including police, Sudanese Armed Forces (including Military Intelligence), or National Intelligence and Security Service, nor are these terms used to describe Sudanese rebels.

4 See Human Rights Watch, Darfur in Flames; Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan, vol. 16, no. 6(A), May 2004,; Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support, July 20, 2004,; Empty Promises: Continuing Abuses in Darfur, Sudan, August 11, 2004,; If We Return We Will Be Killed, November 2004,; Targeting the Fur: Mass Killings in Darfur, January 24, 2005,; Sexual Violence and its Consequences among Displaced Persons in Darfur and Chad, April 12, 2005,; and Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur, vol. 17, no.17(A), December 2005,

5 Human Rights Watch, Sexual Violence and its Consequences among Displaced Persons in Darfur and Chad, p. 2.

6 Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War (London and New York: Zed Books, 2005), p. 23; and Gerard Prunier, Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (New York: Cornell University Press, 2007), p. 45.

7 Human Rights Watch, Darfur in Flames, pp. 7-8.

8 Human Rights Watch, Sudan: Imperatives for Immediate Change: The African Union Mission in Sudan, vol. 18 no.1(A), January 2006, AMIS has the protection mandate to:

§ Protect civilians whom it encounters under imminent threat and in the immediate vicinity, within resources and capability, it being understood that the protection of the civilian population is the responsibility of the Government of Sudan.

§ Protect both static and mobile humanitarian operations under imminent threat, and in the immediate vicinity, within capabilities.

§ Provide visible military presence by patrolling and by the establishment of temporary outposts in order to deter uncontrolled armed groups from committing hostile acts against the population.

For the complete text of the AMIS mandate, see the African Union Peace and Security Council communiqué of October 20, 2004,és/Communiqué%20_Eng%2020%20oct%202004.pdf (accessed September 11, 2007).

9 Internal AMIS military figures for August 9, 2007, provided to Human Rights Watch from confidential source (for reasons of security the names and other identifying details of many sources of information to Human Rights Watch have been withheld in this report). The police figure is from AMIS as of January 2007, (accessed August 29, 2007).

10 “Report of the Secretary-General on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur,” S/2007/517, August 30, 2007, (accessed September 8, 2007); and Human Rights Watch telephone interview with UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations official, September 7, 2007.

11 See United Nations Security Council Resolution 1591 (2005), S/RES/1591 (2005), (accessed August 19, 2007); and United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1556 (2004), S/RES/1556 (2004), (accessed August 28, 2007).

12 There are spelling variations for the names of each suspect. The International Criminal Court uses the spellings “Ahmad Harun” and “Ali Kushayb.” See International Criminal Court, “Warrant of Arrest for Ahmad Harun,” ICC-02/05-01/07, April 27, 2007,, and  International Criminal Court, “Warrant of Arrest for Ali Kushayb,” ICC-02/05-01/07, April 27, 2007, (both accessed August 30, 2007); and “Warrants of Arrest for the Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs of Sudan, and a leader of the Militia/Janjaweed,” International Criminal Court press release, May 2, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

13 United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1591 (2005), S/RES/1591 (2005). The sanctions were imposed on the four individuals by the Security Council in resolution 1672 on April 25, 2006. United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1672 (2006), S/RES/1672 (2006), (access August 28, 2007).

14 “U.S. imposes new sanctions against Sudan,” CNN, May 29, 2007, (accessed August 27, 2007). The three individuals are Ahmed Haroun, Sudan’s state minister for humanitarian affairs (wanted by the ICC); Awad Ibn Auf, Sudan’s head of military intelligence and security; and Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

15 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1590 (2005), S/RES/1590 (2005) (accessed August 19, 2007).

16 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Third Periodic Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Sudan,” Geneva, May 2006, pp. 13-14.

17 Ibid.

18 On February 8, 2006 the Tripoli Agreement was signed. On May 3, 2007, Chad and Sudan signed a reconciliation agreement in Saudi Arabia that committed them to improving relations and adhering to the Tripoli Agreement. “TEXT: Sudan and Chad reconciliation agreement,” Sudan Tribune, May 4, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

19 “Sudan, Chad reportedly agree to deploy joint patrols,” Sudan Tribune, June 10, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

20 “Chad rebels warn of return to war if Libya talks fail,” Reuters, July 2, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

21 One Reuters article reported that the group responsible for the kidnappings was the DPFA. Another Reuters article reported that the responsible group was the United Revolutionary Force Front (URFF). The secretary-general of the DPFA informed the journalist of this second article that the URFF are a sub-group with a different name “because there are small differences within the group which we hope will be resolved in a general conference we will hold soon.” See “Darfur Arab rebels capture 12 Sudan soldiers,” Reuters, August 14, 2007, (accessed August 28, 2007); and “Interview: Arab-led Darfur rebels say are victimised too,” Reuters, August 20, 2007, (accessed August 28, 2007).

22 “Darfur Arab rebels capture 12 Sudan soldiers,” Reuters.

23 Ibid.

24 The armed conflict in Sudan is governed by international humanitarian law for a non-international (internal) armed conflict. This law is found in Common Article 3 to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts of 1977 (Protocol II), which Sudan ratified in July 2006, and customary international humanitarian law.