North Darfur

In 2007 most of the fighting in North Darfur involved government forces, SLA/Minawi fighters, and various rebel splinter groups. In March 2006 a predominantly Zaghawa-based SLA splinter group known as the Group of 19 (G-19) came into existence. Another rebel group known as the National Redemption Front (NRF), a coalition of members from other rebel groups (including G-19 and the Justice and Equality Movement), emerged in June 2006 but later disintegrated. Both had strongholds in North Darfur and carried out attacks on the government.

The government launched an offensive against the NRF in late August conducting aerial bombing and land attacks with blatant disregard for civilian lives.The government also launched indiscriminate air and ground attacks on Birmaza in November and Abu Sakin in December 2006, with reports of dozens of fatalities.25Government aircraft indiscriminately using unguided “dumb” bombs from medium and high altitudes caused civilian casualties and mass displacement—20 civilians were killed and over 1,000 displaced in the late August offensive noted above, for example26—and obstructed the work of humanitarian groups.27 Those whose villages were not attacked often fled in fear that they might be. A confidential correspondence by a munitions expert, seen by Human Rights Watch, states that bombs were typically rolled out of the back of an aircraft, endangering everyone within a 150-meter radius of the detonation.28 Such imprecise bombings of populated areas violate the prohibition under international humanitarian law of attacks that do not discriminate between military targets and civilians.29Persons knowingly or recklessly conducting or ordering such attacks are responsible for war crimes.30

One of the most notorious bombing campaigns of 2007 occurred in and around the village of Um Rai between April 19 and 29. Government helicopter gunships and Antonov aircraft attacked the village and killed and wounded civilians and destroyed property and livestock. A school filled with some 170 children was hit, injuring several of them. Two civilian adults were also killed in the attack.31 Both the UN secretary-general and the high commissioner for human rights condemned these bombings as indiscriminate because they failed to distinguish between military targets and civilians.32

Government forces have used military aircraft painted white—the color used by UN and AMIS forces—for reconnaissance, supply operations, and attacks.33 At a distance, the aircraft resemble United Nations and AMIS planes and Mi-8 helicopters; sometimes they even have UN markings.34 Use of these white aircraft for military purposes is a violation of international humanitarian law, specifically the improper use of the United Nations emblem, and, when simulating the protected status of peacekeeping forces and humanitarian operations to conduct attacks, the prohibition against perfidy.35 Use of these planes puts genuine UN, humanitarian, and AMIS flights at risk because rebels might mistake them for legitimate military targets. People in desperate need of aid may flee from humanitarian flights if they cannot distinguish them from government military aircraft.36

Residents of North Darfur have increasingly complained to the international community about abuses carried out by forces aligned with former rebel leader Mini Minawi.37 The abuses stem primarily from the split between Minawi and Abdul Wahid after the Haskanita conference in late 2005 (see Background, above). Mini Minawi’s mainly Zaghawa forces soon began battling Abdul Wahid’s mainly Fur forces and many civilians were attacked by fighters from both sides simply for their ethnicity. In April 2006 many civilians fled rebel fighting in the especially fertile area around Korma, where each group was trying to gain a stronghold.38

In 2007 Minawi’s men have been responsible for numerous attacks on civilians. After concluding a July 2007 visit to Sudan, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan Sima Simar stated, “I have recently received allegations of serious violations of human rights in areas under SLA/MM [SLA/Minawi] control. In particular harassment, extortion, torture, and sexual violence in Tawila and Shangil Tobayi, North Darfur.… I also received information about forced disappearances and killings in Gerida, South Darfur [caused by SLA/MM in September 2006].”39 Abdel Aziz Salim, legal advisor to SLA/Minawi, told journalists that these were “nonsensical accusations,”40 but Human Rights Watch has received confidential information from knowledgeable sources corroborating Sima Simar’s allegations.41 These abuses against civilians, as well as clashes between SLA/Minawi fighters and rebel groups, have also caused substantial displacement, especially of people from Korma and Tawila, to various displaced persons camps in the area.42

The people of North Darfur have also had to contend with ongoing militia attacks, including in the context of the government attacks on Birmaza and Abu Sakin, described above.43 In April 2007 there was a militia attack (with government officials participating) on Abu Jokha market and other villages inhabited by the Dorok ethnic group. The conflict within which these attacks occurred was unusual in that the militia mainly comprised Gimir men who, like the Dorok, are commonly regarded as non-Arab. As has often been the case, the most brutal acts were carried out by the side most closely allied to the government—in this case the Gimir, many of whom are also members of official government forces.44

The conflict was sparked when some Gimir men accused some Dorok men of livestock theft at the Abu Johka market, but the roots of it seem to lie in deeper disputes over land.45 The Dorok and Gimir both live in the area and the attacks may have been an attempt by the Gimir to evict the Dorok. The Gimir militia may also have suspected the Dorok of providing support to rebels.46

As a result of the livestock theft accusation a Dorok man was shot and killed.47 Intense violence ensued. At first there were casualties on both sides, but on the second day Gimir militia brutally attacked the market and outlying Dorok villages. Hundreds of armed men in vehicles with mounted guns and on horse- and camel-back looted houses and killed civilians. Some 10,000 people fled.48

According to eyewitnesses, the officer in charge of police in the town of Saraf Umra participated in the attack and distributed weapons while the attack was taking place.49 Other members of Sudan’s security forces were also involved.50 UNMIS reported that in addition to the market, “seven other villages were also attacked and 40 civilians were killed and 25 others were wounded.”51 Confidential sources suggest the number of villages attacked was much higher, but the number killed may have been slightly lower.52

Conflicts such as this one, which appear to revolve around land and livestock, enable the government to claim the fighting is “inter-tribal” and not their responsibility. However, as in so many cases, the facts show that government agents were involved in the attack. The government’s failure to protect civilians and bring perpetrators to justice is not a passive failing, it is systematic policy.

25 “Darfur: Indiscriminate Bombing Warrants U.N. Sanctions: Khartoum Drops Bombs in Ongoing Offensive, Stymies Peacekeeping Efforts,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 6, 2006, (accessed August 30, 2007); “Stop bombing North Darfur villages - SLM-Minawi,” IRIN news, September 10, 2007, (accessed August 28, 2007); and email communication from confidential source, North Darfur, Sudan, to Human Rights Watch, August 26, 2007. During this time the government suffered heavy losses in two battles against rebels in northern Darfur—one in Um Sidir in late September and another in Karakaya in October. When UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General Jan Pronk said publicly that army morale was low, the government expelled him from the country. Jan Pronk Weblog, Weblog nr 35, October 14, 2006, (accessed August 28, 2007).

26 “Stop bombing North Darfur villages - SLM-Minawi,” IRIN news.

27 UN Panel of Experts, “Interim report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan, submitted pursuant to resolution 1713 (2006),” unpublished, but provided to the New York Times, April 2007, and reproduced at (accessed August 19, 2007), para. 105.

28 Confidential document provided to Human Rights Watch, April 2007.

29 See Protocol II, article 13(2). See also International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Customary International Humanitarian Law, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), rule 11.

30 See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rules 151, 152, and 156.

31 “UN rights unit calls Darfur bombardments ‘indiscriminate and inappropriate,’” UN News Centre, May 11, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

32 “Secretary-General urges Sudan to end attacks following Darfur bombardments,” SG/SM/10985 AFR/1531, Secretary-General press release, May 9, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007); and “UN rights unit calls Darfur bombardments ‘indiscriminate and inappropriate’,” UN News Centre.

33 UN Panel of Experts, “Interim report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan, submitted pursuant to resolution 1713 (2006),” unpublished, paras. 93-98 and 136.

34 Ibid., para. 95.

35 ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rule 60, citing Protocol I, article 38(2), and rule 65, citing Protocol I, article 37(1).

36 UN Panel of Experts, “Interim report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan, submitted pursuant to resolution 1713 (2006),” unpublished. It is not a violation of the laws of war for non-state armed groups to attack legitimate military targets, though such attacks are likely to be crimes prosecutable under national legislation.

37 Confidential source seen by Human Rights Watch.

38 OHCHR, “Third Periodic Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Sudan,” pp. 13-14. Korma is also desirable because it is a center for commerce located along the road from El Fashir to Kutum.

39 “UN Human Rights Expert Concludes Visit to Sudan,” UN press release, August 6, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007). See also OHCHR “Enforced disappearance of Massalit men arrested in South Darfur,” Geneva, April 6, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

40 “Sudan: Darfur’s people need more protection – Special Rapporteur,” IRINnews, August 7, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

41 Confidential sources seen by Human Rights Watch.

42 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, North Darfur, Sudan, September 7, 2007.

43 Email communication from confidential source, North Darfur, Sudan, to Human Rights Watch, August 26, 2007.

44 Members of the Dorok community have also joined government forces, but are not generally perceived to have participated in the government’s ethnic cleansing campaign.

45 Confidential source seen by Human Rights Watch.

46 Email communication from confidential source, North Darfur, Sudan, to Human Rights Watch, August 24, 2007.

47 Confidential source seen by Human Rights Watch.

48 Confidential source seen by Human Rights Watch.

49 Email communication from confidential source, North Darfur, Sudan, to Human Rights Watch, August 24, 2007.

50 Ibid.

51 UNMIS Office of the Spokesperson, “UNMIS News Bulletin,” April 16, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

52 Confidential sources seen by Human Rights Watch.