Everyday Life for Civilians in Darfur

Consolidation of Ethnic Cleansing

In July 2007 the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 160,000 people had been newly displaced since January 2007,88 putting the total number of displaced at 2.2 million and the total number of people receiving relief assistance at 4.2 million, nearly two-thirds of Darfur’s population. OCHA reported that many of Darfur’s IDP camps can no longer absorb new arrivals.89

Beyond direct attacks on civilians, the confused nature of the recent hostilities—with inter-tribal fighting and groups switching sides—has contributed to the displacement of civilians. Yet in July and August 2007 government officials told international agency staffers based in Darfur that Darfur’s 2.2 million internally displaced persons were beginning to return home and the international community should cooperate.90 But what the government described as “voluntary returns” were in fact only brief excursions out of the camps on market days or during the farming season. Few displaced persons left the camps for more than a few days and even fewer returned permanently to their villages.91 One person working with displaced people in Darfur described the government’s discussion of voluntary return as “smoke and mirrors.”92 Another noted that last year the government tried to convince the relief community that its assistance to the camps was not needed because people were ready to go home. “Women want to go home, but can’t,” she told Human Rights Watch. “They sit in the camps and sing songs about their villages and draw pictures of their crops and flowers.” 93

Sexual Violence and Other Violence

Members of militia forces regularly perpetrate crimes of sexual violence against women and girls engaged in income generating activities, such as farming or collecting firewood, grass, and water. Market days are especially dangerous: armed men will intercept people coming to or from their homes to buy or sell goods.94 Attackers are often dressed in a variety of military uniforms and travel in small groups of men on horses and camels. They demean women and girls because of their African ethnicity, calling them “slaves” and “Tora Bora,” meaning “rebel,” as they beat them with whips, gun butts, or fists. Victims of these abuses have been told to get off the land and stop collecting wood. Fighters from the SLA/Minawi former rebel group are also implicated in sexual violence, especially in the area of Tawila and Korma in North Darfur in 2007.95 Women and girls are often targeted because of their ethnicity and accused of supporting the SLA/Abdul Wahid rebel faction.96 Government soldiers and other state actors have also committed acts of sexual violence both in large attacks against entire populations, as was the case in Dereibat, and in small attacks against women and girls inside and outside camps and villages.

The issue of sexual violence remains shrouded in silence. Social stigmatization prevents many victims from telling relatives, doctors, or police what has happened to them. Some government officials deny that rape is a serious problem in Darfur, and humanitarian aid workers are afraid of jeopardizing their work if they speak out about the issue.97 This allows the police to ignore victims or seek to punish them by countering their claims with charges of adultery.

Other government officials, however, have openly recognized the problem of sexual violence in the conflict. When a group of human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council requested information about exactly what steps the government had taken to address it, they were given a list of public events and workshops that had taken place, and told of the enactment of Criminal Circular No. 2 in 2004 that allowed, among other things, victims of sexual violence to receive medical treatment without first reporting to the police.98 The government also provided information on the number of female police in Darfur and indicated that it would be increasing their numbers.99 But these measures have yet to improve the situation for women and girls in Darfur. Perpetrators are rarely brought to justice and many of the mechanisms the state has established to combat sexual violence, such as the State Committees on Combating Gender-based Violence, function poorly and have had little impact.100

Although women and girls are the ones primarily collecting firewood and hay, militiamen also target men and boys who farm, travel to markets, or leave their villages or camps for other reasons. In these incidents the victims are often accused of being rebels and have been shot, robbed, harassed and beaten. Men and boys from non-Arab communities have also come to fear being subjected to extortion, beatings, and arbitrary arrests when they have to pass through formal and informal checkpoints manned by government security forces that are located outside villages and camps.101

Many Darfurians face violence inside camps and villages as part of everyday life as well. Each camp has its own dynamics, some being relatively calm while in others there is a considerable rebel or Janjaweed presence. Nighttime gunfire is regularly heard in many camps, and even when no casualties result it instills fear among the populace. Armed Janjaweed come and go from many of the camps, especially on market days. There have been numerous cases of robbery, murder, sexual violence, and harassment inside the camps, often perpetrated by Janjaweed, but also by rebels and former rebels, and displaced persons themselves. Government soldiers often act as thugs and harass and beat people in towns and at markets, as illustrated by the cases of two shopkeepers who were attacked by Border Intelligence in separate incidents in North Darfur in late July 2007.102

Land Use and Occupation

Far from the camps, back in the villages where displaced persons used to farm and graze their cattle, there is nothing to prevent the expropriation of land from its legal owners. Displaced persons regularly speak about how nomads and settlers are destroying their crops, dismantling thatched roofs and stick fences, and taking over their land.103 This greatly threatens the prospect for sustainable peace.

Land use and occupation gained heightened international attention when approximately 30,000 mainly Chadian Arabs crossed the border into West Darfur in 2007. Many Chadians told an assessment team commissioned by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Sudan government’s Commissioner for Refugees (COR) that they were fleeing attacks and abuses, actual or feared,by Chadian non-Arab militias and Chadian government forces. UNHCR recommended that Sudan grant the new arrivals refugee status, excluding those who were active or former combatants.104

But UNHCR was also concerned that many Chadian Arabs were settling on land abandoned by internally displaced Darfurians and refugees. According to the UNHCR/COR report, some families occupied fertile land “in areas that used to be predominantly Masalit villages before the Darfur conflict broke out in 2003.”105 Many settlers along West Darfur’s Wadi Azoum riverbed informed the UNHRC/COR team that they intend to settle there permanently and would not be returning to Chad. They said that Sudanese nationals gave them specific directions as to where to settle. UNHCR has urged the Sudanese government to clarify land ownership issues, and ensure that those who own the land—mainly displaced persons in Darfur and refugees in Chad—will eventually be able to return home.106

It should not be assumed that this influx is mere opportunism on the part of the Chadian Arabs, who have given testimony to UNHCR of persecution in Chad. However, many people in West Darfur are suspicious of the Sudan government’s motives, which further erodes the tenuous relationship between the government and many Darfurians. Some assume the male Chadian arrivals will be recruited into armed groups, that the influx ensures displaced people cannot return home, and that this new Chadian presence will result in tens of thousands of extra votes for the ruling National Congress Party in the Sudanese national elections scheduled for 2009.

Policing Darfur

Darfur is a vast territory that provides many hiding places for armed groups and ordinary bandits. There are few roads, most of which are unpaved. In the rainy season they are all but impassible. Communication is extremely limited, primarily to mobile phones, which have weak or no signals outside major towns. All this makes policing difficult even with a motivated, adequately staffed, and resourced force. The problem is especially severe in rural areas, where police lack vehicles or staff to patrol or respond to criminal activity, whether inside or near villages and IDP camps.

The Ministry of Interior and Darfur state officials have done little to ensure that Darfur’s regular police—as opposed to auxiliary police forces such as the Central Reserve Police—have even minimal capabilities. This is a longstanding problem that predates the Darfur conflict. The many weaknesses of the police, in and of itself, are indicative of the government’s lack of commitment to ameliorating the dire human rights situation in Darfur. In fact, one of the reasons the government relied on Janjaweed militia to fight rebels and attack civilians was because Darfur’s police force was comprised heavily of local non-Arab men who would have likely opposed the government’s political agenda and war tactics, and the government simply did not trust them. As a result, the regular police continues to be severely outmatched by all armed groups, including the pro-government militia. In one incident on March 7, 2007, over 20 Janjaweed in a vehicle and on horses entered Ardamata IDP camp in West Darfur and abducted at least two men in connection with the killing of one of their relatives. They confronted and threatened police who tried to intervene, and eventually handed the captives over to the military in the camp.107

In July 2007 OHCHR appealed to the Sudanese government to send police to the small village of Bir Dagig, approximately 30 kilometers north of the West Darfur state capital El Geneina, after a spike in violence was reported there, most of it committed by men in military uniform.108 The police had been absent since April 2007, but in late July the government sent a group of officers to the village, as well as a police vehicle to conduct patrols along the road to the village of Kondobe, which was especially dangerous on market days.109 But this small force, as well as the police in Kondobe, has as yet been unable to stop the abuses.110

The police lack staff, resources, political will, and basic competence to effectively protect civilians from armed groups or bandits. They often fail to register cases, visit crime scenes, or interview victims and witnesses. Even when cases are registered, most remain unsolved and leads are not followed up. When perpetrators are unidentified, police often expect victims or witnesses to follow up the leads themselves, but even when community members have tracked the footprints of suspected perpetrators, the police have ignored their findings.

In some areas, refusal to follow up investigations or even outright involvement by police officers in human rights violations has led local communities to regard the police as the agents of state abuses rather than the protectors of their security. (The same is true in some SLA/Minawi areas where the former rebels carry out policing activities and have subjected people to ill-treatment and have detained people in squalid conditions.111) Some communities have even banned government police from entering the camps, preferring to rely on untrained community members to provide security. In May 2005 displaced persons threw the police out of Kalma camp, one of Darfur’s largest displaced persons camps, located close to Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. The following year, the police returned to the outskirts of the camp, but were still banned from entering.112

Many people are afraid to report crimes committed by state agents for fear of retribution, and others despair of reporting cases that they assume will not be properly investigated. Therefore, the number of cases reported to police provides little sense of the true scale of criminal and armed group activity. Cases of sexual violence are especially likely to go unreported because of fear of ostracism and stigmatization. Under-reporting in turn permits police to claim, disingenuously, that they cannot investigate crimes of which they are not aware.

There are many criminal complaints that do, however, make it into Darfur’s justice system. The system, like law enforcement, is unfortunately fraught with a lack of resources and political will. In the first quarter of 2006 there was one prosecutor for the whole state of West Darfur, and for extended periods of time the state had no more than two or three prosecutors. In July 2007 more prosecutors reportedly arrived to relieve the burden. However, most prosecutors are based in large towns. Therefore detainees and complainants in remote towns and villages throughout Darfur are effectively cut off from a fair and functional justice system.

Numerous committees have been established to investigate specific incidents and special courts have been introduced to deal with conflict related crimes.113 Regular courts are also operational in some areas. But very few footsoldiers and no high-level commanders have been convicted.114 In numerous cases, police have refused to intervene or investigate members of Sudan’s security forces committing human rights abuses because they were protected by domestic immunity provisions. On June 11, 2006, the president issued General Amnesty Decree No. 114 of 2006, which provided immunity from domestic criminal prosecution for various groups of people who had been involved in the conflict.

Humanitarian Access

Humanitarian groups are providing food, medical care, education, water, sanitation, and other assistance to some 4.2 million Darfurians in need of humanitarian relief. But these humanitarian workers have themselves increasingly come under attack. In June 2007 one in every six relief convoys that left provincial capitals in Darfur was hijacked or ambushed.115 Between January and July 2007, 64 relief vehicles were hijacked and 132 staff members were temporarily abducted at gunpoint, 35 relief vehicles were ambushed and looted, and aid agencies were forced to suspend operations and relocate staff due to security concerns 15 times.116 Attacks on the relief community have increased 150 percent in the past year.117 Despite these problems, humanitarian groups are struggling to reach more people mainly by resorting to more air transport and other means.118 According to UN estimates, in February 2007 some 900,000 people were inaccessible. That number apparently fell to 560,000 during May and June 2007, but the number remains staggering.119

While it is not always known who is responsible for particular attacks on humanitarian workers and hijackings of their vehicles, Sudanese government forces, rebel groups, former rebel groups as well as militia and/or bandits have all on various occasions been responsible.120Looting and hijacking of convoys appear to be aimed primarily at gaining resources such as vehicles and goods. But some of the worst attacks have targeted humanitarian personnel directly. In Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, Sudanese police and security officials raided a social gathering at an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) compound on January 19, 2007, and arrested some 20 NGO, United Nations agency and AMIS staff, severely assaulting several of them and sexually abusing one woman.121The authorities released them the next day, but charged them with consuming alcohol and creating a public disturbance. Some of the defendants were ordered to pay a fine and one remained under investigation for indecent and immoral acts. Others were acquitted for lack of evidence or had the charges dropped. Several NGO staff left the country and their case was temporarily closed.

In Gereida, an SLA/Minawi stronghold with some 130,000 displaced persons, SLA/Minawi forces attacked six humanitarian compounds on December 18, 2006.122 The NGO Action Contre La Faim working in Gereida reported that one employee was raped, others were sexually assaulted, and a mock execution was performed.123 The NGO staff was subsequently forced to withdraw, leaving the largest IDP camp in Darfur with only limited assistance.124

All the parties to the conflict in Darfur have delayed or denied humanitarian assistance to populations in need in violation of their obligations under international humanitarian law.125 Humanitarian groups also face numerous government-imposed procedural hurdles. Some relief convoys have been denied access to camps and villages by military personnel, rebels, and former rebels. It was only on June 11, 2007, that SLA/Minawi soldiers in the Haskanita area of North Darfur agreed to provide safe access to humanitarian workers after services were halted at the end of 2006.126

In March 2007 Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes tried to visit the Kassab IDP camp in North Darfur, but government military forces blocked him at a checkpoint.127 The government later apologized and signed a communiqué pledging to reduce the administrative burdens on humanitarian agencies.128 However, relief groups continue to contend with arbitrary limitations on personnel recruitment, delays at customs, denial of access to IDP camps and other areas, and other bureaucratic obstacles.129

88 “The Humanitarian Community in Darfur Under Increasing Pressure,” UN OCHA press release, July 10, 2007.

89 UN OCHA, “Sudan Humanitarian Overview, Issue 3. Vol 4,” July 24, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007): “Nearly all camps in and around El Fasher (North Darfur) and Nyala (South Darfur) are now at full capacity, while Zam Zam Camp, which can still accommodate more IDPs, could soon be full.”

90 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, North Darfur, Sudan, August 6, 2007; Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, West Darfur, Sudan, August 10, 2007; Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, West Darfur, Sudan, August 14, 2007; and email communication from confidential source, South Darfur, Sudan, to Human Rights Watch, August 18, 2007.

91 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, West Darfur, Sudan, August 14, 2007.

92 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, West Darfur, Sudan, August 10, 2007.

93 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, West Darfur, Sudan, August 14, 2007. Other people to whom Human Rights Watch spoke reiterated that displaced persons are not prepared to return home. Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, West Darfur, August 10, 2007; and Email communication from confidential source, South Darfur, Sudan, to Human Rights Watch, August 18, 2007.

94 The OHCHR has consistently reported publicly on sexual violence in Darfur in periodic reports. Full access to all reports, see (access August 27, 2007). See, in particular, OHCHR, Access to Justice for Victims of Sexual Violence: Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (Geneva: OHCHR, July 29, 2005).

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

96 Confidential source seen by Human Rights Watch.

97 “AlertNet Darfur Poll: Full Coverage,” Reuters, May 22, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

98 Darfur Group of Experts, Report on the situation of human rights in Darfur prepared by the group of experts mandated by Human Rights Council resolution 4/8, A/HRC/56, June 8, 2007, pp. 36-51.

99 The government also requested financial and technical assistance to deal with the problem. Ibid.

100 Human Rights Watch knows of a small number of cases held before regularly constituted courts when government officials were convicted of rape in 2006. However, these and other cases prosecuted reflect only a fraction of the crimes committed in the Darfur conflict. See also UNDP, “Progress Report: Addressing Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in Darfur,” November 2006.

101 Confidential sources seen by Human Rights Watch.

102 Confidential source seen by Human Rights Watch.

103 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name and location withheld, August 24, 2007; and confidential sources seen by Human Rights Watch.

104 UN High Commissioner for Refugees/Sudanese Commissioner of Refugees, Consolidated Report: Population Influx from Eastern Chad to West Darfur, Sudan (El Geneina, West Darfur: UNHCR/COR, July 30, 2007), p. 5.

105 Ibid., p. 7; see also UNMIS Office of the Spokesperson, “UNMIS News Bulletin,” August 8, 2007, (accessed August 20, 2007).

106 Ibid.

107 UNMIS Office of the Spokesperson, “UNMIS News Bulletin,” March 8, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007); and confidential source provided to Human Rights Watch.

108 UN Office at Geneva, Regular Press Briefing by the Information Service, July 20, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007).

109 UNMIS Office of the Spokesperson, “UNMIS News Bulletin,” July 30, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007); and confidential source provided to Human Rights Watch.

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

111 Confidential source seen by Human Rights Watch.

112 In mid-2006 police were allowed to be stationed in the outskirts of Kalma. Email communication from confidential source, South Darfur, Sudan, to Human Rights Watch, August 18, 2007. See also OHCHR, “Second Periodic Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Sudan,” Geneva, January 2006, p. 17.

113 OHCHR, “Seventh periodic report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Sudan: Involvement of Sudanese security personnel in attacks on the Bulbul area of South Darfur from January to March 2007,” p. 15.

114 Human Rights Watch knows of a small number of cases held before regularly constituted courts when government officials were convicted of rape in 2006. Additionally, two low-ranking members of Military Intelligence who had been convicted of murder in the court in El Fashir in 2005 for their role in the death in custody of a 60-year-old rebel suspect were hanged on April 22, 2007. However, these and other cases prosecuted reflect only a fraction of the crimes committed in the Darfur conflict. See also, “Sudan: National Courts Have Done Nothing on Darfur: ICC Prosecution Needed; Government Must Hand Over Suspects,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 11, 2007,

115 “The Humanitarian Community in Darfur Under Increasing Pressure,” UN OCHA press release, 10 July 2007.

116 Ibid.

117 Ibid.

118 Ibid.

119 UN OCHA, “Sudan Humanitarian Overview, Issue 3. Vol 4.”

120 Human Rights Watch, Darfur: Humanitarian Aid under Siege, no. 1, May 2006,; and confidential sources seen by Human Rights Watch.

121 USAID, Sudan: Complex Emergency Situation Report #9 (FY) 2007, January 26, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007); and monthly report of the Secretary-General on Darfur, S/2007/104, February 23, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007), para. 11.

122 “Joint statement on Darfur,” United Nations Country Team in Sudan public statement, January 17, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007); Francois Murphy and Opheera McDoom, “Sudan: International Aid Worker Raped in Darfur,” Reuters, January 24, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2007); and US State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006: Sudan,” March 6, 2007, (accessed September 8, 2007).

123 “Joint statement on Darfur,” United Nations Country Team in Sudan public statement, January 17, 2007; Murphy and McDoom, “Sudan: International Aid Worker Raped in Darfur,” Reuters.

124 “Joint statement on Darfur,” United Nations Country Team in Sudan public statement, January 17, 2007.

125 Protocol II, article 18(2) provides that “If the civilian population is suffering undue hardship owing to a lack of the supplies essential for its survival, such as food-stuffs and medical supplies, relief actions for the civilian population which are of an exclusively humanitarian and impartial nature and which are conducted without any adverse distinction shall be undertaken subject to the consent of the High Contracting Party concerned.” As a matter of customary law, states must allow and facilitate humanitarian assistance and may not withhold consent for arbitrary reasons. See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, pp. 193-200.

126 UN OCHA, “Sudan Humanitarian Overview, Issue 3. Vol 4.”

127 Security Council, 5655th meeting, S/PV.5655, April 4, 2007, (accessed August 28, 2007).

128 Ibid.

129  Office of UN Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sudan, UN Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator, “Darfur Humanitarian profile 27,” May 28, 2007,$File/Full_Report.pdf (accessed August 19, 2007).