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Darfur War - 2004

In December 2003 nearly 10,000 new Sudanese refugees fled into Chad from the strife-torn Darfur region of the Sudan. There were reports of killings, rape and the burning and looting of entire villages. The peace talks on Darfur resumed 10 December 2003 in Abeche, eastern Chad. A UN World Food Programme (WFP) assessment mission to south Darfur found that 46 of the 62 villages had been completely burned, while the other 16 had been looted. The newest refugees, who brought the number to had fled across the Chadian-Sudanese border over the previous seven months to 75,000, alleged that there had been aerial bombardment of villages and "ethnic cleansing" by pro-government Arab militias.

The government had denied all humanitarian agencies access, so UNICEF and other UN agencies are complaining to the government about this. UNICEF fears that the acute malnutrition among children less than five-years-old will increase dramatically due to a lack of food, due to displacement, due to lack of access from humanitarian agencies, and also, already very poor sanitary conditions and access to safe water.

The authorities might be embarrassed that fierce fighting was going on in this remote corner of Sudan at a time when a peace deal ending 25 years of civil war was almost concluded. Hostilities in Darfur between indigenous opposition groups and the Sudanese Armed Forces and its allied militias had caused non-governmental organizations and the UN to curtail needed humanitarian assistance programs.

This was an invisible emergency that does not get a lot of attention around the world, but it was something of extreme concern. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees/ UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was concerned about security along Chad's eastern border with Sudan, and planned to begin relocating the Sudanese refugees from that area to sites deeper inside Chad.

On 09 April 2004 the Sudanese government and two rebel movements in Darfur agreed to a 45-day ceasefire to allow humanitarian assistance to reach several hundred thousand people affected by the fighting. Chadian government mediators persuaded the Sudanese government and representatives of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) to agree to the truce. The deal included an agreement to release prisoners of war and other detainees arrested as a result of the 14-month-old conflict, to stop laying mines and committing acts of sabotage and had pledged allow the free movement of people and goods.

On 17 May 2004 the leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement, Abdel Wahed Mohammad Ahmad Nour, said his group would expand its fighting into the central Sudanese area of Kordofan, the capital, Khartoum, and areas in the east, if the group was not represented at the long-running Sudanese peace talks currently taking place in Kenya.

Although the US-brokered agreement nominally provided for a cease-fire and humanitarian access to Darfur, attacks by the Janjaweed militiamen -- who had been accused of ethnic-cleansing tactics against black African villagers -- continued and refugees still flowed across the border into Chad. As many as a million people had been made homeless in the western Sudanese region.

On May 25th 2004 the United Nations Security Council responded to widespread human rights violations and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Darfur region by condemning attacks on civilians and calling on the Khartoum government to prevent the Janjaweed from carrying out strikes on the black African population. The resolution expressed concern at reports of large-scale violations of human rights and international humanitarian law such as "indiscriminate attacks on civilians, sexual violence, forced displacement and acts of violence, especially those with an ethnic dimension" and demanded that the perpetrators be held accountable. While the Council welcomed the humanitarian ceasefire agreement signed in April in Chad, it reiterated its call for the Government of Sudan to respect its commitments and ensure that the Janjaweed are neutralized and disarmed. Earlier in May, Sudan was re-elected as a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights, prompting a walk out by the American envoy in protest of the Khartoum-government's backing of atrocities in Darfur.

The government of Sudan and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army signed a power-sharing agreement in Naivasha, Kenya on May 26 2004 in a step to end Africa's longest civil war. The accord consisted of three key protocols on wealth-sharing in the contested regions of Abyei, the Nuba mountains and southern Blue Nile, critical to a comprehensive peace agreement. Technical committees would work to implement the protocols and resolve details of a comprehensive ceasefire agreement.While progress was made between the government and insurgency groups, the United Nations continued to appeal for humanitarian assistance in Darfur, warning that thousands of people in the province and refugees in neighboring Chad would die without urgent aid. The UN made an emergency appeal for $236 million at a major donors conference in Geneva on June 3rd. A week later, the Security Council unanimously approved Secretary General Kofi Annan's proposal to send a UN advance team to Sudan with a three month mission of assessing peacekeeping needs in the south of the country. Amid rising international scrutiny and pressure from foreign governments, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ordered the disarmament of all fighters in the Darfur region, including those allegedly backed by the Sudanese government, the Janjaweed. Skepticism as to whether his order would be followed remained.

On June 24th the US Congress approved a humanitarian aid package for Sudan's western Darfur region as an amendement to a defense spending bill. The measure included $70 million for the US Agency for International Development's disaster and famine programs in Darfur, and $14 million to assist refugees in Chad. A few days later, on June 29th US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Sudan to urge Khartoum authorities to reign in Arab militiamen accused of human rights abuses in the Darfur region. He met with President Omar el-Bashir and visited displaced people in Darfur, threatening unspecified UN Security Council action unless the government brought an end to militia violence. The United Nations had described the 15-month Darfur conflict as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and UN relief groups estimate that up to 2 million people are in need of food, while a million more had been forced to flee their homes. The US government claims that the casualties of fighting between the Janjaweed and black Africans range from 10,000 to 30,000 people thus far. The Islamist Khartoum government denies links to the Janjaweed, but continues to block aid workers, journalists, and independent human rights monitors from entering Darfur to assess the situation, in violation of earlier agreements.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited the troubled region on July 1st with the hope of finding ways to end the humanitarian crisis. His three-day visit to Sudan and Chad gave him the opportunity to meet and talk to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. A day later several villages in rebel-held areas of southern Darfur state were bombed, according to relief workers. Initial reports suggest that the villages of Marla, Labado and Mujiriyah, all controlled by the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement Army (SLM/A) were attacked. At the end of Annan's visit to Sudan on July 3rd the Sudanese government formally committed to the immediate disarmament of Janjaweed militas and other outlaws operating in Darfur in a joint communiqué with the United Nations. Khartoum also promised to ease restrictions on humanitarian aid workers in the region, an action that encouraged the World Food Program to increase its food shipments to Darfur in hopes of reaching almost one million people displaced by fighting.

The Sudanese government and two rebel groups operating out of the Darfur region opened talks on July 15th in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. Two days later, the rebel groups pulled out of the African Union-mediated peace efforts, saying they would not return until the Sudanese government fulfilled conditions set for the talks. In the meantime the World Health Organization started a cholera immunization program in Darfur province to prevent an outbreak of the potentially fatal disease. In light of the continuing humanitarian emergency and the civil war's stalemate, on July 23rd the US Congress declared the mass killing of civilians in Darfur to be genocide. In a non-binding resolution, lawmakers urged President Bush to do the same. Thus far the Bush administration had declined to label the situation in Darfur a genocide. The 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide would require that such a classification of genocide justify an intervention by all signatories. The Pentagon made it clear that there are no US plans to intervene in the conflict militarily.

African Union military observers in Darfur reported that Sudanese militias had burned civilians alive. The AU's peace and security council announced in a meeting in Addis Ababa on July 27th that it was actively considering expanding the military observer mission into a multinational peacekeeping force with particular emphasis on disarming the Janjaweed if the Sudanese government does not do so. This would be the AU's first military intervention in a member state. The AU will also expand its ceasefire-observer mission, which originally would be protected by a small force of 300 troops, to a much larger contingent with the specific job of disarming the militiamen. The United Kingdom raised the possibility of sending troops to Darfur, but US Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted it was premature to speak of military intervention. Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail warned that Sudanese solders would repel any advance by foreign troops in Darfur. Khartoum went on to summon UK and German diplomats to protest EU-sponsored sanctions on the Darfur conflict. On July 23, 2004, the US Congress declared, "the atrocities unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, are genocide". On September 9, 2004, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell stated before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, "genocide had occurred and may still be occurring in Darfur", and "the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility". On September 21, 2004, in an address before the United Nations General Assembly, President George W. Bush affirmed the Secretary of State’s finding and stated,"[a]t this hour, the world is witnessing terrible suffering and horrible crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan, crimes my government has concluded are genocide".

The UN Security Council was also to discuss possible sanctions against Sudan. On July 27th, the United States circulated the latest version of a resolution that sets deadlines for the Sudanese government to stop the Janjaweed's campaign of terror and promises unspecified sanctions as a consequence of noncompliance. EU foreign ministers supported the resolution, but veto powers Russia and China argued that the Sudanese government should have more time to comply with the earlier joint communique to crack down on the militiamen and allow aid to reach starving Darfuris. Pakistan and Algeria were said to also oppose immediate sanctions, but US diplomats said they were confident that a majority of UN Security Council members will back the draft. There had been resistance to a Council vote on the issue. The Arab League told the Security Council to "avoid precipitate action" and give Sudan more time to honor its pledges. African leaders seek an "African solution" to Darfur at a special summit in Ghana on July 29th called by the AU Chairman, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. The AU requested British and Dutch assistance in airlifting 300 African troops to Sudan.

In mid-July 2004, Human Rights Watch obtained copies of Sudanese government documents that described an official policy of support for the Janjaweed militia. Thus far, aid agencies had estimated the death toll at 50,000 and warned that it might eventually run into hundreds of thousands. More than a million people had fled their homes.

On July 30, 2004, the United Nations Security Council passed Security Council Resolution 1556 (2004), calling upon the Government of Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed militias and to apprehend and bring to justice Janjaweed leaders and their associates who had incited and carried out violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and establishing a ban on the sale or supply of arms and related materiel of all types, including the provision of related technical training or assistance, to all nongovernmental entities and individuals, including the Janjaweed.

On September 18, 2004, the United Nations Security Council passed Security Council Resolution 1564 (2004), determining that the Government of Sudan had failed to meet its obligations under Security Council Resolution 1556 (2004), calling for a military flight ban in and over the Darfur region, demanding the names of Janjaweed militiamen disarmed and arrested for verification, establishing an International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to investigate violations of inter national humanitarian and human rights laws, and threatening sanctions should the Government of Sudan fail to fully comply with Security Council Resolutions 1556 (2004) and 1564 (2004), including such actions as to affect Sudan’s petroleum sector or individual members of the Government of Sudan.

On November 19 Sudan's government and southern rebels signed a pledge to commit themselves to ending Sudan's 21-year civil war. The pledge was signed in front of the 15 Security Council members in Nairobi, remarkable for the fact that it was the first time in 14 years and only the fourth time ever that the Security Council had met outside of its New York home. While the two groups had made similar, failed pledges in the past, the presence of the Security Council members may give this pledge added credibility. Officials also hoped that the agreement could be later applied to the situation in Darfur. However, human rights groups such as Oxfam and Amnesty International expressed skepticism with the agreement, claiming it to be little more than empty words and promises. While the Security Council promised that it would consider taking appropriate measures should either side fail to follow through on its commitments, both China and Russia had said that they are opposed to any penalties.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2015 19:56:14 ZULU