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Darfur War - 2016

In June 2016 President Bashir declared a four-month unilateral cessation of hostilities (COH) in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states (the “Two Areas”) and an end to offensive military actions in Darfur. The government repeatedly extended the COH, and as of year’s end, no offensive military actions had resumed, except for infrequent skirmishes between armed groups and government forces. Authorities used excessive force against protesters in Kalma Camp near Nyala, South Darfur, in September, killing nine internally displaced persons (IDPs). Nevertheless, the continued COH allowed for increased stability and an overall improvement in the human rights situation in Darfur and the Two Areas, as the government ceased its aerial bombardments and scorched-earth tactics in conflict zones. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, however. Banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were main causes of insecurity in Darfur.

In the absence of progress towards a comprehensive political agreement that addresses the root causes of violence, conflict in Darfur persisted. Fighting between the Government of the Sudan forces and the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) continued in Jebel Marra during 2016. Intercommunal fighting and incidents of violence against the civilian population by criminal groups and militias have continued to spread, despite the Government’s efforts to contain them. With tens of thousands of people newly displaced in 2016 and approximately 2.6 million remaining displaced in Darfur, civilians across the region continue to bear the consequences of the volatile security situation.

In Darfur, fighting involved government forces, rebels, and ethnic militias, and it was often along communal lines. These armed groups, including the RSF, which NISS controlled, killed and injured civilians, raped women and children, looted properties, targeted IDP camps, and burned villages in all of Darfur’s five states. Multiple sources reported the RSF also destroyed and plundered water wells, food stores, and community resources, including livestock.

Following the first two phases of the Government of the Sudan’s military offensive (from February 2014 to June 2015), known as Operation Decisive Summer, which resulted in the significant weakening of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi (SLA/MM) in Darfur, UNAMID received no reports of fighting between Government forces and those two armed movements during the reporting period, apart from a claim by SLA/MM of having repelled an attack by the Rapid Support Forces on Wadi Maghreb, north of Kutum, North Darfur. After confining SLA/AW to a very limited geographic area in Jebel Marra in early 2015, Government forces focused their most recent military offensive on dislodging the armed movement from the mountainous area. SLA/AW resisted such an outcome through asymmetric warfare and highly mobile forces, which utilized their dispersed geographical footprint to limit the impact of aerial bombardment and the advance of the Rapid Support Forces and Sudanese armed forces infantry.

In January 2016, the Government announced the beginning of a major military operation on SLA/AW positions in Jebel Marra, accusing the rebel movement of looting and attacking civilian, military and commercial convoys in the area. Prior to that announcement, towards the end of 2015, Government officials had described SLA/AW as a major threat to the Darfur peace process and commenced a gradual build-up in several localities in Jebel Marra, believed to be under the armed movement’s control. For their part, SLA/AW elements entrenched in remote areas in the foothills of Jebel Marra launched occasional ambushes on convoys of Government forces, especially on the roads between El Fasher, Nyala and Zalingei. Following one such ambush on a Sudanese armed forces convoy near Dabaneira, north of Golo, Central Darfur, on 2 January 2016, additional Sudanese armed forces infantry units and other forces, including the Rapid Support Forces, converged on Jebel Marra.

The next phase of the Government’s counter-insurgency operations was launched on 14 January 2016, with a series of aerial bombardments on supposed SLA/AW locations near Sortony and Tawila in North Darfur and Nertiti in Central Darfur. Owing to the intensity of the attacks, SLA/AW took refuge in the mountainous areas between Nertiti and Rockero, Central Darfur, while the Sudanese armed forces claimed to have taken several of the armed movement’s strongholds in South Darfur, thereby securing major road access into Jebel Marra. From 22 January, with the support of aerial bombardment, Government forces launched a ground offensive north-east and north-west of Rockero and east and south-east of Nertiti. Government forces claimed to have seized most of Jebel Marra in the ensuing fighting. SLA/AW, in turn, claimed to have repelled Government attempts to capture Kalokitting and reportedly captured the areas of Kutrum and Kalow, east of Nertiti.

Throughout March and April 2016, ground fighting and aerial bombardment continued in areas south-west of Rockero and south-east of Golo in Central Darfur and north of Kas in South Darfur. After several days of reportedly fierce resistance from SLA/AW, on 12 April 2016, the Sudanese armed forces announced the capture of Sorrong, south-east of Golo, which it described as the last rebel stronghold in Jebel Marra. With the capture of Sorrong, the Government declared an end to the rebellion in all five states of Darfur. SLA/AW have reportedly retreated to Daya and Torongtonga, located east and south-west of Sorrong. Reports of fighting and aerial bombardment in Jebel Marra have continued. UNAMID remained unable to verify the outcome and impact thereof on the civilian population, owing to the Government’s continued denial of access to conflict areas in Jebel Marra.

The causes of intercommunal conflict are inherently linked to those of the broader Darfur conflict. Historically, this form of violence arose mainly between nomadic herder and sedentary farming communities over the ownership and use of resources, such as land. Since the beginning of the conflict, efforts to address such violence have failed to provide sustainable solutions, owing to the sociodemographic effects of drought, the consequences of the war and the erosion of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms and land management structures.

The ongoing rebellion and counter-insurgency operations in Darfur have significantly polarized Arab and non-Arab communities, thereby increasing the intensity of intercommunal fighting, particularly in terms of its impact on the civilian population. The situation has been further exacerbated by the widespread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of rule of law and judicial institutions, which contributes to a culture of impunity and the weakening of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms and reconciliation processes. The arming of militias and the politicization of such conflicts have increased tensions and led to regular flare-ups of violence, as state-level efforts to address land use, resource-sharing, the return of and compensation for internally displaced persons remain insufficient.

In February the government established in Darfur a suboffice of the National Human Rights Commission to enhance the commission’s capacity to monitor human rights in Darfur. Meanwhile, ground forces comprising Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Border Guards carried out attacks against more than 50 villages in an attempt to dislodge the armed opposition. Attacks on villages often included killing and beating of civilians; sexual and gender-based violence; forced displacement; looting and burning entire villages; destroying food stores and other infrastructure necessary for sustaining life; and attacks on humanitarian targets, including humanitarian facilities and peacekeepers.

In September, Amnesty International issued a report alleging that, through September the government engaged in scorched-earth tactics and used chemical weapons in Jebel Marra, Darfur. Amnesty International accused Sudanese government forces on 29 September 2016 of killing scores of civilians, including many children, in suspected chemical weapons attacks in a mountainous area of war-torn Darfur. More than 30 such attacks are believed to have been carried out on several villages as part of a massive military campaign against rebels in Darfur's Jebel Marra between January and September, Amnesty said. "An Amnesty International investigation has gathered horrific evidence of the repeated use of what are believed to be chemical weapons against civilians, including very young children, by Sudanese government forces in one of the most remote regions of Darfur over the past eight months," Amnesty said.

"Between 200 and 250 people may have died as a result of exposure to the chemical weapons agents, with many or most being children," said the Amnesty report. Amnesty said government forces also carried out "indiscriminate bombing of civilians... unlawful killing of men, women and children and the abduction and rape of women" in Jebel Marra, home to Darfur's most fertile land.

In March the government unilaterally signed the AUHIP “Roadmap” in a move toward consensus on a monitored cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access. On June 17, President Bashir declared a four-month unilateral cessation of hostilities in Blue Nile and South Kordofan (the “Two Areas”) and an end to offensive military actions in Darfur. In August key armed movements and holdout opposition parties signed onto the AUHIP Roadmap. In October, President Bashir extended the ceasefire for a two-month period; on December 31, he declared a one-month extension of its cessation of hostilities in conflict zones.

The Darfur Referendum, which took place in April 2016, was conducted to determine whether Darfur would be administered via the current system of five states or as one regional administration. Observers from the African Union (AU) and the League of Arab States monitored the referendum. The Darfur Referendum Commission announced that more than 97 percent of voters had opted to keep Darfur’s current administrative configuration. Human rights observers said the government believed a unified Darfur would give rebels a platform to push for independence just as South Sudan did successfully in 2011.




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