Darfur has been plagued by nearly 15 years of misery since a tribal uprising against the Sudan government brought an armed response by government forces, backed by Arab militias. About 300,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million have been forced to flee their homes. Drought and famine have added to the suffering.
The security situation in Darfur was very serious, marked by a “deeply concerning” increase in violent attacks by armed assailants against United Nations peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel, the Assistant Secretary-General for UN peacekeeping operations told the Security Council 10 June 2015.
The second phase of the Government’s military offensive, ‘Operation Decisive Summer,’ resulted in high numbers of newly displaced people. At least 78,000 people were displaced by conflict in Darfur in 2015, according to humanitarian organizations. In addition, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) received reports of some 130,000 additional internal displaced persons (IDPs), which it was not yet able to verify.
According to the Deputy Joint Special Representative for UNAMID, the peace process was stalled, and the greatest challenge it met was the “Sudanese Government’s reluctance” to engage in negotiations with armed movements. Abiodun Oluremi Bashua said the Government thinks it can “win the war militarily”, while the African Union and the UN believe only a political process can bring an end to more than a decade of conflict.
The exit strategy for African Union-UN Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is based on the achievement of the Mission’s benchmarks and premised on a political solution to the conflict based on direct talks between the parties, starting with a cessation of hostilities. The exit strategy is also based on the gradual and phased withdrawal of UNAMID’s force from West Darfur, where there have not been any major fighting in two years. The prospect of a definitive end to the crisis seems to be “wishful thinking” in the current environment.
Though the region of Darfur was relatively peaceful by late 2016, a small portion of Jebel Marra within Darfur continued to be intermittently volatile. A major plank of UNAMID’s mandate from the Security Council is to protect civilians in Darfur. UNAMID encountered some challenges in implementing this responsibility in a small portion of Darfur. Both sides in the conflict in Jebel Marra continued to hamper or deny access to the remaining enclave of the concerned armed movement in Darfur. UNAMID is not an interposition force. It is a peacekeeping force and needs collaboration of both sides in the conflict to protect all civilians.
In a situation of continuing armed conflict between Government forces and the armed movements, and widespread intercommunal violence and attacks against civilians, the current conditions in Darfur are not conducive to a large-scale return of internally displaced persons to their places of origin.
Various initiatives have been launched by the Government in order to curb the significant levels of intercommunal violence in Darfur. Those efforts, however, are not sustainable in the absence of a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of the conflict in Darfur. Such a strategy would entail the conclusion of a comprehensive political agreement, following extensive consultations with all stakeholders on key issues such as the equitable management of land and other resources, that fully recognizes and upholds the rights of farmers and nomadic herders and empowers traditional and other local conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms, while strengthening the capacity of the criminal justice system to maintain law and order and ensure accountability for crimes.
The African Union (AU)-proposed roadmap stipulates arrangements related to cease-fire at South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur regions, entering a peace process and involving the armed movements in the national dialogue currently convened in Khartoum. The opposition Sudan Call Alliance in August 2016 signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa the roadmap, ending months of controversy over the deal. In March 2016, the AUHIP proposed the roadmap agreement for the Sudanese rivals aiming at ending the war in Sudan. The Sudanese government unilaterally signed the roadmap agreement, but the Sudan Call, an alliance bringing together Sudanese armed groups and opposition parties, then refused to sign the deal.
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.
Darfur is home to some 36 ethnic tribes, composed of two major blocks — Arabs and non-Arabs — the latter known as “blacks.” The Fur and the Masalit ethnic groups, who dominate the African population in Darfur, have a long history of clashes over land with Arab camel — and cattle — herding tribes. Initially, such hostilities were monitored through negotiation between community leaders. In the 1970s, however, competition over fertile land and dwindling resources intensified dramatically due to the desertification of the region and the lack of good governance. Traditional conflict resolution mechanisms were soon replaced with bloody and politicized clashes and ethnicity soon became a major mobilizing factor.
Rivals began identifying themselves as “Arabs” and non-Arabs” for the first time during the 1987-1989 Fur-Arab conflict, when nomads of Arab origin and Fur clashed over grazing lands and water resources. During this time, some 27 Arab tribes grouped themselves under the previously unknown Arab Gathering. Reports at that time already refer to the nomad militia Janjaweed (evil men on horseback), which was known for attacking Fur as well as other non-Arab tribes. An estimated 2,500 Fur lost their lives and 400 villages were burned, causing tens of thousands to flee their land in search for safety.
A 1994 administrative reorganization by the government of President Omar El Bashir equipped members of the Arab tribes with new power, and was perceived by the African Masalit, Fur and Zaghawa as an attempt to debilitate their traditional leadership role and authority in the region. The decision led to the resurgence of fighting, culminating in the 1996-1998 Masalit-Arab conflict, where the torching of Masalit villages instigated the flow of 100,000 refugees into Chad. The fighting received little international attention.
In February 2003 the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), an armed opposition group long active in South Sudan, emerged in Darfur and began attacking government troops. The SLM/A declared that attacks were in protest of the failure of the government to protect villagers from attacks by nomadic groups and the economic marginalization of the region. Another armed opposition group called the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) soon emerged with demands similar to the SLM/A’s. The government chose to resolve the conflict by using force in March 2003.
None Dare Call It Genocide
Human rights groups described the situation in Darfur as a genocide. The United Nations said up to 300,000 people died over six years of fighting between rebel groups and government forces. Sudan put the death toll much lower, at 10,000. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whom it accused of masterminding a campaign of rape, murder and other crimes against Darfur civilians. Bashir rejected the court's authority and has repeatedly traveled abroad in defiance of the arrest warrant.
UN-African Union mission's political chief, Rodolphe Adada, angered some Western diplomats in April 2009 when he said the situation in Darfur had settled down into "a low-intensity conflict." In August 2009 the outgoing commander of international peacekeepers in Sudan's troubled Darfur region said the area was no longer in a state of war. Speaking to reporters on 26 August 2009, Martin Luther Agwai said Darfur still has security issues, but he said the phase of full-scale war in the region has passed. Agwai said most of Darfur's rebel groups had fragmented, and are not strong enough to do any fighting.
In March 2009 President Barack Obama named retired US Air Force Major General J. Scott Gration as his special envoy to Sudan. An Africa expert and a Swahili speaker, Gration accompanied Mr Obama on a trip to Africa in 2006 and was an adviser during his presidential campaign. On 16 June 2009 Gration said the Sudanese government was no longer engaged in a "coordinated" campaign of mass murder in Darfur. "What we see is the remnants of genocide," Gration told reporters.
"The level of violence that we're seeing right now is primarily between rebel groups, the Sudanese government and . . . some violence between Chad and Sudan." On 30 July 2009 Gen. Gration (USAF, retd.), told senators that the "genocide" label was no longer accurate or helpful. "There's significant difference between what happened in 2004 and 2003, which we characterized as a genocide, and what is happening today," General Gration said in testimony.
The nature of the conflict in Darfur has changed over the years and the latest violence is mainly inter-communal fighting. Armed men from both government-linked militias and rebel groups target civilians and subject them to abuses and killings. Peace efforts by the government of Qatar and the East African regional bloc IGAD largely stalled and fighting continued between the pro-government militias and various rebel factions.
President Bashir continued to have two outstanding warrants for arrest against him based on International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments in 2009 and 2010 for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Nonetheless, President Bashir still traveled by invitation to several countries, including Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Rwanda, Russia, and Uganda during 2017. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda presented her 25th report on the situation in Darfur to the Security Council on June 9, stating, “The pervading toxic culture of impunity must be tackled in order for justice to prevail in Darfur.”
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