After a peace agreement was signed between North Sudan and South Sudan at the beginning of the 21st century, the residents of Darfur in Western Sudan began to demand their share of Sudan. The government responded harshly; systematic extermination of the population of Darfur, specifically the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit tribes.
Sudan is one of the largest countries in Africa, with a population of approximately 40 million people. Sudan’s population is made up of 140 different ethnic groups, 36% of them Arab. Arabic is the official language, although there are 114 languages are spoken in Sudan.
Sudan has never been completely united. Even under Ottoman Empire rule during the 18th century, the society was based on slavery and northern domination of the south. During the period of British rule, the situation changed slightly, but the economic and political domination of the north over the south remained intact.
Sudan declared independence from Britain in 1956, but the tribes of the south demanded separation from the north and their own independence. Britain refused and declared Sudan to be one country under the almost complete political and economic rule of the Arab north. Civil war broke out immediately following independence, with the tribes of the south demanding a state of their own. The war lasted decades, with an uneasy hiatus between 1972 and 1983. During the war, both sides employed horrific methods: bombing villages from the air, poisoning water wells, mass killing of civilians, using rape as a weapon, and kidnapping children, who were then placed in extreme Islamic educational institutions. The war in the South became predominantly genocidal in the years following the so-called “Khartoum Peace Agreement” of 1997. Simultaneously, civilians in what was then Western Upper Nile, and what is now Upper Nile State of South Sudan, began to be violently targeted by ethnicity. During this war, over 2 million people were killed. Despite this, the UN has never recognized the war as genocide, only as a civil war.
Coverage of the war emphasized an ideological religious struggle between Islam and Christianity, despite the salience of the ethnic dimension of conflict, between Arabs and Africans. Also, failing to recognize the economic dimension, this was perhaps the most significant factor, due to most of the fertile and oil-rich land being in the southern part of the country. The regime changed a number of times over the course of the war, becoming increasingly religious and extreme. In 1983, Sudan declared itself an Islamic republic and vowed to implement Shariah law over the entire country. The regime that rules Sudan today came to power in a military coup in 1989 by the National Islamic Front led by Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir.
In 2005 a peace agreement was signed between the north and south, which included a ceasefire and partial autonomy for the south for a certain number of years. According to the agreement, the south’s leader would also serve as Sudan’s vice president. In addition, it was agreed that in 2011, the South would hold a referendum to decide whether or not to secede from Sudan and declare independence. This referendum indeed took place in January 2011, and the citizens of the south – with a 98% majority – chose to secede and declare an independent South Sudan. The declaration of independence occurred in July 2011.
The conflict in Darfur:
Darfur is a region of western Sudan. The name Darfur in Arabic means “home of the Fur” the largest tribe residing in the area. A number of other tribes live in Darfur, the largest of which are the Massalit and the Zaghawa. The large majority of tribes in Darfur are African-Muslim, but their traditions differ from Arab-Muslim traditions due to the influence of African history and culture.
The conflict in the Darfur region has been going on for many years, and experts point to two central causes:
First, tensions between the center and the periphery exist, because throughout the years of Sudan’s existence, Darfur’s residents have suffered from discrimination, lack of resources, education, health services, etc. There is a large gap between the resources that the government has invested in Darfur and those invested in riverine Sudan.
Second, In the 1980s conflict arose between nomadic Arab tribes and indigenous African tribes in Darfur. Due to desertification and the subsequent expansion of the desert, the nomadic tribes were forced to enter the farming areas in order to reach pastureland. This caused local conflicts between the farming tribes and the nomadic tribes. The most significant of this conflict was the Fur/Arab war of 1987.
As the years went on, Darfur’s residents began to criticize the government more vigorously for discrimination. The government was not providing them with resources to meet their basic needs, and not defending them against Arab presence in Darfur, who certainly felt growing pressures because of spreading desertification demanding their own “Dar”.
The uprising in Darfur:
In the early 2000’s, several groups in Darfur began operating underground organizations. In 2002, an uprising broke out against the Khartoum government where rebels attacked government building, and military and police bases. In response, the Sudanese army began to attack and bomb the rebels’ centers.
On April 2003, the rebels changed the nature of the conflict with one operation. In just a few hours the rebels attacked the El Fasher Air Force base and destroyed four bombers and their helicopters, killed 75 pilots, and captured 32 prisoners, including the base’s commander.
At the time of the operation, the Khartoum government was in the process of preparing a peace agreement with the south, due to intense international pressure. The Sudanese rulers understood that they lost south Sudan, and inevitably the region would declare independence. Wary of entering into a new military campaign that could last for years and could end in capitulation to international pressure, and the demand for independence for Darfur, the government decided to take a hard-line approach to suppress the uprising.
Due to the weakness of the military following the attack on El-Fasher and subsequent battles, in addition to the fear of international criticism and pressure, the Khartoum government began to fund, arm, and train the Janjaweed militias from the Arab tribes, mostly from north Darfur. The government, of course, denied its involvement and claimed that the conflict was between local tribes, but in reality, it equipped the militias and reinforced many of their attacks via aerial bombing with Antonov planes.
By fall 2003, the Janjaweed was well-equipped to defeat the rebel groups and to conduct systematic massacres in Darfur villages. Thousands of villages were destroyed, pillaged, burned to the ground, and residents dislocated and killed amongst the violence. Only the villages of African tribes were bombed and attacked; nearby Arab villages were left unharmed.
Hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in air bombings and Janjaweed attacks, and millions fled their homes. Consequently, there were also hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled and crossed the border to nearby Chad.
At the beginning of 2009 the UN estimated that there were 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur and approximately 270,000 refugees in eastern Chad. The battles between the rebel groups and the Janjaweed spread into Chad, which led to tensions between Chad and Sudan, and an immense struggle for Chad in dealing with the huge number of refugees. In Chad, the United Nations High Commissioner established refugee camps for refugees and other aid organizations.
In the refugee camps, the Janjaweed used rape as a weapon, capturing, attacking and raping women when they ventured outside refugee camps to collect firewood. Many refugees who fled their homes continued to flee from repeat attacks by the Janjaweed throughout Darfur. Due to the extreme of the isolation of the region and the Khartoum government’s were able to obstruct most humanitarian organizations by denying access to critical areas, but the UN and NGOs still operated.
In May 2006, the Khartoum government signed a peace agreement In Abuja, Niberia with one of the rebel groups, but the rest of the rebel groups did not accept the agreement, and the conflict continued. In 2007, the conflict remained extremely intense and increasingly chaotic; an additional wave of attacks on villages and refugee camps began, and thousands of women were raped. Sudanese army planes and helicopters, painted white to disguise them as UN or aid organization aircraft, continued to attack villages and refugee camps. There were reports of abandoned villages being taken over and re-settled by Arab populations.
Since 2007 the number of massacres and killings has decreased, but they continue to this day. In March 2009 Khartoum expelled 13 international aid organizations, representing roughly half the humanitarian capacity in Darfur. A humanitarian disaster was created, and vast numbers died of hunger and disease.
The genocide in Darfur is still taking place. Although the rate of the massacre has decreased, the killings have yet to end. The refugees have not returned to their homes, the Janjaweed has not put down its weapons, and the perpetrators of the genocide have not been brought to justice. The Sudanese government continues to deny the existence of the genocide and its own connection to the Janjaweed, and still claims that the conflict is one between local tribes with no more than tens of thousands of dead.
International agencies estimate the number of dead at approximately 500,000 people. The UN estimated that there were 3 million IDP’s in Darfur and Khartoum; approximately 330,000 refugees in eastern Chad; as many as 50,000 in CAR; a smaller number in Egypt, and in some developed countries that have accepted refugees, including Israel.
International involvement in:
The United Nations:
There was only one legitimate attempt by the UNSC to get a powerful UN force into Darfur, which was in August 2006. UNAMID, an African Union/UN hybrid was authorized in July 2007, and officially took up its mandate on January 1, 2008. Today, the force is made up of 26,000 observers. In addition, the UN has declared a weapons embargo and general sanctions, but these are very limited because of China and Russia’s involvement in Sudan. The UN has never come to a resolution on military involvement to end the massacre.
China and Russia:
China has been heavily involved and invested in the Sudanese economy for many years. Many Chinese corporations work in Sudan in various fields. The main reason for the economic relationship is Sudanese oil. China is Sudan’s primary oil customers and purchases enormous quantities of fuel, and therefore is not interested in undermining the existing regime. China also continues to sell weapons to Sudan.
Russia also continues to sell weapons to Sudan indirectly, despite the fact that the United Nations has imposed a weapons embargo on Sudan Darfur; the EU has imposed a weapons ban on Sudan. Russia also has clear economic interests in keeping the current Sudanese regime in power.
Thus, two major world powers, permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto rights, have clear interests in maintaining the current regime in Sudan. This is one of the reasons that a coalition was never established in the United Nations for more meaningful intervention in Sudan.
The United States:
Many corporations have been involved in the Sudanese economy in the past, but the awareness of what was taking place in south Sudan in the 1980’s and 1990’s resulted in the 1997 decision to ban economic relationships with companies in Sudan. On September 9, 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush described the events in Darfur as genocide, further the United States tightened economic sanctions on Sudan. These included the “Darfur Peace and Accountability Act” of 2006, which banned fuel trade with Sudan and froze the assets of those involved in the genocide. Despite this, public awareness and pressure in the United States for more active involvement against the Sudanese government to end the genocide did not lead to military action or other operations to end the massacres immediately. The argument against military action in Darfur came mainly from public discontent regarding the lengthy involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, and the feeling that the US should not get involved in another conflict zone without a clear exit strategy.
The African Union:
The African Union Mission in Sudan originally founded in 2004, with a force of 150 troops, by mid-2005, its numbers were increased to about 7,000 troops. Those observers were placed in Darfur and given the task of overseeing the implementation of the ceasefire signed between the government of Sudan and the Southern Sudanese militia. Most of the troops on the ground were not observers, but logisticians, protection forces. The force grew to 9,000 observers as it became clearer the ceasefire had not been kept, and the conflict was continued. The force itself was small, weak, and lacked combat capabilities. In many instances, they were witnesses to attacks on villages and refugee camps, but were unable to act because their mandate was not to protect civilians, only to observe and report to the African Union and the United Nations on the implementation of the peace agreement. In a few instances, the force itself was attacked by the Sudanese army, the Janjaweed, and even by rebel groups.
Countries of the world:
Despite clear evidence reported by journalists and researchers, it took a long time for the world to recognize that genocide was taking place in Darfur. Despite this, as the years went on, more and more countries did recognize the genocide and more and more leaders called for recognizing that what was happening in Darfur was in fact a “genocide” or “a risk of genocide” or other similar expressions.
Humanitarian Aid Organizations:
The capability of humanitarian aid organizations to operate in Darfur has been severely limited by the ban on foreign organizations, including aid groups. Several aid delegations have even been attacked along with civilian populations following the Red Cross’s dropping of aid packages from the air. The Food and Agriculture Organization declared Darfur the worst humanitarian disaster out of all their areas of operation, and the World Food Programme reported that its assistance prevented about 355,000 people from starving to death.
The International Criminal Court:
In the International Criminal Court in The Hague Sudanese minister Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb were accused of 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They were never arrested or charged. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was accused of crimes against humanity and of the crime of genocide, and the ICC issued an arrest warrant for him in 2010.
The Arab League and China continue to support al-Bashir and announced that they oppose his extradition.
Israel and the Darfur Genocide:
Israel has no formal relationship with Sudan, which is defined as an enemy country. Until recently, it was printed on Sudanese passports that they are valid in all countries except Israel. In 2007, Yad Vashem called for the United Nations to take active steps to end the genocide in Darfur.
Despite this, the results of the genocide also affect Israel. Many refugees from Darfur have been forced to flee to Egypt. In 2005, some of these refugees began to enter Israel, by illegally crossing the Egyptian border and then requesting protection under the UN Convention on Refugees, which Israel signed in 1951. The refugees from Darfur are the only part of the traffic of asylum-seekers from all over Africa currently reaching Israel. Each and every Israeli government has implemented problematic policies (unclear) regarding the asylum-seekers. The Egyptian border can be easily breached, at this time, but the government is finally building a real fence on the border. The international humanitarian law, as well as Israel, has no clear policy or appropriate systems for dealing with the asylum-seekers.
The Israeli government decided in 2007 to recognize 600 refugees from Darfur, but today there are over 5,000 asylum-seekers, most of them lacking any legal status and unable to support their basic needs. They are entitled to protection and are not to be deported, but there is no clear legislation explaining their rights and obligations. Refugees from the genocide in Darfur do not even receive the treatment, which they are entitled in Israel. By the end of 2013, the number of asylum-seekers in Israel from all over Africa reached over 50,000. Due to the large number of asylum-seekers from Africa in general, the Darfuris are subsumed into the larger group in the eyes of the government and the public.
*This article was written with the help of Dr Eric Reeves