24 July 2004

Darfur Destroyed

The government of Sudan is responsible for "ethnic cleansing" and crimes against humanity in Darfur, one of the world's poorest and most inaccessible regions, on Sudan's western border with Chad. The Sudanese government and the Arab "Janjaweed" militias it arms and supports have committed numerous attacks on the civilian populations of the African Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups. Government forces oversaw and directly participated in massacres, summary executions of civilians -- including women and children -- burnings of towns and villages, and the forcible depopulation of wide swathes of land long inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa. The Janjaweed militias, Muslim like the African groups they attack, have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders, and desecrated Qorans belonging to their enemies.

The government and its Janjaweed allies have killed thousands of Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa-- often in cold blood, raped women, and destroyed villages, food stocks and other supplies essential to the civilian population. They have driven more than one million civilians, mostly farmers, into camps and settlements in Darfur where they live on the very edge of survival, hostage to Janjaweed abuses. More than 110,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad but the vast majority of war victims remain trapped in Darfur.

This conflict has historical roots but escalated in February 2003, when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) drawn from members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, demanded an end to chronic economic marginalization and sought power-sharing within the Arab-ruled Sudanese state. They also sought government action to end the abuses of their rivals, Arab pastoralists who were driven onto African farmlands by drought and desertification -- and who had a nomadic tradition of armed militias.

The government has responded to this armed and political threat by targeting the civilian populations from which the rebels were drawn. It brazenly engaged in ethnic manipulation by organizing a military and political partnership with some Arab nomads comprising the Janjaweed; armed, trained, and organized them; and provided effective impunity for all crimes committed.

The government-Janjaweed partnership is characterized by joint attacks on civilians rather than on the rebel forces. These attacks are carried out by members of the Sudanese military and by Janjaweed wearing uniforms that are virtually indistinguishable from those of the army.

Although Janjaweed always outnumber regular soldiers, during attacks the government forces usually arrive first and leave last. In the words of one displaced villager, "They [the soldiers] see everything that the Janjaweed are doing. "They come with them, they fight with them and they leave with them."

The government-Janjaweed attacks are frequently supported by the Sudanese air force. Many assaults have decimated small farming communities, with death tolls sometimes approaching one hundred people. Most are unrecorded.

Darfur is a classic human rights crisis and it will not go away any time soon. The UNSC is debating a resolution to impose sanctions if the Sudanese government does not take action against the Janjaweed shortly. Ultimately, I suspect there will need to be military intervention, preferably by the AU rather than a coalition of the willing. A CoW intervention in another Muslim state is probably impossible after Iraq.

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