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Sudan: Action on Darfur?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Apr 7, 2004 (040407)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"American officials should not focus on whether the killings [in Darfur, Sudan] meet the definition of genocide ... they should focus instead on trying to stop them" - Samantha Powers, New York Times, April 6, 2004. Despite increasing attention from the media and international community, however, there are so far few indications that this will be sufficient to spark a meaningful international response.

Op-ed pages around the world are featuring many variations on the pledge "Never Again" this month as the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide is commemorated. But the political will needed to give substance to such pledges remains as doubtful as ever. In particular, high-level U.S., European, and African officials have yet to focus significant attention on Western Sudan.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes two brief UN news releases and excerpts from a new report from Human Rights Watch on the situation in Darfur. For additional background and links see also AfricaFocus Bulletin for March 6
(, the late March report on Darfur from the International Crisis Group at, and an April 3 interview with UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland (

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Sudan: UN human rights fact-finding team begins work as conditions worsen

6 April 2004 - A United Nations fact-finding mission on the human rights situation in Sudan's Darfur region began its work today as UN staff in the country reported that conditions in the war-scarred region, where a senior UN official has said black Africans are suffering from ethnic cleansing, are deteriorating.

The mission, led by Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Director of the UN Human Rights Office in New York, has started in neighbouring Chad, where tens of thousands of Sudanese have fled over the past year to escape the violence.

The team will interview Sudanese refugees taking shelter there before travelling to Darfur itself to assess the situation. The mission is expected to last about 10 days, a UN spokesman told reporters today in New York.

Bertrand Ramcharan, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, set up the mission to investigate reports that systematic human rights abuses are occurring against civilians in Darfur.

Last Friday Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said a coordinated, "scorched earth" campaign of ethnic cleansing was taking place in Darfur, which is in Sudan's west.

Mr. Egeland said the region's black African population, especially the Fur, Zaghawas and Massalit ethnic communities, were being forcibly driven away from the area by militia groups allied to the Sudanese Government.

Militia groups, the Sudanese Government and rebel groups have been fighting in Darfur for just over a year.

As the fact-finding mission begins work, the UN Office in Sudan is reporting that conditions in Darfur have worsened in some areas, a UN spokesman said.

He said outbreaks of communicable diseases, such as measles, are increasing because of the rising number of internally displaced people moving to relatively urban areas in Darfur. Some 200 cases of measles have been confirmed in one camp alone.

Humanitarian agencies say they cannot provide enough food, clean water, shelter and health care to internally displaced Sudanese because of the lack of security in Darfur.

Chad-Sudan: After a Week of Standstill, Darfur Talks Could Be Suspended

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

April 6, 2004


One week after arriving in Chad for peace negotiations, the Sudan government and two armed movements in Darfur province have still not held direct talks on how to end a bitter armed conflict which has brought misery to more than a million people.

A senior official of the Chadian government, which is trying to act as mediator between the two sides, said on Tuesday that this impasse could force Chad to abandon its efforts to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.

"Unfortunately, we haven't had any direct talks. There is an indirect dialogue. We have the feeling that opinions are converging", Ahmad Allammi, the official spokesman at the negotiations, told IRIN by telephone from the Chadian capital N'djamena.

But Allammi, a political advisor to Chadian President Idriss Deby, warned: "If in the next fewl hours we don't progress, we could be forced to suspend the negotiations."

So far Chadian diplomats have been shuttling between different floors of a N'djamena hotel, trying to convince delegations from the Sudanese government, and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Movement for Justice and Equality (MJE) rebel movements, to sit at the same table.

"They are under the same roof, but not at the same table", Allammi said.

If Chad suspends its mediation, it would prolong what the United Nations has called the "worst humanitarian crisis" in the world.

Allammi said the Chadian mediators had presented both sides with a draft ceasefire-agreement which had been agreed to in principle.

However, the sticking point in the talks is the suggested presence of Western diplomats as observers.

Without giving details, Allami said the Sudanese government delegation was refusing to allow the presence of " a western delegation."

The rebels favoured having as many international observers as possible, he added.

The rebel groups say they are fighting for greater political and economic rights for Darfur, Sudan's western region, which borders Chad.

They accuse the government of neglecting the remote and arid region which is now plagued by conflict between pro-government Arabs and discontented blacks.

The conflict, which began early last year, has caused more 110,000 Sudanese to seek refuge in neighbouring Chad and has internally displaced more than 750,000 villagers with Darfur.

It has led to countless rapes and killings of civilians as villages are burned and looted.

Human Rights Watch has accused the government and its Arab militia allies of using a scorched-earth policy as a fighting tactic.

Human Rights Watch

Sudan: Massive Atrocities in Darfur

Almost One Million Civilians Forcibly Displaced in Government's Scorched-Earth Campaign

(New York, April 2, 2004) "The Sudanese government is complicit in crimes against humanity committed by government-backed militias in Darfur", Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. In a scorched-earth campaign, government forces and Arab militias are killing, raping and looting African civilians that share the same ethnicities as rebel forces in this western region of Sudan.

The report, "Darfur in Flames: Atrocities in Western Sudan," describes a government strategy of forced displacement targeting civilians of the non-Arab ethnic communities from which the two main rebel groups - the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - are mainly drawn. Human Rights Watch found that the military is indiscriminately bombing civilians, while both government forces and militias are systematically destroying villages and conducting brutal raids against the Fur, Masaalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.

"The Sudanese military and government-backed militias are committing massive human rights violations daily in the western region of Darfur," said Georgette Gagnon, deputy director for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The government's campaign of terror has already forcibly displaced one million innocent civilians, and the numbers are increasing by the day."

Human Rights Watch called on the government of Sudan to immediately disarm and disband the militias, and allow international humanitarian groups access to provide relief to the displaced persons.

The government has recruited and armed over 20,000 militiamen of Arab descent and operates jointly with these militias, known as "janjaweed," in attacks on civilians from the Fur, Masaalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups. In the past year, nearly one million civilians have fled their rural villages. Most are displaced into towns and camps where they continue to be murdered, raped and looted by the militias.

Although Arab and African communities in Darfur for decades have intermittently clashed over land and scarce resources, the current conflict began 14 months ago when two new rebel groups emerged. The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) demanded that the Sudanese government stop arming the Arab groups in Darfur and address longstanding grievances over underdevelopment in the region.

In response, the government launched a massive bombing campaign which, combined with the raids of the marauding militias, have forced more than 800,000 people from their homes and sent an additional 110,000 people into neighboring Chad.

In a scorched-earth campaign, government forces and militias have killed several thousand Fur, Zaghawa and Masaalit civilians, routinely raped women and girls, abducted children, and looted tens of thousands of head of cattle and other property. In many areas of Darfur, they have deliberately burned hundreds of villages and destroyed water sources and other infrastructure, making it much harder for the former residents to return.

"The militias are not only killing individuals, they are decimating the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families," Gagnon said. "The people being targeted are the farmers of the region, and unless these abuses are stopped and people receive humanitarian relief, we could see famine in a few months' time."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan should request the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to immediately dispatch a mission of inquiry to investigate the situation in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said. The mission should report back to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, currently meeting in Geneva, before the end of its session on April 23. Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to adopt a resolution - under item 9 - to appoint a special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan.

The report describes how government forces allow the janjaweed to operate with full impunity. Government forces fail to protect civilians even when these unarmed people have appealed to the military and police forces, warning that their villages were about to be attacked. Government forces and janjaweed have also obstructed the flight of civilians escaping to Chad.

"The Khartoum government has tried to repress this rebellion with lightning speed in hope that the international community wouldn't have time to mobilize and press the government to halt its devastation of Darfur," added Gagnon, "But the Sudanese government will still have to answer for crimes against humanity that cannot be ignored."

The Sudan peace talks in Kenya convened by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an intergovernmental body of East African countries, are limited to the two main parties to the 20-year conflict in Southern Sudan. The peace talks do not include Darfur or the Darfurian rebels. Taking advantage of the internationally regulated ceasefire in the south, the Sudanese government has shifted its attack helicopters and other heavy weapons, purchased with oil revenue from the south, to the western region of Darfur.

The government's indiscriminate bombing, scorched-earth military campaign, and denial of access to humanitarian assistance in Darfur reflects the same deadly strategy employed in the south, with yet more rapid dislocation and devastation than witnessed or experienced there.

Darfur in Flames: Atrocities in Western Sudan

Human Rights Watch April 2004

[In addition to the sections excerpted below, the full report from Human Rights Watch includes extensive details on deliberate human rights abuses, primarily by government and government-allied forces, and an update on current humanitarian conditions both in Western Sudan and across the border in Chad, See]

Responses to the Darfur Conflict

Response of the Government of Sudan

One of the keys for resolution of the conflict in Darfur is control of the militias and other armed gangs who now roam the region with impunity. Some observers have doubts whether the Khartoum government retains control over the "monster" it has created, but others consider this "monster" a foreseeable and designed result of Khartoum's policy.

Regardless, to date the Sudanese government has given no signs whatsoever of its intention to pursue accountability. As long as the government continues to recruit members for its janjaweed and paramilitary units, it sends a clear signal that it will continue with its campaign of terror despite peace talks in Chad at the end of March, 2004.

Response of the Government of Chad

The conflict in Darfur poses serious challenges for the Chadian president, trapped as he is between his Khartoum mentors and the different groups within the Chadian Zaghawa constituency. Deby's position is further complicated by fractures within the Zaghawa community and by pressure from the Chadian Arab population, far larger than the Zaghawa, with whom he is unpopular. This population, following the precedent set by several previous Chadian regimes, could try to use Darfur as a staging base for an armed insurgency against the Chadian government. Deby is also under pressure from the large influx of Sudanese refugees in the east, which threatens to bring the ethnic tensions of Darfur over to Chad because the janjaweed and sometimes Sudanese government forces have raided the Sudanese refugees and their Chadian neighbors. Local versus refugee tensions, so far dormant because of ethnic similarities, may be exacerbated by the continuing drain on resources and the minimal international interest in assisting the Sudanese refugees in Chad.

Well aware of the risks inherent in any course of action, the Chadian government is engaged in a delicate balancing act as it tries to maintain control of the domestic situation as well as resolve the Darfur conflict. So far it has provided the only international forum for negotiations acceptable to the government of Sudan and the rebel groups. The September 2003 ceasefire was brokered by the Chadian government and despite reluctance on the part of the rebel groups to continue with Chad as the mediator since they view Chad as not neutral, a new round of negotiations began there on March 31, 2004.

International Responses

In 1990, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled "The Forgotten War in Darfur Flares Again," that described quite similar patterns of conflict, Sudanese government strategies inflaming the crisis, and total international ignorance and indifference although that 1990 crisis was much smaller in scale. Sadly, throughout 2003, the Sudanese government, under the same president now as in 1990, reverted to much the same destructive strategies, though with some key differences. International attention to Darfur has been slow to mobilize, partly due to several factors: the remoteness of the region, the lack of access by international humanitarian agencies, journalists, and other observers, and the news blackout imposed by Khartoum. Perhaps most critically for many governments, Darfur is considered an unhelpful distraction from the ongoing peace negotiations to settle the twenty-year conflict in southern Sudan. Darfur is viewed as a potential threat to the success of those peace talks as the demands of the Darfur rebellion underlined what critics of the talks have said; that the IGAD negotiations could not lead to real peace because they involved only the government and the southern-based SPLA rebels. Implied also was the threat of the Sudanese government to abandon peace with the south if it would not be allowed to pursue the war in Darfur.

It was only in January 2004 that growing international media attention and increasing criticism by U.N. agencies began to mobilize Western governments and organizations to become more concerned about the sharp humanitarian deterioration and intensified war in Darfur.

The European Union (E.U.), the United States, and others, including many U.N. agencies lead by calls from the U.N. resident representative in Khartoum, Mukesh Kapila, have gradually voiced concern. While many in the diplomatic community including in Khartoum seem to be apprised of some of the facts in Darfur, in part thanks to active Darfur representatives in the National Assembly and others in Khartoum, the diplomatic community is not united on a response.

As a result the Sudanese government has been able to escape serious international pressure, while speeding up the war in the expectation of achieving a military victory and presenting the international community with a fait accompli. At the end of the January 2004 military campaign, President El Bashir prematurely announced victory and declared the war at an end on February 9, 2004, stating that the armed forces had restored law and order and that arrangements for the return of refugees from Chad could now commence, among other points. The rebels, it appeared, merely reverted to guerrilla tactics and faded into the countryside, avoiding capture and destruction. They soon resumed ambushes and attacks on military posts. The government, however, managed to recapture many of the border areas.

President El Bashir also pledged full humanitarian access to Darfur, responding minimally to international pressure from the donors. This statement was quickly reversed in practice, however, as is common with such government promises. International relief workers were still waiting six weeks before being granted visas to enter Sudan in March 2004 with more protracted negotiations awaiting each individual's permission to travel to limited areas for limited time periods, among many other impediments.

The U.S. appears to take a more vigorous position than its allies, emphasizing that its six sets of economic sanctions now in place on Sudan ranging from concerns with human rights to terrorism cannot be totally lifted if abuses continue as they are in Darfur.100 Several groups of high-ranking State Department and USAID officials have made their way to Khartoum in February 2004, and reportedly pressured the Sudanese government not only to conclude the peace talks with the south and to conclude a ceasefire and enter into negotiations with the Darfur rebels.

The U.S. and the U.K. insist that the U.S.-created and sponsored Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) be deployed to monitor attacks on civilians and their infrastructure in Darfur. The CPMT was put in place in 2002 in Khartoum and Rumbek, southern Sudan, pursuant to an agreement between the SPLA and the government of Sudan to refrain from targeting civilians and civilian objects followed up by the Verification Monitoring Team (VMT), reporting to IGAD. So far Khartoum has adamantly refused all CPMT or VTM deployment to Darfur.

The U.K. and other European powers interested in Sudan, however, such as Germany and the Netherlands, seem to be less interested in pushing for an early solution to the Darfur crisis, despite intense lobbying by nongovernmental humanitarian agencies and others. They view the success of the peace talks between the Sudanese government and the southern rebels as the highest priority, and those talks, in progress with forceful mediation by the "Troika" of the U.S., U.K., and Norway, appear to be foundering as various deadlines come and go. Tension continues to build as the parties negotiate, finalizing power sharing, security, and implementation/enforcement provisions, that should extend the negotiations into mid- 2004 at least or longer, if Khartoum senses that it can escape pressure on Darfur by drawing out the southern peace talks.

The power sharing arrangements initialed by the parties so far include the SPLA as a partner in government, with decision-making power at the highest levels. The Europeans and others consider or hope that the SPLA, once it is part of the government, will prevail on the NIF/National Congress to abandon the war in Darfur.

This strategy is unlikely to prove successful in the short-term, however, if at all. As of the writing of this report, the situation remains in flux with the international community being called on to take action by Kapila and a growing number of voices in the international media. Whether the international community will meet the challenge remains unclear. What is clear is that a more united diplomatic front and greater international muscle is essential to bring the suffering of the enormous numbers of affected civilians to an end, and to prevent further atrocities.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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