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Sudan: Justice Africa Analysis

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jun 18, 2004 (040618)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

As overwhelming evidence of atrocities in Sudan continues to emerge, there are new calls for action to stop the genocide. This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a mid-May briefing by Justice Africa focusing on key elements needed to inform such action. These include identifying the political forces within the Sudanese government responsible for directing the violence.

The London-based Justice Africa (, which works closely with the Pan African Movement secretariat in Kampala and the Inter Africa Group in Addis Ababa, has extensive experience in the Horn of Africa. It has coordinated a series of conferences with Sudanese civil society and human rights organizations. Justice Africa's directors include Alex de Waal, Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, Yoanes Ajawin, Abdul Mohamed, and Paulos Tesfagiorgis.

In response to the question "Is the Darfur conflict genocide?" Justice Africa replies, "If we strictly apply the provisions of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, there is no doubt that the answer is yes." However, this establishes a firm international obligation to act, which is why governments and the United Nations are wary of using the term. Such action, Justice Africa implies, must lead to changes in Khartoum. "The ruthlessness with which the security elite at the heart of the Government of Sudan have operated, and their readiness to turn Darfur into an ethics-free zone, mean that Sudan's future stability rests on the political exclusion or containment of key members of this security elite."

In Washington, testifying before a Senate hearing on June 15, John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group concluded a detailed listing of steps needed for stronger action on Darfur with a parallel point. "The best way to end this tragedy," he said, "is to bring home the costs of the atrocities in Darfur to the Sudanese officials who are directing them."

For Prendergast's testimony see

Also available on, with extensive additional material on the current situation in Darfur, is testimony from US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Charles Snyder, USAID Deputy Administrator Roger Winter, and Human Rights Watch Darfur research Julie Flint. Full testimony at the hearings is also available at

Africa Action ( has launched a petition campaign calling on the US to acknowledge that the campaign of slaughter in Darfur amounts to genocide, and to take action to stop it, including the use of military force.

For additional background and links to current sources visit


Many thanks to those of you who have recently sent in a voluntary subscription payment to support AfricaFocus Bulletin. If you have not yet made such a payment and would like to do so, please visit for details.

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Prospects for Peace in Sudan Briefing

March-May 2004

Justice Africa 19 May 2004

[Excerpts only. For full text of this and earlier briefings on Sudan from Justice Africa, visit]


Political Repercussions of Darfur

11. The war in Darfur threatens to paralyse and fragment the Government of Sudan (GoS). The conflict reaches into the heart of the GoS power structure and the wider socio-political consensus of northern Sudan in a more destabilising way than the war in the South ever did. If the Darfur conflict is not resolved rapidly and decisively, the GoS may become incapable of governing. This would benefit nobody. But the ruthlessness with which the security elite at the heart of the GoS have operated, and their readiness to turn Darfur into an ethics-free zone, mean that Sudan's future stability rests on the political exclusion or containment of key members of this security elite.

12. Many middle-ranking and senior army officers hail from Darfur. Reportedly, a number of senior air force officers refused to bomb civilian targets in Darfur, leading to fears of a widespread refusal to obey orders or worse. There is also discontent among army officers about the use of the Janjawiid militia. The levels of disquiet in the army over Darfur should not be underestimated.

13. The GoS continues to see the Darfur rebellion largely through the lens of its own intra-Islamist dispute. This has contributed to the arrest and detention of Hassan al Turabi and the closure of the PCP. These actions are unlikely to have the desired effect. While Turabi's potential for destabilising any political process can never be underestimated, his control over events in Darfur is minimal at best.

14. In truth, the Darfur conflict signals the end of Sudan's Islamist project. The National Islamic Front was always a coalition between Arab nationalists and Islamists, a coalition signified by Turabi's Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, established in 1991 to bring together radical Islamists and Arab nationalists (the secularist Palestinian George Habbash was among the non-Islamists who attended the first conference.) Within Sudan, the Arab tendency was primarily represented by the elites of the northern region who have traditionally dominated the Sudanese state. The Arab supremacism of members of the former Islamic Brigades who had been in exile in Libya in the 1970s and 80s is a second, more neglected component. The Islamist tendency reached out to non-Arab groups that had been marginalized in the Sudanese state, notably including the Fellata, Zaghawa and Fur. (The Fellata, descendants of west African immigrants from the pre-colonial and colonial periods, first received Sudanese citizenship under the NIF).

15. Hassan al Turabi's sympathy for the JEM rebels is therefore more than simple opportunism. It indicates his appreciation that the GoS has abandoned its last Islamist credentials, and is simply interested in power. The Darfur conflict has sundered Sudan's Islamist coalition right down its most sensitive fault line: race. The GoS looks more and more like an ethnic and political minority that has control over state power and wants to keep that power at any cost, knowing full well that any liberalisation will spell its political demise.

16. By the same token, the war in Darfur could easily prefigure a conflict that could tear apart the fabric of the Sudanese state itself. The GoS is doing its utmost to black out any news from Darfur and keep the citizens of Khartoum in the dark. This is for the real fear that determined opposition could spread to the capital. The arrest of army officers including air force commanders alleged to have been planning a coup reflects this fear. However hard it tries, the GoS will be unable to prevent news of the Darfur atrocities reaching Khartoum, and fuelling opposition.

17. The Darfur conflict is irrevocably internationalised. Despite the best efforts of the GoS to argue that it is an internal or at best a regional affair, it cannot any longer rebuff international engagement. The GoS strategy of a rapid all-out offensive in January-February, intended to defeat the rebels and present a fait accompli to the international community, has completely backfired. Rather than dividing the international community, the GoS has further united it in horror at what is going on. ...

18. Even more seriously, the level of outrage among all social and political classes in northern Sudan has surpassed anything witnessed during 21 years of war with the South. The Darfur conflict hits all the most sensitive points of the government. It divides the Islamist movement, it pits the riverain elites in government against the westerners, and it challenges the unity of the armed forces. ...

The Darfur Arabs' Point of View

19. The Arabs of Darfur have their defenders. Members of these communities make a number of claims. First, they have argued that they too have been the victims of human rights violations, including massacres, at the hands of the SLA and JEM. Certainly there are credible allegations of such abuses, some of them reported in documents by Human Rights Watch and the UNHCHR, that warrant further investigation. Second, they claim that the war was started by the military insurrection of the rebels. This is not in dispute, but it is also not questioned that Darfur has long been neglected by central government (and indeed that the Darfurian Arabs were as much victims of that neglect as the non-Arabs)....

20. Lastly, spokesmen for the Arabs claim that the current conflict is a continuation of a history of dispute over territory between farmers and herders, in which farmers have usually got the upper hand. There is an element of truth to this. Since the mid-1980s there have indeed been numerous clashes and although in direct military confrontations, the herders may get the better of the farmers, in the long run sedentary farming communities have the upper hand in terms of expropriating pasture land and blocking transhumance routes. But it is important to note that before the 1980s, the most common clashes were between pastoralist groups themselves, and large scale fighting between herders and farmers began only in that decade. This irruption of conflict had clear political dimensions, beginning with struggles to control the regional government of Darfur (established in 1980), and intensifying with meddling by the Sadiq el Mahdi government after 1986 and the return to Darfur of former Ansar fighters who had been in exile in Libya, where many of them had been members of Ghaddafi's Islamic Brigade, and where they had absorbed an Arab supremacist ideology.

21. Sadly, neither party to the conflict has emphasised the interconnections between the Arabs and non-Arabs in Darfur. Not only have pastoralists and farmers had a long history of economic interdependence, including intermarriage, but the boundaries between ethnic groups are themselves blurred. The term widely used in western Sudan for Arab pastoralists, 'baggara', means 'cattle herder', and historically, members of the Fur and other ethnic groups possessing substantial numbers of cattle have themselves 'become Baggara'. An ethnic map of the region resembles a chequerboard, with few areas that can be said to be exclusively 'belonging' to one group, but rather a complex and overlapping web of villages and transient pastoralist camps.

Is it Genocide?

22. Is the Darfur conflict genocide? If we strictly apply the provisions of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, there is no doubt that the answer is yes. The definition of 'genocide' in Article II of the Convention is 'acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.' The numbers of killings may not yet come close to those perpetrated in Rwanda or Nazi Germany, and the entire destruction of the targeted ethnic groups does not seem in prospect, but these extreme manifestations are not legally necessary for a crime to count as genocide.

23. Is this a crime planned at the highest level of the Sudanese state and executed according to a carefully designed central plan? Or is it a counterinsurgency that has got out of control, running wild beyond the designs of its sponsors? It would seem to be a bit of both. During the last twenty years, the characteristic mode of action employed by successive governments in Khartoum, when they want to fight a cheap and effective counterinsurgency, has been to employ militias and to give great discretion to commanders on the ground. Thus the militia massacres in Bahr el Ghazal and the killings and forced relocations of the Nuba were carried out, in a way that the government could pretend was not at its direct behest. On every occasion, however, it subsequently became clear that military officers were involved in supplying militias and directing their activities. The involvement of the air force, whose raids must be directly authorised by the chief of staff's office in Khartoum, is evidence for high level involvement.

24. The culprits for this strategy are the individuals who have run the Sudanese security apparatus since 1989. Each time there has been a major massacre Juba in 1992, Nuba Mountains that same year, repeatedly in Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile the trail of evidence leads to the same people. Are President Bashir and Vice President Ali Osman among them? Most likely, the two most senior figures in government instructed their immediate subordinates to do whatever was necessary and not report back. An unspoken signal would have been sent that Darfur was a free-fire zone, and ethics-free zone in which anything could be done without consequence. With a history of gross violation with total impunity following on from such signals, there would have been no need for any more detailed instructions.

25. The implication of determining that genocide is being committed is that no effort should be spared to stop it, and to punish those responsible. It does not, however, mean that peace negotiations should be abandoned in favour of an international policy of regime change. The Darfur genocide is not a single, centrally planned exercise (as was the Rwanda genocide for example). There is a serious danger that the fabric of the state itself will disintegrate under the current stresses, unleashing communal violence on genocidal scale across different parts of Sudan. Although the leadership in Khartoum has blood on its hands, there is currently no alternative but to pursue the existing strategy of negotiating with it for an end to the conflict.

Where Next for Darfur?

26. The mediation structure that is emerging resembles the IGAD process in important respects. An African regional organisation is in the lead role (in this case the African Union), supported by a regional government (Chad) and key international players (the U.S. and European Union). Achieving a consensus among the international players is a crucial step in ensuring that there is a credible peace process, to avoid forum shopping by the parties (especially the government). However, a common negotiating stand by the international mediators is complicated by the resurgence of the anti-Khartoum lobbies in Washington. Having been kept at bay during the IGAD negotiations, this lobby group has seized its chance with the atrocities in Darfur. While criticism of the GoS human rights record is amply justified, the major concern for governments must be with the outcome of the process. Given that regime change in Khartoum at present is a strategy for chaos, a strategy of engagement to complement the criticism must be followed. However, such an approach is possible only when the GoS has converged on an internally agreed position.

27. Where the Darfur mediation differs markedly from the post-2001 IGAD process is that there is no pre-existing literature of accord. The GoS-SPLA negotiations benefited from a decade of rounds of talks which may not have reached a final agreement, but had nonetheless clarified consensual positions on key theoretical issues such as self-determination. No such literature of accord exists for Darfur. The SLA and JEM have yet to agree on a set of common negotiating positions, while the GoS is divided on whether it can negotiate on political issues at all, and if so what its position should be.

28. However, some of the basic demands of the SLA and JEM are clear. These include: ending the marginalisation of Darfur in Sudanese political and economic affairs; democratic elections at the regional level; reconstituting Darfur as a single state (it was divided into three by the current government); and providing greater autonomy for the region. These are all eminently reasonable demands. The GoS will fear that if it concedes to these demands, then other northern Sudanese regions (especially the East) will also make comparable demands. This fear may be justifiable. The only way to address the long catalogue of grievances from all regions of the country is through open and democratic processes, rather than repression.

29. Absent progress, or the immediate prospect of progress, on political issues, the parties have agreed on a 'humanitarian' ceasefire. This freeze on hostilities needs several additional elements if it is to be meaningful. First, it needs to be monitored, with effective mechanisms for complaint and recourse if it is violated. The AU is preparing to deploy ceasefire monitors in late May. This effort needs to be supported, both logistically and politically. Second, the ceasefire needs to be an opportunity for the accompanied return of refugees and IDPs to their homes. This will be a means for minimising humanitarian crisis, restoring livelihoods and preserving land rights. If the conflict is frozen with up to a million Darfurians displaced and indefinite recipients of international aid in their places of displacement, then the international community may find itself merely financing a process of ethnic cleansing.

30. The involvement of Sudan's northern neighbours in helping resolve the Darfur conflict is conspicuous by its absence. Neither Egypt nor Libya, nor the Arab League nor Organisation of the Islamic Conference, has played any role whatsoever. Colonel Ghadaffi has described the war and massacres as 'only' a 'tribal conflict' and condemned non-African 'interference'. The lack of condemnation by these governments and regional organisations has been deafening, a point that will not be lost on Sudanese citizens.

31. Does the African Union have the capacity to play a leading role in resolving the Darfur conflict? The Chairperson of the AU, President Alpha Oumer Konare, has made Darfur one of his highest priorities. It is the first major challenge to the recently established AU Peace and Security Council. The Sudan Government welcomed the AU offer of mediation, in part because they anticipated it would be a softer touch than the U.S. or Europeans. They may have underestimated the determination of the AU leadership to prove itself.

32. A durable end to the conflict will require a political solution at the leadership level. A first step in this regard would be Declaration of Principles, akin to that drafted by IGAD in 1994. Such a DoP should include an assertion of basic citizenship and residence rights, human security including right to a livelihood, power-sharing at both regional and national level, and new provisions for law and order in the region, which has been scarred by banditry and organised crime for the last two decades. ...

34. The problem of the proliferation of light weapons in western Sudan will need to be addressed. Part of the reason for the escalation of the conflict was that there was no effective police force in the region, so that different communities resorted to arming themselves for self-defence and as protection against endemic banditry. Darfur will need a new, well-equipped and well-trained police force, probably with international technical and logistical assistance, and a graduated programme of mutual disarmament among communities. A prerequisite for this is the disarmament of the Janjawiid. This should be done by the GoS, which has responsibility for the militia.



45. The issue of accountability for human rights abuses has received new attention, both from the demand of Sudanese civil society (which released a statement on the issue on 29 March), and from the international focus on atrocities in Darfur. This agenda will not go away, and is reinforced by the evident way in which senior GoS figures revert to policies of extreme brutality. The war in Darfur compels diplomats and human rights activists to ask, who is responsible for this policy? Suspicion falls upon the clique of senior security officers who have, over the years, presided over serious abuses in Juba, the Nuba Mountains and the oil fields, and on those who have been most closely associated with the militia strategies in Kordofan and Darfur, reaching back as far as the early years of the war in the 1980s.

46. The Darfur conflict underlines the simple reality that many of those most responsible for egregious abuses of human rights during the war, cannot be permitted to remain in government. The argument that the removal of Hassan al Turabi and the engagement in the IGAD peace talks was disempowering the ruthless security elite, can no longer be considered tenable. ...

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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