This article was co-written by Zoe.
A century-old dispute in Western Sudan has erupted into genocide. Knowing the nation’s violent history helps to understand how this has come about.
Sudan is a large country in the east of Africa, with major borders on the Red Sea to the east and Chad to the west. Darfur, the region in western Sudan which is wrought with conflict, has long been occupied by native African tribes, such as the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes. However, nomadic Arab tribes, traveling west into Darfur, discovered its arable lands and sought to keep them for their own. The native African tribes were not willing to give up the lands farmed by their people for centuries, and the two peoples clashed in conflict over possession of the land.
Fighting between the Arabs and natives continued on in this way without great change until the 1990’s, when an Arab man, Omar Al-Bashir, took his place as president, and proceeded to purge the government of all non-Arabs. As a result, rebel groups formed in Darfur, protesting racial discrimination. Rebels first attacked government targets in February 2003, and soon after an Arab military group called the Janjawid appeared in Darfur, attacking non-Arab villages in a planned and systematic way. The Sudanese government, claiming no link to the Janjawid, said that they have only built up militia force in self-defense against the rebels. However, it is believed that the government is tied to or even controls the Janjawid, and is behind a plot to drive out all non- Arabs from the region once and for all. The Sudanese government expelled the UN envoy from Khartoum, the capital, claiming the reports he wrote on his personal blog about the situation was “psychological war against the Sudanese army”. In August of 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist, Paul Salopek, was held in detention in Sudan before being expelled from the country, and many believe that this is meant as a warning to other foreign journalists.
Today, the Janjawid ride into Darfur villages on camels and horses to kill, steal and plunder until the village is beyond recognition, raping women and girls and burning old women alive in their homes. Although the occupants of some villages are able to flee as soon as they see the columns of smoke rising from neighboring villages, some other villages are attacked three, sometimes four times before its people can escape or are murdered. Mostly killing and terrorizing the natives of Darfur, the Janjawid also take prisoners, mostly women and girls for sex slaves, and castrating men or boys before shooting them in the head.
Because of the tragic situation, it is very difficult to say precisely how many people have been killed, but a report from Amnesty International delegates who recently went on a research mission to Darfur believe that at least 200,000 have been killed, and at least two million people have been turned into refugees, many fleeing to camps within their own country, and almost 200,000 fleeing to neighboring Chad. Although humanitarian aid groups are trying to help the homeless refugees, at least 20,000 live without access to health care and any kind of sanitation facilities.
The Sudanese government has blocked all international attempts at putting an end to the killing, but has not been able to resist the African Union (AU) from placing a force of 7,000 troops in the country, meant to “monitor” a ceasefire signed as part of the Darfur Peace Agreement made in May 2006 between the rebels and the Sudanese government. The Sudanese only signed the agreement under immense international pressure, and have made no effort to adhere to it. The UN Security Council wrote a resolution in July 2004 demanding that the Janjawid be disarmed, to no avail. The same demand was written into the Peace Agreement and the Sudanese Government agreed to disarm the Janjawid under the threat of sanctions, but has once again ignored this promise.
The government has even added troops to flesh out the number of fighters within the Janjawid, and has proceeded to bomb villages in Northern Darfur.
The UN aimed to place a peacekeepers force of 20,000 troops in Sudan, but the government denied them access and declared that the countries trying to get involved are attempting a re-colonization of Sudan, and only want control of the country.
In July 2008, a humanitarian lawyer from the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, requested an arrest warrant against President Al-Bashir for ten charges, three counts of genocide, five for crimes against humanity and two for murder. But it will be months before any decision will be made over the evidence.
It is impossible to say how best this crisis is to be ended, but it is obvious that it must be stopped immediately, and that the UN needs international support to further interfere. The Janjawid must be stopped, and if the Sudanese government is going to different tactics in the future to complete its ethnic cleansing of Darfur, it must be stopped at all costs before Sudan is a country scarred forever.