Hundreds of thousands are estimated to have died and further hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes, but the international community has failed to act decisively to end the violence in the Darfur region of Sudan. While the United Nations Security Council has issued a series of toothless resolutions, the Government of Sudan has not faced the necessary pressure to end the impunity that characterises the Darfur situation. In fact, the Government of Sudan (GoS) response has be...read more
Hundreds of thousands are estimated to have died and further hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes, but the international community has failed to act decisively to end the violence in the Darfur region of Sudan. While the United Nations Security Council has issued a series of toothless resolutions, the Government of Sudan has not faced the necessary pressure to end the impunity that characterises the Darfur situation. In fact, the Government of Sudan (GoS) response has been to establish a ‘Special Criminal Court for Events in Darfur’ which has heard, amongst 160 other cases, a case related to an alleged theft of sheep but no cases related to a violation of the rules of war, writes Adwoa Kufour from the Sudan Organisation Against Torture (SOAT).
A preliminary analysis of events in Darfur over the last six months reveals a status quo of violence and a climate of lawlessness and insecurity. The current situation in Darfur is one of widespread gross violations of human rights perpetrated against the civilian population with impunity by the Government of Sudan (GoS) forces, marauding armed militias and government proxy militias. The majority of the victims are the most vulnerable - internally displaced persons (IDPs), women and children.
The humanitarian situation in Darfur is well documented. An estimated 200,000 people have died, 213,000 are refugees in 11 camps throughout the Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti, Biltine and Ouaddai regions of Chad, and a further two million people have been displaced out of a population that before the full breakout of hostilities stood at six million. Among the displaced, living in camps which have sprung out all over the region, daily lives continue to be blighted with attacks, insecurity and fear. Food insecurity in the region has resulted in a marked increase in banditry and robbery as armed groups search for food. Among the most affected have been women and children. Despite government denials, armed militias, and government security forces continue to subject young girls as young as twelve to beatings, abductions, rape and sexual violence. In September alone, whilst the warring factions were in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, negotiating a peace agreement, tens of women including a mother and daughter were beaten and raped by armed militias, reportedly the Janjaweed outside the peripherals of Kalma IDP Camp, Southern Darfur State. In the same month, ten other women were abducted by armed militias from Kalma; the whereabouts of the women remains unknown (Sudan Organisation Against Torture (SOAT), Human Rights Alert:19 September 2005 ‘Darfur: Abduction and Rape in Nyala’).
Even as attacks on civilians have continued uninterrupted albeit without the aid of government air forces, the international community have taken little substantive action to resolve the situation and thus alleviate the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the region. The rhetoric from United Nations bodies including the Security Council has been one of condemnation and outrage; however rhetoric has failed to translate into action with the exception of the African Union (AU).
The AU has had a presence in the region since June 2004 and must be commended for its determination to fully implement the relevant principles stipulated in its Constitutive Act. The organisation, through the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), has sought dogmatically to bring the warring factions to a durable and enforceable peace agreement and have consistently condemned violations committed by all parties to the conflict. This consistency and its readiness to denounce gross human rights abuses have – in the last month – led to a rapid deterioration in the relationship between the organisation and the GoS.
Notwithstanding its fraught relationship with the government, violence has notably decreased in the areas where they have been deployed, including outside major IDP camps across the region. However, AMIS ability and capability to undertake their role is riddled with weaknesses. The numbers of AU troops operating in the region remain hopelessly inadequate, despite pledges from international donors in May 2005 to increase AU funding in order to allow it to increase its troops to 7,700 by end of September. At point of writing, there were 4,100 AU troops in Darfur, a region the size of France. Besides the obvious financial constraints, AMIS logistical capabilities are also dismally weak. It lacks physical resources including planes, weapons and communication equipment. Attempts are being made by both the European Union (EU) and NATO to provide it with logistical support but a demonstrable improvement has yet to be seen. Most significantly, despite calls by international organisations for AMIS mandate to be expanded to include the protection of civilians in the region, particularly IDPs and, where possible, to disarm the militias, its mandate continues to be inherently weak and based primarily on reactive principles and protection of their troops as opposed to the civilian population in Darfur.
Nonetheless, whilst AMIS was poorly conceived, planned, and deployed, it has had some success in monitoring and curbing serious abuses during the year even within it’s a limited mandate (SOAT Annual Report on the Human Rights Situation in Sudan March 2004 – March 2005). The same cannot be said about the international community. Despite passing five United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) threatening sanctions, and referring crimes committed in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC), both of which the GoS rejected, the UNSC have been ineffective not least in their failure to enforce their own resolutions but in their silence in the face of the GoS continuing violations of the April Ceasefire Agreement. This failure has not only served to embolden the various government proxy militias in the region, further contributing to the climate of impunity which permeates all branches of the Sudanese government, but has highlighted the incapability of the international community to ‘maintain international peace and security’. Most disturbingly, this apparent disinterest on the part of UN Security Council members has meant that the sustained pressure and international attention that ought to be placed on Khartoum to resolve the conflict and to mobilise help and support for the citizens of Darfur has not materialised - notwithstanding the reality that the GoS only acts when it is forced to.
Whilst the ‘international community’ have throughout the conflict prevaricated and transmitted a variety of mixed messages, the GoS has remained steadfast in executing its war strategy in the region even while espousing its readiness to reach a sustainable peace agreement with the rebel opposition groups and to disarm the various militia groups operating in the region. Not only have attempts to reach sustainable peace in the region remained elusive; the GoS has been unwilling to disarm the armed militias terrorising the region, and has in many cases continued it provide support for these groups. This has further fuelled the culture of impunity woven into the fabric of the GoS and its security apparatus.
Security forces have persisted in attacks on the civilian population, including the already vulnerable IDP population in the knowledge that they will neither be held accountable by the GoS or the various UN bodies. In June, a week after the prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo launched his investigation into crimes committed in Darfur, the GoS established a ‘Special Criminal Court for Events in Darfur’ to hear cases of 160 people accused of committing crimes in the states of North, West and South Darfur. Since June, the courts have heard four cases in which four persons including a 72 year old man and an 11 year old boy have been found guilty of armed robbery and two army officers have been found guilty of murdering a man arrested and detained in military custody on suspicion of supporting the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the main opposition group in Darfur and the first to take up arms against the government in Khartoum for what they perceived to be a long history of discrimination. The court has also heard the case of an alleged theft of sheep.
Despite the fact that all the cases heard by the courts so far are offences under the Sudanese Penal Code and arguably do not amount to violations of the rules of war, the GoS has refused to acknowledge that Sudanese courts cannot play the central role in bringing perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes to justice. In the area of administration of justice in Sudan, widespread corruption and lack of training for members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches on international human rights standards and jurisprudence has ensured that the justice system does not have the capability or the will to deal with complex war atrocities including the wanton destruction of villages, systematic and widespread killings and rape as a tool of war. Moreover, the Sudanese judicial system is neither independent, with many unqualified judges who were appointed solely on the basis of their affiliation to the GoS, nor impartial and is characterised by a culture of intimidation (SOAT, Human Rights Alert: 17 March 2005 ‘Attempted Rape and Killing of IDP from Kalma Camp’, SOAT Annual Report on the Human Rights Situation in Sudan March 2004 – March 2005). In order to erode the culture of impunity that has taken root in the Sudan and to deter further atrocities against civilians not only in Darfur but across the Sudan, the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be brought before the ICC for reasons of accountability and in the interest of justice.
The climate of impunity coupled with the complete indifference to the situation of the civilian population in Darfur by the international community has manifested itself in a dramatic deterioration in the security and humanitarian situation in the last two months. Fighting between government forces, armed militias, rebel groups and renewed attacks on civilians has further entrenched the widespread distrust of all parties in the region. The IDP population has continued to increase dramatically, placing strain on the already stretched humanitarian effort and laying the basis for a cycle of dependence on humanitarian aid. Few of the civilian population in the region believe or wish to return to their original villages even if there was to be a conclusive and comprehensive peace agreement.
There are immediate measures that the GoS is capable of undertaking to alleviate the plight of the civilian population in Darfur. These include but are not limited to a cessation in all attacks by government forces on civilians; waiving the immunity of its security officers who commit gross violations of human rights; committing itself to the voluntary return of IDPs to their original lands; cooperating fully with AMIS; cooperating with the ICC investigation into Darfur and; implementing its commitments under the much maligned N’djamena ceasefire agreement, particularly to allow unhindered access throughout the region for humanitarian workers. However the GoS will only be compelled to embark on these measures if there is extreme pressure placed on it by the international community.
* Adwoa Kufuor is a campaigner with the Sudan Organisation Against Torture (SOAT)
* Please send comments to