The current crisis in Darfur has historical roots in the 21-year-long north-south conflict. In February 2003, two Darfurian rebel groups – the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) – demanded an end to economic marginalization and sought power-sharing within the Arab-ruled Sudanese state. They began attacking government targets, claiming that the region was being neglected by Khartoum.
The government responded to this threat by targeting the civilian populations from which the rebels were drawn. The government organized a military and political partnership with some Arab nomads comprising the Janjaweed; armed, trained, and organized them; and provided them effective impunity for all crimes committed. The historic tensions that exist between the mostly nomadic Arabs and Masaalit and Zaghawa farmers who populate Darfur aggravated tensions.
Today, an immense humanitarian crisis is gripping Sudan. Janjaweed are attacking the civilian populations of the Fur, Masaalit, and Zaghawa communities in Darfur. Villages and towns have been bombed and scorched, water sources and food stores have been destroyed, and civilians have been systematically targeted for mass killings, rape, and ethnic cleansing. The countryside is now emptied of its original Masaalit and Fur inhabitants. Livestock, food stores, wells and pumps, blankets and clothing have been looted or destroyed. Although specific numbers cannot be verified, it is estimated that 400,000 civilians have lost their lives, over two and a half million civilians have been internally displaced, and over 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad.
In November 2004, the crisis further escalated when the Sudanese police and army surrounded camps for the internally displaced, blocking aid agency access and then destroying some of the camps. The distressing news of the Sudanese government’s efforts to hinder relief efforts for the people of Darfur provided clear evidence of the deteriorating security situation and the escalating humanitarian crisis. As a result of the blocking by the Sudanese army and police of aid agency access to refugees camps, 160,000 displaced people were no longer reachable by road, and scores of aid workers were being forced to evacuate due to lack of security. The Sudanese government then made a deplorable statement that aid agencies in Darfur are the “real enemy,” blaming them for aggravating the crisis.
Today, an immense humanitarian crisis continues to grip Sudan. Janjaweed attack the civilian populations of the Fur, Masaalit, and Zaghawa communities in Darfur. Villages and towns have been bombed and scorched (usually by government planes, clearing the way for the Janjaweed to come through and finish the job), water sources and food stores have been destroyed, and civilians have been systematically targeted for mass killings, rape, and ethnic cleansing. The countryside is now emptied of its original Masaalit and Fur inhabitants. Livestock, food stores, wells and pumps, blankets and clothing have been looted or destroyed. Well over 300,000 civilians have lost their lives, and over 2.5 million civilians are displaced, with over 250,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring Chad.
The past six years have been a continuation a longstanding deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Darfur. The result of continued state-sponsored violence, increasingly violent attacks on humanitarian aid workers, a lack of funding and resources for the African Union-UN Hybrid peacekeeping force as well as a lack of troops from so called “Troop Contributing Countries”, and the weakened state of displaced Darfurians in both Sudan and neighboring Chad. The Janjaweed also continue to use rape as a method to continue attacks on displaced Darfurians when they are forced to venture from the refugee camps to collect wood and water. Due to attacks on humanitarian aid workers, many aid groups have been forced to pull their missions.
The situation worsened on March 4th, 2009 when the ICC formally put out an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. There had been violence when the ICC began investigating members of the Sudanese government, Ahmed Haroun and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman, also called Ali Kushayb, but the international community was unsure of what to expect when this announcement came. Almost immediately, Bashir announced that he was expelling over a dozen aid agencies from Sudan. Their retreat left UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon predicting that 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) would be left without food, water or proper sanitation. Meningitis and diarrhea epidemics ravaged some of the most populated camps. The remaining aid groups, including the World Health Organization, scrambled to fill the gaps. Things are less dire now, but the camps, as well as many who relied on aid in South Sudan, continue to lack proper sanitation and health facilities and it is unclear how long aid agencies can continue to stretch their capacity to fill the water and food gaps, as they are now operating at unsustainable emergency levels.
In April 2010, President Omar al-Bashir easily won re-election in a contest many international observers agreed was neither free or fair. In the weeks leading up to the election, the Carter Center reported that the elections were “at risk on multiple fronts including the ability of candidates to campaign freely and the impact of delayed logistical preparations.” Indeed, widespread reports of voter intimidation and threats of violence towards election officials by President al-Bashir lead the European Union to withdraw its election observers from Darfur days before the election. American Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said that the situation on the ground in advance of the elections were “quite disturbing.”
Recently, tensions have been mounting ahead of the referendum on South Sudanese independence in January 2011, which many believe will see South Sudan become an independent nation. However, there are many variables, including oil, which is mostly found in the South, but whose profits mainly go to the north of the country. No agreement is in place with regard to this issue. Many international observers fear a return to war is imminent, based on South Sudan’s unstable infrastructure. Indeed, in February, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that out of a number of unstable countries in Africa and Asia, a “new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan.” Uncertainty about how al-Bashir will react to international pressure increased when, in July 2010, the International Criminal Court issued a second arrest warrant, this time for genocide, on the Sudanese President.