The first genocide of the 21st century, the Darfur genocide has caused the deaths of approximately 400,000 Darfuris, and displaced more than three million people.
While the conflict has faded from the spotlight, ongoing violence continues to displace, injure, and kill people today. The security situation continues to deteriorate, with millions displaced, hundreds of thousands living as refuges, and millions in need of food and other vital aid. The discovery of gold in Darfur has further fueled violence and displacement throughout the region, and conflict dynamics have since morphed from the initial outbreak of violence in 2003.
While international attention was focused on negotiating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and ending the conflict between northern and southern Sudan, another major conflict was beginning in the western region of Sudan known as Darfur.
In February 2003 (two years before the signing of the CPA), two rebel groups—the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA)—rose up against the Khartoum government claiming years of inequitable treatment and economic marginalization, among other grievances. The rebellion, led mainly by non-Arab Muslim sedentary tribes, including the Fur and Zaghawa, was orchestrated against the mainly Arab government. Instead of directly attacking the rebel forces, the government launched a widespread campaign to “get at the fish by draining the sea”, and targeted non-Arab tribes in the region, regardless of whether they were civilians or rebel forces.
The government unleashed Arab militias known as the Janjaweed (“evil men on horseback”) to carry out attacks on villages and destroy communities. Janjaweed attacks were notoriously brutal and invoked a slash a burn policy that included killing and severely injuring the people, burning homes, stealing or burning food and livestock, and poisoning water wells. While these attacks would happen from the ground, the government would also attack civilians from the sky with indiscriminate aerial bombings wreaking havoc on villages.
In September 2004, President George Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell declared what was happening in Darfur to be genocide.
In March 2009 and July 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for President Omar al-Bashir for alleged crimes committed in Darfur, including counts of: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In response to five years of stagnation in the case, and limited support from the United Nations (U.N.) in bringing Bashir to justice, Chief Prosecutor Bensouda issued a statement in late 2014 that she would not actively pursue the prosecution of Bashir until the U.N. and member nations did their due diligence and supported the ICC. Since the ICC does not have a police force it must rely on individual states to arrest individuals indicted by the ICC.
Though Bashir has visited countries that are party to the Rome Statute, he remains at large. Keep an eye on our Blog for updates on the situation in Darfur, and visit Bashir Watch to see where Bashir has traveled, and is traveling in the future.
In 2013, the Sudanese government launched the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), many of whom were once part of the Janjaweed who first gained infamy for their role in the Darfur genocide. Conflict still rages in Darfur, and Darfuris continue to be displaced from their homes. A major government offensive, both on the ground and from aerial bombing, in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur has led to a high number of casualties and new displacement.
Darfuri Refugee Camps in Eastern Chad
Many Darfuris who fled the genocide in Sudan–and continue to flee today–reside in 13 refugee camps in eastern Chad. Some 360,000 people languish in those camps. The 10+ years they have lived in the camps have been marked by tight resources, threats from inside and outside the camps, and more, but life is getting even harder for the refugees.
The recommended ration allotment, by the World Food Program (WFP), is 2,100 calories per person/per day. In the Darfuri refugee camps, rations have been cut by at least 60%. Cuts are due to both funding shortfalls and a budget seriously impacted by the global increase in refugees and internally displaced persons (numbering at nearly 60 million, the highest ever recorded). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the WFP officially distributes approximately 800-850 calories/per person, per day. Refugees regularly go 40-45 days between receiving their monthly rations, and what they do receive lasts about a week as opposed to a month. In some camps, UNHCR is implementing a distribution allotment that is purportedly according to need, but refugees think these classifications are arbitrary. Some refugees report receiving as little as 250-500 calories per person/per day; this is due, at least in part, to the “need-based” model.
Given the environment where they live, refugees are generally unsuccessful in generating income (and if they are, it is very limited), and thus their ability to supplement their food rations is limited. The lack of jobs available to refugees is due in part to restrictions placed on them by the Chadian government, but also, the economy of the camps and surrounding community has simply not grown to accommodate the refugee community.
UNHCR has reported higher indices of so-called ‘negative coping mechanisms.’ “These include an increase in school dropouts as refugee children seek work to help buy food for their families; exploitation and abuse of women refugees who venture out of camps in search of work or land to grow crops; ‘survival sex’ by women and girls trying to raise money to buy food; early marriage of young girls; increased stress and domestic violence within families; and more incidents of theft and other activities that raise tensions within camps and with surrounding communities.”
Other reports from the ground have been less damning, citing no reduction in levels of nutrition. However, we know directly from UNHCR that rations have been cut, and without significant international effort, there is little hope of the situation getting better. If malnutrition is not yet a widespread problem in the camps, it will be. We are also concerned about the previously-cited negative coping mechanisms as the likely reason that other NGO’s and international observers aren’t seeing the impact of the cut in rations. Overall, we see a great need for further research in this area to get a nuanced and thorough picture of the situation on the ground. JWW is working on finding sustainable livelihood and income generating projects that may help the refugees in the mid-term. We continue to advocate for peace in Sudan, and with the absence of conflict the refugees could feel safe enough to return home.