Office of Public Policy
100 Maryland Avenue, NE Room 530
Washington, DC 20002
Since February 2003, massive human rights violations have been taking place in Darfur, a region in western Sudan. Armed militias have targeted civilians with violent attacks, forced removal, rape, and execution. In addition to this ongoing violence, the people of Darfur face starvation and disease. U.N. officials have described the situation in Darfur as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Sudan is located in North Africa between Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia. In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and is a little bigger than a quarter of the United States. For 21 years, the Arab-dominated, Muslim government of Sudan, based in the northern capital of Khartoum, has fought a civil war against Black Africans in the south, who are mostly Christian and animist. Over 2 million people have died in the civil war, most of them from famine brought on by the hostilities. The peace process to end the civil war began when the government and rebels signed agreements in Kenya on May 26. The recently signed accords are not related to the current crisis in Darfur.
While there are historical roots to the conflict in Darfur, the current round of fighting broke out in February 2003 when two Black African rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), began attacking government targets and calling on the Sudanese government to end its economic and political neglect of the region. They also demanded that the government take action to end efforts by Arab herders to displace Black African farmers from their land. In response to the rebels’ attacks, the government began arming the janjaweed, Arab militias, who have – along with government soldiers - carried out the attacks on civilians in Darfur.
The ongoing violence in Darfur has been characterized as “ethnic cleansing” and “crimes against humanity.” Despite the fact that the janjaweed and the Black Africans of Darfur are all Muslim, the janjaweed have specifically targeted the civilian populations of Black African ethnic groups, burning villages to the ground and rounding people up for execution. They have stolen livestock, poisoned wells with the bodies of dead animals, destroyed food supplies, and raped women and girls.
While the Sudanese government in Khartoum has officially denied any involvement with the janjaweed in Darfur, and investigations the organization Human Rights Watch has uncovered the government’s support and cooperation with the Arab militias.
This organized campaign of violence against the Black African people of Dafur has left a humanitarian crisis in its wake. Over 1 million people are said to be displaced from their homes. Official numbers estimate that there are 110,000 refugees living across the border in neighboring Chad, although the organization Refugees International approximates that the number of refugees is probably closer to 200,000. Many of the displaced are living in desert areas, with little water and barely any food.
The violence has driven most humanitarian aid organizations out of Darfur. Currently, only a handful remain, and their scarce resources fall far short of the need for water, food and health care. Once the rainy season begins, the roads will be flooded and entire communities of refugees and the displaced will become unreachable by land.
1 “Facts About Sudan,” World Facts Index, http://worldfacts.us/Sudan.htm .
2 Tomlinson, Chris, “Pact Signed Toward Ending Sudan War,” The Washington Post, May 27, 2004.
3 “Chad: With Rains Looming, Relief Community Must Mobilize to Assist Sudanese Refugees,” RI Bulletin, Refugees International, May 19, 2004.
Jun 22, 2004