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AFRICA: The Darfur Crisis

Author: Esther Pan
September 20, 2004
This publication is now archived.

Will the U.N. Security Council's recent actions help resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur?

That remains to be seen. On September 18, the Security Council passed Resolution 1564, which threatens sanctions against the Khartoum government if it does not stop attacks by Arab Sudanese militias on black Sudanese villagers in the Darfur region. The resolution also establishes an international panel of inquiry to determine whether the attacks qualify as genocide. As estimated 30,000 people have died and more than 1 million have been driven from their homes since the campaign by the Arab militias known as janjaweedbegan last year.

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What actions has the United States taken?

The United States was the main sponsor of Resolution 1564 and has pushed for punitive action to stop the violence in Darfur, a desert region roughly the size of France. U.S. representatives have called for strengthening an international monitoring force in Darfur and have threatened sanctions against Sudan's oil exports. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 9 that the situation in Darfur amounts to genocide. That followed a congressional resolution adopted in July that also characterized the events in Darfur as genocide.

Will Powell's genocide declaration force the United Nations to take action?

Article 8 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide empowers countries that have signed the convention to call upon the United Nations to take action to prevent genocide. The United States ratified the convention on November 25, 1988. However, Fred Eckhard, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said September 10 that Powell's remarks had no immediate effect on the obligations of the United Nations.

What position has the United Nations taken regarding Sudan?

Annan has called Darfur "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." The United Nations has repeatedly pressed Khartoum to stem the violence, which began as an effort to put down an uprising by rebels from the country's west. On July 30, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1556 demanding that the Sudanese government disarm the Arab militias dispatched to quell the rebellion. The militias' raids on tribal villages--reportedly backed by Sudanese air force bombing and strafing runs--have killed tens of thousands and forced more than 1 million people into refugee camps in western Sudan and neighboring Chad. Resolution 1556 gave the Sudanese government 30 days to curb the violence or face Security Council action, including sanctions. That deadline passed August 30.

Is there an international military presence in Darfur?

The African Union (AU) has a team of nearly 100 officials in the region to monitor a cease-fire negotiated in April and some 300 troops on the ground to protect the monitors and returning refugees. On August 25, Sudanese officials agreed to allow more AU troops to enter the country. This group, roughly 2,000-3,000 soldiers from Rwanda and Nigeria, is intended to confine rebel groups to their bases. The AU's chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, said the AU troops would not constitute a peacekeeping force but, rather, would complement Sudanese security. U.S. officials and Annan have called for a more robust force to help protect refugees.

How has the Khartoum government reacted to the international pressure?

Sudanese officials have largely dismissed it, accusing the United States, for example, of trying to overthrow an Arab government. They apparently don't fear that sanctions on their oil exports of some 320,000 barrels per day will be imposed; China and Pakistan are among the countries on the U.N. Security Council that oppose sanctions, arguing they would be counterproductive. Ghazi Salaheddin Atabani, a senior Sudanese government official, told Reuters in Khartoum that while the Sudanese government would accept more AU troops and monitors, expanding the U.N. mandate under which they serve threatens Sudan's sovereignty.

How has the Sudanese government responded to calls for humanitarian assistance in the past?

It blocked international access to Darfur from November 2003 to February 2004, exacerbating starvation and disease and worsening the crisis, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Sudanese President Omar Hassan el-Bashir has repeatedly promised that Sudan's government would disarm thejanjaweed, investigate human rights abuses, allow international access to refugee camps, and deploy police officers to protect refugees. But he has failed to live up to many of these pledges. Some reports say, for example, that armed militia members have been given police uniforms and sent to guard refugees.

What were the July trips by Annan and Powell to Sudan intended to accomplish?

The U.N. secretary general and U.S. secretary of state visited the region in early July to highlight the humanitarian crisis and pressure the Sudanese government to stop the janjaweed's violent campaign. Experts say many world leaders--particularly Annan--are haunted by the memory of Rwanda, where nearly 1 million people were massacred in 1994, and are determined to prevent another African genocide.

How much humanitarian assistance is needed?

Officials of the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) say nearly 1.2 million people currently need food and medical aid in the Darfur region.

How much aid has been supplied?

The United States has delivered nearly $135 million of assistance to Darfur and eastern Chad and has pledged some $165 million more, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the White House. The European Union has given $43 million worth of aid to Sudan for the Darfur crisis in the last year; this is in addition to the $24 million per year the union already allocates to Sudan.

The WFP says it aims to feed some 2 million people in Darfur between April and December this year, at a cost of about $200 million.

What is the human cost?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that as many as 50,000 people have been killed in the past year's fighting and about 1 million internally displaced. In addition, roughly 170,000 refugees have fled to eastern Chad. The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded in a September 13 study that up to 10,000 people, many of them children, are dying each month from disease and violence in the Darfur refugee camps. USAID estimates that as many as 320,000 people in Darfur are likely to die by the end of the year from hunger, disease, and exposure. Sudanese officials have disputed these figures.

What are the roots of the current crisis?

Sudan had been wracked by a 21-year civil war between Bashir's Khartoum government, composed of Muslim northerners, and rebels from the country's south, whose population is mostly Christian or practitioners of traditional African faiths. Southerners resisted attempts by Khartoum to forcibly impose Islamic culture and religion. The main southern rebel group is the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). After years of mediation attempts, the government and the SPLM/A signed three key protocols in the Kenyan town of Naivasha in May 2004 that laid the groundwork for a peace deal. The protocols called for a permanent ceasefire to be signed in mid-July, followed by a comprehensive peace agreement that will include six years of autonomy for southern Sudan, followed by a referendum on its future. The signing of the permanent ceasefire was put off because of conflicts over security arrangements.

While those events were unfolding, two western Sudanese rebel groups--the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)--launched a separate uprising in early 2003. The SLA and JEM, made up largely of black Muslims from the Fur, Masaalit, and Zaghawa tribes, resisted what they saw as government-sponsored seizures of their farmland by nomadic Arab herders. Armed militias retaliated against the rebel groups by targeting their villages, killing men and boys, raping women, razing crops, and destroying wells--while government forces reportedly provided air and logistical support--in what many observers characterize as a deliberate, coordinated campaign to drive black Sudanese out of Darfur.

What progress has been made to stop the recent fighting?

The United States and the European Union led peace negotiations in Chad at which the Sudanese government, the SLA, and the JEM signed a cease-fire agreement April 8. Under its terms, Bashir's government agreed to disarm the janjaweed and make Darfur accessible to international monitors and humanitarian aid. Talks to negotiate a lasting peace agreement collapsed July 17; a new round of peace talks hosted by Nigeria began August 23. After three weeks of fruitless negotiations in Abuja, Nigeria, the two sides broke off talks September 15. Nigerian officials said talks could resume talks in a few weeks. The rebel groups and the government had disagreed over disarmament demands and security guarantees. Sudanese government officials said U.S. criticism had encouraged the rebels to harden their position and refuse compromise.

Has the Sudanese government lived up to its promises?

Inconsistently. U.N. Special Envoy Jan Pronk reported in early August that the government had halted attacks against villages in Darfur and eased restrictions on humanitarian assistance, but international aid groups report that attacks on civilians and aid workers by armed militias continue. The government has repeatedly promised to disarm the janjaweed, but many experts--including John C. Danforth, a former presidential special envoy to Sudan and now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations--question the Bashir government's commitment. Jemera Rone, a researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, says Khartoum officials "make the promises with their fingers crossed behind their backs. The government's going to pull the wool over everyone's eyes as much as they can."

What is the U.S. relationship with Sudan?

The U.S. government designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 and imposed extensive sanctions in 1997 that banned commerce, investment, arms sales, and international loans. In August 1998, in retaliation for attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the United States launched a cruise missile attack on a suspected al Qaeda-linked pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum. Recently, however, U.S. officials have sought Sudan's cooperation on anti-terrorism efforts and pushed for a settlement of the civil war. Sudanese officials are eager to normalize relations with the international community in order to gain increased access to international markets and investment, especially for their untapped reserves of oil and natural gas.

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