Human Lives Human Rights: The Darfur crisis is one of the human rights issues that began at the beginning of the 21st century. This crisis lasted for many years for reasons such as the political interests of the great powers. There were several reasons in the Darfur crisis that justified the legitimacy of the doctrine of the responsibility of protection (R2P). But, unlike the Libyan case, this humanitarian mechanism was too late and limited to work. In this article, while examining the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, an attempt is made to evaluate how the doctrine of responsibility to protect can be implemented in this case.
What happened in Darfur?
Since early 2003, Sudanese government forces and militia called “Janjaweed” have been engaged in an armed conflict with rebel groups called the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). As part of its operations against the rebels, government forces have waged a systematic campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against civilians who are members of the same ethnic groups as the rebels. Sudanese government forces and the Janjaweed militias burned and destroyed hundreds of villages, caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths, displaced millions of people, and raped and assaulted thousands of women and girls.
As of September 2008, some 2.5 million displaced people live in camps in Darfur and more than 200,000 people have fled to neighboring Chad, where they live in refugee camps. In addition to the people displaced by the conflict, at least 2 million additional people are considered “conflict-affected” by the United Nations, and many need some form of food assistance because the conflict has damaged the local economy, markets, and trade in Darfur.
Since the conflict began, rebel allegiances have shifted and split, especially in November 2005, when the SLA split into two factions, and once again following the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2006. Since April 2008, there are some two dozen splinter factions of the SLA and JEM.
For a period in early 2005, the number of government attacks on civilians decreased, partly because the majority of targeted villages were already destroyed and their residents displaced from the rural areas. However, by the end of 2005, the situation dramatically worsened, and deteriorated still further after the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement.
Throughout 2006 and 2007 the situation gradually transformed due to the increasing fragmentation and changing allegiances of the parties. As both government and rebel factions jockeyed for position and pursued military gains, violent clashes and outright targeted attacks on civilians continued across Darfur. However, civilians also suffered harassment, beatings and rape even outside the context of large-scale attacks, at the hands of government forces, militia, rebels and ex-rebel groups and bandits.
What is happening in Darfur now?
The Sudanese government continued its bombing operations in 2007 and 2008 and carried out widespread airstrikes on civilian areas, purportedly under rebel control in all three states of Darfur. Government-backed militias have also carried out large scale attacks on civilians across Darfur.
In February 2008, government forces and allied militia carried out a series of coordinated attacks on villages in West Darfur, purportedly in response to military gains by JEM in the preceding two months. On February 8, 2008, three villages—Sirba, Silea and Abu Suruj—were attacked in a single day by the Sudanese Air Force with Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships, backed up by Janjaweed militia on horseback. The Janjaweed followed up the bombing with burning, looting, raping and killing. At least 100 civilians died as a result of these attacks, and at least 10 women were raped or sexually assaulted.
In the following weeks, clashes broke out between government forces and the JEM and SLA in the nearby Jabal Ma’man area. Government forces targeted civilians, some of whom were searched in their hideouts and shot.
Darfurian rebel and ex-rebel groups have also carried out abuses. Residents of North Darfur in particular have reported abuses by combatants aligned with former rebel leader Minni Minawi, who had signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2006. These abuses against civilians, as well as clashes between SLA-Minni Minawi fighters and rebel groups, have caused substantial displacement, especially of people from Korma and Tawila, to various camps in the area.
Over the past two years, the Janjaweed militia have increasingly been integrated into more “official” government security forces, such as Border Intelligence, Popular Defence Forces and Central Reserve Police. However, some militia also have grievances against the government, particularly those whose promised salaries have not been delivered. This has led to some outbreaks of violence, such as in El Fasher in April 2008 when militia protesting lack of pay attacked the market and other areas, leaving at least 15 people dead. In addition, some militias have switched allegiances to rebel groups, at least for a period. For example, in early 2008, Janjaweed leader Mohamed Hamdan briefly made an alliance with both the SLA and JEM, before reaching a new agreement with the government.
Since January 2007 there has also been an increase in violent clashes between Arab armed groups, particularly in South Darfur, which has left more than 200 people dead and forced thousands to flee.
Who protects civilians in Darfur?
On July 31, 2007, the United Nations Security Council, with the consent of Sudan, agreed to deploy a peacekeeping force of up to 26,000 international military and police personnel in Darfur. This combined African Union and UN “hybrid” force (UNAMID) formally took over authority from the beleaguered African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) on January 1, 2008.
However, because of Sudanese government obstruction, few additional troops were deployed at the transfer of authority, and even by April 2008 the force was barely one third of its authorized strength. The government of Sudan threw up a series of bureaucratic obstructions to the force, including delaying allocating land for bases and the arrival of critical equipment. Khartoum has also insisted that the peacekeeping force be composed primarily of troops from African countries, although there are no equivalent African troops ready to deploy. Other governments have also failed to support the force. UNAMID has been seeking critical units, including 24 helicopters, since July 2007. As of April 2008, only five helicopters had been offered.
Why has the situation in Darfur deteriorated?
One of the main problems is that over the past four years the Sudanese government has continued to follow a policy of supporting ethnic militias, coordinating or tolerating attacks on civilians and permitting serious violations of international law to go unpunished—including attacks on peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers and their convoys. The continuing conflict and fragmentation of the rebel groups has also contributed to increasing lawlessness in parts of Darfur. This in turn has allowed bandits to flourish and rebels to attack aid convoys and kill civilians. The ceasefire agreement of April 2004 was repeatedly violated by all sides to the conflict, and the DPA’s permanent ceasefire agreement is suffering the same fate.
How does the insecurity affect the humanitarian aid operation?
The deterioration in security, combined with targeted attacks on aid workers, has severely limited humanitarian access to large areas of Darfur. Between January and April 2008 four humanitarian workers were killed in Darfur, and 102 humanitarian vehicles were hijacked, while 29 drivers contracted by World Food Program to deliver food aid were missing as of April 14, 2008. During the same period at least 14 humanitarian premises were attacked by armed persons and four humanitarian compounds were destroyed and looted. At least 100,000 people are currently cut off from humanitarian aid, and many more are accessible only by helicopter.
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