The situation in Darfur is the first genocide of the twenty-first century and it has been going on for over 4 years in the Darfur region of Sudan. Sudan is the largest country in Africa, located just south of Egypt on the eastern edge of the Sahara desert. The country’s major economic resource is oil. But, as in other developing countries with oil, this resource is not being developed for the benefit of the Sudanese people, but instead, for an elite few in the government and society. As much as 70 percent of Sudan’s oil export revenues are used to finance the country’s military.
Darfur, is an area about the size of Texas and it lies in western Sudan and borders Libya, Chad and the Central African Republic. It has only the most basic infrastructure or development. The approximately 6 million inhabitants of Darfur are among the poorest in Africa. They exist largely on either subsistence farming or nomadic herding. Even in good times, the Darfuri people face a very harsh and difficult life.
The current crisis in Darfur began in 2003. After decades of neglect, drought, oppression and small-scale conflicts in Darfur, two rebel groups - the Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - mounted a challenge to Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. These groups represent farmers who are mostly non-Arab black African Muslims from a number of different tribes. President al-Bashir’s response was brutal. In seeking to defeat the rebel movements, the Government of Sudan increased arms and support to local tribal and other militias, which have come to be known as the Janjaweed. Their members are composed mostly of Arab black African Muslims who herd cattle, camels, and other livestock. They have wiped out entire villages, destroyed food and water supplies, and systematically murdered, tortured, and raped hundreds of thousands of Darfuris. These attacks occur with the direct support of the Government of Sudan’s armed forces.
The Janjaweed (”devils on horseback”) aim to systematically destroy the livelihoods of Darfuris by bombing and burning villages, looting any economic resources, and murdering, raping, and torturing innocent civilians. Though government obstruction has prevented the international community from finding concrete statistics on mortality, we know that hundreds of thousands have died and millions have been displaced as a result of the conflict. In just the first few months of 2007, over 140,000 more Darfuris have been displaced according to the United Nations Mission in Sudan. As a result of the massive displacement and violence, refugees have fled en masse to the neighbouring countries of Chad and the Central African Republic, where they face additional sources of violence. The violence has not only been targeting Darfuris but also the humanitarian convoys that have been working tirelessly to try to deliver aid.
Compounding the problem is that the numbers of at-risk civilians continue to increase. The Janjaweed continue to undertake attacks against villages, prey on IDPs, and obstruct aid activities. Many Janjaweed have been integrated into the army and police; no one has been charged with any crime, and their actions are not being challenged. There remains a state of total impunity.
Not since the Rwanda genocide of 1994 has the world seen such a calculated campaign of slaughter, rape, starvation and displacement.