Genocide in Darfur is one of the pressing issues that the international community faces. It has been lingering for years. Darfur has been witnessing massive civilian killings and displacement movements for seven years. However, global actors have not responded efficiently. Efforts have been deployed to channel humanitarian aid towards it but obviously the very nature of the context- war makes it difficult to bring aid to the distressed areas. Still, an important step has been made lately when an international warrant against the president of Sudan, Al-Bashir, has been issued. In what follows the background of the Sudanese problem and an examination of the response of the international community.
The current situation in Darfur is the result of a civil war that the country has been living since its independence (New Internationalist 16). Indeed, a war between the Northern part of Sudan and the Southern one has taken place since 1956, upon the withdrawal of the British colonizers. Its roots lie, to some extent, on the colonial heritage that kept the North and the South separate.
The independent government of Sudan has operated from a North-South prism instead of bridging the gap and treating all Sudanese as equal. Because of its interference in the war, pitting one group against the other, the war has lingered until nowadays. It is largely accepted that since it broke out in the 1950’s, the war in Darfur has been sponsored by the Government of Sudan (GOS) who has been supporting a belligerent group called Janjaweed (New Internationalist 16). It is an Arab nomadic tribal group whose name means literally ‘hordes’ or ‘ruffians’ and which has become, over time, a governmental tool to terrorize civilians (New Internationalist 17).
An agreement was signed by the two major parties to the war, the Government and southern rebels in January 2005 (Aspel 2). When the head of the southern rebels also known as SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Army/ Movement), John Garang, passed away in July of the same year, the agreement was hardly followed (Aspel 2).
The Government proved no less reluctant to carry out the agreement. It has been spearheaded by an elite group called NIF, Sudan’s National Islamic Front that has been instigating the pursuance of war (Aspel 2). This particular group has been systematically marginalizing the southern region over the years which has led to the very occurrence of the civil war as southern groups started to rebel against the Government (Aspel 2).
Consequently, the conflict went on. The toll has been high in terms of death and displacement. Genocide as such –the main study matter in this paper- has been systematically conducted since 2002 (Save Darfur 1) notably through the hands of the Janjaweed group (Aspel 1). The death toll of these long years is heavy. Estimates vary from 300,000 to 400,000 according to the UN (Save Darfur 1). There has also been a great number of displaced refugees who have sought some peace in neighboring countries namely Chad and the Central African Republic (Save Darfur 1). In 2007, it was estimated that some 2.5 million people have been brutally pushed away from their homes (Omestad 18).
In this appalling situation, the Government takes on a great share of responsibility. The Government of Sudan has long been supporting Janjaweed, as afore-explained. Moreover, the act of systematically killing civilians qualifies the Darfur case to be considered genocide. It is concordant with the United Nation’s definition stipulating that genocide is the act of “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” (Aspel 1).
The Darfur Case as Genocide
Genocide in Darfur has the elements that are mentioned in the UN Genocide Convention, Article 2 which are:
- killing members of the group;
- causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
- forcibly transferring children of the group to another group ( Aspel 3)
The later issuance of an international warrant in March 2009, by the International Criminal Court, against the president of Sudan Al-Bashir is based precisely on this reading of the case. The systematic targeting of civilians, perpetrating, among others, attacks against 2.450.000 civilians who found a haven in the camps, “Al Bashir organized the destitution, insecurity, and harassment of the survivors. He did not need bullets. He used other weapons: rapes, hunger, and fear as efficient, but silent” according to the ICC (ICC 1). He has been accused of setting up n entire state apparatus for conducting crimes against civilians.
Moreover, selective killing has been targeted against an ethnic group called Zaghawa. The systematic nature and the selection of an ethnic group fall under what constitutes genocide. The ICC further contends that when Al Bashir failed to win over the group, it went after the civilians. The killings are found to be political under the guise of “counterinsurgency’ or fighting back the rebellious groups (ICC 1).
What Has Been Done So Far?
So far, the issuance of the warrant is the major articulation of the international community’s disapproval of the situation. Otherwise, there has been a lot of rhetoric on the part of countries but no action. Condemnation was never been scarce. Countries like the European Union and the US condemned the situation. In September 2004, the European Union (EU) declared that the violence in Darfur was “tantamount to genocide”, however, as of 2005 the relations between the EU and Sudan have been normalized (Africa Action Report 7). The US has been trying to invigorate the African Union and engaging it in solving the issue. This has taken the form of diplomatic and financial support (Africa Action Report 6). The idea is that the AU as a regional body is key to solving the problem.
In the end, as one journalist, Thomas Omestad points out, “the Sudan government early on realized that the United States, the European Union, and by extension the U.N. Security Council were all bark and no bite. The international community specialized during the last [seven] years in issuing press statements, in warning the government of Sudan to alter its behavior or else. Then there was never an “or else” (Omestad 18).
Perhaps the major contribution has been that of humanitarian aid that various entities, governmental and non-governmental have tried to channel to Darfur. It is the one tangible action as even the warrant has not yet been substantiated by the physical imprisonment of al Bashir.
Nevertheless, even this is not to the level where it should be because of the hurdles that the rebels put on the humanitarian aids agencies. A large percentage of the people who need help do not manage to get any. Some estimated 40% of needy Darfur people do not benefit from them (America 6). Aid is concentrated around the cities whereas, in the rural areas, aid workers are having problems operating there (America 6).
As a result, “in September 2006, the United Nations estimated that such a collapse [in getting humanitarian aid to Darfur] would cause up to 100,000 civilian deaths every month.2 Troublesome developments suggest that such a failure is becoming more likely: the World Food Program’s Humanitarian Air Service received no funding in the first three months of 2008.3 Last-minute donations totaling six million dollars funded it through the beginning of May” (Save Darfur 1).
Hence, although it is noticeable that humanitarian aid provides some concrete contribution to relieving the population of Darfur, as opposed to various governments’ immaterial condemnations to the situation, they are still lagging. Aid reaches only a portion of the people of Darfur and as in all such humanitarian operations, the agents work in hostile contexts where they are hardly granted any help to conduct their work and even less security over their physical integrity.
The situation in Darfur is a case of genocide as the government systematically targets Zaghawa groups and most of all civilians. This fits into the UN definition of genocide and is at the heart of the international condemnation of the situation in Darfur. The EU and the US, among others, are some of the players who tried to express their disapproval of the situation.
An improvement on the international condemnation of the situation in Darfur has been struck when the International Criminal Court issued a warrant against Omar Hassan Ahmad al Bashir, the president of Sudan. It is somehow a mover from mere rhetoric. This is a clear indictment of the implication of the Government in the current genocide. Still, until now, there is a lack of material action to stop the genocide. The whole world is perhaps waiting that Al Bashir to gets imprisoned.
Save Darfur. ‘The Genocide in Darfur’, Briefing Paper, Save Darfur, 2008. Web.
Apsel, Joyce. “The Case of Societal Destruction in Darfur: Sudan and Rule by Serial Genocide” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2006.
ICC (International Criminal Court).Press Release, “ICC Prosecutor presents case against Sudanese President, Hassan Ahmad AL BASHIR, for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur”, Web.
Africa Action Report. Leveraging New International Action on Darfur How the U.S. Can Use Strategic Diplomacy to Break the Deadlock and Protect Darfur Now, Africa Action Report, 2006.
New Internationalist.‘Darfur A history’, New Internationalist; 2007 Issue 401, p16-17, 2p.
Omestad, Thomas..S. News & World Report; Vol. 142 Issue 20, p18-186 2007.
America (journal). ‘Relief Efforts in Darfur Fail to Reach the Needy’, America, 1 Vol. 196 Issue 1, p6-6, 2007.