The War and Genocide in Darfur

10 October 2016

The conflict in Darfur officially started in February of 2003 when a rebel group launched an attack on Golo. This rebel group refers to themselves as Sudan Liberation Army (SLA). Not long after, another Darfur rebel group arose, identifying itself as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The uprisings from the rebel groups, however, did not draw immediate reaction from the Sudanese Government. The turning point for the conflict which led to a war was the raid on al Fashir air base by both the Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement.

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According to Daly, 2010, military planes and helicopter gunships were destroyed, vehicles and weapons were seized, soldiers were killed and the base commander was captured. The SLA and JEM continued their attacks in Tine, Kutum and Mellit in May 2003. After the attack, the Sudanese government carried out a counter-insurgency campaign by coordinating a ‘special task force’ , composed of Arab militia men named Janjaweed. The Janjaweed militia was backed by government troops. Their task was to attack the Africans in Darfur and destroy their villages.

The bombing of villages, rape and mass killing became the means to destroy the Africans in Darfur. Those who survived were displaced from their homes and moved into displacement camps in Sudan. However, assistance provided to the African survivors were minimal, the humanitarian aid workers were aggressively pressured and it was difficult to bring food and medicine supply into the camps. According to Hagan and Rymond-Richmond in 2009, more than 200, 000 displaced persons were pushed over the border into refugee camps in Chad. On the other side, the amount of deaths in Darfur varied.

In fall of 2004, World Health Organization (WHO) estimated 70,000 deaths within seven months since the beginning of the war. However, this estimate is likely to only involve people who died in and around camps. On the other hand, the State Department’s Atrocities Document Survey (ADS) provided data on people who died in the attack but does not include people who died in the camps. To obtain a more accurate picture, Hagan and McCarty (2009) combined the WHO and ADS data. The result is at least 200, 000 people had died in Darfur and the amount could have reached to 400, 000.

There were many parties involved in the war and genocide in Darfur but there were definitely only two sides. The first side is the rebel groups, they are Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement. The other side of the conflict is the Janjaweed and the government of Sudan and its troops. The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) was first formed in 2002 by an alliance of Fur and Zaghawa with Abdel Wahid as its first chairman and Abdalla Abaker as its chief of staff. The SLA consisted of Zaghawa and Fur but their relation was sour.

The inexperience leadership, disorganized infrastructure and tension and conflict within the SLA only made matters worse. By mid-2003, there were no longer communications made betwen the Zaghawa and the Fur resulting to division of the movement into two groups. After the death of Abdalla Abaker, Minnawi announced himself as the secretary general. There were then two factions of SLA – the SLA under Abdel Wahid and the SLA under Minnawi. The second group that entered the conflict in Darfur in 2003 was the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Its origin can be traced back to the mid-1990s.

Having been marginalized, the Darfurians felt disappointed towards Islamist leaders in Sudan. The group consisted of mainly rebellious members of National Islamic Front in 1989. The JEM was formed in 2001 with Khalil Ibrahim as the leader holding the position of the chairman of the JEM. In response to the rebellion, the Sudanese government created a military force named Janjaweed which consisted of both Arab and Non-Arab groups. The Janjaweed became a ‘state security organs’ and the administrative system in Darfur became ‘military command’.

They implemented a strategy where attacks would be made on African civilian in their towns and villages. Not only that, the Janjaweed was given a license to kill which allows them to kill and torture whoever they want with no limits imposed. The role of Sudanese government and its army would be to provide assistance to Janjaweed. This include from air support to cleaning up the crime scenes in Darfur. Despite the obvious proofs that genocide had taken place, the Sudanese government claimed that what happened was merely a counter-insurgency tactic to stop the rebellion and the blame was placed on the rebel groups.

The rebel groups shared neither the same motivation nor the same goal. However, both SLA and JEM aimed to use armed rebellion as means to achieve their goals. For the SLA, the 1991 rebellion in Darfur convinced them to make changes in Darfur through armed rebellion. They were then motivated by the ideology of the ‘New Sudan’ and so were determined to make the ‘New Sudan’ as their goal. It was a concept suggested by Sudan People’s Liberation Army. It demanded a secular, democratic and decentralized government as well as equality in power and wealth.

In contrast, the JEM was motivated by a document that was created in May 2000, The Black Book Imbalance of Power and Wealth in Sudan which gave a clear analysis of the underdevelopment of Darfur and the government’s lack of concern. The group’s goals were to call for ‘radical constitutional reform, regional empowerment and social democaracy’ excluding separation of state and religion. In contrast to SLA, their focus was on Sudan as a whole rather than solely on Darfur. The motivation behind the creation of Janjaweed by the Sudanese government was difficult to establish.

The Sudanese government had repeatedly argued that its destructive behavior and violent attacks on civilians were merely counter-insurgency tactics. However, it is believed that racial intent is used as motivating factor behind the destruction of African groups in Darfur . Daly in 2010 described that the goals of the Sudanese government as well as its troops and Janjaweed were to destroy settlements and property, evacuation of the land by killing the men, women and children or stigmatizing the women by raping them, and forced displacement of the survivors.

There were many factors that may have caused the uprisings in Darfur however its immediate cause were the African’s experience of being marginalized, invaded, exploited and neglected. It is reasonable to believe that the factors which led to the formation of rebel group had also resulted to the occurrence of the first event in the war in Darfur: the uprisings. Among the factors were political and economic marginalization experienced by the Darfurians as described in the Black Book.

The Sudanese government did little attempt to help the economy of Darfur and the positions in government institution were mainly dominated by those from the Norths and Arabs. Another factor would be the increasing insecurity in Darfur caused by attacks on African villages carried out by Arab nomads. This was the main reason why the Zaghawa joined the Fur to form the SLA. The failure of the Sudanese government to solve the conflict between the Arabs and the African had resulted to a rebellion in 2003. The Sudanese government’s action escalated the rebellion turning it into a war and genocide.

The government’s mistake was its failure to acknowledge the rebel groups and accept their demand. Furthermore, its decision to use the Janjaweed militia as a counter-insurgency tactic caused a creation of the ‘worst humanitarian crisis’. It is the way the Sudanese government reacted to the rebellion that based a basis of genocide in Darfur. Apart from the above factors, there were also other underlying factors that contribute to the conflict in Darfur. These factors existed long before the start of the rebellions in 2003.

These factors include the drought in Darfur since the 1970s which caused a struggle of land and Arab supremacism in Darfur. Tensions between Africans and Arabs burst into violence when Darfur suffered from numerous droughts since the early 1970s. The increasing desertification had resulted to loss of produce, grazing land and livestock. This had caused conflict between the African farmers and Arab herders over territories and access to water. The droughts had forced the Arab herders to intrude on the lands of the African farmers causing a clash between them.

The ethnic conflict was further intensified with the introduction of small arms that transformed the means of violence in Darfur. Favored groups were allowed to possess arms for the purpose of self-defense. Unfair policies were introduced to give legal protection to the Arabs and the policy itself undoubtedly showed favoritism towards the Arabs especially over matters relating to land. It is undeniable that the government had played a primary role in stimulating the ethnic conflict. In Darfur, the Arabs were often seen as superior to all others, which make those who are not Arab as inferior.

The Arabs in Sudan dominated all aspect of life ranging from politics to social life. The relations between Arabs and Africans in Darfur became even tenser as the ideology of Arab supremacy led to ‘both the demonization and disenfranchisement of certain groups’ , in particular the Africans. One significant factor to include would probably be the disenfranchisement of Darfur. Darfur had been neglected by Sudan. Schools, medical facilities and the roads provided in Darfur were very minimal if compared to those provided in the north of Sudan.

Even worst, there was no attempt to include the African in the politic and administration of Darfur or Sudan. The Africans have suffered discrimination, prejudice and exclusion. These sufferings might have added to the conflicts that turned into rebellions and then war and genocide in 2003. The case of Darfur had frequently been labeled as crime against humanity due to the pattern of mass killing in Darfur. Maier-Katkin et al in 2009 presented a theory to explain the crimes against humanity. There are 6 suggested factors as to how crimes against humanity could have occurred.

The first factor is the development of societal strain and anger depression. Secondly, the formation of primary group affiliations where tensions emerged between two groups- between the self and the other, or most commonly known as between us versus them. The third factor is the socialization and normalization of idea in the primary group. The next factor is the continuation of the previous factor, socialization of individuals into roles within the group makes them more incline to conform and follow orders from the authority.

The fifth factor is that the possibility of the occurrence of crimes against humanity when there is a technique of neutralization. Lastly, where the target or victim is not threatening, crimes are easier to commit. In the case of Darfur, the second, third, fifth and sixth factor could be applied to explain the crimes of humanity committed against the Africans. Tension had developed between the Africans and Arabs long before the start of the war in 2003. The two groups had always clashed and thus satisfying the second factor.

Secondly, the belief of the people in Sudan and Darfur is that Arabs are always superior to the Africans which make the African less valuable to the country. This idea had been normalized into the life of every person in Sudan. Not only that, technique of neutralization had clearly been used by the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed. Racial epithets expressed toward the Africans were commonly heard during the attacks. This is an act of dehumanizing the victims. The sixth factor refers to the fact that the victims in the case of Darfur are civilian.

They do not have the means to attack back and therefore no risk is associated with the perpetrators. Denials were used by the Government of Sudan in response to its Human Right violation. Stanley Cohen in 2001 presented 6 types of denial: denial of knowledge, denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of the victim, condemnation of the condemners, appeal to higher loyalty and moral indifference. It is possible that the Janjaweed and military forces of the Sudanese government had relied on the denial of responsibility and victim to justify their destructive actions.

Whereas the Government of Sudan may have justified their action based on denial of knowledge, denial of victim and the condemnation of the condemners. Other than committing a crime against humanity, the Janjaweed had also committed crimes of obedience by following the order of Sudanese government to attack African civilian. No attempts were made to challenge the authority and the decision to obey was not done out of fright towards the government but was likely to be caused by hatred that developed between the ethnic lines.

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