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State of the World's Minorities 2006 - Sudan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 22 December 2005
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2006 - Sudan, 22 December 2005, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Open warfare erupted in Darfur Province in February 2003 when two loosely allied rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), attacked military installations. The rebels, made up of predominantly African sedentary tribes such as Fur, Zaghawa and Massalit, seek an end to the region's chronic economic and political marginalization. They also took up arms to protect their communities against a 20-year campaign by government-backed militias recruited among groups of Arab extraction in Darfur and Chad. These 'Janjaweed' militias have over the past two years received greatly increased government support to clear civilians from areas considered disloyal. Aerial bombardment, militia attacks and a scorched-earth government offensive have led to massive displacement, indiscriminate killings, looting and mass rape, all in contravention of Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and other provisions of international law that prohibit attacks on civilians. The government, however, denied any connection to the Janjaweed militia, calling them 'thieves and gangsters'. While the conflict has a political basis, it has also acquired an ethnic dimension in which civilians were deliberately targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, and an economic dimension related to the competition between pastoralists (generally Arab) and farmers (generally non-Arab) for land and water. To date some 2 million people are estimated to now live in camps, having fled their homes, and at least 180,000 are thought to have died during the crisis, mostly through starvation and disease; 200,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad.

Both sides have been accused of committing serious human rights violations, including mass killing, looting, and rapes of the civilian population. However, the better-armed Janjaweed quickly gained the upper hand. By the spring of 2004, several thousand people – mostly from the non-Arab population – had been killed and as many as a million more had been driven from their homes, causing a major humanitarian crisis in the region. The crisis took on an international dimension when over 100,000 refugees poured into neighbouring Chad pursued by Janjaweed militiamen, who clashed with Chadian government forces along the border. More than 70 militiamen and 10 Chadian soldiers were killed in one gun battle in April.

Chad brokered negotiations in N'djamena leading to the Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement between the Sudanese government and JEM and SLA. The African Union formed a Ceasefire Commission (CFC) to monitor observance of the 8 April ceasefire. In early July 2004, UN Secretary-General Ko. Annan and (then) US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Sudan and the Darfur region, and urged the Sudanese government to stop supporting the Janjaweed militias. The African Union and European Union sent monitors in July to monitor the cease-fire but the Janjaweed attacks did not stop.

On 23 July 2004 the United States Sentate and House of Representatives passed a joint resolution declaring the armed conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur to be genocide and calling on the Bush administration to lead an international effort to put a stop to it. On 30 July, the UN gave the Sudanese government 30 days to disarm and bring to justice the Janjaweed, under UN Security Council Resolution 1556; if this deadline was not met in 30 days, it expressed 'its intention to consider' sanctions. Resolution 1556 also imposed an arms embargo on the Janjaweed and other militia. Sudan warned Britain and the United States not to interfere in its internal affairs.

In August 2004, the African Union sent 150 Rwandan troops in to protect the cease-fire monitors; however, 'their mandate did not include the protection of civilians'. They were joined by 150 Nigerian troops later that month. Peace talks, which had previously broken down in Addis Ababa on 17 July, were resumed on 23 August in Abuja. The talks reopened amid acrimony, with the SLA accusing the government of breaking promises that it made for the little-respected April cease-fire.

The UN's 30-day deadline expired on 29 August, after which the Secretary-General reported on the state of the conflict. He noted that the Janjaweed militias remained armed and continued to attack civilians (contrary to Resolution 1556), and militia disarmament had been limited to a 'planned' 30 per cent reduction in one particular militia, the Popular Defence Forces. He also noted that the Sudanese government's commitments regarding their own armed forces had been only partially implemented, with refugees reporting several attacks involving government forces. He advised a substantially increased international presence in Darfur 'in order to monitor' the conflict. However, he did not threaten or imply sanctions, which the UN had expressed its 'intention to consider' in Resolution 1556.

On 9 September 2004, the (then) US Secretary of State Colin Powell declared to the US Senate that genocide was occurring in Darfur, for which he blamed the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed. This position was strongly rejected by the Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister Najib Abdul Wahab. The UN, like the African Union and the European Union, has not declared the Darfur conflict to be an act of genocide. If it had constituted an act of genocide, international law is considered to have allowed other countries to intervene.

Also on 9 September 2004 the US put forward a UN draft resolution threatening Sudan with sanctions on its oil industry. This was adopted, in modified form, on 18 September as Resolution 1564, pressuring the Sudanese government to act urgently to improve the situation by threatening the possibility of oil sanctions in the event of continued non-compliance with Resolution 1556 or refusal to accept the expansion of African Union peacekeepers. Resolution 1564 also established an International Commission of Inquiry to look into human rights violations, and to determine whether genocide was occurring. In the wake of this resolution, the peacekeeper force was to be expanded to 4,500 troops.

On 15 October the World Health Organization estimated that 70,000 people had died of disease and malnutrition in Darfur since March. On 2 November the UN reported that Sudanese troops had raided the Abu Sharif and Otash refugee camps near Nyala in Darfur, moving a number of inhabitants and denying aid agencies access to the remaining inhabitants inside. Meanwhile, the Abuja talks continued, with attempts made to agree on no-fly zone over Darfur in addition to a truce on land and a disarmament of the militias.

On 9 November the Sudanese government and the two main rebel grous, the SLA and JEM, signed two accords in Abuja aimed toward short-term progress in resolving the Darfur conflict. The first accord established a no-fly zone over rebel-controlled areas of Darfur – a measure designed to end the Sudanese military's bombing of rebel villages in the region. The second accord granted international humanitarian aid agencies unrestricted access to the Darfur region.

Despite these accords, violence in Sudan continued. On 10 November – one day after the accords – the Sudanese military conducted attacks on Darfur refugee villages in plain sight of UN and African Union observers. On 22 November, alleging that Janjaweed members had refused to pay for livestock in the town market of Tawila in northern Darfur, rebels attacked the town's government-controlled police stations. The Sudanese military retaliated on 23 November by bombing the town.

On 25 January 2005 the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur report to the UN Secretary-General found the government of the Sudan and the Janjaweed responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law, however, the government of Sudan had not pursued a policy of genocide in Darfur. The Commission identified 51 individuals responsible for the violation of human rights and recommended immediate trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

On 29 March Security Council Resolution 1591 was passed, strengthening the arms embargo and imposing an asset freeze and travel ban on those deemed responsible for the atrocities in Darfur. It was agreed that war criminals would be tried by the ICC and on 5 April it was reported that the UN had given the ICC the names of 51 people suspected of war crimes. The Sudanese president snubbed the UN resolution, declaring that he 'shall never hand any Sudanese national to a foreign court'.

The UN released a new estimate of 180,000 in April 2005 of those who had died as a result of illness and malnutrition in the 18 months of the conflict. It did not attempted to estimate the number of violence-related deaths. Médicins sans Frontières' Dr Paul Foreman was arrested by Sudanese authorities over the publication of a report detailing hundreds of rapes in Darfur. Claims began to surface that the Bush administration's noticeable toning down of its description of the situation in Sudan – it stopped calling the Darfur conflict a genocide, and claimed that UN death toll estimates may be too high – was due to increased cooperation from Sudanese officials towards the 'War on Terrorism'.

The SLA and JEM announced in May 2005 they wanted to resume peace talks. After a period of several months without attacks, concern was raised in September 2005 by the commander of the African Union peackeeping force over an increase in banditry and a number of attacks on humaniatian workers and aid convoys by Darfur's largest rebel movement, the SLA. On 15 September 2005, a series of African Union-mediated talks began again in Abuja with representatives of the Sudanese government and the two major rebel groups participating in the talks. The Sudanese Liberation Movement faction refused to be present. The rebel groups in Darfur appeared to be splintering and the African Union mission said the Sudan Liberation Army was destabilizing the region and jeopardizing peace talks with the Khartoum government.

Political developments

On 31 December 2004 the parties to the north-south warfare in Sudan signed accords making a peace deal to end 21 years of fighting. The agreement included a permanent cease-fire and protocols on wealth- and power-sharing agreements. The conflict pitted the Muslim north against Christians and animists in the south, leaving some 1.5 million people dead. The government and the southern rebels have agreed to set up a 39,000-strong army comprising fighters from both sides. They agreed that the south should be autonomous for six years, culminating in a referendum on the key issue of independence. The Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) accepted that Sharia could remain in the north. Sudan has become an oil exporter and both sides have agreed on the key issue of how to share out the revenue, which mostly comes from the south. The SPLA has secured a large share of Sudan's oil money and government jobs. On 9 July 2004 John Garang, leader of the SPLA was sworn in as vice-president but died three weeks later in a helicopter crash on 30 July. Salva Kiir took over as southern Sudan's leader following the death of John Garang and was sworn in as Sudan's vice-president in Khartoum.

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