The Darfur Conflict
In early 2003, the struggle for land and power in the western Sudanese region of Darfur erupted into violence between Sudanese government forces and rebel groups protesting the marginalization of the region's black African ethnic groups by the Muslim central government. Arab militias (Janjaweed) supported by the government soon began enacting policies of ethnic cleansing--including forced displacement and starvation, murder, torture and rape--against Darfur's civilian population, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead and more than 2 million expelled from their homes.
Background: Civil War in Sudan
The northern African country of Sudan is Africa's biggest country, with a population of some 41 million and a land area that represents more than 8 percent of the African continent. Its population is also one of the most diverse in Africa, divided by religion, ethnicity, tribal differences and economic disparities. Though most of Sudan's natural resources--including oil, first discovered in 1978--are located in the south, that region is still desperately impoverished, with political power centralized in the north, among a relatively small group of Arabic-speaking Muslims in the capital city of Khartoum.
Except for a brief reprieve during the 1970s, Sudan has been at war since its independence from Great Britain in 1956, with most of the fighting involving the Islamic central government in the north and the largely Christian and Animist population of the south. The Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 ended the first Sudanese civil war, giving the south political and economic autonomy. War broke out again in the early 1980s, after measures issued from Khartoum imposed Sharia (Islamic law) over the entire country and made Arabic its official language. This time, southern resisters led by the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) called not for autonomy but for Sudan to become a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious state. The war intensified over the next two decades, after Brigadier General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir took power in a military coup in June 1989 and consolidated control under a National Islamic Front-supported government.
Conflict in Darfur
In Darfur, a western region of Sudan, the non-Arab population had also suffered ongoing political and economic marginalization by the government in Khartoum. Frustration and anger at this situation exploded into violence in the spring of 2003, when rebel groups called the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attacked government installations in Darfur. In response, the Sudanese government recruited local Arab militias, known as Janjaweed (spelled variously as Jingaweit or Janjawid), who themselves had interest in gaining control over territory occupied by the rebel Fur, Zaghawa and Masaalit ethnic groups. Within a year, "scorched earth" tactics like the bombing of hospitals, clinics, schools and other civilian sites and systematic targeting of civilians for displacement, murder, torture and rape had left tens of thousands dead, while hundreds of thousands of others fled westward to neighboring Chad.
A ceasefire declared in 2004 and the arrival of African Union (A.U.) troops in Darfur failed to stop the violence and the ensuing humanitarian crisis in the region. In January 2005, the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) formally ended the Sudanese civil war between north and south, but the conflict in Darfur lay outside of the accord. In July 2007, the United Nations authorized a joint U.N.-A.U. peacekeeping mission to replace the A.U. mission, though troop deployment did not begin until 2008. By 2009, the U.N. estimated that some 300,000 people had been killed and 2.7 million displaced since 2004.
Ongoing International Response
Over the course of the 1990s, the Sudanese government's support for Iraq during the first Gulf War and various radical Islamist movements (including its hosting of Osama Bin Laden from 1992-96) resulted in increased isolation from Western governments. In 1993, the United States placed Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism; it began imposing sanctions on the country in 1997. In September 2004, the U.S. government classified the ongoing atrocities in Darfur as genocide; the following March, the U.N. Security Council referred the case to the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.), a permanent court created in 1998 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In early 2009, the I.C.C. issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity (but not genocide). It was the first time that the I.C.C., established in 1998, had sought the arrest of a sitting head of state.
Among the crimes of which the Sudanese government stands accused is the obstruction of vital humanitarian aid, on which nearly half of Darfur's population of 6 million people depends. For its part, the Sudanese government has repeatedly rejected the charges against it. In response to Bashir's indictment by the I.C.C., Khartoum ordered 13 international aid organizations to suspend their operations, due to charges that they provided false evidence to the court. In addition to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the increasingly fragile peace brokered in 2005 threatened to erupt into renewed violence, with both sides--Bashir's government in the north and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the semi-autonomous south--clashing over a number of issues, including control over oil-rich southern regions.
How to Cite this Page:
The Darfur Conflict
The Darfur Conflict. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 6:24, May 19, 2013, from http://www.history.com/topics/darfur-conflict.
The Darfur Conflict. [Internet]. 2013. The History Channel website. Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/darfur-conflict [Accessed 19 May 2013].
“The Darfur Conflict.” 2013. The History Channel website. May 19 2013, 6:24 http://www.history.com/topics/darfur-conflict.
“The Darfur Conflict,” The History Channel website, 2013, http://www.history.com/topics/darfur-conflict [accessed May 19, 2013].
“The Darfur Conflict,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/topics/darfur-conflict (accessed May 19, 2013).
The Darfur Conflict [Internet]. The History Channel website; 2013 [cited 2013 May 19] Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/darfur-conflict.
The Darfur Conflict, http://www.history.com/topics/darfur-conflict (last visited May 19, 2013).
The Darfur Conflict. The History Channel website. 2013. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/darfur-conflict. Accessed May 19, 2013.