The Genocide in Darfur

Well, this week has been an interesting one so far. On Monday I had an interesting lecture on Human Rights in an international context. It was a shame hat it was just one lecture as the area is very fascinating and we didn’t get to look at the main International Treaties in any great detail.

This lecture has led me to conduct some research in my spare time (what little of that I have) into some of the nastier cases of Human Rights abuses: namely Genocide and such like. My research has led me to find out more about the appalling situation in the Darfur region of Sudan. I was aware that there was a major humanitarian situation ongoing, but what I discovered was just so horrifying and unbelievable.

I was reading an article published in 2006 in the International and Comparative Law Quarterly entitled “Darfur, the Security Council, and the International Criminal Court” and discovered some of the most shocking and horrifying things I have read in a while.

For those of you who are not aware of the situation in Darfur, here is a quick explanation. Since Sudan gained its independence in 1956 it has known little peace. There was a civil war raging between the North and the South of the country for much of this time. There was some hope of resolution when negotiations began in 2000 and culminated in 2004 with the signing of a framework peace agreement. However, in 2003 violence erupted in the western region of Darfur. The population of this region is mainly Muslim, but in recent developments there has been an emphasis placed upon the ethnic divisions between ‘Arabs’ and ‘Africans’. The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement drew support from a number of ‘African’ tribes and launched an insurrection against the Sudanese Government. The Government response was nothing other than brutal. They used techniques that had been perfected during the North/South civil War and recruited militants (who have become known as the janjawid). These militants came from amongst the local ‘Arab’ tribes. The Government unleashed them on the civilian population.

Now that the situation has been briefly outlined (it is by no means comprehensive) I’m going to move on to discuss some of the horrific things that I discovered in this article. The janjawid would usually have two patterns of ground attack (following heavy attack on villages from the air). The article reported:

”In the ‘hard’ pattern they would cordon off the place, loot personal belongings, rape the girls and women, steal the cattle and kill the donkeys. They would then burn the houses and shoot all those who could not run away. Small children, being light, were often tossed back into the burning houses. In the ‘soft’ pattern the militiamen would beat up people, loot, shoot a few recalcitrant men, rape the females, often scarring them or branding them with a hot iron so that they would become recognisable as ‘spoilt’ women in the future”
These atrocities soon resulted in widespread displacement of those living in the Darfur region of Sudan. A horrific humanitarian crisis is taking place in Darfur. It was over a year before international focus turned to Darfur, it was still very much concentrated on the ending of the North/South civil war. Even now that international attention has been on the region for almost four years the situation is still dire. Some of the largest countries in the world are involved in pointless and legally dodgy wars and occupations in the Middle East, while the atrocities in Darfur are taking a back-seat. Then there is China. Some would argue, that given the relationship between the Government of China and the Government of Sudan, that China should be using its position as leverage to help the situation in Sudan (while others would argue that China should be focusing more on sorting out its own problems). I can’t help but be of the opinion that China should at least be placing some form of pressure on the Sudanese Government – after all China is a major player in the world economy and the general world stage.

Anyway, I digress into complex areas that one could spend hours assessing and still not be any clearer on the most logical position to hold. The atrocities that are being carried out in Darfur are barbaric and horrific. Children being tossed into burning buildings, women being raped and branded as “spoilt” and what is essentially a campaign of mass murder is utterly abhorrent. Many have called the situation in Darfur a Genocide.  Thee US is included in this (which is historic in that it’s the first time the US has ever labelled a conflict as Genocide while the conflict is still happening).

The actions of the UN are not much better. They’ve sent in a peace keeping force. This may seem good, a force that is there to keep the peace, if it wasn’t for the fact that a UN peace keeping force are pretty much worse than useless! The rules that define how a peace keeping force conducts its work means that you may as well not have them there in the vast majority of situations (however, this is a point for another time).

A high-level UN Human Rights Council report, led by Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams, issued a report on March 7, 2007, and said:

“The situation is characterized by gross and systemic violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law. The principal pattern is one of a violent counterinsurgency campaign waged by the Government of Sudan in concert with Janjaweed militia, targeting mostly civilians.”

The Sudanese Government sought to have this report rejected by the Council. Their grounds for having this report rejected was that the mission had never visited Darfur. This was indeed true. However, it was the Sudanese Governments refusal to issues visas to the members of the mission that meant they hadn’t visited the region. This bid by the Sudanese Government failed. A second mission was set up to produce a follow-up report. However, the Sudanese government is likely to refuse to co-operate with this mission as well.

Anyway, this has turned into a rather long blog entry and I will finish it here (mainly so as not to bore you all). I’m sure that it will be an issue that I’ll return to in the near future (especially when all the signs are that this conflict is far from over).