The Darkness of Darfur


Darfur is one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises of the 21st century. It is difficult to rake up a word that would aptly describe the appalling situation of Darfur. There are a million websites that discuss this particular problem of Sudan with deep conviction. But the challenge that one faces is to educate oneself about the reality and to realize that the human catastrophe in Darfur is not a criminal fiction. As a human being, it is quite discomforting to accept the fact that the perpetrators of this severe brutality belong to same species as mine. They cannot be civilized for sure. But then, it is a fact, something that has happened in this so-called civilized world of ours.

Before 2003, Darfur had witnessed erratic quarrels between various communities like the Fur, the Masalit, the Zaghawa, the Baggara, the Rizeigat, and the Zeyadiyya. Over the years, ethnic groups in Darfur seemed to wax and wane in terms of how well their leaders were able to mobilize them into violence. The predominantly religious fundamentalists of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which arose from the existing groups, started attacking government forces and installations in the western regions of Sudan. The militants accused the government of President Omar al-Bashir of neglecting the region and oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs in the state of Darfur. In retaliation the government, who had few troops in the region, mounted a campaign of aerial bombardment in support of ground attacks by an Arab militia, the Janjaweed, that had been recruited from local tribes. The government of Sudan allowed free rein to the Janjaweed, who began attacking villages, killing, raping and abducting people, destroying homes and other property, including water sources, and looting livestock.

Conflict in Darfur is an absolute violation of human rights. The perpetrators of this crisis have devised all sorts of violent activities to terrorise the residents that they abhor. The world has very often labelled the conflict there to be ‘ethnic cleansing’ and genocide, though United Nations has refused to describe it as genocide. For activists and scholars, violence in Darfur is one of the most nerve-wracking genocides of the 21st century. Today the lack of protection for civilians and the displaced is as acute as ever. The Government is still continuing with the repressive measures. Government bombings still occur; attacks, killings of civilians and rapes of women and girls continue not only in rural areas but also in the vicinity of displaced camps. The failure to ensure right to freedom of speech and expression has further worsened the suffering of the inhabitants. Amnesty International has been very actively involved in bringing an end to the human rights violations in Darfur. It has one of the most informative websites on the crisis in Darfur. The human rights violations in Darfur include extra-judicial executions; deliberate killings of civilians, widespread rape and systematic forced displacement of civilians that constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, besides being war crimes and crimes against humanity. The most significant problem faced in Darfur is the soaring starvation. Malnutrition is at a higher rate and the relief agencies are waging a war against starvation without adequate food and medical supplies. Certain reports suggest that starvation has forced people to become cannibals.

Like in all other conflicts, women in Darfur are the worst sufferers. They are affected by malnutrition and other chronic diseases for which medical assistance do not reach them early. Rape is used as a weapon of war and crime. Arab militiamen rape and kill pregnant women and even girls as young as eight year olds. Pregnant women are a most wanted target, with rapes followed by mutilation and killing done in public, in daylight, in front of their husbands and families, and Arab women watching and singing songs of praise. This is horrendous as it tears apart the social fabric and drives in daggers into the very heart of humanity. The rape victims who return to their communities are tagged as outcasts, creating a class of invisible women. Their communities ostracize women and girls and this further adds to the degeneration of families and communities in the region. Humanitarian agencies are struggling to cope with the enormous needs of some 2 million internally displaced people inside Darfur, plus more than 2, 00, 000 refugees in United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC)-run camps across the border in Chad.

The worsening situation in Darfur has a negative impact on the neighboring states. Chad has been a victim of border crisis. Though Chad has been extremely cooperative in providing shelter to the refugees from Darfur, the country itself is under the threat of hostile environment. The international community has a huge role to play in the Darfur crisis. Intervention of the international community can impact the future of the inhabitants of this region. African Union has led long years of international political efforts to seek the solution to the crisis in Darfur. A United Nations assistance cell was opened in Addis Ababa so as to support the efforts of African Union at the strategic level. But the progress has been slow, much to the disappointment of various aid organizations in Darfur. A United Nations assistance cell was opened in Addis Ababa as to support the efforts of African Union at the strategic level. China has done more to insulate Khartoum from all sorts of economic pressure and human rights accountability. Over the past decade, China has provided Khartoum with more than $10 billion in commercial and capital investments. This strong and close economic relationship has carried disastrous results for the people of Darfur as China consistently backs the genocide of the Sudanese regime in political negotiations relating to Darfur. China is the largest player in Sudan’s oil industry. The 70% of Sudan’s oil profit helps to fund the government’s military. China has protected Sudan diplomatically, most significantly by conferring veto power upon the Khartoum regime over UN efforts to deploy the robust force outlined in Security Council Resolution 1706. However, in July 2007, China joined in a unanimous UN Security Council vote to authorize, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, deployment of 26,000 civilian police and troops to Darfur. This could be seen as China’s attempt to avoid any sort of embarrassment at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The time does not seem favorable for Darfur. The peace in Darfur will have to wait before it can see the light of the day. But it is not impossible to bring peace. The strange politics of the world is playing a nasty callous game with the lives of millions. Everyone could together work towards progress. Individuals around the globe deserve accolades for pressurizing their governments to intervene in the issue. Each one’s contribution is required since time is running out.

Annapoorna Karthika