Home | Reports    Thursday 25 March 2004

Darfur Rising: Sudan’s New Crisis


International Crisis Group


Sudan has moved from a basically good news story in 2003 to a potential horror story in 2004. The rapid onset of war in its western region of Darfur has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises - thousands dead and some 830,000 uprooted from homes. Meanwhile, the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development) peace talks in Naivasha, Kenya between the government and the insurgent Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA) threaten to deadlock. It is urgent that these talks succeed and that, simultaneously, a parallel process begins to address both the humanitarian and political crises in Darfur.

The negative trends are not unconnected. Rebels in Darfur, not participants in the IGAD peace talks, concluded they had to fight lest decisions on power and wealth sharing for the entire country be taken without them. The Khartoum regime correctly judged that the international community would not criticise it at a crucial point in the peace process, so it slowed the process in Naivasha to give itself time for a major offensive in Darfur.

The initial response was indeed weak and ineffectual. The priority of the key external actors - neighbouring governments and their backers in Washington, London, Oslo and Rome - was to get Khartoum and the SPLA to a final agreement. The policy was constructive engagement, marked by quiet diplomacy and a desire to maintain access to perceived hard line government elements. Diplomatic and economic incentives were offered to both sides, and pressure was muted despite evidence that it was pressure that had principally contributed to bringing government and SPLA to the brink of peace. More muscular diplomacy was begun only in March 2004 with respect both to the IGAD process and attempts at constructing an effective negotiation on Darfur.

Open warfare erupted in Darfur in early 2003 when the two loosely allied rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), attacked military installations. The rebels, who seek an end to the region’s chronic economic and political marginalisation, also took up arms to protect their communities against a twenty-year campaign by government-backed militias recruited among groups of Arab extraction in Darfur and Chad. These "Janjaweed" militias have over the past year received greatly increased government support to clear civilians from areas considered disloyal. 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 that prohibits attacks on civilians.

The civil war, which risks inflicting irreparable damage on a delicate ethnic balance of seven million people who are uniformly Muslim, is actually multiple intertwined conflicts. One is between between government-aligned forces and rebels; in a second government militia raid civilians; yet a third involves a struggle among Darfur communities themselves. Its implications go far beyond Darfur’s borders. The war indirectly threatens the regimes in both Sudan and Chad and has the potential to inspire insurgencies in other parts of the country. The Beja Congress from eastern Sudan has already allied itself with the SLA, other groups could emerge - east and west - in an anti-government coalition, and even SPLA elements from the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile might be attracted back to the battlefield should they become dissatisfied with the IGAD talks.

Khartoum seeks to avoid addressing the political issues that fuel the conflict. Arrangements focused solely on humanitarian access, however, would not endure, and the IGAD process or its implementation would be harmed. Any process parallel to IGAD that aims to address Darfur’s humanitarian crisis through a ceasefire, such as the talks set to open in Chad in April 2004, must also address the political issues driving the rebellion.

Chad’s role in negotiations in 2003 was flawed and counterproductive. The new talks need to have facilitation from a much wider circle of outside actors such as the EU, U.S. and UN. There will have to be more international coordination than hitherto on Darfur, as well as increased public diplomacy in support of the process and regarding ongoing human rights abuses, and clear penalties for any Sudanese party that undermines resolution of the conflict.

Meanwhile, more focused pressure should be applied to whichever is the intransigent party in Naivasha at any given time. The IGAD heads of state and other observer countries should rally behind the recent U.S. proposal on Abyei as a fair middle ground for resolving the key outstanding issue and treat it as a catalyst for intensive endgame negotiations on a final deal. With skillful diplomacy and willingness to use its leverage, the international community can help bring about an early peace agreement between the government and the SPLA.


To the Government of Sudan:

1. Commit to internationally facilitated political negotiations with the Darfur rebels, the initial aim of which would be an internationally monitored ceasefire.

2. Order an immediate end to attacks by government forces and militias on civilians and civilian targets in Darfur.

3. Cease all assistance to the Janjaweed and other militias, begin a transparent process aimed at disarming them, and prosecute those who continue to attack civilians.

4. Order government security forces to protect civilians against armed groups.

5. Allow full humanitarian access to the affected populations for the delivery of emergency relief and reconstruction assistance and accept international observation of the use of that relief and assistance.

6. Ensure the safe return of villagers displaced by the conflict to their original locations and assist them in rebuilding their villages.

7. Negotiate establishment of a Neutral Resettlement and Claims Commission composed of representatives of the government, the Darfur rebels and civil society representatives known for their integrity, chaired by a UN representative, and with a mandate to:

a) ensure that those forcibly evicted from their villages can return and receive government help to rebuild their lives;

b) record criminal complaints against groups or individuals for injuries, wrongful deaths, and material losses such as livestock and household and commercial goods looted;

c) create mechanisms for restitution, compensation, and investigation of charges by victims; and

d) collaborate with investigations by responsible third parties such as the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) into violations of international humanitarian law.

8. Allow the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) to begin immediately investigating allegations of attacks against civilians in Darfur.

To the government-backed Janjaweed militias:

9. Cease all attacks on civilian targets and respect international humanitarian law.

To the SLA and the JEM:

10. Commit to internationally facilitated political negotiations with the government, the initial aim of which would be an internationally monitored ceasefire.

11. Allow full humanitarian access to the affected populations for the delivery of emergency relief and reconstruction assistance.

To the SPLA:

12. Accept the link between the two conflicts and help in efforts to promote a peaceful settlement in Darfur while negotiating in good faith the remaining issues at the IGAD peace talks.

To the United Nations Security Council:

14. Pass a resolution that:

a) condemns the violations of international humanitarian law committed by by all parties to the conflict in Darfur, particularly the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance by the government;

b) calls for internationally facilitated political negotiations between government and rebels in Darfur, the initial aim of which would an intertnationally monitored ceasefire;

c) supports the ongoing humanitarian diplomacy of Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, and Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan Tom Vraalsen; and

d) urges swift conclusion of the IGAD peace talks and indicates willingness to support fully a comprehensive government/SPLA peace agreement.

To the UN High Commissioner for Refugees:

15. Ensure that refugees and IDPs can return to their original villages and towns and coordinate international funding and assistance for their repatriation and resettlement.

To the International Observer Countries (U.S., UK, Norway, Italy):

16. Pursue more vigorous and public diplomacy, including by applying pressure on whichever party is obstructing progress toward concluding the IGAD negotiation condemning violations of international humanitarian law in Darfur more vocally.

17. Coordinate with other interested countries, including France and Chad, efforts to create a framework for internationally facilitated political negotiations between the government and Darfur rebels and make clear to the government that any benefits from progress in the IGAD talks will be lost if it opposes such such negotiations to address the root causes of the Darfur crisis.

18. Support a broad process of inter-ethnic and tribal reconciliation in Darfur, first by helping return refugees and IDPs to their homes and villages and then, over the longer term, promoting sound management of resources and counteracting desertification.

Nairobi/Brussels, 25 March 2004

The text of the full report is available at http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=2550&l=1

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