An estimated 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been
displaced in the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region
of western Sudan, where militias have targeted civilians in attacks
the United Nations warns could rival the 1994 genocide in Rwanda
in which more than 800,000 people died.
killings of mostly black African Muslims have been blamed on an
Arab militia known as the Janjaweed. Like their victims, the Janjaweed
are Muslim, but are accused of ethnic atrocities, including burning
and destroying villages in parts of Darfur and of slaughtering
men, women and children.
Human rights groups and refugees also accuse the militia of mass
rape, characterizing the situation as ethnic cleansing and genocide.
International leaders and aid agencies have accused the Sudanese
government, led by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, of arming
and supporting the Janjaweed.
"The government of Sudan is responsible for 'ethnic cleansing'
and crimes against humanity in Darfur, one of the world's poorest
and most inaccessible regions," a 2004 Human Rights Watch
report said. "The Sudanese government and the Arab 'Janjaweed'
militias it arms and supports have committed numerous attacks
on the civilian populations of the African Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa
Sudan's government denies the charges and has promised to disarm
its militias, though reports from aid groups in the region say
widespread attacks continue.
The conflict in Darfur dates back to early 2003 when black
Africans from Darfur rebelled against the country's Arab Muslim
leadership demanding improved infrastructure in the region, proceeds
from oil wealth and a power-sharing government. The Sudanese government
retaliated by sending in government forces to quell the rebellion.
The government also reportedly organized and supplied the Janjaweed
militia to combat the rebels.
main rebel groups involved in the conflict are the Sudan Liberation
Army/Movement, or SLA/M, and the Justice and Equality Movement,
or JEM. Both groups have demanded equal representation in the
government and an end to the economic disparity between black
Africans and Arabs in Sudan.
The violence in the mostly arid desert region has driven millions
of Darfur villagers from their homes. Most are in disease riddled
refugee camps in Darfur while some have fled to crowded camps
in neighboring Chad.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has characterized
the crisis in Darfur as the "worst humanitarian crisis in
the world today."
Few aid agencies have been able to penetrate the region because
of the violence. Those that have gained access report alarming
scenes of starvation, disease and mass killings.
In July 2007, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved
a resolution to send a joint United Nations/African Union peacekeeping
force, known as UNAMID, to the troubled Darfur region. Although
the force is authorized at 26,000 members, less than 10,000 had
been deployed as of June 2008.
According to Jan Eliasson, former U.N. special envoy to Darfur,
a combination of factors was contributing to the slow deployment,
including reluctance from the international community to send
equipment and from the Sudanese government to accept peacekeepers
from certain countries, along with logistical problems such as
a lack of roads, lodging and water.
Joint AU-U.N. Special Representative for Darfur and UNAMID chief
Rodolphe Adada wrote in a June 25, 2008, op-ed column in The Wall
Street Journal that the mission faces a daunting task of trying
to “keep a peace that doesn't exist" in light of splintered
rebel groups and stalled negotiations.
Nonetheless, Adada wrote that the peacekeeping force -- though
small -- is still managing to conduct daily patrols across Darfur,
which is the size of Texas. "Our peacekeepers intervene on
a daily basis across the length and breadth of Darfur to calm
tensions arising from cattle losses, water distribution and land
ownership -- issues at the heart of the conflict," he said.
Meanwhile, a growing number of world leaders are pressing the
Sudanese government to improve access to the region, allow peacekeepers
and disarm the Janjaweed militia. President Bush has called the
situation a "genocide" and said the "world has
a responsibility to help put an end to it."
Under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide signed by members of the U.N. General Assembly
in 1948, member countries, including the United States, are required
to intervene when genocide occurs.