From the Archives: How the U.N. & World Failed Darfur Amid “the 21st Century’s First Genocide”

A still from the 2007 FRONTLINE documentary "On Our Watch," which is newly available to watch on FRONTLINE's YouTube channel.

A still from the 2007 FRONTLINE documentary "On Our Watch," which is newly available to watch on FRONTLINE's YouTube channel.

February 22, 2023

After the genocide in Rwanda and atrocities in Srebrenica, Bosnia, in the 1990s, the world vowed “never again.” Then came the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, which began 20 years ago.

The 2007 documentary On Our Watch, which is newly available to watch on FRONTLINE’s YouTube channel, examined why the United Nations and the international community failed to stop what became known as the first genocide of the 21st century.

By the time of the documentary’s premiere in late 2007, the Sudanese government and Janjaweed militias had waged a brutal campaign against rebel groups and civilians in Darfur for four years. Even by the most conservative estimate at the time, at least 200,000 people had been killed, 2.5 million others had been driven from their homes and mass rape had been used as a weapon.

In the documentary, survivors shared accounts of the atrocities they witnessed and endured. Living in a refugee camp, Khadeiga Abdullah described what she said happened when her village was attacked: “… A helicopter was shooting at us from above. Some people were killed, while others fled. I was carrying my little baby on my back, and they shot him dead. After the child died, they pulled him away and they raped me. Then they went away.”

The documentary, written, produced and directed by Neil Docherty, traced how the international community and the U.N. responded as the crisis unfolded and why — after Rwanda and Srebrenica — they once again failed to stop the slaughter.

“We don’t mean it when we say that we’re not going to accept other Rwandas, further Rwandas,” Sir Kieran Prendergast, who had served as under-secretary-general for political affairs at the United Nations from 1997-2005, said in the 2007 documentary. “But I never thought we did mean it. And that’s a very — it’s a very sad conclusion, but I don’t think there’s any evidence to sustain the view that we did mean it.”

On Our Watch is the latest documentary from FRONTLINE’s archives to be released on the series’ YouTube channel. You can also watch it in the PBS App and in FRONTLINE’s online collection of more than 300 streaming documentaries.

Priyanka Boghani

Priyanka Boghani, Digital Editor, FRONTLINE



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