The conflict between the South Sudanese government and the rebel group, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), has yet to subside with the two clashing once more on July 23. The government stated that 50 rebels were killed as government forces pushed the rebels out of East Darfur. The rebels gave a conflicting account, stating that they captured towns near the Abu Jabra oilfield. The violence dates back to 2003 when the rebel group formed with the objective of pushing the government to change its policy toward Darfur. The JEM and later the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) have claimed that the Sudanese government has economically and socially marginalized the region of Western Sudan.
The conflict eventually led to the targeted use of violence against specific ethnicities. The janjaweed, a government armed militia group comprised of Arab Sudanese, has intentionally singled out black nomads who share the same ethnic background with the rebels. Although the Sudanese government has refuted claims that it supports the janjaweed, Sudanese born reporter Nima Elbagir’s 2008 interview with the janjaweed leader, Commander Mohammed Hamdan, for the American Broadcasting Corporation confirmed that the group had been armed by the government and that they had received direct orders from Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir.
Since conflict began in 2003 the international community, including the UN, the African Union (AU) and various NGOs , have condemned the actions of the Sudanese government. The awareness website SaveDarfur.org states experts estimate that 300 000 people from Darfur have lost their lives between 2003 and 2005 alone due to the conflict. CBC news reports that a further 2 million people have been displaced from their homes, many of whom have fled the country as refugees. Furthermore, the International Criminal Court has issued two arrest warrants for President Omar Al Bashir for crimes against humanity, including genocide.
However, despite widespread condemnation of both the Sudanese government and the rebel militia groups, the international community has done little to actively dispel the conflict and some countries, including Russia and China, have even been accused of supporting its continuation.
International initiatives to end conflict
In 2005, the United States President George Bush broke with the the United Nations and publicly refered to the crisis in Darfur as genocide. Shortly after, President Bush announced that “the Department of Treasury is tightening economic sanctions on Sudan.” However, these comments were tempered by his statement that the United States’ contribution would be primarily of a financial nature and would not extend to any sort of military intervention or support.
Conversely, the United Nations’ has argued the conflict does not legally fall within the definition of genocide in Darfur. This position has been interpreted as being in opposition to the UN norm, Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which states that both sovereign states and the international community have an obligation to protect citizens from human rights abuses.
The United Nations has made some efforts toward curbing the violence in Sudan. In July of 2004, the UN Security Council placed on open-ended arms embargo on all entities in the states of North Darfur, South Darfur and West Darfur. The embargo was extended in 2005 to include all parties of the N’djamena Ceasefire Agreement, including the government, SLM and JEM. The UN then deployed a small task force to monitor the situation.
In 2008, the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) replaced an poorly equipped African Union force, which was previously in place to monitor the violence and ensure that humanitarian aid reached those that required it. The 26,000 strong force was initially approved to be deployed in 2006, but was delayed as the Sudanese government failed to give consent for the mission and has, according to SavDarfur.org, suffered from a lack of necessary supplies and funding.
Russia and China contravene arms embargo
Despite the UN arms embargo placed on the region of Darfur, a 2012 report by Amnesty International alleges that Russia, China ,and to a lesser extent Belarus, are selling arms to the Sudanese government with full knowledge that they will be used in the Darfur region. The report claims that Chinese-made Fintan fighters have been seen in the Darfur region as well as Ukrainian made Antonov 26 aircraft, which have been painted white. The painting of aircraft white is a direction contravention of the Geneva Convention which prohibits combatants from painting aircraft white as they are generally associated with the UN.
As well, the BBC has reported that in 2005 Russia and China respectively sold $21 million and $24 million worth of military equipment to Sudan. In response to the BBC article, the Sudanese UN ambassador Abdel Mahmood Abdel Haleem said, “We are not using these aircraft for any military function in Darfur.”
China’s vested interest in Sudan as both a market for its military equipment and substantial supplier of oil has repeatedly contributed to the delay and watering down of UN Security Council resolutions on Darfur. Russia has also been accused of blocking sanctions, claiming that diplomacy is the only route that will allow for change.
In 2007, Russian diplomat Yury Viktorovich Fedotov told Britain and the United States to stop “being emotional” over the situation in Darfur. He went on to say that, “At some point emotions have to be put aside and diplomats have to work in a very straightforward by meaningful way to reach a solution which could bring lasting peace and stability,” reflecting Russia’s belief that diplomacy is the only way to stop the conflict in Darfur.
The conflict today
While the fighting in Darfur is not nearly as widespread as it was only a few years ago, it does still persist and thousands of people remain displaced from their homes. Additionally, humanitarian aid continues to be blocked from reaching those who need it.
Although wealthy nations are still engaged in diplomatic talks, they have yet to offer any substantial contributions that might aid in stopping the violence. In particular, UNAMID remains grossly underfunded and ill equipped to deal with the scale of the conflict in Darfur.
The latest report on the violation of the arms embargo over Darfur by Amnesty International came in early 2012, and demonstrated that Russia and China continue to contravene the embargo even now, despite full knowledge that arms sold to the Sudanese government eventually find their way into Darfur and are used in the conflict.
Amnesty International’s expert on military and policing, Brian Wood, has called for an extension of the arms embargo to include all of Sudan. “The Darfur conflict is sustained by the constant flow of weapons from abroad. To help prevent further serious violations of human rights, all international arms transfers to Sudan should be immediately suspended and the UN arms embargo extended to the whole country.”
Wood also went on to say that, “Until governments agree a strong Arms Treaty with specific rules to respect human rights, UN arms embargoes will continue to be flouted and millions of people continue to suffer the consequences of irresponsible arms transfers, as they do in Darfur.”
The Sudanese government and several of the rebel groups are making steps toward achieving peace and compromise. On 14 July 2011, the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed by the Sudanese government and the group known as The Liberation and Justice Movement. The agreement includes provisions for a Darfuri Vice-President and an administrative structure known as the Darfur Regional Authority to oversee Darfur as a whole.
In 2007, as part of a campaign by the Save Darfur Coalition, then Presidential candidate Barack Obama said, “The United States has a moral obligation anytime you see humanitarian catastrophes. When you see a genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia or in Darfur, that is a stain on all of us, a stain on our souls…We can’t say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again, and as president of the United States, I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.” However, the Obama administration has since focused most of its diplomatic power in the creation of an independent South Sudanese state rather than directly pressuring the Sudanese government to stop the violence in Darfur.
Since Obama’s election in 2008, the United States government has contributed financially toUNAMID. In late 2009, the House passed legislation that saw a $257 million commitment to theUNAMID mission and $16 million to train and equip African militaries for the UNAMID mission. Unfortunately, this was only a fraction of the costs the mission faces. The UNAMID website states that that from July 1 2011 to June 30 2012, the total cost of the UNAMID mission was estimated to be $1 689 305 500. The UNAMID mission is ongoing and faces similar costs on an annual basis, thus requiring substantial donations from UN member nations in order to keep the mission properly funded and equipped.
Despite current difficulties and continued fighting between the government and several rebel groups, the Darfur Peace Agreement can be seen as a force for positive change and recognition of some of the demands being made by the people in Darfur. Though it was only signed by one rebel movement, it remains as a beacon of hope for positive change to come within the region as negotiations continue between relevant parties.