The insurgency in the Darfur region of western Sudan began virtually unnoticed in February 2003; it has over the past year precipitated the first great episode of genocidal destruction in the twenty-first century. The victims are the African tribal groups of Darfur, primarily the Fur, the Massaleit, and the Zaghawa. These people have long been politically and economically marginalized, and in recent years the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum has refused to control increasingly violent Arab militias raiding African villages in Darfur. Competition between Arab and African tribal groups over the scarce primary resources in Darfur-arable land and water-has been exacerbated in recent decades by advancing desertification throughout the Sahel region. But it was Khartoum’s failure to respond to the desperate economic needs of the region, the decayed judiciary, the lack of political representation, and in particular the growing impunity on the part of Arab raiders that finally precipitated armed conflict.
Not directly related to the twenty-one-year conflict in southern Sudan, Darfur’s insurgency found early and remarkable success against Khartoum’s regular military forces. But this success had ominous consequences, for the regime switched from a military strategy of direct confrontation to a policy of systematically destroying the African tribal groups perceived as the civilian base of support for the insurgents. The primary instrument in this new policy was the Janjaweed, a loosely organized Arab militia force of perhaps twenty thousand men, primarily on horse and camel.
This force was dramatically different in character, military strength, and purpose from previous militia raiders. Khartoum ensured that the Janjaweed were heavily armed and well supplied; their attacks were coordinated with the regime’s regular ground and air forces. Indeed, in July 2004, Human Rights Watch obtained confidential Sudanese government documents that directly implicated high-ranking government officials in a policy of support for the Janjaweed. “It’s absurd to distinguish between the Sudanese government forces and the militias-they are one,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. “These documents show that militia activity has not just been condoned, it’s been specifically supported by Sudan government officials.”
The nature of the civilian destruction that began in late spring of 2003 is defined all too well by a key clause from the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which stipulates inter alia that acts “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” constitute genocide. As the Janjaweed began systematically destroying hundreds of villages throughout the three states of Darfur province, it became ...
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