Conflict sparks between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and rebels in the Darfur region of western Sudan, while peace talks continue between southern rebels (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement- SPLM/A) and the GoS to end the Second Sudanese Civil War, which has ravaged Sudan since 1983.
The Darfur conflict began when rebels from the Darfur Liberation Front, later to become the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attacked the GoS air force base in El Fasher. The rebels, who were predominantly from Muslim, sedentary, non-Arab tribes in Darfur, carried out the attack in frustration after decades of what they felt was suppression of their political rights by the central government in Khartoum. The Sudanese government responded to the rebellion by enlisting the help of some of the nomadic, Arab tribes in Darfur, promising them land in exchange for their military allegiance, subsequently turning the conflict into genocide by “Arabizing” the issues. With support from the GoS, these groups formed militias known as the Janjaweed (“devil on horseback” in Arabic) and began wreaking havoc throughout Darfur.
By the end of 2003, at least one million Darfuris were internally displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance and as many as 100,000 had become refugees in neighboring Chad, where the porous border did not guarantee safety from attacks. As reports of abductions, kidnappings, rape, burning and looting of villages, and murder began to come out of Darfur, the GoS was already limiting humanitarian aid and access to certain regions.
As the Darfur conflict continues, there is increased international attention toward the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding. The United States characterizes the conflict as genocide and multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions are passed concerning the conflict. The first of a series of failed peace agreements is also signed.
By early 2004, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) began establishing formal refugee camps in eastern Chad along the border with Sudan to provide basic food, healthcare, and shelter to the growing number of refugees; 185,000 Darfuris were registered as refugees in Chad by the end of the year. Insecurity still remained a serious concern in the refugee camps and, with humanitarian access severely limited within Darfur, the situation in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps located inside the region was even more precarious.
In testimonies to the UNSC, NGO officials reported that Darfur had become one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and suggested that the GoS and its proxy militias may have carried out human rights violations that constituted war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. In July, a joint resolution by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives labelled the conflict in Darfur “a genocide” and called on then President George W. Bush to lead an international effort to bring an end to the conflict. Additionally, a September 2004 report from the the U.S. State Department and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that the GoS had committed genocide in Darfur, and that genocide may be ongoing in the region, noting that atrocities were consistently targeting the non-Arab populations throughout Darfur. The African Union (AU), Arab League, European Union, and United Nations agreed that crimes against humanity had likely occurred, but they were not in agreement with the U.S. that the GoS and its forces had committed genocide in Darfur.
The AU did play a leading role in the international community’s efforts to initiate a resolution to the conflict. These efforts resulted in the N'Djamena Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement in April 2004, signed by the GoS, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), as well as Chad and the AU. In the summer of 2004, the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) was formed and had 300 Rwandan and Nigerian peacekeeping troops operating in Darfur by the fall. Following this agreement and subsequent promises of expanding humanitarian access, disarming the Janjaweed proxy militias, implementing a no-fly zone, and improving security for IDPs, frequent attacks still continued throughout Darfur and the small AMIS peacekeeping force was ill-equipped to prevent them. These attacks led to the widespread displacement of an estimated 2 million civilians into IDP and refugee camps, exacerbating the disease and malnutrition rates and contributing to the deaths of an estimated 100,000 civilians by the end of 2004.
On January 9, 2005, the GoS and the SPLM/A sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end the decades-long Second Sudanese Civil War. As the conflict and unproductive talks between the GoS and Darfuri rebels continue, the United Nations Security Council refers the case of Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
A UN investigation into conflict in Darfur concluded that the GoS and Janjaweed militias had committed serious violations of international humanitarian law; though the ensuing report stopped short of calling the conflict genocide. With a lack of agreement among the international community as to whether genocide had been committed in Darfur, the UN Security Council referred the case to the ICC, and the ICC began a formal investigation in June 2005. The UNSC also authorized sanctions against violators of the ceasefire agreement.
Even with the number of AMIS peacekeepers in Darfur tripled to nearly 7,000 troops, there continued to be increased violence and Janjaweed attacks, including on IDP camps, making it too dangerous for NGOs to operate in some areas of Darfur. The UN estimated that the number of deaths as a result of disease and malnutrition, not including violence, had reached 180,000 by March 2005. Throughout 2004-2005, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan took an active approach to addressing the conflict, even visiting the IDP and refugee camps to assess the humanitarian situation and stating that he was “gravely concerned by the worsening situation in Darfur.” Border-region attacks in Chad, reportedly by Sudanese-supported Chadian rebels, led to increased tension along the border and between the two nations, and pushed the number of Darfuri refugees in Chad to more than 200,000.
The ongoing conflict and regular attacks continue to threaten security, even in IDP and refugee camps, and cause civilian displacement. Another round of peace talks begin and result in the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), but the agreement is again not signed by all Darfur rebel groups. The UNSC passes 8 resolutions concerning Sudan.
Peace negotiations began and included representatives from the Darfuri rebel groups, the GoS, the AU, and the U.S. In May, the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), also known as the Abuja Agreement, was signed by the GoS and one faction of the SLA, led by Minni Minawi; JEM and the other faction of the SLA refused to sign, due to unacceptable provisions, failure to address issues such as equal representation and access to resources, and a weak guarantee for the disarmament of the Janjaweed. The agreement represented another failed attempt to bring peace to Darfur.
With the DPA failing to bring all parties to agreement, the conflict continued with indiscriminate aerial bombardments and ground attacks further displacing civilians. Additionally, the conflict more regularly spilled over into Chad, raising tension between Chad and Sudan and threatening the security of refugee camps along the border. Initially, a UNSC resolution expanded the mandate of the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) to allow for its peacekeeping troops to operate within Darfur, but the GoS opposed this and deployment was delayed.
U.S. President George W. Bush signed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act which restated the U.S. position that the Darfur conflict constitutes a genocide and called on the GoS to allow for an expanded peacekeeping effort and to hold accountable those guilty of war crimes. The UN Human Rights Commission presented findings of ongoing human rights abuses within Darfur to the UN General Assembly. By the end of the year, the UNSC passed a resolution authorizing the creation of a joint UN-AU peacekeeping operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID (United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur). The GoS, under pressure from the international community, agreed to the deployment of UN troops to Darfur, but the GoS delayed this until late 2007. At the end of 2006, there were approximately 235,000 Darfuri refugees in camps in eastern Chad.
2007 sees increased violence between the GoS and rebel groups, raising international concerns and leading to the expansion of peacekeeping operations within Sudan and in neighboring countries. The UNSC passes 4 resolutions concerning Sudan. The ICC issues its first arrest warrants for crimes committed in Darfur.
A UN report was leaked, describing ongoing human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law within Darfur, including attacks targeting civilians and NGOs discriminately. In April 2007, the ICC issued arrest warrants for one GoS official and one Janjaweed leader for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Violence continued between the GoS and rebel groups and there were reports of ongoing indiscriminate aerial and ground attacks. In the fall, peace talks started and ended unsuccessfully in Libya. Additionally, 10 AMIS peacekeepers were killed in September. To address the issue of insecurity in and around the refugee camps in Chad and ensure border security, the UNSC passed a resolution to create a small peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). On December 31, 2007, the GoS finally allowed the UNAMID troops to begin their peacekeeping operation. The mission would become one of the costliest in history.
By the end of 2007, the IDP population within Darfur spiked to more than 2.4 million, according to reports by NGOs. The refugee population in eastern Chad rose slightly to 240,000, putting pressure on local resources and causing 150,000 Chadians to need food assistance from NGOs.
Despite UNAMID obtaining official peacekeeping authority, full deployment of the authorized 26,000 troops is slow and attacks continue throughout the region. A coup attempt in Chad brings regional instability. The number of displaced within Darfur reaches an all-time high.
In February 2008, reportedly Sudanese-supported Chadian rebels from the eastern border region led a failed coup d’etat attempt on the capital in N’Djamena, further destabilizing the region and straining Chad-Sudan relations. In addition to the 250,000 Darfuri refugees along the Chad-Sudan border, approximately 168,000 Chadians were displaced by the conflict and living as IDPs in the region.
As violence continues, particularly increasing between the GoS and JEM, UN officials announce that as many as 300,000 Darfuris had died as a result of the conflict, most from starvation and disease brought on by displacement. In July, the ICC announced that they are seeking an arrest warrant for the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, on 10 counts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; Sudan rejects the indictment and there is disagreement among the international community as to if the ongoing investigation in Darfur will hinder the peace process. In November, President Bashir announced a ceasefire, which is immediately rejected by two main rebel groups. The UNSC extended the mandate of UNAMID, but only ⅓ of the force was deployed and they lacked critical supplies for the operation, such as helicopters and safe ground transport. The number of IDPs within Darfur increased by 300,000 to 2.7 million by the end of the year.
The ICC issues an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, marking the first time such a charge has been brought on a sitting head of state. 13 international aid groups are expelled from Darfur.
In March, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur; genocide is not included in this set of charges. In response, the GoS expelled 13 international humanitarian aid groups after accusing them of working with the ICC. Some of the aid groups were later able to return, but with different staff members.
Although the IDP population remained steady at 2.7 million, another 2 million Darfuris were still constantly affected by the conflict, resulting in more than half of Darfur’s estimated population of 7.5 million people receiving some type of humanitarian assistance. A UN report at the time noted that “Insecurity remains a primary cause of people's suffering and the most significant challenge to providing relief in Darfur.” In August, a UN military commander in the region states that the “Darfur war is over,” a claim condemned by activists and refuted by reports of ongoing violence.
Refugee numbers had remained steady throughout 2009, but the need for continued humanitarian support for Darfuri refugees and Chadian IDPs in eastern Chad remains high throughout 2010. A weak peace accord is signed between the GoS and JEM in March; a larger peace process begins in Doha in late-2010.
Following a trip to Khartoum by Chadian President Idriss Deby, the governments of Chad and Sudan agreed to normalize relations. The government of Chad also indicated that it would not renew the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Chad, MINURCAT, instead opting to create its own Chadian security force to be trained by the UN. This shift made humanitarian aid workers and refugees uneasy, but the transition to the Chadian security force, known as DIS, went smoothly at the end of 2010.
In March 2010, JEM and the GoS signed a ceasefire, prompting President Bashir to declare the Darfur war over. However, clashes between government forces and other rebel groups continued in Darfur. In July 2010, the ICC issued a second arrest warrant for President Bashir, this time including the charge of genocide.
Although the international community’s focus had diminished, there were still continued reports of attacks contributing to insecurity and displacement throughout Darfur; the number of violent deaths in Darfur actually increased between 2009-2010. By the end of the year, Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad totalled 270,000, following an influx after clashes between government forces and rebels in North and South Darfur.
Finally, in December 2010, all of the relevant parties - government officials and representatives from all of Darfur’s rebel movements, along with members of the international community - met in Doha, Qatar to begin negotiations on a final peace process.
The population of Southern Sudan votes overwhelmingly to support secession from Sudan, allowing South Sudan to becoming the world’s newest nation in July. The GoS and a newly-formed rebel coalition sign the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD).
Just as a referendum was held for Southern Sudan to vote on secession, there was renewed violence between GoS forces and rebel groups in Darfur. Security risks had subsided in parts of Darfur, allowing about 45,000 IDPs to return home; however, an estimated 80,000 Darfuris were reported to be newly displaced in 2011 as well.
The peace talks that began in Doha in December 2010 continued from January to July. The primary issues that were to be addressed in the negotiations were power and wealth sharing arrangements, restitution for victims of the conflict, a ceasefire agreement, and the release of JEM prisoners in Khartoum. However, the most powerful and militarily active of the rebel groups, JEM, dropped out of the peace process in May. In an attempt to salvage some of the process, international mediators cobbled together 11 rebel factions to form the Liberty and Justice Movement (LJM) to serve as the main Darfuri negotiators. In July, the LJM and the GoS signed the DDPD. Though there were additional provisions, the DDPD was not dramatically different from the 2006 DPA and the challenges of its implementation have offered little hope for sustained peace. Read more in-depth analysis of the Doha Peace Process.
In November, JEM joined the newly formed Kauda Alliance, comprised of the SPLM-N, SLA-AW, and SLA-MM, to create a new political and military alliance, known as the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, or SRF. The SRF actively fights against government forces throughout southern Sudan, in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile state, as well as in Darfur, while calling for regime change, the initiation of inclusive and holistic political processes, and the unification of all of Sudan’s opposition forces. In December, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the Defense Minister of Sudan, Abdelrahim Hussein, for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
As the DDPD is implemented with very limited success, violence in Darfur continues. The proliferation of militias, inter-communal violence, and the army itself remain threats to the civilian population. Conditions in refugee and IDP camps, specifically security for IDPs, have deteriorated.
Despite only the LJM coalition and GoS signing the DDPD, they have moved forward with implementation, while also encouraging non-signatory groups to join them. The Darfur Regional Authority was established, per the agreement, as the governing body for the Darfur region, though it has been underfunded by the GoS and therefore limited in its abilities to implement the DDPD and govern effectively. Other aspects of the DDPD remain largely unimplemented, such as those related to ensuring a stable and secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid, enhancing government institutions to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights, and stabilizing the region to support durable solutions to resettlement of refugees and IDPs, among others.
The continued displacement of more than 2 million refugees and IDPs has become a long-term humanitarian crisis. Those still displaced live in refugee and IDP camps in eastern Chad and within Darfur, where they are dependent on humanitarian support for their most basic needs - food, water, security, shelter, and healthcare. UNAMID, whose mandate is to protect civilians, deliver humanitarian assistance, and promote peace negotiations, is one of the largest and costliest peacekeeping operations in history. The UNSC has also considered reducing the size of the UNAMID operation, which costs more than $1 billion a year.
Though reports of systematic attacks have decreased, there are still serious security threats, especially for those living in IDP camps. According to a UN report, the risk of physical violence to the civilian population increased in 2012 due to intercommunal fighting, the harassment of civilians by militia groups and sporadic clashes between the GoS, and armed movements who have not signed the DDPD.