Life in Darfur
photo: Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images
A Nigerian member of the African Union force
in Darfur observes a UN cargo place being unloaded
at the El-Geneina airport.

In 2003, an insurgency in Darfur was launched by rebels from the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The government of Sudan (GoS) responded by mobilizing the Army, Air Force and militias recruited among some of Darfur's Arab tribes, known later as the Janjawid.

Events in Darfur were initially overshadowed by several armed conflicts in Sudan. The longest running of these was the war between the government of Sudan and the southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which was officially ended by a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in January 2005 and the deployment of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

In the spring of 2004, the African Union (AU) assumed the leading role in international efforts to broker a resolution to the conflict in Darfur. Shortly afterwards, on May 25, 2004, the UN Security Council made its first statement on the situation in response to a report by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. The Council expressed its concern about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and expressed support for the mediation efforts of the AU.

AU efforts resulted in the signing of the N'djamena Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement on April 8, 2004, between the government of Sudan, the SLA and the JEM. This paved the way for an agreement signed in Addis Ababa on May 28, 2004, under which 80 AU monitors were to observe the ceasefire supported by a protection force of 300 Nigerian and Rwandan troops. However, the ceasefire was not observed.

Outside Darfur, an international debate was gathering momentum about how to characterize the violence there. On March 19, 2004, Mukesh Kapila, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, said attacks against civilians were 'close to ethnic cleansing' and claimed that 'the only difference between Rwanda [1994] and Darfur is the numbers involved of dead, tortured and raped.' Less than one month later, on the tenth anniversary of Rwanda's genocide, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan drew similar parallels when he said: '...the international community cannot stand idle [but] must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action. By 'action' ...I mean a continuum of steps, which may include military action'.

Life in Darfur
photo: Jerome Tubiana
A relief distribution in Shangil Tobay displaced camp.
War and drought mean that many Darfurians are unable
to plant and are dependent on international aid.

In September 2004, after reviewing evidence collected by the State Department the then U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, announced that the U.S. administration believed that 'genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Janjawid bear responsibility – and that genocide may still be occurring.' Despite this, Powell said, U.S. policy toward Sudan would remain unchanged. Most international actors and organizations, including the AU and Arab League, refused to accept Powell's characterization of the conflict as genocide. The European Parliament came closest when it declared the situation in Darfur was 'tantamount to genocide'. It threatened sanctions if no 'tangible progress' was made between the UN and the Sudan Government.

Between June and December 2004, the UN Security Council became more deeply engaged with Darfur and passed three particularly important resolutions (numbers 1547, 1556, and 1564). Among other things, these resolutions called for a political agreement to end the fighting, gave the government of Sudan 30 days to disarm the Janjawid and start bringing its leaders to justice, and established a Commission of Inquiry to determine whether or not acts of genocide had occurred.

The release of the UN Commission of Inquiry's report on January 25, 2005 intensified debate about the most appropriate way to respond to the violence in Darfur. The Commission concluded that while the Government of Sudan 'has not pursued a policy of genocide', it was implicated in numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity. It suggested, nevertheless, that 'in some instances individuals, including government officials, may commit acts with genocidal intent.' After a period of debate upon the Commission's findings, the Security Council passed another three resolutions on Sudan (numbers 1590, 1591, and 1593) in a week of frantic activity. It authorized a UN peacekeeping operation to help implement the CPA in southern Sudan, called on the government of Sudan to stop conducting 'offensive military flights in and over the Darfur region,' and referred the situation in Darfur, from July 2002 forward, to the International Criminal Court.

As the war entered its fourth year, international mediation efforts revolved around peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, where the opposition groups, the government of Sudan, the United States, the AU, and other states would ultimately produce the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). With its peacekeeping operation in Darfur facing financial strain, the AU announced in January 2006 that it would accept a transition to a UN operation. In Resolution 1663 of (4 March 2006) the Security Council welcomed the decision and urged UNMIS to intensify its cooperation with the AU peacekeeping mission (AMIS). The following month, in Resolution 1672, the Council called on all member states to implement the measures outlined in Resolution 1591 against four individuals thought to be involved in violations of their commitments - one from the government of Sudan, one from the Janjawid, and two minor rebel commanders.

After six rounds of talks, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Britain's International Development Secretary, Hillary Benn, set a deadline for agreement and the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed by the Government of Sudan and Minni Arkoi Minawi's faction of the SLA on May 5, 2006. The agreement was welcomed uncritically by the international community. The Security Council urged the rebel factions that had not endorsed it to sign it without delay and called for concrete steps to transform AMIS into a UN peacekeeping force (in Resolution 1679, May 16, 2006).

Life in Darfur
photo: Charles Onians/AFP/Getty Images
An African Union armored personal carrier patrols
the Sudanes village of Gos Beina.

As international actors slowly came to recognize that the DPA could not be implemented with such limited support, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1706 on August 31, 2006. The resolution expanded UNMIS's mandate to move into Darfur in order to 'support implementation of' the DPA and the N'djamena Agreement of April 2004. It also authorized UNMIS to expand to as many as 17,300 troops and 3,300 civilian police and 'invited' the consent of Sudan's Government of National Unity.

In response to the worsening security situation in eastern Chad, in part because of cross-border attacks from Darfur, resolution 1706 also called for 'the establishment of a multidimensional presence consisting of political, humanitarian, military and civilian police liaison officers in key locations in Chad...and if necessary, in the Central African Republic.' It stated that deployment of the Darfur peacekeeping force should begin no later than October 1, 2006 and that the process of transition to a UN force should be completed 'no later than 31 December 2006'. UNMIS was authorized 'to use all necessary means' to protect UN personnel, implement the DPA, protect civilians, and seize or collect prohibited arms in Darfur under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

President Omar Bashir's repeated rejections of UN peacekeepers stymied the international community's efforts to achieve security for civilians in Darfur. In an effort to accommodate Khartoum's objections, the UN, the AU, European Union, Arab League, government of Sudan, and 13 states including the United States reached agreement in November 2006 on a 'hybrid' UN-AU force under which the UN would help fund and reinforce the AMIS operation in Darfur, and on 31 July 2007, the UN Security Council mandated a full United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) hybrid force numbering some 26,000 troops and police. Shortly after, on September 25, 2007, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1778 authorizing a European Union mission in eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic (EUFOR) supported by a small UN peacekeeping mission (MINURCAT).

The government of Sudan has since implemented numerous roadblocks to the deployment of UNAMID, including restricting badly needed equipment, delaying the provision of suitable land for bases, and attempting to restrict night-flights by UNAMID aircraft. Although deployment of UNAMID is now underway-as are preparations for bases and the provision of equipment, a full deployment is not expected to reach completion until late 2008, while civilians from Darfur, eastern Chad and CAR continue to suffer ongoing mass displacement, killings, rape and other egregious human rights violations.

The government of Sudan has since implemented numerous roadblocks to the deployment of UNAMID, including restricting badly needed equipment, delaying the provision of suitable land for bases, and attempting to restrict night-flights by UNAMID aircraft. UNAMID began deploying in January 2008 but by early 2009 was still severely under-resourced and unable to provide civilians with effective protection. Many of the African countries that pledged to provide troops to UNAMID have only partially deployed and countries which could provide UNAMID with military hardware such as helicopters have so far failed to do so. Recently, Ethiopia has committed five tactical helicopters to the peacekeeping force. Meanwhile, civilians from Darfur, eastern Chad and CAR continue to suffer ongoing mass displacement, killings, rape and other egregious human rights violations.