Survivor accounts of attacks on their villages follow a common formula: It starts with cell phone services being cut, the thundering of government choppers and the sudden influx of militia men on horseback. Government forces and Janjaweed militias ransack the villages, looting goods, burning buildings and stealing livestock. Women and children who can’t escape are raped and the men are tortured, then most are either maimed or killed on the spot. In the wake of the attack, houses can be seen burning while the attackers divide the loot.
Village after village, civilians have been forced to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs and whoever remains of their loved ones. Those who escape report having hidden in brush or behind trees for days at a time, in the searing heat with no food, water or medical supplies. Many have seen their families and friends raped, tortured and killed, leaving them with scars that will never heal.
This is the story of millions of Darfuris.
Earlier this year, it was reported that the number of attacks on villages had drastically decreased. The shift was attributed not to political factors, but to the lack of villages left standing. These are the conditions right now in the Sudanese region of Darfur.
The government initially armed and supplied the Janjaweed, though they publicly deny it, and it is reported that they are continuing to do so despite a January agreement to stop. Under this same agreement they are to disarm the Janjaweed, but no moves have been made thus far. Khartoum simply has no interest in disarming its proxies.
For the government, it is an issue of suppressing a political uprising that occurred among Darfuri rebel groups in 2003. It is clear that the two continue to work together, as soldiers often man the roadblocks alongside Janjaweed militia men, and govenernment gunships continue to participate in attacks. Khartoum has been known to clear IDP settlements with bulldozers in the middle of the night, forcing its inhabitants to flee once again.
International objections to Khartoum’s complicity with the violence have been muted at best. Most nations are doing nothing to put pressure on Khartoum.
IDP and Refugee Camps
An estimated 3.3 million people have been directly affected by the conflict in Darfur; a population akin to that of Montreal. Two and a half million have been internally displaced in Darfur, and another 200,000 have fled to camps in Chad. Most have landed on the Sudanese side of the border, where some camps exist but where many Darfuris are left to make do with temporary settlements.
Those who make it into the camps in Chad are generally more secure and better cared for than those remaining in Darfur, as the camp supply routes are less often obstructed, and the populations are so vulnerable to attack.
On the Sudanese side though, supplies often don’t make it to the aid centres and it is generally more dangerous. Women and children venturing out of the camps in search of firewood and water – necessities of life – often fall victim to lurking militia men on the fringes of the settlements. Girls and boys as young as five years old are frequently raped, mutilated or killed on these trips. The young people make the trips because their male relatives, who would normally be charged with dangerous tasks, died in the attacks on their home villages.
The Security Situation
Aid organizations and the international organizations operating the camps are forced to make do with the bare essentials. Sometimes they are left without enough drinking water, sanitation or food supplies. Some camps have only one water pump or a makeshift medical facility to meet the needs of tens of thousands of people. Thousands of people can arrive unannounced in the course of a few days, and they must be accommodated as best as possible with the resources available. Too often what the camps provide is simply not enough, and thousands of Darfuris die in IDP or refugee settlements every month.
As of August, nine camps inside of Darfur were home to between 70,000 to 139,000 people; that would be like housing Concordia’s entire undergrad population more than two to four times over, in an area the size of the university’s space. There are close to 100 IDP camps in Darfur alone.
International organizations and NGOs caring for refugees agree that security conditions in and around the camps have been deteriorating in recent months. They’re calling for the international community to stand up and take notice. Attacks on refugees in the camps – unprecedented before recent weeks – reveal new bolder and aggressive tactics by the Janjaweed, and aid workers have become targeted victims as well. Aid organizations, including those under the UN, have been forced to withdraw their non-essential personnel, citing security reasons. Several agencies have questioned how long they’ll be able to remain at all, despite the thousands of people who need them to live.
Developed nations have been slow or absent in demanding that the Janjaweed be reigned in or disarmed by Khartoum, and so the situation continues to worsen.
Enforcing the Peace
Hundreds of thousands of Darfuris will be dependent on aid in the years to come. Many will never return to their homes. Looming dangers prevent any of them from returning now and conditions will have to improve considerably before they can. Many won’t even have villages left to return to. The longer they remain in camps, the less likely it is that they’ll be able to return.
Yet there are simply no better options than to keep them in camps, where the basic infrastructure and resources exist to keep them alive.
The African Union (AU), a newly assembled international force of African military personnel, has been charged with protecting civilians in Darfur and the rest of Sudan, but it is but a paper tiger in real security terms. Those who have been to Darfur recently will attest that the AU is struggling to hold its ground, having neither the resources nor the numbers to fulfill its mandate. AU forces in Darfur are about 1000 short of the 7000 troop bar set to be met months ago. They, along with a small force of 800 civilian police are charged with the security of Darfur; a sprawling area the size of Labrador and the Maritimes combined.
Khartoum has also made the job more difficult, blocking AU aid from developed nations and international organizations, in the form of equipment, fuel and even pay for its troops. The European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and individual donor countries including Canada, have been providing training, logistical and intelligence- gathering assistance to the AU, but there is much more to do. The AU is brand new and starting from scratch in terms of material, organizational and human resources. Until now, the AU has been adamant about maintaining security in Sudan without the help of non-African ground troops, but this needs to change, at least in the interim, while they strengthen their forces.
Inevitably, there will be calls for a UN force to assist the AU in protecting civilians and in enforcing order in Darfur. The question is whether the UN will respond with the necessary mandate to force peace and to protect civilians, but of course, this is where the UN has failed in the past.
Canada needs to rally developed nations and the Security Council to put pressure on Khartoum, forcing them to disarm their proxy militias and to protect the 3.3 million affected Darfuri civilians. It also needs to lead the calls for a UN mission with the necessary mandate to ensure a peace.
Until then, security will continue to deteriorate, international assistance will be forced to withdraw, and Darfuri civilians will bear the brunt of it all.
Concordia will hold a conference on issues related to Darfur.
Hall bldg. Nov.1-***
For info: contact