Open warfare erupted in Darfur in early 2003 when the two loosely allied rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), attacked military installations. This was followed closely by peace agreements brokered by the United States to end the twenty-year-old civil war in the south of Sudan which allocated government positions and oil revenue to the rebels in the south. At that time rebels in Darfur, seeking an end to the region's chronic economic and political marginalization, also took up arms to protect their communities against a twenty-year campaign by government-backed militias recruited among groups of Arab extraction in Darfur and Chad. These "Janjaweed" militias have over the past year received government support to clear civilians from areas considered disloyal to the Sudanese government. Militia attacks and a scorched-earth government offensive has led to massive displacement, indiscriminate killings, looting and mass rape, all in infringement of the 1949 Geneva Convention that prohibits attacks on civilians. The war, which risks inflicting irreparable damage on a delicate ethnic balance of seven million people who are uniformly Muslim, is actually multiple intertwined conflicts. One is between government-aligned forces and rebels; a second entails indiscriminate attacks of the government-sponsored Janjaweed militia on civilians; and a third involves a struggle among Darfur communities themselves. Its implications go far beyond Darfur's borders. The war indirectly threatens the regimes in both Sudan and Chad and has the potential to inspire insurgencies in other parts of the country.
What's Happening Now:
Nearly three years into the crisis, the western Sudanese region of Darfur is acknowledged to be a humanitarian and human rights tragedy of the first order. The humanitarian, security and political situation continue to deteriorate: atrocities continue, people are still dying in large numbers of malnutrition and disease, and a new famine is feared. According to reports by the World Food Program, the United Nations and the Coalition for International Justice, 3.5 million people are now hungry, 2.5 million have been displaced due to violence, and 400,000 people have died in Darfur thus far. The international community is failing to protect civilians or to influence the Sudanese government to do so.
Rape has become a hallmark of the crimes against humanity in Darfur. It has proven one way for the Janjaweed militias to continue attacking Darfurians after driving them from their homes. Families must continue collecting wood, fetching water or working their fields, and in doing so, women daily put themselves or their children at the risk of rape, beatings or death as soon as they are outside the camps, towns or villages. It is assumed that the hundreds of rapes reported and treated grossly underestimate the actual number committed, as victims of rape in Darfur are often too scared or too ashamed to seek help. In a culture where rape draws heavy social disgrace, victims are often ostracised by their own families and communities. These women and children have been forced from their communities and even punished for illegal pregnancy as a result of being raped. As need far outstrips the ability of agencies to deliver aid, it is not too soon to sound a famine alert. Relief workers on the ground are convinced that few if any of the nearly 2 million IDPs will return to their homes in time for the next planting season, thus ensuring at least longer term food insecurity. The onset of the rainy season in late May will further restrict access.
On January 9, 2005, a peace deal was signed to end the long war between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLM). This war, which has raged for the past 20 years, is commonly referred to as the North-South conflict and is often confused with the violence in Darfur. This peace deal signed earlier last year did not address the issues in Darfur, where the genocide continues.
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