Has it been a prolonged case of genocide or merely ongoing mass murder? The US government boldly announced it was the former, while the United Nations cautiously claimed that in the absence of ‘provable genocidal intent’ it was the latter. But semantics hardly matter to the devastated civilian population of Darfur, collectively the three Sudanese states of West, South and North Darfur, who have been subjected to a prolonged killing spree.
The relentless Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when the SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) and JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) took up arms against the Sudanese government. Insurrection was caused by the Arab-dominated government’s perceived discrimination against the mainly black inhabitants of Darfur. This uprising was viciously countered by the government- sponsored Janjaweed militia recruited from nomadic Afro-Arab Abbala tribes. As always in such conflicts, it is hard to ascertain the truth with any certainty. Each side has accused the other of unspeakable atrocities, while the international community periodically indulged in futile attempts to mediate (over 50 peacekeepers have been killed in Darfur) – or even exert any influence over the Sudanese government.
At least two million Darfurian civilians have been displaced, many fleeing to neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic where they are sometimes pursued and attacked by Janjaweed fighters, exacerbating regional tensions. The combination of military engagements, malnutrition, disease and genocide/mass murder has taken a terrible toll. Just how terrible is a matter of conjecture. The Sudanese government claims a figure in the low tens of thousands, while other estimates go up to half a million. But all agree that a particularly unpleasant aspect of the conflict is the extensive use of rape by armed militias as a weapon of terror, underlining the Darfur conflict’s status as one of the 21st century’s most intractable humanitarian disasters.
When: 2003 onwards
Where: Western Sudan
Death toll: Unknown, but estimated at anywhere up to 500,000 fatalities from all conflict-related causes.
You should know: The ICC (international Criminal Court) at The Hague filed genocide, crimes-against-humanity and murder charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2008. But like the UN the court too, was uncertain about the use of the term ‘genocide’. When an optimistic arrest warrant was issued, the genocide counts had been quietly dropped for lack of sufficient evidence’.