The history of the situation in Darfur, a region in western Sudan, dates back decades. However, the most recent conflict began in 2003, often noted as the first genocide in the 21st century. The violence began after an insurgency perpetrated by two rebel groups: the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement; both groups denounced the Sudanese government for marginalization and oppression. Darfur’s rebels were inspired by what South Sudan accomplished: a negotiation of monetary funds, a power-sharing deal, and, most importantly, independence; the rebels of Darfur attempted to make similar demands. The fighting began in 2003, when a government backed militia called the “Janjaweed”, began committing widespread atrocities all over Darfur. This conflict quickly moved from fighting between rebel groups and Sudanese forces into full on slaughter, systematic destroying of villages, and government orders for the rape of women and children. Since 2003, the UN and the State Department estimate death tolls for the Darfur crisis are over 300,000 people. Additionally, there are over 4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Darfur and almost 500,000 people have fled to Chad, which neighbours Sudan. This horrible conflict got little to no attention or international help back when it first started and even less in the years since. The conflict has not been resolved and brutal violence against civilians continued long after 2003. Though the violence has died down 17 years later, the conflict is by no means over. Darfur is long for peace but it has not been reached.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was removed from his position just last year in a coup and was indicted by the International Criminal Court. However, the government still continues the violence against Darfur and continuously isolates the region. This continued isolation and lack of help means that millions of displaced people still cannot return home and many people have been living in camps for over 15 years now. So far, former President al-Bashir has only been sentenced to two years in detention due to corruption. However, the sentence has been criticized for being far too lenient. According to The Guardian, Sudanese authorities have just recently agreed to hand al-Bashir over to the Hague where he will face charges including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
The newest generation of Darfuris are growing up in refugee camps. Children are being taught in temporary schools. The older Darfuris, the people who had to flee their homes because of the horrible violence, are still too afraid to return. The Sudanese government claims that it is safe enough for the people living in the camps to go back to their homes but the people are scared. Mohanad Hashim, a journalist for the BBC, visited a camp in the region and many people told him that going back is not easy. There is no security in the region and many people say that their lands are still occupied by settlers brought in from other countries. There has been a slight shift in the attitude of the government in Sudan but the people responsible for the violence, genocide, and ethnic cleansing are still in power. For Darfuris, putting al-Bashir on trial is not enough. The new Prime Minister of the country, Abdalla Hamdok, has visited Darfur but the people in the camps say he has not visited them and has not seen the true destruction in the region.
In 2007, the UN sent some peacekeeping operations to Darfur, but now it looks like that mission is coming to an end. In November, the UN withdrew most of its troops and the remaining 200 left soon after. As soon as their base was cleared, it was looted as Sudanese government troops stood by and watched. When organizations like the UN and the African Union tried to develop programs to help Darfur, they were largely failures. These programs failed because they entirely ignored the problem – the Sudanese government. They focus on humanitarian aid and supporting the displaced people but did very little to stop the actual violence. The root of the violence stems from the government. This was a government organized genocide, not a conflict that erupted between populations. In order to cover-up the failure of these programs, peace in Darfur was exaggerated. Some claimed the war was over and some claimed peace was coming to Darfur. The failure of these operations caused its leadership to falsify successes; in turn, the suffering of millions of people was disregarded. Since 2003, when the genocide first began, individual governments did little to help and looked to international organizations such as the UN and the African Union to put an end to the violence. It took years for them to act and when they did, they failed. After their failure, instead of reforming the programs and actually attempting to help the millions of people living through an unimaginably violent genocide, they feigned success and tried to cover up the persisting violence and the continuing suffering of Darfuris. The violence is not over. Just last year, one of the camps in Darfur was burned down, displacing 40,000 people and killing 50. There were no consequences for this attack.
It seems that ever since 2003, the international community has been sitting back and hoping the crisis in Darfur comes to a peaceful end on its own. However, that attitude has not solved any problems and it never will. The peace keeping effort brought by the UN was never going to work because there was no peace to be kept. The African Union’s initiatives were not drastic enough and did not get to the root of the problem. Serious political energy needs to be committed to Darfur and Sudan. World governments and international organizations need to hold the government of Sudan responsible for what happened and continues to happen. Political pressure must come from countries, mainly in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, who give Sudan the most economic and diplomatic support. This continued and uninterrupted support is allowing the current government to keep their power and keep Darfur restricted and in a state of constant anguish. There will be no resolve if there are no consequences. The regime must commit to unrestricted humanitarian access and make serious commitments to work towards peace. Real security must be placed around camps so the people living there feel safe. This would mean bringing many militia groups and various unmanaged forces under control. Former President al-Bashir has been ousted but many of the people who worked under him are still in the government; they need to be removed in order to assure peace. Since violence still continues in the region, a complete end to the conflict will take a long time to achieve. When the violence stops, peace can begin to come back to the region. The displaced Darfuris living in Chad and in the camps in Darfur need to be able to return to their homes. Many of their homes and their land was given to supporters of the government regime; these people should get their land back. Peace is not an absence of violence. Ending the violence, suffering, and systematic rape and killing is merely the first step on the road to peace. Nevertheless, people cannot heal or rebuild while living in such an uncertain state filled with violence. Due to the longevity of the conflict and the incalculable amount of suffering, loss, and trauma that has afflicted Darfuri people, when the violence has finally ended there must also be extensive peacekeeping, rebuilding, and recovery efforts in Darfur.
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