International affairs, peace
and human security
To understand how a human-made tragedy of this proportion has come about, it is necessary to understand the background of the region. The Darfur region, which is roughly the size of France, is inhabited by farmers, who are generally described as black Africans, and “pastoralists” who regard themselves as Arabs. Conflicts between these groups have been going on for centuries. However, these have generally been settled through negotiation. Since the 1970s, climate change has increased the desertification of this region, which has resulted in an increased pressure on the land and competition for diminishing resources. In the 1980s and 1990s, the conflicts intensified, both because of drought and the government's policy of arming the pastoralists, while at the same time disarming the farmers.
The Sudanese government has for many years been following a policy of Islamization and arabization in the country. It is the policy of arabization that has had the most significant impact in Darfur. Religion is not an issue in the conflict, as the population on both sides is overwhelmingly Muslim. Until recently, even ethnicity had been somewhat fluid, as pastoralists and farmers have had a long history of economic interdependence and intermarriage. The situation has now changed, and a conflict, which originated as competition over resources, is now increasingly viewed as a racial conflict.
Darfur has long been a region considered as being peripheral to Sudan, and has served as a source of cheap labour. The government scarcely allocated resources to the development of this region, and like inhabitants of other peripheral regions, people in Darfur had called for greater autonomy from the central government. Successive Sudanese governments have played the ethnic card as one of their essential tactics for dealing with dissent. As they did against groups in the south of Sudan, they armed pro-government militias to carry out raids against the so-called “African” tribes of Darfur. These armed militias, known as the “Janjaweed” are not paid but receive their compensation through their “spoils of war". Extreme forms of dehumanisation have occurred through their repeated raids on villages of “African” tribes in Darfur, and reports of killings, expulsions, rapes, and abductions. In the 1990s, tens of thousands of people fled into neighbouring Chad. The Sudanese government compounded a situation already fraught with tension by assigning ownership of land whose original owners had been killed or driven away by the Janjaweed to the Arab occupiers of these properties.
Since 2001, Darfur has been governed by the central government by decree and there has been a harsh crackdown on any criticism of the government. This led to the formation of two resistance movements, the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). In late 2003, these two groups took up arms as a result of the worsening situation in Darfur and as a result of their frustration at being excluded from the internationally sponsored peace talks taking place between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) in southern Sudan. The Sudanese government responded by giving a free rein to the Janjaweed militia and its own forces throughout the Darfur region. For months, the Sudanese government deflected international attention, claiming that the situation was not as bad as was reported, or that the Janjaweed were beyond their control. They also discounted warnings of a widespread famine.
There is detailed and documented evidence of collusion with and coordination between government forces and the Janjaweed. The government has conducted extensive aerial bombardments against civilians, as it did in southern Sudan. Raids on villages, which were executed by the Janjaweed, followed up the aerial bombardments. The destruction resulted in the current crisis, compounded by an environmental disaster in the form of a widespread famine.
The scale of this humanitarian disaster is difficult to comprehend. As noted earlier, almost a quarter of Darfur’s population of 6 million is now displaced. It is estimated that there are 1.2 million internally displaced people within Sudan and 200,000 in refugee camps in Chad. Even those who are in IDP camps within Sudan or refugee camps across the border in Chad are still not safe from ongoing raids and attacks by the Janjaweed. Even so, many more people are reported to be attempting to flee to the refugee camps, but are being attacked as they try to make their way to safety.
With such large populations gathering in the camps, the logistics of trying to get adequate supplies to them is daunting. Concern has been expressed that the international community will be not be able to meet the needs of the people in the camps, putting tens of thousands of lives at risk. Until recently, the Sudanese government was deliberately hampering access and supplies of goods by humanitarian groups to those displaced within the borders of Sudan. The government now however claims to be co-operating with humanitarian agencies, although there are still reports of access to some displaced populations being difficult or impossible, mainly due to a lack of security and the inaccessibility of parts of the Darfur region.
This unfortunate crisis is happening at the time when we are seeing a sign of hope in Southern Sudan, where the Government of Sudan and SPLA/M have signed several peace protocols. What is expected soon is the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement. Once a comprehensive agreement is signed, there will be a major need for relief, rehabilitation, resettlement, repatriation and reconciliation. It is therefore important that as we focus our attention on the situation and humanitarian needs of Darfur we do not lose sight of the overwhelming humanitarian needs of Southern Sudan and other affected areas. What is required is a comprehensive approach and response.
Link to WCC background on Sudan peace process, other web links)
The international community was slow to respond politically to the increasingly urgent and ominous early warnings that were sounded regarding the situation in Darfur. Even while the 10th anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda was marked, with promises that the world would never again stand by and watch while such a tragedy happened, the situation in Darfur continued to worsen.
The African Union with its small number of military observers stationed in Darfur monitoring the situation, have also issued strong statements about the possibility of going ahead with military intervention on a much larger scale, should atrocities against civilians continue, which in fact they are. In addition, the Congress of the United States of America passed a resolution labelling the situation in Darfur as genocide.
The response of the international community to the humanitarian needs has also been somewhat delayed. It has to be increased immediately and dramatically if it is to save the lives of the tens of thousands of people caught up in the conflict. This demands a focused and joint effort by the UN, the African Union, major international and regional powers, the global donor community and NGOs. While political and diplomatic efforts are aimed at resolving the on-going conflict, equal effort is needed to ensure that the humanitarian capacity in the region is increased. As noted by the president of the International Rescue Committee, “the existing health crisis in Darfur is greatly exacerbated by a capacity and logistics crisis. Even with UN and international aid groups vamping up humanitarian assistance, current capacity in the region is by best estimates meeting only 40 percent of the critical needs of the displaced population.”
UN Security Council resolutions
The ecumenical community has strongly condemned the situation in Darfur.
The Sudanese church leaders at their meeting on April 5, 2004, issued a statement on the armed conflict in Darfur, which said, "As Church Leaders guided by Christian values of love, justice, care and compassion, we are obliged to speak out for people in Darfur who are facing immense suffering as a result of the ongoing armed conflict. At such a crucial moment through which the people in Darfur are passing, we do here identify with them and commit ourselves to:
1. Pray and advocate for the suffering people of Darfur so that God may grant them peace.
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, on May 27, 2004 sent a letter of appeal to the President of the Republic of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, saying that "the World Council of Churches urges Your Excellency to work for an immediate end to the hostilities and to take steps to resolve the conflict through a negotiated settlement so that much needed humanitarian relief is able to reach those who are in desperate need of such assistance. We also urge you to take steps to put an end to the human rights violations and ensure that those guilty of committing acts of violence and human rights abuses are brought to justice."
The general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, Rev. Dr. Mvume Dandala, on May 21 also made a statement following his visit to Khartoum, raising, amongst other issues, that of Darfur, where "the recent unfolding situation truly leads itself to a genocide in the making. It resembles Rwanda ten years ago when the world merely watched as tragic events took place.”
The Sudan Ecumenical Forum (SEF) Assembly, comprising the Sudanese church and its international partners under the auspices of the World Council of Churches, met in June 2004, and in its final declaration stated the following regarding the situation in Darfur:
Add the statements from SCC, the Catholic Bishops of Sudan and the WCC Executive Committee. Link to the full statements.
With regard to humanitarian assistance, the ecumenical and global alliance of churches and their related agencies, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, has joined forces with Caritas International to bring together a vast network of Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Churches and agencies to provide humanitarian aid to some 500,000 displaced persons and supplementary food assistance to another 50,000 children. (update if necessary and link to ACT page)
In response to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, a call is hereby made to churches worldwide to express their solidarity with the churches and people of Sudan and particularly with the people of Darfur through prayer, action, advocacy and expressions of solidarity.