Darfur: Background to the Conflict
|Since February 2003 war has raged in Darfur, western Sudan. |
In response to a rebel uprising, which demanded proportional political representation and equitable access to the country's significant economic resources, the Government of Sudan launched a violent campaign against the people of Darfur.
|Government armed Janjaweed militias, supported by the Sudanese Air force, carried out violent attacks in villages throughout the region. The villages of Darfur, predominantly inhabited by native African tribes, were bombed and burnt to the ground, their inhabitants raped and murdered. Survivors were forcibly displaced to make shift camps within Darfur, neighbouring Chad and elsewhere.|
Darfur has been labelled widely and consistently as the site of the world's worst humanitarian disaster since it was described as such by United Nations (UN) officials in 2004. Various reports estimate that since the outbreak of violence in 2003 between two and four hundred thousand people have died as a result of fighting and conflict induced malnutrition and disease. Three million have been displaced and four million people remain entirely dependent on limited humanitarian assistance.
Roots of the Conflict
The triggers of this conflict are complex and interwoven. Factors include environmental degradation (resulting in conflict over access to resources), previous famines, political neglect resulting in a lack of development (poor health services, poor infrastructure, breakdown in education, poor economic development, etc), and outside interference (British colonialism, Libya, Islamic expansionism, conflict in the South etc).
The conflict erupted in February 2003 when the Sudanese Liberation Army attacked government forces and infrastructure in Darfur. The motivation for the initial attacks were related fundamentally to government neglect and a lack of development. The government of Sudan responded with troops and by backing militias, known collectively as the Janjaweed. The war can loosely be defined as one between 'Arab' aligned pro-government groups and 'non-Arab' aligned groups. The Janjaweed and government forces have used indiscriminate force to attack villages and towns across Darfur. Villages have been razed; women, men and children have been raped, tortured, and murdered.
There are several rebel movements fighting against the government and 'Janjaweed' militias. These include the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). These groups are not coordinated with each other, have both experienced splits from within and have fought over territory in the past.
Darfur Peace Agreement
Signed in May 2006, the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was made between the Sudanese government and a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army. While it was the first step towards ending the violence in Darfur, peace negotiations leading to the DPA were flawed and the resultant agreement was weak. Not only did two major rebel groups; the Justice and Equity Movement and the Abdul Wahid faction of the SLA refuse to sign, but the agreement has not been effectively implemented.
Violence has escalated since the agreement was made, particularly as a result of the fragmentation of rebel groups. There has also been systematic looting, increased displacements, hundreds of deaths and numerous reports of sexual and gender based violence.
On 31st July 2007, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1769 authorising the deployment of the United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). This 26,000 strong force was expected to be deployed in Darfur on 1st January 2008. To date, however, there are only 9000 troops on the ground and the UN expects it will take up to a year for the full force to be deployed.
The mission has been delayed by obstacles imposed by the Sudanese government, as well as insufficient contributions of troops and essential equipment including helicopters.
The majority of the 20,000 peacekeepers that make up UNAMID have been pledged by African states. The UN has repeatedly announced that the force lacks key military capabilities such as air assets vital for the delivery of aid and medical supplies.
Despite specific requests from the United Nations, the Government of Australia has so far only committed 9 military officers to this peacekeeping force, claiming our military is "overstretched". However, it seems that Australia is in an ideal position to provide air assets vital to the timely and successful deployment of the urgently needed peacekeeping force. A recent paper by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute concluded that while the Australian Defence Force is busy, it is not overstretched. Of their 34 Black Hawk, 41 Kiowa, 25 Iroquois, 6 Chinook and 6 Tiger helicopters, only 8 Black Hawk and 4 Kiowa are currently deployed offshore.
Assisting the peacekeeping effort in Darfur is in the national interest and is consistent with the Australian government's championing of the internationally accepted principle of the Responsibility to Protect. Put simply, this principle states that where a sovereign government does not have the will or capacity to protect its own citizens, the international community has the responsibility to do so.