Peace remains elusive in Darfur, despite an agreement signed with Sudan’s current transitional government, which came to power in 2019. Starting in 2003, the Sudanese military and their proxy militia, known as the Janjaweed, perpetrated a campaign of mass murder, rape, and ethnic cleansing directly primarily against the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit ethnic groups. Almost two decades later, Darfur remains a conflict riddled and blighted homeland for its inhabitants. The United Nations estimates more than 300,000 people have died as a result of violence, starvation, and disease while nearly three million people have been driven from their homes and forced into refugee camps in neighboring countries or Internally Displaced Person camps (IDP) within Sudan. Ethnic violence that broke out in early 2021 has already left upwards of 500 people dead, with many of the victims in IDP camps. The new Sudanese government has been slow to appropriately intervene and de-escalate the situation, creating new concerns about its commitments to keep the region safe and address issues.
When • 2003 – present
Location • Western Sudan in Central/East Africa
Estimated Dead • 300,000+ (Source: UN)
Displaced Persons • 2.7 million (Source: UN)
The conflict in Darfur began in 2003 with the onset of the Darfur Rebellion, spearheaded by two rebel groups drawn mainly from non-Arab ethnic groups, including the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit. The rebels, known as the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), sought greater autonomy for Darfur. This desire for autonomy stems from the unfair way that successive governments have ruled what is an ethnically diverse country.
The North of Sudan is comprised primarily of Arab Muslims, and the South is composed mainly African Christians. Darfur, in the west, is overwhelming Muslim with a diverse population of both African and Arab ethnic groups who had managed a fairly peaceful co-existence before the Sudanese government launched divisive policies in the region. Power, however, has always been concentrated in the north of the country, leaving the other regions – and those from the non-Arab and/or non-Muslim groups who inhabit them, both marginalized and without representation. This disparity in power has led to two protracted civil wars between the north and the south that left over two million dead.
The Darfur Rebellion began just as the Second Sudanese civil war was finally coming to a close, and the northern government and the southern rebel movements were finalizing the conditions for an independent South Sudan. War-weary from decades of civil war and keen on sustaining the territorial integrity of the Sudan, the Sudanese government led by longtime President Omar al-Bashir sought to silence the Darfur rebellion quickly and aggressively. After a year of fighting rebel groups, the government offensive transitioned to attacking civilian population centers in 2004. The Sudanese government employed a scorched-earth policy, in which they not only attacked rebel strongholds but also destroyed villages and civilian population centers in order to eliminate any support for the rebel groups or autonomy in the region. Sudanese soldiers and Janjaweed militia engaged in a campaign of murder and destruction, leaving tens of thousands dead and many more fleeing for their lives. By 2006, the UN classified the conflict in Darfur as the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis.”
Beginning in 2005, The UN and the African Union began stationing peacekeeping troops in Darfur, but they were prevented from taking offensive measures to stop Janjaweed or the Sudanese government’s attacks. As a result of the popular revolution that finally brought down the Bashir regime in 2019 and Sudan’s new transitional government signing a peace agreement with most of Darfur’s rebel groups in 2020, both the UN and African Union announced a phased withdrawal of peacekeepers. As the drawdown began in early 2021, so did the escalating regional domestic violence, resulting in mounting security concerns being expressed by members of the international community.
Timeline of critical events in Darfur
2003 – Conflict begins.
2004 – African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) is established.
2004 – U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell calls the situtation in Darfur a genocide.
2005 – Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is signed by the government of Sudan and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
2006 – Sudan rejects UN Resolution 1706 that calls for a peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
2007 – International Criminal Court (ICC) issues the first arrest warrant for crimes committed during the Darfur genocide.
2008 – African Union-United Nations Hybrid Mission (UNAMID) takes over for AMIS.
2009 – ICC issues arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir.
2011 – South Sudan votes for Independence.
2011 – Doha Document for Peace is signed by the government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM).
2013 – Ceasefire agreement signed between the government of Sudan and part of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
2016 – Protest movement begins over fuel subsidies and evolves into revolt against President Omar al-Bashir.
2018 – Protest erupts again, initially due to austerity measures, but shifts to calls for removal of President Bashir.
2019 – Sudanese Revolution
– February – President Bashir declares a state of emergency.
– April – Historic sit-in protest in Khartoum.
– April 11 – The Sudanese Army arrests President Bashir.
– May 15 – The Transitional Military Council (TMC) takes power, with immediate pushback from citizens, specifically the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC)
– June 3 – Khartoum Massacre
– July 5 – Power sharing agreement established between the TMC and FFC.
– August 17 – Constitutional Declaration signed by members of the TMC and FFC.
2020 – UNAMID leaves, opening the door for rising violence in western region.
2021 – Sudanese government agrees to hand ex-President Omar al-Bashir over the ICC.