The original conflict broke out after a rebel group began attacking government targets, claiming that the region was being neglected by its capital in Khartoum and oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs.
One side of the armed conflict is composed mainly of the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed, a militia group recruited mostly from the Arab Abbala tribes of the northern Rizeigat, camel-herding nomads. The Janjaweed are accused of the worst atrocities. The other side comprises a variety of rebel groups, notably the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), recruited primarily from the land-tilling non-Arab Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit ethnic groups.
The Sudanese government, while publicly denying that it supports the Janjaweed, has provided money and assistance to the militia and has participated in joint attacks targeting the tribes from which the rebels draw support.
The current lines of conflict are seen to be ethnic and tribal, rather than religious, some attest that the combination of decades of drought, desertification, and overpopulation are among the causes of the conflict, because the Arab nomads searching for water have to take their livestock further south, to land mainly occupied by Black African farming communities. There are now more than a dozen rebel groups - making peace talks extremely difficult.
The Sudanese government, led by President Omar al-Bashir admits mobilizing "self-defence militias" following rebel attacks, however it denies any links or control to the Janjaweed, who are accused of trying to "cleanse" black Africans from large swathes of territory. Refugees say that following air raids by government aircraft, the Janjaweed ride into villages on horses and camels, slaughtering men, raping women and stealing whatever they can find. Many women report being abducted and held as sex slaves for more than a week before being released.
After strong international pressure and the threat of sanctions, the government promised to disarm the Janjaweed. But so far there is little evidence this has happened. Trials have been announced in Khartoum of some members of the security forces suspected of abuses - but this is viewed as part of a campaign against UN-backed attempts to get some 50 key suspects tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Millions of civilians have fled their destroyed villages, with more than two million in camps near Darfur's main towns. The Janjaweed patrol outside the camps and Darfuris say the men are killed and the women raped if they venture too far in search of firewood or water.
As the conflict enters its sixth year, with much of Darfur inaccessible to aid workers and researchers, conditions continue to deteriorate for civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, even by the most conservative estimates. The United Nations puts the death toll at roughly 300,000, while the former U.N. undersecretary-general puts the number at no less than 400,000. Up to 2.5 million have fled their homes and sought safety in camps throughout Darfur, or in refugee camps in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. But many of these are camped along the stretch of the borders remain vulnerable to attacks from Sudan. As well Chad's eastern areas have a similar ethnic make-up and the violence has spilled over into the border area. Both capitals have also been attacked this year by rebel groups.
Based on Sudan’s actions over the past five years, it is clear that unless the international community imposes additional political costs for Sudanese President Bashir, his government will continue to buy time by either accepting initiatives only to backtrack later or impose new conditions that render them useless. The Sudanese government stresses that the situation and numbers are being exaggerated.
Humanitarian assistance in Darfur continues to be at risk of collapse, in part because of sustained harassment by the Sudanese government, and in part because of the government’s militia allies and common criminals. In September 2006, the United Nations estimated that such a collapse would cause up to 100,000 civilian deaths every month. Troublesome developments suggest that such a failure is becoming more likely with the World Food Program’s Humanitarian Air Service receiving no funding in the first three months of 2008. Last-minute donations totaling six million dollars funded it through the beginning of May and many aid agencies working in Darfur but they are unable to get access to vast areas because of the fighting.
The Save Darfur Coalition who is raising awareness and demanding an end to the genocide describe the current situation as follows:
In the second half of 2007, the Sudanese government’s divide-and-conquer strategy, described by Human Rights Watch as “chaos by design,” caused an increasingly frenzied free-for-all in Darfur. Rebel groups fragmented further and criminal activity as well as intertribal fighting increased exponentially. Still, the effects of tribal fighting should not be overemphasized. Of the eight largest displacements between January and November 2007, seven resulted from government or Janjaweed attacks. Only one was the result of intertribal fighting. In early 2008, deaths and displacements from military operations by the government, its allied militias and rebels were even more common relative to those caused by tribal conflicts.
Darfur activists and other human rights organizations wrote a letter to both presidential candidates this week outlining resolution SR 632:
Senator John McCain
Senator Barack Obama
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
August 7, 2008
Dear Senators McCain and Obama,
The day before Olympian Joey Cheek, a 2006 Gold Medalist in speed skating, was to travel to Beijing, the government of China revoked his visa. Mr. Cheek is one of the strongest voices in the pursuit of peace in Darfur.
Mr. Cheek and a group of other current and former Olympic athletes had been calling for an Olympic Truce for Darfur – a cessation of hostilities in the Darfur region for a period before, during and after the Games. The Olympic Truce dates from ancient Greece and has been revived as a diplomatic tool over the past several decades.
Earlier this week, Darfur activist leaders and human rights groups from across the country sent an open letter calling upon each of you, as US Senators and presumptive presidential nominees, to promptly announce your intention to co-sponsor a new resolution, SR 632, that urges the Chinese government and the broader international community to use the upcoming Olympic Games as an opportunity to push for peace and security in Darfur. We also asked that you support an Olympic Truce for Darfur in your public statements in the coming week and during the Olympic Games.
Although the Senate is in recess, additional Senate co-sponsors can submit their names now, to the offices of current co-sponsors, and those names will be officially recorded in September when the recess is over. As presumptive presidential nominees, your co-sponsorship will send a clear message to China and the international community that you are committed to help bring an end to the genocide in Darfur.
Your co-sponsorship of the resolution is critical, particularly in light of the significant advertising time your campaigns have purchased to air during the Olympic Games. We believe there is an obligation to balance the purchase of Olympic advertising time with a message about Beijing’s responsibility, as Olympic host and close partner of Sudan, to do more to bring security to Darfur.
Mr. Cheek’s visa revocation and Senate Resolution 632 both present important opportunities for you to act. The White House has already expressed the President’s concern and instructed the US embassy in Beijing to discuss Mr. Cheek’s visa with the Chinese government.
Last month, Mr. Cheek and more than 200 other athletes issued an open letter to world leaders calling for an Olympic Truce for Darfur. The athletes, including more than 70 hopefuls for the 2008 Games, called on world leaders to (1) ask the Government of Sudan to cease hostilities against civilians, at least for the 55-day truce period of the 2008 Beijing Games, (2) use the truce period to allow humanitarian workers to access the civilians in Darfur who have been without food, clean water and medical care for years and (3) make progress on deployment of peacekeepers.
We ask both of you to join these athletes – men and women who represent all that is great about American and Olympic values – and release public statements announcing your co-sponsorship of Senate Resolution 632 and your support for an Olympic Truce for Darfur.
American Jewish World Service
Ruth Messinger, President
New York, NY
Americans Against the Darfur Genocide
Nikki Serapio, Director
Palo Alto, CA
Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and Action
Roz Duman, Founder/Coordinator
Darfur Action Coalition of Wisconsin
Sachin Chheda, Coordinator
Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy
Founder/ Executive Director
Eileen Weiss, Director
New York, NY
Darfur People's Association of New York
Motasim Adam, Director
Dream for Darfur
Jill Savitt, Executive Director
New York, NY
Essex County Coalition for Darfur
Gloria Crist, Founding Member
Investors Against Genocide
Eric Cohen, Chairperson
Kentuckian Interfaith Taskforce On Darfur
Bob Brousseau, Chair
Louisvillians Helping to Save Darfur
Dave Robinson, Chair
Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur
Susan Morgan, Director of Communications
New York City Coalition for Darfur
Sharon Silber, Director
New York, NY
Physicians for Human Rights
Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer
San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition
Esther Sprague, Executive Committee
San Francisco, CA
Save Darfur Washington State
Deborah Jones, President
Martha Heinemann Bixby
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Charlie Clements, President and CEO
Use Your Voice to Save Darfur RI
Sandra Hammel, Director
In addition to contacting both Senators Obama and McCain (who have both remained silent on this to date) to co-sponsor SR 632 , you can also contact the Save Darfur Coalition.