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The Darfur Refugees’ Plight

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Anna Praz

2. Setting the Crisis in Context

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1Darfur is the westernmost province of Sudan, covering about 250,000 square meters, with a population of about 6 million people (UN Sudan 2010). Since 1994 it has been sub-divided into three administrative units bordering Libya, Chad and the Central African Republic respectively.

  • 6 Expression adopted by Darfur populations to refer to Arab militia men, literally meaning “evil hors (...)

2Since 2003, this province has been the stage for one of the worst manifestations of inter-tribal conflict and civil war, arising from multiple protracted disputes that came to a head at the beginning of the decade (see box 1). The conflict pits farmers against the nomadic herder populations in a competition for land and resources which are rendered increasingly scarce by population growth and desertification. The disruption of the system of reciprocity that had previously existed between these populations reinforced ethnic polarization between those living a nomadic life-style, or so called “Arabs”, and the “non-Arabs”, who are generally farmers and landowners (De Waal 2004). These divisions were capitalized on by the government of Sudan, in its determination to resolve the rebellion initiated in 2003 by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), fighting for the end of political and economic marginalization in Darfur. These groups, backed by Zaghawa, Massalit and Fur peoples – the historical landowners in the region – were counter-attacked by the government and by their local rivals, then named broadly “Janjaweed”6, whom Khartoum had reportedly armed.

3The counter insurgency, started in April 2003, reportedly brutalized the civilian communities of Darfur. About 2000 villages and settlements were set ablaze by aerial attacks and ground assaults (UNSC 2006). During this process, most forms of livelihood strategy were wiped out, assets stripped, local infrastructure pulled down, while rape, torture, and starvation came into use as means of warfare (Young 2005). Attacks on villages continued and reached their peak in February 2004 by which time the number of people killed in the attacks was estimated to be at least 92,000 (Petersen and Tullin 2005, 14–15). To this figure must be added deaths caused by conflict-induced displacement, diseases and starvation, estimated at almost 300,000 people in 2008 (Lancet 2010). The international community, unable to stop the atrocities at their peak, deployed an African Union Mission to Darfur before replacing it with a hybrid peacekeeping mission in 2008, UNAMID, mandated to protect civilians. In 2005, criminal activities were referred to the ICC, which reconfirmed the perpetration of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against the peoples of Darfur.

Box 1: Retracing the roots of the Darfur conflict
The causes of the conflict in Darfur are manifold, interwoven and complex. The narrative of the “tribal” or “ethnic conflict” needs to be understood in the context of several instances of social breakdown that occurred at the beginning of the 2000s.
The first can be described as the historical discontent of Darfur's populations towards the policies of the central government, which has adopted exploitative policies since the epochs of Turco-Egyptian and Anglo-Egyptian domination in the 18th century. Colonial Sudan was characterized by exploitation of manpower, natural resources and goods, both in Darfur and South Sudan (Quach 2009, 9). Over time, centrist power dynamics assumed an ethnic character. The Egyptians institutionalized the practice of the "Jallaba” - Arab procurers sent from Khartoum to trade in slaves from Darfur. Although slavery was officially abolished under the British-Egyptian condominium, Arabism and Islam became the symbols of a center of power in opposition to the “culturally black” periphery which could access power and wealth only “by their free will to alienate themselves from their people to serve the center loyally” (Hashim 2006, 12). Such divisions continued after independence in 1956, when a long civil war started between the “Arab north” and the “African south”, which intensified the politicization of Darfur, and the discrimination of Khartoum towards its peripheral regions (De Waal 2007, 3).
The second split relates to the livelihood strategies of the main ethnic groups inhabiting the province. Darfur is inhabited by numerous tribes with a predominance of the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa, traditionally sedentary farmers. A minority of the population, originally Arab, relies on pastoralism or temporary cultivation as main subsistence strategies. The relations between these tribes were traditionally collaborative, based on the collective administration of land according to the native customary land system. The customary system implied that plots had to be left open to feed grazing livestock belonging to pastoralist nomads (Olsson 2010, 15). At the time when Darfur was an independent sultanate, the system of the hakuras or dars emerged. The hakuras were land rights the sultanate could grant to holy men preaching Islam, or to other important persons. Over time, these rights were transformed into administrative akuras which the Sultan could distribute not only to single individuals but to entire tribes (8). Soon the Fur, the Massalit and the Zaghawa became the main landowners in Darfur. Such arrangements were kept in place during the colonial period, but began to be challenged after Sudan’s independence, a period marked by droughts, famines, declining annual rainfall, increase in the local population, and scarcity of land resources (Bush 1988, 6). In this period, cattle-raising nomads from Chad and northern Sudan started crowding into Darfur in search of sedentary settlements. Inter-tribal clashes and competition over resources disrupted the harmony of the system. Tensions increased with the gradual abolition of the local customary system by the central government. In 1970, the Government of Sudan adopted the Unregistered Land Act (ULA), stating that all unregistered land would be considered government property. In most of Darfur’s villages, where traditional authorities managed land rights, registration rarely occurred. This stance of the government was perceived once again as a sign of favoritism towards the Arab minority, and a sign of discrimination against the other tribes (UN Security Council 2005, 60).
Thirdly, these local dynamics were significantly influenced by the regional context. The Eritrean, Chadian, and Sudanese governments respectively empowered armed local proxy groups to either keep control over the region, or destabilize the Khartoum regime. In this respect, the role of Islam, and in particular Khartoum’s support for jihadist movements in the horn of Africa, played a central role in fueling international support to Darfur’s resistance (Flint 2007, 149-150). Regional support and the protracted grievances existing in the province help explaining the rise of two rebel movements in Darfur: the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). These movements began to organize themselves in the mid-90s when Darfur’s population was already disenchanted with Islamist leaders striving to promote equality among all Muslims in Sudan, in opposition to tribal discrimination (Heleta 2008, 4).

2.1 Trends in security and displacement

4The conflict had disastrous consequences in terms of displacement. At the time of this project, over 2.2 million people had been displaced in over 60 settlements inside Darfur, and around 290.000 refugees were located in 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad (IDMC 2012; UNHCR 2012). However, statistics underestimate the number of affected people that find themselves outside the camps. Darfur became one of the largest humanitarian operations in the world. The number of affected people inside Darfur, as well as the number of refugees in Chad have risen steadily since 2004 (Fig. 1, 2) which is at odds with the number of conflict-related deaths inside Darfur. Although it can be very misleading to use combatant fatalities as indicators – as they often do not reflect the number of security incidents or civilian deaths – it is clear that the levels of displacement are a reflection of other factors beyond the count of fatalities.

Fig. 1 No. of affected civilians and humanitatian workers in six periodes of the crisis

Fig. 1 No. of affected civilians and humanitatian workers in six periodes of the crisis

Source: Guha Sapir, Degomme (2011, 295). The period sub-division is: Period 1=February to August, 2003; Period 2=September, 2003, to March, 2004; Period 3=April to December, 2004; Period 4=January, 2005, to June, 2006; Period 5=July, 2006, to September, 2007; and Period 6=October, 2007, to December, 2008.

Fig. 2. No. of Refugees in Chad (in hundreds) and Battle-DeathsDarfur (2003-2010)

Fig. 2. No. of Refugees in Chad (in hundreds) and Battle-DeathsDarfur (2003-2010)

Source: Uppsala Conflict Dataset Program (2010).

5In the meantime, it has become difficult to assess the reality of “peace” or “conflict” inside Darfur. While the UN special envoy described it as “a low-intensity conflict, with a high risk of escalation”, US President Bush used the expression “genocide in slow motion” (UN Reuters 2009). Regrettably, the reality of Darfur has often been manipulated for political purposes in the absence of accurate and complete data about human security on the ground. This is also the result of a decline in the number and reliability of statistics coming out of Darfur after the 2009 ICC arrest warrants against perpetrators of mass atrocities were issued; these were followed by the expulsion of 13 aid agencies and over 40% of Darfur's humanitarian staff (ODI 2009). Those who remained, including peacekeepers, have been silenced, often pressured to report subjectively, or denied access to conflict zones. In this context of the “Sudanization” of Darfur, the early recovery agenda is being pushed forward as humanitarian aid diminishes in the aftermath of the Doha talks.

2.2 From DPA to DDPD and the role of displacement

  • 7 The volatility of actors, the lack of trust in the peace process, unfavorable regional dynamics and (...)

6Several attempts have been made by the international community to gather the conflicting parties and find a political solution to the conflict that is spreading insecurity and humanitarian concerns across the region. Diplomatic talks began as early as 2004 with the Ceasefire Declaration of Ndjamena, continuing into 2006 with the Abuja talks between the major rebel groups – JEM and SLA/M (by then fragmented into two factions) – and the government of Khartoum, under the auspices of the African Union. In 2006, the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed by the government of Sudan and one faction of the rebel movement – the SLA, led by Minni Minawi. During the Abuja Talks, it appears that key elements of Darfur's civil society were excluded from the negotiations, which help explain the lack of consensus and the retaliation on the ground following the signing of the agreement.7 The Doha talks, held in Qatar in 2010-2011, tried to address this gap. The international community, spearheaded by the UN and the AU, tried to bring together refugees, IDP leaders and traditional authorities in Darfur to build consensus among the victims. However, key rebel groups such as JEM and SLA/M boycotted the talks, and only the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) – a splinter coalition – signed the final document. The Doha Declaration for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), agreed upon in July 2011, fleshed out provisions for wealth and power sharing, compensation, reconciliation and the return of IDPs and refugees.

7In the implementation phase of this peace agreement, however, it became apparent that the provisions on voluntary return were at the top of the agenda. LJM leader, Tijani Sese, stated: “The success of the Doha agreement depends on the closure of the displacement camps voluntarily“ (Sudan Tribune 2011); the government-led Humanitarian Aid Commission presented a 2011–2016 strategy for return and reintegration of the displaced of Darfur (OCHA 2011, 5). Internal IDP conferences and meetings in Chad have already been taking place to spur on the process. However, for the moment, the results remain poor. While thousands of South Sudanese have been heading to their country after independence, post-Doha voluntary returns to Darfur have been limited, especially among refugees. Up to June 2012, no case of return has been officially registered by the UNHCR inside the camps in eastern Chad (section 5).

Notes

6 Expression adopted by Darfur populations to refer to Arab militia men, literally meaning “evil horsemen”.

7 The volatility of actors, the lack of trust in the peace process, unfavorable regional dynamics and diplomatic deadlines were some of the other factors which prevented the DPA from creating security on the ground and finding a political solution to the conflict (Nathan, 2007:245).

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 No. of affected civilians and humanitatian workers in six periodes of the crisis
Crédits Source: Guha Sapir, Degomme (2011, 295). The period sub-division is: Period 1=February to August, 2003; Period 2=September, 2003, to March, 2004; Period 3=April to December, 2004; Period 4=January, 2005, to June, 2006; Period 5=July, 2006, to September, 2007; and Period 6=October, 2007, to December, 2008.
URL http://books.openedition.org/iheid/docannexe/image/2342/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 292k
Titre Fig. 2. No. of Refugees in Chad (in hundreds) and Battle-DeathsDarfur (2003-2010)
Légende Source: Uppsala Conflict Dataset Program (2010).
URL http://books.openedition.org/iheid/docannexe/image/2342/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 107k

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