Darfur – Facts and timeline

Sudan is the largest country in Africa (2.5 million square kilometres) and has a population of 35 million. Despite an abundance of oil and other natural resources, the vast majority of Sudan’s people live in poverty, and its Government has been described as ‘the most repressive regime in the world’.^1^

Darfur is an area in western Sudan the size of France. It is home to six million people living largely rural lives – some nomadic herders, some settled farmers. An entirely Muslim region, its name means Homeland (_Dar_) of the _Fur_ – one of its largest ethnic groups.

Facts

Darfur is currently one of the most dangerous places on the planet. It has 14,000 aid workers – the world’s largest humanitarian operation. But since the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed in May 2006, attacks (beatings, rape, robbery, assassination) against peacekeepers and humanitarian workers have increased ninefold. Twelve aid workers were killed in the second half of 2006, and seven African Union peacekeepers were killed in March 2007.

Since the current conflict began in 2003:

TIMELINE

2003

*February* Rebel attacks on Government targets begin in Darfur.

*July* The Government-supported Janjaweed offensive begins in earnest, causing thousands to flee their homes.

*December* Jan Egeland, head of UN Emergency Relief Co-ordination, declares that ‘the humanitarian situation in Darfur has quickly become one of the worst in the world’.

2004

*April* An African Union-brokered ceasefire is signed in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, then repeatedly violated by all sides.

*July* The UN Security Council gives Khartoum 30 days to disarm the Janjaweed, bring its leaders to justice and allow humanitarian assistance. The threat is not enforced.

*September* George W Bush declares that what is happening in Darfur is ‘genocide’.

*October* The African Union (AU) expands its mandate to protect civilians and sends in a peacekeeping force of, ultimately, 7,000 troops.

2005

*January* Government attacks on civilians decrease, partly because the majority of targeted villages have been destroyed and their inhabitants displaced.

*March* The UN Security Council refers the war crimes committed in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation.

*December* Chad declares itself ‘in a state of war’ with Sudan following violent clashes along the Darfur-Chad border.

2006

*May* The Darfur Peace Agreement, brokered by the AU, is signed by the Government of Sudan and a faction of the SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) rebel group. All the other rebel leaders reject it, saying it doesn’t address key issues such as power sharing and disarmament of the Janjaweed (who were not present at the negotiations.) The rebel movements begin to splinter and a surge in fighting between all sides follows.

*August* The UN Security Council passes resolution 1706, calling for a 23,000-strong UN-led peacekeeping force in Darfur by January 2007. But the resolution ‘invites the consent’ of the Government, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir states ‘there will not be any international military intervention in Darfur as long as I’m in power’.

*September* The first ‘Global Day for Darfur’ is held by campaigners around the world.

‘Devil on horseback’: a Janjaweed fighter.

ESPEN RASMUSSEN / PANOS PICTURES

*November* The Government agrees in principle to allow a ‘hybrid’ force into Darfur with enhanced UN support for AU forces. The Government subsequently adds many restrictions to delay the hybrid force becoming operational.

*December* The conflict is increasingly spilling over into Chad, as Chadian rebels supported by the Government of Sudan clash with Darfurian rebels supported by the Government of Chad. Tens of thousands of Chadians are displaced. Militia attacks on refugee camps in Chad increase, displacing some Darfurians for the third time.

2007

*February* The ICC indicts two people - Sudanese Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Ahmad Muhammad Harun, and _Janjaweed_ commander Ali Kushayb – for crimes against humanity in Darfur. This is the first time someone who is currently in government has been indicted by the ICC. Khartoum declares that it will not co-operate and instead will try Kushayb in its own ‘special criminal court’ – a clear attempt to pre-empt independent prosecution. Some Janjaweed leaders, concerned they may also be tried by the Government, start switching allegiance to the rebels.

‘Devil on horseback’: a Janjaweed fighter.

ESPEN RASMUSSEN / PANOS PICTURES

*April* Under pressure from China, Khartoum removes its opposition to 3,000 UN peacekeepers entering Darfur as part of the ‘hybrid’ force.

  • An Ethical Consumer Group report in April 2006 collated all the available information from different UN agencies and NGOs and concluded that Sudan was the most repressive regime in the world.
  • *Sources*
    Darfur Consortium, Google Earth, Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, UN agencies, Waging Peace.

    mag cover This article is from the June 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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