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Genocide in Sudan


            Darfur in southern Sudan is roughly the size of Texas.   It was an autonomous state until 1916 when it was conquered by the British Empire and incorporated into Sudan.   The region has a diverse topography: high desert in the north and lush grasslands in the south.   Darfur is populated by some ninety tribes and countless sub-clans.   Almost all of the six million people in Darfur are Muslim, and after decades of intermarriage, almost everyone has dark skin and African features.  

            Despite this long tradition of ethnic mixing the population has recently begun to subdivide into “Arabs” and “Africans” who are sometimes referred to derogatorily as zurga or “blacks.” The peoples of Arab descent tend to be nomadic and usually and heard camels in the northern desserts and cattle in the southern grasslands.   The Africans mostly farm.   The three largest tribes are the Fur- Darfur, Zaghawa, and the Masaaleit.   The tribes have always competed for economic, non-ethnic reasons but these disputes were resolved between tribal leaders and these decisions were respected by the authorities in Khartoum.

            During the mid-eighties competition for land intensified. Regional drought and the expanding Sahara began to turn arable land into desert.   The Arab herders in the north began to resent the seasonal presence of Zaghawa herders it Arab territory.   African farmers became resentful and hostile toward the Arab camel herders from the north who trampled farmland in search of pasture.   Where the return of the nomadic Arabs of the north used to be celebrated as their animals fertilized the farmland and carried the southern goods to northern markets, now is viewed as a hostile intrusion.

            Back between 1987 and 1989, this resentment grew into fighting between the Fur farmers in the south and the Arab camel herders in the north.   Some twenty five hundred Fur were killed as were about five hundred Arab nomads.   The government in Khartoum mostly ignored the demands of both sides for justice and reparations.   The tensions grew for many years unchecked until violence broke out again.  

            In 2003, this tension took the form of the newly formed rebel group called the Sudanese Liberation Army.   The SLA was formed by those who claimed they were ‘ethnically African’ and were angry at the government for awarding all the top posts to the minority group of northern Arabs.   After being ignored by the government for over fourteen years, the Sudanese in the south felt their only option was to take up arms.   Despite its origins, the S.L.A. tried to be ethically inclusive in its manifesto and membership but could not avoid being perceptually tied to a single ethnic group by the government.

            In April of 2003, the S.L.A.   raided a government airbase with great success, capturing equipment and military prisoners.   Khartoum’s strategy to combat the rebels was to bomb them from the sky with the Sudanese Air Force while militia made up of Arab tribesman, armed by the government, would attack from the ground.   Khartoum decided not to use the regular Sudanese army because many of them were from the Darfur region and could not be trusted to attack their kinsmen.   The government used an ingenious media campaign to spur the Arab tribes people to take up the government provided arms and defend their homeland.   One of the first of these Arab militias to form at the government’s call is the now infamous, janjaweed.   The term janjaweed is now no longer a specific group but a catch all term that Africans in Darfur call any Arab with a gun.   The term is considered crude and insulting.   The leaders of the Arab militia use the term only for those bandits (African and Arab) who have been pillaging this part of the country for decades.   Diplomats in the international community use the term to describe the specific groups of Arab militia that attack civilian populations.



            The conflict between the people of African and Arab origins has led to the deaths of over 50,000 people and the displacement of over 1.4 million people.   The United States of America has pressed the UN to declare the atrocities in Darfur officially genocide. In a speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Powell noted that the 1948 Convention on Genocide, to which both Sudan and the United States are parties, provides that any party can call on the relevant U.N. agencies to take action to prevent genocide.   If the UN declares the acts of the janjaweed officially genocide it will be the first time the 1948 Convention on Genocide will have bee invoked since the agreement’s inception.   In response to the conflict the UN Security Council passed some resolutions including Resolution 1556 which orders the Sudan government to disarm the janjaweed.

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