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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Sudan's Forgotten War by Amnesty International

For 20 years, Sudan has been in a deadly civil war between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). However, over the last year, the warring parties have participated in peace talks aimed at ending the war, which brought hopes that a final agreement will be reached in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, just as peace appears at hand for one part of the country, the same human rights abuses that characterized the larger conflict have erupted and plunged the people of Darfur into a nightmare that has been overlooked by policy makers anxious for a peace agreement.

Over 3,000 people have been killed and nearly one million displaced in what some are currently calling the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Most of these victims have been civilians. Yet Darfur has been often overshadowed by the peace talks, its remoteness, and the impediments the Sudanese government has placed on the way of humanitarian agencies and news reporters. The crisis in Darfur must be addressed quickly and forcefully by the international community, and the government of Sudan must protect the human rights of all its citizens and ensure that its forces and all allied militia cease to commit human rights abuses. Peace in Sudan must be for all Sudanese, not just for the parts that are currently in the headlines.

The Darfur conflict began February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)—new armed opposition groups—emerged and attacked government troops. The SLM/A claimed the attacks were in protest of what they believed was the failure of the government to protect settled villagers from attacks by nomadic groups and more generally, economic marginalization and underdevelopment of the region. Initially, the Sudanese government expressed intentions of finding a peaceful solution, but quickly chose to resolve the conflict by force in March 2003. The fighting has continued since then.

The rebel SLM/A and JEM are fighting government troops, as well as government supported militias. Yet, civilians are at the heart of the Darfur war, comprising the majority of casualties. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was “alarmed at the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan, and at reports of widespread abuses against civilians, including killings, rape and the burning and looting of entire villages.”

All parties involved in the Darfur conflict are responsible for human rights abuses. The Sudanese government continues to conduct indiscriminate bombings and other aerial attacks against clearly civilian targets and has failed to make militias it supports and government soldiers accountable. Of the government-supported militias, the Janjawid (armed men on horses,) are accused of being the main perpetrators of violence against civilians. There are reports that the Janjawid have killed, tortured, arbitrarily arrested or detained civilians, burnt down houses and villages, stolen and destroyed crops and looted cattle. Alarmingly, the Janawid attacks are reportedly taking on an ethnic bias as civilians attacked are mostly black Africans and the Janawid attackers are mostly Arab. The Janawid have reportedly referred to the residents of Darfur as “slaves.” The armed opposition groups, SPA/M and JEM, have committed unlawful killing, looting, arrest, and detention. All of the atrocities committed against civilians have been done with impunity thus far.

Amnesty International is calling for all parties involved in the Darfur conflict to immediately stop human rights abuses including the unlawful killing and abuse of civilian noncombatants. AI also calls on the Sudanese government to allow humanitarian organizations unhindered access to the region and hold its soldiers and aligned militias accountable for human rights violations against civilians.

Note: This first appeared at Amnesty International

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

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