Sudan: Government failure leads to humanitarian crisis

Since April half a million refugees fleeing nomad militias known locally as 'Arabs' or 'Janjawid' (armed men on horseback), have flooded into towns in Darfur with little capacity to cope with them. Within Darfur itself rural areas are devastated. Thousands of refugees have crossed the border to Chad.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'At the very least the Sudanese government has totally failed in its obligation to protect its own people. The testimonies of scores of refugees describing attacks on rural communities by militias which included members of the armed forces has led us to conclude that some elements in the army are encouraging this devastation.'

Amnesty International delegates visited nine settlements in eastern Chad, from Tine in the north to Birkengi in the south. They spoke to refugees, including members of an Arab group which had refused to join the militias, Chad government officials and representatives of UN and non-governmental organizations. They described a dangerous humanitarian crisis.

Lesley Warner continued:

'The refugees are in an extremely vulnerable position. They have little or no food and difficult access to water, they live in precarious shelters and suffer badly from the cold at night.

'We heard how hungry refugees returned to their villages to search for food and were killed. There have also been cross border raids by militias - in one, on Kolkol camp, a woman, Aysha Idris was killed and cattle were taken; three men pursuing the militia were also killed.'

In Chad, there has been a limited distribution of food and non-food items to the most vulnerable refugees in a few sites. Some refugees have not yet been accessed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the local authorities because of poor road infrastructure and lack of adequate transport for long distances. Many have not yet been properly registered.

Refugees in widely scattered areas told Amnesty International how militias armed with Kalashnikovs and other weapons, including bazookas, often dressed in green army uniforms, raided villages, burnt houses and crops and killed people and cattle. They described deliberate killings and allegations of abduction and rape by the Janjawid. Some refugees described how villages were bombed by government planes. People detained by the military described torture and appalling conditions of detention.

Amnesty International believes the situation in Darfur is at risk of rapidly degenerating into a full-scale civil war where ethnicity is cycnically exploited, and some will want to take revenge for those killed, seek arms to defend themselves or join armed opposition groups. It has the potential for a major humanitarian disaster. Many attacks have happened before farmers were able to harvest, fields have been burnt, people killed, cattle looted, and homes destroyed. On top of this the government is severely restricting humanitarian agencies' access to the displaced.

Lesley Warner said:

'The international community must show the same determination and use the same pressure to end the conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur as it is doing in the peace process to end the war in the southern Sudan between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA).'

Amnesty International is calling on the Sudanese government to address the political and human rights crisis in Darfur and to take steps to restore peace and security in the areas of conflict. The government should:

  • take immediate action to protect civilians in Darfur from deliberate attacks by armed groups;
  • ensure unimpeded and secure access for humanitarian organisations to all internally displaced people in Darfur;
  • strengthen the Tripartite Commission set up under the ceasefire agreement in September with international monitors including human rights monitors;
  • ensure they are able to travel freely throughout the region to oversee respect for the ceasefire and investigate and report publicly on ceasefire breaches;
  • hold the perpetrators of human rights abuses, including soldiers of the Sudanese army and members of militia groups, accountable, by bringing them to justice in fair trials, without the application of the death penalty or other cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment;
  • set up an independent and impartial Commission of Inquiry which should examine the complex causes of the crisis, report publicly and make recommendations which must be implemented immediately;
  • provide redress and rehabilitation for the victims of human rights abuses.

Furthermore, all armed groups active in Darfur, including the government-aligned Arab militias, the opposition Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the opposition Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), should declare their commitment to human rights and ensure that their combatants do not commit human rights abuses, including deliberate killings of civilians, rape, torture and attacks against civilian targets. They should also ensure unimpeded and secure access for humanitarian organizations and ceasefire monitors in all areas.

The Chadian authorities and the international community, including UNHCR and other UN agencies, should:

  • ensure that refugees from the conflict in Darfur are not forced to return to areas where they would be at risk of human rights abuses;
  • use every possible influence to end human rights abuses in Darfur and avert a worse human rights crisis;
  • provide support to humanitarian organisations bringing relief to the victims of the conflict inside Darfur or in refugee camps in Chad;
  • make all possible efforts to ensure that refugees in Chad are in locations where they will not be at risk from cross-border raids; and
  • ensure that the basic protection and humanitarian needs of the refugees and internally displaced persons are met.


In an apparent attempt to conceal the dangerous consequences of this violent political conflict, the Sudanese Government has barred or severely restricted the outside world from access to the internally displaced people in Darfur. Amnesty International delegates travelled to Chad from 12-26 November to talk to the Sudanese refugees scattered along the border.

The sedentary population of Darfur have complained for many years that nomad militias armed by the government were raiding and looting their villages and killing their people. The government has said that the problem was one of desertification and competition for scarce resources and denied that security forces failed to act against abuses.

In January 2003 an Amnesty International delegation visited Darfur and called for the conflict to be solved by reconciliation. The organisation called for an impartial Commission of Inquiry to be set up to examine the complex causes of the crisis and make recommendations to resolve it which should be implemented immediately.

In February 2003 a group of Fur, Zaghawa, Masalit and other agricultural groups formed the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) which attacked the Sudan government forces saying they had failed to protect the farming population. Another group formed an armed group known as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

From February, the conflict worsened. The SLA attacked the security forces, including El Fasher military airport, while the Sudanese authorities appear to have given free rein to the pro-government militias to attack the sedentary population whose members had joined the SLA or the JEM armed groups.

One refugee at Birak refugee camp told delegates:

'The Arabs and the soldiers came to Amir, our village, at 8am with Kalashnikovs, bazookas, and another weapon mounted on a vehicle. They killed 27 persons. There were also bombings in Amir. Before, we had good relations with the Arabs. The problem is the involvement of the government.'

Yet another refugee in Birak from Jafal said that the Janjawid told them: 'You are opponents to the government, we must crush you. As you are black, you are slaves. The government is on our side. The government plane is on our side.'

In September 2003, a ceasefire was agreed between the Sudanese government and the SLA/M under the auspices of the Chadian government. A committee, the Tripartite Commission, composed of five members each of the Sudanese army, the SLA/M, and the Chadian military, was created to monitor cease-fire violations and oversee an exchange of prisoners between both sides. In October, the cease-fire was extended until 4 December, the date at which negotiations are set to start. However, bombings by the Sudanese air force, attacks by Arab militias and attacks by the opposition Justice and Equality Movement have continued.

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