Crimes against humanity in Darfur

Two million people displaced and up to 400,000 people killed in the continuing conflict in Africa's largest country. By John Duggan


Between 200,000 and 500,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Darfur, a region of Sudan, since July 2003. More than two million people have been displaced and are living in camps in Darfur itself or across the western border in Chad. In September 2004, the then US secretary of state, Colin Powell, characterised the conflict there as “genocide”.

The International Criminal Court has conducted an investigation into events in Darfur and the prosecution has concluded there are reasonable grounds to believe that Ahmad Muhammad Harun, a minister in the Sudanese government, and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (aka Ali Kushayb), the commander of the Janjaweed militia, “bear criminal responsibility in relation to 51 counts of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes”.

Sudan is the largest country in Africa. The Kushite kingdoms existed in Northern Sudan in biblical times. Much of the region was converted to Christianity during the third and fourth centuries AD.  Islam arrived in 640 AD. In 1820 it came under Egyptian and Ottoman rule and then under British domination. Britain established essentially two colonies in Sudan, one in the North and the other in the South. The north was mainly Mosel, the South Christian. Sudan became independent on 1 January 1956.

But before independence, a civil conflict broke out between the North and the South, a conflict which lasted until 1972. There was then a peace agreement which resulted in 10 years of peace but in 1983 the civil war reignited when the then president, Gaafar Nimeiry, broke the agreement which had given the South a great deal of autonomy. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was formed in the South in May 1983 to resist Northern hegemony and, particularly the imposition of Sharia law in September of that year.

The conflict led to the displacement of four million people and the death of an estimated two million. A peace agreement was signed between the two sides in January 2005, with the South gaining autonomy for six years and then having the option of independence if approved by referendum.
Meanwhile, conflict erupted in Darfur, a province in the west of Sudan, bordering on Chad. Initially the conflict arose from a famine in the area in the early 1970s but then it emerged that some of the rebel groups were intent on secession. A militia, the Janjaweed, was formed by government agencies to quell the rebel groups. There was a respite in 1994 but the conflict erupted again in 2003.

On 5 May 2006 the Sudanese government and the largest rebel group in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), signed a peace agreement which provided for the disarmament of the Janjaweed militia and the disbandment of the rebel forces. However, this broke down when a group of rebels who were not part of the agreement resumed the conflict.

The specific crimes for which Muhammad Harun and Ali Kushayb are allegedly responsible were committed during attacks on the village of Kodoom, and the towns of Bindisi, Mukjar, and Arawala in West Darfur between August 2003 and March 2004. According to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, “The attacks occurred during a non-international armed conflict between the government of the Sudan and armed rebel forces, including the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. The conflict involved rebel attacks on Sudanese government installations in Darfur and a counterinsurgency campaign by the Sudanese government.

“In April 2003, the rebels carried out an attack on Al Fashir airport in North Darfur, destroying aircraft, killing a number of military personnel, and kidnapping the Sudanese Air Force commander. This was a turning point in the conflict. After, Ahmad Harun was appointed Minister of State for the Interior of the government of the Sudan and tasked to head the ‘Darfur Security desk'. His position as head of the ‘Darfur Security desk' became critical.  
“Why? State and Locality Security Committees in Darfur reported to him, especially on matters relating to the staffing, funding, and arming of the Militia/Janjaweed. The security committees were comprised of representatives of the Sudanese armed forces, police and intelligence agencies plus the governors of each state. Shortly after Harun's appointment, the recruitment of Militia/Janjaweed greatly increased, ultimately into the tens of thousands.  

“The vast majority of attacks in Darfur were carried out by the Militia/Janjaweed and the Armed Forces, and were directed at areas inhabited by mainly Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes. The attackers did not target any rebel presence. Rather, they targeted civilian residents based on the rationale that they were supporters of the rebel forces. This strategy became the justification for the mass murder, summary execution, and mass rape of civilians  who were known not to be participants in any armed conflict. The strategy included the forced displacement of entire villages and communities. In this context, Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb acted together, and with others, with the common purpose of attacking the civilian populations of these four villages and towns.”

The prosecutor continued: “The evidence shows that Ahmad Harun visited Darfur on a regular basis and became known to people in Darfur as the official from Khartoum who recruited, armed, and funded the Militia/Janjaweed in Darfur. The evidence shows that Ahmad Harun provided funds to the Militia/Janjaweed from a budget that was unlimited and not publicly audited. The Militia/Janjaweed were paid in cash, and Ahmad Harun was seen travelling with well guarded boxes. The evidence shows that Ahmad Harun personally delivered arms to Militia/Janjaweed in Darfur. He was seen in aircrafts loaded with supplies of arms and ammunition, in some cases G-3s and Kalashnikov rifles. These landings were observed in the three Darfur States, North, West and South.

“The evidence shows that Ahmad Harun incited the Militia/Janjaweed to attack the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit people. Let me give you an example. In early August 2003, Harun arrived by helicopter in the town of Mukjar as Militia/Janjaweed, under the command of Ali Kushayb, were moving into the town. Ahmad Harun met privately with Kushayb and then gave a public speech. He stated that “since the children of the Fur had become rebels, all the Fur and what they had, had become booty” for the Militia/Janjaweed. Immediately upon his departure, Militia/Janjaweed looted the entire town.

“Ali Kushayb personally led attacks on these four villages and towns. By mid-2003, he was commanding thousands of Militia/Janjaweed. In one of the attacks in the Kodoom area in August 2003, Ali Kushayb was seen issuing instructions to the Militia/Janjaweed. Civilians were being fired upon as they fled.

“In Arawala, in December 2003, the evidence shows, Ali Kushayb personally inspected a group of naked women before they were raped by men in military uniform. A witness said she and the other women were tied to trees and repeatedly raped.

“The evidence shows that Ali Kushayb personally participated in a number of summary executions. For example, in or around March 2004 he was involved in the execution of at least 32 men from Mukjar. The evidence shows Ali Kushayb beating these men as they were being boarded into Land Cruisers. The cars then left with Kushayb in one of them. About 15 minutes later, gunshots were heard and the next day 32 dead bodies were found.
“Thousands of civilians died in Darfur either from direct violence or as a result of disease, starvation and the conditions of life imposed by the crimes. Rape is widespread. The conflict has resulted in more than 2 million internally displaced persons and over 200,000 refugees.”