Introduction

In February 2003 two armed groups, the 'Sudan Liberation Army' (SLA) and the 'Justice and Equality Movement' (JEM), started a war in Darfur, a region in the west of Sudan. These groups launched attacks on policemen, government garrisons and civilians in the area. Darfur is home to some 80 tribes and ethnic groups divided between nomads and sedentary communities. Many of the rebels appear to have been identified within two or three "African" communities such as the Fur and the Zaghawa tribes. These rebels and their communities have come under attack from several "Arab" tribes. It is clear that a variety of armed elements have been active in Darfur over the past year or so, either as participants in the war or taking advantage of the turmoil the conflict has caused. These forces include the two rebel groups and militias - such as the Tora Bora - associated with them, regular government forces, irregular government forces such as the Popular Defence Forces, pro-government "Arab" and "African" militias, "Arab" vigilante groups and any number of heavily-armed criminal gangs from both sides of the Chad-Sudan border - with many bandits having access to automatic weapons from Chad, the Central African Republic and from within Sudan itself.

Who are the "Janjaweed"?

The term "Janjaweed" has been used as a blanket term to describe most of the "Arab" gunmen active in Darfur today. The UN has described the "Janjaweed" as being made up of "Sudanese and Chadian horse and camel- riding Arab nomads, opportunists and 'criminals'" (1) There can be no simple analysis of the issue. (2) Darfur is an ecologically-fragile area and had already been subject to growing - and often armed - conflict over access to water and pastures. The war has greatly exacerbated previously-existing tensions. In perhaps the most objective reading of the crisis in Darfur, the UN media service observed: "The conflict pits farming communities against nomads who have aligned themselves with the militia groups - for whom the raids are a way of life - in stiff competition for land and resources. The militias, known as the Janjaweed, attack in large numbers on horseback and camels and are driving the farmers from their land, often pushing them towards town centres." (3) There is also no doubt that these militias, and criminal gangs, have exploited the security gap which opened up in Darfur following the murder by rebels of over 400 policemen and the destruction of dozens of police stations in a region the size of France or California in which law enforcement infrastructure was already badly stretched.

The UN media service has reported "that there was nothing new about tribal clashes between nomads of Arabic extraction and village farmers belonging to local African tribes in Darfur, but these days they have become much more deadly because the raiders were better armed." A foreign diplomat noted: "The Janjawid have kept their traditional values and ways of living. They do the same as they used to: they steal to get. Only this time, their weapons are more sophisticated". (4)

It has also become apparent that the Darfur issue has been caught up in the sort of propaganda and misinformation that has characterised previous coverage of Sudan. Several commentators appear to have opted for a partisan or lazy analysis of events in Darfur, seemingly unable to resist projecting the image of government-supported "Arab" - "Janjaweed" - militias attacking "African" villagers (and in doing so often merely echoing questionable rebel claims). This has been done despite the scarcity of reliable information. United Nations media sources, for example, have noted "a lack of accurate information on the conflict" (5) and Reuters has also stated that "it is hard to independently verify claims by government or rebels in Darfur." (6) Commentators have consistently reported - and attributed - human rights abuses within Darfur in circumstances in which independent confirmation of such assertions is impossible. The New York Times, while echoing many of these allegations of human rights abuses, was candid enough to admit that "it is impossible to travel in Darfur to verify these claims". (7)

Who Controls Whom in Darfur?

The Sudanese authorities have repeatedly and consistently denied that they are sponsoring "Janjaweed" gunmen in Darfur. Sudanese leaders from the President and ministers downwards have described "Janjaweed" gunmen as "outlaws". (8) The Sudanese foreign minister, Dr Mustapha Osman Ismail, has noted: "The problem is the word Janjaweed has become a coverall for so many things. There are militias that are outside the rule of law, and this is one of the things we are going to crack down on." (9) Simplistic readings of events in Darfur claim that Khartoum is in control of all those groups labelled as "Janjaweed" - this despite increasing evidence that these forces are out of control. (10)

A May 2004 United Nations media report stated that diplomats and Chadian government officials "question how much control Khartoum has over these nomadic horsemen". (11) That the militiamen that have come to be known as "Janjaweed" are out of control is clear. Many of these gunmen have on several occasions attacked civilians in Chad. (12) Chad is a mediator in the Darfur conflict. Chadian President Deby has in fact been seen as being sympathetic towards Khartoum, having - for example - previously committed several hundred Chadian soldiers to joint operations with the Sudanese army. (13) Ahmad Allami, President Idriss Deby's official spokesman, told IRIN: "Now, there is the feeling that Sudan does not have control over the militia and needs assistance." (14) Chad's acting Defence Minister, Emmanuel Nadingar announced that on 5 May 2004, the Chadian army clashed with a raiding party of Janjaweed 25 km inside Chadian territory and killed 60 of them. One Chadian soldier was killed and seven others were wounded in the battle. The UN report stated that "One captured Janjaweed fighter who was presented to the press in Chad this week confirmed fears that the militia were operating on their own initiative without necessarily following orders from Khartoum." The gunman stated: "Nobody sent us to Chad." (15) The idea that the Khartoum authorities would have directed militiamen under its control to attack Chadian civilians and President Deby's forces would make no sense - and clearly demonstrates the anarchy associated with those groups labelled as "Janjaweed".

The Government's Response

The Khartoum authorities have taken several steps to end abuses in Darfur. In June 2004, the Sudanese President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, ordered security forces to disarm all groups, including rebels and pro- government militia, in the conflict-ridden region of Darfur: "What happened in Darfur is bloody and severe for all Sudanese people, not only the Darfurians." (16) The Sudanese President announced a few days later that both Sudan and Chad had agreed to cooperate in the dismarning of militias on both sides of their border: "We have completed an agreement with Chad to collect arms in Darfur and the Chadian lands neighbouring Darfur at the same time...To disarm the groups in one area without the other would not help in resolving the problem.". (17) Khartoum's commitment to crack down on armed groups and gunmen in Khartoum was reiterated during the recent visit to Sudan by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. (18) In May 2004, the Sudanese government announced the setting up of a human rights panel, led by the former Chief Justice Dafaallah Alhaj Yousif, to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Darfur.

The Hypocrisy of the Human Rights Industry on Darfur

In addition to often overt bias on the part of human rights groups, they have also demonstrated considerable hypocrisy with regard to Darfur. Scores of Sudanese soldiers and policemen have been killed in tribal clashes and while trying to apprehend those suspected, including "Janjaweed", of criminal acts. While claiming that the Arab "Janjaweed" raiders are sponsored by the government, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International ignore the fact that the government has regularly taken very firm action against "Arab" tribesmen who have attacked "African" communities. In April 2003, for example, Sudanese courts sentenced 24 Arab armed bandits to death for their involvement in the murder of 35 African villagers in attacks on pastoralist villages. Judge Mukhtar Ibrahim Adam described the attacks as "barbaric and savage conduct" reminiscent of "the dark ages". (19) In a further example of the government's firm stance, in October 2003, 14 other Arab tribesmen were also sentenced to death for the murder of non-Arab villagers during attacks and arson within villages in south Darfur state. (20) There is also abundant evidence of the sorts of lawlessness that has plagued Darfur, including considerable "Arab" on "Arab" violence. In one incident alone in May 2002, as reported by the UN media service, 50 Arab tribesmen were killed in such clashes between the Arab Rizayqat and Ma'aliyah tribes. (21) (Would this qualify as '"Janjaweed" on "Janjaweed"' violence?) A special criminal court sentenced 86 Rizayqat tribesmen to death for involvement in the murder of these members of the Ma'aliyah tribe (the sentences are still pending appeals).

The stance of the human rights industry on criminal violence in Darfur has been contradictory. Amnesty International, for example, has previously criticised government inaction in responding to the violence and banditry in the region. In February 2003 Amnesty International stated that "government responses to armed clashes have been ineffective". (22) Amnesty has then condemned the government for taking measures to restore order, such as arresting tribesmen suspected of involvement in violence. (23) The scale of the violence had led to Khartoum introducing special measures, including the declaration of a state of emergency (24) and the establishment of eight special criminal courts created by presidential decree to deal with offences such as murder, tribal clashes, armed robbery, arson and the smuggling of weapons. These courts have subsequently handed down stiff sentences. Yet these actions have also been criticised by Amnesty International. (25) And at the same time these measures are being taken by Khartoum against the very Arab tribesmen that it is alleged the government are militarily supporting.

Conclusion

Those who attribute every single act of violence or criminality to the "Janjaweed" and claim that all these acts are on the instructions of the Sudanese government are either naïve or are seeking to deliberately mislead the international community. In either instance they ill serve the people of Darfur. It is essential to cut away the propaganda that is already clouding the Darfur issue. A negotiated settlement to the conflict must be reached. International pressure must be brought to bear upon those forces, national and international, that have been fuelling the fighting. The humanitarian needs of those who have been displaced must be met until those affected are able to return to their homes. Khartoum must address the criminality and armed banditry that has undermined law and order in Darfur. At the same time, however, lazy commentators and human rights organisations cannot have it both ways in criticising the Sudanese government for inaction and then attacking Khartoum for responding firmly to terrorism and lawlessness.

Notes:

[1]. "The Escalating Crisis in Darfur", News Article by Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nairobi, 31 December 2003.

[2]. See, for example, 'The Darfur Crisis: Looking Beyond the Propaganda', European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, March 2004, available at www.espac.org.

[3]. "Widespread Insecurity in Darfur Despite Ceasefire", News Article by Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nairobi, 3 October 2003.

[4]. "Janjawid Militia in Western Sudan Appears to be Out of Control", News Article by United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nairobi, 14 May 2004.

[5]. "The Escalating Crisis in Darfur", News Article by Integrated Regional Information Network, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nairobi, 31 December 2003.

[6]. "Pressure Seen as Key to Ending Sudan's Western War", News Article by Reuters, 28 January 2004.

[7]. "War in Western Sudan Overshadows Peace in the South", 'The New York Times', 17 January 2004.

[8] "Sudan and Chad Agree to Disarm Militias", News Article by Reuters, 23 June 2004.

[9]. "The Last Straw", Al-Haram Weekly (Cairo), Issue No. 686, 15 - 21 April 2004.

[10]. See, for example, "Janjawid Militia in Darfur Appears to be out of Control", News Article by Integrated Regional Information Network, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nairobi, 14 May 2004.

[11]. "Janjawid Militia in Western Sudan Appears to be Out of Control", News Article by United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Nairobi, 14 May 2004.

[12]. "Chadian Soldiers Kill 69 Sudanese Arab Militiamen", News Article by Associated Press, 18 June 2004.

[13]. "Special Report II: Chad And the Darfur Conflict", News Article by UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Nairobi, 16 February 2004.

[14]. "Janjawid Militia in Western Sudan Appears to be Out of Control", News Article by United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nairobi, 14 May 2004.

[15]. "Janjawid Militia in Western Sudan Appears to be Out of Control", News Article by United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nairobi, 14 May 2004.

[16]. "Sudan's President Orders Darfur Crackdown on Armed Groups, Including Militia", News Article by Agence France Presse, 19 June 2004.

[17]. "Sudan and Chad Agree to Disarm Militias", News Article by Reuters, 23 June 2004.

[18]. See, for example "Sudan, US Agree to Crush Militia", News Article by 'Sudan Vision' (Khartoum), 1 July 2004.

[19]. "Court Sentences 24 to Death for Killing 35 People in Tribal Raid", News Article by Associated Press, 27 April 2003.

[20]. "Sudan Sentences 14 to Death for Arson in Turbulent Western Province", News Article by Agence France Presse, 16 October 2003.

[21]. "State of Emergency After Southern Darfur Tribal Clashes", News Article by Integrated Regional Information Network, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nairobi, 22 May 2002.

[22]. "Sudan: Urgent Call for Commission of Inquiry in Darfur as Situation Deteriorates", Press Release by Amnesty International, 21 February 2003.

[23]. "Khartoum Stepping Up Arrests in Strife-Torn Darfur: Amnesty", News Article by Agence France Presse, 6 August 2003.

[24]. See, for example, "Sudan: State of Emergency after Southern Darfur Tribal Clashes", News Article by Integrated Regional Information Network, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nairobi, 22 May 2002.

[25]. See, for example, "Sudan: Alarming Increase in Executions in Darfur Region", Press Release by Amnesty International, London, 28 June 2002.

Related Link (s):

Darfur Information
- http://www.darfurinformation.com