This post was written in 2008 and formed the basis of an article in the Invitation Magazine. At the time the humanitarian crisis in the Western Sudanese region of Dafur has shot to the top of the news agenda, but news reports did not always do a good job of explaining what is going on.
Since its independence in 1956, Sudan had been beset by coups and civil wars, with almost constant unrest since 1983 between government forces in the north and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM, led by John Garang) in the south. A painstakingly slow peace process was undertaken between 2002 and 2004 which resulted in a peace deal being signed in May.
Meanwhile, the last 15 or so years had also seen unrest in the western region of Dafur, where incidents between local farmers and largely northern nomads were common. Conflict escalated in 2007 when two armed groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), emerged from the local population. The groups demanded a better share in the national wealth, just as the southern rebel groups had done. They quoted statistics showing that some 80% of the government posts were allocated to northerners, who only composed some 5% of the population.
The current situation
The government, whose army was tied up in the south, supported militias known as the Janjaweed who attacked town and villages of the tribes, often with the support of army personnel and the airforce. Indeed, the respected organisation Human Rights Watch states that :
“The government-Janjaweed partnership is characterised by joint attacks on civilians rather than on the rebel forces. . . Many assaults have decimated small farming communities, with death tolls sometimes approaching one hundred people. Most are unrecorded. . . Villages have been torched not randomly, but systematically—often not once, but twice. . . The uncontrolled presence of Janjaweed in the burned countryside, and in burned and abandoned villages, has driven civilians into camps and settlements outside the larger towns, where the Janjaweed kill, rape, and pillage—even stealing emergency relief items—with impunity.
Despite international calls for investigations into allegations of gross human rights abuses, the government has responded by denying any abuses while attempting to manipulate and stem information leaks.. . . The government promised unhindered humanitarian access, but failed to deliver. Instead, reports of government tampering with mass graves and other evidence suggest the government is fully aware of the immensity of its crimes and is now attempting to cover up any record”.
The Charitable sector
After months of trying, charitable organisations had finally are now being given access to the area.
Two of the Muslim charities active in Dafur are Muslim Hands (Nottingham) and Islamic Relief (Birmingham).
BFTF talked to the Islamic Relief Regional programme manager for Africa, Makki A. Mohamed about the causes and effects of the conflict. He commented that:
“A number of interacting factors, including ethnic conflict, an increase in armed robberies, drought and the perceived marginalisation of Darfur has led to the formation of two political military opposition movements. The situation has been aggravated further by the appearance of the Janjaweed militia supported by the government but it seem that now they lost control over them and the fighting became more tribal in nature”, he said, adding that “initially access was very difficult (due insecurity and bureaucratic obstacles) and it was only when under external pressure that the Sudanese Government allowed NGO’s in Darfur. . The peak of the crisis was in January, when there were some 750,000 internally displaced people (now over 950,000), and 130,000 has fled to Chad”
Mr Makki went on to add that it was both insecurity and fear of violence that had caused this huge displacement of people.
Furthermore, he felt that pressure from the EU, UN and US, the Sudanese Government was now trying to reign in the militias, police the areas and use monitors from the African Union, who had also been stung into action.
The Political Sector
A charge often raised against Muslim organisations is that they only care about Muslims when the aggressor is non-Muslim (such as in Kashmir, Chechnya or Palestine), if, on the other hand the aggressor is a Muslim government or group then Muslim organisations turn a blind eye.
To see if this was the case, BFTF asked the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) if it had any comments about Dafur. Their spokesman was unaware of the conflict, or the 750,000 internally displaced Muslims. When sent information on the situation he suggested that western media can sometimes be a little suspect and that perhaps we should contact the Sudanese embassy.
Charity workers have expressed dismay at the inaction of the governments in surrounding Muslim countries, pointing out that they could have done a lot more, especially in the early stages of the crisis.
The Arab League finally managed to send a delegation in March, although nothing appears to have come of that (including a mission report to the public), whilst the OIC has yet to take any action at all.