By Maria Mitri
Darfur, a region in Southern Sudan, has been embroiled in deep conflict since a revolt in 2003 which sought to overthrow President Omar Al Bashir’s government, a government that faced accusations of crimes against humanity, including attacks against innocent civilian populations. Al-Bashir himself came into power by way of revolt in 1989, after which he became chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation.
During his mandate, he dissolved the parliament, banned political parties, and imposed severe restrictions on the press within the country. This erosion of democratic processes within Sudan continued, as Bashir responded to protests and criticisms with violence, and stoked conflict between ethnic groups and tribes.
A year after the revolution began in the early 2000’s, the transitional government that followed al-Bashir signed a peace agreement with the rebel groups within Sudan. Despite this, violence has continued in Darfur and following an episode of peace, tensions were renewed in 2011 when al-Bashir, following his reelection, ordered troops to invade the Abyei region in southern Sudan and claimed it a justified decision following an attack by Southern Sudan on the North.
However, this invasion resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of residents, and al-Bashir claimed the Abyei region to be under Northern control, despite the South’s verified secession . Another peace treaty was signed in 2011 between al-Bashir’s government and a rebel group in Darfur, but conflict persisted and by the end of 2014, according to Britannica, about 650,000 people fled Sudan as refugees, and 1,873,000 were internally displaced.
Since the middle of November 2021, there’s been a general uptick in violence against civilians in Darfur, the result of the general destabilization of the region. In December of 2020, according to Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Security Council terminated the mandate of the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force, putting the onus on the government to assume total responsibility for civilian safety.
Nine years after the withdrawal, violence between armed groups increased, bearing a massive impact on civilians, typically viewed as collateral damage. Countless civilians have been displaced, killed, or had their homes destroyed, all in the wake of the violence between groups which at times included state security forces. The violence has only persisted in the years after the United Nations withdrawal, following general apathy on behalf of Sudanese authorities and the lack of civilian protection.
The violence is most concentrated in the capital of Western Darfur, known as Geneina, with episodes of violence including massive destruction of property, looting, mass killing, and attacks on displacement camps in the area, per HRW. The uptick in violence in Western Darfur began following a military coup in late 2021. As of 2022, increased tension, conflict, and violence have been documented in Geneina, according to local groups in Darfur.
The violence in Geneina that took place in January led to the displacement of 11,100 people from the Adikong village, following the actions of armed Arab groups and armed nomad groups, both of which are responsible for the burning of villages, police stations, and markets. In each attack, multiple civilians have been killed. The subsequent looting and torching prevents those displaced from returning and creates greater instances of long-term displacement.
Violence occurred through the end of January 2022, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that of the 646,000 people living in Geneina, more than 371,500 people are in need of assistance. Furthermore, Geneina is inundated by people who have been displaced multiple times, and because of the conflict, are forced to make shelters out of plastic and sticks, according to BBC news. In 2021 alone, per Reuters, an estimated 430,000 civilians were displaced as a result of the conflict, a four-fold increase from the previous year.
The number is expected to rise in 2022, as militias have yet to halt their attacks on villages and camps. According to the UNOCHA, the number of people in Sudan in need of assistance will reach about 6.2 million in 2022, comprising half of Darfur’s population.
The attacks on neighborhoods and villages are brutal and increase food insecurity with each bullet fired. Most refugees fleeing this area seek out Chad as a refuge, but Chad is becoming overwhelmed by the number of migrants and is struggling to maintain quarantine sites as well as existing refugee camps.
Inter-communal conflict occurring for decades and encouraged by al-Bashir’s Presidency has only worsened, and there seems to be impunity for government forces who are at fault for these atrocious crimes. Local health facilities are drowning under the pressure of mass casualties and death. Unless the government takes the initiative and implements plans and policies that prioritize its citizens, this violence will persist and continue to displace thousands.