No. 15




Darfur: What really lies behind the Darfur humanitarian disaster

The Darfur humanitarian disaster has cast a shadow on the beginning of the 21st century and third millennium. If there is goodwill, it could be resolved overnight; or it could drag on for decades as the case has been with the civil war in southern Sudan.

According to the official version put out by the Sudanese government, it is a run-of-the-mill tribal conflict – African land-tilling tribes and nomadic herders of Arab descent came to blows in 2003 over fertile lands. Unfortunately, the figures that have reached the public through the UNHCR, Red Cross and Darfur refugees tell a different story. The conflict re-intensified suddenly in 2006. In December of last year, the UN human rights council decided to form a high-level expert mission to investigate the situation and present their report and proposals on what to do next. The writer of this article was the only expert from Europe on this mission.

By February 2004, the Sudanese government had changed its position regarding the UN mission and on various pretexts the Sudanese representation in Geneva would not issue visas to mission members (nor would the embassy in Addis Ababa) and the mission did not make it to Darfur. Operating on the mandate of the UN Human Rights Council, the mission visited the headquarters of the African Union seated in Addis Ababa and the camps for the Darfurian refugees in eastern Chad. On 16 March 2007, the report was presented to the UN Human Rights Council.

The picture that developed regarding Darfur’s problems during the mission’s work is markedly different from the official Sudanese version. Darfur can be considered a case of a conflict between newer Arab settlers and indigenous inhabitants (with the government clearly favouring the settlers, if not to say goading them on) as well as a case of government interest in getting control of the tribal lands currently held by the land-tilling tribes. Here we start to see why the Sudanese government did not wish to see a high-level UN mission in Darfur. This is no religious war, since Darfur is Islamic. Yes, there were complaints about racist statements from the Arab side. But the most credible reasons seem to be economic reasons. Southern Sudan is rich in oil, and Darfur is thought to be similarly well-endowed in natural resources. It seems that the Sudanese government is holding the solution to the Darfur humanitarian disaster. But they are not ready to resolve the problem using political means. And so the bloodshed continues.

There is no trust in the African Union peacekeeping forces. The strong intervention of the UN is awaited. Will it come? Time will tell.

Full article in Estonian