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Crisis in Sudan

By Ed O'Keefe and Jeffrey Marcus
washingtonpost.com Staff Writers
Thursday, September 9, 2004; 1:48 PM

What Is the Situation in Sudan?

An increasingly dire situation in Darfur in western Sudan has devolved into the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, according to international observers and the U.S. State Department. A State Department report issued Sept. 9 says that 1.2 million people have been displaced from their homes in Sudan while at least 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad. As many as 405 villages have been destroyed and and more than 100 others significantly damaged. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports at least 50,000 people have died as a result of the conflict between government-backed Arab militias and Africans in western Sudan.


Living conditions in the region threaten hundreds of thousands of people. The U.N. World Food Program delivered food to nearly one million people in Darfur in August, falling short of its goal of 1.2 million people. If the situation persists, the U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that at least 350,000 people will die of disease and malnutrition by the end of the year.

In Sudan, Death and Denial (The Washington Post, June 27, 2004)

Eyewitnesses to Atrocities Along Frontier of Chad and Sudan (The Washington Post, June 30, 2004)

Annan to Appeal for Aid to Address Sudan Crisis (The Washington Post July 28, 2004)

How Did This Happen?

Tensions between Arabs and Africans competing for scarce natural resources in Darfur first surfaced during the 1970s. In February 2003, rebel groups of African Muslims, fed up with chronic inequalities between Africans and the ruling Arab elite (who are also Muslim), struck out against the Khartoum government. The government responded by arming local militias to crack down on mainly three ethnic groups: the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa.

The government-backed groups, known as "Janjaweed," terrorize Africans, destroying villages, killing and maiming men, ransacking food supplies and blocking international assistance. The Washington Post’s Emily Wax reports that the Janjaweed also carry out systematic campaigns of rape against African women in an attempt to humiliate the women and their families and weaken tribal ethnic lines. Human rights groups say the government, by funding the Janjaweed militants, is carrying out an ethnic cleansing campaign.

A U.N. report accuses local government leaders of instituting a policy of "forced starvation" that simultaneously has government officials denying problems with food distribution while militias prevent food delivery. Aid workers and journalists have been kept from visiting some affected areas since government-backed militias have blocked access to 31 of the approximately 130 camps in Darfur.

’We Want to Make a Light Baby’ (The Washington Post, June 30, 2004)

What Is the International Community Doing?

Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sept. 9 that the situation in Darfur constitutes “genocide” by the Sudanese government and Arab militias. Powell, who visited Sudan in early July, said the State Department came to its conclusion after interviews with refugees revealed "consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities committed against non-Arab villagers." His comments, made before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came a day after the United States circulated a draft U.N. resolution calling for a stronger international security force in Darfur. The House and Senate passed resolutions in July calling the situation in Darfur "genocide" and urged President Bush to seek a U.N. protection force.

The 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide requires signatories, including the United States, to prevent and punish genocide. Some in the U.S. government argued that the explicit use of the word genocide might alienate the Sudanese government and limit the United States’s ability to pressure leaders to stop the Janjaweed. Human rights officials counter that the U.S. declaration will draw attention to the crisis and prompt action by the U.N. Security Council.

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