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Darfur crisis calls for immediate attention

The African Union, AU, held its annual summit from the 6-8th of July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia amidst calls from human rights organisations for the AU to take a proactive role in stemming conflicts in the African continent.
Henry Neondo

The Assembly, came at a time when conflicts in Sudan’s Western region of Darfur, Bukavu, in the Eastern region of DR Congo and Cote d’Ivoire taking their toll on the continent.

"These three hotspots have a common need for immediate attention and substantive action by the AU," said Peter Takirambudde, Director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, HRW.

"Protecting civilians, upholding human rights and preventing impunity should be integrated into all AU initiatives to address conflicts in the continent", he added.

A briefing paper from the HRW released ahead of the AU summit said that the African Union should make protecting civilians and fighting against human rights abuses central to its initiatives in the region.

"The African Union should take strong proactive measures to prevent and intervene in conflicts across the continent," said Takirambudde. "By taking constructive steps to ensure protection for civilians and human rights, the AU can play a key role in stemming conflicts in the region."

But the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, a geographically isolated and neglected region, by central government in Khartoum, has attracted more international attention now that the SPLA and the Khartoum government is in the process of finalizing a peace agreement. Human Rights Watch called on the African Union to increase its cease-fire monitoring force in Darfur, include human rights monitoring in the mandate of the cease-fire commission and gather evidence of war crimes and other violations.

Releasing the statement while the UN secretary general and the US foreign secretary Collins Powel were still in Sudan, the HRW called on the African Union to impose sanctions on Khartoum if it does not cooperate with the AU mission and other international efforts.

The HRW said that working with the United Nations, the African Union could take steps to reverse the effects of ethnic cleansing in Darfur, compensate victims, and provide for the safe and voluntary return of displaced persons and refugees.

According to HRW, the Sudanese military and their allied Arab Janjaweed militias have committed crimes against humanity, "ethnic cleansing" and war crimes including rape. According to reoprts the Janjaweed number a few thousand. T hey are well armed with automatic weapons and ride on horses and camels.

Tens of thousands of civilians, mainly from the African Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups have died, and more than one million persons have been displaced.

The HRW holds the government of Sudan responsible for these “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity in Darfur, one of the world’s poorest and most inaccessible regions, on Sudan’s western border with Chad.

The Janjaweed militias, Muslim like the African groups they attack, have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders, and desecrated Qorans belonging to their enemies.

The government and its Janjaweed allies have killed thousands of Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa-- often in cold blood, raped women, and destroyed villages, food stocks and other supplies essential to the civilian population.

They have driven more than one million civilians, mostly farmers, into camps and settlements in Darfur where they live on the very edge of survival, hostage to Janjaweed abuses. More than 110,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad but the vast majority of war victims remain trapped in Darfur.

This conflict has historical roots but escalated in February 2003, when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) drawn from members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, demanded an end to chronic economic marginalization and sought power-sharing within the Arab-ruled Sudanese state. They also sought government action to end the abuses of their rivals, Arab pastoralists who were driven onto African farmlands by drought and desertification­and who had a nomadic tradition of armed militias.

The government has responded to this armed and political threat by targeting the civilian populations from which the rebels were drawn. It brazenly engaged in ethnic manipulation by organizing a military and political partnership with some Arab nomads comprising the Janjaweed; armed, trained, and organized them; and provided effective impunity for all crimes committed.

The government-Janjaweed partnership is characterized by joint attacks on civilians rather than on the rebel forces. These attacks are carried out by members of the Sudanese military and by Janjaweed wearing uniforms that are virtually indistinguishable from those of the army.

Although Janjaweed always outnumber regular soldiers, during attacks the government forces usually arrive first and leave last. In the words of one displaced villager, “They [the soldiers] see everything” that the Janjaweed are doing. “They come with them, they fight with them and they leave with them.”

The government-Janjaweed attacks are frequently supported by the Sudanese air force. Many assaults have decimated small farming communities, with death tolls sometimes approaching one hundred people. Most are unrecorded.

The Medicen Sans Frotiere, MSF and other International aid agencies estimate that hundreds of thousands will die of starvation and disease in the coming months unless the Sudanese government allows unimpeded humanitarian access immediately. The HRW says that the “most egregious conflict in Africa today, Darfur demands prompt and effective AU action”.

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