By Ahmed H. Adam
March 4 was the seventh anniversary of the day the International Criminal Court issued its first arrest warrant for a sitting head of state, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Despite being wanted by the ICC for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, Bashir remains at large and is still the president of Sudan. The failure of the U.N. Security Council to arrest Bashir has encouraged him not only to intensify his genocidal campaign in Darfur, but also to expand it into South Kordofan and the Blue Nile states. This week he will begin a five-day visit to Darfur to paint a rosy picture of the situation there but his public relations efforts will not change that fact that Darfur is witnessing a new phase of genocide.
These past 13 years of genocidal terror have claimed around 400,000 lives and displaced over 3 million. Over 600,000 additional people have been forced to cross borders into neighboring countries. President Bashir’s armed forces and the Janjaweed militia, which was reconstituted as the Rapid Support Forces, have been carrying out a renewed scorched earth campaign in and around Jebel Marra (the mountain of Marra) since mid-January this year. The resurgence of the genocidal violence campaign has resulted in the destruction of nearly 70 villages, killing and injuring thousands of innocent civilians and displacing more than 129,000 people. These people are living in dire humanitarian conditions with no food, shelter, water or medicine.
This year marks the 100-year anniversary of Darfur’s annexation by British-colonized Sudan. Darfur had been an independent sultanate from 1650 until 1916. Despite Darfurians’ huge contribution to modern Sudan, they have been marginalized, neglected and excluded from the country’s decision-making institutions. Like their British predecessors, the ruling riverian northern elites consisting
s of three ethnic groups of northern Sudan and representing 3 percent of Sudan’s population have treated Darfur as a security threat.
In the last 13 years, Bashir has turned Darfur into the Janjaweed’s colony. The Janjaweed's powers in the region exceed those of the governors and other local officials. Some indigenous farmers have been forced to hand over half of their harvest to the Janjaweed in return for security and protection. Those who do not comply are subjected to force, and as we are seeing now, those who do comply are still subjected to the same force.
The Reasons Behind the Upsurge
Bashir’s strategic goal is to deny Darfurians political leadership in Sudan. In secret meetings with his supporters, he plays the race card to frighten the ruling riverian elite into believing that he will be the last president from this group.
Instead of trying to resolve the issue through democratic processes, his regime is executing the final solution to the Darfur question. Bashir is annihilating the indigenous people of Darfur and offering their land to the settlers from some select Arab groups and mercenaries from Chad, Niger, the Central African Republic, and Mali. For his own survival, Bashir has been working tirelessly to consolidate his influence in the Arab Islamic belt in sub-Saharan Africa. Bashir’s infamous National Intelligence and Security Service has been destabilizing many neighboring countries, including South Sudan, Libya, and the Central African Republic. For instance, Bashir continues to support peace spoilers in South Sudan. It was also widely reported that the Janjaweed militia, which Bashir sponsors, committed heinous crimes against civilians in the Central African Republic. The Sudanese National Intelligence and Security agency continues to smuggle jihadists and send weapons to some extremist groups, including the Islamic State in Libya. There are confirmed reports that members of jihadist groups have arrived in some parts of Darfur in the last three weeks. Ironically, the EU recently praised Bashir for his constructive role in the region.
Bashir plans to contain the Janjaweed’s political ambitions and keep the group away from the center of power in Khartoum. After the Janjaweed have military control of Darfur, Bashir will legitimize their political control of the region. Through a referendum on the administrative status of Darfur, scheduled for mid-April, Darfurians will vote either to maintain the current five states or return Darfur to a single administrative region. It is expected that the results will be rigged to maintain the status quo of separate states, preventing Darfur’s marginalized population from uniting. Bashir will then be able to declare that Darfurians have chosen to maintain the division of the region, which will help him to finally destroy the identity of the region, that dates back to the era when it was an independent sultanate.
Furthermore, Jebel Marra possesses a strategic military position in the heart of Darfur. It has extensive agricultural land, which could be used to provide rations for the militia. Certain parts of Jebel Marra have also been used as bases for the Sudan Liberation Movement and Army, a Darfur-based armed movement fighting against Bashir’s regime. Thus, Bashir’s forces and Janjaweed militia intend to occupy Jebel Marra in order to take advantage of its strategic position.
The utter failure of the international community to respond to the genocide in Darfur is one of the main incentives for Bashir to continue his heinous crimes. There are almost 20 U.N. Security Council resolutions on Darfur under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes the U.N. Security Council to apply sanctions. For instance, U.N. Resolution 1556 demanded that Sudan’s government disarm the Janjaweed militia
s and bring its leaders to justice. Instead of complying with this resolution, Bashir reconstituted the Janjaweed as the RSF. This move has further empowered the Janjaweed, granting it license to terrorize and kill as the military of the state.
The joint U.N. and African Union mission, UNAMID, which has been deployed to protect the people of Darfur since 2007, has failed to execute its mandate because it is manipulated by Bashir’s regime. The mission has failed to report the unspeakable crimes against innocent civilians in Darfur, let alone provide them physical protection. Due to the subsequent lack of support by the U.N. Security Council, in December 2014, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, decided to suspend the Darfur case.
Bashir is also exploiting the shifting political dynamics in the region to advance his personal interests. This violent dictator has become an indispensable member of Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthis with thousands of Sudanese troops fighting in Yemen. On Feb. 22, Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, announced from Khartoum that his kingdom would offer Sudan military assistance amounting to $5 billion.
Contributing further to the rise in genocidal violence is Darfur-based armed movements’ abandonment of the region. Their absence has allowed Bashir and his Janjaweed militia to terrorize Darfur.
The ongoing atrocities oblige the international community to act robustly and swiftly to stop Bashir’s regime. The U.N. Security Council must implement its binding resolutions in Darfur, including the decade-long resolution on the disarmament and disbanding of the Janjaweed militia. The EU should reverse its current policy on Sudan; it should not reward Bashir’s genocidal regime, financially or politically. A no-fly zone should be imposed over Darfur and the U.S. should apply more targeted sanctions against those responsible for heinous crimes. The U.N. Security Council must both pressure President Bashir to allow unfettered access to international humanitarian organizations and immediately provide the ICC with the support it needs to execute arrest warrants against Bashir and other fugitives, as well as to launch investigations for new arrest warrants. The manipulation of UNAMID by Bashir's regime must be halted, and the mission must be provided with a strong mandate, logistical support and equipment to protect civilian populations. Finally, he should not be allowed to use the Saudis military and financial assistance to massacre innocent civilians in Sudan.
There is an urgent need for a Sudanese-led international campaign to advocate for an end to genocide and for democratic change. The world should not appease the genocidal regime; it should support the agents of change in Sudan. It is a shame for all those who have dedicated, or given, their lives to stop this genocide in Darfur, and for those who pledged "never again," that this inhumanity continues unabated.
Ahmed H. Adam is a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s Institute for African Development and a research fellow at the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo.
[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]