Ethnic Cleansing in Darfur: A New Front Opens in Sudan's Bloody WarCharles Snyder, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee
May 6, 2004
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee: I am honored to have the opportunity to appear before you to discuss our government’s efforts to end the violence in Darfur and to provide humanitarian assistance to the desperately needy population. The humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Darfur requires the urgent attention of the international community. The United States is exerting strong leadership on the issue. What is happening in Darfur has serious implications for the broader efforts to bring peace to Sudan through a north-south peace accord between the Government of Sudan (GOS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
I will briefly update you on the north/south talks before discussing Darfur in detail. I am pleased to inform you that an agreement finally seems to be at hand. Sudanese Vice President Taha and SPLM Chairman Garang have indicated that they have resolved the remaining issues and expect to sign an agreement (Framework on the Outstanding Issues) within the coming days. This would be followed by detailed discussions on security and security- related arrangements, and implementation modalities. That process would likely take 6-8 weeks, leading to the signing of a comprehensive peace accord. The situation in Darfur, if not resolved, will cloud prospects for implementation of the peace accord.
A humanitarian crisis of major proportions exists in Darfur. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed the outrage of the international community when he condemned ethnic cleansing in Darfur and warned that the world could not stand idle. I want to review how this situation developed and inform you about the steps we are taking to address it. Darfur is an area where traditional conflicts between nomadic herders, who are largely Arab, and sedentary agriculturalists, who are largely African Muslims, have long existed. The government’s marginalization of the region and favoritism towards Arab tribes have contributed to growing popular dissatisfaction among Darfur’s three primary African groups: the Fur, Zaghawa, and Messalit. This dissatisfaction crystallized as the people of the region looked at the progress being made in the north-south peace talks and became increasingly focused on the need to address their own grievances. All of this helped stimulate creation of the two armed opposition groups in Darfur: the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
The emergence of armed opposition in Darfur has profoundly shaken the government because it poses, in many respects, a greater threat than the activities of the SPLM in the south. The SPLM has never threatened the north militarily. Support for the JEM and SLM, however, comes from within the overwhelmingly Muslim population of Darfur; radical Muslim cleric Turabi, who was recently jailed by the current GOS, has links to the JEM. Moreover, over 50 percent of the Sudanese military is from Darfur, and that region is not far from Khartoum. A successful insurgency in Darfur would fuel potential insurgencies in other parts of the north. This, I believe, explains why the Government of Sudan has adopted such brutal tactics in Darfur. The GOS is determined to defeat the JEM and SLM at any cost to the civilian population.
The effective military operations carried out by the SLM and the JEM, particularly the attack on the regional capital of El Fasher last year, have raised grave concerns within the GOS. As a result, the government launched an all-out effort to defeat the armed opposition. As a major part of that effort, the government armed and supported Arab-based “jingaweit” militias to carry out attacks against civilians. Government security forces coordinate and support these attacks. The militias have systematically attacked hundreds of African villages in a scorched-earth type approach. They burn villages to the ground, destroy water points, raze crops, and force the people from their land. The jingaweit further terrorize the African population through widespread atrocities including mass rape, branding of raped women, summary killings, amputations, and other unspeakable actions. Estimates of civilians killed range between 15,000 and 30,000, and we will seek to confirm a more precise estimate as information becomes available. As many as one million people have been displaced, and tens of thousands have sought refuge across the border in Chad. All of this amounts to “ethnic cleansing” on a large scale.
The United States has exerted strong leadership to stop the violence. Assistant Administrator Winter will detail what we are doing to get humanitarian assistance to the affected population. We have consistently told the Government of Sudan – at the highest levels – that it must take the following steps on Darfur: end the jingaweit violence; agree to an internationally monitored ceasefire with the armed opposition; and allow unrestricted humanitarian access. I want to detail actions we have taken:
The steps that we have taken have yielded some results, though not enough. The ceasefire signed between the GOS and the Darfur armed opposition provides a basis to end the violence. The agreement specifically holds the GOS responsible for stopping the activities of the jingaweit militia. While there has been a diminution in the violence, there are credible reports the atrocities continue despite the signing of a ceasefire on April 8. The ceasefire agreement provides for international monitoring, and this is to be under the auspices of the African Union (AU). We have offered personnel and material support for the monitoring operation, and we are working with the AU to get the monitoring in place expeditiously. I am pleased to inform you that an international team, led by the AU and including U.S. and EU representatives, intends to travel to Darfur this week on a reconnaissance mission preparatory to putting international monitors on the ground.
While there has been some diminution in violence and some improvement in humanitarian access, the situation in Darfur remains grave. Although the GOS aerial bombardment by GOS forces has ceased, credible reports indicate that jingaweit violence is continuing. Getting international monitoring in place and stopping the jingaweit violence is crucial to facilitating unrestricted humanitarian access. International humanitarian workers simply cannot gain access to many areas while the violence is continuing. Moreover, those displaced fear receiving humanitarian assistance, because that provokes further jingaweit attacks to loot supplies. Hundreds of thousands are in imminent danger, living in appalling conditions. Khartoum must not compound its first disastrous action in Darfur with a second decision to limit the international response for relief. Khartoum is accountable for the lives that currently hang in the balance due to the humanitarian crisis, and it is the Government’s responsibility to see that everything possible is done to save those lives.
We are taking additional steps to mobilize the international community to press the GOS to cooperate on Darfur.
The Memorandum of Justification accompanying the President's certification to the Congress consistent with the Sudan Peace Act highlighted the need for urgent action both to reach a north-south peace deal and to end the violence in Darfur. The Memorandum made clear that the situation in Darfur was taken into account in the determination. It specifically noted “Government-supported atrocities in Darfur and hostilities in other areas have caused a major humanitarian crisis and stimulated renewed skepticism about Government intentions.” It pointed out that the government’s actions in Darfur weaken our confidence that it is committed to achieve peace throughout the country.
Because both Darfur and the conclusion of the north-south peace talks are coming to a head at the same time, we are, in a very real sense, in a perfect storm on Sudan. On balance, I believe that we will be successful on Sudan. The limited improvement in humanitarian access in Darfur and some recent diminution in the violence indicate that the situation is moving in the right direction, although this needs to be dramatically accelerated. Deploying international monitors to Darfur will help establish a new reality on the ground and, therefore, help end the violence. If a north-south accord is signed in the coming days, it will create a positive context for addressing the legitimate grievances in Darfur. At that point both the SPLM and the GOS will have an incentive to work together to ensure peace in Darfur, because continuing violence there would clearly jeopardize effective implementation of a north-south peace accord. It is also important to state clearly that the results of ethnic cleansing must not be allowed to stand. Khartoum must make a commitment that the African groups who have been systematically forced from the land will be resettled on that land. This process must be voluntary and adequate protection must be assured. We are committed to work with other donors to ensure that this happens.
The Government of Sudan has been surprised by our tough actions on Darfur. Clearly, the GOS had calculated that our desire to see a north-south accord might lead us to adopt a softer approach on Darfur. That was a major miscalculation, and the GOS now understands that. The fact that we have linked normalization to GOS behavior in Darfur as well as to a north-south accord highlights our seriousness. I take this opportunity once again to reiterate our message to the GOS. We do not intend to stand by while violence and atrocities continue in Darfur. Do what is necessary now, and we will work with you. Time is of the essence. Do not doubt our determination.
Mr. Chairman, resolution of the situation in Darfur and a north-south peace accord are both essential as a basis for improved relations with Sudan. Our goal is to see a country at peace, with appropriate international monitoring to ensure that accords are implemented. We seek a unified Sudan that accommodates the diversity of this large and complex country through democratic structures. There is an historic opportunity for Sudan to embark on a process of reconstruction, development, and fundamental change with the help of the United States and the rest of the international community. The leaders of Sudan bear an immense responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the people. I urge them to seize this moment.
Released on May 10, 2004