Do you know what is happening at the moment in the Sudan? Do you know that the region of Darfur is currently undergoing what seems to be ethnic cleansing? Well I certainly didn’t, but that is the contention of Eric Reeves, a professor of Smith College who has been writing on Sudan for the last 16 years. According to his recent piece in the Sudan Tribune, there are ongoing atrocities being committed in the North Darfur region which are arguably genocide and which are almost completely unreported in the outside world which would explain why we don’t know much about it…
According to Reeves, these crimes include the mass rape of women and girls, the destruction of thousands of villages (3,300 in 2014 alone according to UN estimates), hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced (the amount of displaced persons and refugees from the area is around 3 million). How many have died in the fighting? Reeve notes that no one really knows:
“Murder and violence-related mortality is not reported by the UN or the UN/African Union Peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), but the figure for recent years is certainly in the many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. Overall, the number of people who have died in the conflict since 2003 exceeds 500,000.”
Who is perpetrating these crimes? Reeves states that the majority are committed by the regular forces of the “Khartoum regime” as well as its new militia force, the Rapid Response Forces (RSF). The vast majority of the victims of the conflict are from the non-Arab, African tribal groups of Darfur. As these African tribal groups are displaced, it seems as if the government in Khartoum is replacing them with Arab “settlers”. As Reeves notes:
“Nomadic Arab ‘settlers’ have appropriated the lands of African farmers, and either used them as foraging ground for their livestock or claimed them as a means of increasing their wealth. Farmers attempting to work their lands are either killed or, in the case of women and girls, raped. The tentative movements out of the displaced persons camps by farmers run into this extremely violence, for the Arab militias, whether part of the RSF or not, enjoy complete impunity as Khartoum continues its attempt to ‘change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes’.”
These Arabs are not just from Northern Sudan, there are reports that there are others from Chad, Niger and Mali. Reeves argues that this must be facilitated by the Khartoum government and that there are reports that, upon entering Darfur, these new Arab immigrants are given identity papers and are being used to facilitate an “Arab re-population of a demographically changed Darfur”.
Unfortunately, there is little public reporting by UN or the UNAMID on this issue – indeed Reeves claims that UNAMID reports on atrocities are either whitewashes or are suppressed. Human rights groups are hampered by the inability to access Darfur. The UN and the African Union point to the Doha agreement (2011) as the answer to Darfur’s problems, but as Reeves notes, this agreement was only signed by one rebel group and the Khartoum regime and its implementation has coincided with an increase in violence. The Obama administration has abandoned the position (without fanfare of course) that the Doha agreement is the best way for peace in the region. Europe’s leaders are silent on this issue (having many more closer to home diverting their attention) and the UN is planning to continue to withdraw UNAMID personnel. Without protection from UNAMID it is unlikely that remaining humanitarian groups will be able to stay in Darfur. In short, our already hazy knowledge of what is going on in the region will diminish.
Migration and demographic change within a country is constant – my country, New Zealand, has been fashioned by waves of migration constantly for the past 800 years. But the ongoing situation in Darfur reminds us that demography can be manipulated deliberately to further political goals. Let us hope that the world starts to take more notice of the horrors happening in the Sudan and that a number of countries take steps to alleviate the suffering of millions.