(London, August 11, 2004) -- The Sudanese government’s pledges of progress in Darfur show little credibility as civilians face further atrocities amid growing insecurity in the region, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Instead of disarming the government-backed militias known as the Janjaweed, Khartoum has begun to incorporate them into police and other security forces that could be used to secure proposed “safe areas” for displaced civilians.
“The Sudanese government insists that it is taking significant measures, but the continuing atrocities in Darfur prove that Khartoum’s claims simply aren’t credible,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director for Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. “If the government were serious about wanting to protect civilians, it would welcome a greater international presence.”
Increasing the international presence on the ground is urgently needed to improve protection of civilians, seriously assess the government’s actions and stabilize the region. The African Union, which has a small ceasefire monitoring force in place in Darfur, has announced plans to expand the mission from 300 to more than 2,000 troops, and give it a mandate to protect civilians as well as safeguard AU ceasefire monitors. However, the Sudanese government on Sunday rejected this proposal.
In spite of an April ceasefire agreement, fighting continues between government forces with their allied Janjaweed militias and the two rebel groups in Darfur—the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
In many rural areas and small towns in Darfur, government forces and the Janjaweed militias continue to routinely rape and assault women and girls when they leave the periphery of the camps and towns. In one such attack documented by Human Rights Watch in July, a group of women and girls were stopped at a Janjaweed militia checkpoint in West Darfur. Militia members told them that “the country belonged to the Arabs now and, as they were there without permission, they would be punished.” All of the women were then beaten, and six girls aged 13 to 16 were raped.
“Despite growing global attention to the crisis in Darfur, neither the international community nor the Sudanese government has taken the steps needed to ensure protection for civilians on the ground,” Takirambudde added. “Rape, assaults and looting continue daily even as more people are being driven from their homes.”
A U.N. Security Council resolution on July 30 demanded that the Sudanese government take steps to improve conditions in Darfur in the areas of security, human rights, humanitarian assistance and political resolution of the conflict. The resolution also imposed a deadline of August 30 for the disarmament of the Janjaweed militia. However, a new “Plan of Action” agreed by the United Nations and the Sudanese government last week appears to backtrack on this timeline, and instead proposes “safe areas” to protect civilians, which would be secured by Sudanese government forces.
Government troops and government-backed Janjaweed militia members in Darfur continue to commit abuses against civilians in total impunity. Government claims of progress in ending impunity through trials of Janjaweed militia members are belied by growing reports that most of the convicted are petty criminals or individuals previously convicted on other charges and not militia leaders and members responsible for acts of murder, rape or other abuses.
In response to the Security Council’s demand that Janjaweed militia members be disarmed, the Sudanese government has instead begun to incorporate them into official state security units such as the police and semi-regular forces such as the Popular Defense Forces.
“Incorporating the Janjaweed militias into the security services and then deploying them to protect civilian ‘safe areas’ is the height of absurdity,” said Takirambudde. “The Sudanese government needs to bring war criminals to justice, not recruit them into positions of responsibility.”
Human Rights Watch called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry into the abuses in Darfur, including allegations of genocide, and for international monitoring of any trial procedures in Darfur.
Darfur also presents troubling prospects of regional instability. The border area between Darfur and Chad is becoming increasingly militarized on both sides. Numerous armed groups have emerged along the border, sometimes fighting alongside one of the parties to the conflict, sometimes opportunistically raiding and looting for economic gain. The presence of refugees and large numbers of livestock on the border has become a magnet for such raids.
Human Rights Watch called on the African Union to ensure that sufficient military observers and troops are deployed in rural areas, and not only in the major towns in Darfur. The U.N. Security Council, U.N. member states and the European Union countries should provide logistical and financial support to expand the African Union force.
“Key countries and regional groups, such as the African Union and the Arab League, should persuade Khartoum that it needs to accept international support to protect civilians and stabilize the region,” added Takirambudde.