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Special Report
Last Updated: 09/27/2013
Darfur Humanitarian Crisis: The Need for an Integrative Approach
Sabrina Chikhi

Despite of the involvement of the international community in the Darfur conflict a decade ago, there has been no indicator of a workable agreement despite the diversity and multiplicity of interventions undertaken both at the political and non-governmental levels. And as the attention shifted to a different region, there is an urgency to revisit the approach to its resolution in order to reach a viable accord between the conflicting parties for the purpose of preventing further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the province, at a time where oblivion seems to prevail. In this essay I contend that an integrated strategy is needed to permanently resolve the conflict and put an end to the long lasting human tragedy. In order to, I will reexamine the main causes which lead to the worsening of the humanitarian condition while providing the necessary adjustments required for sustainable peace.

Since the outburst of the conflict in Darfur in 2003, the humanitarian situation has been deteriorating despite the relentless efforts of the international community. Indeed, the multiplicity and diversity of the political and charitable interventions remained unsuccessful at easing the sufferings of the population victim of the repeated abuses from the Government of Sudan and its armed militia. The complexity of the situation coupled with the incapacity of all the parties involved to find a sustainable resolution to the conflict contributed to the aggravation of the situation in the region. In this essay I contend that an integrated approach is the only option to prevent further deterioration of the people’s living conditions, and eventually, put an end to this human tragedy. In order to do so, I will identify the most salient issues that caused the deterioration of the humanitarian situation then, discuss the need for an integrated strategy from the political and non-governmental actors in the region.

Like most of the conflicts in Africa, the strife in Darfur is a mere struggle for survival. In fact, this province has been marginalized since the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium1 period at the end of which it still suffered underdevelopment, isolation and had to “strive for self-sufficiency” (Prunier, 2005). This situation persisted even after the independence of Sudan, in 1956, despite the succession of civil and military regimes. After the accession of President al-Bashir to power, the long lasting structural violence2 was emphasized by the central government, and ultimately led to severe retaliation3 and bloody repression of the civilians suspected of providing assistance to the rebel movements.

The intractability of the belligerency in Darfur deeply impacted the victims’ living conditions. In fact many causes can be attributed to the degradation of the humanitarian situation. The following section is a brief review of the most important ones.

In addition to the structural causes at the origin of the conflict, ideology played an important role in the mobilization of the Janjaweed militia and its alliance with the Government of Sudan (GoS). Indeed, despite the fact that Islam is unifying factor in the cultural background of the region, it was “rendered completely irrelevant by a regime that considers itself as the champion of Islamic expansion” (Nhial, Kafi and Seisi, 1993). In reality, al-Bashir’s attempt to broaden his Islamic basis in the country took an ethno-regional dimension when most of the non-Arab Islamist opposition formed a coalition called the Justice and Equality Movement, which took upon itself to fight against the marginalization in Darfur.

As a result, the central government, composed of the Arab elites, used the “Arab-Islamist supremacist ideology” as an instrument of domination that demeaned black African groups” (Hagan, Richmond, 2008). This strategy emphasized the unrest of the region, and enabled the GoS to recruit the Janjaweed who are deeply accountable for human rights abuses. This ethnic manipulation perfectly served the purpose as it simply increased dissension and hatred between the farmers and the pastorals who co-existed in peace for centuries.

The international community also bears a tremendous responsibility for the dreadful conditions of the people of Darfur. To be sure, the degradation of the humanitarian conditions was in big part caused by the controversy about the labeling of the nature of the crimes committed by the GoS and its militia. Indeed, after the initiation of an investigation about the situation in the province, in 2004, the US State Department and the UNSC reached two different conclusions. While the UN determined the absence of genocide, the Americans labeled it as such. This disagreement deeply impacted the intractability of the conflict because the US decided not to “change its policy” in the countryIt consequently, decided to push the case to the Security Council, which in turn forwarded it to the International Criminal Court. In addition to the above-stated, the international lawyers added to the confusion by arguing about the inadequacy of the “existing laws to fully capture the nature of the crimes” (Mulaj, 2008).

In the field the confusion, which arose from this terminological debate, deeply prejudiced the victims. In fact, Khartoum seized the opportunity to overlook the principle of proportionality of force in its repressive acts, and was, thus, able to violate human rights and international humanitarian laws with impunity5. On the other hand, the JEM and SLA movements adapted their strategies, according to the concept of genocide, for the purpose of “de-legitimizing” the GoS internationally by bringing down al-Bashir’s regime for mass-atrocities.

That is why despite the early intervention of the international community, the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the province was unavoidable because of a mere conceptual discrepancy. Moreover, the signature of the N’djamena Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement of 2004 failed to provide the expected protection to the civilians. As a “rushed agreement”, the text had two versions one of which did not contain the disputed provision pertaining to the cantonment of the armed movements in assembly sites. And even if it enabled the deployment of the African Union force for the purpose of monitoring the ceasefire and protecting the civilians, it failed to provide it with an adequate number of personnel, logistics, funding, maps and a strong mandate to implement it (De Waal, 2007). Contrarily to the expectations, the Abuja Peace Agreement of 2006 was also unsuccessful to stop the carnage and the worsening of the humanitarian situation in Darfur. This is essentially due to the fact that the US led mediation team ignored the necessity to secure a complete ceasefire prior to the signature of DPA, deliberately omitted the all the belligerents association to the negotiation process, and failed to request a professional assessment of the situation in the field. Furthermore, the security commission in charge of the disarmament was unable to secure an agreement about the definition of the Janjaweed6. This specific controversy combined to the fact that the disarmament issue was postponed to the implementation phase not only weakened the Abuja agreement, but also prevented any tangible ceasefire.

As the DPA also included provisions concerning the demilitarization of the IDP camps and their perimeters, the creation of a “Community Police Force”7 was also suggested. The latter was to ensure the security in the camps while the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) would secure around one hundred camps perimeters and humanitarian supply routes. Here too, an impasse was reached as the GoS refused to authorize the international force to exercise the right to arrest Sudanese nationals involved in human rights abuses as the UN lawyers concluded that neither the UN civilian police, nor the peacekeepers could legally assume such role without being in contradiction with UN Charter Chapter VII8.

For all these reasons, the recrudescence of the fighting was inevitable, especially after the refusal of the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdel Wahid Nour to sign the agreement.

With reference to the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine, it is important to underscore the fact that the N’djamena agreement made a clear reference to the GoS responsibility “to neutralize” its armed militia. The UN Security Council (UNSC) went a step further by requesting the disarmament of the Janjaweed within thirty days of the signature of the above-stated document and the protection of the internally displaced persons’ camps9. Unfortunately, such demands were doomed to failure due to the fact that the agreement failed to define the concepts of “disarmament” as well as to the inability of the UNSC to monitor the implementation of its demands on the field, and compel Khartoum to honor its legal obligations.

In fact, taking such measure required a military presence in the field. And, between 2004 and 2006 most of the debate revolved about three major issues: leadership on the ground, mandate and financing (De Waal, 2007). Along with these problems was the absence of “strategic purpose and concept of operations” which was mandatory to any successful engagement. Indeed, despite the insistence of the UN Peace-building Operations professional staff, very little attention was given to strategy and field operations. Instead, the focus was on whether and when to intervene rather on how to do so in order to secure the success of any intervention.

Following the report made by the UN Commission on Darfur after the violation of the Ceasefire Agreement in 2004, the dossier was referred to the International Criminal Court. This case is unique for many reasons. Firstly, it was the first time the ICC extended its jurisdiction to a non-member state on which territory crimes have taken place. Secondly, it involved prominent officials in the government. And thirdly, it was being investigated during an ongoing conflict.

In investigating the Darfur case, this court of last resort found Ahmed Harun, Minister of Interior, and Ali Kushayb, leader of the Janjaweed militia in West Darfur, jointly guilty of a “total of fifty one accounts of crime against humanity and war crimes”. Up to date, the arrest warrants issued in April 2007, have not been executed because of the Rome Statute disposition which states that “it is the responsibility of the state having responsibility over suspects to ensure their safe transfer to the Court’s custody” (Totten and Tyler, 2008). As indicated by the Prosecutor to the UNSC in his fifth address pressures are still to be exercised on the GoS to have both suspects arrested. Unfortunately, till this date Khartoum failed to hand them to the court. In place of that, Harun was assigned Minister of Humanitarian Affairs before being appointed Governor of the State of South Kordofan. Kushayb is presumably released after being arrested by the GoS (Totten and Tyler, 2008)

According to Bridges, Darfur has benefited from the largest activist movement after that of the end of the Apartheid. The concern for the situation in the region was transformed into “denunciation”, which has been considered as the most suitable form of advocacy by the majority of the humanitarians (Bridges, 2010).

This enthusiasm is essentially due to the fact that most of the international NGOs want to take advantage of the situation in order to fulfill their objectives. In fact, in addition to the fact that they want to be perceived as engaged in the conflict of the moment, they also know that this specific conflict raises a lot of money. That is why, even if they cannot effectively contribute to easing the sufferings of the Darfurians, they still keep engaging in the “something has to be done” attitude regardless of their real potential to do so. This reality explains why there is a poor record of successful interventions in Darfur. Besides, it is important to underscore that the GoS has been described by many organizations as having direct control over the aid distribution by the granting of authorizations to visit specific areas rather than others, or simply by conditioning the delivery of humanitarian aid to specific IDP camps with the distribution of supplies to groups identified by the government. That is why humanitarian agencies, which “ describe themselves as operating in a climate of fear”, fail to be efficient and properly implement their programs in the field, despite of the consequent funding they receive from generous international donors.

­Based on the above- mentioned, this section of the paper will review the principal strategies which could contribute to the improvement of the humanitarian situation in the Darfur.

From the international law perspective, the Darfur case reopened the debate about the “right” and “duty” to human intervention as referred to in the responsibility to protect doctrine, as the nature of the violations jointly carried out by the GoS and the Janjaweed correspond to the ones covered by it. In this specific context, a military intervention within the international framework of the UN or the AU would be appropriate in order to secure peace and stability in the region. The GoS culpability of human rights violations being proven, it appears clearly that a forcible humanitarian intervention should have been undertaken within the redefinition of the concept of sovereignty primarily as a “responsibility rather than a right”16.

The responsibility to protect is three-folded (Kindiki, 2007). In the case of Darfur, the necessity to intervene is caused by the GoS unwillingness to take its primary responsibility towards its population. That is why, according to the doctrine, this same responsibility falls on the international community which should have framed its interventions as a continuum to the diplomatic efforts which led to the signature of the DPA. As a last resort, military intervention should have been the additional step as the economic sanctions failed to produce the desired results. In this sense, it should have primarily acted based on the responsibility to prevent and the responsibility to react, respectively by addressing the root-causes of the conflict and responding to the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis through coercive power. The international community should not have hesitated to take the “default sovereign responsibilities that the R2P envisages”. And instead of subscribing to the legal objection of such initiative, as reaffirmed by the 1993 Montevideo Convention, it should justify its humanitarian intervention by subscribing to the idea of erosion of the notion of state sovereignty in this era of globalization. That is why the international instances, under the aegis of the UN, can justify their intervention by referring to Rodley’s conclusion that “humanitarian intervention belongs to the realm not of the law but of moral choice which nations, like individuals must take” (Kindiki, 2007). From a practical standpoint this entails the deployment of a large international force with the clear mandate, clear financing mechanisms and a long term commitment. All this being said, it is important to contextualize the responsibility to protect to the historical and cultural specificities of Darfur (Okeke, 2010)

According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Sudan is obligated to refrain from “acts which would defeat the object and purpose of the Rome Statute. Consequently, it is bound to refrain from violating human rights especially genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In terms of customary law, it is also has the obligation to distinguish between civilians and armed participants when dealing with the rebellion. In this context, the arrest of Harun and Khusahyb must be executed in order to have them tried by the ICC. The ICC can refer to article 17 of the Rome Statute for the purpose of applying the Principle of Complementarity which would enable the execution of the arrest warrants. In order to do so, the UNSC, which referred the case to the court, must officially remind the GoS of its legal obligations, impose deadlines and apply the sanctions allowed under Chapter VII. It also has the option to recourse to mandating it principal mission to execute the warrants or request the contribution of Interpol, at least to arrest Khushayb (Totten and Tyler, 2008).

Because the ICC cannot prosecute all the human rights violators, it can resort to the special courts created by the Sudanese government. In order to secure their performance, the international community could help with the funding and training of local judicial personnel who are knowledgeable of the national law and practices. The revival of these courts under the supervision of the ICC and the UN will enable the trial of more perpetrators, and discourage human rights abuses in the region.

In terms of humanitarian relief, the work of the international NGOs is not negligible. Yet, in comparing the funding appeal of the Darfur case to the results on the grounds, it is obvious that a lot has still to be done in order to ensure a more focused and effective distribution of the resources to the victims of the conflict. Indeed, despite the ongoing debate about the mandate of humanitarian work, the NGOs operating there are still challenged in the fulfilling their missions.

That is why their involvement in a country like Sudan, described as a “non-permissive environment”, should be properly monitored by a UN entity in order to avoid another victimization of the population, because of the absence of coordinated strategies between the humanitarian agencies which usually decide to denounce the atrocities for the sake of being perceived as active in the region. Consequently, they often omit to strategize their decision based on an informed cost / benefit analysis. Therefore, they take the risk of losing “access to a refugee population in order to publicize abuse that was in fact the lesser of the two evils” (Bridges, 2010). For this reason and before taking the decision to denounce facts, they should get informed about humanitarian actors in the field, pass the information pertaining to human rights abuse to those who are better placed to do the advocacy work, and concentrate on their fundamental mission: helping the victims. When subscribing to their original objective, the non-profit organizations will help restore the image of neutrality in Sudan. It will also favor the trust-building process which ultimately will make Khartoum more lenient in to grant them authorizations to the NGOs.

There is no doubt about the difficulty of determining the nature of the crimes in Darfur. However, since both the State Department and the UNSC launched an investigation simultaneously, there should have been some coordination to reach a consensus on the terminology. The people of Darfur paid a heavy price because of the absence of vision. Another option would have been to simply wait for the decision of the ICC investigation, which ultimately reached the UNSC position. In any case, because there is a need to find a “diplomatic” correction to this mistake, the concept of “ethnic cleansing” could be adopted by the international community to describe the situation in the region. According to Mulaj, this term is a “corollary to the vagueness of the meaning of genocide”. In the specific context of Darfur, it can be used to give some justice to the population which has been also victim of political considerations. And because the notion of group is not legally defined in terms of numbers, the international community can decide on the dimension of the concerned population. This solution will leave the opportunity to put the notion of genocide at the top list of the crimes committed in the province without disregarding their amplitude. Consequently, since ethnic cleansing violates the customary international and human rights law, the international community can undertake the necessary measures to exercise more pressure on the Sudanese government.

Since 2004, the international community failed to prevent the human right abuses in Darfur. While the situation deteriorated at the political level by the absence of coherent strategies, an unnecessary terminological debate as well as the failure to resort to the responsibility to protect doctrine, the non-governmental organizations deviated from their charitable agenda. While the population is subjected to flagrant human rights violations, the need for an integrative approach to the resolution of the conflict remains vital as the attention shifted to other regions in the world.


  1. Sudan was under the administration of the United Kingdom and Egypt, between 1899 and 1956. As such, all the provinces, including Darfur, were ruled through the agency of “traditional authorities”.
  2. Through the lenses of this theory, Galtung defines structural violence as “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs, or to put it in more general terms, the impairment of human life, which lowers the actual degree to which someone is able to meet their needs below that which could otherwise be possible”.
  3. In fighting the repression of the rebellion, the government of Sudan armed the Janjaweed which attacked and looted villages, polluted water supplies, engaged in mass-killings and rapes and forced displacement of the populations suspected to support the rebel groups after destroying their modest livelihood.
  4. Indeed, the US abandoned the idea of regime change in favor of a negotiated peace agreement, because, according to Powell, there was no threat to the US interests.
  5. In fact, it used tactics such as aerial attacks at nights when the victims were sleeping or during prayer gatherings when they were unable to defend themselves.
  6. The GoS defined the Janjaweed as “an outlaw militia” while the rebels referred to it as group sponsored and armed by the government for the purpose of repressing the rebellion.
  7. The Community Police Force was to be trained by the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS). This force to be composed of volunteers who will integrate the regular police at the end of the conflict.
  8. For more details about Chapter VII, please visit UN website at
  9. The UN Security Council adopted the Resolution 1556 of July 30th, 2004which requested the disarmament of the Janjaweed by the Government of Sudan. A month later, it demanded that the GOS take the necessary steps to ensure security around the displaced persons’ camps.
  10. In terms of leadership, there was a disagreement about whether the international force should be under the UN or AU leadership. In relation to this matter was also raised the need for better equipment to secure the protection of the IDP’s camps and the supply routes. The mandate was also of concern in the sense that there was a need to decide whether the military would operate under Chapter VI or VII of the UN Charter. As for the financing of the operations, it was understood that the AU was unable to recourse to its members states contribution because of their incapacity to do so.


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Evans, Gareth & Sahnoun, Mohamed (2002 November/December) The Responsibility to Protect. Foreign Affairs. Washington, DC: Council on Foreign Relations. 81(6): 99-102.

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Totten, Christopher D. & Tyler, Nicholas (2008) Arguing For An Integrated Approach To Resolving The Crisis In Darfur: The Challenges Of Complementarity, Enforcement, And Related Issues In The International Criminal Court. Vol. 98, No. 3, The Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology. Northwestern University, School of Law, USA.

Sabrina Chikhi is a graduate student at the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nova Southeastern University. She focuses on Africa, the MENA region and Latin America.