Violence in the Darfur region of Sudan’s far west continues unabated. Some 450,000 persons were displaced in 2014 and another 100,000 in January 2015 alone, adding to some two million long-term internally displaced persons (IDPs) since fighting erupted in 2003. The government remains wedded to a military approach and reluctant to pursue a negotiated national solution that would address all Sudan’s conflicts at once and put the country on the path of a democratic transition. Khartoum’s reliance on a militia-centred counter-insurgency strategy is increasingly counter-productive – not least because it stokes and spreads communal violence. Ending Darfur’s violence will require – beyond countrywide negotiations between Khartoum, the rebel Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) coalition and unarmed players – addressing its local dimensions, within both national talks and parallel local processes.
Darfur’s complex and multiplying local conflicts are increasingly ill-understood, due to lack of information and the limitations of reporting from the hybrid UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Intensification of combat with rebel factions prompted the government in 2014 to fall back again upon notorious military auxiliaries, this time its new Rapid Support Forces (RSF), thus worsening violence and displacements. Arab militias and paramilitary forces like the RSF attacked non-Arab communities accused of being pro-rebel, fought each other, took part in communal conflicts and even hit at regular government troops.
Increasingly divided over Sudan, the UN Security Council has been unable to develop consensus around a new peace strategy and largely supports the untenable status quo. Discussions are now underway with the government about a possible UNAMID drawdown. Without strong support from New York and the African Union (AU) when the government obstructs it, the mission has been too deferential to Khartoum and systematically presented a narrative of an improving situation divorced from reality. It has also frequently failed to intervene and protect civilians, leading the UN to acknowledge “record levels of civilian displacement not seen since 2004”.
Peace in Darfur is unlikely separate from a solution to Sudan’s wider national problems, for which a number of processes need to be revived, modified or initiated, including an effort, especially in the UN Security Council, to review and rethink policy on Darfur and toward Khartoum generally. This briefing has a more limited purpose. It concentrates on Darfur dynamics, in particular a mapping of the complex conflict lines between and among communities and armed groups and militias, some sponsored by the government.
Suffering from a weak economy and without a military breakthrough, Khartoum appeared more open in 2014 to the inclusion of armed opposition in an AU-facilitated national dialogue. The AU mediation hoped to obtain separate ceasefires for Darfur and the “Two Areas” (South Kordofan and Blue Nile) in a “synchronised” way, paving the way for SRF inclusion in the dialogue. However, the process stalled, largely over Khartoum’s reluctance to negotiate with Darfur rebels on a basis other than the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD). While this may suit the government in the short term, the region’s continued fragmentation into competing armed communities will become increasingly difficult to arrest and reverse.
Darfur’s different conflicts cannot be addressed all at once or in the same way. Crisis Group analysed the limits of the existing peace process in January 2014, and many of its recommendations are still relevant, in particular to review the DDPD, some of whose provisions require establishing a national consensus around the relationship between central government and peripheries, while others – chief of them the increasing communal violence – are too local to solve by national dialogue only. While Sudan’s government has remained reluctant to compromise on the DDPD and invokes as justification the document’s importance for Qatar – which indeed considers it a major diplomatic achievement despite the lack of implementation – it would be in Khartoum’s own interest to address swiftly both the national and local dimensions of the violence in Darfur. For the latter, the government should in particular:
- progressively control and disarm paramilitary forces and militias, via a mix of incentives, such as participation in local peace processes and the national dialogue, as well as development and services, but also coercion, including arrest and prosecution of those responsible for crimes; and
- initiate and support communal dialogue and durable local peace and reconciliation mechanisms involving traditional and militia leaders, while leaving mediation to respected, neutral Sudanese, including from outside Darfur, and limiting the government’s role to facilitating, supporting and guaranteeing agreements.
To advance resolution of Darfur’s conflicts, the government and armed opposition should:
- reach a ceasefire in Darfur, synchronised with a similar one in the Two Areas, including provisions for unfettered humanitarian access in both; and
- develop proposals to address concerns of all Darfur communities on issues such as security, land ownership, services and development.
International players, particularly the AU, arguably have a more important role to play in national than local processes. However, the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council should:
- agree on a Sudan strategy and then properly support it with political backing and appropriate resources.
Nairobi/Brussels, 22 April 2015