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As the conflict in Darfur enters its sixth year, conditions continue to deteriorate for civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, even by the most conservative estimates. The United Nations puts the death toll at roughly 300,000, while the former U.N. undersecretary-general puts the number at no less than 400,000.(1) Up to 2.5 million Darfuris have fled their homes and continue to live in camps throughout Darfur, or in refugee camps in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. Based on Sudan’s behavior over the past five years, it is clear that unless the international community imposes additional political costs for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s intransigence, his government will continue to buy time by accepting initiatives only to backtrack later or impose new conditions that render them useless.
Humanitarian assistance in Darfur continues to be at risk of collapse, in part because of sustained harassment by the Sudanese government, and in part because of the government’s militia allies and common criminals. In September 2006, the United Nations estimated that such a collapse would cause up to 100,000 civilian deaths every month.(2) Troublesome developments suggest that such a failure is becoming more likely: the World Food Program’s Humanitarian Air Service received no funding in the first three months of 2008.(3) Last-minute donations totaling six million dollars funded it through the beginning of May. (4)
In the second half of 2007, the Sudanese government’s divide-and-conquer strategy, described by Human Rights Watch as “chaos by design,”(5) caused an increasingly frenzied free-for-all in Darfur. Rebel groups fragmented further and criminal activity as well as intertribal fighting increased exponentially.(6) Still, the effects of tribal fighting should not be overemphasized. Of the eight largest displacements between January and November 2007, seven resulted from government or Janjaweed attacks. Only one was the result of intertribal fighting.(7) In early 2008, deaths and displacements from military operations by the government, its allied militias and rebels were even more common relative to those caused by tribal conflicts.
1 Edith M. Lederer, “UN Says Darfur Conflict Worsening, with Perhaps 300,000 Dead,” Associated Press 22 April 2008.
2 United Nations News Service, UN Daily News, 14 September 2006. Issue DH/4732.
3 “Hijackings Cut WFP Food Supplies for Darfur as Funding Shortfalls Threaten Humanitarian Air Service,” United Nations World Food Programme 10 March 2008.
4 “WFP Sudan’s Air Operation Gets One-Month Reprieve from Closure,” United Nations World Food Programme 28 March 2008.
5 Cf. Human Rights Watch’s report entitled “Chaos by Design,” & ENOUGH’s strategy briefing entitled “Echoes of Genocide in Darfur and Eastern Chad.”
6 The International Committee of the Red Cross. “Recurrent Violence Remains the Primary Concern for Darfurians.” 9 August 2007.
7 “Sudan—Darfur: Humanitarian Profile—November 2007,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs November 2007.