Darfur Factsheet

A former British colony, Sudan became an independent nation on January 1, 1956.  The newly formed parliamentary government was relatively weak and by 1989, a colonel in the Sudanese military named Omar al-Bashir led a bloodless coup that toppled the former government.  Moving quickly, Bashir consolidated his power by suspending all political parties and installing himself as the head of the newly formed transitional government: the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation.  This post gave him the same powers as a head of state.  

Shortly after taking power, the new government began attacking social institutions that might have offered support for Bashir’s political opponents; independent newspapers were closed or taken over by the State and the military was purged of any officers who might rise up against the Revolutionary Command Council.   In October 1993, Bashir assumed the title of President and eventually took control of the entire body of executive and legislative powers formerly held by the Revolutionary Command Council.  The Council was dismantled and a single political party – the National Congress Party (NCP) – became the de facto membership organization for all members of government.  

Civil War

The First Sudanese Civil War (1955 – 1972) was fought over the south’s right to govern itself.  The conflict lasted seventeen years until a ceasefire was accomplished through the Addis Ababa Agreement.  The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983 – 2005), also between the north and south, began before al-Bashir assumed power.  The primary dispute continued to be the south’s right to govern itself, with hostilities igniting at President Nimeiry's introduction of an Islamic legal code.  While the peace treaty ensured the south a certain degree of autonomy, Nimeiry’s intent to enforce the new legal code in the south brought a return to civil war.  

The result was the formation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the beginning of a twenty-year-long civil war between the northern government and the southern region.  During the conflict, between one and two million people died and nearly four million were either internally or externally displaced.  The conflict gained notoriety because of the displaced children -- known as Sudanese Lost Boys and Girls – who fled the country during the fighting.  Often on their own, they traversed hundreds of miles to the relative safety of Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya.  By 2001, approximately 4,000 had settled in the United States.

Darfuri Genocide

After decades of economic marginalization and neglect, the western Sudanese region of Darfur slowly grew restless of being ignored by their government.   By 2003, a number of rebel groups were formed and began attacking Sudanese military installations in protest of Darfuri treatment.  

Unlike the civil war where Khartoum fought the south, Bashir took an entirely different strategy with Darfur, responding rapidly with a series of counterattacks.  With their attention still vested in the conflict with the south, Bashir’s government recruited tribal militias, known as Janjaweed, with the promise of receiving land in return for fighting.  Rather than simply attempting to put down the rebels, however, the Janjaweed coordinated their attacks with the Sudanese military in a campaign to eradicate Darfur of its civilian population.   

Through these actions, a clear pattern of genocide began to immerge.  The brutality in the region was orchestrated to target three distinct tribal identities – the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa – which Khartoum collectively, and derogatorily, refer to as “Zourga.”

Since 2003, as many as 400,000 people have been killed and as many as four million have been displaced.  The majority of refugees fled the region to neighboring Chad where large numbers of refugee camps continue to operate today. 

ICC Arrest Warrant

The International Criminal Court issued two arrest warrants for President Omar Al Bashir related to his involvement in the Darfur genocide.  He is currently wanted on ten counts which include: 

  • Five counts of crimes against humanity
  • Two counts of war crimes 
  • Three counts of genocide

Further Information

The Carole Weinstein Holocaust Research Library maintains a bibliograpy on Sudan.