The Darfur Region of Sudan, 2003 – Present

Darfur is a region in western Sudan. Although the people of Darfur are mostly Muslim, there are stark divisions between “black Africans,” who are mostly sedentary farmers, and “Arabs,” who are frequently nomadic herders. The terms “black African” and “Arab” do not completely reflect the realities of Darfur. Both groups are natives of Africa and often share the same skin color. What originated as fluid terms denoting a variety of traits from language to lifestyle have been politicized and are now seen as rigid boundaries.

Severe drought and famine brought on by the desertification effects of climate change broke down traditional land use relationships between farmers and herders, who both require land and water. As the Sahara Desert crept south, there was less land available and conflict over land increased. Some nomadic herders were emboldened by an ideology of “Arab” supremacy emanating from the capital, Khartoum, and became increasingly bold in their attacks on “black African” farmers in disputes over land.

To provide protection from this increasing violence, and to protest the disenfranchisement and underdevelopment of Darfur, members of the Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa “black African” tribal groups formed the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) and its splinter group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The central government, led by President Omar al-Bashir, saw these groups as a threat, and recruited “Arab” militias known as the Janjaweed (which can be translated as “devils on horseback”) to combat the rebel groups and their supposed base of support, “black African” civilians in Darfur. These civilians are now caught between murderous government troops allied to the ruthless Janjaweed and rebel groups which have also committed atrocities.

The Sudanese military and the Janjaweed attacked villages in Darfur, sometimes using helicopters, murdering and raping the inhabitants and causing many others to flee. Villages and fields were burned. Survivors still face starvation and miserable conditions in refugee camps. These atrocities were condemned by the international community, including the United Nations and the United States. However, despite resolutions, sanctions, peace talks, and arrest warrants for al-Bashir and other perpetrators issued by the International Criminal Court, waves of violence still occur in Darfur and perpetrators operate with impunity. Keeping the violence at a slow boil and preventing survivors from accessing resources allows the government to continue terrorizing the population without drawing too much additional international ire. Perpetrators who have so far caused more than 200,000 to 400,000 deaths and the uprooting of millions of lives have so far escaped justice.


Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 2017.

Prunier, Gérard. Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. 3rd ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.

Totten, Samuel. “Genocide in Darfur, Sudan.” In Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, edited by Samuel Totten and William S. Parsons. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2013.

the darfur region of sudan 2003 present