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Displaced and dispossessed of Darfur: Explaining sources of genocide


The International Criminal Court (ICC) has an open investigation into the genocide that occurred over the last decade in Darfur, Sudan. Though mass extermination is the chief focus of the international law, Article II of the 1948 Genocide Convention also bans “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction.”

A 2011 report in the British Journal of Sociology, “The Displaced and Dispossessed of Darfur: Explaining the Sources of a Continuing State-Led Genocide,” examines 1,000 interviews with Black African participants who fled from 22 village clusters in Darfur to various refugee camps. The report looks at how attacks by state security men or Janjaweed (armed militia from ethnic Sudanese Arab tribes) intentionally targeted food and water sources to dislodge Black Africans en masse in Darfur from February 2003 to August 2004. The report explores links between these targeted attacks and the ethnic motivations behind them.

Key findings include:

  • Attacks on food and water supplies made it 129% more likely to be displaced compared to attacks that involved house burnings or killing of persons.
  • Perpetrators knew and took “special advantage” of the susceptibility of Darfur residents to attacks focused on resources. This vulnerability came against the backdrop of increased regional desertification.
  • Refugees faced a 50% chance of attack on a daily basis from one or more of the different perpetrator groups at the height of the attacks in January-February 2004.
  • The frequency of hearing racial epithets during an attack was 70% higher when it was led by the Janjaweed alone compared to official police forces; it was 80% higher when the Janjaweed and the Sudanese Government attacked together.
  • Holding constant both the gender and age of respondents, the risk for being displaced was about 18% higher for the refugees who heard racial epithets during the attack.
  • Risk of displacement was nearly 110% higher during a joint attack compared to when the police or Janjaweed acted alone, and 85% higher when Janjaweed forces attacked alone compared to when the attack was only perpetrated by the Sudanese Government forces.
  • Five years after arriving in the camps, the average age of refugees was 37, and the random sample was nearly 60% female due to the high death rate among men of fighting age.

The report concludes that “a key challenge in developing the international criminal law and research on the use of elimination strategies is the issue of intent.” However, as indicated in the above analysis, the authors state that “there is abundant evidence of intent in Darfur.”

Tags: war

    Writer: | Last updated: June 15, 2011

    Citation: Hagan, John,; et al. "The displaced and Dispossessed of Darfur: Explaining the Sources of a Continuing State-led Genocide", The British Journal of Sociology, March, 2011, Vol. 62, Issue 1, 1–25.DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2011.01357.x

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the British Journal of Sociology study "The Displaced and Dispossessed of Darfur: Explaining the Sources of a Continuing State-Led Genocide."

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Read the issue-related New York Times article "Fighting Takes Ominous Turn in Central Sudan."

    1. If you were to write a sidebar article putting the Central Sudan fighting in historical context, what key findings from the academic report would you use?

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.