In October 2004, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a five-member International Commission of Inquiry to "investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law" in the Darfur region of Sudan and to determine if "acts of genocide had occurred." Beliefnet has excerpted the conclusions and recommendations of the commission's 176-page report, issued on January 25, 2004.

For decades, the arid, impoverished western province of Darfur has been plagued by clashes over land and grazing rights between nomadic Arab tribes and farmers from the black Fur, Massaleet, and Zagawa tribes.

In 2003, two black rebel groups in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, began attacking government installations. The rebels oppose the central government in Khartoum for favoring the country's Arab population at the expense of black Sudanese and advocate a national government that would create a "united democratic Sudan." While the conflict is often described as pitting the Muslim-controlled north of the country against the Christian, animist south, at least 75% of the country's population is Muslim. The current government, headed by Gen. Omer Hassan al-Bashir, who took power in 1989 in a coup d'état, is Islamist.

To quell the rebellion, the Khartoum government began in 2003 to recruit, mobilize, and arm Arabs in Darfur into tribally based militias, most commonly known as Janjaweed. In addition to government-sanctioned anti-rebel activities, these militias attack the civilian population, murdering, raping, torturing, and abducting civilians, and looting property.

Since the conflict began in 2003, tens of thousands of people have died. Some 2 million people in Darfur have fled and are now in teeming refugee camps without adequate food, water, fuel, and medical care, or have fled to neighbouring Chad. The Janjaweed continue to murder and rape refugees who venture outside the camps seeking food or fuel.

Conclusions and Recommendations
The people of Darfur have suffered enormously during the last few years. Their ordeal must remain at the centre of international attention. They have been living a nightmare of violence and abuse that has stripped them of the very little they had. Thousands were killed, women were raped, villages were burned, homes destroyed, and belongings looted. About 1.8 million were forcibly displaced and became refugees or internally displaced persons. They need protection.

Establishing peace and ending the violence in Darfur are essential for improving the human-rights situation. But real peace cannot be established without justice. The Sudanese justice system has unfortunately demonstrated that it is unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute the alleged perpetrators of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. It is absolutely essential that those perpetrators be brought to justice before a competent and credible international criminal court. It is also important that the victims of the crimes committed in Darfur be compensated.

The Sudan is a sovereign state and its territorial integrity must be respected. While the Commission acknowledges that the Sudan has the right to take measures to maintain or re-establish its authority and defend its territorial integrity, sovereignty entails responsibility. The Sudan is required not only to respect international law, but also to ensure its respect. It is regrettable that the Government of the Sudan has failed to protect the rights of its own people. The measures it has taken to counter the insurgency in Darfur have been in blatant violation of international law. The international community must therefore act immediately and take measures to ensure accountability. Those members of rebel groups that have committed serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law must also be held accountable.

Measures taken by all parties to the internal conflict in the Sudan must be in conformity with international law.

The Commission concludes that the Government of the Sudan and the Janjaweed are responsible for a number of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of these violations are very likely to amount to war crimes, and given the systematic and widespread pattern of many of the violations, they would also amount to crimes against humanity. The Commission further finds that the rebel movements are responsible for violations which would amount to war crimes.

In many instances Government forces and militias under their control attacked civilians and destroyed and burned down villages in Darfur contrary to the relevant principles and rules of international humanitarian law. Even assuming that in all the villages they attacked there were rebels present, or at least some rebels were hiding there, or that there were persons supporting rebels a fact that the Commission has been unable to verify for lack of reliable evidence the attackers did not take the necessary precautions to enable civilians to leave the villages or to otherwise be shielded from attack. The impact of the attacks on civilians shows that the use of military force was manifestly disproportionate to any threat posed by the rebels. In addition, it appears that such attacks were also intended to spread terror among civilians so as to compel them to flee the villages. From the viewpoint of international criminal law these violations of international humanitarian law no doubt constitute large-scale war crimes.