In 2005, a film production crew visited the war-torn region of Darfur, in the Republic of Sudan, just as the world media was beginning to focus on the conflict there.
|Tens of thousands were displaced by the conflict in Darfur [EPA]
Sudan is divided by the Cameroon Highlands into Eastern and Western regions.
The Eastern region of Sudan, which is segmented into three states – the Northern, Southern and Western states – has attracted media attention since the early 2000s.
However, the roots of the conflict began in the early 1980s when flawed agricultural policies and an impending desertification process exacerbated tensions and enflamed a tribal war between shepherds and farm owners over the mineral-rich, technology-poor region.
The conflict between neighbouring Libya and Chad, resulted in a booming weapons smuggling business and the recruitment of destitute Darfurians to fight a war that was not theirs.
Killed and displaced
The UN estimates that since war officially erupted in Darfur in 2004, 300,000 people have been killed and more than 4.7 million affected out of a population of 6.2 million.
Almost half of those affected by the conflict are children; UN figures indicated that as many as 700,000 may have grown up knowing only war.
The figures suggested a possible genocide against the Sudanese with African heritage was taking place. The situation demanded immediate attention and action from world organisations and figures, especially as every single category and sub-category of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was being violated.
In 2004, the Sudanese government allowed the deployment of UN human rights monitors as part of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which soon grew to 10,000 personnel, to monitor the North-South peace agreement and the deteriorating situation in Darfur.
Kofi Annan, the then UN secretary-general, dispatched Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights, and Juan Mendez, his special advisor on the prevention of genocide to investigate.
They reported serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the region by the government and urged all sides to immediately cease fire.
The conclusion of their report said: "While the government of Sudan has not pursued a policy of genocide, its forces and allied militia have conducted indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement."
Largest relief effort
The UN and its partners are currently running the world's largest relief operation in Darfur. In addition to the routine reporting of violators and all the different abuses, they have also pushed for the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) under the auspices of the African Union (AU) on May 5, 2006.
|Darfur refugees escaped into Chad [GETTY]
The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has also developed, adapted and implemented a three-phase approach to deploy an unprecedented UN/AU Hybrid peacekeeping operation in Darfur called UNAMID, now comprising almost 26,000 troops – after a year's worth of negotiations with the Sudanese government.
On the humanitarian side, the UN and all its departments and branches have helped stabilise the situation by providing access to clean water in 2008 for at least 76 per cent of the people affected by the war, who also have access to basic health services in all major camps; especially in the massive Kalmah camp located in the Southern state.
Primary school enrolment has also increased from 516,000 in 2006 to more than 976,000 in 2008, while mortality rates have dropped by almost half in the same time-frame.
Relief efforts, such as immunisation, have continued to reach the majority of the targeted children, especially those located in the most out-of-reach regions of Darfur.
Locally, the UN also supplied Sudanese citizens with the opportunity to work as navigators, drivers, security personnel, researchers and administrators.
Nevertheless, these feats have not been an easy success. The humanitarian community, and especially UN personnel, has been operating under severe and mostly life-threatening conditions, with continuing violence against them, and rising numbers of attacks on humanitarian convoys.
In the first nine months of 2008, 225 humanitarian vehicles were reportedly hijacked or stolen, 32 of the convoys attacked, 144 humanitarian compounds broken into and 11 workers killed.
Unicef says attacks have led to the reduction of food rations by 25 per cent; the theft of a Unicef-supported drilling rig will leave 180,000 people without a clean water supply.
Other than the existing ground operations, the UN and other agencies in Darfur have been resorting, as a result of the violence against them, to "windows of opportunity", which prompts them to use helicopter missions to visit inaccessible areas for short periods of time to deliver the necessary food, water and medical supplies.
Targeted women, children
Despite these attacks, the UN continues to provide assistance to international media; journalists and media organisations from all over the world first contact the UN mission in Darfur to provide their journalists with the necessary passes, transportation, information, contacts and security.
Meanwhile, the UN continues to try and protect the most vulnerable Darfuris; however, violence against women and children, seems to be increasing rather than decreasing.
According to Unicef officials, children are suffering deprivation and sickness; they have been witness to and victims of violent terror.
In addition to the region's violent instability and the hardships of working in Darfur, UN personnel often find government-sponsored stumbling blocks which prevent them from maximising their efforts.
The UN also now finds itself in a difficult position after Ban Ki-moon, the current UN secretary-general, said that climate conditions and ecological decline have led to the war in Darfur.
Human rights and relief organisations, however, reject this explanation and say the situation in Darfur is a moden-day African Holocaust.
Omar Shoeb is a lecturer at the Modern Science and Arts (MSA) University in Cairo, Egypt, and a producer for OnTV. He toured the Darfur region extensively in 2005 for a documentary called 1593.