Darfur: Shame and Responsibility
by Eric Reeves
Two and a half years after major conflict began in the Darfur province of far western Sudan, it is perversely clear how the future history of this tortured region will be written. Any meaningful account will be guided by a chronology that includes readily discernible signposts of genocidal destruction, beginning in spring 2003; various occasions for empty international condemnation of accelerating ethnically targeted destruction of non-Arab, or “African,” tribal populations throughout Darfur; the numerous, belated stages in an inadequate humanitarian response to rapidly growing concentrations of vulnerable civilian victims; serial failures by the UN and Western democracies to confront Khartoum’s gnocidaires; and desperately expedient reliance upon a glib notion of “African solutions for African problems.”
The protagonists in this history will be many, but are again readily identified: Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime, which continues to dominate Sudan’s new “government of national unity,” formed in July 2005; the Janjaweed, Khartoum’s savagely destructive Arab militia force in Darfur; both of the main insurgency groups in Darfur, which emerged from decades of political and economic marginalization, as well as in response to more recent Arab militia raiding, only to become blind to the massive civilian suffering their increasingly callous actions occasioned; and the African Union (AU), particularly those countries such as Nigeria, Libya, and Egypt that so adamantly refused to acknowledge either the scale of Darfur’s security requirements or the desperate need for non-African humanitarian intervention.
The UN is also culpable, with the manifest failures of both its humanitarian and political organizations—China in particular has paralyzed the UN Security Council, ensuring that no effective actions have been taken against a regime that has allowed Chinese oil companies to become dominant in Sudan’s burgeoning petroleum industry; blame also falls on the United States, the United Kingdom, and Denmark—all of which muted their criticism of Khartoum’s genocide in Darfur for much of 20032004 in the interest of securing a north/south Sudanese peace agreement; and particular disgrace falls to those wealthy nations—such as Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and the oil-rich Arab countries—that failed to respond meaningfully to desperate funding appeals for starving and acutely vulnerable civilians.
It is a history that will flatter none, shame all, and take its grim place within the ongoing debate about the criteria and threshold for international humanitarian intervention. Even as all this is painfully clear, as of August 2005, only one significant international organization, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, has called for humanitarian intervention in Darfur involving non-AU forces. The ICG’s July 2005 report on the Darfur crisis (“The AU’s Mission in Darfur: Bridging the Gaps”) is one of many by the organization that has traced—with authoritative research and real intellectual force—Darfur’s catastrophe almost from the beginning of major fighting. But only two and a half years after the beginning of conflict did ICG become the first important international actor to argue explicitly for a military force to supplement what the AU has provided.
Specifically, the ICG argues for a NATO “bridging force” that would raise the number of military personnel in Darfur to a minimum of twelve thousand to fifteen thousand by early September 2005. Though the report tactfully speaks of this force as “bridging” the gap between the urgent need for deployment of supplemental NATO troops and the future moment in which the AU could take over the mission in Darfur entirely, current realities make it clear that the task of a NATO bridging force would be governed by the duration of Darfur’s security crisis.
The ICG recommendations are, despite their admirable tact, bluntly and unpalatably realistic. And it is precisely the military realism of the ICG assessment that ensures that the organization has no political company in offering such an assessment or in making such robust recommendations—either from governments, human rights groups, the UN, or any other international actor of consequence. Rather, in some quarters a different sort of realism has set in. For example, convinced that Western powers will simply not offer their own troops to stop genocide in Africa, Romo Dallaire—UN force commander in Rwanda during the genocide and now a Canadian senator with primary responsibilities for Canada’s Darfur policy—has tried to articulate a best-case defense for accepting as adequate an expansion of the AU. And in May 2005, after many months of dithering, the AU belatedly asked for, and received, offers by NATO countries to provide transport and logistical support, as well as commitments of equipment. This has given some measure of plausibility to a significantly increased AU deployment.
But the simple truth is that the AU is not nearly ready for the exceptionally difficult Darfur mission. Though important as successor to the morally and politically corrupt Organization of African Unity (OAU), the AU has neither the resources, the manpower, the logistical ability, nor the administrative capacity to undertake responsibility for human security in Darfur. Most fundamentally, it has no mandate to protect civilians or humanitarian operations in Darfur—a fundamental shortcoming that reveals the deep political inadequacies of the AU in confronting Khartoum.
There are other problems as well. The AU has no previous training or field experience for such a massive undertaking as represented by Darfur’s crisis. And AU (and more broadly African) commitments to peacekeeping operations elsewhere in Africa, especially southern Sudan, have seriously depleted the ranks of troops who might otherwise be available for deployment to Darfur. This is one reason that the AU has set a target figure of 7,700 personnel to be deployed in Darfur by September: no higher figure is even vaguely tenable, even as security tasks on the ground in Darfur demand more than twice this number. To be sure, AU officials have spoken vaguely of reaching a force level of twelve thousand troops by spring 2006. But such a scandalously dilatory time-frame for deploying troops that the ICG has determined are needed immediately provides only further evidence of the AU’s inability to respond in a timely or adequate fashion.
One leading African official refused to toe the AU line drawn by Nigeria, which chairs the organization, and those other African countries that continue to insist on “African solutions to African problems.” The foreign minister of Senegal, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, declared on July 20 (with visiting U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice standing uncomfortably by his side) that the government of Senegal was “totally dissatisfied” with AU claims to have stopped genocide, declaring that the current situation in Darfur was “totally unacceptable”:
We [in the government of Senegal] don’t like the fact that the AU has asked the international community to allow us to bring an African solution to an African problem and unfortunately the logistics from our own governments do not follow.
But Gadio has been the only one to voice such a bracingly honest view in public, and the default response among African officials continues to be support for an AU force—coalescing on an ad hoc basis—that has neither a common language nor, critically, the “inter-operability” of personnel and equipment components that would make NATO such an effective force in Darfur. This full operational cohesiveness of forces is one of the military requirements stressed by the ICG. It is a highly efficient force multiplier, and its value cannot be overstated. Significantly, inter-operability is one of the military requirements stressed by the ICG, even as it is never mentioned by those who continue to defer to AU insistence that the organization by itself is adequate to provide security in Darfur. This is because the ICG is the only organization to have researched military opinion about what is actually required for human security in Darfur and then spoken out.
By contrast, Secretary of State Rice was asked repeatedly during a March 2005 interview granted to journalists of the Washington Post, “How many troops would be required to stop genocide in Darfur?” Because the Bush administration has been committed to a genocide determination since the September 2004 Senate testimony of former secretary of state Colin Powell, the Post question posed to Rice had inescapable force. Her predictable and reiterated response—”I don’t know”—is either true, and a scandalous point of ignorance, or (as is highly likely) false, and reveals the Bush administration’s refusal to admit what would reveal the inadequacy of the AU as an international response to genocide.
It should be noted that the ICG estimate of the force required in Darfur—”at least 12,000 to 15,000″—is well below that of many other military experts. Indeed, earlier this year Dallaire estimated that the force required would be approximately 44,000 NATO-quality troops. Such an estimate is well within the consensus range offered by military experts. This, of course, presumes a “permissive” environment—one in which the National Islamic Front accepts humanitarian intervention (the NIF still fully controls the armed forces, the security services, and significant paramilitary forces, including the Janjaweed and the notorious Popular Defense Forces). All military planners accept that if intervention takes place in a “non-permissive” environment, force requirements would double or triple at least.
Iraq casts an enormous shadow over all such discussions, as Tony Judt argued in the New York Review of Books (July 15, 2005). But Judt refuses to allow the arrogance of the U.S.-led war to obscure the difficult questions of humanitarian intervention and points to the central issue defining international hesitation to confront the “powerful criminal tyrants [who are] the leaders of Sudan”:
International law—like the UN itself—was conceived in a world where wars broke out between countries, peace was duly brokered among states, and a major concern of postWorld War II settlement was to guarantee the inviolability of borders and sovereignty. Today’s wars typically happen within states. The distinction between peacemaking and peacekeeping—between intervention, assistance, and coercion—is unclear, as are the rights of the conflicting parties and the circumstances under which foreign agencies may resort to force. In this confusing new world, well-meaning Western diplomats and observers have sometimes proven unable to distinguish between warring states—operating under conventional diplomatic norms—and locally powerful criminal tyrants, such as the leaders of Sudan. Negotiation with the latter too often amounts to collaboration and even complicity.
The confusions and sources of diffidence that Judt identifies are precisely those that either impede an appropriate international response to Darfur or at least obscure the cynical unwillingness to uphold the primary contractual obligation defined within the 1948 UN Genocide Convention—”to prevent genocide.” All current members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, are contracting parties to the Convention.
It Is Still Genocide in Darfur
Judt’s argument at least occasions a clear question: “Is the international community prepared to do all that is necessary to halt massive, ongoing genocidal destruction in Darfur and thereby honor its obligations under the UN Genocide Convention?” The answer, on present evidence, is clearly no. But for various reasons, the clarity of such a question has been obscured by poor thinking about the nature of genocide in Darfur, as well as equally poor reporting about the scale of human mortality. In turn, a widespread refusal to speak frankly about the capabilities of the AU has compounded the difficulties in framing the discussion of humanitarian intervention.
Though it is clear that large-scale violence involving the various combatants—the Janjaweed, Khartoum’s regular military forces (ground and air), and the two major insurgency movements—has subsided significantly in recent months, this does not signal the end of genocidal destruction. Violence has diminished primarily because most of the non-Arab or African tribal villages have been destroyed—90 percent is the estimate among those in the Darfuri diaspora with contacts on the ground in Darfur. That there are fewer civilian targets of opportunity for Khartoum and the Janjaweed (stressed by Kofi Annan in his July report on Darfur to the UN Security Council) is no evidence of diminished genocidal ambitions.
Moreover, it is important to recall that Article 2 of the Genocide Convention stipulates five acts constitutive of genocide (“acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”), including “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Though all five of the stipulated acts continue to be committed in Darfur, clearly directed against the Fur, Massaleit, Zaghawa, and other African tribal groups, deaths are now overwhelmingly a function of malnutrition and disease—which grow out of “conditions of life calculated to bring about [these groups’] physical destruction in whole or in part.”
Malnutrition and disease are not by-products of conflict in Darfur, they are not collateral damage; they are the intended consequences of previous acts of violence that deliberately and comprehensively destroyed the livelihoods of whole groups of people—”as such.” When Khartoum and the Janjaweed, acting militarily in concert, destroyed massive numbers of villages—primarily but not exclusively in 2003 and 2004—they did not simply torch buildings, kill men, rape women and girls, and abduct children. They burned food- and seed-stocks, as well as agricultural implements; they destroyed irrigation systems and poisoned water wells with corpses, enormously destructive acts in this arid region; they cut down fruit trees (time-consuming but powerfully symbolic and deeply consequential acts); and they looted cattle and agricultural animals, as well as all other tangible wealth.
The people of these destroyed villages are now either dead, displaced, or food-dependent. Indeed, the UN World Food Program estimates that 3.5 million Darfuris, more than half the prewar population, need international food assistance. The agricultural economy has largely collapsed, and meaningful food production will not resume before the 2006 fall harvest—if then. Conditions in the camps that now house approximately two million displaced persons ensure the ongoing threat of disease, including malaria; cholera; dysentery; various other diarrheal diseases; hepatitis E; and a range of communicable diseases, including measles, meningitis, and polio.
Deaths from disease and malnutrition are no less genocidal in nature than those caused by the violence that created conditions that ensured these subsequent deaths would occur. Humanitarian intervention to reverse these conditions is just as necessary as intervention to halt violent genocidal killings. Not to accept this conclusion is to insist, without explanation or justification, that a different, attenuated genocide convention obtains in Darfur. It is for too many an effort to impose the template of Rwanda’s genocide on Darfur—crudely, callously, irresponsibly.
The peculiarly controversial issue of human mortality in Darfur has also contributed to an unwillingness to recognize genocide. Many implicitly argue that there simply aren’t enough dead bodies for this to be genocide. Perhaps it is massive, ethnically targeted human destruction and displacement; “ethnic cleansing” is a term of choice for some, but they do not see it as genocide.
International jurisprudence has in fact addressed the question of how great a “part” of targeted populations must be destroyed before the Genocide Convention becomes relevant. The most authoritative commentary on this question appears in an opinion issued in April 2004 by the Appeals Chamber of the International Tribunal for violations of international law in the former Yugoslavia, in a review of Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic (Case No. IT-98-33-T). The Appeals Chamber found that it is well established that where a conviction for genocide relies on the intent to destroy a protected group [i.e., “national, ethnical, racial or religious” group] “in part,” the part must be a substantial part of that group. The part targeted must be significant enough to have an impact on the group as a whole. (Paragraph 8).
Citing Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide” (and was instrumental in drafting the UN Genocide Convention of 1948), the Appeals Chamber noted that “‘the destruction in part must be of a substantial nature so as to affect the entirety'” (Paragraph 10).
If we survey the situation in Darfur, with 3.5 million conflict-affected persons—the total of those in need of international food aid (and this excludes two hundred thousand refugees in eastern Chad)—and with mortality in the hundreds of thousands, we have to conclude that the relevant quantitative threshold has been reached. Khartoum’s actions have deliberately threatened, indeed destroyed, a “substantial part” of Darfur’s African tribal groups, and this will undeniably “have an impact on these groups as a whole.”
In fact, mortality data strongly suggest that a “part” of the targeted African populations has already been deliberately destroyed. The only mortality studies that seriously attempt to account for violent deaths in Darfur (still likely the majority in overall mortality) reach conclusions between three hundred thousand and four hundred thousand deaths from all causes. Lower estimates, including the current UN figure, exclude violent mortality, either knowingly or unwittingly.
Here it is worth recalling that as recently as July 2004 the UN estimate for total mortality in Darfur, from all causes, stood at ten thousand. By contrast, the most recent UN estimate (March 2005), crudely derived from a mortality study conducted in late summer 2004 by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), stands at eighteen times this figure—180,000. And this represents mortality only in accessible camps (and thus primarily deaths from malnutrition and disease), not in the villages and rural areas where the overwhelming majority of violent deaths have occurred. The use of 180,000 as a “global” mortality figure, more than five months after its initial promulgation, is a measure of disgraceful journalistic slovenliness.
Much worse than this slovenliness, however, is the U.S. State Department’s effort to promulgate a figure of 63,000 to 146,000 total deaths in Darfur. Previously classified, a hopelessly inadequate mortality “study” was posted on the State Department Web site after a Washington Post editorial harshly criticized Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick for citing an untenably low mortality estimate. The State Department document, still posted at http://www.state.gov/s/inr/rls/fs/2005/45105.htm, contains not a single reference, not a single specific citation of any data, and offers not a single statistical derivation. It is little more than propaganda, and is held in contempt by knowledgeable career officials.
The point of such lowballing of mortality was, however, unmistakable—and is of a piece with Secretary Rice’s refusal to offer an honest answer to the question of “how many troops would be required to stop genocide in Darfur?” By defining the catastrophe in such low terms and by failing to acknowledge that human security in Darfur requires a much greater force than can be provided by the AU, Bush administration officials have diminished both the urgency of the crisis and the need for a Western response to halt genocide.
Recent news reporting on mortality in Darfur has focused on a second WHO-overseen assessment of mortality rates (not totals) for the period November 2004 to May 2005. This study found that Darfur’s Crude Mortality Rate (which measures deaths per day per ten thousand of population) had fallen slightly below the “emergency” threshold as defined by humanitarian organizations (a CMR of 1.0). But given the enormous denominator of conflict-affected persons—at least 3.5 million—this rate still indicates “excess mortality” (those deaths beyond what would be statistically expected) greater than six thousand civilians per month. Moreover, the period represented in the study preceded the annual rainy season that begins in June and largely coincides with the traditional “hunger gap” (between late spring planting and fall harvest). There is every reason to believe that mortality has again surged well above the “emergency” threshold and will remain above this level following the failure of the fall 2005 harvest.
Most important, we must not lose sight of the fact that these deaths are not the result of natural disaster, even if drought and desertification have played large roles in exacerbating the humanly engineered catastrophe in Darfur. These deaths are the result of genocide, whatever diminishment in rate, whatever the decline in directly violent mortality. Even assuming the current relevance of the most recent WHO mortality study, every two months—for the foreseeable future—the number of genocidal deaths in Darfur will exceed the UN estimate of eleven thousand for all deaths in Kosovo.
At this writing, in late summer 2005, unpromising and desultory peace negotiations continue in Abuja, Nigeria, between Khartoum and the Darfur insurgency movements. These occur in the extremely ominous shadow of the July 30 death of John Garang, leader of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and inaugurated as first vice president of Sudan on July 9, 2005. Following Garang’s death in an aviation accident, there is no effective domestic force within the Khartoum government that might bring political pressure to bear in the pursuit of peace in Darfur. This makes even more effective the external obstructionism that is clearly Chinese policy on Darfur in particular and Sudan more generally: Beijing is cynically satisfied with low-level, ongoing conflict that destabilizes its most promising source of offshore oil production and thereby makes competitive entry of Western oil companies unlikely.
It is now no longer possible to see how even diplomatic agreement in Abuja can significantly diminish what many have described as the “climate of impunity” that prevails in Darfur, a climate that preserves the genocidal status quo. The international decision to acquiesce in the ongoing genocide even as this crime has been referred to the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council—under an attenuated rubric of “crimes against humanity”—will remain the central fact, however the future history of Darfur is written.
Eric Reeves teaches English at Smith College and writes widely on the crisis in Darfur. For up-to-date information, visit his Web site at www.sudanreeves.org