from The New Republic [on-line]
February 9, 2006
Last week, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer signaled a shift in American policy towards Darfur when she refused to say that genocide was currently taking place in the region. Asked twice whether the Darfur genocide was ongoing, she would only say that “a genocide has occurred in Sudan and we continue to be concerned about the security environment in Darfur.” In other words, there was a genocide but now it’s over. Frazer went on to assert that “there isn’t large-scale organized violence taking place today,” while describing the current situation as “a series of small attacks and incidents.”
This is mendacity. Recent reports from South Darfur, for example, make clear that approximately 70,000 civilians have been violently displaced by Janjaweed raids. They were attacked primarily in camps for displaced persons in the Mershing and Shearia areas; and they were attacked because they were mostly Zaghawa, one of the non-Arab or African tribal groups of Darfur. Moreover, the timing of the massive Janjaweed attack makes it highly likely that the signal for the attack came from Khartoum’s military. That’s because several days before the onslaught, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) assaulted a nearby government military garrison in Golo, killing several of Khartoum’s regular troops. The SLA in this part of Darfur draws heavily from the Zaghawa–the targets of the subsequent Janjaweed attacks.
This replicates the basic pattern of the last three years: Khartoum seeks to destroy Darfur’s non-Arab or African tribal populations as a means of counterinsurgency warfare. These actions clearly fall under the 1948 U.N. Convention on Genocide, which says that intent to destroy civilian populations based on their ethnicity constitutes genocide. The most recent attacks on civilians, gathered in camps for the displaced, were clearly aimed at the Zaghawa. They therefore qualify as further acts of genocide.
So too do the rampant destruction of crops, agricultural fields, and water sources of African peoples, actions recently highlighted by Physicians for Human Rights in an extraordinary report that stands as the most authoritative indictment of Khartoum for the crime of genocide. PHR field researchers found “intense destruction of land holdings, communities, families, as well as the disruption of all means of sustaining livelihoods and procuring basic necessities.” The organization concluded that “By eliminating access to food, water and medicine, expelling people into inhospitable terrain and then, in many cases, blocking crucial outside assistance, the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed have created conditions calculated to destroy the non-Arab people of Darfur in contravention of the ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.'” It’s a shame the State Department doesn’t agree.
So why has the Bush administration chosen this moment to suggest that genocide is no longer taking place? Some of the answer lies in the awkwardness of having declared Darfur to be the site of genocide–which Colin Powell did in September 2004–but subsequently proving unable to do anything about it. Aside from American bluster at the U.N. and some time on the ground by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, the Bush administration has shown no stomach for meaningful action–and certainly not for humanitarian intervention by western troops, the only means of halting the genocide. Lacking an effective policy, Bush officials apparently decided simply to rename the crisis.
But another part of the answer lies in the U.S. assuming the presidency of the U.N. Security Council for the month of February. Darfur activists, human rights organizations, and policy groups expected much from the U.S. during this month; for example, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group recently coauthored a letter asking the Security Council to authorize,
“a transition of the African Union force in Darfur to a UN mission under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Such a mission should have a strong and clear mandate that will allow it to protect itself and civilians by force if necessary, and to disarm and disband the government-sponsored Janjaweed forces that have confiscated land or pose a threat to the civilian population. … [I]t should be a force large enough to provide security throughout Darfur–some 20,000 strong—with capabilities that, realistically, only countries with significant military assets and mobility will be able to provide.”
Because the Bush administration probably never had any intention of supporting such a robust force, to which it would be pressured to commit significant military resources, assuming the presidency of the Security Council actually creates a problematic moment: What will the State Department and its U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, do? (After all, it was Bolton who several months ago prevented the Security Council from hearing a report on Darfur by Juan Mendez, U.N. special advisor on the prevention of genocide, declaring that he was sick of reports and wanted “action.”) The answer has come in three parts. First, Frazer pointedly refused to say that genocide was still taking place. Second, Bolton has introduced a “Statement by the President of the Security Council”–not a resolution, which would actually have authorizing force, but a statement that will enable only contingency planning for some sort of U.N. peacekeeping mission, while serving largely as a diplomatic placeholder for the U.S. during the month of February. Finally, behind the scenes at Turtle Bay, there is an effort underway to limit the mission that will actually deploy when the U.N. takes over for the largely ineffectual African Union troops, according to a U.N. military official involved in the planning.
This last move is particularly disturbing. The goal seems to be to make the new force so unthreatening to Khartoum that the regime will accept it as the price of forestalling any further, more robust, international efforts. According to the U.N. military official, several members of the Security Council, including the U.S., are seeking to deny the mission much of the sophisticated equipment Kofi Annan spoke of at several points in January (“tactical air support, helicopters, and the ability to respond very quickly”; “very sophisticated equipment, logistical support”).
Asked if such a force would include rich countries, like the U.S. and European nations, Annan said at the time that “those are the countries with the kind of capabilities we will need, so when the time comes, we will be turning to them. … I will be turning to governments with capacity to join in that peacekeeping operation if we were to be given the mandate.” But according to the U.N. military official, neither the U.S. nor European nations will be asked to contribute a significant number of troops to the mission.
Moreover, it remains to be seen whether the U.S. or the Europeans will push for a Chapter VII mandate (which would give U.N. forces peacemaking authority) or a Chapter VI mandate (which would only give U.N. forces peacekeeping authority). The latter would be wholly inadequate to stop the genocide, since there is presently no peace to keep.
Of equal concern is the size of the U.N. force. The U.N. official says that Security Council members are seeking to impose a ceiling of 12,000 on the number of troops. Such a force would not be nearly large enough to provide security for people seeking to return to their land. Absent a peace agreement that is nowhere in sight, the failure to provide enough troops would consign more than 2 million displaced persons and refugees to camps where the only constants of life are insecurity, disease, and desperation.
If this is as much as the U.N. is prepared to offer the victims of genocide, then the international community will have failed Darfur once more, and yet more profoundly. Then again, if it’s not really a genocide, the failure will be of lesser moral magnitude–part of the ordinary bumbling and stumbling of the international community. So evidently goes the thinking of the Bush administration.
Of course the Europeans are just as guilty here: Their Parliament declared that realities in Darfur were “tantamount to genocide” in September 2004–the vote was 566 to 6–and they were present in September 2005 when the U.N. World Summit formally proclaimed “a responsibility to protect” civilians when “national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.” Fine words. Unsurprisingly, no European leaders seem inclined to act on those words. They could learn a valuable lesson in realpolitik from the State Department: If you can’t stop a genocide, just call it something else.
[Eric Reeves is Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College, and has published extensively on Sudan.]