Eric Reeves, 12 May 2004
There are no trains leading to the death camps of Darfur: transportation takes the form of militarily coerced displacement, forcing the African tribal peoples of Darfur, bereft of all resources, to trek over a harsh and unforgiving landscape. We have no idea how many have perished on these journeys of terror because the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum has worked to restrict all news access and continues to impede humanitarian access to all but a few areas. But we can be sure that the number is measured in the tens of thousands.
There are no crematoria in the Darfur camps: blistering heat, rapid decomposition, and scavenging animals have disposed of most of the bodies to date, and Khartoum’s military transport assets are now removing many more bodies from the sites of better reported atrocities and mass executions, dumping them in remote locations. Still, when the death rate soars, when engineered famine begins to accelerate beyond control later this fall, the bodies will simply decompose where they fall. The vast piles of corpses—presently missing from the picture of genocide that is evidently required for UN or international action—will be fully in evidence.
The camps will then be abandoned by Khartoum and its Arab militia allies (the Janjaweed), their genocidal task completed. Survivors, the few who manage to fashion a means of existence over these cruel months, will have no land to which to return. Their livelihoods and culture will have been destroyed. Present skeptics about whether there is genocide in Darfur will no doubt retreat into variously disingenuous professions of ignorance: “we didn’t know that conditions were so bad,” or “we didn’t have the pictures,” or most disgracefully, asking “how could we have known that this would happen?”
But there is no ambiguity in Darfur. There is no lack of unassailable evidence or authority in previously conducted human rights investigations, especially by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Even the recently released UN report on the human rights catastrophe in Darfur, hedged and trimmed by the political realities of the UN in New York, makes fully clear the immense human suffering and destruction deriving from Khartoum’s genocidal ambitions.
Within this widespread, deliberate, and systematic assault on the African civilian populations of Darfur a new holocaust is burning. Genocide has begun again, threatening the Fur, the Massaleit, the Zaghawa, and other African peoples—“as such.”
Khartoum’s strategy of massive civilian displacement has been in place for over a year, generating a highly vulnerable population of well over 1 million Darfuri people, overwhelmingly from the African tribal groups of the region. This is the population that continues to fill badly overcrowded camps, in conditions that are presently appalling and rapidly deteriorating. These camps are already ghastly arenas of catastrophic child mortality, acute malnutrition and water shortages, surging disease rates, even as entire inmate populations face rape, torture, and murder on a daily basis. It will soon become much worse.
There are no sanitary provisions in the camps. As a consequence, disease—especially the water-borne diseases that will very soon proliferate with the impending seasonal rains—looms as the source of many tens of thousands of casualties in the very near future. Outbreaks of cholera have been reported, and meningitis above the “epidemic” threshold has been reported in at least one camp for the displaced in Chad. Cholera, while eminently treatable with proper medical intervention, is likely to spread uncontrollably soon, taking huge numbers of casualties. Measles, frequently fatal among weakened child populations, has been reported in a number of locations. The already catastrophic child mortality rates will soon spiral out of control.
But, perversely, the camps continue to beckon as “safe havens” from the military threat of Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia allies; unconstrained and ongoing savagery has turned the lands of the Fur, the Massaleit, the Zaghawa, and others into killing fields. Terror beyond description has left these agriculturally productive civilians no choice but to flee toward camps located throughout Darfur and spilling into Chad. In turn, the camps in Darfur are controlled by Khartoum’s regular military and intelligence forces, and by the Janjaweed. Ominously, control is often relegated entirely to the Janjaweed.
[Cross-border raids by the Janjaweed into Chad, against refugee camps and Chadian villages, are also being reported by international news services and humanitarian organizations on an ongoing basis. See Reuters, May 5, 2004; Agence France-Presse, May 5 & 8, 2004; BBC May 6 & 8, 2004; Associated Press, May 9, 2004]
Once in the camps, the displaced Darfuris becomes inmates—restrained by force, by the surrounding presence of menacing Janjaweed forces, and by a desperate hope for the food and security that no longer exist in their homelands. This hope seems no more warranted than that offered to European Jews in the form of Nazi promises of work and survival to “the east.”
In the main, there is no escape from the camps, even when it becomes clear that the most likely fate they offer is extermination through disease, starvation, and murder.
The camps, to be sure, vary considerably—depending largely on whether or not there is an international humanitarian presence. But food is rapidly running out throughout Darfur, and there are not nearly enough pre-positioned stocks for the coming months. The very Janjaweed militias that have done most to disrupt food production in Darfur will commandeer (as they already have on a number of occasions) future humanitarian deliveries. UN maps of the increasingly numerous and overcrowded camps make clear that humanitarian access and presence is already extremely limited. When the food does run out, this will precipitate a radically new and extraordinarily dangerous humanitarian crisis for which there is no contemplated response.
For the present, we may be sure that all too many of the camps are like the Kailek concentration camp south of Kass in South Darfur, definitively assessed by a UN inter-agency team in late April (“Report: A United Nations Inter-Agency fact-finding and humanitarian needs assessment mission, Kailek, South Darfur, 24 April 2004” [this team is not the UN human rights investigative team whose report on Darfur was suppressed at the annual Geneva meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights, though press accounts have blurred this fact]).
Most strikingly, the UN inter-agency team made clear that the realities of the Kailek concentration camp justify an explicit comparison between Darfur and Rwanda. Their report thus joins a growing chorus of human rights and humanitarian professionals who find the Rwandan genocide the only appropriate point of historical reference.
Mukesh Kapila, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, declared in the closing days of his tenure that “the only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the number” of casualties, and that Darfur was not simply a conflict but an “organized attempt to do away” with ethnically defined groups of people (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 22, 2004). Kapila was in Rwanda at the time of the genocide in 1994.
Samantha Power, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning study of genocide, expressed at a recent Congressional hearing on Rwanda her fear that, “in ten years we’ll be sitting on a similar panel,” talking about Darfur instead of Rwanda.
John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group very recently spoke of Darfur and Sudan generally as “Rwanda in slow motion” (“Ethnic Cleansing in Darfur: A New Front Opens in Sudan’s Bloody War,” before the House Committee on International Relations, May 6, 2004)
Human Rights Watch, in the introduction to its powerful new report on Darfur, based on deeply important research in both Darfur and Chad, declares: “Ten years after the Rwandan genocide and despite years of soul-searching, the response of the international community to the events in Sudan has been nothing short of shameful” (“Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan,” Human Rights Watch, May 6, 2004)
What did the UN team find in Kailek? It is important to note first the team’s keen awareness that it caught only a glimpse of the horrors of the camps: “We are sure that the team would have learned more about the crimes committed against civilians in the region had it been granted wider access to the areas of conflict. The stories that we have received from the survivors of the acts of mass murder are very painful for us and they remind us of the brutalities of the Rwanda genocide.”
Kailek may have gained sufficient profile to force a UN investigation, but there are now dozens of camps completely beyond reach, beyond scrutiny, and in all likelihood beyond hope. The total population is likely pushing toward 1 million, as more and more of the displaced see no option but to enter the camps.
In aggregate, these concentration camps in Darfur have become an African Auschwitz. Their purpose is human destruction. Those being destroyed have been displaced and concentrated in these camps because of who they are, because of their racial/ethnic identity as Fur, Massaleit, Zaghawa, and members of other African tribal groups.
The specific findings at Kailek thus demand the closest possible attention, as access to other camps will now likely be even more severely restricted (Khartoum’s obstructionism is highlighted at several points in the UN team’s report). We are morally obliged to infer from this limited data larger conclusions about the camps throughout Darfur:
The UN team found that “the circumstances of the internally displaced persons in Kailek [must] be described as imprisonment.”
The team found that, “with a under five child mortality rate of 8-9 children per day due to malnutrition, and with the Government of Sudan security representatives permanently located in the town without having reported this phenomena to the UN, despite it having taken place for several weeks, [this] also indicates a local policy of forced starvation.”
The team found that, “the numerous testimonies collected by the team, substantiated by the actual observations on the ground, particularly the longstanding prevention of access to food, alludes to a strategy of systematic and deliberate starvation being enforced by the Government of Sudan and its security forces on the ground.”
The team found that, “the Government of Sudan has deliberately deceived the United Nations by repeatedly refuting claims to the seriousness of the situation in Kailek as well as having actively resisted the need for intervention by preventing the UN access to the area.”
And the team also found that, “despite having been directly informed of the grave findings made by the UN mission in Kailek, the Government of Sudan continues to stall any concrete actions related to this urgent relocation.”
“Strategy of systematic and deliberate starvation,” “imprisonment,” a “policy of forced starvation,” an unreported “child mortality rate of 8-9 per day,” and the continued obstruction of humanitarian aid for this critically distressed, forcibly confined population—and the explicit comparison, by professional humanitarian aid workers, to Rwanda.
This is genocide.
Numerous reports coming to this writer on a daily basis from Darfuri sources, including the original source reporting on conditions in Kailek, make clear that this particular camp is distinctive only by virtue of having come under scrutiny. Unsurprisingly, Khartoum is actively working to diminish this scrutiny, and there is considerable evidence of the regime’s success in silencing witnesses to the realities of Darfur. For example, Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT) reports (May 10, 2004) that a number of people from the Fur tribe were arrested for meeting with the International Committee of the Red Cross on May 9, 2004 in order to report on human rights abuses, graves containing bodies from mass executions, and conditions in the camps of Darfur. The men are all being held incommunicado in the regime’s Kabkabia security offices (SOAT press release, May 10, 2004). There are scores of such reports.
But tragically, the most painfully telling feature of the Auschwitz analogy is the international response to the crisis, and the increasingly contrived refusal to accept or assign responsibility for what is occurring in Darfur. Nowhere is this rapidly compounding moral failure clearer than at the United Nations. Here, Bertrand Ramcharan, acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, offers a signal example of such failure. In presenting a UN human rights report on Darfur, Ramcharan declared: “first, there is a reign of terror in this areas; second, there is a scorched-earth policy; third, there is repeated war crime sand crimes against humanity; and fourth, this is taking place before our very eyes” (Associated Press, May 8, 2004)
But while declaring further that the Khartoum regime “clearly has supported the militias, organized the militias, and this is taking place with the knowledge and support, and the active complicity of the [Khartoum] government,” Ramcharan concluded with a spineless bit of semantic incoherence:
“But when asked if he held the government of Sudan responsible for the atrocities, Ramcharan said: ‘I condemn the government of Sudan and I do not think it was responsible.” (Associated Press, May 8, 2004)
Out of such diplomatic failure of nerve and dishonesty, genocides are fashioned.
For the destruction of Darfur is not spontaneously occurring. Nor is it mere “collateral damage,” as Khartoum’s ambassador to the UN, Fatih Erwa, declared in his contemptuous response to the findings in the UN report (Reuters, May 7, 2004). On the contrary, Khartoum’s campaign of displacement and its system of concentration camps amount to deliberate, systematic, widespread human destruction animated by racial/ethnic hatred. It can be halted only if the genocidaires in Khartoum, who have so far enjoyed immunity from any meaningful international sanctions, are held accountable, and presented with an ultimatum for humanitarian intervention.
All too predictably, the UN Security Council—though fully briefed by Ramcharan and by the UN humanitarian assessment team recently back from Darfur—declined at the end of last week (May 8, 2004) to condemn Khartoum, let along begin the urgent task of planning for an international humanitarian intervention. The long slide toward utter catastrophe in Darfur continues to accelerate.
For humanitarian intervention, so conspicuously unmentioned by the Security Council, is now all that can save hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians. Plans for such intervention must confront squarely and honestly the present realities in Darfur if there is to be any chance for real success. Comments like those by Ramcharan, silence on the part of the UN Security Council, and suggestions from various quarters that the humanitarian crisis is somehow still manageable—all make the task of a meaningful response more difficult.
For the first truth that must be acknowledged is that this catastrophe can no longer be averted, only mitigated. As many as fifty thousand or more may have died already; more than twice that number will surely die in the next few months. The world simply must not learn to live with a moral or geopolitical calculus in which the deaths of well over 100,000 Africans are acceptable, or count as anything but a profound international failure.
Secondly, the greatest challenge over the next eighteen months will be providing food for a population that has now missed the planting season that might have produced a critically important fall harvest. This planting season has been missed because there is no security from Janjaweed predations, even as most of those who have been displaced from their lands are desperate to return. Without this fall harvest, and with their own food reserves already exhausted, the people of Darfur will require humanitarian food assistance for more than a year. The affected population is well over 1 million. 1.2 million is the most recent figure from the US Agency for International Development for the war-affected population, and this number continues to grow steadily.
The only way in which food in sufficient quantity can be supplied for a population this large and dependent, over an extended period of time, is by overland transport. Airlifting such quantities of food for so many people is simply not practicable over the longer term. Since the road arteries between Chad and Darfur will shortly be fully severed by the seasonal rains, the most logistically suitable means of transport is Sudan’s rail line from Port Sudan through El Obeid, terminating in Nyala (South Darfur). The challenges of such food transport by rail are very considerable (see previous analysis of the subject by this writer; available upon request). Implementation will almost certainly entail an infringement upon Khartoum’s inevitable claim of “national sovereignty.”
But this only serves to put the real issue in the starkest possible form: is the international community prepared to allow Khartoum’s genocidaires to obstruct food aid to over 1 million people? Is the international community prepared to accept the hundreds of thousands of casualties that will follow from such obstruction? Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator at the US Agency for International Development, testified before the full House International Relations Committee on May 6, 2004 that the number of dead would be between 300,000 and 400,000 if humanitarian access and security in Darfur did not increase dramatically. Is this a number that we may in any way countenance? Can we do so without giving full meaning to Prendergast’s terrible phrase: Darfur “is Rwanda in slow motion”?
Acquiescing in Khartoum’s claim of “national sovereignty,” given the inevitable consequences, is morally indistinguishable from the international refusal to intervene in Rwanda during the 100 days of slaughter in the spring of 1994. The international community either does what is necessary to provide food, and security on the ground in Darfur—especially in liberating the death camps and protecting humanitarian workers and assets–or we will indeed be holding meaningless hearings on Darfur ten years from now.
To be sure, some in the UN and the international community are desperate not to confront Khartoum, given the regime’s continued support from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Countries. And some are dignifying their refusal to act by virtue of a contrived agnosticism. Thoroughly persuasive accounts have reached this writer of high-level expressions of doubt within the UN and some nongovernmental organizations about the scale of Darfur’s catastrophe. Human rights organizations are being accused of rushing to conclusions, generalizing from insufficient and doubtful data. Again the cynically skeptical query, “where are the piles of dead bodies?”
The question is posed with what seems an astonishingly willful ignorance of both the terms of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as well as the statistical data that is now available. It certainly takes no cognizance of a key element of the definition of genocide found in the 1948 Convention:
“Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” (Article 2, clause [c], 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide)
Perhaps because this language—so clearly characterizing Khartoum’s actions in Darfur—does not require “piles of dead bodies” to justify a finding of genocide, there has been a corresponding skepticism about the projected morality rates for Darfur, particularly the projections of the US Agency for International Development (see data at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf). The data for these projections were the basis for much of US AID Assistant Administrator Roger Winter’s recent Congressional testimony. Despite the authority of these data, they seem to have become a focus for doubt, if not scorn. Such doubt and scorn are perversely misplaced.
The epidemiological data in the US AID chart for Darfur draw fully on data from famines in Ethiopia and in Bahr el-Ghazal Province in southern Sudan (1998). US AID’s superb epidemiological experts for this particular report have drawn on the most current data available from Darfur. The authority of the data and methods easily withstands the expedient carping of those evidently intent on downplaying the largest implications of Darfur’s catastrophe. The realities in Darfur are in fact so shocking, so clearly bespeak genocide, that we must surmise that there are some who simply wish to avoid the difficult decisions about humanitarian intervention in Darfur, decisions forced by these uncomfortable truths.
But whatever the urges of expediency, we cannot wish away Assistant Administrator Winter’s figure for deaths from the impending famine and epidemics: 300,000 to 400,000 without dramatically improved humanitarian access and security.
Yet such improvements in access and security are nowhere in sight; nor is there any honest discussion of the means necessary to provide them. All that is apparent is a shameful willingness to continue with present efforts, wholly inadequate, despite a clearly imminent cataclysm.
For those cynical skeptics determined to see the “piles of dead bodies,” the wait will not be long. To be sure, they will not be the images familiar from Auschwitz or Rwanda…these have their own terrible singularity. As Samantha Power has recently reminded us, no two genocides are alike.
But the “piles of dead bodies” will soon be in evidence in Darfur. And they will be enough. They will be more than enough.
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