February 3, 2004
Amnesty International, perhaps the world’s most distinguished human rights organization, has today issued a very substantial, immensely well-researched, and compelling account of the catastrophe unfolding in Darfur, far western Sudan. The report (“Darfur: Too Many People Killed for No Reason”) could not be more timely. For though there have been scattered accounts and assessments by various humanitarian organizations, important UN statistical generalizations and reportage, and growing news reporting, there has been nothing like Amnesty’s sustained and comprehensive account of the realities that have been developing for the last year. This authoritative compendium of gross human rights abuses by the Khartoum regime and its Arab militia allies (the “Janjaweed”), the rapidly growing racial and ethnic animus that defines Khartoum’s prosecution of the war in Darfur, and the exploding humanitarian crisis deserves the closest possible attention. Full text can be found at: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR540082004
We learn a great deal from the Amnesty report, and we hear many, many of the voices of those who have been displaced in Darfur, internally within the province and into neighboring Chad. And the voices bring with them horrific stories of civilian destruction, rape, torture, child abductions, pillaging, and the profound disruption of agricultural production. But as full as Amnesty’s account is, and as the report itself frankly acknowledges, it touches only on what is visible from the Chad-Sudan border, what can be narrated by witnesses able to reach this point of tenuous refuge. The vast majority of human suffering and destruction remains hidden because of the inaccessibility of Darfur, an inaccessibility that Amnesty several times notes is directly related to Khartoum’s restrictions on travel and humanitarian access.
No reader can fail to be struck by two features of the Amnesty report: [a] the terrifying consistency of the accounts from those who have been displaced, and [b] the sheer scale of the destruction, primarily by Khartoum’s Arab militia allies, now exceedingly heavily armed and consistently reported as supported and commanded, directly and indirectly, by Khartoum’s regular military and security forces.
On this latter score of the scale of civilian destruction, we must nonetheless also take note of Amnesty’s detailed accounts of countless aerial bombing attacks on civilian targets. Amnesty reports, on the basis of a great deal of evidence assiduously assembled, that Khartoum has “bombed indiscriminately civilian towns and villages suspected of harbouring or sympathizing with members of the armed opposition, unlawfully killing many non-combatants” (page 3).
For example, Amnesty reports that “most villages around Tina (on the Chad/Darfur border) were also bombed. Khasan Abu Gamra was bombed so many times that its villagers said: ‘The planes bomb anytime and everywhere, sometimes four times a day, in the morning, in the evening. They bomb so much that we can’t go to cultivate our fields. Many people and animals were killed because of the bombings.’ In Tumdubai, about four hours walk away from Tina, bombings also occurred several times a day.” (page 16)
The report is replete with many more such accounts.
But it is the Janjaweed militia attacks (transliterated from the Arabic by Amnesty as “Janjawid”) that clearly emerge as the source of greatest devastation. A great deal of the Amnesty report is (appropriately) given over to narratives provided by those displaced by Arab militias, narratives which are our only real source of information about what is happening inside Darfur. For example, under Section 4.2 (“Denial of protection and assistance to the displaced in Darfur”) Amnesty reports:
“Scores of civilians fled to Kabkabiya town between June and August 2003. Reports alleged that 300 villages had been attacked or burnt to the ground in the area. Many displaced were reportedly living in the open or in the local school in Kabkabiya, having very little or no access to humanitarian aid. For instance, hundreds had fled after an attack on Shoba, a Fur village situated 7 km south of Kabkabiya on 25 July, by armed militia wearing government army uniforms, in which at least 51 Shoba villagers, including many elders, were killed.” (page 35)
The brutality of the attacks is captured in another account:
“The village of Murli, some five kilometres away from Al-Jeneina [very near the Chad/Sudan border], was attacked twice between July and August. One villager told AI delegates: ‘It was early in the morning, people were sleeping. About 400 armed people cordoned the village, with military uniforms, the same ones worn by the army, with vehicles and guns. A plane came later, to see if the operation was successful. At least 82 people were killed during the first attack. Some were shot and others, such as children and elderly, were burnt alive in their houses.'” (page 13-14)
The largest consequence of the attacks by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces may be the disruption of the agricultural economy in Darfur, where so much of the population survives on subsistence farming. This disruption has very large, potentially devastating spill-over effects, not only in Darfur but neighboring Chad:
“Ground attacks [by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces] seemed not only to aim at killing the people, but also their livelihoods and their very means of subsistence. In a region prone to drought and underdevelopment, the destruction of houses and crops bears terrible consequences on the coping strategies of the local population. It means that shelter and food, essential commodities and also economic and social rights are being denied to the population. The displacement triggered by direct attacks on civilian villages is also adding pressure on the populations in Darfur or in Chad where others take refuge.”
(page 19, section 2.1.3 in the Amnesty report: “Destruction of villages, crops, and looting of cattle and property”)
Given the ethnic and racial animus in Khartoum’s prosecution of the war in Darfur, highlighted in one way or another on most pages of the Amnesty report, this deliberate destruction of economic livelihood is clear evidence of genocide: the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) declares that genocide also consists in “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” (clause [c]).
On the consistency of the accounts recorded, it is important to attend to Amnesty’s characterizations of what it found:
“Amnesty International delegates obtained more than a hundred testimonies from Sudanese refugees in nine locations along the eastern Chadian border, scattered over 300 kilometers. The testimonies were coherent, credible and all pointed at a quasi-systematic pattern of attacks.” (page 9)
“Amnesty International delegates collected many other testimonies from the refugees which were consistent with each other. They indicated a clear pattern of repeated violations both by the Janjawid and government soldiers. Many testimonies consistently suggested that the Janjawid and the soldiers were co-operating.” (page 15)
Amnesty also reports a deeply ominous consistency in the evidence that war in Darfur is ever more insistently driven by a racial and ethnic animus. The attacks on civilians reported to Amnesty characteristically refer to “Arab” attackers, who often speak contemptuously of their “African” victims:
“According to an eyewitness, the militia accompanied by soldiers attacked people, saying ‘You are opponents to the regime, we must crush you. As you are black, you are like slaves. Then the entire Darfur region will be in the hands of the Arabs. The government is on our side. The government plane is on our side, it gives us ammunitions and food.” (page 12)
“A refugee farmer from the village of Kishkish reported to Amnesty International delegates the words used by the militia: ‘You are Black and you are opponents. You are our slaves, the Darfur region is in our hands and you are our herders.’ They also reportedly said: ‘You are slaves, we will kill you. You are like dust, we will crush you.’ Another civilian attacked was reportedly told: ‘You are in the fields, the rest is for our horses. We have the government on our right side, you are on the left side. You have nothing for yourselves.'” (page 28)
“A civilian from Jafal confirmed this when he was reportedly told by the Janjawid: ‘You are opponents to the regime, we must crush you. As you are Black, you are like slaves. Then all the Darfur region will be in our hands. The government is on our side. The government plane is on our side to give us ammunition and food.'” (page 28)
“A local chief in the Abu Gamra area, between Tina and Kornoy, painted the extent of the destruction in his village: ‘The Arabs and the government forces arrived on both sides of the village, with vehicles, on horseback and on camels, and armed with big weapons. The Arabs cordoned the village with more than 1,000 horses. There was also a helicopter and an Antonov plane. They shelled the town with more than 200 shells. We counted 119 persons who were killed by the shelling. Then the Arabs burnt all our houses, took all the goods from the market. A bulldozer destroyed houses. Cars belonging to the merchants were burnt and generators were stolen. They said they wanted to conquer the whole territory and that the Blacks did not have a right to remain in the region.'” (page 20)
These accounts square all too well with numerous others coming from humanitarian organizations, news reports, and other sources.
Though Amnesty International does not describe this massive destruction of civilians, with clear racial and ethnic animus, as “ethnic cleansing” or genocide, it is difficult to read the report in full and not be drawn inevitably to this conclusion. Amnesty does speak of “ethnic differences between communities becoming more and more manipulated in the current conflict” (page 4), and offers this overview:
“Another division often referred to is between those labeled or seeing themselves as ‘Arabs’ and those who are ‘Black’ or ‘indigenous African.’ The ‘Arabs’ are composed mainly of nomad groups, who would claim ‘Arab’ descent and speak Arabic and the ‘Blacks’ or ‘Africans,’ those who are not of Arab descent and speak their own local language. However, Amnesty International was told several times that the Beni Hussein, seen as ‘Arabs,’ are not taking part in the current conflict. The organization also met in Chad members of the Dorok community who said they were attacked by the Arab militia after they refused to join them and refer to themselves as ‘Black Arabs.’ In short, differences between groups are becoming more manipulated and entrenched as the conflict worsens.” (page 4)
What Amnesty does not say directly enough, though providing all the evidence required for the conclusion, is that this “manipulation” and “entrenchment” along racial and ethnic lines is being deliberately engineered by the Khartoum regime as a key feature in its use of Arab militias as the main counter-insurgency weapon in Darfur. It is no less genocide because it takes place primarily by military proxy: the strategy is still clearly one of destroying, in whole or in part, the African tribal groups that are perceived as supporting the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), both discussed in the Amnesty report.
The last section in the body of the Amnesty International report (Section 5) notes how Khartoum’s prosecution of the war in Darfur entails many extremely serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including violations of various of the Geneva Conventions. Dutifully, Amnesty also notes that “Sudan has ratified numerous international and regional human rights treaties,” including “the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to which Sudan is a state party” (page 37).
The nature of Khartoum’s war against the people of the south—now over 20 years and the longest and most destructive conflict of its kind in the world—should make fully clear the regime’s utter contempt for all “international human rights law” and “international humanitarian law,” as well as the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Convention of the International Criminal Court, and various other treaties it has on previous occasions proved expedient for Khartoum to sign. But it must still be said that such continued and open flouting of international law, if receiving no appropriate rebuke from the international community, inevitably undermines this tenuous constraint upon the actions of those who would do evil in the world, and weakens our ability to shame or hold accountable great powers for their failure to respect international law.
It is in this context that we should assess the thirteen “recommendations to the Sudanese government” articulated by Amnesty International (pages 40-41). These include (among others) that the regime:
*”publicly condemn all instances of grave abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by its armed forces and militia aligned to them; and set up independent and impartial investigations into all such reported cases;
*”take immediate measures to give adequate protection to civilians in Darfur against deliberate and indiscriminate attacks;
*”ensure that humanitarian organizations have unrestricted and secure access to the whole Darfur region and to all victims of the conflict, including internally displaced persons;
*”ease all support and supplies to any irregular armed forces, including Arab militia and the Janjawid, or establish clear chain of command control over them, giving clear instructions that abuses of human rights and humanitarian law will not be tolerated and making them accountable to these instructions;
*”allow the establishment of a human rights monitoring component in any ceasefire monitoring force in the region which can investigate freely attacks on civilians” (page 40)
It is, of course, appropriate for a supremely distinguished human rights organization to make such recommendations, as well as a series of other recommendations to all who are party to the conflict in Darfur or who may play a role in resolving the conflict and responding to the massive humanitarian crisis it has spawned. But Khartoum has responded to none of these recommendations when they have come from other sources, including the US State Department, and gives absolutely no sign of presently complying in any fashion with any of the recommendations.
In turn, Amnesty International well understands that its voice cannot compel, only clarify both human rights abuses and what the appropriate responses to those abuses would be, at least in a world defined by moral responsiveness.
Of course the world is only very partially defined by moral responsiveness; and nowhere is it less defined in these terms than in Khartoum. Amnesty International has made clear, at least as far as present evidence permits, the ghastly and deeply ominous realities in Darfur, the gross and continuous abuses of human rights that define Khartoum’s prosecution of the war, and the terrifying scale of the humanitarian crisis now exploding into catastrophe. But the task of holding the Khartoum regime accountable, and of responding with appropriate urgency to vast and desperate human need, is that of the international community as a whole.
It continues to be the case, as it has for too many months, that for reasons of diplomatic expediency and moral indecision, no such appropriate response is in evidence. In one sense, the scale of the human consequences of this failure cannot yet be measured; in another sense, the consequences are all too readily evident and all too disgracing of the very notion of an “international community.”
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