April 18, 2004
History will record the spring of 2004 as a moment of the profoundest moral failure on the part of the international community. Vast and accelerating human destruction in Darfur, as well as in Upper Nile Province in southern Sudan, directly related to the actions and intransigence of Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime, is proceeding without meaningful response. Perversely, on the grim tenth anniversary of the ghastly 100 days of the Rwandan genocide, with impending casualty figures in Darfur bearing ever clearer comparison to those in Rwanda, the world again is simply watching—irresolute, diffident, inert.
It is as though history, ten years after witnessing such appalling moral failure in Rwanda, had decided to give the world another chance—only this time with much more time and opportunity to intervene. But again, the world has failed, has chosen not to respond to the challenges of the moment, and has refused to hear the cries of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians moving relentlessly closer to destruction. This destruction is not random or simply the by-product of war. In the case of Darfur, a terrible new human holocaust is proceeding directly out of concerted, widespread, ethnically/racially-animated destruction of the African peoples of the region.
We know this by virtue of incessant and authoritative reports, chillingly similar, from human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and news reporters. And yet there is no evident willingness on the part of the UN or others in the international community to challenge Khartoum, even as the regime purposefully blocks entry into Darfur of both a UN human rights investigating team (which has now been forced to return to Geneva without ever gaining access to Darfur) and a UN humanitarian assessment team, to have been led by Jan Egeland, the UN’s most senior humanitarian aid official. Khartoum simply declared to Egeland that it “needed more time.” Egeland was to have departed on April 15, 2004. We can only imagine what destruction of evidence is occurring daily, what brutal further displacement of witnesses is being accomplished, and how many people are being killed so that their voices can never be heard.
And amidst this deepening moral failure, we also see daily how much closer the region approaches to utter catastrophe. A particularly disturbing report today (April 18, 2004) from the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) gives us a good deal more insight into the consequences of Khartoum’s previously orchestrated and ongoing violence: mass killings, forced displacement, widespread rape, torture, and devastation of food, water, and agricultural resources:
“Time is running short for about a million Sudanese displaced by fighting in the remote Darfur region, with signs of a health crisis out of control, a senior World Health Organisation (WHO) official said on Sunday. Guido Sabatinelli, WHO’s Sudan representative, said fighting was still impeding access to some areas in Darfur near the border with Chad, despite a week-old ceasefire deal between rebels and Khartoum to allow urgent humanitarian aid in. U.N. officials have described the Darfur conflict as ethnic cleansing.” [ ]
“‘Time is running short. It is really running short. In the next days I’d like…unimpeded access that means the security is ensured, the ceasefire maintained (and) donor response,’ Sabatinelli told Reuters by telephone from Khartoum. Rainy season in the vast Darfur region begins at the end of May and brings the threat of malaria and the spread of disease in makeshift camps with no sanitation for those fleeing the violence.”
“Sabatinelli said African farmers had to return to their villages to plant their crops before the rains, or they would be reliant on food aid for at least the next year. ‘Maybe it’s not too late yet, but in three weeks, yes, it will be too late,’ he said.” (Reuters, April 18, 2004)
A huge part of the problem in Darfur continues to be Khartoum’s denial of travel permits to humanitarian aid workers, even as these permits and unimpeded access were accepted by Khartoum as part of the cease-fire agreement of April 8, 2004 (N’Djamena, Chad). Yet again the regime has reneged on a signed agreement, and the patterns of terribly consequential obstruction continue, both according to Reuters and to confidential reports reaching this writer from a variety humanitarian workers and officials:
“Aid workers have said Khartoum did not provide permits to access areas of Darfur where many of the displaced are camped. The United Nations warns of a humanitarian crisis. ‘We have not seen any improvement (in permits) but we are requesting them to provide unimpeded humanitarian access,’ said Sabatinelli.” (Reuters, April 18, 2004)
And in an especially disturbing finding, WHO’s Sabatinelli reported on the mortality rate for children in a camp for the displaced he visited last week:
“Mortality rates among children under five in the camp were 6.8 per 10,000, about seven times the norm and defined as a ‘crisis out of control.’ He also said child malnutrition rates were about 50 percent, with one third severely affected.” (Reuters, April 18, 2004)
As the statistics start to pile up along with the bodies in Darfur, it is important that these numbers not lose their ability to convey real human meaning, and indeed to shock. We must bear in mind, then, the significance of each death per day per population of 10,000. The US Agency for International Development considers one death per day per 10,000 the “emergency” threshold; two deaths per day per 10,000 is a “situation out of control”; and a rate of four deaths per day per 10,000 is considered a “major catastrophe.” (The private medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres considers three deaths per day per 10,000 a “catastrophic mortality rate.”)
Again, the mortality rate for children under five, in the camp Sabatinelli visited last week, was 6.8 children under five dying per day per 10,000.
Over the terrifying longer term, the US Agency for International Development (US AID) now projects mortality global rates gradually rising to 20 people per day per 10,000 in Darfur for the November/December period of 2004, and only declining because the “cumulative death rate will have reached approximately 30% of the vulnerable group” (US AID “Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, Sudan 2004-05” (data at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/subsaharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf).
This is the context in which we must judge the international community’s unwillingness to do more to plan for humanitarian intervention in Darfur, even as the UN declares that this destruction proceeds from “ethnic cleansing”—ever more clearly a euphemizing of present realities.
For the human destruction in Darfur is clearly genocide if we will be guided by the clear language of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It is among the grimmest ironies marking the holocaust in Darfur that a Convention insistently meant by its authors, preeminently Raphael Lemkin, to “prevent” genocide is apparently— in this critical ambition—being ignored by virtue of semantic diffidence about the very realities described in Article 2.
That the genocide is being accomplished not by means of machetes but through the agonizing deaths of starvation and disease, engineered by Khartoum and its Janjaweed militias, only makes this ultimate crime the more savage—and inaction the more unforgivable.
But Khartoum’s present agenda of human destruction includes more than Darfur. Rather than complete a peace agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Naivasha (Kenya), the National Islamic Front’s lead negotiator—the powerful First Vice President Ali Osman Taha—yesterday (April 17, 2004) decamped from Naivasha to Khartoum for three days. This has forced the suspension of any further negotiated progress on the key outstanding issue of Islamic law (shari’a) in the national capital, and thus the signing of a final peace agreement. (Taha’s departure conspicuously, and contemptuously, comes virtually on the eve of a required Presidential determination about the peace process per the terms of the US Sudan Peace Act, a determination due to be reported to the Congress on April 21, 2004.)
What is happening during this contrived absence by Taha? A dispatch today from the Associated Press gives an overview of Khartoum’s ongoing violence against southern Sudanese.
“At least 50,000 people have fled their homes in recent weeks because of militia attacks and fighting between Sudanese government and rebel forces in southern Sudan, the United Nations said Sunday. The clashes between the government forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army rebels occurred despite a cease-fire between the warring parties, which are involved in talks to end the country’s 21-year civil war.
“Since early March, the United Nations has received reports of villages, schools and health clinics being destroyed and looted, as well as incidents of rape in Shilluk Kingdom in the northern Upper Nile region, the office of the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan said in a statement. Most of the attacks have been carried out by militia that oppose the rebels, said Ben Parker, a U.N. spokesman. ‘The most serious fighting that has affected civilians has been from militia targeting civilian settlements,’ he said in a telephone interview from Sudan. ‘Fighting between government troops and rebels is a much smaller element in the conflict, as far as we know.”’
(Associated Press, April 18, 2004)
As a result of Khartoum’s military actions, “U.N. agencies and aid groups have been forced to suspend operations in the area because of the violence.” (Associated Press, April 18, 2004)
But we know a good deal more about the situation in the Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile than Associated Press reports, this by virtue of a series of very recent “situation reports” (“sit reps”) produced by the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT; based in Rumbek, southern Sudan, and Khartoum). Despite its deeply suspicious failure to produce a final report on these attacks against civilians and on human displacement in the Shilluk Kingdom of Upper Nile—the last investigation reported on the CPMT website is March 19, 2004—these CPMT “sit reps,” forwarded to this writer from a confidential source, are disturbingly revealing.
Some telling highlights (two much fuller accounts by this writer [April 2 and 6, 2004] are available upon request):
“Popwojo [Shilluk Kingdom]:
“Assessed as [more than] 97% destroyed (Photo 4)
“CPMT witnessed/photographed fresh grave mounds (Photo 5)
“Village pastor/school teacher identified each grave by name and discussed the manner in which he found the bodies
“Thousands of civilians displaced and in urgent need of humanitarian intervention (numbers given by witnesses in this village estimate displaced at 19,100 between the villages on Diny and Popwojo)”
“A CPMT member with 18 months of CPMT field investigative experience described this as the worst systematic destruction/displacement of civilians he has personally observed since the formation of the CPMT in August 2002.”
“A second CPMT member with over 8 years of Sudan experience and 16 months with CPMT described the Government of Sudan offensive in the Malakal area as reminiscent of the devastating ‘clearing’ of the oil region in the Western Upper Nile in the late 1990s.”
(Malakal Area Destruction SITREP # 2; March 31, 2004)
Another Khartoum-initiated attack is described in the same “sit rep”:
“Nyilwak [Shilluk Kingdom]
“Assessed as [more than] 75% destroyed (Photo 1)
Eight civilian men (aged 18-60) killed while trying to flee (CPMT witnessed/photographed fresh grave mounds [Photo 2] and interviewed surviving family members)”
These CPMT “sit reps” comport fully with the very recent report of the Right Reverend Daniel Deng, Bishop of Renk (Episcopal Church of Sudan), and chairman of the church’s Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Committee (report from the Right Reverend Daniel Deng, April 14, 2004):
“Having just visited Malakal Diocese from 4th-12th April on behalf of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Committee, I am writing to appeal against recent activities of government-backed militia in the area.”
“From March 26, 2004 through until the second week of April, Shilluk land was invaded by the government militia. The villages on the west bank of the Nile have been all burnt down by the government militia. 22 villages were burnt down during the period of two weeks [Reverend Deng provides the names of the villages in his dispatch; available upon request]. 12,335 persons have been displaced to Malakal town, a great number of people have been killed and no one has reported about their fate. The UN World Food Program, SCC, and other non-governmental organizations are now very busy running up and down feeding the displaced people. These people had been well-settled in villages for a long time, but now they are re-displaced again, just at the time the country is waiting for a peace agreement to be signed.”
“When this event took place, the whole town was watching across the river, seeing how the Shilluk people were being killed by the government militia. In full view, the militia were going around with guns and shooting people. Soldiers were there just watching like at a football match. The government army garrison on the West bank of the Nile did nothing to intervene to save the life of the citizens under their care. This has made us to conclude that it was the Government who carried out the killing. The militia who carried out the killing were part of the Sudan army because all the militia have been promoted into the government army. In consequence they get direct orders from the senior army commanders.”
“The silence of the Upper Nile State Government, the Coordinating Council of the South and the Federal Government of Sudan has showed that the Sudan Government is responsible for the burning of villages, the killing and the displacement of more than twelve thousand people of the Shilluk Kingdom.” (Report of the Right Reverend Daniel Deng, April 14, 2004; received via e-mail, April 15, 2004)
These reports make clear that Khartoum has continued with a major military offensive in the Shilluk Kingdom, using both its regular forces and its militia allies. The intent is to destroy and displace civilians, just as it is in Darfur. It is not surprising that one experienced member of CPMT would “describe the Government of Sudan offensive in the Malakal area as reminiscent of the devastating ‘clearing’ of the oil region in the Western Upper Nile in the late 1990s.” Not surprising either is the failure of such human displacement and destruction in Sudan to command the moral attention of the international community.
But why is this not enough to move the international community to action? Why are Khartoum’s flagrant violations of the October 15, 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement not the occasion of vigorous criticism? Why is such civilian suffering, displacement, and death not of sufficient importance to merit condemnation by the UN, the US and the rest of the international community? Are there any so naive as to believe that muting criticism of Khartoum somehow makes this cynical regime more likely to negotiate in good faith? Could a clearer incentive than silence be given to this savagely callous regime?
And how in Darfur, how on the occasional of this ongoing tenth anniversary of terrible international moral failure, can the Khartoum regime continue its genocidal destruction? Why does the UN acquiesce in Khartoum’s denial of urgently needed human rights and humanitarian assessments? Why when we know the enormity of the civilian population at extremely acute risk, dying by the day in greater and greater number, are we doing nothing?
History, aghast at the failure of spring 1994, has afforded the world a “second chance.” But this, too, is being squandered, and any just history will perforce record this inability to answer to the occasion—and judge with appropriate, which is to say savage, harshness.
Northampton, MA 01063