February 20, 2004
The international community has already waited far too long to plan the humanitarian intervention that is now necessary to halt massive and growing genocidal destruction in Darfur province, far western Sudan. Appallingly, there is still no sign that such an intervention is being planned, or even contemplated. Though we can be morally certain that more than 1,000 people are now dying every week, they will continue to die at such a rate for the foreseeable future. Though the distinguished humanitarian medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has declared that Darfur is the scene of “catastrophic mortality rates” (MSF Press Release [New York], February 17, 2004), there is no response in sight that will change this terrible reality. And the fully devastating effects of displacement, food insecurity, a breakdown in agricultural production, disease, and exposure are still to come.
Khartoum and its Arab militia allies, in refusing to enter into meaningful peace talks that might secure a humanitarian cease-fire, bear overwhelming responsibility for the insecurity that makes humanitarian operations largely impossible outside areas the regime wishes to be served. Large concentration camps are the de facto and deliberate result of highly restricted humanitarian access, which now extends only to the larger towns under Khartoum’s control. The vast majority of Darfur’s immense population of displaced persons has no access to humanitarian aid, nor is there any real prospect of such access. Many humanitarian organizations continue to report privately on Khartoum’s denial of travel permits (and thus access) for reasons related not to security but to military purposes.
Though the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently declared that war in Darfur “has led to the displacement of about 1.2 million people” (Media Advisory [Rome], February 11, 2004), the scale of the catastrophe has yet to register with too many governments. Though the UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan, Tom Eric Vraalsen, declared on February 18, 2004—following a trip to Darfur—that “aid workers are unable to reach the vast majority [of the displaced],” that fighting had not stopped (despite Khartoum’s claims), and that the UN and aid organizations “don’t have the access, and the corridors, which [the Khartoum regime] has referred to—as of today these are not open” (Reuters, February 18, 2004), there is no imminent response that begins to address these massive and deeply threatening realities.
There are also myriad wire dispatches and reports from within Darfur indicating extremely serious fighting, making nonsense of the claim by National Islamic Front President Omer Beshir to have “regained full control of Darfur” and that “aid agencies had full access to [Darfur]” (Reuters, February 18, 2004). Ambassador Vraalsen declared pointedly that “aid channels remained closed.” Amnesty International reported three days ago that the organization “continues to receive details of horrifying attacks against civilians in villages by government warplanes, soldiers and government aligned militia” (Press Release [London], February 17, 2004). Military assaults, both on the ground and from the air, have concentrated particularly on water sources, especially wells, with the clear intent of destroying the people and cattle who depend upon this water. Given the scarcity of water in arid Darfur, this is an insidiously destructive tactic that will have deadly long-term effects.
Despite all this, Khartoum’s embassy in Kampala (Uganda) yesterday issued a statement, reported by the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks, that “transporting and distributing relief to the affected people in Darfur through ‘the safe corridors specified by the government’ had commenced” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, February 19, 2004).
This vicious and transparently expedient lie could not provide a more apt example of what the international community can expect from Khartoum, or a better measure of how completely contemptuous the regime is of the lives that are being destroyed in Darfur, mainly those of the African tribal groups–the Fur, Zaghawa, Massaleit, and others.
Khartoum’s deliberate and ongoing destruction of these peoples, animated by an indisputable racism, is genocide—and on a scale that is without parallel in the world today. Darfur is not only very likely the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe, as the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland has declared, but represents the world’s greatest moral failure. It is a species of moral failure that was painfully in evidence again and again throughout the terrible 20th-century history of genocide, all too ably chronicled by Samantha Power in her Pulitzer Prize-winning “‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide.”
If we are honest with ourselves, we can expect from this regime of evil nothing but further mendacity, duplicity, reneging, and savagery. Khartoum has resolved on a course of violence in Darfur from which it clearly cannot be dissuaded. Not to act on the information now available, with compelling evidence that massive genocidal destruction will continue until it is stopped by outside forces, is to countenance ongoing human destruction and suffering on an extraordinary scale, engineered by the worst of human evil.
As is typically the case in genocide, these truths cannot be spoken inside of Darfur, even in the presence of US officials. The Khartoum regime has arrested countless people for attempting to speak about what is occurring, and long lists of these individuals have come from Amnesty International, Sudan Organisation Against Torture, the Sudanese Human Rights Group (Cairo), and from those risking their lives from within Darfur to provide a tenuous stream of real-time information. But in a particularly brazen act of intimidation, a visit to Darfur last week by Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, was the occasion for making perfectly clear the risk of speaking truth to power. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reported yesterday:
“Meanwhile, the United States-based human rights advocacy group, Center for the Prevention of Genocide (CPG) said it had confirmed that tribal leaders in Nyala were arrested by the government after they had met representatives of the US international development agency, USAID. The arrests, it said, were made after representatives of the Fur tribe met the US officials to provide the latter with first-hand accounts of the ‘genocidal violence’ and humanitarian crisis in Darfur. ‘In a clear case of minority and political oppression, the leaders were arrested in the town of Nyala, following their meeting with representatives from USAID,’ CPG said in a statement.”
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, February 19, 2004)
The IRIN account, and the urgently borne message of “genocidal violence,” has been confirmed to this writer by multiple sources from within Darfur. It is difficult to imagine a clearer signal of contempt for US concerns for Darfur than to arrest (with perhaps worse in store) those attempting to convey the realities of their land. One account reaching this writer indicates that Salah Eldin Mohamed Fadul, the Acting Sultan of the Fur tribe, was among those arrested.
What has been the US response to this incident? What has been said about such provocative arrests in the immediate wake of an official US fact-finding trip to Darfur? Nothing. Not a word has been uttered publicly by the State Department about concern for the lives and well-being of these men, whose only “crime” was to meet with a US official. This silence not only puts the lives of these men in greater danger, but sends a perverse signal of irresolution to Khartoum, one the regime has duly noted.
But the failures in the US response to Darfur have plenty of international company. Even comments perhaps meant to be helpful reveal a disastrous lack of urgency. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, on an official visit to Chad and Sudan, declared today that “time is running out [for the Darfur refugees in Chad]. Like all other providers of aid, we want to get moving to satisfy these needs [of refugees on the Chad-Sudan border] before the start of the rainy season” (BBC, February 20, 2004).
To be sure perhaps any comments from the French government, which has been so useless to date in responding to Sudan’s various crises, are to be welcome. But to focus on the 130,000 refugees in Chad misses the mark in explaining why “time is running out.” Time has already “run out” for the more than 30,000 who have died in Darfur; time has already run out for those now dying because of what Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres describes as a “catastrophic mortality rate” inside Darfur; and we can be sure that, all too swiftly, “time is running out” for many among the more than 1.2 million people the UN WFP and FAO estimate are displaced, and for many more among the staggeringly large number—over 3 million—that the UN describes as “war-affected.”
Of course every effort must me made to respond to those who have reached Chad, and to move these people further into Chad to places of safety, where they and their cattle have adequate water, shelter, and road access during the impending rainy season. But de Villepin and France have squandered the perfect moment in which to commit to the urgently needed humanitarian intervention for Darfur itself, the source of the refugees who continue to stream into Chad by the thousands. For such an intervention is practicable only from Chad, with whose government France has enormous diplomatic leverage. In refusing to broach the subject of humanitarian intervention, it is difficult to see where momentum for this desperately needed operation will come from.
Certainly not from the UK, which refused to accept the need to issue a joint statement with its “troika” partners, Norway and the US, about the need for urgent action in Darfur. A US statement from Andrew Natsios, Administrator for the US Agency for International Development, spoke of a “commitment to addressing the immediate protection and assistance needs of those in Darfur, as well as throughout Sudan, including humanitarian cross border operations if assistance cannot be provided through Sudan” (US Agency for Development Press Release [Washington, DC], February 3, 2004). This sense of urgency was largely echoed by Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Petersen:
“Norway is extremely concerned about the further deterioration of the already dramatic humanitarian situation in Darfur province in western Sudan in the last few days. Norway deplores the recent bombing of the town of Tine, which continues the pattern of indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and the serious breaches of human rights that are constantly being reported. Norway will together with other donors ***do what is necessary*** to provide humanitarian relief and protection for the population of Darfur [emphasis added].” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Release, February 4, 2004)
The UK has said nothing that registers any such urgency.
But so far, more than two weeks after the US and Norwegian statements, there has been nothing further from the US or Norway, or any other country. Julie Flint, a veteran Sudan journalist with excellent US sources, writes in the Lebanon Star that during a recent official visit to Khartoum, the US State Department warned Khartoum “that the US would not lift sanctions against Sudan [ ] and would not fund a new era of peace as long as the war in Darfur rages unabated” (Lebanon Star, February 19, 2004). But of course this does nothing to bring immediate pressure to bear on Khartoum over its ongoing genocide in Darfur. Indeed, given the likely time-frame for completion of the Naivasha talks between Khartoum and the SPLM/A (if such completion is indeed attained), the focus of this “threat” perversely serves as an invitation for Khartoum to continue its present military campaign, both directly and by means of its Arab militia allies.
For the regime knows full well that sanctions won’t be lifted, in any event, until a peace agreement is signed in Naivasha. The regime also knows that a peace agreement will oblige a 50/50 split of southern oil revenues, even as Khartoum now enjoys 100% of oil revenues and can continue to spend these revenues (presently in the range of $100 million per month) for military purposes. That it has done so in highly profligate fashion has been authoritatively established by Human Rights Watch in its devastating indictment of oil development and its role in exacerbating conflict in Sudan (“Sudan, Oil and Human Rights”; see http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/sudan1103/). Many of the advanced helicopter gunships that have wrought such havoc in the oil regions of southern Sudan are now deployed in Darfur for further civilian destruction. Recent defense contracts and agreements reached with Malaysia and India ensure further devotion of Sudan’s oil wealth to human destruction.
What should be clear to all but the most partisan within the Bush administration is that the US State Department message to Khartoum presumes a time-frame that is deeply, shamefully immoral. By making threats that cannot having meaning until after the Naivasha talks are concluded, the State Department in effect gives Khartoum a free hand for the present in Darfur—and it is in the present that tens of thousands of innocent human beings are dead or dying. This diplomatic perversity is a continuation of the deeply counterproductive logic that has governed thinking about the Naivasha talks for months now: “Let’s not seriously raise the issue of Darfur until we’ve completed the Naivasha agreement, lest we roil the diplomatic waters and irritate Khartoum during the ‘end-game.'”
This expedient thinking has never had any merit, chiefly because it has been so readily apparent to Khartoum, which in turn regards this as a license to continue its genocidal assault upon the people of Darfur. Such expediency is also an incentive to string out the Naivasha talks as long as possible. The evidence is palpable if we look at various comments from the National Islamic Front regime about “peace being just around the corner.” When it became clear that the December 31, 2003 deadline for a completed agreement set by US Secretary of State Colin Powell would not be met, NIF President Omer Beshir declared that a peace agreement would nonetheless likely be reached “within a week” (Reuters, January 29, 2003). When this deadline also passed, NIF officials continued shamelessly to suggest an imminent agreement in January:
“A final agreement to end the Sudanese civil war could be reached within days, the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail said Saturday. ‘We are talking about days, not weeks or months,’ Ismail said.”
(Al-Khartoum and Al-Rai Al-Aam Papers, Khartoum, from the UN Daily Press Review, January 11, 2004)
“[NIF President] Al-Bashir reviewed the ongoing steps for realisation of peace in the country, saying that the peace negotiations score progress every day on its various axes and ‘there is no doubt that a comprehensive and durable peace agreement will be reached.'” (Al-Khartoum, Sudan Vision and Al-Rai Al-Aam Papers, Khartoum, from UN Daily Press Review, January 11, 2004)
“President Omar Al-Bashir told businessmen yesterday that the peace talks are witnessing positive developments and he expressed hope that a comprehensive peace agreement could be signed within the coming few days.” (Al-Rai Al-Aam Paper, Khartoum, UN Daily Press Review, January 15, 2004)
And so the mendacity has continued, through Khartoum’s contrived suspension of the Naivasha talks on January 25, 2004, through the end of February, with no agreement in sight or any sign that Khartoum feels the slightest desire to move expeditiously.
But more even than this expedient (and gullible) diplomacy, it is the shameful moral bankruptcy reflected in the silence of Western and other governments over the realities of Darfur, and the use of words that are grossly inadequate to these realities, that make this strategy of appeasement not merely diplomatically unsound but disgraceful beyond reckoning. Either the international community commits immediately to an urgent humanitarian intervention—robust in logistics, supplies, and any necessary military protection for humanitarian workers—or we may be sure that tens of thousands of innocent human beings will join the tens of thousands who have already died.
Agnosticism about the realities in Darfur, and the urgency of required action, has become the moral equivalent of a refusal to credit reports of Jewish extermination in 1942. Much was known at the time about the scale and horrific nature of the human destruction that would come to be called the Holocaust, though the response was too often incredulity or facile skepticism. When Gerhard Riegner, a representative of the World Jewish Congress (Geneva), reported that Hitler had given an order for the extermination of European Jewry, a Swiss foreign editor would say only: “We received no picture of photographic exactitude, only silhouettes.” 
The Holocaust has, if nothing else, incinerated all possibility of incredulity in this arena, at least for the historically informed. And skepticism about the realities of Darfur is no longer tenable. The “silhouettes” are steadily reaching toward “photographic exactitude.” If we await full resolution of the picture from Darfur, we may be sure only that the numbers of dead, and unfathomable human suffering, will be vastly greater than in this hideous twilight.
Now is the moment for action—or complicity.
( Samantha Power, ” ‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide” (Basic Books, 2002), pp. 34-35.)
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