“Bush officials say they are considering whether what is happening
in Darfur amounts to genocide,” New York Times, June 12, 2004
June 14, 2004
The question, though long overdue, is now being posed at the appropriate levels within the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested in an interview with the New York Times:
“Mr. Powell steered clear of the term genocide in describing the events in Darfur but said that administration lawyers had begun a review to determine whether the conditions for genocide have been met.” (New York Times, June 12, 2004)
Such a determination, given the hundreds of thousands of lives at risk for lack of adequate response from the international community, is critically important. For as Secretary Powell is certainly aware, the US—as a “contracting party” to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide—must respond (with other contracting parties) to prevent genocide if it is determined that this ultimate crime is being committed in Darfur.
What we must hope, indeed demand is that a determination on this issue be made on the merits. In Rwanda in 1994, this was clearly not the case, as Samantha Power makes devastatingly clear in her searing chapter on the Rwandan genocide (in “‘A Problem from Hell’: American and the Age of Genocide”). Power quotes, for example, from a discussion paper, prepared by a Defense Department official (and dated May 1, 2004—long after it was fully clear that genocide was underway):
“1. Genocide Investigation: Language that calls for an international investigation of human rights abuses and possible violations of the genocide convention. Be careful. Legal at State [Department] was worried about this yesterday—Genocide finding could commit [the US government] to actually ‘do something.'” [last two sentences were emphasized in memo; quoted verbatim from Power’s book, page 359]
Let us hope that a determination concerning genocide in Darfur will not be governed by a fear that this might “commit [the US government] to actually ‘do something.'”
Moreover, the determination should be made on an urgently expedited basis, using currently available information, and all available reconnaissance assets (which the Defense Department has made publicly clear are quite considerable for Darfur). With a predicted casualty figure of between a third of a million and 1 million civilians, this is not a time for elaborate case studies, or parsing of legal hairs. The evidence of completed and impending human destruction is overwhelming: it demands immediate and appropriate characterization.
Moreover, given the obligations of the Genocide Convention to “prevent” genocide, it is perfectly reasonable, and morally imperative, for the administration lawyers to err on the side of a broader construal of the implications of evidence at hand: if there is any doubt, then the determination should be that genocide is being committed or threatened, and should be stopped before hundreds of thousands die.
The administration should also provide all evidence concerning genocide in Darfur to the presidential campaign committee of Senator John Kerry, in particular the people working on his foreign policy team (like long-time aide for Senator Kerry’s work on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Nancy Stetson). For it is incumbent upon Senator Kerry to announce his own finding, on the basis of evidence available, as to whether the realities of Darfur are genocidal. The issue is too momentous, and again, the human stakes are simply too high for a US presidential candidate to content himself with agnosticism.
In a June 7, 2004 campaign press release, John Kerry declared that:
“I believe that the United States and the international community must act immediately to apply effective pressure on the Government of Sudan to rein in its militia proxies and to immediately provide unrestricted access for humanitarian aid and aid workers.”
And Senator Kerry also made explicit reference to Darfur in the context of the Rwandan genocide:
“The world did not act in Rwanda, to our eternal shame. Now we are at another crisis point this time in Sudan. The Sudan’s western Darfur region demands the world’s immediate attention and action.” (Kerry Campaign press release, June 7, 2004)
A determination of genocide is clearly implied in this statement, but this is not good enough: Senator Kerry must declare publicly and explicitly whether he believes the evidence in Darfur supports a finding of genocide, and tell the American people and the international community what he would do if were President, and such determination were made. To do anything else is simply political expediency.
The urgency of such determination has been signaled by countless reports and dispatches highlighting the clear racial/ethnic animus in the destruction of the African tribal groups of Darfur by Khartoum’s regular military and its Arab militia forces (the Janjaweed). We have known for months of the role of racial/ethnic hatred in the destruction of the Fur, Massaleit, Zaghawa, and other African tribal groups:
“Tamur Bura Idriss, 31, said he lost his uncle and grandfather. He heard the gunmen say, ‘You blacks, we’re going to exterminate you.’ He fled deeper into Chad that night.” (The New York Times [dateline: Tine, Chad/Darfur] January 17, 2004)
“‘I believe this is an elimination of the black race,’ one tribal leader told IRIN (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, Junaynah [Darfur], December 11, 2003)
“A civilian from Jafal confirmed [he was] 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.'” (Amnesty International Report, February 3, 2004)
“A refugee farmer from the village of Kishkish reported…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.
(Amnesty International Report, February 3, 2004)
Of particular note in this context of racially/ethnically animated human destruction are the increasingly numerous reports from the ground in Darfur that Khartoum is actually incorporating the Arab Janjaweed militias—the primary instrument by which African tribal groups are being destroyed—into the regular army, or at least giving them uniforms and all the appearance of being regular military forces. This continues a pattern of deep deception on Khartoum’s part, and an effort to obscure the extent of its relation to the Janjaweed and thus its culpability in massive human destruction, with thousands of villages burned and pillaged; water systems blown up or poisoned; countless atrocities, including rape and torture; the displacement of over 1.3 million people, with over 2 million now at acute risk; mass executions; and the de facto incarceration of hundreds of thousands in concentration camps without humanitarian access
The rapidly growing urgency of a full international response to Khartoum’s war on the African peoples of Darfur is made even clearer by several recent reports from the region. Agence France-Pressed reports on the risk facing 500,000 children in Darfur:
“The UN children’s fund UNICEF has warned that half a million children are in danger in Darfur, as its director Carol Bellamy prepared to visit the war-ravaged region of western Sudan on Sunday and Monday.”
“A recent UNICEF report described the situation of displaced children and women in Darfur as ‘grim’, saying that child malnutrition in the region had reached as high as 23 percent. This was well above the internationally recognized ‘critical level’ of 15 percent, the agency noted.” (Agence France-Press, June 12, 2004)
And the food situation becomes more dire every day because of Khartoum’s continued obstruction of humanitarian access and delivery. African tribal populations continue to be “systematically” denied humanitarian aid (the characterization is that of the UN). Food supplies are critically low; transport for humanitarian aid in presently completely inadequate; and most ominously, there will be no fall harvest anywhere in Darfur because of Khartoum’s orchestration of massive insecurity in the rural areas. An engineered famine will certainly occur; the only question is how many hundreds of thousands will die.
Mass executions of African peoples are also being carried out, as many human rights reports have made clear and as The Guardian (UK) reports today, following an assessment mission to Darfur by Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur on executions:
“Diplomatic pressure grew on the government of Sudan yesterday as the US and the United Nations both accused it of complicity in the killings of thousands of people in the western region of Darfur. Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur on executions, said she had ‘credible evidence’ that Sudanese forces and government-backed militias had carried out summary executions of civilians. ‘I received numerous accounts of the extra-judicial and summary executions carried out by government-backed militias and by the security forces themselves,’ she told reporters in Khartoum.”
(The Guardian, June 14, 2004)
Ms. Jahangir also said there was “no ambiguity” in the “link” between Khartoum’s regular forces and Arab militia forces operating in Darfur.
A determination of genocide cannot be avoided, cannot be hedged or trimmed for political purposes. Nor can those making such determination refuse to confront the overwhelming body of evidence that should make such determination straightforward.
Genocide is being committed on a massive scale in Darfur, and it is long past time for the US and other members of the international community to declare as much—and act accordingly.
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