February 1, 2004
The genocidal realities in Darfur Province (far western Sudan) are daily becoming more obvious; the urgency of a powerful international response to Khartoum’s policy of deliberate destruction of the Fur, Masseleit, and Zaghawa tribal groups could not be greater. And yet there continues to be no evidence that appropriate actions—humanitarian, diplomatic, or military–are being contemplated by the international community. The ghastly history of genocide in the 20th century is extending itself in Darfur, where the familiar elements of convenient agnosticism and moral indecision will soon be indissolubly linked to the racially and ethnically motivated destruction of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. It is certainly no strenuous inference from the available evidence to declare that many more than ten thousand human beings have already died or are in the last stages of death from military attacks and consequent exposure, disease, and starvation.
But at the very least, the convenience of an intellectually respectable agnosticism about whether or not genocide is occurring in Darfur must end. We have only to attend with honesty to the voices of those many tens of thousands who have escaped from Darfur into Chad (the UN has yet again raised its estimate of the refugee population: it now stands at over 135,000 and continues to accelerate with intensifying fighting):
“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)
“‘It is terrible, they are slaughtering us,” schoolteacher Ishmael Haggar, 30, said in broken English. ‘I need to tell somebody.” (Associated Press, January 26, 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)
These individual voices find massive amplification in the recent findings of a number of human rights and humanitarian organizations, and in statements by various UN officials. All stress that the attacks on civilians are overwhelmingly directed at the African tribal groups of the region, from which the insurgency groups have mainly drawn their support in responding to decades of marginalization and abuse by the governments in Khartoum. This is unprecedented in Darfur’s history, even in periods of conflict, going back to the time of the Dar Fur sultanate in the early 20th century.
Amnesty International has taken an important lead in characterizing the nature of fighting and civilian destruction in Darfur, and indeed deserves great credit for its early highlighting of the crisis (February 2003). The Guardian (UK) has very recently reported on a forthcoming Amnesty International report which will highlight the racial nature of conflict and attendant human destruction and displacement in Darfur; The Guardian also cites previous findings by researchers from Amnesty:
“‘The government has indiscriminately bombed towns and villages, suspected of harbouring or sympathising with members of the armed opposition, unlawfully killing many non-combatants.'”
(The Guardian, quoting an Amnesty International spokesman, January 30, 2004)
And yet as the International Crisis Group reports in its most recent account of conflict in Darfur, Khartoum-sponsored attacks on civilians are indiscriminate only in failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets:
“Government-supported militias deliberately target civilians from the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit groups, who are viewed as ‘Africans’ in Darfur and form the bulk of the SLA and JEM ethnic base. [ ] The latest attacks [by the government-supported Arab militias] occurred deep inside the Fur tribal domain, against unprotected villages *with no apparent link to the rebels other than their ethnic profile* [emphasis added].” (International Crisis Group, “Sudan: towards an Incomplete Peace,” December 11, 2003; available at http://www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=2416)
According to both the BBC and Deutsche Presse Agentur, diplomats are increasingly using the phrase “ethnic cleansing” to describe the realities of Darfur. For example, the BBC on January 30, 2004:
[“diplomats describe] the fighting as ‘ethnic cleansing,’ with entire villages inhabited by dark-skinned people who speak African languages being destroyed.”
UN officials are also using the phrase “ethnic cleansing” ever more insistently. These include Mukesh Kapila (UN humanitarian relief coordinator for Sudan) and Kris Janowski (spokesman for the UN High Commission for Refugees [Geneva]). Janowski was particularly detailed and insistent in his account of January 29, 2004 (“The World,” BBC/Public Radio International, January 29, 2004).
Moreover, two words ominously continue to appear in various UN accounts of the Darfur crisis : “deliberate” and “systematic.” Tom Vraalsen, UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan, declared in early December 2003 that, “delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by *systematically denied access* [latter phrase emphasized in text]. While [Khartoum’s] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas.”
(Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
Vraalsen continued by noting that “tribal leaders and humanitarian actors on the ground [ ] reported that [Khartoum-backed Arab] militias were launching *systematic* raids against civilian populations. These attacks included burning and looting of villages, large-scale killings, abductions, and other severe violations of human rights. Humanitarian workers have also been targeted, with staff being abducted and relief trucks looted [emphasis added].”
(Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
The acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, declared in a statement of January 29, 2004
“The acting High Commissioner for Human Rights is deeply concerned over the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Darfur, western Sudan. *Systematic* human rights abuses against unarmed civilians have been reported, including against women and children, as well as burning and looting of villages, causing massive internal displacement and an outflow of refugees” [emphasis added] (Geneva, January 29, 2004)
“Systematic” here—like the phrase “ethnic cleansing”—is unfortunately euphemistic. For the only “system” we can infer from the realities that Vraalsen, Ramcharan and others speak of is based on race and ethnicity. Whether civilians or combatants, those being “cleansed” are the victims of a “system” that identifies them primarily by race and ethnicity. What is being reported is nothing short of genocide, the deliberate and systematic destruction or displacement of peoples “as such.” Moreover, given the wholesale and deliberate disruption of the agricultural economy among the more sedentary Africa tribal groups, we may also invoke another of the key terms from the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948):
“Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” (clause [c]).
To be sure, as is the case for all of Sudan, race and ethnicity are complex issues in Darfur; there has been considerable inter-tribal and inter-racial marriage over many decades. But the racial and ethnic animus in the human destruction and displacement orchestrated by Khartoum is now simply unmistakable. And we must recall that genocide has rarely been a matter of absolute “purity”: even the Nazis were obliged to set guidelines for what degree of familial “Jewishness” was sufficient to warrant extermination.
It is hardly surprising in this context that the Committee on Conscience of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum has (January 2004) forcefully reiterated its “genocide warning” for Sudan, highlighting in particular the catastrophe in Darfur (see http://www.ushmm.org/conscience). The Committee on Conscience refers to practices in Darfur that led to the original genocide warning for southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains: “restrictions on humanitarian access, which threaten mass starvation, and aerial bombardment of civilians targets.” The January commentary added to the Sudan “genocide warning” also highlights the International Crisis Group’s report that “government-sponsored ‘Arab’ militias have ‘deliberately targeted civilians from the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit groups, who are viewed as “Africans” in Darfur.'”
Who is responsible for “systematic human rights abuses against unarmed civilians”? Who is responsible for the “systematic” denial of humanitarian aid in the midst of what UN Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland has described as probably “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”? Who is responsible for a crisis in which over a million people have been displaced, internally and into Chad, and in which a staggering 3.5 million people are now considered by the UN as “war-affected”? Who is responsible for aerial attacks on hundreds and hundreds of villages in Darfur by means of Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships (purchased largely with oil revenues supplied by Canadian and Asian oil companies)? Who has made the decision to deploy this weapon of civilian terror? Who is responsible for the immensely destructive militia ground attacks that see people killed, children abducted and enslaved, women raped, cattle looted, whole villages burned to the ground, creating many tens of thousands of additional displaced persons?
Who is responsible for genocide in Darfur?
The answer is clearly, unambiguously, undeniably the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum, the same regime that has deliberately suspended peace talks in Naivasha (Kenya) in order to pursue a policy of military victory in Darfur. In addition to increasingly frequent military attacks from the air, for which there is no defense in Darfur, Khartoum has prosecuted the war primarily by means of its Arab militia proxies, the Janjaweed. The direct connection between the Janjaweed and Khartoum, both in planning attacks and in Khartoum’s supplying potent weaponry to the Janjaweed, is beyond dispute. Following up on analyses by Amnesty International (November 27, 2003) and the International Crisis Group, Justice Africa (UK) in its most recent analysis (January 2004) declares of the Janjaweed, with appropriate conviction:
“The Government of Sudan cannot claim ignorance. Its armed forces were unable to cope with the Chadian-style highly mobile landcruiser-based raids of the Sudan Liberation Army [one of the two major insurgency groups in Darfur—ER]. Its air attacks on rebel bases will have little impact. In this context, its only hope for effective counter-insurgency is to try to clear the population itself. There is plentiful evidence of Government of Sudan involvement in the planning and implementation of the Janjawiid attacks. The militia approach has been practised for more than twenty years in western and southern Sudan, in almost all cases with direct support from Khartoum, and any denials by the Government of Sudan carry no credibility at all.” (Justice Africa, “Prospects for Peace in Sudan,” January 2004)
As has been the case in Khartoum’s war against the people of southern Sudan, this is a conflict in which only one side has an air force. All bombing attacks, all helicopter gunship attacks, are thus incontrovertibly ordered by Khartoum. And just as the International Crisis Group noted the concerted “ethnic profiling” by the Janjaweed in ground attacks on civilians and villages in Darfur, so the same “systematic” nature can be discerned in these aerial assaults: they are directed “against unprotected villages with no apparent link to the [Darfur] rebels other than their ethnic profile.” This is confirmed repeatedly by the reports emanating from the Chad/Sudan border, by both journalists and humanitarian organizations, as well as by non-Sudanese governmental sources within Darfur, and in the form of tenuous international telephone communication with civilians inside Darfur (coming to this writer from the Geneina [also al-Junaynah] and Zalingei areas).
If agnosticism about genocide in Darfur is no longer intellectually respectable, what accounts for the international failure to respond? In a perverse irony, one answer comes from Kofi Annan, in Stockholm for the first intergovernmental conference on genocide to be held since 1948, the year in which the UN Genocide Convention came into being. Inter Press Service reports that:
“Annan drew support for his proposal to set up a committee on the prevention of genocide [and] pointed to tragedies spawned by a lack of political will. He said there had been deliberate efforts to mislabel genocide, and that some states ‘even refused to call it by its name, to avoid fulfilling their obligations.’ [Annan said] Genocide is a threat that must be addressed with ‘strong and united political action and, in extreme cases, by military action.’ But cutting to the crux of the issue, Annan asked: ‘The question is, do we have the will?'” (Inter Press Service [Stockholm], January 30, 2004)
Missing, of course, is any mention by Annan of his own role as head of UN peacekeeping during the Rwandan genocide of 1994; indeed, the Secretary-General has the moral presumption to engage in self-exculpation:
“Describing the slaughter of between 800,000 and a million people in Rwanda in 1994, Annan said ‘a lack of resources and a lack of will to take on the commitment which would have been necessary’ created conditions for the disaster. ‘Instead of reinforcing our troops, we withdrew them,’ Annan said. ‘The gravest mistakes were made by member states, particularly in the way decisions were taken in the Security Council.'”
Ten years later, and now as head of the UN as a whole, Annan has at least asked the right question—“Do we have the will to confront genocide?”—and he has suggested the importance of a framework for international decisions about when a response is warranted:
“Annan emphasised the imperative for ‘clear ground rules to distinguish between genuine threats of genocide, which require a military solution, and other situations where force would not be legitimate.'”
(Inter Press Service [Stockholm], January 30, 2004)
But if Darfur does not present the most “genuine threat of genocide,” then we must wonder whether Annan is serious. The question is forced by the fact that he has said nothing about Darfur other than to lament the violence and humanitarian crisis. This is not enough. The more consequential silence on Annan’s part represents, in fact, precisely the “lack of will” he bemoans in surveying genocide retrospectively.
And what of the other international actors most deeply involved in Sudan peace negotiations between Khartoum and the southern opposition in Naivasha (Kenya)? Even as the Clinton administration shamefully obstructed efforts to respond to the genocide in Rwanda, even as the US was most responsible for insuring that the UN would never provide the peacekeeping forces so desperately called for by Romeo Dallaire, UN force commander at the time, so we are now hearing the deathly sound of silence on the part of the Bush administration. The one State Department statement on Darfur (December 16, 2004) was both tepid and largely inconsequential—and it was a now month and a half ago. In the interim, the crisis has exploded, military actions by the Khartoum regime have greatly intensified, and the numbers of human beings destroyed, displaced, or put at acute risk has risen by many hundreds of thousands.
In a tragic miscalculation, US diplomatic thinking has cleaved steadily to the belief that silence on Darfur will expedite the talks in Naivasha, when all evidence suggests the very opposite. Khartoum’s contrived suspension of the talks, just as agreement was clearly possible on the status of the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile, has as its primary motive the desire to resolve the crisis in Darfur militarily. US silence, a commitment not to “roil the diplomatic waters” for the sake of the Naivasha talks, only encourages Khartoum to believe it gains militarily in Darfur from stringing out completion of an agreement in Kenya. So, too, do perverse behind-the-scenes administration efforts to force the SPLM to take responsibility for suspension of the Naivasha talks, even as it was clearly the contrivance of lead NIF negotiator Ali Osman Taha’s declared need (without any prior notice to mediators) to attend the Haj in Mecca that forced suspension.
To complete the international picture, there has been nothing from the two other members of the “troika” at Naivasha—Norway and the UK—that speaks fully or honestly enough about the realities in Darfur. Other international actors will certainly be following the lead of the “troika.”
Kofi Annan has ended up by answering himself the question he posed in his recent Stockholm conference setting: if neither he, nor the US administration, nor the other governments most deeply involved in the Sudan peace process are willing to speak out on Darfur, if the genocidal realities in this long-suffering region are not articulated for reasons having to do more with international politics and diplomacy than with evidence from the ground, then we can be sure of an answer to the question, “do we have the will [to declare genocide]?”
“We,” as emblematized in Secretary-General Annan, do not.
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