Eric Reeves, 9 August 2004
KHARTOUM’S RESPONSIBILITY FOR MASS EXECUTIONS
As the UN Security Council and political leadership continue to prove wholly inadequate to the crisis in Darfur, as humanitarian capacity slips further behind rapidly expanding humanitarian need, and as the international community badly fumbles over how to respond to massive genocidal destruction, the Khartoum regime’s remorseless engine of human death and suffering continues to function with terrifying efficiency. Though most of the 2,000 who now die daily are succumbing to disease and the effects of starvation (and most of these invisibly), a recent and extraordinarily revealing report from the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions gives us a much clearer view of Khartoum’s direct involvement in violent mass human destruction.
UN Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir minces no words in her final report or in her public comments:
“‘It is beyond doubt that the Government of the Sudan is responsible for extrajudicial and summary executions of large numbers of people over the last several months in the Darfur region, as well as in the Shilook [also Shilluk] Kingdom in Upper Nile State [southern Sudan],” said Asma Jahangir, the U.N. investigator on executions, in a report based on a 13-day visit to the region in June.” (Associated Press, August 6, 2004)
“Jahangir said there was ‘overwhelming evidence’ that the killing was carried out ‘in a coordinated manner by the armed forces of the government and government-backed militias. They appear to be carried out in a systematic manner.”’ (Associated Press, August 6, 2004)
Jahangir also takes a larger view of the consequences for Darfur of what a previous UN human rights investigative team called a “reign of terror:”
“‘The current humanitarian disaster unfolding in Darfur, for which the government is largely responsible, has put millions of civilians at risk, and it is very likely that many will die in the months to come as a result of starvation and disease,’ said Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer.” (Associated Press, August 6, 2004)
Her account of attacks on the African civilian populations of Darfur has a ghastly familiarity, echoing as it does so many other human rights reports on Darfur:
“[Jahangir said] the most often heard report was of villages being surrounded by military vehicles accompanied by Arab militia riding horses. The local population was plundered, looted, tortured, raped and often shot at in a random manner; however, adult men seemed often to be specifically targeted. Before leaving, the Arab militia would burn down the villages. In some cases, helicopters or Antonov airplanes were used to bomb or attack the villages or to provide cover for ground operations, including operations carried out by Arab militia.” (Associated Press, August 6, 2004)
Though Jahangir suggested that the Khartoum regime “appeared oblivious to the dramatic and disastrous proportions and the magnitude,” we may be sure that in this case appearances are deceiving: Khartoum is fully aware of the proportions of its genocidal assault on the African tribal populations of Darfur, and its actions are clearly fully governed by an intent to destroy these people. The systematic and widespread military actions and military coordination that Jahangir and many others have described are unmistakably the deliberate policies of Khartoum. Intent can be inferred with certainty from the countless actions that make up Khartoum’s sustained military strategy in Darfur.
Moreover, this inference has been indisputably confirmed in a recent Human Rights Watch report:
“Human Rights Watch said it had obtained confidential documents from the civilian administration in Darfur that implicate high-ranking government officials in a policy of militia support. ‘It’s absurd to distinguish between the Sudanese government forces and the militias—they are one,’ said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. ‘These documents show that militia activity has not just been condoned, it’s been specifically supported by Sudan government officials.'”
(“Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support,” July 20, 2004; http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2004/07/20/darfur9095.htm).
KHARTOUM’S REFUSAL OF AFRICAN UNION PEACEKEEPERS
The National Islamic Front regime so potently indicted here by UN Special Rapporteur Jahangir and Human Rights Watch nonetheless presently enjoys a 30-day window of opportunity, courtesy of a weak and finally inconsequential UN resolution (see August 6, 2004 analysis of the UN resolution by this writer; available upon request). Just as troublingly, Khartoum is now strenuously resisting the deployment of any African Union (AU) troops that might have a peacekeeping mandate: the regime will only permit forces with a mandate to protect the small contingent of AU cease-fire monitors, a military task that obviously does not require the 2,000 troops the AU recently authorized to respond to the Darfur crisis (Reuters, August 7, 2004). Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein (the particularly brutal member of the NIF regime responsible for “Darfur policy”) declared very recently:
“‘We will not agree to the presence of any foreign forces, whatever their nationality,’ Sudanese Interior Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein said in an interview with London’s Asharq al-Awsat newspaper published on Friday.” (Reuters, August 6, 2004)
The insidiously deceptive Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail indicated the basis on which Khartoum would block any truly meaningful African Union force, one able to protect civilians:
“‘We have to make a distinction between three categories. The presence of observers, the presence of protection forces for those observers and the presence of peacekeeping forces,’ Ismail told reporters in Khartoum when asked whether Sudan would accept African peacekeepers. ‘We don’t have a problem with either the first or the second categories. As far as the third category is concerned…this is the responsibility of the Sudanese forces.'” (Reuters, August 7, 2004)
Why is Khartoum so eager to keep out a meaningful African Union peacekeeping force? Why in the face of massive insecurity, directly threatening many hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians, as well as humanitarian assistance and access, is Khartoum so insistent that no significant troop presence be permitted? Because the genocide is not complete and Khartoum is determined to complete a task well begun; moreover, the regime is determined to obliterate as much evidence of these crimes as possible. The primary goal is precisely to prevent and eliminate all international presence in Darfur.
No matter that UN Special Rapporteur Jahangir is all too accurate in her global assessment of the crisis deriving from Khartoum’s policies:
“‘The current humanitarian disaster unfolding in Darfur, for which the government is largely responsible, has put millions of civilians at risk, and it is very likely that many will die in the months to come as a result of starvation and disease.'” (Associated Press, August 6, 2004)
In fact, Jahangir’s figure here of “millions of civilians at risk” is very likely suggestive of current realities. Evidence continues to accumulate that perhaps as many as 1 million people have not yet been included in figures for Internally Displaced Persons and refugees. The overall level of destruction of African villages is extraordinary—well over 50% by most estimates, which in turn have been confirmed by partial satellite photographic coverage and analysis of the Darfur region. The current UN total for Internally Displaced Persons and refugees is approximately 1.5 million. But this doesn’t begin to account for those who must have been displaced, given the high level of village destruction and a total African tribal population that may be very roughly estimated at 4 million. We may in fact be seeing a gross underestimation by the UN and other international actors of the sort that defined the crisis in eastern Congo in 1996-97.
Even so, Khartoum is prepared to continue with present policies, amply supported by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and by the Arab League’s irresponsible refusal to assess the crisis honestly. Yesterday’s perverse spectacle in Cairo saw the foreign ministers of various Arab countries rally around Khartoum, demanding both more time for the regime and rejecting any possibility of a militarily supported humanitarian intervention. The Arab League summit, called by a confident Khartoum, has offered the regime precisely what it wants, and this no doubt ensures that pressure to respond to the UN resolution has significantly diminished. The most appropriate response to this travesty comes from Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch: “Allowing the Sudanese government to hide its crimes behind Arab solidarity would be an insult to more than one million Muslim victims in Darfur” (Reuters, August 8, 2004).
The insult has been delivered in full.
Assured that there will be no meaningful UN action at the end of the 30-day time-frame contemplated by the Security Council resolution, and further reassured by the incompetently optimistic judgment of Jan Pronk, Kofi Annan’s new special representative to Sudan, Khartoum may be feeling increased pressure, but no obligation to respond beyond engaging in an especially energetic effort of disingenuousness, prevarication, trimming, and reneging. The regime’s participation in “peace talks” in Abuja (Nigeria) will be dilatory, grudging, time-consumingly uncompromising. The regime will simply calculate what it must do, however speciously, to provide China and Russia with something to point to when the Security Council resumes discussions of Darfur.
What is, and has long been, certain is that humanitarian intervention will not be authorized by the Security Council, despite the Chapter VII auspices under which the resolution has been passed. This fig-leaf of “tough resolve” will blow embarrassingly away—and still the people of Darfur will suffer and die.
THE SITUATION IN DARFUR NOW
Those surprised by the horrific conclusions of UN Special Rapporteur Jahangir’s report and public statements should not be. We caught a clear glimpse of what she had found in statements made at the end of her assessment mission in June 2004, when she declared that,
“‘the number of black Africans killed by Arab militias in the Darfur region of Sudan is ‘bound to be staggering.’ Ms. Jahangir said that during her visit, ‘nearly every third or fourth family’ she spoke to in the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) within Darfur had lost a relative to the militias. ‘It’s very hard to say [accurately] how many people have been killed,’ she said, but interviews with IDPs indicated it would be ‘quite a large number. They are bound to be staggering.'” (UN News Centre, June 29, 2004)
Though it is not possible to draw any clear larger statistical inference from Jahangir’s finding that nearly “every third or fourth family” had lost a relative to the militias, such a finding strongly suggests that many scores of thousands have been killed violently in Darfur. Jahangir’s statements about a “staggering” number of violent deaths certainly lend considerable support to the figure of at least 80,000 killed violently, a figure derived by this writer primarily from data on violent death generated by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres. (Combined with data on malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality, this strongly supports a total mortality figure of over 150,000.)
It is important here that we understand fully the nature of the violent deaths that are being reported by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. A particularly telling and authoritatively reported example was provided by Amnesty International in April 2004:
“Amnesty International has now obtained detailed accounts of the 168 people extrajudicially executed [in West Darfur]. The men were taken from 10 villages in Wadi Saleh, in the west of Darfur near the Chad border, by a large force which included members of the Sudan army, military intelligence and Janjawid. They were blindfolded and taken in groups of about 40, on army trucks to an area behind a hill near Deleij village. There they were then told to lie on the ground and shot by a force of about 45 members of the military intelligence and the Janjawid. Two of those shot lay wounded among the bodies before escaping and giving information to the outside world.” (Amnesty International report [London], April 7, 2004)
This is but one instance, on one day, in one small part of Darfur; it is clear from Jahangir’s account that this genocidal practice has continued, on a concerted basis throughout Darfur, for over a year.
Even as it has been directly involved in such mass murder, Khartoum has continued to impede, in various and highly consequential ways, humanitarian assistance to the civilian populations traumatized by such executions and by the pattern of village destruction that Jahangir has confirmed. The destruction of these displaced people is no less certain, even if now they are dead or dying from disease and starvation. If men and older boys have been the particular target of mass executions, young children will be the primary victims of the disastrously poor conditions in the camps for the displaced and in the rural areas, where uncounted hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than a million survivors are without food or security.
Forced expulsions and relocation of displaced persons from the camps has also continued as a policy of human destruction on Khartoum’s part. This policy will result in a huge number of civilian casualties, of a sort suggested by a recent dispatch from The Independent (UK), with a Nyala dateline:
“The Sudanese government has been accused of sending refugees back into the hands of the murderous Janjaweed militia. The Independent on Sunday has been given accounts of returnees being killed by gunmen—sometimes, it is claimed, in collusion with security forces. There is also evidence that the police have attacked village chiefs who have refused to lead their communities back home from refugee camps. Refugees also claim that [Khartoum’s] official agencies that have a part in distributing international aid are cutting back on rations in an effort to get inmates to leave the camps.” (The Independent (UK), August 8, 2004)
A telling example from the huge camp near Kalma (with over 70,000 people) offers a glimpse into the coercion and violence that are being used to implement the policy of civilian expulsions from the camps:
In the latest clash [at Kalma] last week, 42 people were arrested and one village sheikh, Abdullah Bashir Sabir, was severely injured. The authorities say he was attacked after he tried to get people from his village to go back. But, according to people in the camp he was shot because he refused to comply with the authorities’ demands to take them home. His wife, Halima, said: ‘They shot him in the leg because he would not agree.'” (The Independent (UK), August 8, 2004)
Here we should bear in mind the general warning that has been coming from humanitarian workers for the last month:
“Humanitarian workers fear that a forcible mass return of some 1.2 million Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur could result in enormous fatalities.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 13, 2004)
Some have wondered why we don’t hear more often directly from humanitarian personnel working in Darfur—why identities of sources are so often obscured. An especially revealing answer to this question comes in the form of a column in yesterday’s The Telegraph, authored by a humanitarian worker (also director of emergency programs for a European humanitarian organization) who explains not only what he/she has seen, but why silence has until now been obligatory:
“Our people have seen at first hand what has gone on in Darfur. We have watched government planes and helicopter gunships passing overhead to bomb villages, hours before the Janjaweed militia moved in to burn them. We have seen government officials and Janjaweed working together near the border with Chad. We have heard the testimonies from survivors. Have we become complicit by not speaking out? I hope not. The fact is that any aid agency publicly speaking out would be immediately expelled from Sudan.” (The Telegraph (UK), August 8, 2004)
Despite the agonizing deliberation of the writer, his/her conclusion is clear:
“But something more needs to happen. Not only is the situation in the camps where we are able to work getting worse, but there are still large parts of Darfur that no aid agency has ever been able to access. These, predictably enough, are the areas controlled by the two rebel groups fighting the government in Darfur, and into which the Sudanese army will not allow aid convoys to pass. There is a large civilian population trapped inside those areas, living (or dying) in conditions we can only imagine. Many aid workers on the ground now see some kind of international intervention as the last hope for hundreds of thousands of civilians.” (The Telegraph (UK), August 8, 2004)
Let us seize on the clarity of this statement from the ground in Darfur: “Many aid workers on the ground now see some kind of international intervention as the last hope for hundreds of thousands of civilians.”
Inevitably, this prompts yet again a comparison to the Rwandan genocide:
“The Janjaweed is the creation of Khartoum, every bit as much as Rwanda’s Interahamwe was a creation of a murderous political elite.” (The Telegraph (UK), August 8, 2004)
Though UN rhetoric and variously announced “improvements” in the situation in Darfur work to suggest a crisis essentially humanitarian in nature, and susceptible of humanitarian amelioration, the reality—as made clear yet again by this aid worker, freed to speak the truth by virtue of anonymity—is that humanitarian intervention is necessary to save hundreds of thousands of lives. To entrust security in Darfur to Khartoum and the new “Interahamwe” is to offer up these desperate people to a final holocaust.
“GENOCIDE BY FORCE OF HABIT”
Alex de Waal of Justice Africa has recently written, with compelling authority, that there is in the end nothing surprising or unprecedented about Khartoum’s deployment of a domestic policy of genocide:
“The atrocities carried out by the Janjawiid are aimed at speakers of Fur, Tunjur, Masalit and Zaghawa. They are systematic and sustained; the effect, if not the aim, is grossly disproportionate to the military threat of the rebellion. The mass rape and branding of victims speaks of the deliberate destruction of a community. In Darfur, cutting down fruit trees or destroying irrigation ditches is a way of eradicating farmers’ claims to the land and ruining livelihoods. But this is not the genocidal campaign of a government at the height of its ideological hubris, as the 1992 jihad against the Nuba was, or coldly determined to secure natural resources, as when it sought to clear the oilfields of southern Sudan of their troublesome inhabitants. This is the routine cruelty of a security cabal, its humanity withered by years in power: it is genocide by force of habit.” (London Review of Books, August 5, 2004)
This tells us far too much about the nature of the Khartoum regime, and the fate of Sudan if the regime remains in power. The international community must move to end this “reign of terror,” a tyranny that threatens not only Darfur but other marginalized areas throughout Sudan. Moreover, nothing could now be clearer than the extreme threat Darfur poses to the arduously negotiated north/south peace agreement: this agreement, still incomplete, will be meaningless so long as the National Islamic Front remains in power. The executions in the Shilluk Kingdom that UN Special Rapporteur Jahangir notes, almost in passing, are a sign of how completely indifferent Khartoum is to its commitments in the various signed Protocols and the October 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement.
Nor is it at all clear how the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), or any other southern party, can join ranks with the genocidaires in Khartoum. The SPLM cannot possibly become part of the government, in the midst of a genocide, without hopelessly compromising itself, and its declared commitment to all the marginalized people of Sudan. At the same time, Khartoum may perversely work to use this refusal as a sign of the SPLM’s “bad faith” in negotiations.
For now, Khartoum has not only refused to move toward completion of a final peace agreement (including a comprehensive cease-fire and modalities of implementation for the various protocols), but continues to be in egregious violation of the October 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement. All peace talks have now broken off, and with Darfur looming as context, it is exceedingly difficult to see how they can be resumed. Rather, a resumption of full-scale hostilities in the south is the more likely possibility, with Eastern Upper Nile, the Shilluk Kingdom, and Western Upper Nile particularly threatening flashpoints. The current (and conservative) US State Department estimate for casualties in this conflict is 2.2 million human beings (http://allafrica.com/stories/200407280029.html).
The international community can respond accommodatingly, as is all too likely, to Khartoum’s continuing bad faith and its present genocidal policies in Darfur. The international community can respond in the same fashion, seriatim, to what will certainly be continued massive human rights abuses, atrocities, bad faith, reneging, lying, and human destruction on the part of the regime.
Or the international community can fashion a means of taking Sudan’s governance into receivership: ideally under UN auspices, but by whatever means are necessary to halt this shamelessly persistent evil. The political, diplomatic, and administrative challenges would be daunting no matter what the auspices or the nature of the interim governing mechanism. But the future of Sudan simply cannot be entrusted any longer to a regime of genocidaires—men responsible for mass executions, deliberate and massive civilian slaughter, and who bear overwhelming responsibility for engineering the present catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
This would seem to be the implication of the high-minded words Kofi Annan used in accepting the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. At the time, as he had earlier in opening the 1999 General Assembly session, Annan “warned that national sovereignty had its limits in the face of flagrant human rights violations” (Reuters, August 8, 2004). Fine sounding words, but like so many of Mr. Annan’s pronouncements, hollow at the core.
Of one thing we may be sure (and this marks a key consideration in the so-called doctrine of an international “Responsibility to Protect”): present governance of Sudan simply cannot get worse. No doubt some, guided by past diplomatic investments in this tyrannical regime, will likely argue otherwise. But events have clearly revealed their error.
Others, coming late to Darfur with a mechanically prepared political agenda, are already claiming that the entire Western response to Darfur is somehow a power-play for oil. Though garnering surprising attention and newspaper column space, this theory reveals a painful ignorance of both the logic of the concession structure in place in southern Sudan (which for good reason barely reaches to the southernmost part of Darfur), as well as the seismic and geological data for the Muglad Basin (which runs in a broad belt southerly belt from Chad to Ethiopia), indicating how very unlikely it is that there are significant oil reserves in Darfur.
And of course the highly distorting shadow of Iraq falls heavily on the prospects for even discussion of such a policy, though we would do well here to consider the conclusion of the aid worker in Darfur who directs emergency responses for a European humanitarian organization:
“But Darfur is not Iraq. The people dying are Muslims. Cutting the throats of women and children, chaining villagers together and burning them, are the acts of cowards. The majority of the population in Darfur would welcome the arrival of troops.” (The Telegraph (UK), August 8, 2004)
Let those who worry about “fundamentalist Islamic hostility” to militarily supported humanitarian intervention and the removal of the NIF regime conduct interviews with the terrorized refugees in Chad, or the mothers watching hopelessly as their children die in camps, or the fathers who have seen their daughters gang-raped by the Janjaweed, or the survivors of mass executions, or the children who have endured being thrown in fires set by the Janjaweed—let us hear what the results of these interviews suggest about the resistance to “infidel forces” from these notably pious Muslim people who are being destroyed because they belong to African tribal groups. These people have lost everything to Khartoum and its Janjaweed allies, and hundreds of thousands will die before the killing stops: this is not fertile for the predicted resistance of hostility.
Certainly there will be reflexive opposition from various quarters—the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and a good portion of the African Union—and it will be intense. Opposition from Russia and China virtually guarantees that the UN will be unable to respond to the real historical challenges of the moment.
The odds are long against a change of regime in Khartoum, even as such change is now clearly all that can rescue Sudan from the monstrous consequences of the National Islamic Front’s ongoing and ruthless survivalism. Indeed, the odds against such fully justified action are exceedingly long. But let us understand, then, that so too are the odds of physical survival for countless thousands of Sudanese—in Darfur, in the Nuba Mountains, in Southern Blue Nile, in the east, particularly among the Beja people, and in southern Sudan.
If in present circumstances Khartoum’s grotesquely illegitimate claim to “national sovereignty” can trump the recently articulated international “Responsibility to Protect” (in this case the acutely vulnerable populations of Sudan) and to halt deliberate, racially/ethnically-targeted human destruction, then this carefully cultivated and lavishly funded notion of an international “Responsibility to Protect” is transparently vacuous.
Humanitarian intervention in Darfur cannot wait for an end to UN dithering, but must commence immediately; Sudan as a whole cannot endure further rule by the National Islamic Front.
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