Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia allies burning children alive, August 2, 2004
Kaltoma Ahmed, 16, described watching her six-year-old brother Adam die. “[The Janjaweed] tied the children’s hands and feet,” she said. “They put them in the house, and burned it to the ground.”
Eric Reeves, 2 August 2004
THE MEANING OF THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON DARFUR
The international community, in the form of the United Nations Security Council, has decided to wait another month to see whether the Khartoum regime will move to control its Janjaweed militia allies in the Darfur region. In passing a “wait and see” resolution, purportedly responding to the crisis in Darfur, the UN has decided that the relentless, savage destruction of innocent civilians may continue for the present. The regime that has armed, supplied, incited, and protected the Janjaweed while conducting its yearlong genocidal assault on the African peoples of Darfur has been given an expansive 30-day deadline, at the end of which the UN Security Council will hear from Secretary-general Kofi Annan about the degree of Khartoum’s compliance. There may then be some further response, since the Security Council declares at the end of its resolution that “it remains seized of the matter.”
Leaving aside the meaning of this last phrase as a term of art in the “diplomatese” spoken at the UN, it is difficult to see anything but the grimmest irony in such absurd self-characterization. The international community, in the form of the United Nations Security Council, has not been morally “seized” by the realities of Darfur. This is simply impossible to believe if we will only look honestly at the fate of six-year-old Adam Ahmed, bound and cast into a fiery death, and the tens of thousands of other children who have cruelly perished over the last 17 months in Darfur, and whose deaths from other causes will only accelerate in the coming weeks. The UN Security Council is not “seized of the matter”; on the contrary, it has expediently, callously, disgracefully surrendered any claim to be responding meaningfully to the realities of Darfur.
No matter that the stories told by girls like Kaltoma Ahmed are dramatically increasing; no matter that there is not a particle of evidence that Khartoum has moved or will move to control the Janjaweed or improve the security situation in Darfur; no matter that mortality data from the US Agency for International Development indicates that over 50,000 people will die during this 30-day period, as the effects of malnutrition and disease begin to bite ever more deeply into already terribly weakened and traumatized populations of displaced persons—overwhelmingly the targeted African tribal peoples of Darfur; no matter that humanitarian capacity falls relentlessly further behind massively increasing humanitarian need, and long-predicted logistical and transport difficulties reach their ghastly climax at the end of August (the rainiest month in the Darfur); no matter that whatever happens at the end of August or in early September, mortality rates will continue to escalate dramatically, reaching in December (according to present US AID data) a rate of 20 human beings per day per 10,000 of affected population.
As the people of Darfur approach closer to this moment in which perhaps 5,000 human beings will die every day, perhaps the fact of being “seized of the matter” of Darfur will eventually take on some more consequential meaning. At present, there is for once little reason to disagree with Khartoum’s master of mendacity, Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail: “‘There is no reason to reject the [UN Security Council] resolution as it doesn’t contain anything new, anything other than what already has been signed on in the agreement with the United Nations,’ Ismail told reporters” (Associated Press, July 31, 2004).
Indeed, all too true. Khartoum promised in the April 8, 2004 cease-fire agreement with the insurgency groups (the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement) that it would control the violence of the Janjaweed militia forces; it promised the same to US Secretary of State Colin Powell a month ago; and for good measure the regime promised the same yet again to UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan. Like all Khartoum’s promises, this one has proved meaningless. And those who expect otherwise simply have ignored the implications of a recent Human Rights Watch report on documents that directly link the government in Sudan and the Janjaweed perpetrators of violence:
“Sudan Government documents incontrovertibly show that government officials directed recruitment, arming and other support to the ethnic militias known as the Janjaweed, Human Rights Watch said today.” [ ]
“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), (report at:
Despite these inescapable truths, the US, as the original sponsor of the UN resolution that was serially weakened through a variety of capitulatory revisions, will want to claim that it has done something—that it has started some diplomatic “clock” ticking. But in fact the resolution does not set in motion a movement toward UN authorization of humanitarian intervention under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (Chapter VII auspices are the only meaningful feature of the final version of the Security Council resolution). On the contrary, it is and has long been clear that the UN will not authorize any such intervention. This is so despite the clear fact that all that can rescue hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Darfur, presently targeted by Khartoum for genocidal destruction, is multilateral humanitarian intervention, fully supported militarily. Humanitarian transport and logistic capacity must be massively increased, and adequate security afforded the populations at risk in the camps for the displaced.
CONSEQUENCES OF REFUSING TO MOVE TOWARD
Completely unsurprisingly, violence on the part of Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia forces has continued unabated in Darfur during the month since the visits of Kofi Annan and Colin Powell to the region. A series of recent dispatches, as well as a report by the African Union monitoring team, makes clear that this violence remains extremely intense and animated by a savage cruelty—directed relentlessly against children. Since children are inevitably the most vulnerable inhabitants of villages as they are attacked by Janjaweed militia forces (the least able to flee or defend themselves), it is difficult to prove a pattern of deliberate, concentrated destruction of children.
Nonetheless, the nature of current attacks—still clearly sanctioned as part of Khartoum’s overall military strategy in Darfur—is extremely alarming. And in the context of genocidal destruction in Darfur, we must take seriously the views of a tribal elder from the town of Adwa, reported yesterday in a news dispatch from Nyala (South Darfur):
“‘When [our children] grow they’ll establish houses and families and make more generations. [The Janjaweed] want to destroy this generation. They want the land for themselves.'” (Knight Ridder news service [Nyala], July 31, 2004)
Though the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide does not specifically contemplate the targeted destruction of children, it clearly takes cognizance of the fact that children may be a particular focus of genocidal intent. Among the acts specified as genocide (i.e., “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”) are, “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” (Article 2, clauses [d] and [e] of the Convention). The latter, in the form of numerous child abductions, has in fact been a feature of war in Darfur.
Certainly an examination of recent reports of Janjaweed violence involving children leaves little doubt about either the savagery or the ethnic/racial hatred animating the destruction of African tribal peoples. George Wolf, member of a Refugees International fact-finding team just back from Darfur, writes in a Washington Post opinion column of July 31, 2004:
“On the morning of July 12, hell descended on the village of Donki Dereisa. Shortly before sunrise, Fatima Ibrahim, 28, awoke to the deafening sound of exploding ordnance falling from the sky. As she emerged from her mud hut with her 10-year-old daughter, she saw fires blazing all around and scores of heavily armed men on horseback attacking from every direction. With bullets whistling past, Ibrahim and her daughter ran for their lives, ducking into a nearby ravine, where they hid without food or water for the next two days.”
“From the ditch, Ibrahim witnessed a horrific avalanche of violence that will haunt her for life. With Sudanese foot soldiers at their side, the mounted attackers shot the panicked and unarmed villagers in cold blood. Approximately 150 people, including 10 women, were killed. But the worst was to come.”
“Ibrahim told Refugees International about a week after the attack that among those captured during the assault were four of her brothers and six young children, including three of her cousins. As Ibrahim watched in horror, several of the attackers began grabbing the screaming children and throwing them one by one into a raging fire. One of the male villagers ran from his hiding place to plead for their lives. It was a fatal error. The raiders subdued the man and later beheaded him and dismembered his body. All six of the children were burned. Ibrahim’s four brothers have not been heard from since.” (Washington Post, July 31, 2004)
Of particular note here, beyond the savagery recounted, is the explicit reference to “Sudanese foot soldiers at the side” of the Janjaweed. Wolf also confirms what has been reported by a number of other highly reliable sources: that Khartoum’s promises to halt such Janjaweed attacks are now taking the form of cynically manipulated show trials:
“Recent events suggest that in making these commitments [to control the violence of the Janjaweed], Khartoum’s objective was to stall for time in the hope it might deceive the international community into believing the crisis had been brought under control. This cynical approach is graphically illustrated by the recent arrest and prosecution of a group of alleged Janjaweed militiamen on charges of robbery and murder in southern Darfur’s provincial capital of Nyala. According to reliable sources inside the government, the ‘Janjaweed’ were in fact common criminals plucked from a Nyala jail, who were informed that they would be sentenced to death unless they agreed to pose as Janjaweed and confess to the crimes.” (Washington Post, July 31, 2004)
Despite this and other efforts at manipulation, news reporters and other sources of information have become more numerous in Darfur, and it is much harder for the regime to silence the voices of unmistakable authenticity:
“Only 12, Hussein Muhamed sits in the shade of his small hut, dressed in a pair of long khakis, a lost soul sidelined in a refugee camp full of them. His scrawny legs are burned so deeply, from ankle to hip, that he hobbles like an old man—a grisly testament to the day government-backed militiamen called the janjaweed raided his village.”
‘They grabbed me and yelled: “You are the son of slaves”,’ recalled Hussein, who is lean and shy with dull, charcoal eyes. ‘Then, they threw me into the fire.'” (Knight Ridder news service [Nyala], July 31, 2004)
The word “slave” here is the Arabic “abid,” which means “slave” but also has many of the pejorative connotations of the hateful English word “nigger.” Hussein’s account, in which racial/ethnic hatred is an animating feature of human destruction, is yet another among the countless such interviews that have now been collected by human rights investigators, news reporters, nongovernmental organizations, and various UN teams.
“Hussein [necessarily not the real name of the child in question] remembers that he was seated in his classroom when the janjaweed, along with soldiers in trucks, stormed his village of Singite. As guns blazed, scores of children and teachers fled the school.”
“Hussein, six classmates, and a teacher hid in the classroom. A gang of janjaweed found them, and dragged them outside. Others started a fire. They began chanting ‘Abid, Abid, Abid,’ Hussein said. It means slave [see above].”
“Then they shot his teacher and threw his body into the flames. Next they pushed Hussein into the fire. ‘I felt pain in my legs, but there was no blood,’ said Hussein, running his thin fingers across his right calf. In quick succession, the other children were thrown in, too.” (Knight Ridder news service [Nyala], July 31, 2004)
The Knight Ridder dispatch continues its harrowing overview:
“The burnings are continuing. A few miles away in the Otash refugee camp, seven villagers, all interviewed separately, described seeing children abducted and set on fire when the janjaweed attacked Adwa two weeks ago.
“Kaltoma Ahmed, 16, described watching her six-year-old brother Adam die. ‘They tied the children’s hands and feet,’ she said. ‘They put them in the house, and burned it to the ground.'”
“Kaltoma Idris, 23, was inside her hut when the janjaweed arrived. Outside, her sister was boiling water on a small fire, her recently born twins next to her. ‘The janjaweed came and took the water and poured it over the babies,’ recalled Idris, who stayed in the hut and kept silent. ‘They tied my sister up.’
Idris fled out the back. As she ran for cover, she said she saw children being thrown into flaming huts. Two hours later, she returned to find her sister still tied up.”
“‘The babies were dead inside the pot,’ said Idris. She untied her sister. They took her babies and buried them near the hut. Her sister later told her she was whipped and gang raped twice. Other villagers described returning and seeing charred bodies inside huts and strewn on the sandy dirt.” (Knight Ridder news service [Nyala], July 31, 2004)
CBS News and the Associated Press reported in a similar vein on the basis of a report obtained by the Associated Press from the African Union monitoring team that has been deployed to Darfur (though woefully understaffed and without nearly sufficient transport or communications gear):
“Arab militias chained civilians together and set them on fire in Sudan’s western Darfur region, where tens of thousands have been killed in a 17-month conflict, according to a report by an African Union monitoring team.”
“The immolation came during a July 3 attack on the village of Suleia by pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed, the African Union monitoring team said in its report. ‘The attackers looted the market and killed civilians, in some cases, by chaining them and burning them alive,’ according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday.”
“The report, which was not signed but was written on African Union letterhead, also said the village of Ehada ‘had been burnt and deserted except for a few men…an unwarranted and unprovoked attack on the civilian population by the Janjaweed.'” (Associated Press [Addis Ababa] July 29, 2004)
This is the nature of the violence that will continue during the perversely extended month of genocidal opportunity that the international community has voted to afford to Khartoum.
KHARTOUM CONTINUES FORCED MOVEMENT OF DISPLACED
PERSONS, EVEN AS HUMANITARIAN SITUATION DETERIORATES
Such violence is a critical part of the context in which to assess the implications of continuing reports of Khartoum’s efforts to remove, forcibly and otherwise, displaced populations from the camps into which they have been concentrated.
Two weeks ago, Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, gave urgent voice to this concern:
“Thousands of Sudanese who fled their homes because of attacks by government-backed militias in the Darfur region are being forced to leave refugee camps and return to their villages, the U.N. humanitarian chief said. [Egeland] said the United Nations has received reports of ‘big pressure’ forcing people from camps in western Darfur. ‘This enforced movement of people is very, very, very, very worrisome at the moment,’ he said. ‘This is one of the key points to monitor in the next days and weeks—that return is voluntary, and that security is re-established for the civilian population.'” (Associated Press, July 15, 2004)
But in “monitoring the next days and weeks,” humanitarian actors on the ground have continued to see clear evidence of just this policy. A very recent dispatch from the region notes:
“The Sudanese government, in an effort to mask the human suffering unfolding in Darfur, is waging a campaign to coerce refugees to go back to their villages, according to Western aid workers and refugees. [ ] And in recent meetings, [government] officials have demanded that Western aid agencies encourage refugees to go home, implying that if they didn’t they would be viewed as having a political agenda.”
“‘There are varying degrees of coercion and manipulation going on,’ said a Western aid official whose agency attended the meetings. He asked not to be named because he feared his agency would be expelled. He added that refugees ‘are not making free and informed decisions.’ [ ] ‘All the aid agencies are definitely concerned about that,’ he said. ‘It is a big, burning issue at the moment.'” (Knight Ridder news service [Nyala], July 29, 2004)
The ominous implications of such a policy have been clear to humanitarian workers from the beginning:
“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)
The fears remain all too well-founded; for not only have villages and foodstocks been destroyed in rural Darfur, but violence continues unabated. In addition to the terrifying reports noted above, the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks recently reported:
“Continuing violence in the troubled Darfur region of western Sudan has displaced more civilians at a time when delivery of aid to remote villages has become more difficult, and some of those displaced are now surviving on wild food and grasshoppers, relief agencies said. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), pockets of fighting and militia attacks against civilians were continuing throughout Darfur, complicating the humanitarian crisis and hindering access to affected people.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 30, 2004)
Some within the Bush administration will declare that in responding to the crisis in Darfur, especially in the wake of Iraq, it is important to move first through the UN Security Council, even knowing of the futility of such efforts. But given the overwhelming urgency of the crisis in Darfur—an urgency that has been clear for many months—we must ask why it was only in late July that the Bush administration introduced a UN Security Council resolution it knew to be radically inadequate to the humanitarian tasks at hand. Why has the leisurely 30-day time-frame only now been settled upon? Why wasn’t it pushed in early April, in concert with Khartoum’s promises during negotiations in N’Djamena (Chad) to do what the present UN resolution calls for? Why have almost four additional months of genocidal opportunity been afforded Khartoum? By what diplomatic logic has it seemed appropriate to wait until the humanitarian situation has deteriorated to the point that hundreds of thousands of people are now certain to die?
All these questions must be asked in the context of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent assertion that discussions of militarily supported humanitarian intervention are “premature” (BBC, July 27, 2004). What is the “maturation” point for such discussions? How, with far more than 100,000 already dead, and at least another 2.5 million at the most acute risk, is there anything “premature” about the commitments of the UK and Australia to deploy military force in an effort to save hundreds of thousands of lives?
We need some answers for those children like six-year-old Adam Ahmed, who are at risk of being hurled alive into flames to suffer the most agonizing deaths. We need answers for the hundreds of thousands without food—without any food. We need answers for those in camps in which disease outbreaks are increasing, and which are poised for explosions of cholera, dysentery, and malaria.
What, Mr. Powell, are you prepared to tell these people as they endure the horrors and suffering and destruction of the coming weeks? What comfort can they take from a UN Security Resolution stuffed with the language of “welcomings,” “reiteratings,” “stressings,” expressings,” “recallings,” “urgings,” “emphasizing,” “condemnings,” “notings,” “determinings”—but can’t even find the resolve to speak of “sanctions,” let alone humanitarian intervention? And if this is merely going through the necessary preliminary diplomatic motions at the UN, why wasn’t this pointless exercise undertaken months ago?
Are you prepared, Mr. Powell, to say that there is some threshold beyond which human destruction and suffering will not be permitted to go? If so, what is that threshold? And how will the US respond when we finally arrive at that threshold? Is there sufficiently robust planning now being undertaken for the massive logistical and transport requirements of intervention, even accepting that US combat troops are very unlikely to be used on the ground in Darfur?
The fact that is possible at this exceedingly late date to be asking so many urgent questions, with no answers publicly in evidence, augurs extremely poorly for the people of Darfur.
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