Kofi Annan on Darfur, June 17, 2004: “Based on reports that I have
received, I cannot at this stage call it genocide. There are massive violations of international humanitarian law, but I am not ready to describe it as genocide or ethnic cleansing yet.”
June 18, 2004
With these remarkably ill-informed words, UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan has dramatically reduced the chances for either UN or non-UN multilateral humanitarian intervention to stop the vast racially/ethnically animated human destruction currently accelerating in Darfur. Moreover, he has perversely given the National Islamic Front (NIF) an assessment that is all that the regime could wish for, and has indeed been soliciting in the form of absurd propaganda releases. He has given Khartoum breathing space in which to continue with its official assessments of the crisis in Darfur:
“[NIF First Vice President Ali Osman Taha] accused the international media of deliberately magnifying the scale of the humanitarian problem in the region. He also claimed that the conflict was fabricated by the West.” (Agence France-Presse [Cairo], June 16, 2004)]
By failing to give credence to the many authoritative and highly detailed findings from human rights groups and other investigators—of both “ethnic cleansing” and genocide in Darfur—Annan reveals either profound ignorance or shameful expediency. Given the scale of human destruction and suffering to date, and the massive impending loss of life, this is unforgivable…again.
For of course it is Kofi Annan who bears so much shameful responsibility for the UN failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide of spring 1994, which occurred during Annan’s tenure as head of UN peacekeeping operations. Now Annan has done much to ensure that the genocide in Darfur will also not receive the timely intervention that is so clearly and desperately needed. He has given Khartoum precisely what it wants, even as there continue to be scores of reports indicating that the regime is deliberately impeding humanitarian access to the many hundreds of thousands of African tribal peoples of Darfur who are most at risk. He has given a scandalously inert UN Security Council more than enough excuse for continuing its morally slothful ways. And he has critically weakened the diplomatic force of last week’s announcement by US Secretary of State Colin Powell that the US was undertaking a legal analysis to see whether what is now officially described as “ethnic cleansing” rises to the level of genocide (New York Times, June 12, 2004).
This is Kofi Annan’s “Rwanda redux.” [See, for example, Philip Gourevitch’s brilliant reporting on Annan’s appalling response to an infamous fax of January 11, 1994, from General Romeo Dallaire, UN force commander in Rwanda: the fax warned Annan of impending “extermination” of the Tutsis, and the “ordering of the registering of all Tutsis” in Kigali, capital of Rwanda; “The Genocide Fax,” The New Yorker, May 11, 1998.]
What, more specifically, follows from Annan’s declaration (on the basis of “reports that I have received”) that he is not “ready” to describe realities in Darfur as “ethnic cleansing” or genocide?
He has undermined his own UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, who has repeatedly and emphatically referred to the catastrophe in Darfur as “ethnic cleansing.” Indeed, Egeland referred three weeks ago to a “scorched-earth campaign of ethnic cleansing” in Darfur (Reuters, May 27, 2004). Since Egeland first referred to the actions of Khartoum and its Arab militia allies (the Janjaweed) as “ethnic cleansing” well over two months ago (Reuters, April 4, 2004), we must wonder whether Secretary-general Annan and Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Egeland are reading the same “reports,” or are assessing the same evidence.
Perhaps we gain a glimpse into Annan’s motives if we recall that Khartoum deliberately refused to grant Egeland permission to accompany the recent UN humanitarian assessment mission to Darfur (by refusing to grant access to the UN mission on dates that were available to Egeland). Egeland was clearly being punished for daring to use the phrase “ethnic cleansing.” Perhaps Annan, in the attempt to gain symbolic “access” to Darfur, has paid the price of admission with his refusal to characterize the crisis as “ethnic cleansing” or genocide. If so, this expediency—like all expediency in dealing with the National Islamic Front—will backfire badly.
Whatever Annan’s motives, his comments were clearly not informed by the professional assessments of Darfur offered by the recent and seasoned UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila—or the reports presented to Kapila in his capacity as humanitarian coordinator for Sudan. Such ignorance, or expediency, echoes again Rwanda, especially insofar as these reports and assessments are in many cases several months old:
“[Kapila] said the violence, which he described as ‘ethnic cleansing’, was mostly carried out by Arab militias known as Janjaweed who were supported by government forces. ‘Under those circumstances one can only conclude that it is state-sanctioned.'” (Reuters [Khartoum], March 26, 2004)
Kapila’s statements were at least in part a response to the Khartoum regime’s characterization of his previous remarks concerning Darfur as “a heap of lies” (BBC, March 23, 2004). In these remarks Kapila likened the deliberate human destruction in the region to what occurred ten years ago in Rwanda:
“‘The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the numbers involved’ [said Kapila]. ‘[The slaughter in Darfur] is more than just a conflict, it is an organised attempt to do away with a group of people.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 22, 2004)
Indeed, as Kapila had said:
“‘I was present in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, and I’ve seen many other situations around the world and I am totally shocked at what is going on in Darfur [ ]. This is ethnic cleansing, this is the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis, and I don’t know why the world isn’t doing more about it.” (BBC, March 19, 2004)
Despite claims by Khartoum in early February to have brought the situation in Darfur under “total military control,” Kapila insisted that:
“The pattern of organised attacks on civilians and villages, abductions, killings and organised rapes by militias was getting worse by the day, [Kapila] said, and could deteriorate even further. ‘One can see how the situation might develop without prompt [action]…all the warning signs are there.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 22, 2004)
This led to the only appropriate conclusion, though one Kofi Annan has chosen either to refuse to comprehend or expediently ignore:
“War crimes tribunals must be held to try those responsible for raping, looting and killing in African villages in Sudan’s western Darfur region, a senior U.N. official said, accusing the state of complicity. ‘There are no secrets,’ U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan Mukesh Kapila said. ‘The individuals who are doing this are known. We have their names. The individuals who are involved occupy senior positions.'” (Reuters [Khartoum], March 26, 2004)
This larger assessment of the situation in Darfur in March 2004 was far from being Kapila’s alone. A group of “concerned humanitarian workers in Darfur” submitted on March 26, 2004 “A Briefing Paper on the Darfur Crisis: ethnic cleansing,” a “[report] prepared by a group of concerned humanitarian workers in Darfur who requested the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to bring this to the attention of the international community” (March 26, 2004). Among the findings of this briefing paper are:
“In order to increase its capacity to fight Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the Government of Sudan has called for the support of a proxy force constituted by ethnic Arab fighters, the Janjaweed. Though the intention of Government of Sudan may initially not have been to target civilians, but potential SLA fighters, it is clear that today all Fur and Zaghawas villagers or town residents are systematically targeted. It seems to have become a military logic of Government of Sudan that the only way to defeat SLA is to remove the entire support base (villages where to hide, and villagers who could provide SLA cover and food).”
“Ethnic cleansing is characterized by a deliberate policy executed through clear command-and-control arrangements by which a group, based on its race, origin or religion, is forcibly removed from an area. The pattern witnessed in the Darfur region to forcibly remove non-Arab tribes (mainly Fur, Zaghawas, Messalites and Birgit) from their villages is consistent in all areas.”
“[Arab nomads who comprise the janjaweed] make it clear that the Government of Sudan has now given them a mandate to make these areas ‘Zurga free’ (Zurga is a derogatory term for Black) and that they represent the Government of Sudan in the area. Violence is systematically reported, people killed (especially males), goods including cattle looted, and houses burned. If people do not move immediately, a second more deadly attack is launched, and civilians are left with no option but to move away to the nearest ‘safe haven,’ which is usually also attacked within the next few days.”
(“A Briefing Paper on the Darfur Crisis: ethnic cleansing”; prepared by “a group of concerned humanitarian workers in Darfur who requested the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to bring this to the attention of the international community” (March 26, 2004)
By what conceivable authority, intellectual or moral, can Kofi Annan pronounce on the issues of “ethnic cleansing” and genocide in Darfur without taking note of such reports? Further, how can he ignore the most recent full-length report on Darfur from the meticulous Human Rights Watch: “Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan” (May 2004)?
“In this report, Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of human rights violations in West Darfur that amount to a government policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of certain ethnic groups, namely the Fur and the Masalit, from their areas of residence [Human Rights Watch acknowledges in a footnote at this point: “While a similar pattern may be in effect in North Darfur, the Zaghawa homeland, the scope of this report is limited to West Darfur,” footnote 114]. Other credible sources, in particular the Emergency Relief Coordinator of the UN system, and the former Resident Coordinator of the UN system in Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, have made similar claims.” “Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan” (May 2004), page 39; available at http://hrw.org/reports/2004/sudan0504/)
Human Rights Watch offers in this authoritative report, based on extensive field research both along the Chad/Darfur border and in West Darfur itself, utterly compelling evidence for all its claims. The documentation in this 75-page PDF file is extraordinarily detailed. Is this another report that Kofi Annan has not read (“based on reports that I have received…”)? Again, there are only two possible explanations for Annan’s highly consequential declaration: ignorance or expediency. It is not clear which is more destructive in the context of Darfur.
What other reports are among those Annan has not received or has chosen not to read (or regard)? Certainly the compelling analyses from the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) can have played no part in Annan’s declaration. In the most recent in a series of highly informed reports, ICG declares:
“A month after the international community solemnly marked the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in April 2004 with promises of ‘never again,’ it faces a man-made humanitarian catastrophe in western Sudan (Darfur) that can easily become nearly as deadly. It is too late to prevent substantial ethnic cleansing, but if the UN Security Council acts decisively–including by preparing to authorise the use of force as a last resort—there is just enough time to save hundreds of thousands of lives directly threatened by Sudanese troops and militias and by looming famine [ ].”
(“Sudan: Now or Never in Darfur,” May 23, 2004, page i; available at: http://www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm?id=2765&l=1)
On the basis of numerous reports, analysis, and research—going back over a year—the International Crisis Groups finds that “it is too late to prevent substantial ethnic cleansing.” Clearly this is another report that Annan has not received or has chosen not to read. But his pronouncement yesterday on this most consequential of issues in Darfur ensures that the UN Security Council is much less likely to “act decisively–including by preparing to authorise the use of force as a last resort”—and thus much less likely to “save hundreds of thousands of lives directly threatened by Sudanese troops and militias and by looming famine.”
Kofi Annan has also clearly given no credence to the finding of “ethnic cleansing” by Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator at the US Agency for International Development (US AID), and one of the world’s very most distinguished and long-serving advocates for peace and justice in Sudan. There are very few, if any, voices in the world that carry the moral authority and breadth of knowledge possessed by Mr. Winter (formerly executive director of the US Committee for Refugees). In US Senate testimony on June 15, 2004, Winter declared, on the basis of extensive US AID research and his own repeated travels to Darfur over the last year:
“That men, women, and children uprooted by the war and ethnic cleansing will die in enormous numbers is no longer in doubt due to advanced stages of malnutrition and disease that cannot be reversed in time. What remains in doubt is how high the body count will climb, and whether or not the Sudanese government will finally make saving lives in Darfur the priority rather than a chit for negotiation.”
“As the [Government of Sudan] and its Jingaweit proxy forces continue a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Darfur that has forced an estimated 1.1 million people from their homes while inflicting widespread atrocities, serious food shortages, deliberate blockages of humanitarian aid, and destruction of shelter and medical care, it is possible to conceive of chilling scenarios that could push the death toll far higher than even the astounding level of 300,000. Some 2.2 million Darfurians are directly affected by the crisis.”
“At US AID, we are vitally aware that if thousands of lives and an entire society and way of life are to be saved in Darfur, greater international pressure must be brought to bear upon the Government of Sudan to halt the killing and rapes, reverse the ethnic cleansing and forced displacement, and eliminate [Government of Sudan] policies that obstruct relief efforts. We should avoid the trap of negotiating with the [Government of Sudan] for token, incremental concessions on the humanitarian front that leave overarching [Government of Sudan] policies of devastation in Darfur unchanged and undisturbed.”
(Statement of Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator US AID, before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, on June 15, 2004; at http://allafrica.com/stories/200406160588.html)
The countless US AID reports, fact sheets, and public testimony on Darfur are also among the material that Kofi Annan has failed to consult or give credence to with yesterday’s statement. Also unheeded is testimony of US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder, whose remarks comport fully with those of Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and Amnesty International:
“As a major part of [its counterinsurgency war] effort, the [Khartoum] government armed and supported Arab-based ‘jingaweit’ militias have attacked and displaced civilians. These attacks are coordinated and supported by government security forces. African villages have been systematically attacked in a scorched-earth type approach. Villages are burned to the ground, water points destroyed, crops burned, and the people are forced from their land. The African population has been brutalized by the jingaweit through widespread atrocities including mass rape, branding of raped women, summary killings, amputations, and other atrocities. Estimates of civilians killed range between 15-30,000. As many as one million people have been displaced, and tens of thousands have sought refuge across the border in Chad. All of this amounts to ‘ethnic cleansing’ on a large scale.”
(Statement of Charles Snyder, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, on June 15, 2004; at http://allafrica.com/stories/200406160745.html)
At this same Senate hearing, John Prendergast, representing the International Crisis Group, spoke of evidence revealing “conditions of genocide in Darfur” (http://allafrica.com/stories/200406160578.html). Julie Flint, representing Human Rights Watch, and the only other witness at the Senate hearing, also spoke unambiguously about the realities she encountered during her recent assessment mission inside Darfur: “The political lead must be taken by the US and the [UN] Security Council to end abuses and reverse ethnic cleansing in Darfur” (Statement of Julie Flint, representing Human Rights Watch, before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, on June 15, 2004; at http://allafrica.com/stories/200406160885.html).
Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, has traveled twice to the Chad/Darfur border; he has filed a series of compelling accounts of what he explicitly finds to be genocidal destruction (see 90-day archives of The New York Times at: www.nytimes.com). Numerous editorials and editorial page commentaries have been just as explicit in declaring Darfur’s realities to be genocidal in nature. [See also extended legal analysis by this writer of Khartoum’s genocidal intent in Darfur, June 16, 2004; available upon request.] Africa Action (Washington) forcefully announced in a petition drive launched this week that,
“the term ‘genocide’ not only captures the fundamental characteristics of the Khartoum government’s intent and actions in western Sudan, it also invokes clear international obligations. Africa Action notes that all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—including the US—are parties to the 1948 Convention on Genocide, and are bound to prevent and punish this crime under international law.” (Africa Action press release [Washington, DC], June 15, 2004)
Despite all this, Kofi Annan apparently cannot discern his own ghastly role in the chronology of unfolding genocide in Africa. Fortunately, the Washington Post provides guidance in a superb editorial of June 6, 2004:
“The early preparation for the genocide in Darfur, Sudan’s vast western province, played out behind a veil of ignorance: almost no foreign aid workers operated in the region, and the world failed to realize what was happening. Stage two of the genocide, the one we are now in, is more acutely shameful: a succession of reports from relief agencies, human rights groups and journalists informs us that hundreds of thousands of people are likely to perish, yet outsiders still cannot muster the will to save them. Unless that changes, we are fated to live through the genocide’s third stage. There will be speeches, commissions of inquiry and sundry retrospectives, just as there were after Cambodia and Rwanda. Never again, we will be told.” (Washington Post, June 6, 2004)
And as Amnesty International reminded us on June 9, 2004:
“On 7 April , on the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced that he was sending a high level team to Darfur ‘to gain a fuller understanding of the extent and nature of this crisis.'” (Amnesty International, Memorandum to the Government of Sudan, June 9, 2004)
It is now more than two months later. But even with the report from this “team” in hand, as well as several other intervening UN reports (from various levels within the UN organization), Kofi Annan still declares he hasn’t found evidence of genocide or “ethnic cleansing” in Darfur. Has he bothered to look?
Indeed, despite Annan’s somber words on April 7, 2004, despite the fact that this grim anniversary marked his own terrible failures in 1994, he has even shamefully retreated from his frank words on this occasion. On April 7, 2004 Annan declared, having explicitly invoked the context of Rwanda’s genocide, that reports on atrocities in Darfur “leave me with a deep sense of foreboding.” He concluded with the declaration that, “wherever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community, we are in the presence of potential, if not actual, genocide” (UN News Centre, April 7, 2004).
Those who wish to remind Kofi Annan of his previous declarations on Darfur—where the African tribal peoples of the region continue to be “deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular [racial/ethnic] community”—and who wish to help him understand just what role he is playing in ensuring the continuing inadequacy of international responses to Darfur, may wish to sign the petition by Africa Action (Washington, DC), which reads in part:
“The petition launched by Africa Action today [June 15, 2004] states, ‘the term “genocide” not only captures the fundamental characteristics of the Khartoum government’s intent and actions in western Sudan, it also invokes clear international obligations.’ Africa Action notes that all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—including the US—are parties to the 1948 Convention on Genocide, and are bound to prevent and punish this crime under international law. Genocide is described as the commission of acts with ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.'”
[Africa Action will circulate the petition to hundreds of organizations and networks across the US and internationally, and hopes to generate thousands of signatures before the end of June. To sign the petition, visit Africa Action’s website at http://www.africaaction.org/]
As effective and timely humanitarian intervention in Darfur becomes less and less likely, the more so because of Kofi Annan’s statement of yesterday, we are—in the face of massive, deliberate, and now unavoidable human destruction—forced to cleave only to moral clarity. But let us at least have this much decency. The more than 80,000 who have already perished from Khartoum’s genocidal conduct of war; the countless thousands who have endured rape, torture, and terrible privation; the more than 1.3 million people who have been driven from their homes; the 2.2 million people who are now “war-affected”; and the hundreds of thousands who are doomed to perish—these people are owed the decency of our honesty.
We know full well that genocide is underway. We know at the very least that ethnic cleansing—a “euphemistic halfway house” for genocide, in the words of Samantha Power—in Darfur entails the deliberate destruction of the African tribal peoples because of who they are, “as such.” The means of destruction are the continuing, targeted obstruction of humanitarian aid; the continuing military deployment of the savage Janjaweed militias to destroy all African agricultural production; the ongoing use of concentration camps, most with no humanitarian access, in which people are exterminated through the denial of food, water, and all sanitary facilities; and the deliberate mass executions of African peoples, especially men and boys.
Kofi Annan has refused to acknowledge the significance of these realities, and has thus significantly diminished the chance for marshalling international support for the humanitarian intervention that might halt them, and thus mitigate vast human destruction. But Mr. Annan’s refusal, whether deriving from ignorance or expediency, does nothing to change these terrible realities. It merely completes a reprieve of his failure in Rwanda.
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