March 29, 2004
Mukesh Kapila, the courageous and remarkably forthright UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, has said what urgently required saying: that those responsible for the immense, deliberate, ethnically-motivated human destruction in Darfur must be held accountable:
“I see no reason why the international community should not consider some sort of international court or mechanism to bring to trial the individuals who are masterminding and committing the war crimes [in Darfur].” (Reuters, March 26, 2004)
Indeed, Kapila declared such tribunals an international obligation:
“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)
“[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 21, 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 went on to say:
“‘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)
And things are getting worse, despite the claims by Khartoum in early February to have brought the situation in Darfur under “total military control”:
“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)
Kapila’s sense of a deteriorating situation echoes recent statements by Amnesty International:
“‘The government of Sudan has made no progress to ensure the protection of civilians caught up in the conflict in Darfur’ Amnesty International said today. ‘This is not a situation where the central government has lost control. Men, women and children are being killed and villages are burnt and looted because the central government is allowing militias aligned to it to pursue what amounts to a strategy of forced displacement through the destruction of homes and livelihood of the farming populations of the region,’ Amnesty International said.” (Amnesty International [London], Press Release, March 15, 2004)
International concern over the human catastrophe in Darfur has belatedly increased, and in recent days yet more prominent voices have weighed in:
“Eight United Nations human rights fact-finding experts have issued a statement saying they are ‘gravely concerned’ by the reports of ethnic cleansing and widespread human rights abuses occurring in the Darfur region of western Sudan. The experts, mostly rapporteurs who have been charged by the UN with monitoring issues such as torture, extrajudicial executions and the right to food, said in a statement released Friday [March 26, 2004] that they have informed the Sudanese Government about their concerns.”
“In their statement, the experts said they were alarmed after the UN coordinator in Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, told the media that an ethnic cleansing campaign was taking place that was comparable in character, if not scale, to the Rwanda genocide of 1994. The experts pointed to reports that militias such as the Janjaweed, the Muraheleen and the Popular Defence Forces, encouraged by the Sudanese Government, are trying to forcibly remove the non-Arab segment of the local population.” (UN News Service [New York], March 29, 2004)
This statement was issued the same day as “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)
What more can the international community require, short of a full investigation on the ground in Darfur—something the Khartoum regime adamantly refuses to permit? Indeed, as several UN officials have suggested, including Dr. Kapila, Khartoum’s denial of humanitarian access constitutes prima facie evidence that the regime wishes to conceal something. The total ban on news reporters, the highly restrictive control of travel permits for humanitarian aid workers, and the refusal to allow human rights monitors in any form—all must contribute to the conclusion that Khartoum has a great deal to fear from any thorough investigation or full reckoning of the terrible consequences of months of concerted, systematic, purposeful human destruction, whether we call it ‘ethnic cleansing’ or genocide.
This writer has long argued for the need to prepare for an international humanitarian intervention—and that the alternative to such intervention may well be impotent hand-wringing once the scale of the catastrophe becomes fully known. But at the very least the international community must signal to Khartoum, both its political and military leadership, and to those controlling the janjaweed militia, that there will be a day of reckoning. The tribunals Mukesh Kapila has declared so obviously necessary—“I see no reason why the international community should not consider some sort of international court or mechanism to bring to trial the individuals who are masterminding and committing the war crimes”—must become a reality.
Such tribunals must not be negotiated away under any circumstances in the Naivasha talks, where Khartoum so obviously hopes to receive, as part of a final agreement, an amnesty for its years of atrocities in southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei. Darfur now has its own immense moral equities, and the world must insure that these are weighed judiciously in an international tribunal.
Whether ‘ethnic cleansing’ or genocide, the terrible crimes occurring in Darfur must not be ignored. The cries of the dead and dying demand justice, and the future genocidaires are listening closely, noting carefully any and all failures of international resolve.
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