The Western News Media Open Their Eyes…and Behold Genocide in Darfur: Will These Visions of Horror and Voices of Outrage Make a Difference?
Eric Reeves, 4 May 2004
The veil over Khartoum’s genocidal war against the African peoples of Sudan has finally been lifted, and both news reporting and opinion pages are struggling to come to grips with what is all too clearly the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. And in struggling to comprehend this crisis, the news media must confront the terrible silence that has been their primary response to the regime’s campaign of systematic human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Indeed, in the last two days alone there has been a surge in coverage of Darfur—even a brief segment on CNN. Rather than provide a synthesis, it might be most useful to fashion a compendium of this coverage. Herewith such a compendium, using highlights and excerpts, with URL’s provided where possible:
(1) The Houston Chronicle, May 4, 2004 (op/ed by Carroll Bogert, Associate Director of Human Rights Watch)
“Are the media missing yet another genocide?”
By CARROLL BOGERT
The international media don’t send reporters to cover genocides, it seems. They cover genocide anniversaries.
We’ve just finished a spate of front-page stories, television docu-histories and somber panel discussions on “Why the Media Missed the Story” in Rwanda, pegged to the 10th anniversary of one of the most shocking tragedies of last century, or any century. More than 500,000 people were killed in a small African country in only 100 days, and the world turned away.
But even as the ink was drying on the latest round of mea culpas, another colossal disaster in Africa was already going unreported.
Nearly a million people have been displaced from their homes in western Sudan; many have fled into neighboring Chad. They say militias working with the Sudanese government have been attacking villages, ransacking and torching homes, killing and raping civilians. These armed forces are supposedly cracking down on rebel groups based in the Darfur region, but in fact they are targeting the population.
Reporters have begun trickling to the scene. The Los Angeles Times has a correspondent en route to Darfur, as does The New York Times. But the fact is, with or without a war in Iraq, American journalists are generally slower to cover mass death if the victims are not white. The Rwandan genocide is a case in point.
It’s the media’s job to inform us. They should do it, and quickly—because 10 years from now there won’t be any excuse for another round of hand-wringing.
(2) The New York Times (front page; dateline Nyala, Darfur), May 4, 2004
“Lawless bands contribute to misery in western Sudan,” by Marc Lacey
NYALA, Sudan—Eleven ghost villages line the main road northwest of here. Each, in various stages of ruin, stands frozen, just as when it was overrun.
Some of the abandoned villages were cleared many months ago. Others were attacked as recently as last week. In each empty settlement, it is clear that life came to a sudden halt. Beds are overturned. Cooking pots lie on their sides, the fires below them out. In front of one hut is a child’s sandal, but no child anywhere.
Huddled together in camps all over the Darfur region, in western Sudan, are the people who fled, some of the one million people displaced in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
After the rebels struck last year, the government tapped into the Arab-versus-African resentment that has long festered here. The army began teaming its soldiers with the Janjaweed, who know no rules of war. [ ] The Janjaweed ride into villages as a group and begin shooting anyone in sight. As the militiamen torch and loot, the villagers grab what they can and run.
Fatima Ishag Sulieman, 25, did not have time to get away. She was in bed when the Janjaweed moved in. Two men entered her hut. They hit her. Then they raped her in front of her family.
“I screamed and they ran away,” she said in Arabic.
Sulieman and others uprooted from their homes end up in camps, some of them organized settlements and others squalid outposts. She now lives under a tree at a secondary school in Kass. All around the schoolyard are other villagers, most of them women and children. Many of them, she says, experienced what she did.
Others suffer in other ways.
Hawa Muhammad lost just about everything when the men on horseback came. They took her family’s two horses, two donkeys and small herd of goat and sheep. They took her cooking pots and her clothing. They took her mother and her father, too.
Hawa is 15 and she looked as if she was in a trance as she recounted her tale. Her parents were killed by the Janjaweed, she said. She saw them fall. She does not know why they were killed. She does know that she is the one whom her six younger sisters now turn to when their bellies rumble. She left her village on the run and settled with thousands of others at the camp in Kalma, outside Nyala. Her account of how the attack unfolded is the same one heard in camp after camp across Darfur, as well as in the settlements in the desert of eastern Chad, where villagers have been streaming, as well.
“The men on horses killed my parents,” she said. “Then the planes came.” Adam Hassan, a weathered old man in an equally weathered robe, described the same type of dual attack. First it was Arab men on horseback, he said, who swooped down on his village, outside Kaliek. Then, he said, soldiers moved in.
It remains to be seen whether the lawlessness will be tamed. Like so many other villagers, Hassan is digging into his campsite for the long haul. His empty village, he says, may stay empty for a long time to come.
“I may have to stay here forever,” he said, fidgeting with his callused hands and looking glum. “There are too many Janjaweed.”
(3) The Boston Globe, May 4, 2004 (op/ed by Representative TOM LANTOS, ranking member of the House International Relations Committee.
“We must stop the slaughter in Darfur”
The international community cannot continue to tolerate the slaughter of innocent civilians in the state of Darfur, western Sudan, or the duplicitous acts of the Sudanese government that let the perpetrators turn their backs on justice and saunter away. Arab militias, called the Janjaweed, are being used to terrorize groups of African origin—the Fur, Zagawa, Berti, Massilite, and Tunjur—to drive them off their land.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for a humanitarian cease-fire in Darfur, and has warned that outside military action may be needed to protect civilians and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid. Indeed, in light of escalating violence in Darfur and a deteriorating humanitarian situation, immediate intervention by the international community is required. Ten years ago, we failed to act in a timely fashion in Rwanda, and the consequences were horrendous. Preventive intervention now may keep a similar tragedy from befalling Darfur.
Khartoum also is engaged in efforts to conceal evidence that might implicate its officials and allies in the militias for gross human rights violations. Members of the Janjaweed militia, already identified as human rights offenders, are being issued official death certificates so that they do not have to stand trial for their crimes. There are reports that Janjaweed members are being flown to the Red Sea Province on the return routes of the planes that bring humanitarian supplies to Darfur and are issued military identification for the Sudanese army to prevent human rights investigators from identifying them as perpetrators.
The US government should have no illusions that what is taking place in Darfur is ethnic cleansing. The Sudan is a government determined to use every opportunity, whether through peace negotiations or war, to expand its grip on local resources, impose Sharia law on non-Muslims, and to propagate a hateful racial and cultural ideology to maintain political hegemony over the diverse communities in Sudan. The United States must lead the international community to pressure the Sudanese government to halt the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, open access to humanitarian aid, and agree to a strong monitoring mechanism for the cease-fire agreement.
If the Khartoum regime resists international pressure, the international community must be prepared to counter the intransigents of the regime. Anything less puts a lie to the often repeated call for “never again” to tolerate the targeted persecution of an entire people. Khartoum must stop this tragedy now and prevent the further destruction of innocent lives.
(4) And wires reports on Darfur are at last being carried in a significant way by major newspapers: The New York Times, May 2, 2004, “Amnesty Reports Sudan Fighting”
CAIRO, May 1 (Reuters)—The human rights group Amnesty International said late Friday that fighting was persisting in western Sudan despite a cease-fire between the government and rebels, and that time was running out to avert a disaster among civilians before the rainy season.
Amnesty said, “Two time bombs are ticking in Sudan in a countdown to disaster: the approaching rainy season, which means that by June many areas may be cut off from food and medical supplies from outside; and the danger that a complete collapse of the cease-fire will lead to an escalation of violations.”
Attacks on villages, indiscriminate and deliberate killings of civilians, rape and lootings were continuing, Amnesty said.
“Unless the international community puts maximum pressure to ensure that the government militia are disarmed and removed from the region, the conflict will worsen and spread,” Amnesty said.
Amnesty said most villages in Darfur had been destroyed.
(5) Newsweek, May 3, 2004, “On the Road to Nowhere,” by Tom Masland
“Every village within 30 miles [of Mornay] has been leveled, says Coralie Lechelle, a nurse with the relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Refugees are stuck there she says: “In fact, it is a prison.”
“Khartoum is barring aid shipments from Chad or anywhere else outside its control. And relief groups say militia raids against rebel areas continue despite the regime’s recent signing of a 45-day truce. “African countries and the entire world must decide if we will try to stop genocide in Darfur or if we will respond with silence and inaction as we did in Rwanda 10 years ago,” wrote Richard Williamson, the US envoy to the UN Commission on Human Rights.
The [Khartoum] regime shows no hurry [in making peace with the southern opposition in Naivasha (Kenya)]. “Khartoum has a vested interest in the status quo—no war and no peace,” says John Prendergast, a Clinton-era National Security Council staffer now advising the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. “It can continue to milk 100% of the profits from oil. And with no fighting in the south it can concentrate its military hardware and assets on Darfur.”
(6) Other stories are coming increasingly into focus in the context of Darfur. The massive, systematic raping of women and girls in Darfur is a particularly telling example:
Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State; The Washington File (News), May 3, 2004, “Genocide Convention Now Extends to Systematic Rape, Prosper Says”
Pierre-Richard Prosper, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, who honed his skills as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), takes great pride in having helped expand the definition of genocide to include organized violence against women, such as rape, a legal precedent that continues to have relevance in ethnic-based conflicts today.
Prosper recently shared his experiences as a young prosecutor at the U.N.-sponsored trials of Rwandan genocidaires in Arusha in the mid-1990s with students at American University’s Washington College of Law. He spoke just days after leading the U.S. delegation to Kigali to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the mass murder of 500,000 to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus that began in April 1994.
“My experience in the Rwandan tribunal was one that changed my life,” the State Department official told the told law students. It had an impact, he said, on how he came to view genocide in general. In 1996, when he traveled to Arusha, the Yugoslav tribunal as well as the Rwandan tribunal had just been established, and “a lot of legal precedent that we could have used simply did not exist.”
Prosper said he quickly learned that “when you’re dealing with genocide,” one needs “case samples,” and beyond the Nuremberg trials of World War Two “legal precedent just didn’t exist.” There was a common understanding of genocide, “the killing of large numbers of people,” but in the Rwandan context it went far beyond that, he said. Studying the Rwandan cases, Prosper said, “I came to understand that it [genocide] meant a whole lot more than just killing. Other acts like sexual violence and mutilation had to be considered” by the prosecution.
The women witnesses in Arusha who were victims of mass rape were so traumatized it was as though they had been made “less than human,” Prosper said. “When we [prosecutors] looked at this we felt there was a part of the population [Tutsi women] that had been [purposely] destroyed even though they were still alive; for all practical purposes destroyed, because they could no longer contribute to humanity.
(7) The Toronto Star, May 2, 2004, “World waking up to Sudan crisis,” by ANDREA HUNCAR
Evidence of systematic killing—conducted by the Arab tribal militias, allegedly with various degrees of support from Khartoum against African tribes—is piling up.
Even with limited access to the area, reports from human rights groups and journalists increasingly tell a tale of widespread massacres, aerial bombings, burnt-out villages, gang rapes, forced displacement, concentration camps, signs of looming famine—and the government’s attempts to cover it all up.
Human rights groups accuse Khartoum of bombing Darfuri villages in advance of Arab militia raids and providing helicopter reconnaissance.
Ethnic violence, ethnic cleansing and “scorched-earth policy” are some of the terms officially used to describe the situation.
But for Albertan activist Mel Middleton, executive director of the Freedom Quest International rights group, the diplomatic community’s unwillingness to use the word “genocide” is hauntingly reminiscent of what he witnessed during the Rwanda horrors.
It was early April, 1994. Rwandan president Habyarimana had just been assassinated and United Nations’ representatives were meeting in Kenya to discuss the deteriorating situation that would see the massacre of at least 800,000 people, most of them Tutsis, by the majority Hutu tribe.
The Canadian High Commission asked Middleton, then its humanitarian adviser in Sudan, to attend the Nairobi meetings.
Middleton recalls horrifying pictures being passed around the room—bodies of Rwandans in the streets, more bodies floating down the Kagara River.
Middleton says he was shocked when the U.N. representatives began discussing food, medical and transportation needs. So, he cut in, navely using the word that seems to make politicians and diplomats squeamish.
“What’s being done to stop the genocide?” he asked.
The room went deadly silent. Then, Middleton says he was told: “It’s a little early to use that word.” And the representatives turned back to the logistics they were discussing. Later, he says, a Canadian diplomat clued him in: “You can’t use the genocide word because that has ramifications under international law.” But the word genocide was not used until long after the 100-day killing spree in Rwanda ended.
Less than a month after the world has commemorated the 10th anniversary of the 1994 massacres in Rwanda, Middleton thinks history is already repeating itself. “Now,” he says, “we’re facing an almost identical situation to the 1994 Rwanda holocaust in Darfur. It’s clearly genocide.”
The acting Sudanese ambassador to Canada, Abd Elghani Awad El Karim, says the Darfur conflict has been hijacked by “international fanatics” and “Arabophobes.”
(8) The Guardian (UK) has also picked up today an important wire report from Reuters: The Guardian, May 4, 2004, “Sudan Assured Seat on UN Human Rights Commission”
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters)—African nations have ensured that Sudan gets a seat on the chief U.N. human rights watchdog and angered rights groups who want more liberal democracies to win a place.
“A government that engages in wholesale abuses of its citizens should not be eligible for a seat at the table, especially a country just criticized by the commission,” said Joanna Weschler, U.N. delegate for Human Rights Watch, one of 10 advocacy groups that issued a protest statement.
“This is a major credibility test of the regional bloc structure at the United Nations in terms of how it nominates candidates for key U.N. posts,” Weschler said.
(9) The Telegraph (UK), May 3, 2004
“In this ravaged land, the old insanity of racism is breeding imminent catastrophe,” by IRVINE WELSH
I’m in another Sudan, in the Darfur region to the west of the country, witnessing the horrendous and tragic results of a campaign of ugly ethnic violence, which has left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.
Neighbouring Chad is home to more than 100,000 western Sudanese refugees, while the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur number around one million.
Playing the numbers game is dangerous in this remote, inaccessible area roughly the size of France, but the latest UN estimates—constantly being revised upwards—suggest that around 1.2 million people are now directly affected by the violence.
Skirmishes between government troops and the SLA/JEM [the Darfur insurgency movements] cannot begin to explain this level of displacement.
Only an understanding of the changing relationship between Khartoum, the Arab militia who have come to be known as the Janjaweed, and the African farmers can do this.
On February 26 the school in the town of Tawilla was raided by the Janjaweed. Forty-two girls and women, students and teachers, were systematically beaten and gang-raped.
This incident was the catalyst in setting up the Maska IDP camp at Al Fashir. There are 36,000 people here and conditions are primitive. The only cover from the heat which reaches more than 120F (48C) is flimsy shelters made of old boxes, twigs and cloth, and the thin trees and shrubs which grow wild.
Malnourished hordes of people descend on us, begging for food. Their stories are uniform, all telling of atrocities perpetuated on them by the Janjaweed, which they believe were encouraged or in some cases assisted by government troops.
I hear constant talk about donkeys and, given the plight of the people, it is difficult to take this seriously until I realise how important these animals are. They help cultivate the land and are the main means of transport. They were used by families to flee from the burning villages and without them hundreds of thousands of people might be dead by now, through trying to cross the desert on foot.
Many donkeys have perished because of lack of food and grazing space. Until they are replaced people will not be able to return to their homelands. Donkey corpses litter the desert routes and it is left to the vultures, aided by the remorseless sun, to work on their remains.
We pass the hospital, which has had its tower roof blown off by a bomb from a government plane. It seems to confirm what many people in the IDP camps have told us about the pattern of violence against them: first the government planes bombed their villages, then a mixture of army troops and trigger-happy Janjaweed came in Land Cruisers.
The third wave, exclusively Janjaweed on horseback and camel then plundered the villages; shooting, raping and burning everything behind them.
As nomads, the Janjaweed have no inclination to settle and farm the land they have stolen. Their modus operandi is simple; loot the villages, burn them down and move on. But the cruel irony for all Darfur is that with no one left to farm, soon there will be no food in the markets. The main source will be aid deliveries to camps and population centres, thus rendering them even more vulnerable to attack.
Our Land Cruiser bounces through the desert track across the rocky and scrub-laden terrain towards the old military checkpoint of Sissi. The work of the Janjaweed is evident as we pass through village after village, all burned out and deserted; first Majmara, where unwanted goods lay strewn around, then the larger settlement of Mornei, once busy but now a charred ghost town.