May 19, 2004
The international community must quickly decide whether Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime has any intention of granting unfettered humanitarian access to Darfur, the key to saving hundreds of thousands of human lives. In making this decision, the world is obliged—if it is honest–to accept that there is to date absolutely no evidence that Khartoum has any intention of granting such unfettered access. On the contrary, there are a great many continuing reports that humanitarian aid and personnel are being obstructed in highly consequential ways. This is true even as people have now begun to perish in large numbers from lack of food and medical supplies.
If the international community decides that Khartoum has, in fact, no intention of providing the humanitarian access required for the “world’s greatest humanitarian crisis” (the characterization of various UN officials), this forces a stark question: will there be a humanitarian intervention to provide the means by which hundreds of thousands of lives may be saved? Or is the international community prepared to acquiesce in the deliberate, systematic denial of humanitarian aid to the African tribal groups of Darfur? Will the world again acquiesce in genocide?
There can be no further delay, moral hesitancy, disingenuousness, or agnosticism about the unqualified urgency of humanitarian aid deliveries. Moreover, we must accept the impossibility of providing fully adequate deliveries by any overland and air transport routes presently being contemplated—certainly not once the seasonal rains begin to sever overland routes from Chad. Failure to plan now for robust humanitarian intervention, with all necessary military security, is but another form of acquiescence, another way of declaring that these African lives don’t merit the sort of intervention we saw in Kosovo, when European lives where threatened by genocide.
Some who have no wish to act in Darfur under any circumstances will hide behind the need to work through the UN Security Council. And to be sure the Security Council should provide the auspices for humanitarian intervention, and should be given an appropriate time in which to decide on such a course of action. As Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, recently declared:
“The last best hope, if force is to be avoided, is for the Security Council to take hold of the situation, apply whatever further pressures short of force that can be applied, and spell out unmistakably in a resolution that the option of military force is very much on the table if Khartoum’s behavior does not rapidly improve.” (The International Herald Tribune, May 14, 2004)
But all evidence suggests that there will be nothing but dithering and disingenuousness from the Security Council. In the wake of full briefings by high-level UN experts on both human rights and humanitarian conditions in Darfur, presenting clear evidence of “crimes against humanity” and an extreme humanitarian crisis directly related to Khartoum’s conduct of war in Darfur, the Security Council could not bring itself even to condemn Khartoum, let alone issue an ultimatum on humanitarian access. It committed only to continued “monitoring” of the situation (May 7, 2004).
The political and diplomatic realities within the UN Security Council are all too clear. The Council is presently chaired by Pakistan, one of the nations most deeply culpable in the Darfur fiasco at the annual meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights. China is a permanent member, with veto power over all Security Council resolutions, and has relentlessly protected Khartoum for years. It can hardly be doubted that Beijing will veto any resolution calling for humanitarian intervention in what is far and away its premier source for off-shore oil.
The chances of an appropriate Security Council resolution, responding fully to Darfur’s needs, are vanishingly small. Either there is an alternative, credible multilateral plan for humanitarian intervention, or such intervention will not occur, and the genocide will accomplish itself ever more fully. The Security Council should be given at most two weeks in which to respond adequately to the crisis, or detailed, credible plans for non-UN multilateral humanitarian intervention must be publicly announced as a last threat to gain Khartoum’s attention and force acceptance of unfettered humanitarian access. If this fails, intervention must begin immediately.
Let none mistake such a proposal as absurd naivet on the part of this writer: I am fully aware of how remote the chances are that the United States, France, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Canada, and others will intervene in Darfur, even if the consequences of not intervening include massive genocidal destruction. Rwanda, whose genocide was occurring ten years ago on this very date, should have incinerated any belief that the world would somehow always do the right thing in the end. It is nonetheless important that as the history of genocide continues to be written, as we add new chapters to this most ghastly chronicle of human callousness and moral diffidence, there be no possibility for any claim of ignorance or any lamenting the lack of logistically feasible options for intervention.
For we know full well what the language of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide declares:
“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
[a] Killing members of the group;
[b] Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
[c] Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
[d] Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group [in Darfur this should be considered to include using rape as a weapon of war, impregnating young girls, and branding (and thus viciously stigmatizing) women who have been raped—ER];
[e] Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
We know that every single one of these “acts” has been committed, on a massive scale, by Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia allies with the clear intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the African tribal peoples of Darfur, primarily the Fur, the Massaleit, the Zaghawa.
We know that mortality rates from Khartoum’s obstruction of humanitarian aid are set to rise precipitously in the near future. The International Crisis Group was reported yesterday by the UN Integrated Regional Information Services as declaring:
“‘In the best-case scenario, “only” 100,000 people are expected to die in Darfur from disease and malnutrition in the coming months; sadly, there is little reason for even this desperate optimism,’ ICG said in an appeal entitled: ‘End the slaughter and starvation in western Sudan,’ launched on Sunday.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 18, 2004)
We know that mortality projections from the US Agency for International Development and recent Congressional testimony by Assistant US AID Administrator Roger Winter indicate that by December of this year, there will be a global acute malnutrition rate of approximately 40% among the affected populations in Darfur, and a “cumulative death rate [of] approximately 30% of the vulnerable group over a 9-month period.” Since the vulnerable group is presently estimated at 1.2 million and growing rapidly, this indicates a total casualty figure of between 300,000 and 400,000 human beings, and quite possibly higher (see data for “Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur,” from the US Agency for International Development: http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf and Congressional testimony of US AID Assistant Administrator Roger Winter at http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/0/286369e1835b007e85256e8d00691b9b?OpenDocument).
We know that the number of those classified as “war-affected” continues to rise at alarming rate, with clear implications for overall mortality figures; this is the importance of an announcement on May 17, 2004 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
“More than 2 million people are now affected by the conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where government-allied Arab militia have been carrying out a campaign of violence against the black African population, according to the latest update from the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). [ ] The latest Darfur Humanitarian Profile estimates that more than 2 million people are being affected by the conflict, compared to 1.1 million reported in the April profile.” (UN News Service [New York] May 17, 2004)
We know that this staggering increase from April represents one of the most urgent signals to date that mortality rates throughout Darfur will very soon begin to soar.
And we know that there are not remotely enough pre-positioned food and medical supplies for the victims of genocidal war in Darfur. We know that there is no present plan for access, no projected overland route to replace the corridor from Chad that will soon be severed by seasonal rains—none that has been accepted by Khartoum. We know that humanitarian workers are being denied travel permits by Khartoum, even as these workers are essential for effective humanitarian aid delivery. We know that Khartoum is in fact “systematically” denying humanitarian access to the targeted populations (the characterization is that of UN officials).
The problem is not what we don’t know with full certainty. The problem is what we won’t do knowing these terrible realities, even as their urgency grows daily. This is indeed “Rwanda in slow motion,” as John Prendergast recently argued in Congressional testimony (May 6, 2004). We will not be able to look back and say that there wasn’t sufficient time to act (though this was of course disingenuous even during the Rwandan genocide): there is and has been more than enough time—many months now—to research, to assess, and to determine on an appropriate course of action.
Any professed agnosticism is now itself complicity in genocide.
With a sense of the urgency of Darfur’s crisis, the US Senate and the US House of Representatives very recently passed resolutions “call[ing] on the Government of Sudan to grant full, unconditional, and immediate access to Darfur to humanitarian aid organizations” (Senate Concurrent Resolution 99 and House Concurrent Resolution 403, 108th Congress, 2d Session). The two resolutions went on to “encourage the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to work with donors to develop a plan to pre-position and deliver humanitarian assistance to Darfur.” Both resolutions “strongly condemn the Government of the Republic of the Sudan and militia groups supported by the Government of Sudan for attacks against innocent civilians.” And both resolutions “call on the Secretary of State to develop a plan for further bilateral and multilateral action in the event the Government of Sudan fails to immediately undertake” to provide humanitarian access and to permit monitoring of the April 8, 2004 cease-fire agreement.
But as welcome as these words are—passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and by a vote of 360 to 1 in the House—they will have meaning only if they are taken seriously at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Bizarrely, Secretary of State Powell, while giving no evidence of planning for either “bilateral” or “multilateral” action in response to Darfur, yesterday rewarded the genocidaires in Khartoum by removing the regime from “the US list of countries considered uncooperative in the war on terrorism” (Associated Press, May 18, 2004). The move was justified by a Bush administration official as “a very small carrot, a gesture of goodwill” (Agence France-Presse, May 18, 2004). But other authoritative reports indicate that this was a concession demanded by Khartoum in negotiations at Naivasha to end its war against the people of southern Sudan, or at least to sign a peace agreement.
Such expediency has been the major reason that Khartoum’s genocidal actions in Darfur have received no appropriate criticism from the US or others in the international community. And perversely, ever attuned to the gains that can be extracted from the expedient, Khartoum has clearly delayed consummating peace in Naivasha, continually suggesting that an agreement is imminent, precisely because this cynical manipulation of the peace process has so effectively muted international criticism of the regime’s genocide in Darfur.
Foreign policy is not made by the Congress, it is made by the Executive branch of US government. Though Congressional outrage no doubt reflects the sentiments of Americans knowledgeable about Darfur, resolutions have no legal consequence and neither constrain nor determine Presidential or State Department policy.
For this reason, we must ask how appropriate was Secretary Powell’s timing in announcing this “gesture of goodwill” to Khartoum’s genocidaires? For context, we might consider  the continuing, deliberate obstruction of key US aid workers seeking access to Darfur, and  the extremely authoritative reports from the Nyala area (South Darfur) of new and accelerating attacks on civilians in villages to the south of Nyala town, where some 2,000 Janjaweed militia have massed, receiving direct logistical and military supplies from the Khartoum regime. This Janjaweed force has in recent days forced more than 10,000 villagers from the region southeast of Nyala into a new concentration camp (Mussaoi), some 5 kilometers southeast of Nyala (see below).
Just the day before Secretary Powell’s “gesture of goodwill,” the State Department declared the following (Agence France-Presse, May 17, 2004):
“The United States denounced the Sudanese government for issuing US relief workers with ‘useless’ travel permits for the strife-torn region of Darfur that effectively prevent them from leaving Khartoum. The State Department said 11 members of a US disaster response team now in the capital had been granted three-day passes to visit Darfur after intense pressure from Washington, but noted that the gesture was hollow because the Sudanese government requires 72 hours advance notice before traveling.
“‘It’s Orwellian,’ a senior State Department official said of the move after deputy spokesman Adam Ereli outlined the situation to reporters and suggested the incident was another example of Sudan hindering humanitarian access to Darfur. ‘The 11 people in Khartoum did receive travel permits; however, the permits are only valid for three days and the government of Sudan requires 72 hours notice to travel, so that sort of renders the permits useless by the time they are received,’ Ereli said.
“‘By the time you travel, your permit’s no longer valid,’ he said with obvious exasperation. [ ] This is really, I guess, more of the same, making it difficult for humanitarian workers to do their job and it’s disappointing. There are people suffering in Darfur. It’s urgent that humanitarian workers be allowed to go there.’
“Sudanese authorities in Khartoum handed the passes to the US relief team Saturday but demurred when confronted by the convergence of their expiry date and the advance notice requirement, the State Department official said.
“‘They gave us the permits on Saturday and said: “Now you can give us your 72 hours notice to go.” Our guys looked at them and said: “That means we can’t use them,” and they said: “That’s not our problem”,’ the official explained.” (Agence France-Presse, May 17, 2004)
Such brutal cynicism, such complete indifference to human need and to US efforts to alleviate this need, such purposeful obstruction of humanitarian relief: how is a “gesture of goodwill” warranted in such circumstances?
Just as disturbing is very recent intelligence that comes to this writer from Ahmed Abdalla, co-chair of the Darfur Diaspora Association, who spoke by telephone yesterday to contacts in his native Nyala town. A large contingent of Janjaweed, estimated at around 2,000 and clearly recently armed and supplied by Khartoum, are in several areas near Nyala town, and have begun a new campaign of civilian slaughter and destruction. Two days ago (May 17, 2004), the village of Kashallingo (11 kilometers south of Nyala) was destroyed and fifteen civilians were killed by the Janjaweed. The inhabitants of approximately 30 other villages in the area have been given an ultimatum: “leave your villages or you will be killed.” Several people were either killed or raped as the Janjaweed made clear their seriousness about the current campaign.
As a consequence of threats and the burning of Kashallingo, approximately 10,000 civilians have now been forced to relocate to a new concentration camp in the Mussaoi area (approximately 5 kilometers southeast of Nyala).
The Janjaweed were first seen massing in Kundwa forest (approximately 10 kilometers southeast of Nyala), and are now reported also at Kulkolya (10 kilometers west of Nyala), as well as at the airport in Nyala town (to which National Islamic Front President Omer Beshir paid a brief hortatory visit today, and was in turn greeted enthusiastically by the Janjaweed). There are a number of highly ominous indications that these actions and movements are the beginning of a new campaign that will attack Fur villages in the area between Kundwa forest and the Hajair locality (approximately 80 kilometers southeast of Nyala).
This represents a large swathe of geography in South Darfur that has heretofore not been subject to the scorched-earth warfare so evident throughout most of Darfur. A very large population is at critical risk, even as there is still no peace monitoring force in Darfur—yet another conspicuous failure on the part of the international community. We know as much as we do, in this case and in many others, only because of the extraordinarily dangerous telephone communications coming out of Nyala from people desperate to let the outside world know what is happening. In a shameful mockery of the courage of these people, there is no organized international mechanism for receiving and assessing their reports.
To be sure, both House and Senate resolutions “call on the Government of Sudan to grant full, unconditional, and immediate access to Darfur to [ ] an international monitoring team in compliance with the temporary cease-fire agreement that is based in Darfur and has the support of the United States and the European Union.” But such “calls” are no more efficacious than those for unfettered humanitarian access. Nothing of significance is being done or is being planned—by the US or the European Union or the African Union—to accelerate deployment of a meaningful cease-fire observation team in Darfur. The shameful abandonment of the African tribal peoples of Darfur to their terrible fate is again all too fully in evidence.
We know too much of what will fill the pages when the next chapter in the history of genocide is written. We know too much about the likelihood that hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings will die because of who they are, because of the racial and ethnic hatred that the Khartoum regime has stoked and manipulated for military purposes. We know too much about their losses, their suffering, and the agony of their impending deaths.
We know nothing about how this moral failure can be explained.
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