December 17, 2003
Though expressing “deep concern” and offering at least a glimpse of the catastrophe unfolding in Darfur province in western Sudan, yesterday’s statement by Richard Boucher of the US State Department does not address key issues in the Darfur crisis. It is compromised in particular by a failure to speak of the African racial and ethnic makeup of those civilian noncombatants that have been continuously subjected to brutal assault by Arab militias backed by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front. The same failure obscures the racial and ethnic motives behind Khartoum’s denial of critical humanitarian access. Moreover, in calling upon the parties in the conflict to “engage in substantive dialogue on ending the hostilities in Darfur,” the State Department does nothing to indicate the very different moral equities of those involved in the conflict. (Complete State Department statement appended below.)
To be sure, the State Department statement highlights the fact that Khartoum has armed militia groups, and also declares that “the United States calls on the Government of Sudan to take concrete steps to control the militia groups it has armed.” Moreover, simply by clearly calling attention to the heretofore vast but invisible crisis in Darfur, the State Department has put Khartoum on notice that its brutal war by militia proxy is recognized for what it is. Others in the international community will be encouraged to follow the US lead in saying what has long been evident.
But the US fails to do more than “call on the parties to agree to an observable humanitarian cease-fire” and “deplore the parties’ lack of engagement to end hostilities.” These words might have been appropriate two or three months ago, but are woefully inadequate to the situation at hand. Tellingly, there is no clear plan for internationalizing the response to the crisis in Darfur, either diplomatically or through humanitarian intervention if necessary.
Indeed, in an ironically appropriate development, the very day that the State Department finally found its voice on Darfur, the tenuous peace talks between Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime and the insurgency groups in Darfur collapsed completely (Associated Press, December 17, 2003). To be sure, such a collapse was inevitable, given Khartoum’s intransigent and brutal military ambitions in Darfur, and the exceedingly weak auspices for negotiations provided by the government of Chad. But this basic fact should not have been skirted in the State Department’s speaking of “substantive dialogue” as a means of “ending the hostilities.” What is needed is not a vague hortatory statement about a woefully inadequate negotiating forum, but a clear commitment to a robust international presence in peace talks and an international observer presence on the ground in Darfur (presently there is nothing).
Even more urgently, the US must respond effectively to what is an extremely serious and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Darfur, animated by what observers are increasingly characterizing—implicitly and explicitly—as “ethnic cleansing.”
There is a perverse and perhaps expedient unwillingness on the part of the State Department to characterize or even name the “parties” in the Darfur conflict. Nowhere do we catch even a glimpse of the ethnic and racial realities that virtually all observers are now highlighting in accounts of the fighting, civilian destruction, and Khartoum’s denials of humanitarian access.
The State Department speaks of Khartoum needing to “take concrete steps to control the militia groups it has armed”; but nowhere does it indicate the fact that these militia groups are nomadic Arab fighters (the Janjaweed), whose terrible predations are directed against the indigenous, black African sedentary agriculturalists of the Darfur regions (the Fur, the Masseleit, the Zaghawa). The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)—uneasy allies, divided primarily by virtue of the former’s commitment to a secular Sudan—are for the State Department simply “indigenous opposition groups.”
Why does this matter so much? Why is such absence of characterization of the “parties” so telling? It is because such neutral description frees the State Department from any need to respond to the increasingly insistent evidence that the conflict in Darfur is characterized by “ethnic cleansing”—with military assaults directed “systematically” against the African populations of Darfur, and with humanitarian access denials also “systematically” directed at the African populations. Of course once freed from any need to take account of these ethnic and racial realities, the State Department has much less need to speak to the issue of whether or not a humanitarian intervention is required in the presently rapidly deteriorating situation.
For such an intervention, including the implicit refusal to recognize Khartoum’s claim of “national sovereignty” in Darfur, appropriately requires a very high threshold. But presumably “ethnic cleansing,” directed against hundreds of thousands of people already displaced and at growing risk, would clearly reach such a threshold, even in the minds at the State Department. Of course there must be evidence for such “ethnic cleansing,” and the State Department may simply be maintaining a reasonable agnosticism in the matter. But is such “agnosticism” indeed reasonable or justified? Does the transparent urgency of the situation permit a leisurely process of evidentiary assessment?
The State Department itself notes reports that “more than 600,000 civilians have been internally displaced,” and that “75,000 refugees have fled into neighboring Chad,” and that thousands of unarmed civilians have been killed or prevented from planting or harvesting crops. The statement even notes that “humanitarian access continues to be inhibited by ongoing insecurity and the Government of Sudan’s denial of travel permits to humanitarian workers.”
Still it must be said that even this extremely dire situation does not in itself indicate “ethnic cleansing.” So we must ask of what evidence is the State Department statement refusing to take cognizance? It is here that “agnosticism” becomes untenable.
This writer has assembled in several previous analyses a wide range of reports, news commentaries, UN assessments, and other evidence suggesting clearly and uniformly the reality of “ethnic cleansing” in Darfur (all analyses available upon request). Herewith a brief compendium—
 The International Crisis Group, in its most recent report on Sudan (December 11, 2003) finds that “government-supported militias deliberately target civilians from the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit groups, who are viewed as ‘Africans’ in Darfur and form the bulk of the Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement ethnic base. [ ] The latest attacks [by the government-supported Arab militias] occurred deep inside the Fur tribal domain, against unprotected villages with *no apparent link to the rebels other than their ethnic profile* [emphasis added].” (International Crisis Group, “Sudan: towards an Incomplete Peace,” December 11, 2003; available at http://www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=2416)
 Amnesty International has recently issued a report (November 27, 2003), based on first hand research, declaring that there is “compelling evidence” the Khartoum regime “is largely responsible for the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Darfur in the western Sudan.” Amnesty also notes ominously that “the situation in Darfur is at risk of rapidly degenerating into a full-scale civil war *where ethnicity is manipulated* [emphasis added]” (http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr541012003).
 The UN secretary-general’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan, Tom Vraalsen, recently reported that:
“Delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by *systematically denied access* [latter phrase emphasized in text]. While [Khartoum’s] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas.”
(Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
“Systematic denial” of humanitarian relief to “rebel-held areas” can have only one meaning: “systematic denial” of humanitarian relief to areas that are overwhelmingly populated by the African Fur, Zaghawa, and Masseleit peoples. So effective has this systematic denial been that Vraalsen declares “present humanitarian operations have practically come to a standstill.”
Vraalsen also speaks of the “first-hand reports that I received from tribal leaders and humanitarian actors on the ground [in Darfur]. They reported that [Khartoum-backed Arab] militias were launching *systematic raids against civilian populations* [emphasis added]. These attacks included burning and looting of villages, large-scale killings, abductions, and other severe violations of human rights. Humanitarian workers have also been targeted, with staff being abducted and relief trucks looted.”
(Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; “Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur,” December 8, 2003)
Here again, “systematic” raids against civilians can only be construed as meaning systematized on the basis of race and ethnicity.
 In one of the exceedingly few reports directly from Darfur, the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reports from Junaynah (Darfur):
“‘I believe this is an elimination of the black race,’ one tribal leader told IRIN (UN IRIN, Junaynah [Darfur], December 11, 2003)
This point was amplified by various local sources in conversation with IRIN in Junaynah:
“The fact is the government is arming some tribes, just Arabs, they go and kill, take the belongings and rape the women,” local sources in Junaynah told IRIN. “The militias have been given access to good arms, they are better than the army’s.” (UN IRIN, Junaynah [Darfur], December 11, 2003)
 Wire reports, though without a Darfur dateline, nonetheless give a sense of what is coming from the region by way of UN officials and humanitarian organizations:
Deutsche Presse Agentur reports that:
“Darfur and other parts of western Sudan in recent months have been the scene of severe unrest. The violence, which diplomats have described as ‘ethnic cleansing,’ has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.” (dpa, December 10, 2003)
This was echoed by the BBC:
“Diplomats have described the fighting in Darfur as ‘ethnic cleansing’ with Arab militias, possibly backed by the government, destroying entire villages inhabited by dark-skinned people who speak African languages.” (BBC, December 11, 2003)
Must we wait until there is yet more evidence before mounting a humanitarian intervention in Darfur? Given the human stakes in this crisis, is such a higher evidentiary threshold morally justifiable? The history of “ethnic cleansing” and genocide in the last century is filled with examples of precisely such belatedness, such refusal to act on partial information, even when it has all pointed toward one conclusion. The same is true in Darfur today, despite the State Department’s evident agnosticism. History already has shown the terrible costs of such agnosticism in too many instances. It will almost certainly reveal, and in the very near term, the ghastly consequences of this present excessive diffidence.
Northampton, MA 01063
US State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher (December 16, 2003)
“The United States is deeply concerned with the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the Darfur region of Sudan. Hostilities in Darfur between indigenous opposition groups and the Sudanese Armed Forces and its allied militias have caused non-governmental organizations and the U.N. to curtail needed humanitarian assistance programs. The United States deplores the parties’ lack of engagement to end hostilities in Darfur, despite efforts by the United Nations and the Government of Chad to facilitate talks and a humanitarian cease-fire.
“Reports indicate more than 600,000 civilians have been internally displaced, 75,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Chad, and as many as 3,000 unarmed civilians have been killed. Many more have been prevented from planting or harvesting crops. Humanitarian access continues to be inhibited by ongoing insecurity and the Government of Sudan’s denial of travel permits to humanitarian workers.
“The United States calls on all parties to agree to an observable humanitarian cease-fire and engage in substantive dialogue on ending the hostilities in Darfur. Further, the United States calls on the Government of Sudan to take concrete steps to control the militia groups it has armed, to avoid attacks against civilians and to fully facilitate the efforts of the international humanitarian community to respond to civilian needs.
“The fighting in Darfur is not linked to the ongoing peace talks between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Kenya.”