The New Republic on-line, July 18-20, 2005,
EDITOR’S NOTE: This week, Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College and an expert on Darfur, will be guest blogging at The New Republic on-line. His contributions will add up to a sort of crash-course on the Darfur genocide–moving from posts today on the genocide’s history, to posts in coming days on the inadequate response of the international community, to posts toward the end of the week on what it would realistically take to bring the genocide to a halt. Today: why the genocide started, how it is being carried out, and whether it is getting worse.
WHY IT STARTED: The insurgency war in the Darfur region of western Sudan began virtually unnoticed in February 2003; it has over the past two years precipitated the first great episode of genocidal destruction in the twenty-first century. The victims are the non-Arab or African tribal groups of Darfur, primarily the Fur, the Massaleit, and the Zaghawa, but also the Tunjur, the Birgid, the Dajo, and others.
These people have long been politically and economically marginalized, and in recent years the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum has refused to control increasingly violent Arab militia raiding of African villages in Darfur. Competition between Arab and African tribal groups over the scarce primary resources in Darfur–arable land and water–has been exacerbated by advancing desertification throughout the Sahel region.
But it was Khartoum’s failure to respond to the desperate economic needs of this huge region (it is the size of France), the decayed judiciary, the lack of political representation, and in particular the growing impunity on the part of Arab raiders that finally precipitated full-scale armed conflict.
Not directly related to the 21-year conflict that recently formally ended in southern Sudan–a historic agreement was signed in Nairobi on January 9, 2005–Darfur’s insurgency found early success against Khartoum’s regular military forces. But this success had a terrible consequence: The regime in Khartoum switched from a military strategy of direct confrontation to a policy of systematically destroying the African tribal groups perceived as the civilian base of support for the insurgents. The primary instrument in this new policy has been the Janjaweed, a loosely organized Arab militia force of perhaps 20,000 men, primarily on horse and camel.
This force is dramatically different in character, military strength, and purpose from previous militia raiders. Khartoum ensured that the Janjaweed were extremely heavily armed, well-supplied, and actively coordinating with the regime’s regular ground and air forces. Indeed, Human Rights Watch obtained in July 2004 confidential Sudanese government documents that directly implicate high-ranking government officials in a policy of support for the Janjaweed. “It’s absurd to distinguish between the Sudanese government forces and the militias–they are one,” says Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. “These documents show that militia activity has not just been condoned, it’s been specifically supported by Sudan government officials.”
EVIDENCE OF GENOCIDE: The nature of the attacks on African villages in Darfur–as reported by numerous human rights groups–makes clear Khartoum’s genocidal intent. Janjaweed assaults, typically conducted in concert with Khartoum’s regular military forces (including helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers), have been comprehensively destructive of both human life and livelihood: men and boys killed en masse, women and girls raped or abducted, and all means of agricultural production destroyed. Thriving villages have had buildings burned, water sources poisoned, irrigation systems torn up, food and seed stocks destroyed, and fruit trees cut down. Cattle have been looted on a massive scale, and most of those not looted have died from lack of water and food, as people flee into the inhospitable wastes of this arid region.
According to Article 2 of the 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide–to which the U.S. and all current members of the U.N. Security Council are party–genocide encompasses not only the deliberate killing of members of a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such,” but also “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” What we have seen in Darfur is precisely this latter offense.
As a result, agricultural production has largely come to a halt in Darfur, and the United Nations estimates that in the very near future 3.5 million people will be in urgent need of food assistance (the total population of Darfur is approximately 6.5 million). Moreover, there is no sign that the current planting season will yield a significant fall harvest. Huge civilian populations–well over 2 million people–will be dependent on food aid for the foreseeable future. Many of these people will die in what has become a genocide by attrition.
THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS: The current rainy season in Darfur is already creating immense logistical problems for humanitarian aid groups, as it did last summer (the rainy season typically runs from June through September, with August and September the months of heaviest rains). Darfur is one of the most remote places in Africa, and quite distant from navigable bodies of water. Both food and critical non-food items (medical supplies, shelter, equipment for clean water) must be transported over land by truck or (much more expensively) flown into the regional capitals of the three Darfur states.
Though humanitarian organizations are performing heroically under extremely difficult conditions, it is clear that there is a deadly mismatch between humanitarian capacity and human need. As the rains sever various transport corridors and insecurity closes others, many villages and communities are becoming inaccessible. This occurs against the backdrop of a traditional “hunger gap”–the period between spring planting and fall harvest.
Moreover, the overcrowded camps for displaced persons–now the only place of refuge for more than 2 million people–face serious shortages of sanitary facilities. The threat of water-borne disease is becoming acute, as many of the camps are little more than open sewers. Outbreaks of cholera or dysentery could quickly claim tens of thousands of lives in addition to those already claimed by violence, disease, and malnutrition. Extant data suggest that between 350,000 and 400,000 have perished during the past 29 months.
A recent U.N. mortality assessment indicates that more than 6,000 continue to die every month, and Jan Egeland, U.N. Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, has warned that the toll may climb to 100,000 per month if insecurity forces humanitarian organizations to withdraw from Darfur. Banditry, hijacking of humanitarian convoys, and attacks on humanitarian workers have grown relentlessly in recent months, even as there has been a decline in major conflict between Khartoum’s regular forces and the insurgency groups.
Peace negotiations in Abuja, Nigeria have done nothing to rein in the Janjaweed militia, and a small African Union monitoring force on the ground has had only marginal effect in addressing civilian and humanitarian security needs. The death total in Darfur’s genocide may reach that of Rwanda’s by year’s end.
Tomorrow: Genocide as domestic security policy in Sudan; and the international debate about what to call it.
July 19, 2005
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second part of a weeklong crash-course on Darfur by Smith College Professor Eric Reeves. Yesterday: how the genocide started. Today: what motivates the Sudanese government (racism, Islamism); and whether we should call Darfur a genocide (we should).
THE CURRENT KHARTOUM GOVERNMENT: The July 9 inauguration of a new Sudanese “government of national unity” (GNU) has appropriately received a good deal of news coverage. The GNU represents the culmination of an arduous peace process going back almost a decade and the formal end to war in southern Sudan, perhaps the most destructive civil conflict since World War II. As many as 2.5 million people have died since war in the south resumed in 1983–and likely over 4 million if we consider the earlier phase of the civil war (1955-1972). Over 5 million people were displaced by the war–Sudan has the world’s largest population of internally displaced persons–and southern Sudan was utterly devastated.
John Garang, leader of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, has been inaugurated as “First Vice President” in the GNU, and the assumption in many quarters is that Garang–as someone long sympathetic to the cause of Sudan’s marginalized peoples–will use his new position to help end genocide in Darfur. This assumption is not simply facile, but expediently ignores the genocidal past of the National Islamic Front, which retains key powers in the GNU: the presidency, a guaranteed majority in the national assembly and ministerial posts, and–critically–control of the army and security forces.
THE NIF’S UGLY HISTORY: The National Islamic Front (which has attempted to rename itself innocuously as the “National Congress Party”) is essentially unchanged since it seized power from a democratically elected government in a 1989 military coup, deliberately aborting Sudan’s most promising peace process since independence in 1956. With the exception of Islamist ideologue Hassan El-Turabi–the mastermind of the 1989 coup who split with his former allies and is no longer part of the government–the same brutal men still control the NIF 16 years after it seized power. Field Marshal Omer El-Beshir retains the presidency, and Ali Osman Taha–arguably the most powerful man in Sudan–serves as vice president and controls the terrifyingly efficient security services. Nafie Ali Nafie, Gutbi Al-Mahdi, and other longtime members of the NIF serve in various advisory capacities. And Major General Saleh Abdallah Gosh, recently flown to Washington by the CIA, retains control of the Mukhabarat (Sudan’s intelligence and security service) even as he is among those members of the NIF indicted at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for crimes against humanity in Darfur.
These are the men who settled on a genocidal response to the insurgency movements that emerged in Darfur in early 2003. But the NIF’S history of genocide goes back much further than the current catastrophe in Darfur. Animated by a radical Islamism and sense of Arab racial superiority, the movement engaged in genocide almost from the time it seized power. A year ago, seasoned Sudan watcher Alex de Waal of the British group Justice Africa wrote for the London Review of Books [August 5, 2004] what remains one of the best overviews of the Darfur crisis. In the piece, he observed that genocide in Darfur:
“is not the genocidal campaign of a government at the height of its ideological hubris, as the 1992 jihad against the Nuba Mountains was, or coldly determined to secure natural resources, as when it sought to clear the oilfields of southern Sudan of their troublesome inhabitants. This is the routine cruelty of a security cabal, its humanity withered by years in power: it is genocide by force of habit.”
As part of a ghastly jihad, the NIF brought suffering and destruction to the Nuba Mountains, a culturally distinct part of the southern Kordofan province in northern Sudan that was politically allied with southern Sudan. It conducted relentless military assaults on civilians and enforced a humanitarian aid embargo that lasted more than a decade.
The same men ordered the scorched-earth clearances of the oil regions in southern Sudan to provide security for the operations of international oil companies. The systematic civilian destruction in the oil regions (primarily in the Upper Nile province) has been chronicled by many human rights groups, most fully by Human Rights Watch. The actions of oil companies from Canada, Sweden, Austria, China, Malaysia, and India–directly supporting the NIF regime–constitute one of the most shameful episodes in the long and terrible history of resource extraction in Africa.
The result of these policies was that between 1989 and 2002 many hundreds of thousands of Sudanese were either killed or displaced. In the Nuba Mountains and the oil regions of southern Sudan, as in Darfur, the NIF regime settled upon a deliberate policy of human destruction, targeting ethnically African populations that had rebelled against, or were victims of, decades of political and economic marginalization.
IS DARFUR REALLY A GENOCIDE? Despite the overwhelming evidence of NIF genocidal ambitions, there has been considerable hesitancy in some quarters to speak frankly about Darfur’s realities and a shameful willingness to ignore the critical demand of Article 1 of the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention: “to prevent genocide”–a contractual obligation of all signatories to the Convention.
To be sure, there have been many unambiguous voices: The U.S. Congress–in a unanimous, bipartisan, bicameral resolution–declared a year ago that ethnically targeted human destruction in Darfur constitutes genocide; so did former Secretary of State Colin Powell in September 2004 Senate testimony (though subsequent reiterations of Powell’s finding have come from the Bush administration only with considerable prodding). Senior officials of the German and British governments have declared that genocide is occurring in Darfur, as did the European parliament (by a vote of 566 to 6 last September). And a number of important organizations and institutions have also declared that genocide is taking place: the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (an unprecedented action), Physicians for Human Rights, the U.S. Committee for Refugees, Africa Action, Justice Africa, Africa Confidential (U.K.), Yad Vashem (Israel), Genocide Watch, and numerous genocide scholars.
Human Rights Watch has not used the g-word but has found massive evidence of “ethnic cleansing” in Darfur (no clear articulation of the difference between these two crimes has been forthcoming from HRW). Amnesty International has also not declared genocide in Darfur, though the director of Amnesty in the United States, William Schultz, has been explicit about his own view that what is occurring in Darfur is genocide.
Most consequentially, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on Darfur concluded in January 2005 that there was “insufficient evidence of genocidal intent” on the part of the NIF, though the commissioners’ reasoning was embarrassingly flawed and the failure to conduct forensic investigations at all sites of reported mass ethnic murders was inexcusable. In addition, the COI badly confused the issues of motive and intent, deployed evidence in conspicuously contradictory fashion, and misrepresented the consequences of genocidal violence and displacement in Darfur. (See my detailed critique at | http://sudanreeves.org/2005/02/11/report-of-the-international-commission-of-inquiry-on-darfur-a-critical-analysis-part-i-february-2-2005/
The COI report called for a referral of all violations of international law in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which occurred in a U.N. Security Council resolution on March 31. But this focuses far too much on the future punishment of the crime of genocide rather than its current prevention, the primary purpose of the Genocide Convention. Despite expedient arguments made by some human rights groups that the threat of an ICC referral would serve as a deterrent to violence in Darfur, this hope has proved thoroughly specious–violence against civilians and humanitarian operations has, in many respects, increased since late March.
WHY LABELING MATTERS: None of this would be more than a debate about nomenclature if a finding of genocide did not hold the potential to dictate the need for humanitarian intervention in Darfur–the only response that can provide security for many hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians at acutest risk and for humanitarian operations that are operating at the very limit of tolerable insecurity (at least one major aid organization has withdrawn because of the deaths of several of its workers). Genocide should not, of course, be the threshold for humanitarian intervention; but in the world as we find it, in the wake of genocides in the Balkans and Rwanda, the g-word has come increasingly to constitute a ghastly gold standard for international action.
Even with consensus on genocide, however, the simple political truth is that intervention, especially in the shadow of Iraq, will require extraordinary efforts to achieve legitimacy, and there are few signs that the United Nations will step forward. Absent U.N. action or direct intervention by Western democracies (ideally in the form of NATO troops), the currently deployed and deeply inadequate African Union force is all that stands as an international response. This ensures that the genocide will continue.
Tomorrow: The current mechanics of human destruction in Darfur; the controversy over mortality totals; and Darfur’s future in the absence of intervention.
July 20, 2005
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third part of a weeklong crash-course on Darfur by Smith College Professor Eric Reeves. Monday: how the genocide started. Yesterday: what motivates the Sudanese government. Today: why the genocide is not abating–and may, in fact, be getting worse.
WHO IS DYING: Darfur’s pre-war population of approximately 6.5 million was perhaps 60 to 65 percent non-Arab–some 4 million “Africans.” In fact, all Darfuris are African, and skin color is a wholly inadequate measure of ethnicity. But ethnic differences of various sorts do exist–the use of Arabic as a first language, agricultural practices, and a variety of more subtle cultural differences–and identification by ethnicity comes easily to Darfuris, even in matters such as gait and attire. But of this population of roughly 4 million “Africans,” U.N. figures for displacement, or even for those defined as “conflict-affected,” cannot account for over 1 million people. Some are in urban areas, but hundreds of thousands have died (more on exactly how many below), and hundreds of thousands more are at risk in inaccessible rural areas of Darfur.
HOW THEY ARE DYING: Sometime in summer 2004–we’ll probably never know just when–human mortality in the Darfur genocide became more a function of malnutrition and disease than violent destruction. What we must not lose sight of is that deaths from malnutrition and disease are no less the product of genocidal ambitions than violent killings: Having so comprehensively and deliberately destroyed the villages and livelihoods of the African tribal populations of Darfur, Khartoum and its Janjaweed allies bear full responsibility for the ongoing deadly consequences of these assaults on civilian targets.
The consensus among Darfuris in exile, at least those who have access to sources on the ground in Darfur, is that approximately 90 percent of all African villages have now been destroyed. This more than anything else accounts for the decline in large-scale military activity in Darfur, at least between the major combatants, the two insurgency movements on the one side and Khartoum and the Janjaweed on the other. (Recently there has been much infighting between the insurgents themselves.) There are simply not enough remaining targets of opportunity to sustain the levels of violence that were recorded between spring 2003 and fall 2004.
But as villagers have fled to camps for displaced persons and into eastern Chad, they have created extremely vulnerable populations in highly concentrated locations. The United Nations reports approximately 2 million people in camps for displaced persons to which it has access in Darfur and another 200,000 refugees inside Chad along the Darfur border. Many hundreds of thousands of people remain unaccounted for–dead, hiding, staying with host families in other locations, or simply unregistered by the United Nations.
Among these are the hundreds of thousands of Darfuris in inaccessible rural areas. These populations are most vulnerable to malnutrition, as food reserves have been depleted amidst a collapsed agricultural economy. Humanitarian organizations report that those arriving more recently in the camps for displaced persons are showing increasing levels of malnutrition. Children, as always, are most vulnerable.
Those inside the camps must contend not only with relentless insecurity but with overcrowding, inadequate sanitary facilities, shortcomings in shelter, and severe water shortages–in some locations people have been forced to survive on what humanitarian groups consider less than half the daily human requirement of water. Though the rainy season may alleviate this problem, the torrential rains also create severe risks for outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery. There were no major outbreaks of either disease in summer 2004; displaced Darfuris are very unlikely to escape again diseases that can claim tens of thousands of lives in a matter of weeks.
Other diseases are also present: a stubborn outbreak of Hepatitis E (not normally found in Darfur and particularly threatening to pregnant women), various forms of diarrhea (which remain the leading killer of children in the camps), and malaria (which becomes a serious threat with the first hatch of mosquitoes).
Food shortages, however, remain the greatest threat to human life in Darfur. Darfuris normally rely on foraging in times of desperation; but the insecurity that continues to be created by the Janjaweed makes this impossible. Many of the hundreds of thousands in inaccessible rural areas are slowly starving.
The U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 3.5 million people will very soon be in need of food assistance. Humanitarian logisticians estimate that 17,000 metric tons of food are required every month to feed 1 million people. The WFP estimate suggests that as much as 60,000 metric tons of food will be required every month during the period in which so many people are dependent on assistance. This food must be transported into one of the most remote areas of Africa, at the height of the rainy season, and distributed within a province the size of France. This is a task far beyond current humanitarian capacity, especially amidst what the United Nations frankly admitted last rainy season was a “logistical nightmare.” Much food is already being transported by air, which is on average about five times as expensive as overland transport. Roads are increasingly being severed by the rains, as wadis (normally dry river beds) become torrential streams, some as wide as half a mile.
And because insecurity prevented a significant planting this spring and early summer (normally the major planting season in the agricultural calendar) there will be no fall harvest–this after last fall’s severely attenuated harvest. Significant domestic food production in Darfur will not be in evidence until fall 2006–at the earliest. People already weakened by malnutrition have become increasingly vulnerable to disease and will only become weaker and more vulnerable in the months ahead. Genocidal mortality will continue for years.
HOW MANY HAVE DIED: Calculating this statistic is important chiefly because it allows us to understand the implications of continuing to respond inadequately–past mortality tells us all too much about the grim future. Unfortunately, news media have almost all failed to take account of the mortality data available, particularly data suggesting a total for violent mortality. There is an occasional spurt of interest but no sustained effort to establish a reasonable benchmark figure.
Available data, including a recently concluded mortality survey conducted chiefly by the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO), strongly suggest that current excess mortality (the number dying in addition to those who would, statistically, have died in any event) is over 6,000 human beings per month. Terrible as this rate is, it is well below the mortality rate of a year ago; it is also well below what is likely in the near future. Last December, Jan Egeland, the U.N.’s Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, estimated that if insecurity forces the withdrawal of humanitarian operations, as many as 100,000 may die every month. And as Kofi Annan recently noted in his report to the Security Council, threats against humanitarian workers are on the rise.
By far the most telling data concerning violent mortality in Darfur comes from the Coalition for International Justice (CIJ), the organization appointed by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to research human destruction in Darfur and provide the basis for what would be Colin Powell’s determination of genocide in September 2004. Even with significant biases toward undercounting, the data assembled by the CIJ strongly suggests that over 200,000 people have died violently in Darfur. Though not technically an epidemiological study, the CIJ report cannot be ignored, since there is no alternative source of data. To compile the report, 1,136 interviews were conducted on a randomized basis along the Chad-Darfur border by genocide scholars, forensic specialists, law enforcement officials, and others with relevant experience. The key finding was that 61 percent of those interviewed had witnessed the killing of a family member during an assault by Janjaweed or regular military forces.
This data, along with previous mortality data from the WHO and other humanitarian organizations, and several key epidemiological studies, suggest that between 350,000 and 400,000 people have died from all causes–violence, malnutrition, and disease–in Darfur’s genocide. (For a detailed analysis of the data, see my June 30, 2005 assessment at http://www.sudanreeves.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=58&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0.) The impending spike upwards in monthly mortality rates, and the great likelihood that genocide by attrition will continue for months and years, suggest that total mortality may eventually exceed that of Rwanda in 1994.
DARFUR’S FUTURE: There is no sign that normal agricultural production will resume any time in the near future. There is no sign that the insecurity confining people to camps for the displaced or villages under siege will be alleviated, even with the currently planned deployment of additional African Union personnel. There is no sign that the international community intends to fund humanitarian efforts in Darfur at an appropriate level. There is no sign that Khartoum’s National Islamic Front, and the new government it dominates, has changed its genocidal ambitions, now best served by preserving the deadly status quo. There is no sign that peace negotiations in Abuja, Nigeria will yield more than the vaguely worded “declaration of principles” signed two weeks ago. And there is no sign of the international humanitarian intervention that might stop the genocide.
There are only signs that the dying will continue indefinitely.
Tomorrow: U.S. policy toward Sudan and Darfur; and the policies of other international actors.