DOES GENOCIDE continue in Darfur? Do we still see “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, [Darfur’s African ethnic groups] as such,” the high standard set by the 1948 UN Genocide Convention? The question acquires urgency as skepticism grows in some quarters about the intentions of Khartoum’s Islamist regime. Genocide is a crime of intent, not motive; if the intention of Khartoum is no longer genocidal, their moral and negotiating equities change considerably in any peace talks with fractious rebel groups.
Some skepticism about genocide in Darfur is politically motivated: much of the British left regards Darfur advocacy as a diversion from Iraq. The Bush administration, embarrassed by its weak actions following a September 2004 genocide determination, has attempted to “walk back” the g-word. Yet others argue – to diminish the urgency of deploying military protection – that Darfur’s terrible realities are much improved and no longer deserve such strenuous characterization.
But though violence in Darfur has mutated, we still receive many reports about acts enumerated in the Genocide Convention. Ethnically targeted violence, orchestrated by Khartoum, continues to be chronicled by human rights investigators, though it has certainly diminished since the height of massacres and village destruction from early 2003 through early 2005. Reports of ethnically targeted rape by Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia are ongoing. The regime continues its indiscriminate aerial bombardment of African villages.
What works in part to justify skepticism about continuing “genocide” is that following the ill-conceived Darfur Peace Agreement (May 2006), violence and threats to the civilian population became much more chaotic. Rebel groups fractured, warlordism became rampant, and ethnic violence among Arab tribal groups emerged in deadly fashion. Violent threats to humanitarian relief come from all armed groups in Darfur.
But Khartoum has engaged in its own unrelenting war on aid efforts. This vicious campaign of obstruction works to sustain a grim “genocide by attrition” among the African victims of earlier ethnically targeted violence. Recently, the head of a vital humanitarian agency was expelled from Sudan on preposterous charges of “espionage.” Earlier this year, UN and humanitarian workers were assaulted and held by Khartoum’s security forces in the capital of North Darfur – two victims were sexually assaulted. Medical supplies have been arbitrarily held in Khartoum.
Often ignored in the debate about genocide is the nature of antecedent violence that produced the staggering population of 4.2 million conflict-affected persons in Darfur, including more than 2.5 million people uprooted from their homes. A key passage in the Genocide Convention specifies acts “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
When Khartoum’s regular forces and brutal Arab militia allies destroyed African villages, the effort was typically comprehensive: demolishing or poisoning precious water wells and irrigation systems; destroying food- and seed-stocks, cutting down mature fruit trees; looting or killing livestock. Such deliberately destructive violence, the mass executions of African men and boys, and the racialized use of rape as a weapon produced the desperate humanitarian crisis. The worst violence may be past; but the consequences of livelihoods destroyed remain.
Moreover, to ignore these features of the Darfur genocide, to emphasize temporary declines in mortality and violence, risks missing the most ominous threat: accelerating violence against camps of African populations. Ongoing violence also threatens the viability of humanitarian operations. According to Jan Egeland, former UN humanitarian chief, hundreds of thousands would die in the event of humanitarian collapse.
But most consequentially, to ignore ongoing genocidal realities in Darfur confers upon the Khartoum regime “moral equivalence” with the rebel groups – and emboldens the regime to cleave to the disastrous Darfur Peace Agreement as the only basis for further negotiations.
Since the rebels – and the majority of Darfuris – emphatically reject the peace agreement, a diplomatic standoff looms, which will continue until Khartoum is held accountable by the international community. So long as the regime’s gnocidaires are simply another party at the negotiating table – not orchestrators of the ultimate human crime – there will be no diplomatic progress toward a just peace.
[Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College]