Eric Reeves •
As the Darfur conflict in western Sudan approaches the two-year mark, it is clear that the international community is unwilling to provide either the diplomatic resources or material assistance that might halt what has become massive genocide by attrition. The gradual deployment of an African Union force of 3,500 troops for monitoring purposes is woefully inadequate to the crisis, but international refusal to entertain more ambitious plans for intervention has led to excessive and disingenuous celebration of this very modest achievement. Expediency rules in Washington, at the UN in New York, within the European Union, and within the African Union itself. Coupled with the intensive lobbying for a policy of “non-interference” by the Arab League, such expediency ensures that far too much of Darfur’s future will resemble its present.
More than three hundred thousand had died by December 2004, and a monthly mortality rate of thirty thousand human beings was accelerating. Disease and malnutrition overtook violence as the leading causes of death in midsummer 2004, but this must not obscure the most basic fact of Khartoum’s conduct of the war. The National Islamic Front regime has engaged in a genocidal policy of relentless, systematic destruction of the agricultural means of survival for the African tribal groups in Darfur. The present “humanitarian” crisis is not the collateral damage of war, but an engineered famine and health catastrophe, similar in many ways to the deadly famine deliberately precipitated by Khartoum in the southern Bahr el-Ghazal Province in 1998. The complete blockade of humanitarian aid to the Nuba Mountains region in Kordofan Province, commencing in 1992, offers yet another clear point of historical reference.
Though it has been clear that Khartoum will not relent in its current genocidal ambitions until confronted with unambiguous and serious consequences, the international community has not accepted this fundamental truth publicly. Doing so would put into sharp focus the hopelessly dysfunctional nature of the UN Security Council in dealing with issues relating to Sudan. The primary obstacle to effective UN action is China, which has repeatedly threatened to use its veto to block any sanctions measure directed against Khartoum. To be sure, China has several important allies (Russia and Pakistan most notably), but it is China’s perceived national interest that dominates the political calculus at the UN.
The Chinese economy has a voracious appetite for offshore petroleum, and consumption of imported oil has more than doubled in the last five years. China has the dominant stake in Sudan’s two oil-producing consortia and views Sudan policy almost exclusively through the lens of petroleum needs. It is hardly surprising that following the September passage of a second, weaker Security Council resolution on Darfur (which merely talks of considering the possibility of sanctions at some unspecified future date), the Chinese ambassador to the UN publicly warned that China would veto any stronger measure. Glib talk in Washington and European capitals of an “oil embargo” is pointless: China could easily purchase every barrel of oil that Sudan produces for export.
During his September 9, 2004, Senate testimony on Darfur, then secretary of state Colin Powell declared simultaneously that genocide was indeed being committed in Darfur but that “nothing new” followed from this determination other than its referral to the Security Council in an already drafted resolution. Nothing further would be undertaken or contemplated by the United States. Although the referral did result in the appointment of a UN commission of inquiry, its political makeup raises concerns that its findings won’t be decisive. Even a UN determination of genocide is unlikely to be meaningful, given the refusal of the United States to act more decisively. China will not see Sudan or the Darfur crisis differently because of a UN finding of genocide, and as a consequence the Security Council will remain paralyzed.
In any case, the UN commission will produce nothing comparable to the large study conducted by the Coalition for International Justice (CIJ), which gathered the data that served as the basis for Powell’s determination of genocide. In 1,136 randomized interviews-conducted among refugees all along the Chad/Darfur border and carefully designed to meet the requirements of statistical significance-the CIJ study produced overwhelming evidence of genocide. Indeed, the large and professional team of investigators (a number of them genocide scholars or lawyers with experience in the tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia) believed so strongly that they were witnessing genocide that they were fully prepared to contradict, in very public fashion, anything other than an unambiguous genocide determination by Powell.
This is the first time that a professional assessment, with comprehensive resources (translators, adequate transport, and centrally coordinated gathering of data), has ever been undertaken during an ongoing genocide. Given the very small readership of the final report, and its inability to galvanize either U.S. or international action, it seems unlikely that the 1948 UN Genocide Convention will ever serve the task of prevention for which it was designed. In Rwanda the world failed to declare genocide and thus refused to intervene. In Darfur, both states and nongovernmental organizations have authoritatively declared that genocide is occurring, and still the world refuses to intervene. Surely the latter is the greater failure.
Genocide by Attrition
This leaves the non-Arab, or African, tribal populations of Darfur in the throes of a slow, remorseless destruction. The scale of the destruction has been obscured by often weak and inaccurate journalism (despite the high quality of pure reportage), and by the failure of UN and nongovernmental organizations to share effectively either data or advocacy recommendations. Truly comprehensive figures about mortality, morbidity, and humanitarian requirements have been unavailable, though they can be readily deduced from the various reports and documents that now come in a steady stream.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has done good, if somewhat fitful work, and this at least allows inferences about humanitarian sectoral needs and provides some of the basic demographic data of the catastrophe. A few focused epidemiological studies are noteworthy, as are some of the figures from the U.S. Agency for International Development. But it is certainly fair to say that the data from OCHA, the Coalition for International Justice, and the epidemiological reports of humanitarian organizations have not been collated and assessed systematically. Even when based on relatively conservative premises, however, such an effort yields the following statistical conclusions:
(1) By December 2004, more than two hundred thousand people had been killed by violence (either directly or as a consequence of flight from violence into Darfur’s extremely forbidding environment without sufficient water or food);
(2) By December 2004, more than 150,000 people had died from disease and the effects of malnutrition;
(3) As of November 2004, more than half the people in need in Darfur and Chad were without adequate food supplies, and great numbers had no food resources; the camps for internally displaced persons were providing clean water, adequate sanitation, and shelter to fewer than 50 percent of camp residents;
(4) The number of conflict-affected persons steadily grew by approximately 250,000 persons a month from June through November of 2004;
(5) The total number of conflict-affected persons in Darfur and Chad was approximately three million in December 2004: the humanitarian capacity required for such a population-to provide food and critical non-food items (medical supplies, water purification equipment, shelter)-exceeded fifty thousand metric tons per month, into and within the humanitarian theater (an area the size of France). Only approximately half this relief capacity was available.
(6) In November 2004 the average crude mortality rate (the number of deaths per day per ten thousand of affected population) was approximately 3.0 for the three administrative states of Darfur-and greater in rural areas with no humanitarian access. More than one thousand human beings were dying daily, a number poised to grow rapidly.
By all accounts, the greatest threat to humanitarian operations (beyond sheer incapacity) has been insecurity, generated primarily by Khartoum’s now infamously brutal Janjaweed militia. Though large-scale violence had diminished by October 2004, this was largely because the vast majority of African villages-primarily those of the Massaleit, the Fur, and Zaghawa-had already been destroyed. But even with this reduction in village assaults there was still fierce fighting, and the April 8, 2004, cease-fire between Khartoum and the two insurgency movements was thoroughly meaningless, despite the presence of a small contingent of African Union forces charged with monitoring the agreement.
This pervasive insecurity has continued to constrain humanitarian operations and made delivery of critically needed food and non-food items a great deal more inefficient. Moreover, insecurity not only directly threatens camp residents but also makes it impossible for them to return to the sites of their former villages and resume agriculturally productive lives. The extraordinary comprehensiveness of village destruction has meant that potential returnees have no means of planting crops or raising animals. Food- and seed-stocks have been destroyed, and the absence of a fall harvest meant that there was no way to cull seeds for the next planting season. The smaller autumn planting season was missed, and there appears to be little chance for the major spring planting (April to May). Darfur will have a huge food-dependent population for at least the next two years.
Water wells have been poisoned by Khartoum and the Janjaweed with human and animal corpses; agricultural implements have been destroyed; and donkeys-critical for agricultural production-have either been killed or have died for lack of foraging land and adequate water in the camp areas. Disease has also killed tens of thousands of these valuable animals.
Though not primarily cattle-raising people, the African tribal populations have still lost hundreds of millions of dollars of cattle looted by the Janjaweed; this not only represents the accumulated assets of generations, but is a traditional form of food security. Many observers warn that if compensation for the loss of cattle, commodities, and other possessions is not secured, the now growing rage in the camps will explode into a new cycle of violence, no matter what is negotiated in Abuja, Nigeria.
Peace talks in Abuja have yielded scant progress. Khartoum refused to discuss political issues in meaningful fashion, and a reiteration of the terms of the April 8, 2004 cease-fire negotiated in N’Djamena (Chad) was hailed as a diplomatic “victory” for the African Union mediators. The insurgents were able to secure from Khartoum a nominal halting of “offensive” military flights, but the meaning of this commitment was immediately qualified by Khartoum in public statements following the end of negotiations in November. The military situation was essentially unchanged, ensuring that security would continue to deteriorate at a rapid rate.
The November 9 Abuja accord-touted by the African Union, Kofi Annan, and others-earned the National Islamic Front entirely undeserved diplomatic credit, even as the regime was engaged in extremely serious violations of international law. By agreeing to reiterate the cease-fire terms, Khartoum deflected attention from its increasingly violent expulsion of displaced persons from camps in Darfur, where many hundreds of thousands had sought refuge. These actions continue a long-term policy of emptying the camps as a way of eliminating the need for an international presence in Darfur.
Part of Khartoum’s diplomatic success in Abuja derived from missteps by the leaders of the two insurgency movements. Clearly lacking in diplomatic skills and coherent political leadership, they mistakenly refused to sign a humanitarian access protocol. This brought disproportionate international criticism and made it easier for Khartoum to avoid political negotiations and to address security issues only in essentially redundant fashion.
Though not justified in holding back on humanitarian access, the leaders of the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement were right to insist on beginning the talks with the issue of disarming the Janjaweed. They were frustrated by international refusal to secure what is clearly the essential element in any improvement on the ground in Darfur. Khartoum had promised to disarm the Janjaweed in the April 8 cease-fire and again in a “Joint Communiqu” signed by the regime and Kofi Annan in Khartoum on July 3, 2004. The demand that Khartoum honor this promise, and also bring Janjaweed leaders to justice, was formally incorporated into the first UN Security Council Resolution (No. 1556; July 30, 2004), but the regime has intransigently refused to comply.
Khartoum continued even into the beginning of the Abuja talks to deploy its ground and air forces (the latter included both helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers). In turn, convinced that the international community was not serious about enforcing the April 8 cease-fire, the insurgents saw little point in military restraint. No serious diplomatic progress on political issues has been achieved or is in prospect at this writing.
The African Union in Darfur
Given the increasing violence and instability, the African Union began in late October to increase the size of its small contingent of observers and forces for the protection of the observers. The goal announced was roughly 3,500 troops, police, and observers, though there is reason to be skeptical that full deployment of a force this size could be completed by the AU before January 2005-and even then there remained serious questions about logistics, including transport capacity, the adequacy of communications gear, and the ability to secure an independent fuel supply (the lack of which had badly hampered the work of the original AU monitoring force).
Of greatest consequence, though, was that the augmented AU deployment began without securing from Khartoum any agreement for a more robust mandate. The regime had consistently declared that the only function of the AU force would be to monitor the cease-fire. Remarks by president Paul Kagame of Rwanda to the effect that soldiers from his country would not watch idly as civilians were slaughtered, provoked a quick rebuke from Khartoum. The failure to secure a clear and robust mandate prior to deployment reflected wishful thinking on the part of the AU, which evidently hoped that once its troops were on the ground its mission would expand de facto. Instead, these circumstances created precisely the ambiguity that Khartoum is most adept in exploiting.
But the most conspicuously undeclared reality was the woefully inadequate size of the force. Romeo Dallaire, the general in charge of UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda during that country’s genocide, argued in October 2004 that a force of 44,000 troops was required for the various urgent security needs on the ground in Darfur. He also made clear the need for NATO or other Western troops, as well as sophisticated military equipment for which the AU troops were not trained. Like many other blunt and politically unpalatable truths about Darfur, Dallaire’s statement disappeared with barely a trace amid the international celebration of an AU deployment. This small achievement provided a desperately needed fig leaf for paralysis at the UN and a post-Iraq unwillingness even to talk about humanitarian intervention.
Any serious effort to restore security in Darfur and allow for the resumption of agriculturally productive lives must undertake a series of difficult but essential tasks. The camps for more than 1.6 million internally displaced persons must be fully secured, and a wide security perimeter must be created. Currently, the camps are still sites of terrible violence, and women and girls face the threat of rape if they leave the camps to gather firewood (essential for cooking raw grains and flours). All of Khartoum’s paramilitary forces serving as “police” (including recycled Janjaweed) must be removed from security roles in the camps. Humanitarian personnel and corridors must be much more effectively protected. Safe passage must be assured to the increasingly desperate rural populations currently beyond the reach of humanitarian organizations (perhaps as many as one million people).
If the deployed military forces are able to determine that particular aircraft have been involved in attacks on noncombatants, these planes or helicopters should be destroyed or mechanically disabled on the ground (since the oft-mooted notion of a “no-fly zone” over Darfur and Chad is thoroughly impracticable). Most challengingly, providing security on the ground entails overseeing the return of internally displaced persons to their villages or the sites of their villages. Khartoum is currently engaged in an insidious policy of coerced returns as a means of “resolving” the humanitarian crisis. Without food and agricultural supplies, as well as security, these forced returns are essentially death sentences: the returnees will either starve or fall victim to Janjaweed predations. Finally, the disarming or military neutralizing of the Janjaweed, beginning with those moving in the general camp environs, is the key to any long-term success.
Simply to enumerate these difficult challenges makes clear how inadequate a force of 3,500 AU troops, police, and monitors is. With no logistical or transport capacity of its own (this is a premature operation for the newly formed African Union Peace and Security office), such a force is utterly dependent on non-African funding, supplies, and transport. It will be far too easy for Western countries to move AU forces into Darfur and then allow for a slow attenuation of support as the crisis continues.
And this is indeed Darfur’s catastrophic future: violent deaths among civilians are likely to stay at present lower levels, but death from disease and malnutrition will almost certainly increase, perhaps not peaking until February 2005, according to William Garvelink, a senior official at the U.S. Agency for International Development, speaking in October 2004: “The crisis in Darfur has not yet peaked. We have not yet seen the worst.” Earlier this year, USAID predicted that between 80,000 and 300,000 people could die if the situation failed to improve in Darfur. “We’re now coming to the high side of that range,” Garvelink said. After months of relying on scarce food handouts-when aid agencies have been able to reach refugee settlements-more than a million people in Darfur face severe malnutrition. “We’re going to see a tipping point in December, January, or February.”
The camps themselves look like human warehouses, ever more permanent, and generating explosive rage. This in turn will produce new recruits for the insurgencies, which, while in some sense defeated, cannot be ended or fully controlled. With the virtually total collapse of agricultural production in the homelands of the Fur, the Massaleit, and the Zaghawa, the economic risk is to all of Darfur, including urban areas. Food inflation may soon explode.
The first cholera cases have been reported in the Gulu camp, a terrible harbinger. Chronic malnutrition will compromise countless lives, and “deferred mortality” (the deaths, caused directly and indirectly by the crisis, which will occur subsequently within the next generation of the affected population) may ultimately be measured in the hundreds of thousands.
The Genocide Convention that Powell and the UN so efficiently eviscerated speaks explicitly of acts that “deliberately inflict on groups conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part.” In Darfur this is the new norm, defining the way in which life must be endured by the Fur, Massaleit, Zaghawa, and other African peoples. Millions will either die or confront for the rest of their days this terrible prospect. Unable to reclaim the lands that have defined them for countless generations, drifting to the insurgency movements or increasingly to urban areas or other regions in Africa without prospect of meaningful employment, they will likely be witness to their own cultural extinction.
[Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has written and testified extensively on Sudan.]