Deathly Silence

The growing genocide in Darfur testifies to the world’s disgrace

Eric Reeves

Women and children wait at a refugee camp in the Darfur region of Sudan in mid-April.

Darfur continues its relentless slide into greater catastrophe, with no adequate humanitarian or diplomatic response on the horizon. More than 100,000 displaced Sudanese have died, and another 2,000-plus die daily. By the year’s end, the death toll could stand at more than 400,000. Conditions in the refugee camps in neighboring Chad range from poor to appalling. Many of the displaced persons — perhaps more than 1 million — have no resources whatsoever and are dying agonizing, invisible deaths.

The National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum, which precipitated the genocide in response to the insurgency that began in February 2003, has continued to impede humanitarian relief. They recently grounded U.N. World Food Program planes, even though many children suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition may perish because of a single day’s delay in food.

More disturbingly, Khartoum has inaugurated a policy of forcible expulsions from camps for the displaced. The African tribal populations that are the targets of Khartoum’s genocide are being forced, typically violently, to return to their villages.” But the villages of these mainly Fur, Massaleit and Zaghawa peoples largely have been destroyed. As numerous aid workers have observed, forced return is a death sentence: There is no food and people returning are easy prey for the marauding Arab militia forces, known as the Janjaweed.

Janjaweed predations continue unchecked and have reached new levels of cruelty. Numerous reports, including from the small contingent of African Union ceasefire monitors, offer accounts of children being hurled serially into the flames of burning huts and buildings. One African Union report includes a picture of the charred remains of eight schoolgirls who were chained together. And as a new Amnesty International report makes clear, rape continues to be used as a weapon of war.

Khartoum’s culpability in this disaster is beyond dispute. Any lingering doubts about the responsibility of the regime were incinerated in July by a Human Rights Watch report that revealed internal government documents indicating Khartoum both armed and coordinated the Janjaweed.

Despite these grim reports, the only meaningful action — humanitarian intervention accompanied by necessary military protection — looks unlikely. The reality of genocide has not galvanized U.S. action. A bipartisan congressional resolution unanimously declared the killings in Darfur to be genocide and called on the Bush administration to do so as well. The State Department, however, continues to dither, denying that such a declaration would change anything.

This is not true: Article 1 of the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention obliges contracting parties (including the United States and all members of the U.N. Security Council) to prevent” genocide. Yet the burdens and consequences of U.S. military intervention in Iraq make U.S. leadership at this critical moment politically unimaginable. An appropriate response from the United Nations is no more promising. An already weak U.N. Security Council Resolution, proposed by the United States, survived only after the removal of a meaningless threat of sanctions against Khartoum. Both veto-wielding China and Pakistan abstained in the Darfur resolution vote, urging that Khartoum be given more time to disarm the Janjaweed. China is motivated in particular by its huge investments in oil development in Sudan.

The Arab League subsequently weighed in with a similar demand, while the Organization of the Islamic Conference fully sided with Khartoum out of religious and anti-Western solidarity. The reality on the ground is that more time simply makes possible greater incorporation of the Janjaweed into Khartoum’s regular military and police. The genocidaires will control the camps. All this occurs on the 10th anniversary of the world’s shameful failure to respond in Rwanda. Peace talks between Khartoum and the insurgency groups may begin in late August. Their chances of yielding meaningful results are negligible, given the appeasing words from Kofi Annan’s new special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, who declared in early August that he found security improving in camps for the displaced and a regime responding in good faith — despite massive evidence to the contrary. This is all the encouragement Khartoum needs to remain intransigent.

Annan apparently is convinced that the Security Council will be embarrassingly divided on Darfur and thus ineffectual in its response. He has consequently settled on a course of expediency and is looking for ways to ensure that the August 30 deadline of the Security Council Resolution doesn’t have the force of a true deadline. The resolution demands” that Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed; but this clear-cut demand has devolved into a series of vague benchmarks that make any assessment of Khartoum’s responsiveness a matter of judgment on the part of Pronk and Annan.

Inspired by this reaction, Khartoum promptly rejected the African Union proposal to put a significant number of peacekeeping forces on the ground in Darfur — one of the only meaningful steps contemplated so far. Obstructing international humanitarian intervention in any form remains Khartoum’s highest priority. That it has so thoroughly succeeded in this strategy is a measure of the world’s disgrace.

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Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College. He has testified several times before Congress on the ongoing crisis in Sudan. His writings on the subject have appeared in The Nation, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and many international publications.
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