Genocide by Attrition

Eric Reeves

A Jan. 25 report from the U.N.-appointed International Commission of Inquiry on the conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan noted evidence of crimes against humanity,” but found no evidence of genocidal intent” on Khartoum’s part. Yet as the violence enters its third year, Khartoum’s counterinsurgency warfare becomes ever more conspicuously genocide by attrition.

Without robust humanitarian intervention, Khartoum's genocide in Darfur will continue—Rwanda in slow motion.

The scale of human destruction and suffering in the region has reached almost incomprehensible dimensions. The non-Arab African tribal populations from which the Darfuri insurgencies have drawn forces have suffered total mortality from disease, malnutrition and violence in the range of 400,000. Another 2.5 million people have been internally displaced within Darfur or across the border into Chad. Forced relocation of the displaced remains Khartoum’s ultimate solution to the humanitarian problem. Altogether, roughly 3 million people are now conflict-affected,” and in increasingly desperate need of humanitarian assistance. 

Khartoum’s Arab militia allies, the Janjaweed, continue their brutal predations, and the number of displaced continues to grow. Those in camps for the displaced are at the mercy of the Janjaweed. Hundreds of women and girls leaving camps to collect firewood (necessary for cooking the raw grain that is often the only food provided) have been raped, continuing the use of rape as a racialized weapon of war. 

Violence also continues to define life in those rural areas not yet destroyed by Khartoum’s scorched-earth campaign. The African Union (AU) and other sources on the ground in Darfur confirm that the regime has used helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers against undefended villages, fleeing civilians, and even humanitarian personnel and resources.

What the United Nations has called the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis” is only getting greater. But the very description of Darfur as a humanitarian crisis” is an indication of the international community’s inability, once again, to confront what is clearly genocide. The realities of Darfur are not incidental to the war, they are not a massive case of collateral damage.” To put it in the language of the 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Khartoum’s war effort is deliberately inflicting on the non-Arab tribal groups of Darfur conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part.”

What is the international response to ongoing genocide in Africa — a genocide that may ultimately claim more lives than the Rwandan genocide of 1994? To date, aside from a humanitarian aid effort that serves fewer than half those in need, this response consists of 1,400 AU monitors, who have been deployed without a civilian protection mandate, are woefully underequipped, and are prevented from investigating atrocities or cease-fire violations unless Khartoum agrees. Further, the AU troops — whose deployment is a fig leaf to cover the world’s inaction — have been constrained by contrived fuel shortages for their helicopters, hostile ground fire and denial of access by Khartoum.

This small AU force is powerless to stop genocidal violence in a region the size of France. And it is the violence that has displaced people into squalid, disease-ridden camps; that has precipitated the complete collapse of Darfur’s agricultural economy; that has fatally undermined relations between Arab and African populations in Darfur; and that ensures the ranks of the insurgency movements will never lack for young recruits who have seen family members killed, mothers and sisters raped, and children flung into bonfires. Without robust humanitarian intervention, of a sort very tentatively suggested by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Feb. 4, Khartoum’s genocide in Darfur will continue — Rwanda in slow motion.

At the center of the international failure, however, is a continuing refusal to speak honestly about the genocidal nature of the human destruction in Darfur. This reflects in part an obscene deference to Chinese diplomatic efforts to protect the Khartoum regime. The National Islamic Front is China’s indispensable partner in oil production and development efforts in southern Sudan, and Beijing will allow no actions that threaten rule by this tyrannical clique of genocidaires. Moreover, the war in Iraq continues to take its toll on U.S. efforts to act effectively within the United Nations — efforts that have been hobbled by the profligate squandering of diplomatic capital.

But there is ample reason to see the United Nations itself as part of the betrayal of Darfur. The report from the Commission of Inquiry, with its highly politicized determination not to use the term genocide,” is distinguished by bizarre contradictory reasoning, a selective pattern of adducing evidence and an unforgivable failure to conduct forensic investigations of the many sites of mass executions of African tribal populations.

Though it is not without merit, the U.N. report is nonetheless a moral outrage. In other words, it’s a fitting emblem of the world’s response to Darfur.

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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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