Genocide in Sudan

The United Nations suppresses its own report on ‘the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis’

Eric Reeves May 6, 2004

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

On the 10th anniver­sary of the geno­cide in Rwan­da, anoth­er human cat­a­stro­phe is rapid­ly accel­er­at­ing despite full knowl­edge of the Unit­ed Nations and West­ern dem-oc-racies. In April, a U.N. team inves­ti­gat­ing human rights abus­es in the far west­ern Dar­fur region of Sudan found dis­turb­ing pat­terns of mas­sive human rights vio­la­tions in Dar­fur, many of which may con­sti­tute war crimes and/​or crimes against human­i­ty.” Based on inter­views with refugees along the Chad-Sudan bor­der, the report of this team (along with sim­i­lar reports from Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al and Human Rights Watch) was avail­able dur­ing the annu­al meet­ing of the U.N. Com­mis­sion on Human Rights in Gene­va that recent­ly adjourned. But scan­dalous­ly, as the com­mis­sion debat­ed what to do about Sudan and Dar­fur, the U.N team’s damn­ing report was suppressed.

The cir­cum­stances of this sup­pres­sion are murky. But the end result was that the com­mis­sion released an innocu­ous and mean­ing­less state­ment that failed to con­demn the gov­ern­ment of Sudan for its role in orches­trat­ing the vast human destruc­tion in Dar­fur. This con­tin­ues a pat­tern of cal­lous fail­ures that have ren­dered the U.N. Com­mis­sion on Human Rights hope­less­ly irrel­e­vant in ful­fill­ing its nom­i­nal man­date. But will­ful igno­rance can do noth­ing to dimin­ish what U.N. aid offi­cials are now describ­ing as the world’s great­est human­i­tar­i­an crisis.”

This cri­sis was pre­cip­i­tat­ed by the out­break of civ­il war in Dar­fur, hos­til­i­ties entire­ly sep­a­rate from Khartoum’s 21-year assault against the African peo­ples of south­ern Sudan. The long-mar­gin­al­ized and abused African peo­ples in Dar­fur rose up in a rebel­lion ear­ly in 2003 and mil­i­tar­i­ly caught Khar­toum off guard. But this only made the even­tu­al mil­i­tary response more bru­tal and vio­lent. The gov­ern­ment of Sudan, dom­i­nat­ed by the Nation­al Islam­ic Front, is relent­less­ly, delib­er­ate­ly destroy­ing the African trib­al peo­ples of the region. Indeed, all evi­dence sug­gests that what U.N. and West­ern diplo­mats are dif­fi­dent­ly call­ing eth­nic cleans­ing” in Dar­fur, an area the size of France, is actu­al­ly genocide. 

Sudan is aid­ed by a large mili­tia force com­pris­ing var­i­ous Arab trib­al peo­ples called the Jan­jaweed (“war­riors on horse­back”). The pre­da­tions of the Khar­toum gov­ern­ment and its mili­tia allies defy easy descrip­tion. The scale of the vio­lence is inde­scrib­able. In every vil­lage they’re talk­ing about hun­dreds of peo­ple killed,” said Coralie Lechelle, an emer­gency coor­di­na­tor with Doc­tors With­out Borders/​Medecins Sans Fron­tieres (MSF) who in April returned after four months in Darfur.

Jan Ege­land, U.N. under­sec­re­tary for human­i­tar­i­an affairs, has spo­ken of scorched-earth tac­tics” in Dar­fur. The results are all too con­spic­u­ous, even with very lim­it­ed human­i­tar­i­an pres­ence in the region, most notably that of MSF. You can dri­ve for 100 kilo­me­ters and see nobody, no civil­ian,” Mer­cedes Tatay, an MSF physi­cian who recent­ly spent a month in Dar­fur, told reporters. You pass through large vil­lages, com­plete­ly burned or still burn­ing, and you see nobody.”

Khartoum’s Jan­jaweed mili­tia has become more active in the war and is now respon­si­ble for the major­i­ty of killings, vil­lage burn­ings, rapes, and mas­sive destruc­tion of food­stocks, seeds, agri­cul­tur­al imple­ments, live­stock, and crit­i­cal wells and irri­ga­tion sys­tems. The effect on African trib­al groups — pri­mar­i­ly the Fur, Mas­saleit and Zaghawa — is mas­sive dis­place­ment. The U.N. recent­ly increased its esti­mate of the num­ber of inter­nal­ly dis­placed per­sons to more than 1 mil­lion, and the num­ber of refugees in neigh­bor­ing Chad, which shares a 500-mile bor­der with Dar­fur, to well over 100,000. Dis­place­ment in the harsh phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment of Dar­fur, with­out food, water, trans­port don­keys or oth­er resources, often is a death sentence.

While the num­ber of casu­al­ties can only be guessed at, research from along the Chad-Sudan bor­der sug­gests the num­ber may be 50,000 or greater — and the num­bers could well be more ter­ri­fy­ing in the future. The U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment recent­ly pro­ject­ed huge increas­es in both glob­al acute mal­nu­tri­tion” and crude mor­tal­i­ty rates” (CMR) for the vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion in Dar­fur, esti­mat­ed at 1.2 mil­lion and grow­ing. The CMR is pro­ject­ed to rise to 20 peo­ple per day per 10,000; MSF con­sid­ers three deaths per day per 10,000 cat­a­stroph­ic mor­tal­i­ty rate.” In short, mass star­va­tion will begin in Octo­ber or Novem­ber this year with­out urgent and large-scale human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance, which the Khar­toum régime, accord­ing to U.N. offi­cials, is sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly denying.”

The lan­guage of the 1948 U.N. Con­ven­tion of the Pre­ven­tion and Pun­ish­ment of Geno­cide speaks of acts delib­er­ate­ly inflict­ing on the group con­di­tions of life cal­cu­lat­ed to bring about its phys­i­cal destruc­tion in whole or in part.” Though both U.N. and U.S. offi­cials have explic­it­ly made the com­par­i­son between Dar­fur in 2004 and Rwan­da in 1994, this ter­ri­ble anniver­sary has found few voic­es will­ing to say what the lan­guage of the Geno­cide Con­ven­tion all too clear­ly specifies.

Sys­tem­at­ic killing

The human destruc­tion occur­ring in Dar­fur has been delib­er­ate. The U.N. news ser­vice report­ed in March:

In an attack on Feb­ru­ary 27, 2004, in the Taw­ilah area of north­ern Dar­fur, 30 vil­lages were burned to the ground, over 200 peo­ple killed and over 200 girls and women raped — some by up to 14 assailants and in front of their fathers who were lat­er killed. A fur­ther 150 women and 200 chil­dren were abducted.

With a com­plete ban on news reporters, and the sys­tem­at­ic denial of human­i­tar­i­an access, Khar­toum large­ly con­trols the amount of infor­ma­tion that can come out of Dar­fur. But refugees in Chad, fran­tic and dan­ger­ous tele­phone calls to the out­side world from the larg­er urban areas of Dar­fur, and reports from sym­pa­thet­ic Arab Dar­furi­ans able to leave the region all sug­gest an invis­i­ble but vast holo­caust. Con­cen­tra­tion camps, often run by the Jan­jaweed, are increas­ing­ly used as a means of con­trol­ling the mas­sive num­bers of dis­placed peo­ple. Con­di­tions in the camps are appalling — and dete­ri­o­rat­ing. Food and water are exceed­ing­ly scarce, and dis­ease is rapid­ly tak­ing its toll in extreme­ly cramped quar­ters with­out san­i­tary facilities.

Over­whelm­ing evi­dence indi­cates that the human destruc­tion in Dar­fur is ani­mat­ed by racial and eth­nic hatred. Refugees along the Chad-Sudan bor­der offer the same sto­ry: “ You are oppo­nents to the régime, we must crush you,’ ” one vic­tim told Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al, quot­ing the words of his attack­er. “ As you are black, you are like slaves. Then the entire Dar­fur region will be in the hands of the Arabs. The gov­ern­ment is on our side. The gov­ern­ment plane is on our side, it gives us ammu­ni­tion and food.’ ”

Though both African and Arab pop­u­la­tions are over­whelm­ing­ly Mus­lim, Khar­toum has for mil­i­tary pur­pos­es stoked the fires of racial and eth­nic hatred, the con­se­quences of which will out­live the war.

Ten­sions between African and Arab trib­al groups are not new to Dar­fur, in part because of cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences, in part because of dif­fer­ences in agri­cul­tur­al prac­tices. The African groups tend to be seden­tary farm­ers; the Arab groups nomadic pas­toral­ists. Still, cen­turies of cohab­i­ta­tion in the dif­fi­cult land pro­duced a num­ber of rel­a­tive­ly effec­tive con­flict-res­o­lu­tion and con­tain­ment mech­a­nisms. Racial and eth­nic dif­fer­ences have been salient but nev­er the source of mass killings.

But in the spring 2003, Khartoum’s reg­u­lar mil­i­tary forces were reg­u­lar­ly defeat­ed by Dar­fur insur­gency groups. In response the régime resort­ed to the clas­sic counter-insur­gency strat­e­gy of destroy­ing the African civil­ian base of mil­i­tary resis­tance in the region. This has pro­duced anoth­er casu­al­ty of the war: a total break­down in tra­di­tion­al con­flict-res­o­lu­tion mea­sures. The trust required for such mech­a­nisms to work again like­ly will not be restored.

The shift in mil­i­tary strat­e­gy required that Khar­toum recruit the Jan­jaweed, which num­ber more than 20,000, arm them, and give them free reign to take pay­ment in the form of stolen cat­tle, food, agri­cul­tur­al land, and the use of rape as a weapon of war. The result has been what the U.N. human rights report described as a reign of terror.”

Mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion between the Jan­jaweed and Khartoum’s reg­u­lar mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence forces always has been close. In April, Human Rights Watch report­ed that this coor­di­na­tion has increased, with Khar­toum — pos­sess­ing the only aer­i­al mil­i­tary in the war — relent­less­ly bomb­ing vil­lages, wells, mar­kets, even flee­ing civil­ians and refugee camps. Though heli­copter gun­ships and MiG jets have been used, the pri­ma­ry weapon is the Antonov bomber: retro­fit­ted Russ­ian car­go planes that are noto­ri­ous­ly inac­cu­rate and car­ry huge loads of shrap­nel-packed bar­rel-bombs. Antonovs are large­ly use­less for real mil­i­tary pur­pos­es but are sav­age­ly effec­tive against civil­ian tar­gets. Bar­rel bombs have been used for many years by Khar­toum in its bet­ter-known war against the African peo­ples of south­ern Sudan.

A typ­i­cal assault begins in the ear­ly morn­ing with an Antonov attack, fol­lowed by a ground assault of Jan­jaweed forces on horse or camel, often accom­pa­nied by Khartoum’s reg­u­lar mil­i­tary. Peo­ple are forced to flee, though often the dis­abled and elder­ly are unable to escape and are slaugh­tered. Par­tic­u­lar efforts are made to kill boys and young men. Wells are dyna­mit­ed or poi­soned with corpses — an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly destruc­tive act in this arid region — food­stuffs are burned, cat­tle loot­ed (thus destroy­ing the food insur­ance” of these peo­ple), and peo­ple tor­tured, raped and abducted.

As both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al have found, anoth­er weapon in the war is mass extra­ju­di­cial exe­cu­tions. A lone sur­vivor, near death from his gun­shot wound, was able to pro­vide Human Rights Watch with the fol­low­ing information:

In a joint oper­a­tion in the Dar­fur region of Sudan, gov­ern­ment troops work­ing with Arab mili­tias detained 136 African men whom the mili­tias mas­sa­cred hours lat­er. The 136 men, all mem­bers of the Fur eth­nic group aged between 20 and 60, were round­ed up in ear­ly March in two sep­a­rate sweeps in the Gar­si­la and Mugjir areas in Wadi Saleh. They were then tak­en in army lor­ries to near­by val­leys where they were made to kneel before being killed with a bul­let in the back of the neck.

Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al report­ed a sim­i­lar event in which 168 men and boys were exe­cut­ed. And we may be sure that there are count­less such mass exe­cu­tions far beyond pos­si­ble inter­na­tion­al scruti­ny or discovery.

Inter­na­tion­al inaction

To date the response of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty has been schiz­o­phrenic. U.N. offi­cials and oth­ers refer to these real­i­ties as eth­nic cleans­ing,” crimes against human­i­ty” and a scorched-earth cam­paign” that has pro­duced the world’s great­est human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis.” And senior U.N. offi­cials have con­demned the sys­tem­at­ic” denial of human­i­tar­i­an access to the areas in which African trib­al peo­ples live.

But with the U.N. Com­mis­sion on Human Rights hav­ing failed to act, it is no sur­prise that Khar­toum has twice denied a U.N. human­i­tar­i­an assess­ment team, led by U.N. Under­sec­re­tary for Human­i­tar­i­an Affairs Ege­land, access to Dar­fur. The régime cal­cu­lates that with an inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty that is appar­ent­ly uncon­cerned it will pay no price for their atroc­i­ties in Dar­fur. This belief has only been encour­aged by the refusal of the U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil to take up Dar­fur in a seri­ous way. Euro­pean coun­tries seem con­tent mere­ly to have sup­port­ed the res­o­lu­tion in Gene­va that declared: The [U.N.] Com­mis­sion [on Human Rights] express­es its sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Sudan in over­com­ing the cur­rent situation.”

This is no time for incon­se­quen­tial sol­i­dar­i­ty.” The rainy sea­son begins in May and will quick­ly ren­der many roads impass­able. Pre-posi­tioned food, med­i­cine, well-drilling equip­ment and shel­ter sup­plies are total­ly inad­e­quate. The rains will not only make trans­port immense­ly more dif­fi­cult, but water-borne dis­eases like cholera will spread rapid­ly. The U.N. already has report­ed an out­break of menin­gi­tis above the epi­dem­ic thresh­old” in a refugee camp in Chad; out­breaks of measles — a poten­tial­ly fatal dis­ease in weak­ened pop­u­la­tions — also have been reported.

The polit­i­cal real­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion dic­tates that lead­er­ship must come from U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al Kofi Annan. But while float­ing the notion of human­i­tar­i­an inter­ven­tion in Dar­fur on the anniver­sary of the Rwan­dan geno­cide, Annan has yet to make con­crete pro­pos­als for either the resources or the man­date that would guide an inter­ven­tion. The U.N.’s fail­ure to act ensures that hun­dreds of thou­sands of Dar­furi­ans will die in the com­ing months, as the pro­ject­ed mor­tal­i­ty rates climb beyond the cat­a­stroph­ic” range in June.

Most of those killed will not die of machete wounds but from the con­se­quences of the racial and eth­nic ani­mus that is forcibly dis­plac­ing a vast African pop­u­la­tion. All signs indi­cate that in 10 years we will have anoth­er grim anniversary.

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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