Genocide in Sudan
by Eric Reeves
In These Times magazine,
On the 10th anniversary of the genocide
in Rwanda, another human catastrophe is rapidly accelerating despite
full knowledge of the United Nations and Western democracies.
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
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 UN. 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 MSE "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 regime,
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.
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 zoo 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
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 regime, 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 regime 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 Khartourn'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.
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
But with the U.N. Commission on Hunan
Rights having failed to act, it is no surprise that Khartoum has
twice denied U.N. humanitarian assessment team, led by U.N. Undersecretary
for Humanitarian Affairs Egeland, access to Darfur. The regime
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 1o 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