Tuesday, May 11, 2004

African Auschwitz: The Concentration Camps of Darfur 

The UN and the International Community Are Acquiescing in Genocide

Eric Reeves
May 11, 2004

There are no trains leading to the death camps of Darfur: transportation
takes the form of militarily coerced displacement, forcing the African
tribal peoples of Darfur, bereft of all resources, to trek over a harsh
and unforgiving landscape. We have no idea how many have perished on
these journeys of terror because the National Islamic Front regime in
Khartoum has worked to restrict all news access and continues to impede
humanitarian access to all but a few areas. But we can be sure that
the number is measured in the tens of thousands.

There are no crematoria in the Darfur camps: blistering heat, rapid
decomposition, and scavenging animals have disposed of most of the
bodies to date, and Khartoum's military transport assets are now
removing many more bodies from the sites of better reported atrocities
and mass executions, dumping them in remote locations. Still, when the
death rate soars, when engineered famine begins to accelerate beyond
control later this fall, the bodies will simply decompose where they
fall. The vast piles of corpses, presently missing from the picture of
genocide that is evidently required for UN or international action, will
be fully in evidence.

The camps will then be abandoned by Khartoum and its Arab militia allies
(the Janjaweed), their genocidal task completed. Survivors, the few who
manage to fashion a means of existence over these cruel months, will
have no land to which to return. Their livelihoods and culture will
have been destroyed. Present skeptics about whether there is genocide
in Darfur will no doubt retreat into variously disingenuous professions
of ignorance: "we didn't know that conditions were so bad," or "we
didn't have the pictures," or most disgracefully, asking "how could
we have known that this would happen?"

But there is no ambiguity in Darfur. There is no lack of unassailable
evidence or authority in previously conducted human rights
investigations, especially by Amnesty International and Human Rights
Watch. Even the recently released UN report on the human rights
catastrophe in Darfur, hedged and trimmed by the political realities of
the UN in New York, makes fully clear the immense human suffering and
destruction deriving from Khartoum's genocidal ambitions.

Within this widespread, deliberate, and systematic assault on the
African civilian populations of Darfur a new holocaust is burning.
Genocide has begun again, threatening the Fur, the Massaleit, the
Zaghawa, and other African peoples---"as such."


Khartoum's strategy of massive civilian displacement has been in place
for over a year, generating a highly vulnerable population of well over
1 million Darfuri people, overwhelmingly from the African tribal groups
of the region. This is the population that continues to fill badly
overcrowded camps, in conditions that are presently appalling and
rapidly deteriorating. These camps are already ghastly arenas of
catastrophic child mortality, acute malnutrition and water shortages,
surging disease rates, even as entire inmate populations face rape,
torture, and murder on a daily basis. It will soon become much worse.

There are no sanitary provisions in the camps. As a consequence,
disease---especially the water-borne diseases that will very soon
proliferate with the impending seasonal rains---looms as the source of
many tens of thousands of casualties in the very near future. Outbreaks
of cholera have been reported, and meningitis above the "epidemic"
threshold has been reported in at least one camp for the displaced in
Chad. Cholera, while eminently treatable with proper medical
intervention, is likely to spread uncontrollably soon, taking huge
numbers of casualties. Measles, frequently fatal among weakened child
populations, has been reported in a number of locations. The already
catastrophic child mortality rates will soon spiral out of control.

But, perversely, the camps continue to beckon as "safe havens" from the
military threat of Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia allies;
unconstrained and ongoing savagery has turned the lands of the Fur, the
Massaleit, the Zaghawa, and others into killing fields. Terror beyond
description has left these agriculturally productive civilians no choice
but to flee toward camps located throughout Darfur and spilling into
Chad. In turn, the camps in Darfur are controlled by Khartoum's regular
military and intelligence forces, and by the Janjaweed. Ominously,
control is often relegated entirely to the Janjaweed.

[Cross-border raids by the Janjaweed into Chad, against refugee camps
and Chadian villages, are also being reported by international news
services and humanitarian organizations on an ongoing basis.]

Once in the camps, the displaced Darfuris becomes inmates---restrained
by force, by the surrounding presence of menacing Janjaweed forces, and
by a desperate hope for the food and security that no longer exist in
their homelands. This hope seems no more warranted than that offered to
European Jews in the form of Nazi promises of work and survival to "the

In the main, there is no escape from the camps, even when it becomes
clear that the most likely fate they offer is extermination through
disease, starvation, and murder.

The camps, to be sure, vary considerably---depending largely on whether
or not there is an international humanitarian presence. But food is
rapidly running out throughout Darfur, and there are not nearly enough
pre-positioned stocks for the coming months. The very Janjaweed
militias that have done most to disrupt food production in Darfur will
commandeer (as they already have on a number of occasions) future
humanitarian deliveries. UN maps of the increasingly numerous and
overcrowded camps make clear that humanitarian access and presence is
already extremely limited. When the food does run out, this will
precipitate a radically new and extraordinarily dangerous humanitarian
crisis for which there is no contemplated response.

For the present, we may be sure that all too many of the camps are like
the Kailek concentration camp south of Kass in South Darfur,
definitively assessed by a UN inter-agency team in late April ("Report:
A United Nations Inter-Agency fact-finding and humanitarian needs
assessment mission, Kailek, South Darfur, 24 April 2004" [this team is
not the UN human rights investigative team whose report on Darfur was
suppressed at the annual Geneva meeting of the UN Commission on Human
Rights, though press accounts have blurred this fact]).

Most strikingly, the UN inter-agency team made clear that the realities
of the Kailek concentration camp justify an explicit comparison between
Darfur and Rwanda. Their report thus joins a growing chorus of human
rights and humanitarian professionals who find the Rwandan genocide the
only appropriate point of historical reference.

Mukesh Kapila, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, declared in
the closing days of his tenure that "the only difference between Rwanda
and Darfur now is the number" of casualties, and that Darfur was not
simply a conflict but an "organized attempt to do away" with ethnically
defined groups of people (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks,
March 22, 2004). Kapila was in Rwanda at the time of the genocide in

Samantha Power, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning study of genocide,
expressed at a recent Congressional hearing on Rwanda her fear that, "in
ten years we'll be sitting on a similar panel," talking about Darfur
instead of Rwanda.

John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group very recently spoke
of Darfur and Sudan generally as "Rwanda in slow motion" ("Ethnic
Cleansing in Darfur: A New Front Opens in Sudan's Bloody War," before
the House Committee on International Relations, May 6, 2004)

Human Rights Watch, in the introduction to its powerful new report on
Darfur, based on deeply important research in both Darfur and Chad,
declares: "Ten years after the Rwandan genocide and despite years of
soul-searching, the response of the international community to the
events in Sudan has been nothing short of shameful" ("Darfur Destroyed:
Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan,"
Human Rights Watch, May 6, 2004)

What did the UN team find in Kailek? It is important to note first the
team's keen awareness that it caught only a glimpse of the horrors of
the camps: "We are sure that the team would have learned more about the
crimes committed against civilians in the region had it been granted
wider access to the areas of conflict. The stories that we have
received from the survivors of the acts of mass murder are very painful
for us and they remind us of the brutalities of the Rwanda genocide."

Kailek may have gained sufficient profile to force a UN investigation,
but there are now dozens of camps completely beyond reach, beyond
scrutiny, and in all likelihood beyond hope. The total population is
likely pushing toward 1 million, as more and more of the displaced see
no option but to enter the camps.

In aggregate, these concentration camps in Darfur have become an African
Auschwitz. Their purpose is human destruction. Those being destroyed
have been displaced and concentrated in these camps because of who they
are, because of their racial/ethnic identity as Fur, Massaleit, Zaghawa,
and members of other African tribal groups.

The specific findings at Kailek thus demand the closest possible
attention, as access to other camps will now likely be even more
severely restricted (Khartoum's obstructionism is highlighted at several
points in the UN team's report). We are morally obliged to infer from
this limited data larger conclusions about the camps throughout Darfur.
Moreover, numerous reports coming to this writer on a daily basis from
Darfuri sources, including the original source reporting on conditions
in Kailek, make clear that this particular camp is distinctive only by
virtue of having come under scrutiny.

[New evidence of Khartoum's efforts to silence witnesses to the
realities of Darfur comes from the Sudan Organization Against Torture
(SOAT). SOAT reports (May 10, 2004) that a number of people from the
Fur tribe were arrested for meeting with the International Committee of
the Red Cross on May 9, 2004 in order to report on human rights abuses,
graves containing bodies from mass executions, and conditions in the
camps of Darfur. The men are all being held incommunicado in the
regime's Kabkabia security offices. (SOAT press release, May 10,

But tragically, the most painfully telling feature of the Auschwitz
analogy is the international response to the crisis, and the
increasingly contrived refusal to accept or assign responsibility for
what is occurring in Darfur. Nowhere is this rapidly compounding moral
failure clearer than at the United Nations. Here, Bertrand Ramcharan,
acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, offers a signal example of
such failure. In presenting a UN human rights report on Darfur,
Ramcharan declared: "first, there is a reign of terror in this areas;
second, there is a scorched-earth policy; third, there is repeated war
crime sand crimes against humanity; and fourth, this is taking place
before our very eyes" (Associated Press, May 8, 2004)

But while declaring further that the Khartoum regime "clearly has
supported the militias, organized the militias, and this is taking place
with the knowledge and support, and the active complicity of the
[Khartoum] government," Ramcharan concluded with a spineless bit of
semantic incoherence:

"But when asked if he held the government of Sudan responsible for the
atrocities, Ramcharan said: 'I condemn the government of Sudan and I do
not think it was responsible" (Associated Press, May 8, 2004)

Out of such diplomatic failure of nerve and dishonesty, genocides are

For the destruction of Darfur is not spontaneously occurring. Nor is it
mere "collateral damage," as Khartoum's ambassador to the UN, Fatih
Erwa, declared in his contemptuous response to the findings in the UN
report (Reuters, May 7, 2004). On the contrary, Khartoum's campaign of
displacement and its system of concentration camps amount to deliberate,
systematic, widespread human destruction animated by racial/ethnic
hatred. It can be halted only if the genocidaires in Khartoum, who have
so far enjoyed immunity from any meaningful international sanctions, are
held accountable, and presented with an ultimatum for humanitarian

All too predictably, the UN Security Council---though fully briefed by
Ramcharan and by the UN humanitarian assessment team recently back from
Darfur---declined at the end of last week (May 8, 2004) to condemn
Khartoum, let along begin the urgent task of planning for an
international humanitarian intervention. The long slide toward utter
catastrophe in Darfur continues to accelerate.

For humanitarian intervention, so conspicuously unmentioned by the
Security Council, is now all that can save hundreds of thousands of
Darfuri civilians. Plans for such intervention must confront squarely
and honestly the present realities in Darfur if there is to be any
chance for real success. Comments like those by Ramcharan, silence on
the part of the UN Security Council, and suggestions from various
quarters that the humanitarian crisis is somehow still manageable---all
make the task of a meaningful response more difficult.

The first truth that must be acknowledged is that this catastrophe can
no longer be averted, only mitigated. As many as fifty thousand or more
may have died already; more than twice that number will surely die in
the next few months. The world simply must not learn to live with a
moral or geopolitical calculus in which the deaths of well over 100,000
Africans are acceptable, or count as anything but a profound
international failure.

Secondly, the greatest challenge over the next eighteen months will be
providing food for a population that has now missed the planting season
that might have produced a critically important fall harvest. This
planting season has been missed because there is no security from
Janjaweed predations, even as most of those who have been displaced from
their lands are desperate to return. Without this fall harvest, and
with their own food reserves already exhausted, the people of Darfur
will require humanitarian food assistance for more than a year. The
affected population is well over 1 million. 1.2 million is the most
recent figure from the US Agency for International Development for the
war-affected population, and this number continues to grow steadily.

The only way in which food in sufficient quantity can be supplied for a
population this large and dependent, over an extended period of time, is
by overland transport. Airlifting such quantities of food for so many
people is simply not practicable over the longer term. Since the road
arteries between Chad and Darfur will shortly be fully severed by the
seasonal rains, the most logistically suitable means of transport is
Sudan's rail line from Port Sudan through El Obeid, terminating in Nyala
(South Darfur). The challenges of such food transport by rail are very
considerable (see previous analysis of the subject by this writer;
available upon request). Implementation will almost certainly entail an
infringement upon Khartoum's inevitable claim of "national sovereignty."

But this only serves to put the real issue in the starkest possible
form: is the international community prepared to allow Khartoum's
genocidaires to obstruct food aid to over 1 million people? Is the
international community prepared to accept the hundreds of thousands of
casualties that will follow from such obstruction? Roger Winter,
Assistant Administrator at the US Agency for International Development,
testified before the full House International Relations Committee on May
6, 2004 that the number of dead would be between 300,000 and 400,000 if
humanitarian access and security in Darfur did not increase
dramatically. Is this a number that we may in any way countenance? Can
we do so without giving full meaning to Prendergast's terrible phrase:
Darfur "is Rwanda in slow motion"?

Acquiescing in Khartoum's claim of "national sovereignty," given the
inevitable consequences, is morally indistinguishable from the
international refusal to intervene in Rwanda during the 100 days of
slaughter in the spring of 1994. The international community either
does what is necessary to provide food, and security on the ground in
Darfur---especially in liberating the death camps and protecting
humanitarian workers and assets---or we will indeed be holding
meaningless hearings on Darfur ten years from now.

To be sure, some in the UN and the international community are desperate
not to confront Khartoum, given the regime's continued support from the
Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Countries. And some are
dignifying their refusal to act by virtue of a contrived agnosticism.
Thoroughly persuasive accounts have reached this writer of high-level
expressions of doubt within the UN and some nongovernmental
organizations about the scale of Darfur's catastrophe. Human rights
organizations are being accused of rushing to conclusions, generalizing
from insufficient and doubtful data. Again the cynically skeptical
query, "where are the piles of dead bodies?"

The question is posed with what seems an astonishingly willful ignorance
of both the terms of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as well as the statistical data
that is now available. It certainly takes no cognizance of a key
element of the definition of genocide found in the 1948 Convention:

"Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to
bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." (Article 2,
clause [c], 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide)

Perhaps because this language---so clearly characterizing Khartoum's
actions in Darfur---does not require "piles of dead bodies" to justify a
finding of genocide, there has been a corresponding skepticism about the
projected morality rates for Darfur, particularly the projections of the
US Agency for International Development (see data at HYPERLINK
The data for these projections were the basis for much of US AID
Assistant Administrator Roger Winter's recent Congressional testimony.
Despite the authority of these data, they seem to have become a focus
for doubt, if not scorn. Such doubt and scorn are perversely misplaced.

The epidemiological data in the US AID chart for Darfur draw fully on
data from famines in Ethiopia and in Bahr el-Ghazal Province in southern
Sudan (1998). US AID's superb epidemiological experts for this
particular report have drawn on the most current data available from
Darfur. The authority of the data and methods easily withstands the
expedient carping of those evidently intent on downplaying the largest
implications of Darfur's catastrophe. The realities in Darfur are in
fact so shocking, so clearly bespeak genocide, that we must surmise that
there are some who simply wish to avoid the difficult decisions about
humanitarian intervention in Darfur, decisions forced by these
uncomfortable truths.

But whatever the urges of expediency, we cannot wish away Assistant
Administrator Winter's figure for deaths from the impending famine and
epidemics: 300,000 to 400,000 without dramatically improved humanitarian
access and security.

Yet such improvements in access and security are nowhere in sight; nor
is there any honest discussion of the means necessary to provide them.
All that is apparent is a shameful willingness to continue with present
efforts, wholly inadequate, despite a clearly imminent cataclysm.


For those cynical skeptics determined to see the "piles of dead bodies,"
the wait will not be long. To be sure, they will not be the images
familiar from Auschwitz or Rwanda...these have their own terrible
singularity. As Samantha Power has recently reminded us, no two
genocides are alike.

But the "piles of dead bodies" will soon be in evidence in Darfur. And
they will be enough. They will be more than enough.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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