Monday, May 24, 2004
Monday, May 24, 2004
"A slow-motion genocide"
by Eric Reeves
In the Darfur region of far western Sudan, a cataclysm of human
suffering is slowly coming into the world's view. The war that is the
engine for this destruction pits Khartoum's National Islamic Front
regime against rebel insurgency groups, although in Darfur the conflict
is not between Khartoum and the non-Muslim rebels of southern Sudan.
In fact, in a perverse irony, the north-south conflict appears to be on
the verge of resolution. But because this agreement makes no provision
for other marginalized populations and regions in Sudan, many of these
people believe that they will continue to be excluded from political
power and economic development. The Darfur insurgents are demanding
greater political and economic justice.
Darfur is almost impossibly remote; Khartoum's brutal regime has
counted on this fact in attempting to crush the insurgency without
international scrutiny. The regime is battling long-neglected and abused
African tribal populations, virtually all of whom are Muslim. Fighting
broke out in February 2003, and following initial victories by
insurgency groups, Khartoum changed strategies, seeking not to destroy
the military opposition but its civilian base of support.
Khartoum recruited the Janjaweed, militia forces drawn from the largely
nomadic Arab populations of Darfur. Working in concert, Khartoum's
regular military and the Janjaweed have engaged in what Jan Egeland,
United Nations Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, has called a
"scorched-earth" campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Thousands of villages have been systematically destroyed. Human Rights
Watch and Amnesty International report mass executions of African men;
women and girls are often gang-raped; food stocks, seeds and
agricultural implements are burned; and cattle are looted. Water wells
and irrigation systems are blown up or poisoned by
corpses---extraordinarily destructive acts in this arid region.
Khartoum's bombers attack not only villages but fleeing civilians.
The United Nations estimates that more than 1 million people are
internally displaced in Darfur, and Refugees International estimates
another 200,000 people have fled into Chad. The United Nations also
estimates that 2 million people in Darfur are "war-affected"---this is
the population now vulnerable to famine, disease and exposure. Khartoum
is using the denial of humanitarian access as a weapon of
war---"systematically" denying aid to the African populations of Darfur,
one senior U.N. official has asserted.
The consequences are all too apparent. The U.S. Agency for
International Development recently published data indicating that
without humanitarian access, between 300,000 and 400,000 people will die
of starvation and disease by next spring. At the peak of the famine
thousands will die every day, as was the case in Rwanda exactly 10 years
These African tribal populations---primarily the Fur, the Massaleit and
the Zaghawa---will also be victims of genocide. For we must remember
that the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention specifies not simply acts of
direct human destruction, but those which "deliberately inflict on [an
ethnic or racial] group conditions of life calculated to bring about its
physical destruction in whole or in part." This is precisely what
Khartoum has done.
The displaced populations have been forced to seek refuge in what can
only be called concentration camps. There is no humanitarian access to
most of these camps, even as their populations continue to swell. Food
and water are exceedingly scarce and often deliberately denied. There
are no sanitary facilities, and people are dying in large numbers from
disease. The impending seasonal rains will bring an explosion of
water-borne diseases. U.N. officials have described conditions in the
camps as imprisonment, with a policy of "systematic starvation." The
Janjaweed, often the sole authority, are guilty of unspeakable
cruelties, including executions and rape.
What is the answer to this humanitarian crisis, described by U.N. and
humanitarian officials as the greatest in the world?
Humanitarian intervention is all that can provide the food and medical
supplies that are rapidly being exhausted. And these supplies cannot be
transported through Chad once seasonal rains close the only roads
presently open. A multilateral force, ideally under U.N. auspices, must
internationalize Sudan's rail line, which runs from Port Sudan on the
Red Sea through Khartoum and on to Nyala, a regional capital in Darfur.
From there, overland and air transport becomes practicable, if
difficult. The concentration camps must be liberated and put under
The only long-term solution is a negotiated settlement between the
insurgency groups and the repressive Khartoum regime. This will require
substantial international diplomatic investment and a willingness to
follow through with robust monitoring. The Janjaweed must be disarmed
and brought under control or the African peoples will be too fearful to
resume agricultural production.
Peace between Khartoum and the southern opposition will be a
significant achievement, but it will mean little if genocide continues
[Reeves is a professor at Smith College and has written extensively on
Sudan. He testified on Sudan before the House International Relations
Committee in March.]