Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Western News Media Open Their Eyes...and Behold Genocide in Darfur  

Will These Visions of Horror and Voices of Outrage Make a Difference?

Eric Reeves
May 4, 2004

The veil over Khartoum's genocidal war against the African peoples of Sudan has
finally been lifted, and both news reporting and opinion pages are struggling
to come to grips with what is all too clearly the world's greatest humanitarian
crisis. And in struggling to comprehend this crisis, the news media must
confront the terrible silence that has been their primary response to the regime's
campaign of systematic human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, crimes against
humanity, and genocide.

Indeed, in the last two days alone there has been a surge in coverage of
Darfur---even a brief segment on CNN. Rather than provide a synthesis, it might be
most useful to fashion a compendium of this coverage. Herewith such a
compendium, using highlights and excerpts, with URL's provided where possible:

(1) The Houston Chronicle, May 4, 2004 (op/ed by Carroll Bogert, Associate
Director of Human Rights Watch)

"Are the media missing yet another genocide?"

The international media don't send reporters to cover genocides, it seems. They
cover genocide anniversaries.

We've just finished a spate of front-page stories, television docu-histories
and somber panel discussions on "Why the Media Missed the Story" in Rwanda,
pegged to the 10th anniversary of one of the most shocking tragedies of last
century, or any century. More than 500,000 people were killed in a small African
country in only 100 days, and the world turned away.

But even as the ink was drying on the latest round of mea culpas, another
colossal disaster in Africa was already going unreported.

Nearly a million people have been displaced from their homes in western Sudan;
many have fled into neighboring Chad. They say militias working with the
Sudanese government have been attacking villages, ransacking and torching homes,
killing and raping civilians. These armed forces are supposedly cracking down on
rebel groups based in the Darfur region, but in fact they are targeting the
[ ]
Reporters have begun trickling to the scene. The Los Angeles Times has a
correspondent en route to Darfur, as does The New York Times. But the fact is, with
or without a war in Iraq, American journalists are generally slower to cover
mass death if the victims are not white. The Rwandan genocide is a case in point.
[ ]
It's the media's job to inform us. They should do it, and quickly---because 10
years from now there won't be any excuse for another round of hand-wringing.

(2) The New York Times (front page; dateline Nyala, Darfur), May 4, 2004
"Lawless bands contribute to misery in western Sudan," by Marc Lacey

NYALA, Sudan---Eleven ghost villages line the main road northwest of here.
Each, in various stages of ruin, stands frozen, just as when it was overrun.

Some of the abandoned villages were cleared many months ago. Others were
attacked as recently as last week. In each empty settlement, it is clear that life
came to a sudden halt. Beds are overturned. Cooking pots lie on their sides, the
fires below them out. In front of one hut is a child's sandal, but no child

Huddled together in camps all over the Darfur region, in western Sudan, are the
people who fled, some of the one million people displaced in what the United
Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
[ ]
After the rebels struck last year, the government tapped into the
Arab-versus-African resentment that has long festered here. The army began teaming its
soldiers with the Janjaweed, who know no rules of war. [ ] The Janjaweed ride into
villages as a group and begin shooting anyone in sight. As the militiamen torch
and loot, the villagers grab what they can and run.

Fatima Ishag Sulieman, 25, did not have time to get away. She was in bed when
the Janjaweed moved in. Two men entered her hut. They hit her. Then they raped
her in front of her family.

"I screamed and they ran away," she said in Arabic.

Sulieman and others uprooted from their homes end up in camps, some of them
organized settlements and others squalid outposts. She now lives under a tree at a
secondary school in Kass. All around the schoolyard are other villagers, most
of them women and children. Many of them, she says, experienced what she did.

Others suffer in other ways.

Hawa Muhammad lost just about everything when the men on horseback came. They
took her family's two horses, two donkeys and small herd of goat and sheep. They
took her cooking pots and her clothing. They took her mother and her father,

Hawa is 15 and she looked as if she was in a trance as she recounted her tale.
Her parents were killed by the Janjaweed, she said. She saw them fall.
She does not know why they were killed. She does know that she is the one whom
her six younger sisters now turn to when their bellies rumble.
She left her village on the run and settled with thousands of others at the
camp in Kalma, outside Nyala. Her account of how the attack unfolded is the same
one heard in camp after camp across Darfur, as well as in the settlements in the
desert of eastern Chad, where villagers have been streaming, as well.

"The men on horses killed my parents," she said. "Then the planes came." Adam
Hassan, a weathered old man in an equally weathered robe, described the same
type of dual attack. First it was Arab men on horseback, he said, who swooped down
on his village, outside Kaliek. Then, he said, soldiers moved in.
[ ]
It remains to be seen whether the lawlessness will be tamed. Like so many other
villagers, Hassan is digging into his campsite for the long haul.
His empty village, he says, may stay empty for a long time to come.
"I may have to stay here forever," he said, fidgeting with his callused hands
and looking glum. "There are too many Janjaweed."

(3) The Boston Globe, May 4, 2004 (op/ed by Representative TOM LANTOS, ranking
member of the House International Relations Committee.

"We must stop the slaughter in Darfur"

The international community cannot continue to tolerate the slaughter of
innocent civilians in the state of Darfur, western Sudan, or the duplicitous acts of
the Sudanese government that let the perpetrators turn their backs on justice
and saunter away. Arab militias, called the Janjaweed, are being used to
terrorize groups of African origin---the Fur, Zagawa, Berti, Massilite, and
Tunjur---to drive them off their land.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for a humanitarian cease-fire in
Darfur, and has warned that outside military action may be needed to protect
civilians and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid. Indeed, in light of
escalating violence in Darfur and a deteriorating humanitarian situation, immediate
intervention by the international community is required. Ten years ago, we failed
to act in a timely fashion in Rwanda, and the consequences were horrendous.
Preventive intervention now may keep a similar tragedy from befalling Darfur.
[ ]
Khartoum also is engaged in efforts to conceal evidence that might implicate
its officials and allies in the militias for gross human rights violations.
Members of the Janjaweed militia, already identified as human rights offenders, are
being issued official death certificates so that they do not have to stand
trial for their crimes. There are reports that Janjaweed members are being flown to
the Red Sea Province on the return routes of the planes that bring humanitarian
supplies to Darfur and are issued military identification for the Sudanese army
to prevent human rights investigators from identifying them as perpetrators.

The US government should have no illusions that what is taking place in Darfur
is ethnic cleansing. The Sudan is a government determined to use every
opportunity, whether through peace negotiations or war, to expand its grip on local
resources, impose Sharia law on non-Muslims, and to propagate a hateful racial and
cultural ideology to maintain political hegemony over the diverse communities
in Sudan. The United States must lead the international community to pressure
the Sudanese government to halt the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians,
open access to humanitarian aid, and agree to a strong monitoring mechanism for
the cease-fire agreement.
[ ]
If the Khartoum regime resists international pressure, the international
community must be prepared to counter the intransigents of the regime. Anything less
puts a lie to the often repeated call for "never again" to tolerate the
targeted persecution of an entire people. Khartoum must stop this tragedy now and
prevent the further destruction of innocent lives.

(4) And wires reports on Darfur are at last being carried in a significant way
by major newspapers: The New York Times, May 2, 2004, "Amnesty Reports Sudan

CAIRO, May 1 (Reuters)---The human rights group Amnesty International said late
Friday that fighting was persisting in western Sudan despite a cease-fire
between the government and rebels, and that time was running out to avert a disaster
among civilians before the rainy season.
[ ]
Amnesty said, "Two time bombs are ticking in Sudan in a countdown to disaster:
the approaching rainy season, which means that by June many areas may be cut
off from food and medical supplies from outside; and the danger that a complete
collapse of the cease-fire will lead to an escalation of violations."

Attacks on villages, indiscriminate and deliberate killings of civilians, rape
and lootings were continuing, Amnesty said.
[ ]
"Unless the international community puts maximum pressure to ensure that the
government militia are disarmed and removed from the region, the conflict will
worsen and spread," Amnesty said.

Amnesty said most villages in Darfur had been destroyed.

(5) Newsweek, May 3, 2004, "On the Road to Nowhere," by Tom Masland

"Every village within 30 miles [of Mornay] has been leveled, says Coralie
Lechelle, a nurse with the relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Refugees
are stuck there she says: "In fact, it is a prison."

"Khartoum is barring aid shipments from Chad or anywhere else outside its
control. And relief groups say militia raids against rebel areas continue despite
the regime's recent signing of a 45-day truce. "African countries and the
entire world must decide if we will try to stop genocide in Darfur or if we will
respond with silence and inaction as we did in Rwanda 10 years ago," wrote Richard
Williamson, the US envoy to the UN Commission on Human Rights.
[ ]
The [Khartoum] regime shows no hurry [in making peace with the southern
opposition in Naivasha (Kenya)]. "Khartoum has a vested interest in the status
quo---no war and no peace," says John Prendergast, a Clinton-era National Security
Council staffer now advising the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "It
can continue to milk 100% of the profits from oil. And with no fighting in the
south it can concentrate its military hardware and assets on Darfur."

(6) Other stories are coming increasingly into focus in the context of Darfur.
The massive, systematic raping of women and girls in Darfur is a particularly
telling example:

Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State; The
Washington File (News), May 3, 2004, "Genocide Convention Now Extends to
Systematic Rape, Prosper Says"

Pierre-Richard Prosper, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, who honed his
skills as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
(ICTR), takes great pride in having helped expand the definition of genocide to
include organized violence against women, such as rape, a legal precedent that
continues to have relevance in ethnic-based conflicts today.

Prosper recently shared his experiences as a young prosecutor at the
U.N.-sponsored trials of Rwandan genocidaires in Arusha in the mid-1990s with students at
American University's Washington College of Law. He spoke just days after
leading the U.S. delegation to Kigali to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the
mass murder of 500,000 to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus that began in April

"My experience in the Rwandan tribunal was one that changed my life," the State
Department official told the told law students. It had an impact, he said, on
how he came to view genocide in general. In 1996, when he traveled to Arusha,
the Yugoslav tribunal as well as the Rwandan tribunal had just been established,
and "a lot of legal precedent that we could have used simply did not exist."

Prosper said he quickly learned that "when you're dealing with genocide," one
needs "case samples," and beyond the Nuremberg trials of World War Two "legal
precedent just didn't exist." There was a common understanding of genocide, "the
killing of large numbers of people," but in the Rwandan context it went far
beyond that, he said. Studying the Rwandan cases, Prosper said, "I came to
understand that it [genocide] meant a whole lot more than just killing. Other acts
like sexual violence and mutilation had to be considered" by the prosecution.

The women witnesses in Arusha who were victims of mass rape were so traumatized
it was as though they had been made "less than human," Prosper said. "When we
[prosecutors] looked at this we felt there was a part of the population [Tutsi
women] that had been [purposely] destroyed even though they were still alive;
for all practical purposes destroyed, because they could no longer contribute to

(7) The Toronto Star, May 2, 2004, "World waking up to Sudan crisis," by

Evidence of systematic killing---conducted by the Arab tribal militias,
allegedly with various degrees of support from Khartoum against African tribes---is
piling up.

Even with limited access to the area, reports from human rights groups and
journalists increasingly tell a tale of widespread massacres, aerial bombings,
burnt-out villages, gang rapes, forced displacement, concentration camps, signs of
looming famine---and the government's attempts to cover it all up.

Human rights groups accuse Khartoum of bombing Darfuri villages in advance of
Arab militia raids and providing helicopter reconnaissance.
[ ]
Ethnic violence, ethnic cleansing and "scorched-earth policy" are some of the
terms officially used to describe the situation.

But for Albertan activist Mel Middleton, executive director of the Freedom
Quest International rights group, the diplomatic community's unwillingness to use
the word "genocide" is hauntingly reminiscent of what he witnessed during the
Rwanda horrors.

It was early April, 1994. Rwandan president Habyarimana had just been
assassinated and United Nations' representatives were meeting in Kenya to discuss the
deteriorating situation that would see the massacre of at least 800,000 people,
most of them Tutsis, by the majority Hutu tribe.

The Canadian High Commission asked Middleton, then its humanitarian adviser in
Sudan, to attend the Nairobi meetings.

Middleton recalls horrifying pictures being passed around the room---bodies of
Rwandans in the streets, more bodies floating down the Kagara River.

Middleton says he was shocked when the U.N. representatives began discussing
food, medical and transportation needs. So, he cut in, naïvely using the word
that seems to make politicians and diplomats squeamish.

"What's being done to stop the genocide?" he asked.

The room went deadly silent. Then, Middleton says he was told: "It's a little
early to use that word." And the representatives turned back to the logistics
they were discussing. Later, he says, a Canadian diplomat clued him in: "You
can't use the genocide word because that has ramifications under international
law." But the word genocide was not used until long after the 100-day killing
spree in Rwanda ended.

Less than a month after the world has commemorated the 10th anniversary of the
1994 massacres in Rwanda, Middleton thinks history is already repeating itself.
"Now," he says, "we're facing an almost identical situation to the 1994 Rwanda
holocaust in Darfur. It's clearly genocide."
[ ]
The acting Sudanese ambassador to Canada, Abd Elghani Awad El Karim, says the
Darfur conflict has been hijacked by "international fanatics" and "Arabophobes."

(8) The Guardian (UK) has also picked up today an important wire report from
Reuters: The Guardian, May 4, 2004, "Sudan Assured Seat on UN Human Rights

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters)---African nations have ensured that Sudan gets a seat
on the chief U.N. human rights watchdog and angered rights groups who want more
liberal democracies to win a place.

"A government that engages in wholesale abuses of its citizens should not be
eligible for a seat at the table, especially a country just criticized by the
commission," said Joanna Weschler, U.N. delegate for Human Rights Watch, one of 10
advocacy groups that issued a protest statement.

"This is a major credibility test of the regional bloc structure at the United
Nations in terms of how it nominates candidates for key U.N. posts," Weschler

(9) The Telegraph (UK), May 3, 2004
"In this ravaged land, the old insanity of racism is breeding imminent
catastrophe," by IRVINE WELSH

I'm in another Sudan, in the Darfur region to the west of the country,
witnessing the horrendous and tragic results of a campaign of ugly ethnic violence,
which has left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

Neighbouring Chad is home to more than 100,000 western Sudanese refugees, while
the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur number around one million.

Playing the numbers game is dangerous in this remote, inaccessible area roughly
the size of France, but the latest UN estimates---constantly being revised
upwards---suggest that around 1.2 million people are now directly affected by the
[ ]
Skirmishes between government troops and the SLA/JEM [the Darfur insurgency
movements] cannot begin to explain this level of displacement.
Only an understanding of the changing relationship between Khartoum, the Arab
militia who have come to be known as the Janjaweed, and the African farmers can
do this.
[ ]
On February 26 the school in the town of Tawilla was raided by the Janjaweed.
Forty-two girls and women, students and teachers, were systematically beaten and

This incident was the catalyst in setting up the Maska IDP camp at Al Fashir.
There are 36,000 people here and conditions are primitive. The only cover from
the heat which reaches more than 120F (48C) is flimsy shelters made of old
boxes, twigs and cloth, and the thin trees and shrubs which grow wild.
[ ]
Malnourished hordes of people descend on us, begging for food. Their stories
are uniform, all telling of atrocities perpetuated on them by the Janjaweed,
which they believe were encouraged or in some cases assisted by government troops.

I hear constant talk about donkeys and, given the plight of the people, it is
difficult to take this seriously until I realise how important these animals
are. They help cultivate the land and are the main means of transport. They were
used by families to flee from the burning villages and without them hundreds of
thousands of people might be dead by now, through trying to cross the desert on

Many donkeys have perished because of lack of food and grazing space. Until
they are replaced people will not be able to return to their homelands. Donkey
corpses litter the desert routes and it is left to the vultures, aided by the
remorseless sun, to work on their remains.
[ ]
We pass the hospital, which has had its tower roof blown off by a bomb from a
government plane. It seems to confirm what many people in the IDP camps have
told us about the pattern of violence against them: first the government planes
bombed their villages, then a mixture of army troops and trigger-happy Janjaweed
came in Land Cruisers.

The third wave, exclusively Janjaweed on horseback and camel then plundered the
villages; shooting, raping and burning everything behind them.

As nomads, the Janjaweed have no inclination to settle and farm the land they
have stolen. Their modus operandi is simple; loot the villages, burn them down
and move on. But the cruel irony for all Darfur is that with no one left to
farm, soon there will be no food in the markets. The main source will be aid
deliveries to camps and population centres, thus rendering them even more vulnerable
to attack.

Our Land Cruiser bounces through the desert track across the rocky and
scrub-laden terrain towards the old military checkpoint of Sissi. The work of the
Janjaweed is evident as we pass through village after village, all burned out and
deserted; first Majmara, where unwanted goods lay strewn around, then the larger
settlement of Mornei, once busy but now a charred ghost town.

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