Monday, June 14, 2004

"Bush officials say they are considering whether what is happening in Darfur amounts to genocide"  

New York Times, June 12, 2004

Eric Reeves
June 14, 2004

The question, though long overdue, is now being posed at the
appropriate levels within the Bush administration, Secretary of State
Colin Powell suggested in an interview with the New York Times:

"Mr. Powell steered clear of the term genocide in describing the events
in Darfur but said that administration lawyers had begun a review to
determine whether the conditions for genocide have been met." (New York
Times, June 12, 2004)

Such a determination, given the hundreds of thousands of lives at risk
for lack of adequate response from the international community, is
critically important. For as Secretary Powell is certainly aware, the
US---as a "contracting party" to the 1948 UN Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide---must respond (with
other contracting parties) to prevent genocide if it is determined that
this ultimate crime is being committed in Darfur.

What we must hope, indeed demand is that a determination on this issue
be made on the merits. In Rwanda in 1994, this was clearly not the
case, as Samantha Power makes devastatingly clear in her searing chapter
on the Rwandan genocide (in "'A Problem from Hell': American and the Age
of Genocide"). Power quotes, for example, from a discussion paper,
prepared by a Defense Department official (and dated May 1, 2004---long
after it was fully clear that genocide was underway):

"1. Genocide Investigation: Language that calls for an international
investigation of human rights abuses and possible violations of the
genocide convention. Be careful. Legal at State [Department] was
worried about this yesterday---Genocide finding could commit [the US
government] to actually 'do something.'" [last two sentences were
emphasized in memo; quoted verbatim from Power's book, page 359]

Let us hope that a determination concerning genocide in Darfur will not
be governed by a fear that this might "commit [the US government] to
actually 'do something.'"

Moreover, the determination should be made on an urgently expedited
basis, using currently available information, and all available
reconnaissance assets (which the Defense Department has made publicly
clear are quite considerable for Darfur). With a predicted casualty
figure of between a third of a million and 1 million civilians, this is
not a time for elaborate case studies, or parsing of legal hairs. The
evidence of completed and impending human destruction is overwhelming:
it demands immediate and appropriate characterization.

Moreover, given the obligations of the Genocide Convention to "prevent"
genocide, it is perfectly reasonable, and morally imperative, for the
administration lawyers to err on the side of a broader construal of the
implications of evidence at hand: if there is any doubt, then the
determination should be that genocide is being committed or threatened,
and should be stopped before hundreds of thousands die.

The administration should also provide all evidence concerning genocide
in Darfur to the presidential campaign committee of Senator John Kerry,
in particular the people working on his foreign policy team (like
long-time aide for Senator Kerry's work on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, Nancy Stetson). For it is incumbent upon Senator Kerry to
announce his own finding, on the basis of evidence available, as to
whether the realities of Darfur are genocidal. The issue is too
momentous, and again, the human stakes are simply too high for a US
presidential candidate to content himself with agnosticism.

In a June 7, 2004 campaign press release, John Kerry declared that:

"I believe that the United States and the international community must
act immediately to apply effective pressure on the Government of Sudan
to rein in its militia proxies and to immediately provide unrestricted
access for humanitarian aid and aid workers."

And Senator Kerry also made explicit reference to Darfur in the context
of the Rwandan genocide:

"The world did not act in Rwanda, to our eternal shame. Now we are at
another crisis point this time in Sudan. The Sudan's western Darfur
region demands the world's immediate attention and action." (Kerry
Campaign press release, June 7, 2004)

A determination of genocide is clearly implied in this statement, but
this is not good enough: Senator Kerry must declare publicly and
explicitly whether he believes the evidence in Darfur supports a finding
of genocide, and tell the American people and the international
community what he would do if were President, and such determination
were made. To do anything else is simply political expediency.


The urgency of such determination has been signaled by countless
reports and dispatches highlighting the clear racial/ethnic animus in
the destruction of the African tribal groups of Darfur by Khartoum's
regular military and its Arab militia forces (the Janjaweed). We have
known for months of the role of racial/ethnic hatred in the destruction
of the Fur, Massaleit, Zaghawa, and other African tribal groups:

"Tamur Bura Idriss, 31, said he lost his uncle and grandfather. He
heard the gunmen say, 'You blacks, we're going to exterminate you.' He
fled deeper into Chad that night." (The New York Times [dateline: Tine,
Chad/Darfur] January 17, 2004)

"'I believe this is an elimination of the black race,' one tribal
leader told IRIN (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, Junaynah
[Darfur], December 11, 2003)

"A civilian from Jafal confirmed [he was] told by the Janjawid: 'You
are opponents to the regime, we must crush you. As you are Black, you
are like slaves. Then all the Darfur region will be in our hands. The
government is on our side. The government plane is on our side to give
us ammunition and food.'" (Amnesty International Report, February 3,

"A refugee farmer from the village of Kishkish reported...the words
used by the militia: 'You are Black and you are opponents. You are our
slaves, the Darfur region is in our hands and you are our herders.
(Amnesty International Report, February 3, 2004)

Of particular note in this context of racially/ethnically animated
human destruction are the increasingly numerous reports from the ground
in Darfur that Khartoum is actually incorporating the Arab Janjaweed
militias---the primary instrument by which African tribal groups are
being destroyed---into the regular army, or at least giving them
uniforms and all the appearance of being regular military forces. This
continues a pattern of deep deception on Khartoum's part, and an effort
to obscure the extent of its relation to the Janjaweed and thus its
culpability in massive human destruction, with thousands of villages
burned and pillaged; water systems blown up or poisoned; countless
atrocities, including rape and torture; the displacement of over 1.3
million people, with over 2 million now at acute risk; mass executions;
and the de facto incarceration of hundreds of thousands in concentration
camps without humanitarian access

The rapidly growing urgency of a full international response to
Khartoum's war on the African peoples of Darfur is made even clearer by
several recent reports from the region. Agence France-Pressed reports
on the risk facing 500,000 children in Darfur:

"The UN children's fund UNICEF has warned that half a million children
are in danger in Darfur, as its director Carol Bellamy prepared to visit
the war-ravaged region of western Sudan on Sunday and Monday."

"A recent UNICEF report described the situation of displaced children
and women in Darfur as 'grim', saying that child malnutrition in the
region had reached as high as 23 percent. This was well above the
internationally recognized 'critical level' of 15 percent, the agency
noted." (Agence France-Press, June 12, 2004)

And the food situation becomes more dire every day because of
Khartoum's continued obstruction of humanitarian access and delivery.
African tribal populations continue to be "systematically" denied
humanitarian aid (the characterization is that of the UN). Food
supplies are critically low; transport for humanitarian aid in presently
completely inadequate; and most ominously, there will be no fall harvest
anywhere in Darfur because of Khartoum's orchestration of massive
insecurity in the rural areas. An engineered famine will certainly
occur; the only question is how many hundreds of thousands will die.

Mass executions of African peoples are also being carried out, as many
human rights reports have made clear and as The Guardian (UK) reports
today, following an assessment mission to Darfur by Asma Jahangir, the
UN special rapporteur on executions:

"Diplomatic pressure grew on the government of Sudan yesterday as the
US and the United Nations both accused it of complicity in the killings
of thousands of people in the western region of Darfur. Asma Jahangir,
the UN special rapporteur on executions, said she had 'credible evidence'
that Sudanese forces and government-backed militias had carried out
summary executions of civilians. 'I received numerous accounts of the
extra-judicial and summary executions carried out by government-backed
militias and by the security forces themselves,' she told reporters in
(The Guardian, June 14, 2004)

Ms. Jahangir also said there was "no ambiguity" in the "link" between
Khartoum's regular forces and Arab militia forces operating in Darfur.


A determination of genocide cannot be avoided, cannot be hedged or
trimmed for political purposes. Nor can those making such determination
refuse to confront the overwhelming body of evidence that should make
such determination straightforward.

Genocide is being committed on a massive scale in Darfur, and it is
long past time for the US and other members of the international
community to declare as much---and act accordingly.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?