Friday, June 11, 2004
"Without help, a million could die in Darfur"
Thursday, June 10, 2004
[Friday, June 11, 2004 print edition]
NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts The human catastrophe that the Sudanese
government has engineered in Sudan's western province of Darfur is
worsening daily. The head of the U.S. Agency for International
Development, Andrew Natsios, recently declared, "If we get relief in, we
could lose a third of a million. If we do not, it could be a million."
Present evidence suggests that relief will not get in. The government
in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, is continuing to obstruct aid and is
refusing to end violence by its marauding Arab militia allies, the
Janjaweed, against Darfur's African tribespeople, thousands of whom have
been driven into concentration camps.
In short, genocide is unfolding, with numbers that may exceed those in
Rwanda, and nothing is being done to ensure "we get relief in." What can
stop this ghastly reprise of the moral failure of 1994?
The UN Security Council has hesitated for months to respond to the
Darfur crisis. In recent weeks, as some response became inevitable,
Darfur occasioned only a generic expression of "grave concern."
But while concern within the Security Council is reportedly growing,
there is no clear movement toward the only action that will get relief
in: humanitarian intervention. Such intervention must provide military
protection to ensure the safe movement of emergency humanitarian food,
medical supplies and personnel. It must entail militarily securing the
concentration camps that are now filled with terribly vulnerable and
Not to act is to acquiesce in genocide - to fail to prevent Khartoum's
deliberate efforts to bring about "conditions of life calculated to
bring about the physical destruction of groups in whole or in part," to
quote the 1948 UN Genocide Convention. Regular military and Janjaweed
forces have relentlessly targeted the civilians within these African
groups, perceived by Khartoum as supporters of the African insurgents
who have been fighting the government.
Water systems, food stocks and agricultural tools have been destroyed,
cattle looted, thousands of villages burned, men executed, women and
girls gang-raped. The United Nations estimates that one million people
who have been driven from their homes remain displaced within Sudan and
another 200,000 have fled across the border to Chad.
The response to this genocide must be guided by a sense of overwhelming
urgency, given the extreme vulnerability of vast displaced populations.
Hundreds of thousands of lives depend upon the international community's
ability to provide unfettered assistance.
The Khartoum regime has proved resourceful in varying its
obstructionist tactics. Under these circumstances humanitarian
intervention is demanded.
Such intervention will require internationalizing the rail line from
Port Sudan, through Khartoum, and on to Darfur in the west. Without rail
transport, humanitarian capacity will be seriously inadequate. Urgent
rail repairs and spare train parts (presently embargoed by the United
States), as well as military protection, will be required. Planning for
securing and operating the rail line must begin immediately.
Military planners advising the United Nations must also quickly
calculate the number of troops required to liberate camps currently
without any international humanitarian presence. Next, all camps should
be brought fully under UN control to ensure the humanitarian access
that, according to the United Nations, Khartoum has "systematically"
The United Nations must pass a resolution authorizing intervention by
mid-June. This should, as the advocacy group Human Rights Watch recently
argued, have the military authority of Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
It is likely, however, that the United Nations will fail to act. So
those countries that are contracting parties to the UN convention on
genocide are morally and legally obliged to begin planning now how they
will prevent further genocide in Darfur.
The chances of immediate intervention in Darfur appear slim. As in
Rwanda, much can be traced to variously motivated refusals to use the
word genocide, substituting in its place the term "ethnic cleansing." As
Samantha Power, author of a history of genocide, has suggested, "ethnic
cleansing" is ultimately "a euphemistic halfway house," a reflection of
Darfur permits no halfway measures, not when hundreds of thousands of
lives are imperiled. Genocidal destruction requires urgent planning for
humanitarian intervention - and it should begin now.
[Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has written and published
extensively on Sudan.]