Thursday, July 01, 2004

Kofi Annan and Colin Powell in Darfur: Still No Appropriate Sense  

of Urgency, as Mortality Figures Rise Precipitously

Eric Reeves
July 1, 2004

For all the symbolic importance of trips by Kofi Annan and Colin Powell
to Khartoum and Darfur over the past two days, there is only one way to
measure the significance of these well-choreographed events: do they
move the international community closer to the humanitarian intervention
that alone can significantly mitigate massive genocidal destruction?
Judging by the exceedingly weak resolution floated by the US in the
United Nations Security Council, and by Kofi Annan's relentlessly
nebulous comments on a UN response to the Darfur crisis, the answer must
be no.


The resolution proposed by the US would have the UN Security Council
"impose an arms embargo and travel ban on Arab militias blamed for
attacks on African villagers in Darfur" (Associated Press, July 1,
2004). The draft resolution requires that the Security Council "decide
after 30 days whether the arms embargo and travel ban against the
militias should be extended to others 'responsible for the commission of
atrocities in Darfur'" (BBC, July 1, 2004).

It is difficult to imagine a more inconsequential resolution. The
Janjaweed militia have already been extremely heavily armed by Khartoum,
and as Human Rights Watch has insistently pointed out, have increasingly
been coordinating with and incorporated into Khartoum's regular military
forces. An "arms embargo" that does not include the Khartoum regime,
that does not include those who supply arms to these brutal militia
forces, is worse than useless. For this conveys a sense, through the
authority of the Security Council, that something meaningful is being
done when this is patently not true.

A travel ban on the Janjaweed militia leaders is even more pointless.
Most of these men have no ambition to travel; many have already been
moved within Sudan and if necessary can be given new identifications,
and identity documents. These will be provided by the very security
organs within the Khartoum regime that have overseen the Janjaweed's
destruction and atrocities in Darfur.

Moreover, the expansive 30-day time-frame for deciding whether further
action should be taken makes a mockery of the urgency defining the
unfolding catastrophe in Darfur. Recent data from Doctors Without
Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres help to substantiate a gross mortality
figure of over 100,000 for the past 16 months (see below). Asma
Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or
arbitrary executions, reported recently that the "number of black
Africans killed by Arab militias in the Darfur region of Sudan is 'bound
to be staggering'":

"Ms. Jahangir said that during her visit, 'nearly every third or fourth
family' she spoke to in the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs)
within Darfur had lost a relative to the militias. 'It's very hard to
say [accurately] how many people have been killed,' she said, but
interviews with IDPs indicated it would be 'quite a large number. They
are bound to be staggering.'" (UN News Centre, June 29, 2004)

It is indeed difficult to extrapolate from Jahangir's statistical
generalization about bereft families in Darfur, but it strongly suggests
a number in excess of 100,000.

Mortality figures and projections from the US Agency for International
Development continue to be ignored by most wire services and news media
reports on Darfur, despite the authoritative research that lies behind
them (at:
Assuming with the UN, the European Union, and the US a figure of 2.2 to
2.3 million "war-affected" persons in Darfur (see analysis by this
writer, "Quantifying Genocide in Darfur," June 28, 2004; available upon
request), and assuming the current US AID Gross Mortality Rate (GMR) of
4 people per day per population of ten thousand, then the weekly
mortality total is approximately 7,000. This suggests that even if a
Security Council resolution were to pass within the week, more than
30,000 will have died before the Security Council considers follow-up
action. By that time, US AID data indicate that the Crude Mortality
Rate will be 10 persons per day per population of 10,000, or more than
15,000 people dying every week.

This will be the height of the rainy season (which has almost fully
arrived); transport difficulties will be at their greatest; humanitarian
intervention will then be most difficult.


What accounts for US willingness to support such an exceedingly weak
resolution? Much of the answer apparently lies in the US understanding
that no stronger resolution would have a chance in the Security Council.
Indeed, it is reliably reported that Permanent Member China (with veto
power) is unhappy with any resolution that is specific to Darfur.
Russia is similarly disposed, as are Algeria and Pakistan. No one
following the internal deliberations at the Security Council feels that
any form of humanitarian intervention will be agreed to by
China---certainly not for the foreseeable future.

Colin Powell may believe, as the Associated Press reports, that a
Security Council resolution will get the attention of Khartoum's

"As a stick, Powell warned that the United States might take the issue
to the U.N. Security Council if Sudan ignored the problem. He believes
that got [National Islamic Front President Omar] Bashir's attention
because no government wants the stigma of Security Council sanctions."
(Associated Press, July 1, 2004)

But this is merely wishful thinking. Khartoum has endured
international opprobrium on many occasions, and has always outlasted all
who have attempted to rebuke this evil. The regime, without
international humanitarian intervention, will do what it has done for
the past fifteen years of brutal tyranny, persisting in a ruthless and
resourceful survivalism (the regime came to power by military coup
exactly 15 years ago, June 30, 1989, deposing an elected government and
aborting a promising peace process with southern Sudan).

In Darfur, Khartoum's efforts will likely entail marginally improving
some features of humanitarian access, and promising much more. But we
should recall what NIF Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail declared on the
eve of Colin Powell's arrival: "'there is no famine, no malnutrition and
no disease [in Darfur]'" (Associated Press, June 29, 2004). Such gross
and shameless dishonesty tells us all we need know about the worth of
Khartoum's promises. There may also be a few symbolic arrests of
Janjaweed scapegoats or stage-managed "disarming" ceremonies. But
again, we should recall that President Beshir promised on May 25, 2004
to rein in the Janjaweed; as numerous reports from the ground make clear
this simply has not happened, and the massive violence that has claimed
many tens of thousands of civilian lives (see below) continues


With the UN Security Council so exceedingly unlikely to provide the
Chapter VII authority for such intervention, the only authority for
international action comes in the form of the obligations deriving from
the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide. It is of particular consequence, then, that Colin Powell
offered such a deeply misleading and confusing explanation concerning a
determination of genocide in Darfur (interview with National Public
Radio, June 30, 2004, from Sudan):

"[There are] some indicators [of genocide in Darfur] but there was
certainly no full accounting of all indicators that lead to a legal
definition of genocide, in accordance with the terms of the genocidal
[sic] treaties." (NPR transcript, June 30, 2004)

This sentence is suspiciously opaque; listeners and readers may be
forgiven for failing to understand what is meant by "full accounting of
all indicators" or even "indicators." There is in any event only one
"genocidal treaty" to which the US is party, and crucially it demands
that the US undertake to "prevent genocide." It is not clear what other
"genocidal treaties" Secretary Powell had in mind, but the language of
the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide includes "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of
life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in
part." All available evidence, now voluminous, makes clear that this
clause describes, with terrifying precision, Khartoum's intention and
relentless actions in Darfur.

It is thus incumbent upon the Bush administration State Department to
answer much more clearly a series of questions that have grown steadily
more exigent since the announcement on June 11, 2004 that a genocide
determination had begun:

[1] When did the effort at a determination begin? When is it expected
to be made? Is there any relation between the timing of this
determination and actions at the UN Security Council? (Of course there
should not be, but there is more than a whiff of expediency in the

[2] What evidence is missing? What evidentiary threshold(s) has not
been met?

[3] Is there doubt about Khartoum's intent to "deliberately inflict on
the African tribal groups of Darfur conditions of life calculated to
bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part"? What is
any such skepticism based upon?

[4] Both the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and
senior officials of the US Agency for International Development have
described the human destruction in Darfur as "ethnic cleansing." What
is the difference between "ethnic cleansing" and genocide? What does
the latter term comprise that the former term does not? Is there any
reason to believe that the phrase "ethnic cleansing" is anything other
than a "euphemistic halfway house" between crimes against humanity and
genocide (as Samantha Power has put the issue)?

[5] US Ambassador at large Pierre-Richard Prosper has declared in
Congressional testimony that: "We see indicators of genocide, and there
is evidence that points in the direction [of genocide]" (Congressional
testimony before the House International Relations Committee, June 25,
2004; at http://allafrica.com/stories/200406250749.html).

Why are such "indicators" and "evidence" of genocide not enough to
obligate us (per Article 1 of the Genocide Convention) to "prevent
genocide" now, rather than waiting for a full legal determination? How
far short of the threshold for "prevention" are we? What further
evidence or indicators are required to reach this threshold?

[6] Secretary Powell also declares in his interview with National
Public Radio that:

"To spend a great deal of time arguing about the definition of what the
situation is isn't as important as identifying where the people are who
are in need." (NPR transcript, June 30, 2004)

But the argument isn't over "definition" but whether the realities of
Darfur match the definition offered in the Genocide Convention. And to
suggest that such determination is unimportant or unrelated to the
humanitarian task at hand is either ignorance or disingenuousness.
Certainly Powell's comment forces another question: Is there some basis
for international humanitarian intervention in Darfur other than a
Security Council resolution or fulfillment of obligations under the
Genocide Convention?


These questions require answers, and the urgency must be commensurate
with the scale of human destruction---achieved and impending. That
urgency is at least declared by Kofi Annan on the occasion of his own
trip to Darfur: "UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Sudan's government
that he wants to see progress within 48 hours resolving a bitter
conflict in the Darfur region" (Associated Press, July 1, 2004). But
what does this mean? What are the consequences if there is no "progress"
within the next 48 hours? And what constitutes "progress"? What are
the benchmarks by which we can measure it?

Annan seems now to have determined upon a course of saying the right
things, making the requisite appearance in Darfur---and then leaving the
real work to others. While invoking again the threat of military force
to protect the civilians of Darfur, this threat was first sounded on
April 7, 2004 (on the grim anniversary of the Rwandan genocide). It has
a conspicuously hollow sound when issued again only after three long
months of a deepening crisis have passed. Informed sources at the UN in
New York indicate that Annan has done none of the urgent lobbying of
Security Council members that is dictated by the crisis.

Indeed, Annan still cannot bring himself to use the terms genocide or
"ethnic cleansing" to describe Darfur's realities, despite the
emphatically repeated statements by Undersecretary for Humanitarian
Affairs Jan Egeland that Khartoum's orchestrated violence continues to
be directed against civilians in a "scorched-earth" campaign of "ethnic

"'These are totally defenceless people,' he said. 'Women and children
for the most part, and those who kill them are grown men with
Kalashnikov automatic rifles.'" (BBC June 4, 2004)


What is the scale of such violent destruction? As noted above, Asma
Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or
arbitrary executions, reported recently that the "number of black
Africans killed by Arab militias in the Darfur region of Sudan is 'bound
to be staggering'" (UN News Centre, June 29, 2004).

But Doctors Without Border/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has also
recently released important epidemiological research on violence
committed against the African populations of Darfur:

"A recent survey conducted by MSF and the epidemiological research
center Epicentre in the town of Mornay, West Darfur State, where nearly
80,000 people have sought refuge, found that one in 20 people were
killed in scorched earth attacks on 111 villages from September 2003
until February 2004. Adult men were the primary victims, but women and
children were also killed. Today, one in five children in the camp are
severely malnourished while irregular and insufficient food
distributions do not come close to meeting the basic needs of people
weakened by violence, displacement, and deprivation." (Doctors Without
Border/Medecins Sans Frontieres, "Emergency in Darfur, Sudan: No Relief
in Sight," June 21, 2004; release at

If we make the very conservative assumption that the Mornay region has
been especially violent, and that the 1 in 20 figure overstates by 50%
the global death rate for armed killings in Darfur, this still implies
(for a displaced population of 1.3 million) that over 40,000 people had
been violently killed between September 2003 and February 2004 (this
represents a weekly casualty figure of approximately 1,600). In the
four months (15 weeks) since the end of February, violent killings have
continued to be reported on a very wide-scale throughout Darfur,
subsiding recently only because the destruction of African villages is
now almost completed. Many people were of course killed violently
before September 2003 (the insurgency conflict broke out in February
2003; Janjaweed attacks on civilians accelerated dramatically in the
late spring of 2003). These data aggregated suggest a figure of 80,000
killed violently in the course of the war.

For the past two months, according to the US AID data, mortality from
malnutrition and disease has been rising for the larger population of
"war-affected" (2.2 to 2.3 million). The Global Mortality Rate has
moved from 1 death per day per 100,000 (early May) to 3 per day per
10,000 (early June) to 4 deaths per day per 10,000 (currently). During
these approximately nine weeks alone, morality from malnutrition and
disease in the larger "war-affected" population has likely been
approximately 40,000.

This yields a total civilian mortality figure to date of
120,000---growing at a rate of 7,000 per week.


Have the visits to Darfur by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN
Secretary-general Colin Powell made any substantial headway in
mitigating this genocidal destruction? The high profile of the visits
ensures greater financial support for UN agencies and humanitarian
organizations; it also increases the visibility of the Darfur
catastrophe. But nothing has been done to address the gross mismatch
between humanitarian need and current humanitarian capacity without
military intervention. The UN's World Food Program, for example, fell
short of feeding half a million people in June: it claims to have
provided food to 700,000, but the organization admits that 1.2 million
are in need of food assistance. Transport access is diminishing because
of the rains, and the number of people in need of food aid will
(according to WFP) rise to 2 million in three months. (See World Food
Program press release [Rome], June 29, 2004; at

Just as significantly, nothing has been done that will provide security
for the hundreds of thousands in camps for the displaced to which there
is no meaningful humanitarian access (at least half the displaced
population). These are desperate and weakened people, without food and
water, without latrines or sanitary facilities of any kind. They are
without medical assistance even as diseases like cholera, dysentery, and
mosquito-borne malaria are beginning to explode with the rains. They
are completely at the mercy of the brutal and heavily armed Janjaweed.

In short, despite the opportunities of the moment, and the significance
of these high-profile visits, nothing has been done to give this
cataclysm of human destruction its proper name---or to begin the actions
that can mitigate vast human destruction. The descent into the
abyss---the abyss of human suffering and death, the abyss of moral
failure---continues to gather pace.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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