Michael Margolies on the Sudan -- Genocide By Any Other Name

There’s been a fair amount of attention offered to the ten-year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.  At the time, many governments insisted that this was not “genocide” but rather “ethnic cleansing.” This is more than a semantic distinction; international law compels aggressive military action to avert a genocide. President Clinton later apologized to the Rwandans for our apathy in the face of their suffering. Is President Bush setting himself up for the same sort of after-the-damage-is-done mea culpa in the Sudan?

The peace negotiations going on for some two years in Naivasha, Kenya haven’t stopped Sudan’s National Islamic Front Government from continuing the wholesale slaughter of the nation’s blacks.

The genocidal record of the predatory Arab-Islamic government in the north is well known by now: butchering of two million black Christians and southern animists; inciting and facilitating the massive displacement and exile of a large portion of the black population; kidnapping and enslaving as many as 200,000 black women and children; amputation as a common penalty for attempted escape; raping of women and even boys.

Eventually Khartoum was dragged into peace negotiations because of pressure from internationally based humanitarian, religious and activist groups, the U.S. Congress’s passage of the Sudan Peace Act, and an involved Bush Administration that actively pushed the process.  Overall observers believe verifiable progress was being made.

But just when some areas in the south of Sudan life had begun to get back to something resembling a normal existence, the locus of slaughter, displacement and slavery shifted to the blacks of the large western province of Darfur, who are mostly Muslim

Because Darfur had essentially been left alone all along by the government in Khartoum, it was never a part of Sudan’s peace talks. And while given their druthers the regime has made clear its preference for murdering, raping and enslaving Christian and animist blacks, they have now shown the racialist side of their regime by treating Darfur’s black Muslims in the same fashion. Khartoum has been using its regular army troops, and, as it did in the south, local Arab militia, called janjawid, to perform what some are now calling ethnic cleansing and others are calling genocide.

That this savagery is based on race is self-evident.  At a little-noticed March 11 House Subcommittee on Africa, Sudan expert Eric Reeves quoted from two statements by Amnesty International, “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.’”  And, “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.’”  Reeves also noted the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks quoted one black tribal leader as saying, “I believe this is an elimination of the black race.”

Nicholas Kristof of the Times, sent recently to the Chad-Sudan border has seen and heard the same.  In his March 24 column, “Ethnic Cleansing, Again,” he tells of a 26-year-old farmer, Idris Abu Moussa, who describes Arab militia coming into his village, killing 50 people, including his father, grandmother, uncle and two brothers. “They don’t want any blacks left,” Moussa explains. Kristof also quotes Halime Ali Souf, who fled into Chad with her infant after her husband was killed: “They want to exterminate us blacks.” Thus far, 100,000 people have fled into eastern Chad.

Unlike in the south, where there was virtually no effective military opposition to the Muslim massacres, there are two main groups in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), and the Justice and Equality Movement (GEM), actively fighting against the Khartoum government.  Khartoum points to these groups to justify their military actions.

Addressing Congress, Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, detailed gang rapes of students at a girls school, villages burned to the ground, and the like. Khartoum, said Winter, has “mounted nothing less than a scorched earth strategy… rather than negotiating with [the SLM/A and GEM], the government has chosen to respond with brutal force against the civilian population even when there is no evidence of contact with opposition groups.”

On April 21, the Bush Administration, which has gotten deserved plaudits for energizing the talks, even having Colin Powell stay in contact with various participants, issued a report on its findings, as required by provisions of the Sudan Peace Act. But given a chance to increase diplomatic, and much more importantly, meaningful economic sanctions relating to loans and loan guarantees for oil exploration and development, the president, acting on advice from the State Department, instead “determined and certified that ?the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement are negotiating in good faith and that negotiations should continue.’” The State Department, which of course has a reputation over the years of being too accommodating if not downright soft toward Arab states, in effect asserted moral equivalency between the SLM/A, GEM — both of which have more than their share of unsavory characters — and the genocidal Sudanese government. And it seems reasonable to speculate that the recent difficulties in Iraq have left the U.S. Government reluctant to put anything else on its plate.

Kristof calls a spade a spade: “…Sudan’s behavior…easily meets the definition of genocide in Article 2 of the 1948 convention against genocide.  He also wrote”…right now, the government of Sudan is engaging in genocide against three large African tribes in its Darfur region here.  Some 1,000 people are being killed a week, tribeswomen are being systematically raped….” He is calling for the United Nations Security Council to meet.

Reeves has suggested that Khartoum and its surrogate militias would likely flee from a well armed professional international force securing road corridors, air strips and critical junctions. It should be borne in mind that estimates are that a 2,000 man United Nations force, according to most accounts, would have prevented a good deal of the Rwandan genocide.  And that it was only when the United Nations forces arrayed in Rwanda backed down that the killing began in earnest.

Colin Powell has talked of sending as many as ten thousand troops under the auspices of the United Nations to police Sudan should a peace deal be reached.  Why not half that many in Darfur right now to protect an innocent population?  What is the world waiting for?  What more must it passively witness?

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