Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 16 December 2003

Darfur: "Ethnic Cleansing," Mass Displacement, Civilian Slaughter Require Action

By Eric Reeves

December 16, 2003 — All evidence presently available, from an increasing number of sources, suggests that the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum is using the denial and manipulation of humanitarian access as a weapon of war in the western province of Darfur. The targets of this "weapon" are the
African peoples of Darfur, primarily the Masseleit, Fur, and Zaghawa
tribal groups, perceived by Khartoum as the civilian base for the
current military insurgency in this long-marginalized region.
Deployment of such a savage "weapon" is nothing new on Khartoum’s part;
indeed, it has been a hallmark of the regime’s war on the people of
southern Sudan for many years. But continued international acquiesce in
the deliberate destruction of innocent civilians through the denial of
emergency of medical and food aid is morally intolerable.

It is already past time for the international community to coalesce
around a policy that makes clear to Khartoum that "national sovereignty"
does not trump the urgent needs of desperate people. Unless the
National Islamic Front immediately removes all restrictions on
international relief aid, there must be a robust humanitarian
intervention in Darfur, with all necessary military protections. Given
the nature of the impending human destruction, and the growing
descriptions of that destruction as based on ethnicity---"ethnic
cleansing" is the term diplomats and others are increasingly
using---there is clear justification for such a policy. Though
"humanitarian intervention" has proved in recent years to be a
thoroughly vexed issue, the nature of the growing crisis in Darfur, with
many hundreds of thousands of civilians at clear risk because of
Khartoum’s brutal war policies, justifies such intervention on the basis
of virtually all extant analyses.

Though there is much that is presently unknown about the crisis in
Darfur, recent UN humanitarian assessments, assessments by other
humanitarian organizations, as well as first-hand research by human
rights groups, fully justify the ominous conclusions of senior UN
officials. Despite the fact that the "humanitarian situation in Darfur
has quickly become one of the worst in the world," humanitarian access
has been shut down and manipulated to the point where the UN
secretary-general’s envoy for humanitarian affairs in Sudan has declared
that for all practical purposes humanitarian activities have come to a
"standstill." Another senior official has very recently suggested
that the motive for denying humanitarian access is to prevent the
witnessing of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Further, again according to senior UN officials, civilians are being
"systematically" targeted, even as humanitarian access to these
people is being "systematically" denied. The "system" is quite clearly
based on race and ethnicity. The number of civilians displaced within
Darfur and into Chad is now 700,000, with a war-affected population of 1
million. (For full citations of UN sources, see previous analyses of
Darfur crisis from this source, December 9 and 12, 2003; available upon

Invoking the terrible famine in Bahr el-Ghazal province in 1998, Save
the Children (UK) has recently reported that "current overall
malnutrition rates are reported to be alarmingly high, with Global Acute
Malnutrition rates reaching 25% in some of the affected areas of Darfur,
which are accessible to relief workers" ("Sudan Emergency Statement,"
December 10, 2003). The International Crisis Group notes that
"government-supported militias deliberately target civilians from the
Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit groups, who are viewed as ’African’ in Darfur"
and that the latest attacks by these Khartoum-backed Arab militias
"occurred deep inside the Fur tribal domain, against unprotected
villages with no apparent link to the rebels other than their ethnic
profile" (ICG, "Sudan: Towards and Incomplete Peace, December 11,

Will the international community wait until the people of Darfur are
dying by the thousands? by the tens of thousands? When will
destruction of these African lives morally command a response? Will
Khartoum’s assertion of "national sovereignty" be sufficient to keep
present humanitarian operations in this desperate arena at a
"standstill," the word used by the UN secretary-general’s Special
Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs for Sudan? If this is not an occasion
for robust "humanitarian intervention," why not?

Too many questions, receiving too little in the way of answers. Every
day that passes without a forceful articulation of international resolve
to respond in Darfur is another day that convinces the Khartoum regime
that there is no such resolve. Either there is a clear indication to
Khartoum that a robust humanitarian intervention is imminent, or the
slide toward massive catastrophe in Darfur will only accelerate.

- Eric Reeves
- Smith College
- Northampton, MA 01063