Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 1 April 2004

Darfur: another chance to combat genocide in Africa


By Eric Reeves, The Baltimore Sun

April 1, 2004 — Another African genocide is gathering pace in the far western Darfur
region of Sudan just as the grim 10th anniversary of the slaying of
perhaps 800,000 people in Rwanda is being commemorated.

The United States, the United Nations and the rest of the international
community failed to halt the slaughter by Hutu militants of Tutsis and
politically moderate Hutus in Rwanda in April 1994.

It was an unforgivable moral failure. And yet a lesson has not been
learned because, despite the current vast civilian destruction in Darfur
that is directed against African tribal groups of the region, the world
is unprepared to intervene. About 6 million people live in Darfur, half
of whom are affected by the war.

The National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum, which came to power in a
military coup in 1989 (deposing an elected government and aborting a
nascent peace agreement with southern Sudan), has been conducting war in
Darfur by the most brutal means imaginable over the past 14 months. It
is systematically bombing African villages and refugees, attacking
undefended noncombatants on the ground, blowing up vital water wells and
severely impeding humanitarian access to more than 800,000 internally
displaced persons.

The civil war in Darfur is not directly related to the catastrophic
20-year conflict in southern Sudan, which the National Islamic Front
pursued when it came to power. Rather, it is the regime’s brutal
military response to an insurgency by the African tribal groups, who
have been denied a fair share of national resources and political power.
They are unprotected from raids by marauding Arab militias.

An end to the north/south conflict may be in sight, in large measure
because of belated international pressure and diplomatic engagement. But
even with the culmination of precarious negotiations underway in Kenya
since July 2002, Khartoum has simultaneously accelerated its racist
military campaign against the long-aggrieved peoples of Darfur.

Despite urgent warnings from U.N. officials and human rights
organizations, despite the clear prospect of accelerating human
destruction with a terrible racial animus, there is no prospect of
international intervention. So the world may again be reduced to
impotent hand-wringing as tens of thousands of Africans die in a new

Increasingly, this genocidal destruction is being wrought by militias
of nomadic Arab groups in Darfur (the "Janjaweed," or warriors on
horseback)---allied with and directly supported by Khartoum. The deep
racial and ethnic animus in the savage attacks on African tribal groups
(primarily the Fur, the Masseleit and Zaghawa) has been made clear by
the United Nations, Amnesty International, the International Crisis
Group and myriad news reports from the long border between Sudan and
Chad, where another 135,000 civilians have fled.

Though the phrase of choice has been "ethnic cleansing," a senior U.N.
official recently noted that the appropriate point of reference is the
Rwandan genocide. Mukesh Kapila, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Sudan
until yesterday, has been remarkably forthright about the realities of

Mr. Kapila, who was present at the Rwandan genocide, told reporters
March 19: "[War in Darfur is] more than a conflict, it’s an organized
attempt to do away with one set of people. ... The only difference
between Rwanda and Darfur is the numbers involved of dead, tortured and
raped.... This is ethnic cleansing, this is the world’s greatest
humanitarian crisis, and I don’t know why the world isn’t doing more
about it."

Is the international community prepared to do more than speak about the
human catastrophe in Darfur, to do more than accept the very limited
humanitarian access Khartoum chooses to permit?

If the resolve exists, urgent planning and preparations must begin
immediately. A cross-border operation from Chad is the most practicable.
Permission will be required from Chad, but France has immense leverage
with the weak Chadian government of Idris Deby. Safe havens must be
militarily secured within Darfur for displaced civilians, already
suffering from what Doctors Without Borders describes as "catastrophic
mortality rates." Corridors for humanitarian aid within Darfur must be
militarily secured for desperately needed food, shelter, medical
supplies and the means to restore water supplies.

Such an operation will be difficult, will require close cooperation
among the United Nations, the United States, France and other European
countries and will demand resources. But as challenging as such
humanitarian intervention would be, the alternative is too appalling:
unconstrained genocide.

Some will argue that peace talks are the appropriate goal---and they
are if Khartoum is willing to negotiate. But the regime’s negotiating
record is one of shameful obduracy, deliberate stalling and outright

If we wait until we know whether it will be different this time, the
people of Darfur---presently dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a
week---will likely pay a terrible price for our unwarranted optimism.
Ten years from now we may have another grim anniversary to mark.

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and
has written and testified extensively on Sudan.

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