Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 16 March 2008

Does it matter exactly how many died in Darfur?


“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it." Albert Einstein: The World As I See It

By Mahmoud A. Suleiman

March 15, 2008 — Dr. Jan Coebergh, a doctor with an interest in epidemiology and worked in Darfur before the present crisis write in the Parliamentary Brief, London, February 2005 was asking the eternal question: “Does it matter how many have died? Then he answers: Yes. It gives us a correct picture of the scale of the tragedy in Darfur and helps us measure our response. Counting the dead also values them. And it allows us to properly estimate the cost in lives this war will claim in the months ahead”. . John Hagan, Sociology professor at North-western University in Evanston, Illinois, study co-author said in the National Geographic News that Darfur Death Toll Is Hundreds of Thousands Higher Than Reported. He added saying:"patterns of underestimation that prevailed in the press had the effect of diminishing the sense of urgency."

The BBC science reporter Matt McGrath says that politically, accurate figures are crucial in determining whether the deaths in Darfur are genocide or - as the Sudanese government says - an exaggeration. Dr John Hagan of America’s Northwestern University believes his figures are the most credible estimate to date. "We’ve tried to find a way of working between those overestimations and underestimations," he told the BBC. "We believe the procedures we have used have allowed us to come to very conservative and cautious conclusions which we used to try to identify a floor to these estimates - a floor figure of 200,000. “We do not believe it is possible or defensible to go below in estimating the scale of this genocide." He and his colleague believe the eventual death toll may be much higher. They have made no distinction between those dying as a result of violence and those dying as a result of starvation or disease in refugee camps.

The debate over the war-related death toll in the Darfur conflict that ranging from the National Congress Party (NCP) government of Sudan (GOS) claims of 10 000 deaths to charges of 200 000 or more by the humanitarian organisations carries on unabated. It is almost as if a smaller number of deaths would justify the GOS to kill more as it has been doing, or as if increasing the death toll adds to the righteousness of the people of Darfur. In the end, what does it matter exactly how many died? Even Joseph Stalin understood that our humanity disappears when death becomes a glut of statistics!

The Darfur war has become one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts. Still, with the death toll rising and violence continues to rage in Darfur, the auction on Darfur Death Toll is not over yet. The National Congress (NCP) government presidential adviser Nafie Ali Nafie, who was in Tokyo holding talks with Japanese officials on Friday , 07 March 2008, was quoted as saying, in reference to number of Darfur deaths, “Our estimate is not more than 10,000, quite a different number from 200,000”. Humanity continues to feel shocked into recognizing the startling capacity for evil within the hearts of the elements of the NCP regime in Sudan. These callous heartless genocidal regime club card-carrying members’ unrepentant position towards the catastrophe of their making in Darfur is unparalleled. Mr. Hagan’s estimate is similar to that of Eric Reeves, an independent Sudan watcher, whose reading of the available surveys is that 380,000 people have died so far. Both Mr. Hagan and Mr. Reeves say that civilians continue to die at a rate of 15,000 per month in Darfur. Of course, these analyses cannot be precise. But the consensus is that the death toll is more than three times higher than the midpoint of the numbers that Mr. Zoellick attributed to the State Department.

Washingtonpost.com in its Editorial under the title Darfur’s Real Death Toll said that Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick deserves credit for visiting Sudan and declaring that "what has gone on in Darfur has to stop." He may feel that the precise mortality numbers don’t matter. But his international partners will continue to drag their feet unless they are forced to confront the full horror of the killings. If they are allowed to believe that the death toll is one-third of its real level, the Russians and Chinese will pursue their commercial interests in arming Sudan’s government and extracting its oil; Europe will make inadequate humanitarian gestures; the Arab world will ignore the murderous policy of a fellow Muslim government; and the African Union, which has a peace-monitoring force in Darfur, will not step up its intervention enough to stop the killing. Mr. Zoellick needs to shake everyone awake. Next time he should cite better numbers.

Reuters’ Madeline Chambers quoted a British parliamentary report as said that the Darfur death toll may be 300,000. Tony Baldry, chairman of the cross-party International Development Committee said: “The world’s failure to protect the people of Darfur from the atrocities committed against them by their own government is a scandal." The committee also said it believed around 300,000 people may have died, far higher than previous death tolls which it said had underestimated the scale of the disaster.

The population of Darfur is estimated as 7.6 million. Now in its 5th year, the crisis in Darfur Region of Sudan has claimed as many as 450000 lives, displayed 2.5 million people and left up to 4 million dependent on outside aid. The United Nations and non-governmental aid organizations provide 95 percent of the aid for Darfur. . At least a dozen aid workers have been killed in Darfur. The U.N. relief chief, John Holmes, reported to the Security Council that the aid operation is "increasingly fragile... Staff have been physically and verbally abused, offices and residences raided, and personal belongings stolen," he said. "Vehicles are routinely hijacked at gunpoint, often in broad daylight." The conflict also has made Sudan the World’s most unstable nation for the 2nd year in a row, according to Annual Index of Failed States. Peace prospects in Darfur remain uncertain. Several cease-fire agreements have been negotiated between various rebel groups and the government, but they have all broken down.

The Joint Mediation Team of AU and UN Special Envoys for Darfur, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim and Mr. Jan Eliasson after meetings with the Government of Sudan (GOS) and the main rebel groups, for the Darfur peace process were reported to have said that they were hopeful that talks aimed at ending the conflict in the war-wracked Sudanese region can reconvene soon. The UN’s Jan Eliasson and his AU counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim have just wrapped up a weeklong visit to the country in an effort to infuse new momentum into the stalled peace process. "Our overall impression is that there seems to be cause for some degree of hope and optimism," Mr. Salim told reporters in the capital, Khartoum, on Saturday, referring to the prospects for re-launching the talks that began in Sirte, Libya, in late October 2007. The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants on 2nd May 2007 against two Sudanese officials whom they believe to be responsible for war crimes and other crimes against humanity in Darfur, including murder, rape, torture and forced displacement of villagers. They are Ahmad Haroun, former state minister of interior, currently state minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Janjaweed commander Ali Mohammad Abd-al-Rahman. The Sudanese government has said it would not hand over the men. Justice for Darfur Seems long way away; maybe tomorrow when pigs fly! Now, does it matter exactly how many died in Darfur? YES! Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Joseph Stalin = steel), one of the most powerful and murderous dictators in history, the supreme ruler of the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century, maybe right after all when he said: “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”.

Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman is the Deputy Chairman of the General Congress for Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). He can be reached at mahmoud.abaker@gmail.com

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