Saturday, October 15, 2005

Genocide Again

The level of unawareness and apathy towards the atrocities that are occuring throughout the world are mind boggling to me. So many of my fellow students, professors, and neighbors are simply unaware that hundreds of thousands of people are being systematically murdered. Shedding light on the situation in Darfur, Sudan is one of my main objectives at the moment. I truly believe that if more people know and understand the situation, there may be a greater chance to stop the violence. The following is a brief outline of the history of the conflict, as well as an explanation of why nothing is being done to stop the killings.

Defining Genocide in Darfur

Shortly after the Rwandan genocide ended in 1994 the international community, riddled with guilt for not interceding to stop the slaughter of over a million Tutsis, pledged to let genocide happen “never again.” Unfortunately, the world seems to have forgotten this pledge. Genocide is happening again, not too far from Rwanda in the Darfur region of Sudan. The killings and displacement of thousands of people within Darfur is clearly genocide as outlined in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: deliberate and systematic attacks by the Arab Sudanese government, and militias under orders from the government are purposefully and maliciously bringing death and devastation to millions of non-Arab Africans in the Darfur region. Despite the evidence of massive atrocities occurring in Sudan, the world has sat idly by and done little to bring an end to the killings, rapes, and displacement of over a million people that is taking place in Darfur.

Most of Darfur’s six million people are Muslims, but in recent years, subdivisions between native Africans and outside Arabs within the region have caused tensions to rise. The native Africans are often called zurga or “blacks.”[i] Despite these labels, the physical differences between the non-Arab “blacks” and the Arabs are very difficult to distinguish.[ii] The political climate of Sudan also led to the current genocide because the predominantly Arab government in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, often overlooked the zurga for political positions, giving the jobs to Arabs within Darfur instead.

The tensions were further fueled by the two groups’ competition for fertile land. The Arabs in Darfur tend to be nomadic, herding camels and cattle. The indigenous Africans, on the other hand, are typically farmers. Feuds between the two rival groups escalated as droughts caused the desert to encroach on the rich land. The Sudanese government in Khartoum did little to stop the feuds. Instead of intervening to mediate an agreement between the nomadic Arabs and the Africans leaders in Khartoum generally ignored the Darfur conflicts,[iii] thus causing further animosity between the Arabs and the Africans.

Frustrated by political and economic discrimination, two African rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), carried out attacks against the predominantly Arab government on the morning of April 25, 2003. They targeted a small military base at an airport controlled by the Sudanese government. The result was the destruction of the military installation and airplanes, and the death of over 100 Sudanese soldiers.[iv]

’s president, Omar al-Bashir called for the elimination of the rebellion.[v] In order to have a superior military power over the rebels, President al-Bashir released Arab criminals from prison in exchange for their work in a government sponsored militia—the Janjaweed.[vi] Janjaweed is an Arabic term that roughly translated, means “evil horsemen.” Instead of targeting only the members of the rebel groups SLA and JEM, the black African civilians from tribes closely associated with the rebels were also targeted.[vii] Some members of the Sudanese government deny a connection to the Janjaweed militias, but evidence shows that the militias receive supplies and weapons through the government.

The government in Khatorum, in combination with the Janjaweed militias, plan and execute deliberate and violent attacks against non-Arab Darfurians throughout the region. According to then Secretary of State Colin Powell, evidence shows a “consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities…committed by Janjaweed and government forces against non-Arab villagers.”[viii] The Sudanese government uses aerial bombardments of tribal villages followed by ground attacks carried out by militias to eradicate the non-Arab Darfurians. The aerial assaults are carried out with Antonov aircraft, which have limited technologies. Often the bombs are dropped on villages haphazardly, without specific targets. After the aerial bombardment, the Janjaweed militias often ride into villages on horses and camels to take advantage of the chaotic aftermath. Killing, raping, and looting by the Janjaweed is prevalent after an aerial bombardment.

One reporter flying over Darfur noted that village after village seemed to be destroyed, bombed and burned by the government planes. These scars on the face of the arid terrain testify to the destruction of Darfur and its citizens. Although dozens of villages have been obliterated in the region, other villages seem to remain unscathed. Villages with predominantly Arab populations have remained untouched, and life has a semblance of normalcy in these pockets of Darfur.[ix]

Women are also specifically targeted by the Janjaweed. Evidence of rapes throughout Darfur permeates reports released by several international agencies. Amnesty International estimates that thousands of women and girls have been raped by Janjaweed militia since the conflict began two years ago. Some reports suggest that girls as young as six or eight years old are being exploited by the Janjaweed for sexual purposes. Many women and children have been abducted and forced to work in sexual slavery.[x]

The violence in Darfur cannot be captured in words, photographs, or films. The victims of the brutality will never have the words to help the world understand and know what they experienced. Images of family members killed at the hands of the Janjaweed or villages and homes destroyed by bombs will forever be ingrained in their minds.

Although the United States has termed the atrocities of Darfur “genocide,” other countries and international agencies such as the UN have been slow to follow suit. Countries on the United Nations’ Security Council have used the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to determine whether or not the violence in Darfur constitutes the label “genocide.” Although genocide is defined by the convention, there are no definitive interpretations of each article of the convention. The lack of a single standard and the diverse membership of the Security Council make the labeling of the Darfur violence “genocide” an arduous process.

Article Two of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as an act (or acts) “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”[xi]. The UN Security Council, the body which determines if genocide is occurring or not, does not agree on the issue of whether or not the killings in Darfur are aimed at destroying the entirety or most of the population of non-Arabs.[xii] Some members of the Security Council believe that the level of violence and the numbers of people killed do not constitute genocide because it is not a large enough portion of the population as a whole.

Although “killing members of the group” is the first component of genocide listed in Article II, the act of genocide is not limited to murder. Genocide can also mean inflicting “serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.”[xiii] The rape of thousands of women and girls by the Janjaweed militia are also a component of genocide because of the severe physical and emotional trauma of the sexual violence. Many women have been disowned by their families because of rape and hundreds of women have been impregnated by Janjaweed militia.

Another component of genocide is “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”[xiv] Many of the victims in Darfur are killed not only by the violent tactics of the Sudanese government and Janjaweed militia, but also by the conditions of life that the conflict has brought about. Thousands die from starvation, thirst, and exposure after they are forced to flee their burning villages and the Janjaweed. Animals have been killed and crops destroyed by the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed have also poisoned the water supply by dumping bodies into wells. Refugees fleeing from Darfur into neighboring Chad are forced to cross the desert that lies between the two countries. Thousands of displaced refugees have died trying to escape from their homeland due to the harsh conditions of the desert.

Although an official death toll for the Darfur conflict does not exist, estimates vary from anywhere between 70,000 and 400,000 people killed and over 1.2 million displaced.[xv] The discrepancies are due in large part to the fact that the Sudanese government has allowed few humanitarian agencies to enter Darfur in order to assess the situation and to estimate the numbers of people killed or displaced.

Based on the fact that one group, non-Arab, “black” Africans,” are being killed or displaced by the Arab government, it is probable that these crimes can be deemed “genocide.” The systematic attacks planned by the Sudanese government and carried out by Arab Janjaweed militias are intended to annihilate an entire people. These attacks will succeed unless the international community can understand that these crimes are genocide and ought to be stopped.

The UN Convention on Genocide has proven that the atrocity and horrible crime of genocide is not easily defined. The lack of a single standard and interpretation of the convention has led to many nations arguing about the numbers of people killed and the intent of the government, rather than actually pursuing an end to the violence. Some members of the UN Security Council, the body responsible for determining if genocide is occurring in Darfur, believe that the total number of people killed does not constitute genocide. This begs the question: how many people must die in order for genocide to be declared?

Darfur has been called today’s “worst humanitarian crisis”[xvi] but little is being done to bring peace and justice to the thousands of victims. The world cannot keep quiet any longer, we must act to save thousands who have little hope left. Thousands are dying while the UN argues over a term as arbitrary as genocide. What is more important: agreeing on a definition or saving a life?

[i] Power, Samantha. Dying in Darfur. The New Yorker, Aug. 30, 2004. Vol. 80 Issue 24 p.56-73, 18p.

[ii] Nordlinger, Jay. About Sudan, The National Review, May 23, 2005. Vol. 57 Issue 9 p.39-42, 4p.

[iii] Power, Samantha. Dying in Darfur. The New Yorker, Aug. 30, 2004. Vol. 80 Issue 24 p.56-73, 18p.

[iv] Power, Samantha. Dying in Darfur. The New Yorker, Aug. 30, 2004. Vol. 80 Issue 24 p.56-73, 18p.

[v] Thomas, Gwynn. Darfur: Not Yet a Genocide? Socialist Standard, Journal of the Socialist Party Sept. 2004.

[vi] Fleeing the Horsemen who Kill for Khartoum. The Economist May 2004, Vol. 371 Issue 8375, p21-23, 3p.

[vii] Straus, Scott. Darfur and the Genocide Debate Foreign Affairs Jan/Feb. 2005 Vol. 34, Issue 1 p 123 133, 12 p.

[viii] Powell, Colin. The Crisis in Darfur Testimony Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sept. 9, 2004.

[ix] Power, Samantha. Dying in Darfur. The New Yorker, Aug. 30, 2004. Vol. 80 Issue 24 p.56-73, 18p.

[x] Amnesty International Report on Sudan. July 19, 200 http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR540762004?open&of=ENG-SDN

[xi] Gellately, Robert & Kiernan, Ben. The Specter of Genocide Cambridge University Press 2003.

[xii] UN Chronicle Sept/Nov. 2004. Vol. 41 Issue 3 p70-71

[xiii] Gellately, Robert & Kiernan, Ben. The Specter of Genocide Cambridge University Press 2003.

[xiv] Gellately, Robert & Kiernan, Ben. The Specter of Genocide Cambridge University Press 2003.

[xv] Darfur’s Real Death Toll, The Washington Post. April 24, 2005, p.B06.

[xvi] Amnesty International Report on Sudan. July 19, 2004. http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR540762004?open&of=ENG-SDN