Darfur: The Politics of Genocide Denial Syndrome

Matthew Lippman. Journal of Genocide Research. Volume 9, Issue 2. June 2007.

On April 7, 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in marking the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide addressed the UN Commission on Human Rights and unveiled a plan to halt the continuing crime of genocide. Annan expressed the hope that one aspect of his lasting legacy would be a UN organization able to act “decisively” in combating genocide. In his five point plan of action, Annan advocated attacking the root causes of genocide, protecting non-combatants, ending impunity, creating an early warning system and responding vigorously to halt genocide. He admonished: “let us not wait [to act] until the only alternatives to military action are futile hand-wringing or callous indifference.”

At the same time that the Secretary General was proposing to halt genocidal violence, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland was warning of “ethnic cleansing” in Darfur, Sudan. Roughly two weeks earlier, Mukesh Kapila, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Darfur, had characterized the region as “the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.” He proclaimed that the “only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the numbers involved” and that this “is more than just a conflict, it is an organized attempt to do away with a group of people.”

In July 2004, Kofi Annan reported that the African people of Darfur are experiencing “terrible violence and suffering” and that many are living in “subhuman conditions” and that “[i]t is clear that serious crimes have been committed and there has been gross and systematic abuse of human rights.” He admonished the government of Sudan that it possessed a “sacred responsibility” to prevent the continuation of these atrocities.

Several non-governmental organizations and American commentators characterized Darfur as a genocide. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Review of Books, noted that of the 24,000 front-page stories in the New York Times during World War II, only six directly addressed the Nazi attack on European Jews and other groups. He argued that the same lack of attention and concern marked the massacres in Rwanda in 1994, the Armenian genocide of 1915, the Cambodian slaughter of the 1970s and the atrocities in Bosnia in the 1990s. Kristof bemoaned that in each instance the global community only responded following the end of the killings. He noted that Darfur, in contrast, is a “slow motion” genocide that was methodically unfolding before our eyes. Kristof admonished that the world community cannot credibly claim to be unaware of what is transpiring in Darfur.

In February 2005, Kristof confronted readers of his column with the “victims of our indifference” and published four photos from a “secret archive” of photos gathered by African Union monitors, many of which portray attacks on children and were described by Kristof as too “horrific for a newspaper.” The archive also included a document allegedly dictated by the President of Sudan to regional commanders and security officials. The text ordered the militia to “change the demography of Darfur and make it void of African tribes” and called for “killing, burning villages and farms, terrorizing people, confiscating property from members of African tribes and forcing them from Darfur.” Kristoff would later write that “[p]erhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Darfur isn’t that gunmen … have heaved babies into bonfires as they shout epithets against blacks. It’s that the rest of us are responding only with averted eyes and polite tut-tutting.”

Kristof’s accounts would later receive corroboration from Samantha Power, who although uncertain as to whether genocide was being carried out in Darfur, vividly described ethnically based attacks on African villages, mass rapes, murder and looting. In July 2004, philanthropist Daniel Wolf, writing in the Washington Post, recounted the story of a young woman who witnessed four of her young brothers and three of her cousins being thrown into a raging fire and reported that a male villager who attempted to save the children was himself beheaded and dismembered.

One of the most credible chroniclers of events in Darfur is Brian Steidle, a former US Marine officer assigned as a military observer to the African Union monitoring group in Darfur. Steidle documents what he terms the systematic extermination and genocide of “black Africans.” He claims that in these attacks women and children are singled out for slaughter and describes watching a village of 20,000 people being burnt to the ground. Steidle, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, recollects walking through villages in which “scores of women and children … had been killed … people had their ears cut off, their eyes plucked out, men … had been castrated and left to bleed … [T]his was an everyday occurrence.” Outside the village of Adwah he describes a field on which “you couldn’t walk around without stepping on human bones.” Steidle reflects that he did not want to “look back years from now and ask why we didn’t stop another genocide.”

This article sketches the background, development and international response to Darfur. The UN and associated regional organizations are very far from finding a solution in Darfur and this essay is in the nature of a preliminary commentary on the all too familiar inaction of the international community. In the aftermath of Bosnia and Rwanda, the world community avowed to prevent a recurrence of the scourge of genocide. In 2003, various observers warned that conflicts over land, water and governance in Darfur Sudan between African agricultural tribes and Arab nomadic tribes threatened to escalate into mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing. Security Council resolutions and political agreements have proven unable to halt the violence, which arguably constitutes a genocide. The reluctance of global powers to characterize Darfur as a genocide reflects a “genocide denial syndrome,” a reluctance to invoke the morally and politically significant term genocide. The focus is on the genocidal violence sponsored by the Sudanese regime. This should not be interpreted as dismissing the complexity of the conflict and the fact that some of the daily death and destruction is attributable to insurgent and autonomous criminal groups.

The Roots of the Conflict in Darfur

The roots of the Darfur conflict can be traced to the economic pressures that have been building in the region over the last several decades. Darfur traditionally has been an underdeveloped region of Sudan in which the indigenous Muslim population views itself as divided between African agriculturalists and Arab nomadic pastoralists. The non-Arabs are drawn from various tribes, including the majority Fur, and Masaalit and Zaghwa, while the semi-nomadic Arabic speaking tribes are comprised of tribes such as Rizeigat, Mahaiya, Irayqat and Beni Hussein. This economic divide gradually has come to be viewed as corresponding to racial distinctions. The perceived racial differences between Africans and Arabs, although blurred by intermarriage, have increasingly dominated the politics, sociology and politics of Darfur.

The historical pattern has been for nomadic tribes to drift to the agricultural regions in the dry season (November through April) in search of water and grazing land. This migration led to a particularly intense conflict between African and non-African over land in the mid-1980s when the region experienced drought and increasing desertification. These conflicts escalated with the introduction of sophisticated weaponry into Darfur by outside powers competing for influence.

The conflict over land has fuelled claims by the Arab tribes that they have been underrepresented in the Fur-dominated local governments and, in 1986, these nomadic tribes established the “Arab alliance” with the goal of establishing regional hegemony. This was paralleled by a growing dissatisfaction among African tribal groups with the region’s historic underdevelopment and a growing fear that the government in Khartoum was promoting Arab governance of Darfur.

A central issue in the conflict is the uneven distribution of wealth and development in Sudan. Sudan is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and produces roughly 512,000 barrels of oil a day, which propelled a growth in the gross domestic product of 8% in 2005. Direct foreign investment from China, Malaysia, India, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates has increased from US$128 million in 2000 to US$2.3 billion in 2006. This new-found wealth is concentrated in Khartoum which now is the site of luxury hotels, office towers, shopping malls, a BMW dealership, and a US$ 140 million dollar Coca-Cola plant. Roughly 70% of the oil revenues is poured into the military build up of a country whose per capita income in 2005 was only US$640.

The frustration among African tribal groups boiled over in April 2003, when an African-based insurgent group now known as the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) attacked El Fashir, the capital of North Darfur. This was followed by an attack and the looting of government food and arms stocks in Mellit, the second largest town in North Darfur. Another insurgent group, the Justice and Equality Movement, also emerged to challenge Khartoum.

A number of prominent Darfurians residing in Khartoum petitioned President Omar el-Beshir of Sudan to open negotiations towards a peaceful solution to the inchoate conflict in Darfur. President Beshir, however, was determined to pursue a military solution and assembled a Special Task Force on Darfur. The government was reluctant to rely on the standing army which was dominated by members of the Fur tribe and enlisted the assistance of Arab militias commonly referred to as the Janjaweed (men on horseback).

The Janjaweed are recruited from the Arab nomadic camel herding tribes in Darfur and Chad. They are equipped by the government with modern weaponry and satellite phones and launch their attacks in conjunction with the Sudanese armed forces and are paid by Khartoum, which also provides them with a ration of cooking oil and sugar. President Beshir, in September 2003, directed the Janjaweed to “eliminate the rebellion.”

The Sudanese government’s denial that it sponsors and supports the Janjaweed was effectively challenged in October 2006, when a Sudanese Arab defector managed to flee to England. He recounted being recruited along with other young men by the Sudanese from Arab nomadic tribes. They were armed and trained and told that they must defend their tribes by ethnically cleansing the Africans. The defector recounted that for three years his unit raped, looted, seized the cattle and killed the residents of roughly 30 farming villages while shouting “Kill the slaves. Kill the slaves.” The homes were burned to the ground, the residents killed and the survivors left to die of thirst or starvation.

A quarter of a million Africans have fled to refugee camps in Chad and others have found sanctuary in isolated areas of Darfur. Most of the almost 2.5 million displaced persons have been transported to Internally Displaced Persons Camps where they depend on humanitarian assistance from the international community. The Sudanese have deliberately impeded the delivery of food and medicine by obstructing transports and delaying visas, and both the Janjaweed and insurgents have targeted the humanitarian relief convoys. Darfur today is considered the single most dangerous locale for humanitarian workers and groups such as a Norwegian relief organization have withdrawn from the region, leaving hundreds of thousands without food or medicine. The child mortality rate in the camps hovers well above the crisis level. Journalist Lydia Polgren reports that at the Twaila Camp death is no “stranger … [m]alaria and diarrhea course through the camp, picking off children first, then the old. There are no doctors or nurses or medicine. There is no clean water. There are no toilets or latrines.” The camps also have been attacked and are the site of a systematic campaign of sexual harassment and rape by the Janjaweed.

The numbers are staggering. As many as 10,000 expire each month, roughly 350,000–400,000 have died, and 2.5 million of Darfur’s population of six million have been displaced. The Sudanese regime has insisted throughout that it does not support the Janjaweed and that the number of deaths is exaggerated and numbers no more than 10,000. The regime has engaged in a concerted effort to limit both domestic and international reporting on the conflict, the most visible example being the jailing of Chicago Tribune correspondent Paul Salopek for 34 days on charges of espionage, spreading false rumours and entering the country without a visa. The conflict now is rapidly spreading into Chad and the Central African Republic.

Diplomatic Initiatives

A number of diplomatic initiatives aimed at halting the Darfur crisis have been undertaken over the past several years. In April 2004, the insurgents and Sudanese government entered into the N’djamena Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement negotiated under the auspices of the African Union and Chad. The parties agreed to a 45 day ceasefire and pledged to meet in the future to negotiate a settlement. A separate agreement signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia established a Ceasefire Commission to monitor the ceasefire. In early July 2004, the Sudanese government and Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a joint communiqué in which Sudan committed herself to permitting access for humanitarian workers, investigating allegations of human rights violations and resuming talks towards a settlement in Darfur.

Despite these agreements, the violence continued to escalate and, in November 2004, the Sudanese government and insurgents met in Abuja Nigeria and negotiated a Protocol on the Improvement of the Humanitarian Situation in which the participants guaranteed the free movement of humanitarian workers, pledged to avoid violence against civilians and agreed to cooperate with African Union monitors in Darfur. The parties also expressed concern over the repeated violation of the Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement signed in N’djamena and pledged to respect the text.

In November 2005, the insurgents and government of Sudan signed a Declaration of Principles for the Resolution of the Sudanese Conflict in Darfur. The agreement addressed democracy, federalism, the distribution of national wealth, humanitarian assistance, the right of return for internally displaced persons and rehabilitation and reconstitution. The signatories pledged to promote reconciliation and peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect and a commitment to prevent future divisions.

The failure of these agreements to stem the violence led to a growing movement in the United States to adopt a more aggressive stance towards Darfur.

Darfur and the American Response

In June of 2004, two conservative Republican legislators, US Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, visited Darfur. They concluded that the world was witnessing the “systematic destruction of a people or race” that “may very well” constitute genocide. The two lawmakers reported that the Janjaweed was employing a “scorched earth policy” to drive the “black Muslim farmers” “out of the region … and perhaps to extinction.” They also alleged that the Sudanese government was engaged in slowing and impeding humanitarian assistance to the refugee camps, which had turned into “breeding grounds for disease and sickness” with mortality rates reaching “alarming levels.” Brownback and Wolff described visiting “pillaged villages” and interviewing refugees who had experienced “rape, murder and plunder.” Their congressional report strongly condemned and indicted the Janjaweed as “[r]uthless brutal killers” supported and equipped by the Sudanese government and who were allowed to “operate with impunity.”

A number of non-governmental organizations rallied around the allegation that Sudan was committing genocide in Darfur and urged the United States to intervene. For example, Salih Booker and Ann-Louise Colgan of African Action argued in the left-leaning magazine The Nation that “unless there is an immediate military intervention in Darfur, up to a million people could die this year. We should have learned from Rwanda that to stop genocide, Washington must first say the word.”

The US Congress responded to the Brownback and Wolff report by passing a joint resolution that declared that the “atrocities unfolding in Darfur, Sudan are genocide” and reminded President Bush and the international community of their “international legal obligations” under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Congress urged President Bush to call the atrocities in Darfur by their “rightful name: ‘genocide'” and called on him to “seriously consider multilateral or even unilateral intervention to stop genocide in Darfur, Sudan should the UN Security Council fail to act.” This resolution was reinforced over the next several years by an extension of a Presidential Executive Order and two acts of Congress that imposed an American trade embargo on Sudan. There also is a continuing student-led initiative in the United States to persuade the 50 State legislatures and various public and private universities to divest their pension funds and stock portfolios from multinational corporations doing business in Sudan.

On September 9, 2004, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to report the findings of an investigative mission to Sudan. Powell stated that interviews with refugees revealed a “consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities: Killings, rapes, burning of villages committed by Janjaweed and [Sudanese] government forces against non-Arab villagers.” Secretary of State Powell contended that Sudan met the three criteria for genocide. First, Sudan had committed “specified acts” that “raise the likelihood that genocide is being committed.” Second, these acts are directed against members of national, ethnic, racial or religious group, and third, the acts are engaged in “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the group, as such.” Secretary of State Powell concluded that “genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility—and that genocide may still be occurring.” Sudan as a contracting party to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide according to Secretary of State Powell has failed to prevent and to punish acts of genocide and risked “wholesale condemnation by the international community.”

This was the first time that the United States had alleged that a foreign government was in the process of committing genocide. Secretary of State Powell later also informed Kofi Annan that America was invoking Article VIII of the Genocide Convention which provides that Contracting Parties may call upon the “competent organs of the United Nations” to take “such action as they consider appropriate” to prevent and to suppress acts of genocide. Secretary Powell ultimately disappointed those who had been calling for the United States to take a vigorous role in Darfur when in his closing remarks he observed that the accusation of genocide did not carry any more significance than allegations of crimes against humanity or war crimes and that “no new action is dictated” by the allegation of genocide. He concluded his remarks by stating that he looked forward to working with Sudan to end the conflict in Darfur.

The Department of State report was based on interviews with 1,136 randomly selected refugees in 19 locations in eastern Chad. The interview data indicate that 67% of respondents witnessed the killing of a non-family member; 61% viewed the killing of a family member; 81% had their villages destroyed; 80% experienced the theft of livestock; and 67% had been the victim of aerial bombing. Thirty-two percent heard the attackers invoke “racial epithets.” The report documents the complete destruction of 405 villages populated by Africans and substantial damage to another 123. Nearly 90% of the refugees responded that there was no rebel activity in or near their village prior to the attack. The report finds that the assaults followed a pattern in which government aircraft or helicopters bomb villages and soldiers arrive in trucks and surround the village. The Janjaweed and government soldiers then enter the camps and loot, kill and abduct and rape the young women. Those who flee are targeted by aerial attacks. President Bush in a September 21, 2004 address to the General Assembly proclaimed that the “terrible suffering and horrible crime in the Darfur Region of Sudan … are genocide.”

How can we explain these bold pronouncements? The invocation of the term genocide by Secretary of State Powell undoubtedly was the product of a methodical and reasoned analysis. There nevertheless were various factors that coalesced to influence this determination. First, the Bush Administration allegedly entered office with a commitment to take aggressive action to prevent another Rwanda. There also is little love lost for Sudan, which has alienated the evangelical community in the United States by its actions against Christians in the south and whose fundamentalist Islamic regime is suspected of supporting international terrorism. The fact that these actions were undertaken against Africans mobilized the Congressional Black Caucus and Democratic Party liberals to join the chorus condemning Sudan. The criticism of Sudan also reflects popular opinion in the United States. Polls indicate that the electorate believes that genocide is being carried out in Darfur and supports American participation in any UN force that might be sent to halt the atrocities in the future.

The United States government stood virtually alone among nation-states and non-governmental organizations in labelling Darfur as genocide. The European Parliament by a vote of 566 to 6 with 16 abstentions did urge Sudanese authorities to “end impunity and bring to justice the planners and perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and human rights” which can be “construed as tantamount to genocide.” The movement for action against genocide continued to build in the United States. The Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, for example, featured photographs of Darfur projected onto the exterior walls of the building.

The United Nations Security Council

In April 2004, the UN Commission on Human Rights disregarded reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, expressed its deep concern about Darfur, called for a ceasefire and articulated “its solidarity with the Sudan in overcoming the current situation.” The Commission then requested an independent report on the situation in Darfur. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, issued a report on Darfur on May 7, 2004, in which he concluded that there is a “reign of terror in Darfur” involving “repeated attacks on civilians” by Sudan. High Commissioner Ramcharan went on to observe that these attacks appear to have been “largely ethnically based” against tribes of African origin and that these “patterns of violence point to an intent on the part of the Sudanese authorities to subjugate those … perceived to be providing a support base for the rebels.”

On July 10, 2004, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1556 under Chapter VII of the Charter of the UN which affirms and endorses the Declaration of Principles agreed upon by Sudan and the Secretary General for the settlement of the Darfur conflict. Resolution 1556 proclaims that the government of Sudan is responsible for respecting human rights, maintaining law and order and protecting individuals within its territory. The resolution goes on to endorse the deployment of African Union monitors and urges the parties to conclude a political agreement without delay. Sudan is instructed to disarm the Janjaweed and to apprehend and bring to justice Janjaweed leaders responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The Security Council further stressed that internally displaced persons and refugees were to be returned to their homes and provided with adequate assistance and security. The Council concluded by requesting the Secretary General to report back on progress within 30 days and warned that sanctions may be imposed in the event of a lack of progress. In the interim, the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on the Janjaweed and insurgent groups.

On July 21, 2004, Kofi Annan gave a press conference reporting on his visit to Sudan and observed that it “is clear that serious crimes have been committed and there has been gross and systematic abuse of human rights.” He called on Sudan to respect its commitments and to disarm the Janjaweed and other armed groups and urged the Security Council to take appropriate measures in the event of a continuing failure by Sudan to act.

Sudan responded on August 11, 2006, with a letter to the President of the Security Council pledging an “action plan” to restore “peace, security, stability and development in Darfur.” The plan provided for “safe areas” for displaced individuals, the disarming of the Janjaweed and the opening of political negotiations with insurgent groups in Sudan.

On August 30, 2006, Kofi Annan submitted a report requested by the Security Council regarding Sudan’s fulfillment of the commitments contained in the July 2004 joint communiqué. The Secretary General concluded that there were “no indications … that the Government has taken any measures to immediately start to disarm the Janjaweed and other armed outlaw groups.” Kofi Annan also observed that the “wanton destruction of the villages and the killing of a large number of civilians constitutes a serious breach of the Government’s commitments.” The Security Council, on September 19, 2004, adopted a resolution expressing grave concern that Sudan had not fully met its obligations, particularly the commitment to ensure the security of the civilian population of Darfur against continued depredations. The resolution went on to repeat the central points articulated in Security Council Resolution 1556 and requested the Secretary General to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Darfur, to determine whether acts of genocide have occurred, and to identify the perpetrators of such violations with a view to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable. In an intensely debated provision, the Security Council stated that in the event of a lack of progress it will consider “taking additional measures … such as actions to affect Sudan’s petroleum sector and the Government of Sudan or individual members of the Government of Sudan.” On November 19, 2004, the Security Council repeated its call for a political settlement and endorsed the decision of the African Union to increase the size of its monitoring team in Darfur.

In January 2005, the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur concluded that that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed are responsible for “serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law, including the killing of civilians, torture, disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other sexual assaults, pillage and forced displacement, throughout Darfur.” These acts, according to the Commission, had been committed on a “widespread and systematic basis and may constitute crimes against humanity.” The Commission rejected the explanation that these acts were part of a counter-insurgency campaign, pointing out that attacks had been indiscriminately directed at civilians from the Fur, Zaghawa, Massalit, Jebel, Aranga and other “so-called African tribes.” The Commission, however, did not find support for allegations of genocide.

On March 29, 2005, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1591 establishing a Committee of the Security Council charged with designating individuals subject to sanctions. Disabilities were to be imposed on individuals who “impede the peace process, constitute a threat to stability in Darfur … commit violations of international humanitarian or human rights law or other atrocities or provide assistance to insurgent groups in Darfur.” The sanctions were to include a prohibition on entry or transit through Member States as well as the freezing of funds, financial assets and economic resources. The Security Council, roughly a year later, imposed restrictions on the assets and international travel of Major General Gaffar Mohamed Elhassan, Commander of the Western Military Region for the Sudanese Air Force, and Sheikh Musa Hilal, the Paramount Chief of the Jalul Tribe in North Dafur and leader of the Janjaweed. Sanctions also were imposed on two insurgent leaders, Adam Yacub Shant, Commander of the Sudanese Liberation Army rebel group, and Gabril Abdul Kareem Badri, Field Commander of the National Movement for Reform. Russia and China continued to oppose Security Council consideration of matters involving Darfur and abstained from voting.

Darfur Peace Agreement

On March 31, 2006, the Security Council voted to refer individuals that the International Commission of Inquiry identified as being involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The United States, along with Algeria, Brazil and China, abstained. Ali Osman Taha, Sudan’s First Vice President, responded that Sudan was fully capable of maintaining the rule of law without international assistance and that the government would not cooperate with the newly established Criminal Court.

In yet another effort to halt the spiraling conflict in Darfur, the African Union in April 2006 negotiated the Darfur Peace Agreement between Sudan and the primary rebel groups. The Sudan Liberation Movement, led by Mini Menawi, was the only insurgent group that ultimately agreed to sign the document. Mini Menawi represents the Zaghawa, a small but militarily potent tribe. The other faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, led by Abdel Wahid Mohamed Nur, along with the Justice Equality Movement refused to sign. The refusal of Nur to enter into the agreement is significant because Nur represents the demographically dominant Fur people in Darfur. The agreement provided for a referendum in 2010 to determine whether the three states comprising Darfur should be consolidated into a unitary region with a single government. The primary objections by the insurgents appeared to centre on a lack of confidence that the Sudanese government would disarm the Janjaweed and the failure to guarantee rebel groups significant roles in the central government in Khartoum and in the local Darfur government. There also were objections to the limited share of oil revenues for Darfur and to the modest victim compensation fund.

On May 16, 2006, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1679. The resolution calls on signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement to comply with their commitments and urges the insurgent groups that failed to sign the agreement to accept the peace treaty. The Security Council also expressed an intent to introduce UN peacekeeping forces. On August 31, 2006, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1706 in which it “invites the consent of the Government of National Unity [of Sudan]” to a transition to a UN force in Darfur. The Council reassured Sudan that it was determined to work with the Sudanese “in full respect of its sovereignty” and affirmed that “a United Nations operation in Darfur shall have, to the extent possible, a strong African participation and character.”

The introduction of a UN force was premised on the fact that the 7,000 member African Union (AMIS) contingent lacked the fuel, food, funds, administrative expertise, equipment and air and ground transport to fulfil its mission. African Union troops only carried AK-47 assault rifles and their rules of engagement generally restricted them to monitoring adherence to the 2004 ceasefire and to recording violations, rather than intervening and preventing atrocities against civilians. The number of troops in Darfur, which is roughly the size of France or Texas, is said to be equivalent to one soldier being assigned to cover the entire island of Manhattan in New York. In contrast, Liberia, which is less than one-quarter the size of Darfur with half the population, has had a UN peacekeeping force which is more than double the force level in Darfur. The ability of the African Union forces to assume an active role was further compromised when the Janjaweed began to target monitors for attack. The proposed UN force was to have more robust rules of engagement than the African Union and was to be authorized to intervene to protect civilians and to confront militias engaging in offensive military actions.

The UN and African Union reached an agreement with Sudan for a hybrid force of roughly 20,000 police and military peacekeepers to enter Darfur and absorb the African Union forces. There was some sense of urgency as Jan Egeland, the UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned that Sudan and government-supported militias were committing acts of “inexplicable terror” against civilians and that the fighting had reached the worst level since the conflict began three years ago. Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol, however, began to qualify his country’s agreement to permit UN intervention when he stated that the force must remain predominantly African and under the control of the African Union and that the UN must limit itself to a subsidiary role. Foreign Minister Akol insisted that “[t]here is no way the main fighting force would be a mixed one.” The Sudanese government shortly thereafter seemingly rejected the entry of any UN forces whatsoever when President Omar Hassan al-Bashir presented the Security Council with a plan to bring peace to Darfur by sending 10,500 additional Sudanese troops to crush the rebels in the region. Sudan also warned that any UN force would be viewed as a violation of its sovereignty and would be met by armed resistance. President al-Bashir responded to a statement by President George Bush urging the UN to protect the people of Darfur by proclaiming that “[w]e [Sudan] … totally reject a transition from the African Union force to a UN force.” He further condemned what he characterized as fictitious reports of “deaths and displacements” in Darfur that he alleged were being “spread by Jewish organizations.”

The African Union refused an entreaty from Sudan to remain in the country with support from funds donated by the Arab League and insisted that it would withdraw if Sudan did not accept a UN force. President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria explained that “[i]t is not in the interest of Sudan nor in the interest of Africa, nor indeed, in the interest of the world for us all to stand by and see genocide being developed in Darfur.”

The UN, however, softened its stance when confronted with Sudanese intransigence and the African Union agreed to an extension of the mandate of its forces. As 2006 drew to a close, Kofi Annan further acquiesced to Sudan’s demands and announced that he had agreed that the UN force would be under the command and control of the African Union and that the UN would be restricted to a limited number of consultants, technical assistance and military and police experts and that, in return, Sudan would agree to a ceasefire and would make renewed efforts to open peace negotiations.

Sudan, however, continued to accelerate its military campaign in what Jan Egeland described as a “scorched earth onslaught.” In November 2006 alone, 60,000 Darfurians were forced from their homes, hundreds of aid workers were evacuated and the conflict spread 100 miles into Chad. On January 11, 2007, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, the former American Ambassador to the UN, announced that President al-Bashir and the insurgent groups had agreed to a 60 day ceasefire and Richardson expressed guarded optimism that this marked the first step towards a political settlement.

Kofi Annan, in a December 2006 address to mark International Human Rights Day, sadly noted that, judged by what is happening in Darfur, “[s]ixty years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, and thirty years after the Cambodian killing fields, the promise of ‘never again’ is ringing hollow.” A few days later Kofi Annan urged the newly established UN Human Rights Council to take steps to end the violence in Darfur. He implored the Council that the “people in Darfur cannot afford to wait another day.” Several Muslim states disputed the seriousness of the situation in Darfur and contended that a link between Sudan and the Janajaweed had yet to be established. Sudan dismissed the allegation that it was sponsoring violence in Darfur as a falsehood concocted by the Western media. The Human Rights Council defeated both a weak resolution offered by Algeria and a stronger text sponsored by the United Kingdom and accepted a compromise resolution authorizing a five person “fact finding” committee to report back on the situation in Darfur in March, 2007. Sudan also rejected calls for the imposition of a “no-fly zone” over Darfur.

The events in Darfur have been meticulously documented by non-governmental and international organizations. Yet, a review of the diplomatic record indicates that while the Security Council has threatened sanctions and intervention against Sudan, it has remained paralysed and unwilling to confront the Sudanese regime. The UN resolutions are in the nature of symbolic statements of concern which have proven to be of limited practical import. Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian General who was in charge of UN forces in Rwanda during the genocide in 1993, writes that the inflated prose of the United States’ resolutions on Darfur is reminiscent of the Security Council’s “indifference to the horrors [of Rwanda].” One promising development is the announcement of Louis Moreno-Campo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, that he plans to indict as yet unnamed individuals in Sudan for international crimes. It is unlikely that Sudan will turn individuals over to the International Criminal Court for trial and, in any event, various members of the Security Council may persuade the Council to delay prosecution.

The “Responsibility to Protect”

The failure of the UN to intervene in Darfur stands in stark contrast to contemporary statements affirming the responsibility of nation-states and the international community to protect individuals against mass atrocities. In 2001, an international commission organized and funded by Canada issued a report on the “Responsibility to Protect.” The Commission asserted that sovereignty no longer means that a State is free to act without restraint within its territorial boundaries. Sovereignty in the contemporary world, instead, entails the duty of a State to safeguard and to secure its indigenous population against impending or actual massacre, genocide, ethnic cleansing and large-scale human catastrophe. The Commission further argued that the international community acting through the Security Council is obligated to undertake military action across international borders in those exceptional circumstances in which a State proves unwilling or unable to act to halt situations which genuinely shock the conscience of mankind, or which present a clear and present danger to international security. This collective military action is to be undertaken as a last resort, the duration and intensity of the military action should be proportionate to the threat, and there must be a reasonable chance of success. Primary responsibility to act is centred in the Security Council and, in the event that the Council fails to respond, the General Assembly or regional organizations may undertake collective action.

The notion of a “responsibility to protect” was embodied in the World Summit Outcome Document adopted by the UN General Assembly on October 24, 2005. Resolution 60/1 provides that each individual State has the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The resolution further provides that in the event that a State is unable or unwilling to fulfil this responsibility, the international community, acting through the UN, has the responsibility to employ peaceful means to protect a population. The text further proclaims that the international community is “prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council … on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations … should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their population.”

Resolution 60/1 clarifies and reinforces the text of the UN Charter, which, in its preamble and text, establishes human rights as a “purpose and principle” of the organization. The Security Council’s authorization of forcible action to protect ethnic minorities in northern and southern Iraq and its establishment of international criminal tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda clearly indicate that the prevention and punishment of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing are part of the jurisdictional brief of the Security Council and associated regional organizations. The Constitutive Act of the African Union, in fact, recognizes “[t]he right of the Union to intervene in a Member State … in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.”

There now can be little doubt in light of Security Council resolutions over the past 15 years that war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing and genocide are matters of international concern and that international intervention to protect individuals against these depredations is permissible under Article 2 of the UN Charter, which prohibits intervention in “matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction” of a State.

Darfur and Genocide

There is an added legal obligation and imperative to act against genocide. Article 1 of the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide obligates the High Contracting Parties to “undertake to prevent and to punish” genocide. In drafting the Convention in 1948, the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly shifted this language from the Preamble to Article 1 to strengthen the duty to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. This solemn commitment is reinforced by the last paragraph of the Preamble, which provides that “in order to liberate mankind from such odious scourge [of genocide] international co-operation is required.” In 1970, the International Court of Justice recognized that that the obligation to prevent and to punish genocide is a universal duty that is binding on all States.

Security Council resolutions characterize Darfur as the site of “violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.” The failure to characterize Darfur as genocide reflects the findings of the International Commission appointed by the Security Council. The Commission recognized that “some of the objective elements of genocide materialized in Darfur.” There was evidence, according to the Commission, demonstrating the systematic and large-scale killing of civilians belonging to particular tribes, along with the “large-scale causing of serious bodily or mental harm” and the “massive and deliberate infliction of conditions of life bringing about their [the African tribes’] physical destruction in whole or in part.” The Commission further determined that despite the fact that the attackers and victims shared a language, religion and physical characteristics, the economic and political differences between the two groups in Darfur has hardened into a perceived difference in racial identity. In a significant number of cases, the Janjaweed were determined to have directed derogatory racial epithets at the victims, suggesting that they were viewed as racial and social inferiors.

The Commission of Inquiry concluded, however, based on four “elements” of evidence, that the government sponsored Janjaweed lacked a genocidal intent. First, in a number of instances the attackers “refrained from exterminating the whole population [of a village] and selectively killed groups of young men.” In particular, in January 2004, the Janjaweed and Sudanese forces attacked Wadi Salehi, a group of 25 villages. The Janjaweed executed 15 persons whose names were read from a list as well as seven village leaders. They then sent the elderly, boys, men and women to a nearby village where 205 alleged rebels were executed. Second, the populations surviving the Janjaweed attacks are not killed, but instead are collected and live together in internally displaced persons camps (IDPC). Third, the Commission noted that villages with “mixed composition have not been attacked.” Fourth, in one instance, an individual did not resist the Janjaweed seizure of 220 camels and was beaten. His brother objected to the confiscation of a single camel and was shot dead. The Commission concluded that this illustrates that the attackers are motivated by the desire to appropriate cattle and property rather than to exterminate the population.

In the view of the Commission, the Janjaweed‘s crimes against humanity in Darfur are undertaken as part of a strategy of counter-insurgency warfare rather than with the specific intent to annihilate African tribes in whole or in part. The Commission cautioned that it did not “rule out the possibility that in some instances single individuals, including Government officials, may entertain a genocidal intent.” The report, after noting that genocide is generally recognized as the “most serious international crime” because of its scope and intent to deprive humanity of its “manifold richness,” explained that the widespread commission of crimes against humanity in Darfur may be “no less serious and heinous than genocide.”

The respected genocide scholar William Schabas has applauded the Commission’s determination that Darfur is witness to crimes against humanity rather than genocide, observing that the Commission “refuses to make the quantum leap from the extermination of rival combatants to the intentional destruction of an ethnic group.” Professor Schabas goes on to observe that characterizing Darfur as a genocide appeals to conservative political elements in the United States who portray Sudan as a “battleground for the crusade against Islam.”

This view from Europe is in stark contrast to commentaries in the United States that are dismissive of the Commission’s conclusions and have little difficulty in concluding that Darfur is a genocide. Nsongurua Udombana, writing in the American Bar Association sponsored International Lawyer, rejects the International Commission of Inquiry’s conclusions as “convoluted and contrived,” “fictitious and factitious” and intended to avoid the attendant legal obligations associated with a finding of genocide. David Luban of the Georgetown University Law Center observes that the analysis presented in the UN report is “so remarkably shabby that they [the reasoning] reinforce the suspicion that the … Commission was bending over backwards to find no genocide in Darfur.” Professor Luban, in particular, cites the precedent of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in Kristic to support the claim that Sudan is committing genocide in Darfur. In Krstic, the Appellate Chamber of the Yugoslav International War Crimes Tribunal held that Serbian forces had committed genocide against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. The Appellate Chamber inferred a genocidal intent from the systematic murder of 7,000 Muslim men. This was the first step in the anticipated ethnic cleansing of the 40,000 Muslims living in Srebrenica and the surrounding area, a region which was central to the creation of a contiguous Serbian state in Bosnia.

The murder of 7,000 male inhabitants, according to the appellate court, constituted a “substantial part” of the relevant Muslim population and satisfied the standard required by the contemporary jurisprudence of genocide. The Krstic court explained that the “substantial part” requirement not only is to be viewed in numerical terms. The number killed or targeted also should be evaluated in relation to the numerical size of the group. A “substantial part” may be further satisfied by targeting “prominent” individuals or by targeting individuals who are “emblematic of the overall group or who are essential to the group’s survival.” The appellate chamber cautioned that genocide does not require an attack against every member of a group across a region or a country and that the numerical size of the group for the purposes of the crime of genocide is premised on the “geographic reach” of the perpetrators.

The percentage of the Serbian population in Srebrenica that was killed is roughly equivalent to the percentage of African inhabitants who were killed in Wadi Salehi. The major difference is that in Krstic the court stressed that men of military age were targeted while in Wadi Salehi only suspected rebels allegedly were singled out for extermination. The Yugoslav Tribunal held that the destruction of such a significant number of men along with the transfer of women, children and the elderly limited the ability of the Muslims in the area to procreate and to reconstitute the Muslim community. The same type of analysis pertains in Wadi Salehi. Although the transfer of the bulk of the population to an IDPC appears as an indirect and inefficient method to accomplish the Janjaweed‘s genocidal goal, genocide does not require that individuals employ the “most efficient method” to accomplish their goals. The Krstic appellate court speculated that the Serbs may have employed mass deportation as a tactic to persuade the global community that they lacked a genocidal intent. This would seem to parallel the situation in Wadi Salehi.

The International Commission in discussing genocide also devotes little attention to the systematic and mass rape of African women in Darfur. The Janjaweed‘s assaults against women in Darfur are similar to the type of sexual assaults that the Rwandan tribunal (in Akayesu) considered to have been intended by the Hutu to physically and psychologically destroy Tutsi women, their families and communities and constituted genocide.

In parenthesis, it should be noted that the Wadi Salehi example does not seem to be a wholly representative case. The Commission of Inquiry itself noted that the Janjaweed generally targets civilians and that in most of these attacks there is no evidence that insurgents are in or near the village.

Despite the Commission’s assertion that the camps in Sudan are well-supplied with food, clean water, medicine and logistical assistance, there is overwhelming evidence that individuals removed to camps in Darfur are subjected to far more threatening conditions than the individuals deported from Srebrenica. The Sudanese government has intentionally frustrated humanitarian assistance and individuals in most camps are subjected to desperate, deprived and destitute conditions. The Commission also overlooks that Sudan has prevented additional Darfurians from fleeing to Chad while others are hiding and living in isolated rural areas beyond the reach of humanitarian organizations.

The Commission’s conclusion that the Janjaweeds decision to avoid attacks against villages with mixed populations once again seems to reflect the Commission’s seeming failure to grasp that a genocidal intent does not require the extermination of every member of a group. The avoidance of attacks against mixed villages simply may indicate that the Janjaweed are intent on targeting Africans and do not want to harm tribes that may potentially support their cause. The vignette concerning the fate of the two brothers who differed in their willingness to turnover their cattle to the Janjaweed has been compared to arguing that Adolf Eichmann lacked a genocidal intent because of his willingness to trade Jews for money. The point simply is that a genocidal intent may coexist with an economic motive and that it is well documented that the Janjaweed militias freely loot and steal from their victims, many of whom are subsequently killed.

The Commission’s central flaw is a failure to place its admittedly limited study of the situation in Darfur into the larger context of events in the country over the past three years. It is well established that in the absence of explicit statements a genocidal intent may be inferred from the totality of the circumstances. This includes the systematic nature, scope and similarity of attacks, the existence of a plan, the targeting of members of specific groups and statements that indicate a genocidal intent. The US Department of State and various NGOs have thoroughly documented that the assaults on African villages follow a choreographed plan of attack against civilians and are accompanied by racially inflammatory rhetoric. The numbers of individuals killed and the number living under desperate conditions are almost beyond comprehension. It must be kept in mind that the Commission of Inquiry’s determination that there is a lack of genocidal intent, in part, may reflect the fact that although this was not a judicial inquiry, the investigators inexplicably required that a criminal intent must be “unequivocally established.”

Genocide Denial Syndrome

The question arises why the international community has insisted that Darfur is not a witness to genocide. The simple answer is that Darfur has fallen victim to a toxic mix of the politics of oil, multinational investment and arms sales and that events in the Middle East and Africa have made the international community reluctant to intervene in the affairs of a fundamentalist Islamic regime.

There is, of course, the obvious fact that African victims do not possess the political appeal and potency of Europeans. We also can speculate that there is a deeper explanation for this syndrome of “genocide denial.” The historical association of genocide with the Holocaust has provided the term with enormous moral weight. The term is a clarion call to action. The acknowledgement of genocide, however, reminds us once again that there are victims, victimizers and morally culpable bystanders and that there are limits to our resources and compassion. An admission of genocide is a recognition that there are primordial forces at work that call into question our faith in the inevitability of democracy and human rights.

Our image of genocide remains identified with the “Nazi Super State.” The acknowledgment of genocide at times seems more a matter of politics than analytical precision. The international community in a seemingly choreographed response invariably characterizes contemporary slaughters as ethnic conflicts in which both sides are equally guilty, violence is inevitable, and intervention is too little too late. These events are viewed as of regional rather than international concern and are portrayed as “humanitarian crises” rather than as criminal conspiracies. The atrocities are labelled as ethnic cleansing and the international community relies on rhetorical acrobatics to avoid invoking the term genocide.

Statistics on death and dying and eyewitness reports are dismissed as hyperbole and the motives and judgment of those who denounce the killings and urge intervention are questioned. We are told that the label genocide is of little consequence and an unnecessary fixation. The economic advantages of good relations with the perpetrators are stressed while the national and humanitarian interest in protecting the victims is minimized.

It is a sad fact that Sudan has remained a member in good standing of the international community despite the fact that the regime has engaged in serial slaughter, against the Darfurians in the west, the Nubian people in the north and the Christians in the south. In short, genocide, in effect, is a “victimless crime.” A crime without victims, victimizers or morally culpable bystanders.

The crime of the last century now is clearly established as characteristic of the twenty-first. We can anticipate that future political leaders will one day visit Darfur and, with abject wringing of their hands, repeat President William Clinton’s pained apology to the Rwandans—that he was unaware of what was transpiring and that the rapidity of events had outpaced the ability of the international community to respond.