Genocide in Sudan

Harvard University Gazette, MA
July 22 2004

Genocide in Sudan
SPH’s Leaning investigates and urges action
By Ken Gewertz
Harvard News Office

The international community has not succeeded very well at stopping
incidents of genocide. From Armenia to Rwanda, efforts at
intervention have generally been either nonexistent or too little and
too late.

The fact that new opportunities to finally get it right occur with
distressing regularity can hardly be regarded as a positive factor,
yet for those who seek to mitigate human suffering, these
opportunities are still a powerful call for action and hope.

These young people have settled at a refugee “location” (not a camp)
near Chad’s border with Sudan. The United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) has moved most refugees in such settlements to
camps because of the danger posed by frequent cross-border attacks by
Sudanese militia. This group feared that UNHCR would not be able to
transfer them to camps before the rainy season began. (Photo courtesy
of Physicians for Human Rights)
The Darfur region of western Sudan is the latest area to give rise to
such a call. The non-Arab inhabitants of this poor and arid region
have become the direct targets of attack by a loosely organized Arab
militia known as Janjaweed, with apparent backing by military forces
controlled by the Sudanese government. The conflict arises in a
context of resource constraints and was initially described as a
response to two rebel groups who formed against the Sudanese
government. But in the past 16 months it has evolved into a vicious
program of terror and death, aimed at destroying the livelihoods of
the non-Arabs and driving them off their land.

The Arab marauders have swept into non-Arab villages in Darfur,
murdering the men, raping the women, burning houses, stealing
livestock, and forcing the survivors to flee into larger towns in
Darfur or across the border into Chad. So far, more than a million
non-Arab Darfurians have been displaced within Darfur and another
200,000 have sought refuge in Chad.

In May, Jennifer Leaning, professor of international health in the
School of Public Health, spent two weeks observing conditions and
interviewing Darfurian refugees along the Chad border as part of an
investigative team sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).
The team’s report was published June 23.

Jennifer Leaning, professor of international health in the School of
Public Health, was part of an investigative team that reported on the
conditions of Darfurian refugees along the Chad border. Leaning says,
`What has been delivered to the government of Sudan, very forcibly I
think, in the last couple of weeks, is the message: `Hold on to any
of your expectations, guys. You are not going to be readmitted back
into the community of good nations until you adequately settle this
problem in Darfur.” (Staff photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News

Since her return, Leaning has appeared on radio and TV programs and
has visited Washington to urge government officials to take action.
At the moment, she said, the prospects for mobilizing some sort of
intervention seem to be looking up.

“I would say that things are looking more hopeful, largely because
just in the last three weeks there has been a progressive groundswell
of discussion about what’s going on in Darfur. More and more media
outlets are handling the story, and there are higher- and
higher-level discussions in government and in national institutions
about actually doing something.”

What PHR and other human rights groups hope to do is pressure the
Sudanese government to end its support of Janjaweed and force the
group to stop its genocidal campaign in Darfur. According to Leaning,
there is some possibility of accomplishing this goal because Sudan
has been looking forward to improving its standing with the
international community as a reward for ending its long-running civil
war between the north and the south.

“What has been delivered to the government of Sudan, very forcibly I
think, in the last couple of weeks, is the message: ‘Hold on to any
of your expectations, guys. You are not going to be readmitted back
into the community of good nations until you adequately settle this
problem in Darfur.'”

Secretary of State Colin Powell has recently visited Sudan to make
his own assessment of the situation in Darfur. He is the
highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country in several
decades. Andrew Natsios, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) accompanied him. UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also recently traveled to Darfur.
And, according to Leaning, President Bush has been in communication
with Sudanese President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. Human rights
organizations would like Bush and leaders in other countries to apply
greater pressure on al-Bashir to fulfill a promise he made June 19
that he would call off the Janjaweed militia.

The visits of Powell and Annan have helped to raise the visibility
and urgency of the need to organize a response to this ongoing attack
on a civilian population. “But Powell only went to the areas that are
already well traveled. He didn’t see the most isolated and trapped –
and he did not complain about that. We are still not putting enough
pressure on the Sudanese government to bring about an immediate end
to this conflict and this policy of obstruction of aid,” Leaning

But even with high-level officials beginning to pay attention to the
genocidal activity in Darfur, a favorable outcome to the situation is
anything but assured. Already, many thousands have died, and many
thousands more have been rendered homeless and at risk of disease and
death in a harsh, unforgiving environment. The rainy season has now
arrived, washing out primitive roads and making it all but impossible
to bring food, water, and supplies to the refugees, except by
airlift. Even under present conditions, trucking supplies to the
displaced persons in Darfur has proved difficult because of efforts
by the Sudanese government to obstruct access.

“This part of the world is very hard to survive in,” said Leaning.
“When people are driven from their water sources and land, when their
animals are killed or stolen, it deprives them of their source of
livelihood. Then, if they can’t get outside aid, they will die.”

Even if people are able to wait out the rainy season, returning to
their land afterward is absolutely essential to ensure their
continued survival, for that is when they must plant crops for the
next harvest, Leaning said.

A further concern is that the Sudanese government will fail to
respond to pressure and change its policy in Darfur. In this case,
the matter will have to be brought before the UN Security Council,
with the possibility of greater coercive measures adopted, including
sending troops under a Chapter VII mandate, perhaps invoking the
Genocide Convention of 1948.

“The problem now,” said Leaning, “is that the United States has not
publicly stated what we all know to be the case: that the Sudanese
government is responsible for supporting this conflict in Darfur, for
obstructing humanitarian aid, and for arming the Janjaweed. Nor has
the U.S. managed to persuade major European nations to back a stiff
UN Security Council resolution that calls the Sudanese government to
account and demands immediate action.”

Jennifer Leaning (holding notebook) talks to the leader of the Goz
Amer refugee camp. The man in the blue shirt at left and the woman
behind Leaning to the right are both translators working with the
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) team. Because of the sensitive
nature of testimony given by female refugees, many of whom were
raped, PHR interviewed men and women separately. Leaning, working
with a female translator, interviewed women who had been raped or
suffered other forms of sexual violence. (Photo courtesy of
Physicians for Human Rights)