It’s Genocide in Darfur

The Monitor (Kampala)
August 9, 2004

It’s Genocide in Darfur

Muniini K. Mulera

One watches in disbelief as the world’s great and not-so-great
leaders continue to debate, once again, whether or not the deliberate
extermination of humans and the despoliation of entire black African
communities in western Sudan amount to genocide.

After visiting Sudan, Mr Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, and Mr
Colin Powell, the Secretary of State of the United States of America,
pronounce themselves on the killing fields of Darfur which have
reportedly consumed the lives of over 50,000 Africans and sent over
one million living dead into an exile of assured disease, starvation,
lost dignity and perpetual terror.

What is happening in Darfur, the two distinguished African gentlemen
inform the world, is a “humanitarian catastrophe” but there is not
enough evidence to elevate it to genocide.

Just to make it clear how serious the situation is, the UN calls
Darfur the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” But since this is
merely a humanitarian crisis, no immediate and decisive action is
necessary. We still have time to talk, and to threaten.

And talk we do, until we come up with an acceptable UN Security
Council Resolution (UNSCR) after the usual debate over words like
“sanctions” versus “measures” to be taken against the government of
Sudan if it does not comply by August 30.

So is born UNSCR 1556, one of those documents that the great
wordsmiths in New York have a knack for churning out as a temporising
measure while the world ponders what to do .

Memories of a similar debate ten years ago flood back like the
blood-stained waters of the River Kagera. Even as Rwanda’s rivers and
rivulets were overflowing with thousands of bloated corpses of
Batutsi and Bahutu, a fraction of the hundreds of thousands who were
wiped out in barely three months, as the world watched and debated.

Perhaps the River Nile will need to stop flowing, on account of dams
of rotting human corpses, before the men and women who divine these
things call the systematic killings in Darfur genocide.

But as one begins to despair, one learns on August 7 that Asma
Jahangir, the United Nations investigator on executions, has blamed
Sudan’s government for what she calls extra-judicial killings in

“The government of the Sudan is responsible for summary executions of
large numbers of people,” Ms Jahangir, a Pakistani human rights
lawyer, confirms what many have known all along.

One reads the UN expert’s report with great anticipation. Surely
Jahangir is going to call it what it is: genocide. Not a chance!
These government-sponsored mass executions, the lady informs the
world, amount to “crimes against humanity,” whatever that means. She
cannot bring herself to utter the G-word.

For months, of course, many of us have been calling the widespread
massacres in Darfur exactly what they are: genocide. But just in case
we have been exaggerating, we revisit the most authoritative source
on the definition of genocide, the UN itself, to make absolutely
certain that Darfur really qualifies.

So we turn to the UN Convention for the Prevention and the Punishment
of the Crime of Genocide, adopted on December 9, 1948, which defines
it in terms that leave little room for equivocation.

Article 2 of the Convention states that “genocide means any of the
following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part,
a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing
members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to
members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group
conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction
in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births
within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to
another group.

In Darfur, it is as if the Arab militia, the Janjaweed, who have been
engaging in a sustained programme of ethnic cleansing against the
Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa communities, have been using Article 2 of
the Convention on Genocide as their working manual.

As was emphasised by Alain Destexhe, former Secretary General of
Doctors Without Borders, in his excellent book, Rwanda and Genocide
In The Twentieth Century, the specificity of genocide does not arise
from the extent of the killings, nor their savagery or resulting
infamy, but solely from their intention: the destruction of a group.

In Darfur, the Arab militia is committing criminal acts with the
intention of destroying people of a specific race, whom they are
targeting as such. This is what is happening in Sudan, a country
whose name, we are told, comes from the Arabic phrase “bilad
al-sudan”, or land of the blacks.

As it was in Nazi-occupied Europe, between 1939 and 1945 when
millions of Jews and Gypsies perished, so it is in Darfur. As it was
with the genocide against Armenians by the Young Turks in 1915, so it
is in Darfur.

As it was in Rwanda in 1994 and in the Congo Free State in the years
that followed, so it is in Darfur. It is genocide in Darfur and the
wise men and women at the UN and in the great capitals of the world
know it. Yet they dither and play with words and phrases. Why?

Part of the answer lies in Article 8 of the same Convention which
authorises signatories to the convention, once they have determined
that there is genocide, to “call upon the competent organs of the
United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United
Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and
suppression of acts of genocide.”

In Darfur’s case, everybody knows that the only effective action that
will halt the genocide is a massive military intervention by the
international community. But since few, if any, countries want to get
involved in the bloody mess that awaits any intervention force in
Sudan, better to pretend that the killing fields of Darfur fall short
of genocide.

Relevant Links

East Africa
North Africa
Civil War and Communal Conflict

The world’s faithful pray to their gods that the problem of Darfur
will go away. Except it is not going to go away. The Arab militia,
fully supported by the Sudanese authorities, are not about to let up
on their singular mission to take full control of the oil-rich swathe
of desert that they have hitherto shared with millions of black
Africans. Unless of course they are forced out of Darfur.

Whether or not this will happen will first depend on the resolve of
Africans, both on the continent and in the Diaspora, to speak loudly,
clearly and repeatedly to the UN and the rest of the world that our
kinsmen, nay, our fellow humans are being systematically annihilated
in the first genocide, yes genocide, of the 21st Century.