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Darfur: the forgotten genocide continues!
Of all the hellholes on earth, this is surely the worst! - Hilary Andersson, BBC Africa Correspondent - Darfur, BBC World, 20 July 2004

27 July   |   2004   |   Subject  Dafur

Last month, on 22 June 2004, I wrote a two-page article that provided the background to the conflict raging in the Darfur region. Stressing that the powerless were being punished for a local rebellion that happened in February 2003, I recounted the way in which Arab Muslim Janjaweed militias were indulging in a rampage of murder, rape and mayhem against fellow Muslims of black African descent across the three states of Darfur in western Sudan.

Latest estimates by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) speak today of well over one million Darfurians having fled their homes - with 200,000 of them having crossed the desert into Chad, and hundreds of thousands crowding into makeshift camps in Chad or Sudan. Last week, Oxfam also reported 50,000 Darfurian deaths, with the possibility that the numbers could rise to many hundreds of thousands unless the killings were stopped forthwith.

This human outrage has prompted a series of humanitarian and political measures of varying degrees of effectiveness. On the humanitarian side, and with the rainy season already starting, twelve leading aid agencies have joined together through the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) to launch an urgent appeal for the people of Darfur. They will work together to get urgently needed food, safe water, shelter materials, sanitation and health supplies to those most in need.

The following global aid organisations are working already to help the needy of Darfur:

  • The Disasters Emergency Committee ( are the collective umbrella for major aid agencies
  • Médecins Sans Frontières ( are working to combat malaria and malnutrition in west Darfur
  • Oxfam ( are providing clean water supplies and sanitation to the refugee camps where one aid worker described ‘80 families living together in one compound without any shelter and only one latrine’
  • UNICEF ( are seeking to vaccinate children against disease in the refugee camps
  • Save the Children ( have already distributed food to 250,000 people
  • Anti-poverty organisation Care International ( are working in Chad to help alleviate conditions for refugees who have crossed the border or those who have stayed in Darfur
  • CAFOD ( are working with partners in southern Sudan to provide clean water, shelter and supplementary feedings in camps for the displaced
  • The British Red Cross ( have launched an appeal for food and blankets
  • World Vision ( are providing shelter material, water containers, purification tablets, mosquito nets, cooking utensils, blankets as well as food
  • Islamic relief ( have distributed food to around 18,000 people
  • Christian charity Tearfund ( are working to provide emergency feeding, health and sanitation services to refugees in six camps throughout the whole region
  • Medair ( are providing treatment kits for malaria, cholera and dysentery
  • The UN World Food Programme ( are trying to provide food for the refugee camps, and the UN High Commission for Refugees ( are helping relocate refugees on the border
  • GOAL ( have brought emergency aid to 20,000 refugees in Chad

But humanitarian aid agencies alone cannot deal alone with a resurgent conflict of such magnitude. What is needed is the political will - perhaps accompanied by the military muscle - to stop those heinous atrocities. Or else, it is possible that what started as ethnic cleansing some seventeen months ago could quickly be confirmed as an all-defining genocide. But what are the political measures that are being taken to counter this conflict?

On 22 July 2004, both chambers of the US Congress (H Con Res 467 by 422 votes against none and with 12 abstentions, and then S Con Res 133 by voice vote) adopted a resolution that called the human rights’ abuses in Darfur as ‘genocide’. The main action points of the resolution are:

  • US to lead an international effort to prevent genocide in Darfur
  • US to consider multilateral or even unilateral intervention
  • Imposition of targeted sanctions
  • Establishment of a resettlement and rehabilitation fund

Bill Frist, US Senate Majority leader, backed this resolution and added that stability in Sudan would in turn help provide stability in the US. He commended the mediating role that Norway is playing, and called again for disarming the militias, increasing the humanitarian aid and providing assistance against water-borne diseases. He also raised the need for UN-sponsored international monitors that would substitute for the African monitors who have not even made it to Darfur yet.

Following this resolution, the 25 foreign ministers of the EU urged the Sudanese government to implement a promise made to the UN Secretary-General on 3 July 2004 to crack down on the Janjaweed militias, improve security and provide better access for relief efforts. They urged the UN to pass a resolution that threatens Sudan with ‘imminent’ sanctions.

Earlier, on 8 July 2004, a coalition of non-governmental organisations in the UK that includes major organisations such as Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Minority Rights Group International (MRG), had addressed a letter to Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, calling upon the UK Government to push for the adoption of a UN Security Council Resolution on Darfur. The letter reminded the Foreign Secretary that the UK Government is the second largest donor to Darfur, one of the key states in securing the recent peace protocols in Naivasha and an important member of both the EU and the UN Security Council. As such, the letter added, it is in a unique position to show international leadership and to make a real difference. The letter specified that the UN resolution should:

  • Order the immediate suspension of arms transfers and related material used by the Janjaweed and Government forces to commit human rights violations in Darfur. The resolution must include a strong monitoring mechanism that could inter alia investigate possible violations of the arms embargo and report periodically on its findings;
  • Deploy human rights monitors in sufficient numbers and adequately resourced, with a clear mandate to investigate ongoing human rights violations in Darfur and monitor the protection of civilians in particular in the camps for internally displaced people, and to make its findings and recommendations public;
  • Create an international commission of inquiry to examine evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international humanitarian law as well as allegations of genocide, and to make its findings and recommendations public.

John Weiss, a scholar of genocide at Cornell, offered a further viewpoint. He said that the following steps must be taken:

  • Request urgently for a Security Council Resolution under Article VII that would get UN troops into Sudan to protect relief transport, internally displaced persons and refugees, human rights investigators, and relief workers;
  • Given the difficulty and slowness of overland transport, an airdrop and airlift system should be instituted as soon as possible. An airlift to camps from airports outside Sudan would secure airdrops and landing zones. These troops securing the zones must be non-Sudanese. Accompanying this measure would be a ‘no-fly zone’ à la Bosnia, enforced by the UN or a ‘coalition of the willing’;
  • A programme should be devised for resettling refugees in Chad, and internally displaced persons in areas near their destroyed villages or in other locations of their choosing. The Sudanese Government has its own plan for ‘resettling’ the refugees - which, of course, was responsible for expelling them in the first place. This includes imprisonment in ‘peace villages’ like those that stretch south of Khartoum and are a means of controlling refugees from attacks by the Sudanese government on the Southern separatists;
  • The institution of indictments by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Sudanese Government officials and Janjaweed leaders.

Much as the general approach proposed by Professor John Weiss is sound, it is also fraught with pitfalls. I believe it would make more sense to issue an ultimatum that is backed by the threat of a no-fly zone and ICC indictments. As I see it, there are many aid and relief workers in Sudan who might well be kicked out as a result of such punitive measures of immediate implementation. The humanitarian situation would then get worse - not better. After all, Sudan has in the past relented to pressure - whether in relation to bin Laden’s presence in the country in the 1990’s, on al-Qa’eda ties after 9/11, or on the north-south war in the last two years - and I believe that General Omar Hassan al Bashir’s government would grudgingly relent again if it thinks that non-compliance would damage to its own future and survival. Surely, those measures that include a proposed ‘African solution with an international component’ to this conflict in Sudan could at long last be discussed at the meeting in Accra on Thursday between the UN Secretary-General and African leaders.

It galls me how the world community applies different standards for different genocides. After all, was it not during WWI in 1915 that it blatantly substituted international treaties in order to whitewash the Armenian Genocide that resulted in the extermination of well over one million victims? And with other genocides in-between, did history not repeat itself ten years ago in Rwanda? Today, in 2004, the victims are Sudanese, and it seems that there are different horses for different courses. If we believe in a common humanity, how come we distinguish between Armenians, Ukrainians, Cambodians, Rwandans or Darfurians with such neglectful impunity? Is that not the starting point in combating genocide?

Hilary Andersson is an accomplished journalist whose reports have added a sense of human urgency to the situation in Darfur. Perhaps it is high time to stop playing with geo-political musical chairs. Instead, is it not time to re-sensitise ourselves to our common humanity? But are we ethical enough and honest enough to look beyond our own interests? Or would the growing genocide in Darfur simply join the historical heap of other forgotten genocides?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2004   |   27 July


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