The human catastrophe in the Darfur region of Sudan unfolds in a half-light, against a grotesque backdrop of intrigue and monumental hypocrisy in which many of the principal local and international players currently engaged in debate over the applicability of the term â€œgenocideâ€ have themselves been historically complicit in systemic, worlds-shattering mass murder.
Reasonable citizens of the planet should harbor no doubt that acts of genocide were set in motion by the regime in Khartoum. The â€œworld’s worst humanitarian crisis,â€ as the United Nations describes it, which has claimed at least 50,000 lives and displaced one million Muslim Africans, is the direct and calculated result of policies pursued by the Islamist and self-described â€œArabâ€ Sudanese government. Irrefutable evidence, gathered and presented by a myriad of sources, gives overwhelming credence to Human Rights Watchâ€™s charge that the Khartoum â€œgovernmentâ€™s use of ethnic militias and indiscriminate bombing resulted in crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of ethnic cleansingâ€ â€“ the latter term being a more recently coined euphemism for genocide. According to the 1948 United Nations Convention, â€œgenocide 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 partâ€¦â€
Khartoumâ€™s crimes, directly and through its surrogates among the local Janjaweed militia, fit the bill.
Yet, the United Nations debate over Khartoumâ€™s culpability in Darfur rings hollow, somehow disconnected from the historical and contemporary dynamics of genocide. The cumulative acts that finally combine to shock the world and name the crime â€“ usually, after the atrocity has been completed â€“ are too often perceived as discreet outbreaks of savagery, rather than as the inevitable result of the ethnic-based warfare routinely practiced and instigated by powers both large and small, including the Europeans and Americans who so self-righteously condemn the turbaned rulers of Sudan.
Darfur fell victim to a deliberate policy of ethnic warfare that could have only culminated in genocide â€“ and has in fact soaked Sudan ocean-deep in blood for more than two decades. “The seeds of genocide are embedded in the [Khartoum] government’s counter-insurgency strategy,â€ said John Garang, chairman of the Sudan Peopleâ€™s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), at a Congressional Black Caucus roundtable discussion this month in Washington. â€œWhat is happening in Darfur is the same thing that has happened in southern Sudan for the last 21 years.”
Since 1983, as many as two million people have died in a conflict that pitted traditionalist and Christian Sudanese and other groups against fundamentalist Islamic governments in Khartoum. For the last two years the belligerents have struggled to negotiate a settlement under intense pressure from the United States, which is eager to gain access to potentially rich Sudanese oil fields. Geopolitical entanglements abound â€“ the U.S. has in the past given the southerners material support â€“ but Garang sees the scope of the carnage as rooted in the nature of Khartoumâ€™s war strategy. His remarks to the Black Caucus were reported in Arabic News:
“Counter-insurgency is a legitimate weapon in war but it is unique. You recruit individuals from the constituency of the insurgents because they know the local languages, the terrain, and the local cultures. You then form counter-insurgency units who are deployed alongside regular government troops.”
Garang said, “A lot of emphasis has been put on the Jingaweit [Janjaweed],” which has become “a household word here in the United States and in many countries. But I want to submit that the problem is not [solely] the Jingaweit. Yes, the Jingaweit are the killers. And in that sense they are the problem. They are a tool in the hands of the [Khartoum] government. The problem in Darfur is the government’s counter-insurgency strategy.”
In Sudan, Garang said, “the government has taken counter-insurgency several steps further by recruiting not just individuals from the constituency of the insurgents,” but also recruiting whole tribes or whole ethnic groups to fight other ethnic groups that are against the governmentâ€¦. And so you end up with people fighting people instead of an army fighting an army, and that indeed is the basis of genocide,” he emphasized.
What Garang is describing is a military and political doctrine of race/religious/ethnic warfare that cannot but degenerate into exterminationism. The inexorable logic of genocide is embedded in the strategy. The outcome cannot be otherwise.
In the wake of a UN Security Council resolution last weekend threatening sanctions against Sudan, including its oil industry, Khartoum has agreed to take measures to protect civilians in Darfur, disarm the Janjaweed militia, and allow expansion of African Union monitors in the region. Algeria, China, Pakistan and Russia abstained from the vote. A UN commission of inquiry will ponder the question of whether Khartoum is guilty of â€œgenocide,â€ as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has charged.
Washington-based Africa Action Executive Director Salih Booker says the U.S. failure to get a unanimous vote at the Security Council is the result of Powell having â€œcried wolfâ€ too often. The U.S. â€œhas lost the moral authority it needs to rally its global neighbors to real action against genocide in Darfur,â€ said Booker, writing in the September 21 International Herald Tribune:
â€œSudanese ministers are quick to argue that Secretary of State Colin Powell was the one to present a false dossier on WMDs in Iraq to the UN Security Council, and now he is presenting a dossier against Sudan, another Arab state with oil. Instead of WMD, the United States is now declaring â€˜genocide.â€™ Sadly, such cynical skepticism resonates in large parts of the world.â€
The world is keenly aware of the subtext of the Sudan debate: oil. China, Indonesia and Malaysia have the inside track on Sudanese fields, which may be richer than the reserves in Equatorial Guinea. The U.S. wants in, and there is nothing cynical at all in the belief that Washington is using the threat of sanctions as a battering ram.
It took forty years for the United States to ratify the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime ofGenocide â€“ and Washington has since sought to limit the Conventionâ€™s jurisdiction over U.S. actions.
Moreover, when viewed from SPLA leader John Garangâ€™s perspective â€“ that a counter-insurgency warfare strategy of â€œrecruiting whole tribes or whole ethnic groups to fight other ethnic groupsâ€ leads directly to genocide â€“ the Americans and Europeans have been as guilty as Sudan, many times over. At every stage of European global expansion, indigenous peoples were lured into wars of annihilation against their neighbors for the ultimate benefit of the colonizers. The conquest of the natives of the northeast U.S. was largely a proxy affair â€“ a dance of death among Indians, orchestrated by the Dutch, British, French, and white settlers.
In modern times, the U.S. converted the Hmong of Laos into a communal heroin enterprise and guerilla army during the Southeast Asian wars. As a result, the Hmong have been scattered around the globe, unable to go home again, having been transformed by the French and Americans from a backward hill tribe into blood-enemies of the dominant Lao people. Two hundred thousand Hmong now live in the United States, 38 percent of them in poverty.
Had the U.S. â€œcontraâ€ war against Nicaraguaâ€™s Sandinista government gone on much longer, the Moskito Indians of the countryâ€™s Atlantic coast â€“ a mixture of Africans and natives â€“ might have found themselves locked in permanent conflict with their compatriots. Building on legitimate grievances, Ronald Reaganâ€™s CIA and assorted war dogs methodically created a Moskito insurgency, and then framed the conflict as something very much like a race/ethnic war. In time, it would have become such.
Racial and ethnic manipulation is first-nature to American foreign policy makers. From the moment it became clear that the Iraqi resistance would not allow the U.S. to achieve its fantasies, voices close to and within the Bush administration have been (wishfully) predicting civil war and urging partition of the nation. Washingtonâ€™s fallback position in Iraq is to divide the country along ethnic and religious lines. (Israel also desires the creation of weak Arab mini-states.) Bushâ€™s neocons are carefully laying the domestic political groundwork for a partition strategy, despite the fact that no important sector of Arab Iraqi opinion favors dissolution of the nation. No matter. As the U.S. position in Iraq unravels, the Americans will launch a desperate campaign to chop the country into more manageable parts by â€œrecruiting wholeâ€¦ethnic groups to fight other ethnic groupsâ€ in Iraq. That time is near at hand.
The UN Convention on Genocide did not prevent ethnic extermination in Rwanda and the subsequent deaths of three million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN remains impotent in the face of Israelâ€™s utter contempt for international legality. But we must not minimize the importance of the documents and structures that sought to bring law to the planet in the aftermath of World War II. These International Human Rights Instruments embody the collective moral judgment of humanity at this stage in our social development. They are our roadmaps to civilization, the closest things to sacred secular text that humanity has yet produced. Even an agent of world disorder such as Colin Powell invokes these instruments in search of moral authority.
Our collective moral growth as a species occurs within a framework of international law which, if nothing else, defines our crimes and calls them such. Each permutation of crime is noted in the context of the growing body of law, and subjected to the condemnation of billions. The genocide in Darfur can only be properly catalogued, understood and opposed as the product of political and military strategies that deliberately set ethnic, racial or religious groups on paths that lead to wars of extermination. Such behavior must be explicitly outlawed.
No matter how cynical U.S. motives, Colin Powellâ€™s invocation of the Genocide Convention in Darfur invigorates forces seeking a more just world. When criminals are compelled to cite the law, we know that justice is within our reach.