Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 17 May 2004

Sudan’s ignored genocide


The Wall Street Journal

May 17, 2004 — The rainy season has started in Sudan. The water that will be pouring down in the western region of Darfur will make roads impassable and cut off refugees from any access to food. The United States Agency for International Development, the largest food donor to Sudan, fears hundreds of thousands of people will die over the next nine months.

This is no ordinary famine, but part of the Sudanese regime’s campaign against the African tribes in Darfur, a "strategy of systematic and deliberate starvation," according to a United Nations report — a report that was initially suppressed so as not to offend Khartoum. Already around 30,000 people have been killed by Sudanese troops and so-called jingaweit, Arab militias.

The attacks often start with bombardments by the Sudanese air force; then ground troops and the jingaweit do the rest of the killing. Women and often even little girls are routinely raped. The attackers burn the villages and destroy the water supplies and food stocks in their starvation campaign. The result is the depopulation of wide swathes of land, which the Arab tribesmen then take over. Already one-fifth of the population in an area the size of France is on the run.

The "lucky" ones, some 120,000, have been able to escape to neighboring Chad, where aid agencies are at least allowed to try to feed the hungry, even though the rain will make this a logistical nightmare. Particularly worrisome is the fate of about one million refugees who are displaced inside Sudan. Many are held in concentration camps, where the jingaweit continue to "kill, rape and pillage," according to Human Rights Watch. International aid agencies are begging Khartoum for access to the region, but even those few supplies that are allowed into Darfur are often looted by the militia.

Commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda just a few weeks ago, U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan, who so miserably failed the Tutsis back then, warned of another impending genocide in Sudan. But yet again, we see the same ineffective "international community" at work and once again the Bush administration is isolated, this time as it tries to raise international pressure on Khartoum.

U.S. officials talk of their frustration as the U.N. Commission on Human Rights refuses to condemn the Sudanese regime. But what can you expect from a commission that includes countries such as Cuba, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and yes, also Sudan? When on May 4 Sudan was re-elected as a member of the Human Rights Commission, the American envoy was alone in walking out in protest, saying that the U.S. could not participate in this "absurdity."

On the U.N. Security Council, things don’t look much better. Veto-wielder China, which has major oil interests in Sudan and supplies the regime with arms, can always be trusted to come to Khartoum’s aid. The same goes for the two Muslim countries currently serving on the Security Council, Pakistan and Algeria.

But even the Europeans have shown little interest in pressing the issue. They say "politicizing" Darfur could threaten a peace deal to end a separate conflict between the regime and rebels in the south. Given that the Bush administration has invested immense political capital in those peace talks, it strikes us as less than credible when Europe pretends to be more concerned about these negotiations than Washington. The U.S. is pressing for tougher action against Sudan precisely because of its concerns for the peace talks. If Khartoum can get away with ethnic cleansing in Darfur, what hope is there that the regime would uphold any peace deal with the south?

Khartoum knows that, already involved in two wars, the U.S. cannot also intervene militarily in Sudan. And with Europe not even being ready to use diplomatic pressure to stop the slaughter, Khartoum can safely continue its Lebensraum campaign for Arab tribesmen. It is the same scorched-earth policy Khartoum had practiced in its 20-year war against the South. An estimated two million people have died there as Africans were being butchered, raped, enslaved and starved to death. Khartoum only entered into peace negotiations because the Southern rebels had become too strong.

While the conflict with the south was one of Muslim Arabs against black Christians and Animists, the one in Darfur seems to be being fought along racial lines entirely. The black Africans in Darfur are Muslims as well, though they are mostly Sufists, followers of an Islamic sect the extremists in Khartoum might consider to be heretical. And yet we do not hear any outrage from the Muslim world or the Arab League about the slaughter of fellow Muslims. Khartoum doesn’t allow any press into the region, so we don’t have any pictures of Arab soldateska burning black Africans in their mosques or raping Muslim women.

But even if such pictures existed, they would probably be so gruesome as to trigger media self-censorship. So the images that "shock" the world right now are those Abu Ghraib pictures of embarrassed but largely unharmed Iraqis, abuses the U.S. army had been investigating long before the pictures made front-page news. As long as this double standard prevails, with the U.S. military being held to a high standard and the savages in Khartoum given a free pass, there isn’t much hope for the people of Darfur. And given the number of opinion leaders now saying it was wrong for the coalition powers to depose the butcher of Baghdad, one is tempted to wonder as well how much hope there is for the human race.

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