Mass murder and ethnic cleansing in western Sudan
Very recently, this ongoing atrocity has begun to get a little more public attention, including a series of pieces in the New York Times by the columnist Nick Kristof (below). Some of this is linked to the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, which has provoked reflection and remorse in some quarters. An editorial in Wednesday's Le Monde described what is going on in Darfur as "a crime against humanity," being carried out amid general indifference--"Just like Rwanda in the terrible spring of 1994." On Thursday Kofi Annan, who just made an apology about the UN's role in Rwanda, mentioned that some kind of urgent international action--including military action--might well be necessary to address the unfolding catastrophe in western Sudan.
Perhaps as a result of this increased attention, I notice that today the Sudanese government announced a cease-fire with the main guerrilla group in Darfur. At best, this comes a little late, since most estimates suggest that tens of thousand of people have already been killed and perhaps 600,000-800,000 people have already been displaced, but it's potentially a promising piece of news. Unfortunately, the record of the past two decades in Sudan make it clear that temporary cease-fires, by themselves, don't mean much. This is a cheap way for the Sudanese government to lower the diplomatic heat for a while. But unless there is ongoing public attention and outside pressure, within a short time it will probably just go back to doing the same thing.
In a different (purely hypothetical) world, several possibilities might suggest themselves:
=> Sudan is a member of the Arab League. Would it be appropriate for the Arab League to express disapproval of this campaign at its next meeting (assuming it can get around to holding another meeting)? (While they're at it, I suppose they could also take up the mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and enslavement in the southern Sudan.) Just a joke, of course ....
=> Sudan is also a member of the African Union, and the people being murdered, raped, and expelled in Darfur are black Africans. Would it be appropriate for the AU, or at least a few African governments, to publicly criticize this atrocity? (The AU just expressed approval of the cease-fire, but has never made a peep about the crimes that preceded it. I wouldn't hold my breath.)
=> The victims of this atrocity also happen to be Muslims. Perhaps the Organization of the Islamic Conference might even pass some resolution deploring it?
In the real world, the crucial requirement for any kind of serious response to this atrocity (or even for getting UN resolutions passed about it) is probably some sort of joint initiative by the US and by some key western European countries. (As Samantha Power points out in the article below, it's pretty certain that nothing will happen unless the US gets seriously involved. However, I rather doubt that the US government will have any interest in taking the initiative on this matter by itself, especially since the US doesn't have a lot of excess political capital or credibility to squander right now, and any US initiative would almost certainly produce yet more outrage in the Arab world. So nothing will happen unless the Europeans get seriously involved, too.) I can't say that I feel very optimistic, but I can see a glimmer of hope that something MIGHT wind up getting done in this case, and this is certainly something worthwhile to support. If even a small amount of public attention can get the Sudanese government to pretend to stop this campaign temporarily, perhaps more sustained attention and pressure might increase the chances of their actually ending it.
At all events, this ongoing story deserves attention.
New York Times
April 6, 2004
Remember Rwanda, but Take Action in Sudan
Samantha Power is the author of "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.
Ten years ago this week, Rwandan Hutu extremists embarked on a genocidal campaign in which they murdered some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus — a genocide more efficient than that of the Nazis.
On this anniversary, Western and United Nations leaders are expressing their remorse and pledging their resolve to prevent future humanitarian catastrophes. But as they do so, the Sudanese government is teaming up with Arab Muslim militias in a campaign of ethnic slaughter and deportation that has already left nearly a million Africans displaced and more than 30,000 dead. Again, the United States and its allies are bystanders to slaughter, seemingly no more prepared to prevent genocide than they were a decade ago.
The horrors in the Darfur region of Sudan are not "like" Rwanda, any more than those in Rwanda were "like" those ordered by Hitler. The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum has armed nomadic Arab herdsmen, or Janjaweed, against rival African tribes. The government is using aerial bombardment to strafe villages and terrorize civilians into flight. And it is denying humanitarian access to some 700,000 people who are trapped in Darfur.
The Arab Muslim marauders and their government sponsors do not yet seem intent on exterminating every last African Muslim in their midst. But they do seem determined to wipe out black life in the region. The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur, said Mukesh Kapila, the former United Nations' humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, "is the numbers of dead, murdered, tortured, raped."
A radio exchange between a Sudanese ground commander and a pilot overhead (taped by a British journalist in February) captures the aims of the attackers:
Commander: We've found people still in the village.
Pilot: Are they with us or against us?
Commander: They say they will work with us.
Pilot: They're liars. Don't trust them. Get rid of them.
Pilot: Now the village is empty and secure for you. Any village you pass through you must burn. That way, when the villagers come back they'll have a surprise waiting for them.
The lessons of Rwanda are many. The first is that those intent on wiping out an inconvenient minority have a habit of denying journalists and aid workers access and of pursuing bad-faith negotiations. Thus far the Sudanese government has pursued both approaches, and Western officials have been far too trusting of their assurances.
A second lesson is that outside powers cannot wait for confirmation of genocide before they act. In 1994 the Clinton administration spent more time maneuvering to avoid using the term "genocide" than it did using its resources to save lives. In May 1994, an internal Pentagon memo warned against using the term "genocide" because it could commit the United States "to actually do something." In the case of Sudan, American officials need not focus on whether the killings meet the definition of genocide set by the 1948 Genocide Convention; they should focus instead on trying to stop them.
A third lesson is that even when the United States decides not to respond militarily, American leadership is indispensable. This is especially true because Europe continues to avoid intervening in violent humanitarian crises. And it remains true despite the Bush administration's unpopularity abroad. The United States often takes an all-or-nothing approach: if it doesn't send troops, it tends to foreclose other policy options.
In Sudan, this tendency has been compounded by the administration's reluctance to risk undermining the peace process it has spearheaded between Sudan's government and the rebels in the south. While
After all, regimes that resort to ethnic killing and deportation as a tool of statecraft rarely keep their word. An important predictor of Sudan's reliability as an ally in the war on terrorism and as a party to the American-brokered peace accord is its treatment of African Muslims in Darfur.
What would standing up to Sudan entail? The administration has several options.
On the economic and diplomatic front, the United States has already demonstrated its clout in Sudan, which is desperate to see American sanctions lifted. So far, Secretary of State Colin Powell has rightly described the humanitarian crisis as a "catastrophe." But the White House and the Pentagon have been mostly mute. President Bush must use American leverage to demand that the government in Khartoum cease its aerial attacks, terminate its arms supplies to the Janjaweed and punish those militia accused of looting, rape and murder. The president made a phone call last week to Sudan's president, Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, but one ritual conversation hardly counts as pressure. Mr. Bush should keep calling until humanitarian workers and investigators are permitted free movement in the region, a no-fly zone is declared and the killings are stopped, and he should dispatch Mr. Powell to the Chad-Sudan border to signal America's resolve.
The Bush administration can't do this alone. Ten thousand international peacekeepers are needed in Darfur. President Bush will have to press Sudan to agree to a United Nations mission — and he will also need United Nations member states to sign on. The Europeans can help by urging the Security Council to refer the killings to the newly created International Criminal Court. Though the United States has been hostile to the court, this is one move it should not veto, as an investigation by the court could deter future massacres.
President Clinton has said that one of the greatest mistakes of his presidency was not doing more to prevent the Rwandan genocide. When he visited Rwanda in 1998, he tried to explain America's failure to respond: "It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."
Today, roughly 1,000 miles north of Rwanda, tens of thousands of Africans are herded onto death marches, and Western leaders are again sitting in offices. How sad it is that it doesn't even seem strange.
New York Times
March 24, 2004
Ethnic Cleansing, Again
By Nicholas D. Kristof (email@example.com)
Dateline: Along the Sudan-Chad border
The most vicious ethnic cleansing you've never heard of is unfolding here in the southeastern fringes of the Sahara Desert. It's a campaign of murder, rape and pillage by Sudan's Arab rulers that has forced 700,000 black African Sudanese to flee their villages.
The desert is strewn with the carcasses of cattle and goats, as well as fresh refugee graves that are covered with brush so wild animals will not dig them up. Refugees crowd around overused wells, which now run dry, and they mourn loved ones whose bodies they cannot recover.
Western and African countries need to intervene urgently. Sudan's leaders should not be able to get away with mass murder just because they are shrewd enough to choose victims who inhabit a poor region without airports, electricity or paved roads.
The culprit is the Sudanese government, one of the world's nastiest. Its Arab leaders have been fighting a civil war for more than 20 years against its rebellious black African south. Lately it has armed lighter-skinned Arab raiders, the Janjaweed, who are killing or driving out blacks in the Darfur region near Chad.
"They came at 4 a.m. on horseback, on camels, in vehicles, with two helicopters overhead," recalled Idris Abu Moussa, a 26-year-old Sudanese farmer. "They killed 50 people in my village. My father, grandmother, uncle and two brothers were all killed."
"They don't want any blacks left," he added.
Most refugees have stories like that. "They took the cattle and horses, killed the men, raped the women, and then they burned the village," said Abubakr Ahmed Abdallah, a 60-year-old refugee who escaped to Toukoultoukouli in Chad.
"They want to exterminate us blacks," said Halime Ali Souf. Her husband was killed, and she fled into Chad with her infant.
Once refugees like Ms. Halime have fled into Chad, their troubles are not over. The only source of water for many border villages is the riverbed, or wadi, marking the boundary between the two countries, and the Janjaweed regularly shoot men who go there to get water or gather wood.
Zakaria Ibrahim was shot dead a few days ago. "He went to get sticks to build a hut," said his haggard widow, Hawai Abdulyaya, who is left with five children.
The Janjaweed regularly invade Chad to seize cattle and attack Sudanese refugees. In addition, the Sudanese Army has dropped bombs on Chadian villages like Tine and Besa.
These skirmishes are taking place in a sparsely populated land of sand, shrubs and occasional oases. The only roads are dirt tracks barely navigable by four-wheel-drive vehicles -- except when the rainy season makes the area completely impassible. (Join me for a multimedia tour of Africa at www.nytimes.com/kristof.)
The U.N.'s Sudan coordinator, Mukesh Kapila, described the situation in a BBC interview on Friday as similar in character, if not scale, to the Rwanda genocide of 1994. "This is ethnic cleansing," he said. "This is the world's greatest humanitarian crisis, and I don't know why the world isn't doing more about it."
Countless thousands of black Sudanese have been murdered, and 600,000 victims of this ethnic cleansing have fled to other parts of Sudan and are suffering from malnutrition and disease. The 110,000 who have fled into Chad are better off because of the magnificent response of the Chadian peasants. Chadians are desperately poor themselves, but they share what little food and water is available with the Sudanese refugees.
"If we have food or water, we'll share it with them," said a Chadian peasant, Adam Isak Abubakr. "We can't leave them like this."
Let's hope that we Americans will show the same gumption and compassion. We should call Sudan before the U.N. Security Council and the world community and insist that it stop these pogroms. To his credit, President Bush has already led the drive for peace in Sudan, doing far more to achieve a peace than all his predecessors put together. Now he should show the same resolve in confronting this latest menace.
In the 21st century, no government should be allowed to carry out ethnic cleansing, driving 700,000 people from their homes. If we turn away simply because the victims are African tribespeople who have the misfortune to speak no English, have no phones and live in one of the most remote parts of the globe, then shame on us.
New York Times
March 27, 2004
Will We Say 'Never Again' Yet Again?
By Nicholas D. Kristof (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dateline: Along the Sudan-Chad border
For decades, whenever the topic of genocide has come up, the refrain has been, "Never again."
Yet right now, the government of Sudan is engaging in genocide against three large African tribes in its Darfur region here. Some 1,000 people are being killed a week, tribeswomen are being systematically raped, 700,000 people have been driven from their homes, and Sudan's Army is even bombing the survivors.
And the world yawns.
So what do we tell refugees like Muhammad Yakob Hussein, who lives in the open desert here because his home was burned and his family members killed in Sudan? He now risks being shot whenever he goes to a well to fetch water. Do we advise such refugees that "never again" meant nothing more than that a Fuhrer named Hitler will never again construct death camps in Germany?
Interviews with refugees like Mr. Hussein -- as well as with aid workers and U.N. officials -- leave no doubt that attacks in Darfur are not simply random atrocities. Rather, as a senior U.N. official, Mukesh Kapila, put it, "It is an organized attempt to do away with a group of people."
"All I have left is this jalabiya," or cloak, said Mr. Hussein, who claimed to be 70 but looked younger (ages here tend to be vague aspirations, and they usually emerge in multiples of 10). Mr. Hussein said he'd fled three days earlier after an attack in which his three brothers were killed and all his livestock stolen: "Everything is lost. They burned everything."
Another man, Khamis Muhammad Issa, a strapping 21-year-old, was left with something more than his clothes -- a bullet in the back. He showed me the bulge of the bullet under the skin. The bullet wiggled under my touch.
"They came in the night and burned my village," he said. "I was running away and they fired. I fell, and they thought I was dead."
In my last column, I called these actions "ethnic cleansing." But let's be blunt: Sudan's behavior also easily meets the definition of genocide in Article 2 of the 1948 convention against genocide. That convention not only authorizes but also obligates the nations ratifying it -- including the U.S. -- to stand up to genocide.
The killings are being orchestrated by the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, partly through the Janjaweed militia, made up of Arab raiders armed by the government. The victims are non-Arabs: blacks in the Zaghawa, Massaliet and Fur tribes. "The Arabs want to get rid of anyone with black skin," Youssef Yakob Abdullah said. In the area of Darfur that he fled, "there are no blacks left," he said.
In Darfur, the fighting is not over religion, for the victims as well as the killers are Muslims. It is more ethnic and racial, reflecting some of the ancient tension between herdsmen (the Arabs in Darfur) and farmers (the black Africans, although they herd as well). The Arabs and non-Arabs compete for water and forage, made scarce by environmental degradation and the spread of the desert.
In her superb book on the history of genocide, "A Problem from Hell," Samantha Power focuses on the astonishing fact that U.S. leaders always denounce massacres in the abstract or after they are over -- but, until Kosovo, never intervened in the 20th century to stop genocide and "rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred." The U.S. excuses now are the same ones we used when Armenians were killed in 1915 and Bosnians and Rwandans died in the 1990's: the bloodshed is in a remote area; we have other priorities; standing up for the victims may compromise other foreign policy interests.
I'm not arguing that we should invade Sudan. But one of the lessons of history is that very modest efforts can save large numbers of lives. Nothing is so effective in curbing ethnic cleansing as calling attention to it.
President Bush could mention Darfur or meet a refugee. The deputy secretary of state could visit the border areas here in Chad. We could raise the issue before the U.N. And the onus is not just on the U.S.: it's shameful that African and Muslim countries don't offer at least a whisper of protest at the slaughter of fellow Africans and Muslims.
Are the world's pledges of "never again" really going to ring hollow one more time?
New York Times
March 31, 2004
Starved For Safety
By Nicholas D. Kristof (email@example.com)
Dateline: Adre, Chad
So why is Africa such a mess?
To answer that question, let me tell you about a 34-year-old man who limped over to me at this oasis in eastern Chad. "My name is Moussa Tamadji Yodi," he said in elegant French, "and I'm a teacher. . . . I just crossed the border yesterday from Sudan. I was beaten up and lost everything."
Mr. Yodi, a college graduate, speaks French, Arabic, English and two African languages. During the decades of Chad's civil war, he fled across the border into the Darfur region of Sudan to seek refuge.
Now Darfur has erupted into its own civil war and genocide. Mr. Yodi told how a government-backed Arab militia had stopped his truck -- the equivalent of a public bus -- and forced everyone off. The troops let some people go, robbed and beat others, and shot one young man in the head, probably because he was from the Zaghawa tribe, which the Arab militias are trying to wipe out.
"Nobody reacted," Mr. Yodi said. "We were all afraid."
So now Mr. Yodi is a refugee for a second time, fleeing another civil war. And that is a window into Africa's central problem: insecurity.
There is no formula for economic development. But three factors seem crucial: security, market-oriented policies and good governance. Botswana is the only African country that has enjoyed all three in the last 40 years, and it has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. And when these conditions applied, Uganda, Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda boomed.
But the African leaders who cared the most about their people, like Julius Nyerere of Tanzania or Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, tended to adopt quasi-socialist policies that hurt their people. In recent decades, Africans did much better ruled with capitalism than with compassion.
These days, African economic policies are more market-oriented, and governance is improving. The big civil wars are winding down. All this leaves me guardedly optimistic.
Yet Africa's biggest problem is still security. The end of the cold war has seen a surge in civil conflict, partly because great powers no longer stabilize client states. One-fifth of Africans live in nations shaken by recent wars. My Times colleague Howard French forcefully scolds the West in his new book, "A Continent for the Taking," for deliberately looking away from eruptions of unspeakable violence.
One lesson of the last dozen years is that instead of being purely reactive, helpfully bulldozing mass graves after massacres, African and Western leaders should try much harder to stop civil wars as they start. The world is now facing a critical test of that principle in the Darfur region of Sudan, where Arab militias are killing and driving out darker-skinned African tribespeople. While the world now marks the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and solemnly asserts that this must never happen again, it is.
Some 1,000 people are dying each week in Sudan, and 110,000 refugees, like Mr. Yodi, have poured into Chad. Worse off are the 600,000 refugees within Sudan, who face hunger and disease after being driven away from their villages by the Arab militias.
"They come with camels, with guns, and they ask for the men," Mr. Yodi said. "Then they kill the men and rape the women and steal everything." One of their objectives, he added, "is to wipe out blacks."
This is not a case when we can claim, as the world did after the Armenian, Jewish and Cambodian genocides, that we didn't know how bad it was. Sudan's refugees tell of mass killings and rapes, of women branded, of children killed, of villages burned -- yet Sudan's government just stiffed new peace talks that began last night in Chad.
So far the U.N. Security Council hasn't even gotten around to discussing the genocide. And while President Bush, to his credit, raised the issue privately in a telephone conversation last week with the president of Sudan, he has not said a peep about it publicly. It's time for Mr. Bush to speak out forcefully against the slaughter.
This is not just a moral test of whether the world will tolerate another genocide. It's also a practical test of the ability of African and Western governments alike to respond to incipient civil wars while they can still be suppressed. Africa's future depends on the outcome, and for now it's a test we're all failing.