Saturday, May 08, 2004

Mass murder & ethnic cleansing escalate in western Sudan

New York Times
March 27, 2004

HEADLINE: Will We Say 'Never Again' Yet Again?



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?


Independent (London)
April 23, 2004



THE FIRST sign is the ominous drone of a plane. Ageing Russian Antonovs sweep hundreds of feet over the remote Sudanese village, dispatching their deadly payload of crude barrel bombs. They randomly explode among the straw-roofed huts, sending terrified families scurrying for safety - but there is none.

Next comes the Janjaweed, a fearsome Arab militia mounted on camels and horses, and armed with AK-47 rifles and whips. They murder the men and boys of fighting age, gang-rape the women - sometimes in front of their families - and burn the houses. Their cattle are stolen, their modest possessions carted off.

Survivors dash for the border with neighbouring Chad, where hordes of Sudanese refugees are clinging to life in an inhospitable desert area, threatened by disease epidemics, looming famine and still more attacks.

This is where some of the world's worst human rights abuses are occurring and nothing is being done to stop it. This is ethnic cleansing Sudanese- style. A government-sponsored campaign, led by Arab tribesmen against their black, African neighbours, has triggered the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time and - with the world's eyes fixed on Iraq - its most forgotten calamity.

According to a confidential UN human rights report, seen by The Independent, the government forces are leading a "reign of terror", perpetrated by war criminals who may be guilty of crimes against humanity.

But, because of apparent delaying tactics by the government of Sudan, the report will not be aired at a UN Human Rights Commission meeting today.

More than one million people have been displaced since war erupted in Darfur - a remote western province the size of California - early last year. Another 110,000 have crossed into the harsh, mine-strewn deserts of eastern Chad.

According to the International Crisis Group, Darfur represents the "potential horror story in 2004". The Overseas Development Institute says there is "a clear risk of large-scale famine mortality".

After initially refusing to allow the UN team to visit Darfur, the Sudanese authorities changed their mind at the last-minute this week - delaying the confidential report's publication until after today's vote on whether to send a UN envoy to the country. The delay has provoked outrage from human rights campaigners, who see it as a blatant ploy to deflect scrutiny of its notoriously poor human rights record.

Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch said: "The Sudan government is trying to delay and delay these missions. It is trying everything it can to avoid UN censure."

There is much to hide. Darfur has been at war since the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) launched a rebellion early last year, citing economic marginalisation, chronic underdevelopment and the government's failure to protect farming tribes from attacks by armed Arab nomads. The SLA was later joined by a second rebel group, the loosely-allied Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

The war has pungent echoes of the 22-year war against the SPLA rebels, which is now winding down because ofo peace talks in neighbouring Kenya. To quell the southern insurgency, Khartoum sent squadrons of bombers, armed local Arab militas and manipulated Western aid. Now it is using the same ruthless tactics in Darfur.

Despite sporadic fighting between government and rebels, the brunt of the war has been borne by defenceless civilians. This week's UN report echoes earlier human rights investigations into its "scorched earth" strategy targeted at the Zaghawa, Massalit and Fur tribes, which are accused of supporting the two rebel groups.

Ageing Russian cargo planes attack first, lobbing crude bombs over towns and villages with wells or markets. Refugees describe the bombs - which in the southern war were simply oil drums packed with explosive and metal shards - as "big barrels". Others say they were attacked by helicopter gunships.

Those who survive the aerial bombardment are targeted by a follow-up offensive led by the Janjaweed militia, regular government soldiers, or both. From nomadic Arab tribes, the Janjaweed have traditionally battled with Darfur's farming and trading tribes for control of the area's scarce resources.

According to the UN report: "Janjaweed were invariably said to use horses and camels, while government soldiers were described as travelling in military vehicles," it said. "Both were dressed in combat fatigues and both were well-armed." An orgy of destruction and bloodshed ensues. Some victims talk of being stripped and repeatedly whipped or beaten with the butt of a gun.

The Janjaweed round up herds of cattle, camels and goats and steal all other possessions. The theft of livestock - the main form of wealth in Darfur - is to render the villagers destitute for life. Some of the stolen goods are sold in government-controlled towns.

More than 100 desperate refugees handed lists of their stolen goods to the UN researchers. Sexual violence is a widely-used "weapon of war" according to the UN report.

Gangs of Janjaweed rape non-Arab women, sometimes at gunpoint and in front of family members. The rape is usually accompanied by beating or whipping.

Some victims have become pregnant, although researchers admit accurate information is difficult to establish due to the intense local stigma. Some assaults have clear racial overtones. One 18-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that her attacker stuck a knife into her vagina, saying "You get this because you are black."

During such attacks, hundreds of children have been abducted, according to HRW, echoing slave raids carried out by another government-sponsored Arab militia, the Murahaleen, in southern Sudan.

Human rights groups say the spectre of ethnic cleansing, driven by province- wide panic and fear, hangs over the co-ordinated government attacks. The Intermediate Technology Development Group estimates that up to 60 per cent of villages have been "destroyed, burnt or abandoned because of attacks from the warring parties."

Until last January, President Omar el-Bashir's government prevented international humanitarian assistance to Darfur. Since then, a trickle of agencies have moved into the province but their movements remain severely restricted by the government.

Some have witnessed the atrocities first hand. The UN aid worker Ben Parker said yesterday: "I saw a village on fire east of El Genenina on Wednesday. The people ran away when they saw our car. We felt it wasn't safe to stop. I can't say I saw the Janjaweed lighting the match but that is their modus operandi."

Exhausted, terrified and hungry, and with nowhere else to run, a flood of 110,000 refugees have crossed into neighbouring Chad. They have found scant protection in the hot, inhospitable desert.

Some parts are still littered with landmines and other unexploded ordnance from Chad's own civil war in the 1970s. In some camps, up to 80 per cent of the refugees are children. Their fathers are thought to be dead, have remained behind to salvage their possessions, or have joined the rebel forces.

Western aid agencies are struggling to provide the refugees with water, food and medicine in extremely difficult conditions. Disease is a hovering threat - in Tine town, doctors reported 25 incidences of meningitis, which is above the threshold for an epidemic. Relief workers fear a rapid deterioration of conditions over the coming two months once seasonal rains start to pound down on the area.

But the refugees' greatest fear is for their own security.

Even across the Chad border, they are not guaranteed sanctuary from the ravages of their own government. In February, three people were killed and about 50 injured when bombs from a Sudanese aircraft landed just over the border.

In an effort to protect refugees from cross-border raids, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday it had moved more than 31,000 Sudanese refugees further inland in eastern Chad.

According to the UN report the Chadian military has engaged in battles with Janjaweed militiamen who slip across the border to harass refugees and steal cattle. In a recent exchange of fire, two Chadian soldiers died and one was injured.

President Bashir described the Janjaweed as rebels not supported by the government - an account disputed many workers and diplomats. The Janajweed are heavily armed, their leaders are in provincial offices, use satellite phones and drive government jeeps.

"They are not out-of-control bandits. They work in close cooperation with the government forces. They loot and rape and nobody is allowed touch them," said Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch. "It's open season on all the ethnic communities."

On Monday, the Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Ibrahim Hamid, led a rare media tour of selected towns in Darfur. He said the government would reconstruct areas hit by the fighting. "As you can see, the psychological effect of this ceasefire is tremendous and since Sunday there has been no violation of this ceasefire," he said in Nyala town.

He refused to comment on the government's refusal to issue a visa to Jan Egeland, the UN's chief humanitarian co-ordinator. Mr Egeland has described the violence against Africans in Darfur as "ethnic cleansing, but not genocide" and termed the situation "one of the most forgotten and neglected humanitarian crises."

In its conclusions, the UN report called for an international commission of inquiry to establish the scale of the crimes against humanity in Darfur, and the complicity of the Sudan government in the atrocities.