Friday, July 23, 2004

US House of Representatives Calls Darfur 'genocide' (BBC News)

Overall, I think this is a very welcome and potentially significant development, that ought to be applauded.

However, life is complicated, so ...

... I feel compelled to add that, all things considered, I am not really sure that the term "genocide" is appropriate in this case--yet. There is no question that what is going on is an overwhelming atrocity, involving ethnically-targeted mass murder, mass rape, ethnic cleansing, and other crimes. This constitutes more than sufficient justification for urgent action--and, as I've noted before, this is not ONLY a humanitarian crisis requiring large-scale relief work, but even more fundamentally a massive crime requiring a political solution.

However, I happen to think that we should be very careful about using the term "genocide," to avoid having it get cheapened by rhetorical inflation. (During the past century, unfortunately, there have been all too many cases where it clearly fit.) And so far, it's not clear that what is going on in Darfur adds up to full-scale genocide--which is, of course, a very high standard.

On the other hand, this COULD turn into something like genocide, with estimates of over a million deaths in the near future, if serious action is not taken VERY quickly. (If so, this would accord with the pattern of the Armenian genocide during WWI, which was carried out not by industrialized extermination--as with the Nazis--or by rapid mass executions--as in Rwanda--, but through an accumulation of small-scale massacres, deportations, and mass .starvation These added up to a systematic policy of genocide, at the end of which, according to what the Turkish leader Talaat Bey is supposed to have said to a German diplomat, "The Armenian problem no longer exists." The agenda of the Sudanese government in Darfur is clearly similar.) Given this possibility, and given the scale of the atrocity, I guess I find it hard to be entirely unsympathetic to people who want to mobilize the word "genocide" to convey the urgency of the situation (and to use the legal leverage of the Genocide Convention to force governments to take action)..

Jeff Weintraub

(P.S. If anyone thinks I'm wrong concerning one or more of these judgments, I am open to counter-arguments.)

BBC News
Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK

US House calls Darfur 'genocide'
Genocide is being committed in Sudan's Darfur region, the US House of Representatives says in a resolution.

Pro-government Arab militias have forced more than one million black Africans from their homes and killed thousands, human rights groups say.

The US is proposing a UN resolution threatening Sudan with sanctions. Congress urged the Bush administration to seek a strong document.

The UN is obliged to take action if it accepts genocide is occurring.

Speaking later on Friday, President George Bush said: "We made our position very clear to the Sudanese government - they must stop Janjaweed (militia) violence, they must provide access to humanitarian relief for the people who suffer".

He said the US was working with the UN and African Union "to bring relief to the suffering people in that region".

US to lead an international effort to prevent genocide in Darfur
US to consider multilateral or even unilateral intervention
Impose targeted sanctions
Establish a resettlement and rehabilitation fund

Both US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have previously said they have not seen enough evidence to convince them there is a genocide in Darfur.

Sudan denies backing the militias, and has warned the US and UK not to get involved in another Iraq-style crisis.

'Mass graves'

The US Congress says the government must seek a UN resolution to authorise a multinational force to protect the displaced civilians and aid workers in Darfur.

The resolution of the US House of Representatives - adopted unanimously by 422 votes and 12 abstentions - says the Bush adminstration should call the atrocities in Darfur "by its rightful name: 'genocide'."

It urges the Bush administration to consider "multilateral or even unilateral intervention to prevent genocide should the United Nations Security Council fail to act".

Many of those who have fled their homes say Janjaweed militiamen patrol outside the camps, killing men and raping women who go in search of food or firewood.

Photographer Marcus Bleasdale says he has taken pictures of between 30 and 40 mass graves in Darfur, in which up to 100 people had been buried.

"As we looked along the horizon, we could see hands and heads sticking out of the trenches," he told the BBC.

Sanctions threat

"While the world debates, people die in Darfur," Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

"We actually could save some lives instead of lamenting afterward that we should have done something."

But Mr Powell again accused the Sudan government of backing the militias and said bomb attacks were continuing.

"Since they turned it on, they can turn it off," he added. "We made it clear to them that there will be consequences if it is not turned off."

The draft US resolution calls on Khartoum to crack down on the Janjaweed militia, which are accused of carrying out thousands of rapes and killings in Darfur, or face further action, including possible sanctions.

Mr Annan said he believed the Security Council would back the US-sponsored draft resolution.

"The reactions are quite positive... My sense is that it will be successful," he said at a joint press conference with Mr Powell.

Police feared

Sudanese officials warned against any meddling in the country's internal affairs.

"We don't need any [UN] resolutions. Any resolutions from the Security Council will complicate things," said Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail.

He likened US and British pressure on Sudan as similar to that put on Iraq before the war there.

Some 6,000 policemen have been sent to restore peace in Darfur but the BBC's Hilary Andersson says those who have fled their homes are afraid of "uniformed men of any kind".

They fear the policemen could be used to force them to return home and accuse Sudan's security forces of working closely with the militias.

Sudan has also promised to disarm the Janjaweed, but the US says this has not yet started.

Sudan blames the conflict on rebels who took up arms last year, demanding greater rights for Darfur's non-Arab groups.