The Crisis in Darfur, Sudan

The Crisis in Darfur, Sudan

Panelists report on genocide in Sudan, debate calling for U.S. military intervention.

Leslie Evans Email LeslieEvans

"I heard story after story of the most mind-numbing violence that in the twenty years of my own experience visiting war zones throughout Africa were really only second in terms of scope and in terms of ferocity to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994," John Prendergast, former advisor on Africa to President Clinton who had just returned from a visit to Darfur, told a UCLA audience November 19 about the current situation in western Sudan.

Prendergast was one of four specialists who discussed different aspects of the murderous repression of indigenous Black African ethnic groups in the province of Darfur at the hands of the Arab government of Sudan. The meeting, held in the UCLA Public Policy building, was cosponsored by the Center for African Studies and the Globalization Research Center - Africa.

John Prendergast currently represents the International Crisis Group, a prominent NGO based in Brussels. "I just returned over the summer and fall from two visits to the refugee camps in eastern Chad where there are Sudanese from Darfur, and to the rebel held areas of Darfur itself," he told the meeting. He said that thus far international protests have had no effect in restraining the Sudan government and the Janjaweed Arab militias that support it from destroying villages and massacring their inhabitants. "After three years of very vigorous U.S.-led diplomacy, often at the highest levels, we also don't have a peace agreement. The legacy of failures is really second to none."

A Grim Picture

Prendergast said that two "very weak" UN Security Council resolutions have failed. "In the aftermath of those resolutions, first, violence against civilians has risen dramatically over the last couple of months. The cease-fire is collapsing. Banditry and abductions of civilians are on the rise. Attacks against relief agencies have begun. Incidents of mass rape continue to be reported on a regular basis and are unchecked. The access for humanitarian organizations, not just because of the attacks but for other reasons, has diminished. Displaced camps are still being burned, as you have probably seen on the news. The displaced populations, as part of that burning of these camps, is being forcibly moved in many places."

The conflict in Darfur, Sudan's western-most province, dates back to 1987 when in the midst of a severe famine the Arab government at Khartoum armed local Arabs against the local African farming communities of the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit peoples, who the government made efforts to disarm. In February 2003 the Sudan Liberation Army, a black African rebel group based among the Fur that dates back to the late 1980s, launched attacks on government positions in Darfur. The government responded with an unprecedented wave of assaults on the three farming peoples, using regular military forces and also the so-called Janjaweed militias, made up of Arabs recruited mainly from the Bagarra people and supported by the central government.

"Rebel movements are proliferating," John Prendergast said. "I was just on the phone this morning with someone out in Darfur who had just met up with one of the new rebel movements that have splintered and they were making pronouncements that they were going to fight against the rebels and the government for territory.

"And the Janjaweed militias that you have all heard about, are still, after all the pledges and all the noise, still preying on the civilians on the periphery of these internally displaced camps." The Arab militias, Prendergast said, have a policy of capturing and raping African women. "As you all know, there is a horrible Sophie's choice that most women have to make on a daily basis, because, of course, the relief assistance that you get in these kind of camps anywhere in the world is the kind that requires a great deal of preparation to be consumed. And one of the aspects of preparation is to cook. And to cook you need firewood. Because these are largely denuded areas of the Sahara, you have quite long distances that people have to go to find firewood. So you have women on a daily basis choosing to keep their families alive, having to go out to forage for firewood and sometimes for the wild foods that supplement the family's diet, but knowing that there is a very high likelihood that if not today, if not tomorrow, then in the next week or two weeks they will be raped. It is a stunning choice that we are leaving these people to make on a daily basis because of our indifference."

After twenty months of slaughter, Prendergast said, "Not one punitive measure has been imposed on the government of Sudan." He called for tough American diplomatic action, including sanctions, sharply criticizing the Bush administration's policy of constructive engagement. "Whenever we have tried to seduce Khartoum by throwing incentives in front of the government, giving them options to go forward in the right way and if they do they will get rewarded, they have taken those and then continued with their behavior. But when they have been pressured with very specific punitive measures they have responded and made changes in their policy."

Hosts to Osama bin Laden

He reminded the audience that Sudan had permitted Osama bin Laden to live there in the mid-1990s and had even given Al Qaeda training camps on Sudanese territory. "When I worked for the Clinton administration and when we imposed simple measures through the Security Council, the most biting one, and this may sound laughable, but it wasn't to them, was a set of travel restrictions. This simply meant that none of the senior officials in the government of Sudan could travel in countries that were members of the United Nations. There were in effect scarlet letters placed on their shirt and they were made international pariahs. Now these guys have pretensions of greatness. They think that if all these isolating elements are removed they can be actors on the world stage, they can be involved in the Middle East peace process, they can broker all kinds of things in the Middle East and in Africa. And they hated it. So they gutted the Al Qaeda infrastructure, they kicked them out and did a number of things that demonstrated to me that once you pressured them in very specific steps that there will be behavior change. They are pragmatic survivors."

Prendergast called for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Sudan. He also pointed out that Sudan exports some three-quarters of a billion dollars a year in oil. "There are assets out there of this government that if you want to go after them you can freeze these assets. The same thing we do against terrorist groups, why can't we do it against human rights abusers?" He also said the travel restrictions on members of the Sudan government, lifted by the Bush administration in 2001, should be reimposed.

At the same time, Prendergast was strongly against U.S. military intervention, which he predicted would be "an absolute disaster." He also dismissed as inadequate the planned deployment of 3,000 troops by the African Union. "Now, if the situation was improving and we were having some measure of compliance by the government to the various agreements that they have already signed, I think this would be a reasonable strategy. It would be flawed because, in the first instance, just monitoring the cease-fire but not actually protecting civilians is a massive gaping hole in the mandate of this force. But 3,000 troops might have been able to do it. But actually the situation is deteriorating rapidly. 3,000 forces in an area the size of France, which is slowly rolling out of control, is a pathetic setup for failure of the African Union, and we'll blame it on the African Union, not where the finger should be pointing which is at the permanent members of the Security Council led by the United States -- which wants to get peace on the cheap, which thinks that it can incentivize the path to peace with mass murderers. It doesn't work."

Prendergast said the best hope for Darfur is in grass-roots organizations in the United States that can pressure the Bush administration to seek stronger economic and political sanctions against the government in Khartoum.

The UN Convention on Genocide and Possible U.S. Military Intervention

Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, spoke next, on the UN convention on genocide and how the United States should apply it to Sudan. He differed from John Prendergast by calling for the deployment of a U.S.-led military force to Darfur to protect the victims of the Sudan government's assaults.

"How many people will have to die in Sudan before the world's most powerful country and other powerful countries are prepared to act to stop it?" he asked. He pointed to the refusal of the United States to intervene to halt the genocide in Rwanda a decade earlier and its continued lack of action on Darfur. "I would say that it has to do with fact that the lives being lost are African lives. We shouldn't kid ourselves about this. There continues to be an international double standard in terms of how we value different lives."

Booker cited the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and signed by 135 countries including the United States. "Genocide not only captures the fundamental characteristics of the Khartoum government's intent and actions in Darfur, but it also invokes clear international obligations. And not just the U.S., but all permanent members of the UN Security Council are signators of the genocide convention."

He read from the UN genocide convention. "Basically Article 2 explains the two elements that constitute genocide. One is the intent, and I am quoting, the 'intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.' And the second element is the physical element, the physical acts of violence to carry out that intent. And they list five types of violence:

"(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 part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Booker said that the killing in Darfur meets all five of the conditions spelled out in the UN convention. "The intent of the Sudanese government has been to destroy in whole or in part three African ethnic communities in Darfur: the Fur, Zaghawa, and the Masalit. It is clear from Sudanese government documentary evidence, which is actually rare that you will find such in the case of genocide, but Human Rights Watch has helped produce some of that documentary evidence."

Since February 2003, he said, "it is now estimated that over 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur, almost entirely from those communities that I mentioned. 200,000 of those are estimated to have died from violence; the others from malnutrition, from disease, from starvation resulting, again, from the creation of conditions designed to destroy those communities. The violence and mental harm of families of thousands of women and young girls that have systematically been raped by soldiers, by the so-called Janjaweed militias. There has been a destruction of homes, of crops, the poisoning of water resources, the physical displacement of nearly 2 million people now homeless and internally displaced within Sudan, another quarter million living across the border in Chad. This has resulted in conditions designed to bring about the destruction of these communities. There has been the killing of pregnant women, and there has been, of course, the use of rape as a weapon of genocide. So all five of these categories of violence as defined under the convention are employed in the case of Darfur."

Salih Booker pointed to efforts by the Sudan government to hide its actions in Darfur. "The Sudanese government has barred entry to the region to journalists, human rights groups, humanitarian aids groups, for the longest time. You have to remember, this began in February of last year."

What Should the U.S. Do?

Salih Booker said that it had been an important first step when both houses of the U.S. Congress unanimously passed resolutions branding the killing in Darfur a case of genocide. "Never before has a sitting legislature of any country passed a resolution saying that we recognize that genocide is occurring. Usually they do it after the fact, as a matter of apologizing." Booker dismissed the idea that the genocide is the work of Arab militias outside the control of the government in Khartoum. That claim, he said, "ignores the Sudanese air force planes that bomb the villages, the Sudanese army that strafes the villages, the Sudanese police that rape and kill women and children. And then you get to the militias, who do the cleanup job, if you will."

He called on the United States to "lead a rapid multinational intervention in Sudan to stop the killing." Ideally, he said, "you would want there to be a UN intervention force, a formal blue-helmeted intervention force. But even in the best scenario it takes three months for the UN to organize such a force. The genocide in Rwanda took place in three months and nearly a million people were killed. So as part of the evolving international security framework, not just in this case but in other cases, you need the first responders. Who has the capacity to put together a multinational force to get there on the ground, stop the killing, provide protection to the people who are vulnerable, and create the security necessary to give the UN time to put together a formal UN force? The United States has 2,000 troops in nearby Djibouti, just a few hours flight from Darfur. The United States has the world's greatest capacity for transporting troops from point A to point B anywhere in the world. The United States has this unique satellite intelligence capacity that can literally track where the Sudanese armed forces and the so-called Janjaweed militias are, as well as track where are these nearly 2 million internally displaced people."

Booker proposed a kind of coalition of the willing under U.S. leadership to go into Darfur as soon as possible.

China: Protecting the Sudan Government in Exchange for Oil Concessions

Peter Takirambudde, director of the African Division of Human Rights Watch, delivered a scathing criticism of China, which has heavy investments in Sudan oil and which has announced in the Security Council that it will veto any effort to embargo Sudanese oil exports. China, Takirambudde said, imports 6% or its oil from Sudan and has billions invested in joint projects in Sudan to improve that country's oil infrastructure. He cited an August 2004 declaration by China's Deputy Foreign Minister in which the latter said, "Business is business. We try to separate politics from business. Secondly, I think the situation in the Sudan is an internal affair, and we are not in a position to impose on them."

China's interest in oil is no small thing. With a GDP growth of 7% and 8% a year, China in 2003 became the largest oil consumer in the world after the United States. It imported 2 million barrels a day in 2001 and is projected to need 8.6 million barrels a day by 2025. Looking for sources of oil not already locked up by the U.S., Europe, and Japan, Peter Takirambudde said that China's strategy "is to favor trade with resource-rich countries with repressive regimes that many Western countries refuse to do business with. China will not raise any human rights issues." For example, he said, the Canadians withdrew their oil company from Sudan in response to domestic and international pressures. The Chinese took their place.

"China has been supplying arms to Sudan for decades," Takirambudde said. "Shipments have included ammunition, tanks, helicopters, fighter aircraft, and antipersonnel landmines." In 1996, China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) purchased a 40% share in Sudan's dominant oil exploitation consortium, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company. In 2001 China acquired a 41% share in Petrodar, a consortium that has lease rights on an important part of Sudan's main oil field, the Melut Basin. In August 2003 the CNPC won the contract to build a 730 kilometer pipeline from the Melut Basin to Khartoum.

Peter Takirambudde said that China has important investments in many other African countries, including Nigeria, Rwanda, Chad, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Khartoum Is the Gatekeeper for Aid to Darfur

Jok Madut Jok, an associate professor of history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, was born and raised in southern Sudan. He commented that the use of force to defend the peoples of Darfur "is a possibility, but Darfur is the size of Iraq; 3,000 troops are not going to control Darfur."

At the same time, humanitarian aid without the backup of military force leaves everything in the hands of the Sudanese government. Jok said, "Sudan levies heavy taxes on humanitarian aid before it delivers the aid to the victims of its own atrocities." The result of this is that "the humanitarian international has unintentionally supported the Sudan government."

Jok also cautioned that it is oversimplified to see the conflict in Darfur as purely racial. "Race in Sudan," he said, "is not about color of skin but about self-identification. You can be extremely black and if you decide you are an Arab, you are an Arab."

He was dubious that the United States is in a position to put heavy pressure on China to withdraw its support from the government in Khartoum. "The U.S. and other Western countries cannot call China's bluff. Too much of the U.S. debt is underwritten by China."

Jok said that if the Khartoum government does not put a stop to the attacks soon that it is likely that Darfur will attempt to break away from Sudan and form a separate country.

A Debate over Military Intervention

In the question period Salih Booker elaborated on his proposal that the U.S. lead a military expedition to Darfur. He said he thought this could be done with 1,000 American troops and 40,000 others from Australia, Britain, and African states. But the African Union alone could not do this. "The slogan of an African solution to African problems has been terribly manipulated to evade responsibilities."

Booker said he was taking a clear position in disagreement with sections of the left that claim that any U.S. military intervention abroad is inherently bad. John Prendergast responded that he remained opposed to a U.S. expeditionary force, not for moral reasons but because "We would be sitting ducks in Sudan."

Salih Booker maintained that no solution is possible without such an intervention because "the authorities in Khartoum will have a very hard time sharing power. No matter what they sign, they are creating an Arab-Islamist state and they expect that everyone will become an Arab and a Muslim."

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The Panelists

John Prendergast is a Special Adviser to the President at the International Crisis Group (ICG). Prior to joining ICG, he was a Special Adviser to the U.S. State Department focusing on conflict resolution in Africa. He also was Director of African Affairs at the National Security Council. He is the author of seven books on Africa, including God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan.

Salih Booker is the executive director of Africa Action. From 1995 through 1999, he directed the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies Program. He has served as a professional staff member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. Congress (1983-86, and 1990) and as a program officer for the Ford Foundation in Eastern and Southern Africa (1986-88). During the past twenty-four years, Mr. Booker has traveled to and worked in 26 of Africa's 54 countries. He lived in Ghana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe during ten of those years.

Peter Takirambudde, a national of Uganda, is the executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, Mr. Takirambudde held the positions of Professor of Law at the University of Botswana and Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Lund.

Jok Madut Jok is associate professor in the Department of History at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and received his Ph.D. from UCLA. Born and raised in southern Sudan, Professor Jok has conducted research in Sudan and refugee camps in the neighboring countries. He is the author of Militarization, Gender, and Reproductive Health in South Sudan and War and Slavery in Sudan: The Ethnography of Political Violence.

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