National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 30, 2004

Is Sudan another genocide in the making?

Atrocities against Darfur's non-Arabs recall Rwanda, 1994


Those who deny reports about ethnic cleansing in the oil-rich but semi-arid Darfur region of Sudan argue that what is happening there is banditry -- competition over scarce resources.

They argue that ethnic groups are fighting to steal cattle and take over grazing lands and scarce water sources from other ethnic groups -- very much like the cattle raid between the Kenya Pokot and Markwet or the clashes over grazing rights between the Pokomo and Orma communities in Kenya.

They argue that tribal fighting is not new in that part of Sudan, where conditions are harsh and the inhabitants are predominantly nomadic. The communities are pastoralists who are prone to conflict because they share pastures and water resources that are getting increasingly scarce. To make matters worse, they argue, the region is awash with weapons from the Central African Republic and Chad.

Historically, they argue, there has long been tension between the Arab and non-Arab communities over land-grazing rights in Darfur. The prolonged drought and the ensuing famine that begun in the 1980s has heightened the tensions.

Government supporters further argue that the accusations that pro-government Arab militias have been committing serious human rights violations in Darfur are part of a smear campaign against the Sudanese government and people.

Ethnic violence has raged for more than a year in the Darfur region, with two rebel groups fighting against the government. The government has responded by mobilizing a horse and camel-mounted Arab militia -- the Jihad Janjaweed -- to fight the rebellion.

Now numbering several thousands, this proxy force has been accused by human rights groups of killing, looting and raping non-Arab residents of Darfur.

On Feb. 27, in one area alone, 30 villages were burnt to the ground, over 200 people were killed and over 200 girls and women raped in front of their fathers who were later killed. A further 150 women and 200 children were abducted.

Since February 2003, about 700,000 people have been displaced while another 110,000 have fled to neighboring Chad. Over 10,000 are estimated to have lost their lives.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, recently told this writer in Nairobi that the war-torn Darfur region is the “world’s greatest humanitarian crisis” comparable only to the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in terms of human rights abuses.

“The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the numbers involved. I think some people are using the term ‘ethnic cleansing,’ and I would say that is not far off the mark,” Kapila added.

And U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, in Geneva, Switzerland, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, repeated those fears. He said ethnic cleansing may be underway in Darfur.

Annan said the world could not stand by as it had during Rwanda’s genocide 10 years ago. Reports of atrocities in Darfur, he said, “leave me with a deep sense of foreboding.”

He said at the invitation of the Sudanese government he proposed to send a team to Darfur “to gain a fuller understanding of the extent and nature of this crisis.”

For many people, the term “ethnic cleansing” is a euphemism for genocide. The term gained currency during the ethnic wars that led to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. In those wars, more than 200,000 civilians were killed in Bosnia and Croatia. Tens of thousands of women were raped. Millions lost their homes.

The 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is explicit on what genocide means. If you destroy people because of who they are racially and ethnically, that is genocide.

By whatever name you call it, the Darfur conflict has put Sudan under the international spotlight, with human rights groups accusing the Khartoum government of carrying out a “massive terror campaign” in fighting that has claimed up to 10,000 lives.

Human Rights Watch urges “intense, sustained international pressure” on the Sudanese government, whose militia force recently agreed to a 45-day humanitarian ceasefire with rebel forces.

Jemera Rone, Sudan expert for Human Rights Watch, stated that “without the international spotlight, the Sudanese government is unlikely to disarm and disband its Arab militia, re-establish security in the rural areas or guarantee the safety of displaced persons who wish to return home for planting season -- crucial benchmarks for any improvement in the situation.”

Joseph Adero Ngala is an African journalist based in Kenya. In 1995 he won the German Shalom Prize for reporting in Rwanda and Sudan.

National Catholic Reporter, April 30, 2004

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