Darfur and the Labeling of Genocide

The situation in Darfur is a result of multiple conflicts that started as separate, but eventually came to intersect. One of these conflicts is a civil war between the Islamist Khartoum-based government and the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. Khartoum is the capital and largest city in Sudan.

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The two rebel groups opposed the political and economic marginalization of Darfur by the Khartoum. The groups made their appearance in February 2003, but the government did not counterattack until April of 2003 after the rebels attacked a military airfield. The attack resulted in the destruction of multiple aircrafts and kidnapping of an air force general. The Khartoum armed outside militia forces and gave orders to eliminate the rebellion. However, mass violence against civilians broke out (Strauss). In this paper, I will write about the global view of genocide and how that view is applied to Darfur.

The second conflict is the civil war in South Sudan between the Arab-dominated northern government and the black southerners. It is estimated that about six million people from 40-90 different tribes lived in Darfur before the conflict began. Darfur is also home to a “black African” group and an “Arab” group. Arabs began to arrive in Darfur in the 1300s (Goff 3). Darfur’s first sultan declared Islam the state religion soon after. Although Darfur was an African state, Arabs and Arabic culture was heavily incorporated into society. Egypt and Britain controlled Sudan from 1916-1956, however Britain primarily managed the land. When the British were establishing policies in Sudan, they thought that the Arabs were superior to the Africans which resulted in Darfur being neglected. Thus, the ethnic hostilities began (Goff 5).

The African groups mostly practice sedentary agriculture while the Arab groups are mainly semi-nomadic herders. While the tension between the two groups has been around for years, it has only been exasperated in recent years due to conflicts over resources. The Khartoum government added to the tension when they armed the Arab tribes to prevent the rebels in the south from fortifying the region. As a result, militias were formed, and villages were burned resulting in the deaths of thousands. The Khartoum government responded to the rebellion in Darfur the same way it did with the south: they armed Arab militias. The Arab militia called themselves Janjaweed. They were instructed by the government to wipe out the rebellion, however they primarily targeted black African civilians that were members of the same tribes as the rebels. The national army forces and the Janjaweed often attack together. Most of attacks have occurred in villages without an armed rebel presence. Scott Strauss of the Council on Foreign Relations said, “Khartoum’s strategy seems to be to punish rebels; presumed base of support-civilians-so as to prevent future rebel recruitment.” However, the Khartoum government has denied having any direct involvement in the systemic attacks against the civilians (Strauss).

There have been debates across Europe and in the United States as to whether or not Darfur is considered a genocide. The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., the Congressional Black Caucus, African-American civil rights groups, and international human rights organizations (excluding Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) called for the term “genocide” to be applied to the situation in Darfur. Editorialists from major newspapers also appealed for the term. Advocates for the label had two main points to support their argument: the events in Sudan met the set standard for genocide and they claimed that under the Genocide Convention the term would set off intervention on an international level that would halt the violence (Strauss). According to Helen Fein in Human Rights and Wrongs: Slavery, Terror, and Genocide., the definition of genocide is “the murdering or otherwise grievously harming the members of a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group with the intention of destroying their group, as such, in whole or in part.” (Fein 127) Fein writes that there are four main typologies of genocide: power-driven, preemptive, developmental, and ideological (Fein 136). The labeling of Darfur as a genocide would fall under the power-driven/retributive typology because the Janjaweed/Khartoum are seeking to eliminate the black African rebel groups because they pose a threat.

The U.S. State Department created a team to investigate the conflict. The team conducted interviews with over 1,000 refugees along the Sudan/Chad border. The goal of the investigation was to determine if the crimes could be considered genocide under the Genocide Convention. It was concluded that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed were responsible for the genocide. The United States officially recognized it as a genocide in September 2004. It was the first time that a sovereign nation officially accused another nation of ongoing genocide (Ubaldo 98). The United Nations Security Council held its own inquisition. The team visited Sudan and other surrounding countries and agreed with the United States’ findings for the most part. There were clear acts of crimes against humanity and war crimes that are prohibited under UNGC. However, the team said that genocidal intent could not be confirmed by the government of Sudan but certain government officials “may entertain a genocidal intent”. The secretary general of the UN gave a list of fifty-one names to the International Criminal Court in April of 2005. However, the International Criminal Court only takes jurisdiction of a case if a nation’s government is incapable of doing an investigation. Not long after the International Criminal Court started investigations in Darfur, Sudan created the Darfur Special Criminal Court (Goff 22). The United Nations Security Council approved the use of the 7,000 troops from the African Union in Darfur, but it was estimated that 20,000 minimum troops were needed for effective action. The goal, according to General Dallaire, should not have been to monitor nonexistent peace, but to intervene against the perpetrators in order to protect the people (Fein 150).

Those opposing the term “genocide” have pointed to the unclear definition of “Arab” and “black African” and whether these terms are stable. According to Quénivet, the Sudanese government claims that there is no difference between the two groups. Critics of this claim argue that while foreigners may not be able to tell the difference between the groups, locals can. However, the distinction between the two groups is not as clear as it was in the past due to inter-marriage which has resulted in the mixture of ethnic features. They cite “Those who call themselves Arab today are, in essence, a mixture of indigenous Africans and Arab Muslims who came later as traders.” (Quénivet 44). According to these theorists, if there is no clear distinction of a targeted group, then the conflict cannot be clearly categorized as a genocide. The Trial Chamber listed the criteria for deciding whether someone belongs to a certain group are: “(i) set of persons are perceived and in fact treated as belonging to one of the protected groups, and in addition (ii) they consider themselves as belonging to one of such groups.” While the International Commission, adheres to these criteria, it does not apply it to the situation in Darfur (Quénivet 45).

Opposition to the title of “genocide” has also been supported with claims that the intent of violence can be gauged by the size of the violations. Quénivet writes, “in practice, since direct evidence of genocidal intent is relatively rare, such intent is usually inferred from circumstances involving large-scale physical destruction of a group.” The lack of clarity on what size of a number is needed to be considered a “large-scale physical destruction of a group” is a common critique on the term “genocide” in general. This critique is applied to Darfur in the sense that many argue whether the death toll is large enough to be considered a genocide (Quénivet 48). The Appeals Chamber claims that just because intent of a plan exists, it doesn’t automatically indicate a genocide (but it may help in proving what the intent of the perpetrators is) (Quénivet 49). The International Commission argues that the goal of the Janjaweed appears to be to force the villagers to leave their homes and live in groups in designated areas selected by the government so that the rebels cannot continue the attacks against the government. In the report they specify that while there is a plan to attack the villages, the Janjaweed and allied forces only “pursue the intent to drive the victims from their homes, primarily for purposes of counter-insurgency warfare.” Quénivet writes that the International Commission is referencing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’s (ICTY) claim that “the intention to displace a population is not equivalent to the intention to destroy it.” Quénivet also claims that the International Commission insinuates that the situation in Darfur is an “ethnic cleansing campaign”. Critics of this term argue that it takes away from the gravity of the crimes and inhibits action to intervene (Quénivet 51).

It has been estimated that between 180,00-400,000 people have lost their lives in Darfur over the last fifteen years (Ubaldo 98). Sudan has a long history of violating human rights, yet they were an active member of the U.N. Commission of Human Rights (which is now dismantled) from 2002-2005, while the genocide was occurring. According Nile Gardiner, Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard, the Sudanese government used its membership to aid in blocking condemnation from the United Nations. The United Nations response time to the situation in Darfur has been widely criticized as being too slow (Gardiner). The United Nations sent a peacekeeping force to Sudan to help the African Union in 2006.

The United Nations has five permanent members of the Security Council: The United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China. These members have veto power that allows them to block decisions made about international peace. China has a close economic relationship with Sudan which leads to inferences that their relationship influences China’s actions on the council. For example, China has blocked sanctions on Sudanese officials (Goff 20). Russia also depends on Sudan for oil. The United States has collaborated with the government of Sudan on terrorism intelligence gathering, thereby contradicting its own sanctions against the government (Fein 151).

The conflict in Darfur is still ongoing. Explanations for the lack of intervention in Darfur range. Gregory Stanton states that “the genocide carries no legal compulsion to act. It legally requires only states-parties to the convention to pass national laws against genocide and prosecute or extradite those who commit the crime.” The first Article of the Convention on Genocide calls for a moral obligation for the prevention of genocide but doesn’t necessitate intervention on a military level (Ubaldo 101).

As a result of the conflict, two million Sudanese citizens have been displaced and live in Internally Displaced People Camps and more than 250,000 refugees are in Chad. According to Rafiki Ubaldo, there have been peace agreements made, but both sides of the conflict have broken the agreements not long after they were signed (Ubaldo 98). Aid that is sent to the camps often don’t end up reaching the refugees. The United Nations has reported that refugees are being starved because the militias that guard the camp in South Darfur didn’t allow deliveries with food to enter. The men took the rations and any food that the refugees had collected. In September of 2006 a World Health Organization vehicle filled with food that was headed for the camp in El Fasher was seized by rebels. Incidents such as these are often reported and as a result have forced aid organizations out of Darfur leaving refugees even more vulnerable (Goff 16).

The biggest issue among the rebels in Darfur is that the groups are not united despite having a common agenda against Khartoum. As a result, it has been difficult to establish an effective peace treaty because not all of the rebel groups agree to the same terms. Omar al-Bashir, the current President of Sudan, has also been called a roadblock in the process of peace. He has resisted the entrance of U.N. peacekeeping forces and believes that U.N. involvement is a plot to colonize Sudan. He has also stated that the reports of the events happening in Darfur were fallacious and were made up by foreign aid groups and Jewish organizations to raise money for themselves. The African Union entered the conflict in 2004. It was decided they would monitor the agreement of cease-fire between the government and the rebels. However, the A.U. has not been able to maintain the original cease-fire agreement between the Sudanese government and the rebels. The mission doesn’t have enough manpower or funding. The African Union’s role is to monitor the conflict and not to take sides or make peace. The author gave the example that African Union troops are not allowed to fire at Janjaweed when they see their men harming villagers (Goff 18).

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