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By Osita Ebiem
Nigeria is going to the polls to elect a president in less than one week. Understandably, there is a high level of apprehension, hence President Obama’s intervention in calling for a fair and peaceful election. This fear has remained a permanent feature in Nigeria since the inception of the country fifty something years ago. The country has never been a united country. It is a forced marriage of incongruent peoples with irreconcilable cultural and religious differences. The fear of disintegration remains a permanent scepter that continues to pervade and dog every social fabric and all events of nationwide proportion. The truth is that one (united) Nigeria is a fluke while a divided Nigeria is more realistic.
In less than ten years after its independence from the British in October 1, 1960 Nigeria descended into a bloody war of genocide and ethnic cleansing of its Igbo population. The war was fought along ethnic/religious divide. It was known as Biafra-Nigeria war or Biafra War. Before the war began in 1967 there was a pogrom. The Nigerian government in the year preceding the war directly through its military, paramilitary establishments and a mobilized citizenry carried out the mass murder of a section of its citizens; the Igbo population and the other easterners. In this 1966 massacre more than 100,000 Igbo people and some other easterners were killed. They were killed simply for who they are and not for any crimes committed by them.
The massacre forced the people to embark on the quest for self-determination and independence since they had been driven out of every part of Nigeria back to their ancestral homeland. They determined that since they were no longer accepted in Nigeria and their safety was no longer guaranteed by the Nigerian government therefore they should be able to find safety and a home within their own place. So they seceded and declared their homeland, the former Eastern Region independent from Nigeria and called the new country Republic of Biafra. The ethnic people that made up the majority of the new country are the Igbo. And they were the people that the other Nigerians wanted to exterminate from the face of the Earth.
Unfortunately, Nigeria declared a war of aggression against Biafra after their secession. But it was actually something like swiping a fly with a sledge hammer because the Nigerian government was armed to the teeth and well supplied with weapons by the British government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the USSR. Biafrans were practically unarmed and only fought back because they were faced with imminent total annihilation.
Nigeria went into the war with a central slogan – “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.” And this is the same slogan that President Obama borrowed to use in his address when he was urging Nigerians to conduct a fair and peaceful election. The President was misled by whoever that let him use that slogan. The slogan was born out of crisis, how can anyone call for peace while using a phrase that stinks of blood, hatred and destruction? The President may have meant well but he got it all wrong using the slogan. That phrase is a genocidal slogan that led to the unjust slaughter of more than 3 million Igbo people some fifty years ago.
“To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done” was used by the Nigerian state and its citizens to commit genocide against Igbo people and the other Biafrans. For every Igbo person alive today the sound of that phrase opens up an old festering wound and it’s very painful. Igbo people will demand for an apology from President Obama for hitting them at their weakest point. For President Obama to have used that slogan it shows that he is either insensitive about a people’s pain or that he was being plain ignorant of their pain. Whichever way, the impact is the same, President Obama pricked the Igbo wound and it is only right that the President of the United States of America should correct this mistake. The President must convince the Igbo and Biafrans that he does not support genocide or any other form of crime against humanity as was committed by Nigeria against Igbo people. That slogan reminds every Igbo person about the genocide and war crime they suffered through and it does not befit the use of by any world leader, and not the President of the United States of America.Read More
Yazidi women are being targeted as women, and as members of the Yazidi people – with the aim of destroying individuals, families and the whole community.
On 3 August 2014, nineteen-year-old Yazidi woman, Seve, witnessed something no human should ever have to see – her own husband shot and killed by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters, in one of several massacres carried out near Mount Sinjar.
Yet this trauma was only the first of many for Seve. Abducted by her husband’s murderers, Seve was then forced to ‘marry’ one of the fighters. Human Rights Watch reported her chilling testimony of the group wedding:
They were tossing sweets at us and taking photos and videos of us. They forced us to look happy for the videos and photos. The fighters were so happy; they were firing shots in the air and shouting… There was one woman from Kocho who was very beautiful. The leader of the fighters took her for himself. They dressed her up like a bride.
Seve managed to escape her new ‘husband’ after a few long days but her own husband was no longer alive to return to, having been murdered by ISIS. Seve’s own future is likely to be strewn with enormous obstacles.”. For the nameless woman from Kocho who was taken by the ISIS group leader, and thousands of others in similar circumstances, the unimaginable nightmare continues – absent from the headlines and virtually ignored by the international community.
Sexual violence, as defined by the International Criminal Court, encompasses rape as well as sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and enforced impregnation or sterilisation. Although it was historically considered an inevitable side effect of war, international law now recognises that sexual violence can be a war crime and a crime against humanity, and in the context of ethnic or religious violence, it can also serve as “a constitutive act with respect to genocide”.
In ISIS’s broad genocidal arsenal (which includes key indicators of genocide such as local massacres, cultural and religious vandalism and forced conversion), gendered tactics of sexual violence are being used as complex weapons – embedded with intent to destroy the Yazidi group – that simultaneously target the individual, the family and the community.
When mothers are forced to listen to their daughters being gang-raped, when husbands witness their wives and daughters being abducted, these horrors represent a violation of the individual victim’s human rights, as well as a brutal assault on families, as the symbolic core of the group’s continuity.
In its October 2014 report, the UN confirmed a number of incidents in which women and girls were abducted, given to IS fighters as a ‘reward’, forcibly married, or trafficked as sex slaves. To date, up to 7,000 women are estimated to have been taken.
These tactics are neither isolated nor opportunistic; rather, they are being systematically perpetrated by ISIS fighters and encouraged by its leaders. In its own online magazine, ISIS has admitted to the practice of dividing women and girls among ISIS fighters as “slaves”, claiming that:
…one should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffār and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharī’ah.
Survivor Seve witnessed more than twenty young women taken to be sold “in the Syria slavery market”. Other witnesses have seen lines of women covered from head to toe and tied to one another with rope, as well as women presented in the markets of Mosul with price tags.
ISIS’s use of sexual violence must be seen as falling within the framework of the UN Genocide Convention, since it is designed to cause serious physical and mental harm; impose conditions calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction; and prevent births within the victim group. Many of the victims will never see freedom again; those who escape are left with long-term physical and psychological damage and may face difficulties re-integrating into their communities, due to stigma and ongoing shame.
In July 2014, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura, called on combatants in Iraq to cease using the bodies of innocent civilians as battlefields, but her call has been ignored, and indeed, sexual violence against Yazidi women has escalated in scale since that time.
Thousands of women have been abducted and assaulted, families have been ripped apart and communities shattered. While the international community has contributed some humanitarian assistance, further action must be taken to provide survivors with refuge and support, as well as to protect remaining Yazidi women and girls from ongoing genocide.
Nikki Marczak; Researcher, Brisbane, AustraliaRead More
About a month ago, Sudanese soldiers stormed into the Tabit village in Darfur, violently expelling all the men and, over a few hours, brutally raping 200 women and girls. Among the victims of rape were 80 minors, of whom 8 were elementary school students. A week after the attack, a commander in the Sudanese army returned to the village—seemingly to “apologize” for what had transpired, but in reality to demand that the rape victims be transferred to a military hospital. This way he could hide them.
The mass rape was part of a systematic and brutal campaign in which thousands of women, teenagers, and girls have been raped in Darfur—a campaign engineered by soldiers of the Sudanese army and militias associated with the regime in Khartoum. It constitutes another expression of the systematic annihilation of African tribes in Darfur at the hands of the Sudanese government—a genocide that has raged for over 11 years.
In the report we recently published, Darfur 2014: A Situational Report, 182 similar cases of rape were reported in 2013. In another incident that took place this past June, Sudanese soldiers were reported to have raped upward of 20 women, and in September there were reports of 45 women raped by pro-government militiamen in Jabal-Mara, while 8 more women raped in northern Darfur.
As a direct consequence of the daily indifference to the genocide in Darfur, this attack went almost completely unnoticed—not a single scream reached the ears of the policymakers, and as such the women of Darfur, alongside the Yazidi women (as we have witnessed in recent months), are the most miserable victims of these murderous villains. Today the world marks United Nations-designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In order to break the silence and disrupt this pattern of events, we are obliged to raise our voices—we must be voices for the women who are forever voiceless.Read More
150 people attended a symposium at the “Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed” headquarters in Tel Aviv Wednesday to hear testimonies of the genocidal massacres being waged against the Yazidi people in northwest Iraq. The symposium was called Your Brother’s Blood Cries Out, a reference to the murder of Abel from Genesis 4.
The keynote speakers were Dr. Mirza Dinnayni, a former advisor to the Iraqi President on Minority Affairs and Elias Kasem, a spokesperson from the American Yazidi Union.
Yaniv Carmel from the Dror Israel movement hosted the symposium, which included showing several video clips of victim testimonies, which revealed the severe conditions of hunger and death in which traumatized young children are trying to survive. The videos showed everyday life in refugee camps and the struggles faced by the tens of thousands displaced by the military campaigns of the Islamic State.
Elias Kasem, a 30-year-old Yazidi from Iraq, was displaced along with his family during the first gulf war in 1991. After immigrating to the US, Kasem founded an organization to provide aid and look for long-term solutions for Iraqi Yazidis. Kasem, who is regular contact with family members in Iraq told participants that “I came here on behalf of the Yezidi children buried on the mountain [Sinjar]. I came here on behalf of my sisters who were raped by IS fighters. I came here on behalf of all of the newborn babies who died because they had nothing to eat. All of this happened as the world turned a blind eye to our suffering, just as the world turned a blind eye to the suffering of your people during the Holocaust. The people in this room are the survivors from the Holocaust. You dealt then with genocide; we are dealing with it now. I speak on behalf all Yezidis when I call on Israel to help us, if you do not help us- I do not know who will.”
“My sister told me about a woman she met on Mount Sinjar, a mother of two children, one was disabled, the other was not. When they had to flee their homes, she had to choose to take only one of her children with her. Is this the kind of decision a mother should have to make in the 21st century?”
“As an American citizen, I am ashamed at the Obama administration, which has not come to the aid of my people, it was the Kurdish forces that lifted the siege. We teach our children the lesson that we should not allow history to repeat itself, however, I think that we can all agree that in light of these recent massacres, we have failed to do so yet again.”
“Have we forgotten the holocaust? I hope not. The holocaust is the most severe human disaster in modern times. If we don’t work to stop terrorist groups it will happen again. We shouldn’t be surprised. I see you all as brothers and sisters. Why is it taking so long for the world leaders to take action? Why are they conducting meetings over meetings? Is it acceptable to kill us just because we don’t have oil under our ground?”
Dr. Dinnayni travelled to Israel to participate in the symposium despite being injured in a helicopter crash while on an aid mission to Mt. Sinjar in August.
Dr. Dinnayni who now works as the coordinator for the Yezidi community in Europe talked about the similarities between the Jewish and Yezidi peoples as persecuted minorities in the Middle East. He warned of the growing danger of the Islamic State saying, “Da’ash is not a small terror organization, they have become a state with territory, an organized military and hundreds of thousands of volunteers.”
“Aerial bombings by the United States military will not necessarily help in the long term, since the ground forces cannot be relied upon. If there are no international troops on the ground, otherwise we will pay the bloody price.”
Kasem told participants that many Iraqi Yazidis see Israel as the only beacon of hope in the Middle East, a democracy where they feel they will be safe from persecution,“ I receive videos all the time from Yazidis, asking for Israeli humanitarian or military assistance.”
The Israeli Committee for the Help of the Yezidi People sponsored the symposium; a coalition made up various Israeli NGO’s including Dror Israel, Combat Genocide Association, The Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention, BlueWhite Human Rights, Israel for Yazidis and “Machanot HaOlim”.
Theodor Herzls’ famous book, “Alt-noi-land” (the old new land), which was published by Dror Israel and “Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed” in a special edition of five languages, was given as a gift to the participants.
Who are the killers?
ISIS, or “Islamic State,” is a genocidaire, Salafi-Jihadist Sunni organization founded after the American invasion of Iraq. It was previously known as Al-Qaeda’s subset in Iraq. The organization has been responsible for a long list of terror attacks waged against Shiites, Christians and Iraqi and Western security forces—mainly between 2007 and 2012. In 2014, the organization broke off from Al-Qaeda, and in June its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of the “Caliphate of the Islamic State,” appointing himself as its helm. At that time the organization ruled over a third of Syrian land (northeast Syria) and half of Iraq (northern Iraq). Its members became notorious for their relentless brutality. They disseminated many videos in which they are seen indiscriminately slaughtering scores of civilians and mutilating their bodies. ISIS murders Sunnis who are infidels in their eyes, among them leaders, clergyman and clerks, Shiites, Assyrians, Hazaras, Christians, Alawites, and Kurds. Following the capture of the city of Mosul it was reported that hundreds of thousands of Christians—who had lived in the city for 1,600 years – fled after ISIS demanded they convert to Islam or die. The number of victims is not known but it is clear that ISIS slaughtered thousands since last June. The Yazidi people are not given a choice; they are summarily murdered. The members of ISIS nickname the Yazidis “worshippers of Satan” and call for them to be murdered wherever they may be found.
Who are the victims?
The Yazidis are an ancient Middle-Eastern people who claim to have preceded Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As an ethnic group they are divided over their connection to the Kurdish people: some call for them to be differentiated as a nation, while others see themselves as part of the Kurdish people. The Yazidi religion – the roots of which date back to the BC centuries – is distinguished in its similarity to the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. The Yazidis absorbed various traditions, from the Sufi Islam as well as other cultures in Mesopotamia. Like Muslims, the Yazidis pray five times a day. Like the Zoroastrianists, they preserve the purity of the Four Elements (earth, water, air and fire). They believe that God manifests in human form as well as in reincarnation.
Throughout history, the Yazidis’ Muslim neighbors saw them as the “devil’s children.” The Yazidis were forced to live in constant flight, and in the last few hundred years they forged two large enclaves in the mountains of northern Iraq: in the region of Sheichan, around the temple of Sheikh Adi bin Musafir, and in the vicinity of the Sinjar mountains.
The Yazidi people have experienced many periods of persecution at the hands of Muslims -dating back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. Among other episodes they were massacred during the First World War (parallel to the Armenian Genocide), and they were deported in large numbers from Turkey in the 1960’s. This was partly for their unique religion being interpreted as Satan’s work as well as their cultural and religious isolation.
Since the invasion of American forces into Iraq in 2003, Islamist organizations have been persecuting, terrorizing and massacring the Yazidis. The Yazidi community in Iraq—which constitutes the majority of the Yazidi people—today numbers 650,000 people. They live in the Ninveh valley of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Other large communities live in exile in Syria, Armenia and Germany. The Yazidis in the Ninveh valley live in two enclaves: one is located in the vicinity of the Sinjar mountains west of Mosul (adjacent to the Syrian border); the other is located in Sheichan region—north of Mosul—home to the grave of Sheikh Adi, the holiest site in the Yazidi religion.
Under Salafi-Jihadist Occupation
Early in the morning of August 4th, 2014, ISIS forces invaded the township of Sinjar and its surrounding villages and the Peshmerga forces (the army of the Kurds in Iraq) escaped. This led to the capture of the entire region by ISIS forces. Following the pattern of their previous captures, ISIS members forced the Christian minority to convert to Islam. The Yazidis, meanwhile, were not granted this possibility. ISIS’ commandeering of Sinjar threatens the majority of the Yazidi people (as most live there) as well as its holy sites. ISIS members are not showing any mercy toward them, and it appears that their intention is to destroy this ancient religion. At least tens of Yazidis – who belonged to the forces defending the city alongside the Kurds – were murdered immediately following Sinjar’s capture. Since the beginning of the fighting approximately 200,000 Yazidis have fled from the township and its surrounding villages – half of whom made their way to the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, the other half of whom headed to the adjacent Sinjar Mountains. Many Yazidis are currently near the grave of Sheikh Adi in the Sheichan district – a mere 40 kilometers north-east of Mosul. ISIS’s movement toward the region – as well as the potential collapse of Peshmerga’s defensive lines there – may lead to the annihilation of the Yazidi community in Iraq.
Siege of Sinjar Mountains
Estimates of 100,000 refugees have fled to the Sinjar ridge, exposed to the blistering sun in temperatures of 40-45 degrees Celsius – without water, food or medicine. The state of the refugees is dire, especially as ISIS militants have sealed the ridge from all directions and basic humanitarian aid cannot be delivered by land. It was reported that ISIS militants have penetrated the ridge, are presently murdering Yazidi men and kidnapping Yazidi women. Members of the Yazidi community report on approximately 100 infants and elderly civilans who have already died of thirst and heatstroke, and on others who are immobilized as a result of exhaustion and various diseases. On August 6th it was reported that hundreds of women belonging to the Yazidi community in Iraq were kidnapped. The spokesperson for Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry, Kamil Amin, estimated that the women—all under the age of 35—were held in schools across Mosul. American intelligence officials confirmed this report.
On August 7th, US President Barack Obama instructed the American air force to strike ISIS militants both in order to protect American military officials and advisors (stationed in the city of Irbil in northern Iraq), and to thwart the entrapment of the Yazidis who had fled to the mountains of Sinjar. In a special address to the nation Obama stated that American planes have already begun dropping water and food meant for the Yazidis, “who face the horrible decision to either descend from the mountain, which would result in their slaughter, or to stay on the mountain, which would result in a slow death from thirst and hunger.” Obama noted that the United States cannot stand by in light of the threat of mass murder facing the Yazidis, and that it is in her power to act “with caution and responsibility to prevent a potential genocide.”
That same day, the American air force began its offensive in the Sinjar region, which allowed the Kurdish security forces to establish a humanitarian corridor toward the mountain’s ridge and thereby save over 20,000 Yazidis. American, British and Kurdish military planes then started dropping water, food, and medicine meant for the Christian Yazidis.
At the end of the Second World War, as the horrific crime committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people came to light, the moral injunction of “Never Again” was coined in relation to mass atrocities. But this injunction was not realized and many nations were maliciously and systematically destroyed as the world fell silent.
65 days after the outbreak of genocide in Rwanda, after some 620,000 people had already been murdered, an American State Department official was interviewed as part of a press conference. The transcript follows:
“That’s just not a question that I’m in a position to answer.”
“Well, is it true that you have specific guidance not to use the word ‘genocide’ in isolation, but always to preface it with these words ‘acts of’?”
“I have guidance which I try to use as best as I can. There are formulations that we are using that we are trying to be consistent in our use of. I don’t have an absolute categorical prescription against something, but I have the definitions. I have phraseology which has been carefully examined and arrived at as best as we can apply to exactly the situation and the actions which have taken place … “
The Rwandan genocide continued for 35 more days, and 300,000 more people were murdered. The countries of the world neither intervened nor sent aid to the victims. Is it possible that the United States and the international community will fail similarly here?
We call on the international community to act immediately to save the Yazidi Christians on Mount Sinjar, and to prevent the capture of the Yazidi enclave in the Sheichan region north of Mosul.
First, a way must be forged to allow the safe passage of Christians from Mount Sinjar to a protected area while providing them with food, water, and clothing.
Second, we need to establish a barricade between ISIS militants and the rest of the Yazidi population within the borders of the Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq, as well as to prevent the impending danger in the event of their capture by ISIS forces.
Beyond that we ought to note that the persecution of the Yazidis is the most ruthless heretofore undertaken by ISIS—though other religious groups (Shiites, the Zara, Christians, Assyrians, Kurds, etc.) are also persecuted—and the international community must act to weaken the organization and its murderous activities.
The Jewish people have a unique responsibility to protect the fate of other nations facing annihilation. This responsibility compels us to act. We call on the Israeli government, and on its leader, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, to provide refuge to Yazidi refugees and to grant them as much humanitarian assistance as possible.
The Israeli government ought to serve as the West’s pioneer in molding a moral and protective stance vis-à-vis those facing annihilation, whoever and wherever they may be. This is our most fundamental obligation as members of the Jewish people – those who faced the darkest, most systematic campaign of annihilation ever orchestrated – and as human beings who are bound to the moral compass of our world.Read More
I would like to start where I think one should, namely at the end. The answer to the question is “yes, but with great difficulty”.
Why is it so difficult? Because humans are predatory mammals: with the exception of some vegetarians, we kill other animals, and fish, in order to live. But we are weak predators. We do not have the teeth of tigers, or the claws of bears, and like our close relatives, the primates, we are herd animals. We cannot exist as individuals, feeding and sheltering ourselves. We need the family, the clan, the village, the neighborhood, the town, the city, the tribe, the nation, the state, the empire, in order to be able to survive.
We are not only predators, who live by killing other beings. We are also collectors, who live by eating the fruit of the earth, the bush, and the tree. Thus, many of us eat bread. What is bread? It is the end product of a type of green grass that turns yellow and grows grains on it which we then grind to make flour, from which we make bread. We eat grass, therefore, like cattle and other types of animals. For foraging, growing, raising other animals, and collecting, we need to act with others. Here, too, we are herd animals. Acting together, we develop, because otherwise we cannot exist, attitudes such as sympathy, love, cooperation, collaboration, and even the willingness to rescue others who do not belong to our own group. Some 24.000 rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust who received the medal of the Righteous by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem testify to this, but this is not limited to the Holocaust: parallel acts were performed by rescuers during other genocidal events, such as in the case of the Armenian and Rwandan genocides for instance.
We therefore have two conflicting inclinations, possibly instincts, within us: the inclination to kill, and the inclination to act in cooperation, even to rescue. Killing within our group is forbidden, except when a criminal act is performed towards a member or members of our own group, and we invent laws to regulate this. In the ten commandments, the injunction is “thou shalt not murder”; it does not say ‘thou shalt not kill’. Killing outside the group is not only permitted, but when young people in funny clothes called uniforms kill enemies of another group who perhaps wear funny clothes of a different color, they get medals for it. Murder is forbidden killing. Killing is permitted murder.
We are territorial predators, like wolves, lions, and others. We need a territory, whether a real one or a virtual one, in which we develop characteristics peculiar to one group of humans – ourselves – and in which we make our living by being hunters (going to supermarkets to get the meat and fish) and collectors (harvesting, buying, bartering and selling what we collect, from the ground, the bush and the tree), and enabling ourselves to do so by creating the tools with which we can do all that: technology, agriculture, industry, communications, science, and so on. When one human group meets another one that tries to enter its territory, or enters the territory – real or imagined – of the other, five options are open to it. One, to accept and merge with the other, because that may strengthen both. Two, enslave the other, or exercise some other form of dominance over the other, because there always will be tasks we do not like to perform, and prefer them to be performed by others. Three, evict, repel, or deport the other. Four, kill it. One, or a combination of any of these options, has been exercised by humans since the beginning of the human race in East Africa some 200.000 or so years ago, and probably before that. There are innumerable cases that serve as evidence for that. But there is a fifth option, which also has been exercised in many cases: on the basis of the instinct to cooperate and collaborate, human groups have been able to co-exist next to each other, or in the same space with the other, sometimes after long periods of bitter enmity. Thus, England (not Scotland or Wales) and France have for centuries fought each other at great expense of human lives, as have France and Germany, the US and Mexico, Thailand and Cambodia, and so on. It is now impossible to imagine mass atrocities (I shall use the shortened term ‘MAS’ from now on) being committed between these former enemies, and there are many other cases like that. The fifth option is open, and is the basis for our endeavor to avoid, or at least reduce, MAS.
We use definitions, such as MAS. The term was coined by a member of the particular group to which I belong, the Genocide Prevention Advisory Network (GPANet), David Scheffer of Northwestern University, Illinois (in: Genocide Studies and Prevention, vol. 2, no.1, 2007), to include war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. It is a useful tool, because definitions of each one of these crimes are problematic. After all, our social and political (and many other) definitions are abstractions from reality, and reality is always much more complicated than our definitions can be; the definitions therefore can do no more than approximate a reflection of reality, and we, much too often, try to fit reality into the definition, rather than act the other way round. We actually are dealing with a continuum of human action, from murder to mass murder of different kinds, to genocide, the ultimate crime, as it rightly has been called. At the same time, it is important to also emphasize the differences between these types of crime, difficult or impossible as it may be to define, exactly, the border-lines between them. The reason why we have to make efforts to differentiate is that there may be, and probably are, differences in the tools we have to use in order to minimize, and ultimately perhaps even to do away with these manifold cases of mass murder.
When it comes to genocide we have the 1948 Convention, but the Convention is full of problems, because it was the result of diplomatic horse-trading between the Western Powers, the Soviet Bloc, and a group of mainly Latin American countries who wrangled over the definitions. Genocide was defined as the intent and action to annihilate an ethnic, national, racial or religious group as such, in whole or in part. But there are no racial groups, because while there is racism – a European invention of the late Middle Ages and early modernity – there are no races. We all are descended from humans that evolved in East Africa, as already mentioned, some 200.000 or so years ago. Differences of skin color, size, and so on, are the results of secondary and tertiary mutations that have no importance in the DNA of individuals or groups. A marriage between an aborigine from Papua and a Harvard Professor will produce healthy children. We are one race. In 1948, it was possible to talk about races, because the term was used the way we today use the term “nationality”; people talked about a French race, a British race, and so on. In 2014, using the term ‘race’ in a UN document may reek of racism.
The Convention mentions ethnic and national groups. We are meeting here in commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, but strictly speaking, Hutus and Tutsis are not ethnic groups. They speak the same language, go to the same churches, and are part of the same society. They do not have different cultures. They are, basically, the result of the development of social groups of pre-colonial times, and the differences between them were emphasized by the colonialists in order to better control them; they became quasi-ethnic groups – very real ones, unfortunately. Does that mean that what happened in Rwanda was not a genocide? Of course not. The definition is wrong, not the reality.
The Convention does not speak of political, social, economic, or ideological groups. Intent and action to try and annihilate them is, in the view of many, no less a matter of genocide than the destruction of an ethnic or national group. In a seminal article, Barbara Harff coined the term ‘politicide’ for this kind of human action (No lessons learned from the Holocaust? In: American Political Science Review, February 2002), and most academics will probably agree that these actions should be included in what we understand genocide to be. The classic example of a socio-economic group, not even a real one but a virtual one, were the kulaks (so-called rich peasants) in the USSR in the early thirties of the last century. About 3.3 million people were starved to death, or tortured and killed, in the Ukraine alone – more elsewhere in the Soviet Union – because the government wanted to get grain out of the peasants to export it in return for industrial goods to create heavy industry in the country. The peasants were forced to deliver all the grain they produced, including seeds. A kulak was a peasant who had, say, two cows instead of one. But if he was a Party member, and possibly even became an official in a state-controlled kolkhoz (cooperative farm), then he was not a kulak. If he had only one cow, or none, but was opposed to the Party’s policies, he was a kulak. The kulaks were not a real group, but became one by dint of a decision by the Party that that was what they were – a very real group, because as ‘members’ of it they were being persecuted and killed. According to the Convention, this was not a genocide, as Ukrainians were not targeted because they were Ukrainians, but because the victims were supposed members of a socio-economic group. But if we accept the concept of ‘politicide’, as we should, then this was indeed a genocide.
The simplest way of putting this is to slightly change a definition offered back in 1990 by Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn (in their The History and Sociology of Genocide), and say that, generally speaking, what we mean by genocide is the intent and action to annihilate a human group, as defined by the perpetrator(s), in whole or in part. Any human group. We cannot define the borderline between that and near-genocides, or even between that and crimes against humanity with accuracy, and therefore we may well accept Scheffer’s term of MAS as an overall concept, as representing the range of human actions we are trying to avoid and combat.
The term ‘genocide’ was coined in the wake of information about Nazi Germany’s policies in Eastern Europe, and this is reflected in the definition, which talks about the annihilation of groups in whole or in part. ‘In whole’ reflects the genocide of the Jews, which we now call the Holocaust, ‘in part’ was the fate of the Polish people. All discussions of genocides or genocidal massacres or MAS after 1945 are radically influenced by the Holocaust. Why? Because the Holocaust was the most extreme form of the pathology we call MAS, and which of course include genocide. In what sense was it the most extreme form of genocide known to us to date? Because there, for the first time in recorded history, a decision was arrived at by a major political entity – the German Reich’s leadership – to murder every single person they defined as being Jewish, if they could, all over the world. Also, this came from the very center of ‘civilized’, modern, society, not from its margins, or from outside it. For the first time in history, mass murder was industrialized, and its cost effectiveness was taken into account. Also, it was a purely ideological, non-pragmatic mass murder, generally standing in contradiction to economic and other practical interests of the perpetrators. It was not the number of the victims, the proportion of the victims compared to the total number of Jews, or the sadism and brutality with which it was conducted, but the structural elements that made it what it was. Being the extreme genocide, it teaches us about genocides generally. It was not unique, because that would mean that it cannot be repeated. But like all human actions, it can be repeated, though – like other human actions – not in exactly the same form. It becomes the paradigmatic genocide, and thus an essential part of our discussion. The Holocaust is not unique; it is unprecedented, and that means that it is a precedent that can be repeated (though not in the same way), unless we prevent that.
Now to our terminology. The terms we use are problematic. We talk about an international community. It is indeed international, but it is not a community (communaute, Gemeinschaft), that is, a coherent group with common interests, in this case of states. We would like it to exist, but it doesn’t; it is, possibly, a hope for the future, but I am not at all sure about that.
We all belong to the United Nations. Nations indeed. United? No. We have the European Union in Europe, and the African Union in Africa. European and African, yes; Union, no. Security Council, with its five veto Powers, and ten temporary members. Council it is, yes; security? We wish that it would deal with the security of mankind; too often, it does not. The ICC, the International Criminal Court, is indeed a first, very positive, attempt to establish international legal norms that would make groups and individuals responsible for their actions, should these actions violate international law. But to what extent is it international? The US, China, and Russia do not belong to it, neither do a number of other states, and that seems to be about half of humanity at least. The same really applies to international law itself: there has been a very positive development of international law, and one can clearly see how something that started, mainly, with the Dutch lawyer Hugo de Groot (Grotius) in the 17th century, has developed over the next few centuries to become an impressive body of laws and norms. But the fact is that major Powers, and even smaller ones, flaunt international law when it is not convenient for them. Look, for instance, at the discussion in the Security Council on Sudan, on May 27, 2008, three years after the unanimous agreement at the World Summit on the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P – see below). Two Powers declared there that they were all in favor of R2P, except when their interests were in danger. Well….
In some cases, the Hague Court of Justice succeeds in making governments adhere to the law, in some cases the ICC succeeds in prosecuting offenders. But we are very far indeed from the universal application of international law in its various forms. We have advanced, no doubt, but one has to say that all these things, international law, R2P, international community, United Nations, Security Council, are work in progress. Syria is a prime example of no international community, no United Nations, no international law, no R2P, just mutual murder between a government that butchers its citizens, and groups of rebels most of whom want to establish a state based on a radical, anti-humanistic, misogynic, murderous interpretation of religion; it is a choice between cholera and the pest, with no end in sight as yet (April, 2014).
Even the concept of ‘political will’ as a central key in approaching a solution to the problem of MAS is much more complicated than it would appear. Should President Obama get up one morning and declare that he now has the will to solve the Syrian situation, would that decide the issue? Certainly, without the will to act, nothing will happen. But the will to act does not stand alone, as we all know. There are national, economic, geo-strategic interests, and every government, even a non- or half-democratic one, also has to take into account the views of its own lawmakers, of the media, of public opinion generally, of the business community, and so on. Political will is important, but not necessarily decisive. We lead ourselves astray by emphasizing that if only there was political will to attack the problem of MAS, the situation would improve radically. But the truth of the matter is that political will is only one of the factors that determine political acts. My recommendation would be not to be taken in by words and concepts that hide reality. If we want to solve problems, we need to recognize the reality they reflect.
I have already mentioned R2P, the result of a unanimous decision at the 2005 World Summit. It is no doubt an important step forward, and the idea that sovereignty is not only a right, but a responsibility of all states – a responsibility for the lives and well-being of all the people who inhabit the state, and a responsibility for protecting the lives of all people, wherever they live – is a revolutionary and very positive idea. The concept, as developed by Gareth Evans and Mohammed Sahnoun of the International Crisis Group, and adopted and advanced by the Canadian government, is of great importance. As we all know, it is based on three pillars: the responsibility of each state/government to protect the people inhabiting its area; the responsibility to widen the scope and protect the lives of people anywhere; and the willingness of the international community to intervene in cases where the local government is unable or unwilling to act, by nonviolent means, and in extreme cases, by force, to protect endangered civilians. How does one do that, especially the second and third ‘pillars’, when the so-called international community is a hope for the future? It can only be done by political persuasion, and by structural developments that may ensure that the R2P principles will be observed in practice, by as many states/governments as possible. We are quite a long way from achieving that aim, as the discussion in the Security Council quoted above has demonstrated. Which does not mean that efforts at achieving that aim should not be intensified and pursued; but it does mean that R2P, just like the other concepts mentioned – international law, international community, and so on – is work in progress. In addition, I do admit that I am suspicious of any unanimous decisions arrived at at the UN, because they indicate that the various Powers and states view such decisions as harmless – that is, harmless as far as their economic, political, strategic and other interests are concerned. The job, difficult as it is, is to arrive at a real consensus, one that will turn good (good?) intentions into practice.
We need to be very clear as to the issues we want to address. We are not in the business of settling political conflicts. A conflict is a dispute between two or more contestants, neither of whom has the power (though they may, and often do, have the desire) to annihilate one of them. A conflict can cause casualties, even quite a number, over time. But unless one of the sides acquires the real capability to cause a MAS crime, a conflict can be settled by negotiations, compromises, intervention of third parties, fatigue of the contestants, or even a victory of one side that does not result in MAS. Kashmir and the Middle East conflict are examples of this.
When we deal with MAS, we should differentiate between three phases in time, in a very general way: the first is when the threat of MAS appears, and the question is how to prevent MAS; the second is if prevention fails, and MAS actually occur; the third is how to deal with the mess after it has happened. From a purely pragmatic, even cynical point of view, it is very much cheaper, in economic and political terms, to prevent MAS than to try and end it when prevention has failed, and to clean up the after-effects, which can last years, decades, or generations. But political wisdom usually fails, and with it does prevention. Thus, in the 1930ies, it would have been easy for Britain, France, and the USSR, to stop Hitler and prevent a war which cost the wartime allies tens of millions of casualties and untold suffering. So, prevention must be our prime aim. When it fails, we have to address MAS such as in Syria, the CAR, Sudan, and elsewhere, and that is very difficult. We have not even begun to weigh the different and opposing strategies employed by post-MAS countries, and the effects of what we call transitional justice. Research, and political thinking must combine to provide options, and it may well be that the conclusion is that each society has to find its own way to deal with the traumas of past MAS, and especially of genocidal situations.
We need to create a consensus of governments willing to take the necessary preventive steps. The main question before us is what are the conditions, and then the steps, to achieve that. The obstacles, in real life, are formidable. They consist, basically, of the tendency, mentioned above, of human groups such as ethnicities, nations, states, empires, to control and expand their reach by any means possible. Economic, strategic, and general political interests are central to the perceived well-being of political entities. One can be very idealistic and believe that great speeches or sermons by great personalities, spiritual authorities of different kinds, Nobel Prize laureates, great literary figures, and so on, will make a difference. Such speeches and sermons do indeed have an impact, but it is limited, and will very rarely trump material interests such as those mentioned here. One has therefore to be realistic, and face international politics as they are, and not as we would like them to be. However, to try and do what we are trying to do here without moral outrage at the senseless loss of huge numbers of lives in MAS is impossible: without moral outrage and deep moral convictions we are nothing but scoundrels without conscience. But without a constant reality check that will make us understand the politics of this world, we will be fools. To quote Barbara Harff again: what we need is ‘theory-based practicality’.
Why theory-based? Because without academic research no advance is possible in fighting MAS. Underlying causes and historical backgrounds have to be examined in order to understand the situations, both general and specific, in which MAS will arise. Then, quantitative analyses have to be produced – in fact, they have been produced – that will computerize the demographic, economic, political, historical and other data and will result – actually, have already resulted – in global risk assessments, identifying areas where MAS may occur, unless other factors intervene to prevent them. Qualitative analyses of specific situations then have to be produced that will take into account social structures and political situations. Both quantitative and qualitative data may then result in presenting the political actors with possible options for action. At that stage, the political actors may well be in a better position to evaluate options to act than the academic experts, so that the experts’ option suggestions may be weighed, and accepted or rejected. Collaboration between academic experts and political actors is of course essential, and is based on the different capabilities of the people involved: experts may have the necessary knowledge and the time to analyze situations, whereas political actors may not have the time to engage in research and analyses, but they are better placed to evaluate the practicality of possible steps against MAS. Risk assessment are not predictions. They identify possible foci of MAS outbreaks. Early warning is a dream, because every event is the result of an infinite number of causal chains; as they are infinite in number, they cannot be encompassed, and therefore no exact prediction of events is possible. But risk assessments have been and are being produced by a number of groups, including the one I am associated with, the GPANet, and are available to interested governments. Alright, you will say, so we know where MAS may occur, and we want to prevent them. How?
The military option is the last one that should be considered. In rare cases, it may be inevitable. The Nazi crimes, including the Holocaust, could not have been stopped except by military action. The situation in the CAR may leave no other option either. But usually, military action only exacerbates the situation, and the cure may cause more damage than the illness. Nor are economic sanctions universally applicable; in fact, research has shown that open trade rather than economic blockades has an effect of reducing tensions and the danger of MAS. Again, economic sanctions may be inevitable in some situations, but the pros and cons should be very carefully weighed. We are left with diplomacy as the best way to prevent MAS, though sometimes diplomacy has to be backed up with credible threats of (preferably non-military) consequences. Diplomacy basically means something that may not always be pleasant or even palatable, but something that may be inevitable, if the purpose is to save lives: Powers and states that tend to prevent prevention in the name of real or perceived interests (economic, strategic, etc.) may have to be assured that such interests of theirs will be respected and protected, provided they join in preventive action and in humanitarian aid. Before the Ukrainian crisis made an approach to Russia impossible or at least very difficult, such an accommodation of Russian interests in Syria might possibly have led to a truce and the opening of humanitarian corridors. The aim of saving lives must be paramount.
We are today at the beginning of efforts to establish the kind of structures that will enable concerned governments to coalesce and bring about a consensus that may, in my view, hopefully create a coalition of UN member states to put pressure to bear on the major Powers to prevent, primarily by non-violent means, outbreaks of MAS. One has to realize that although the Genocide Convention dates from 1948, genocide research actually began in earnest with the publication in 1981 of Leo Kuper’s book Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century (Yale UP, 1981), so that the whole area of genocide studies is quite new. Attempts to deal with the issue politically – and the only way to limit or eliminate MAS is of necessity political – began much later. Ten years ago, the Stockholm Forum of Genocide Prevention was a first effort to engage large numbers of states in this quest, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan used the occasion to announce the establishment of the post of Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide (Dr. Juan Mendes was the first person to hold the post, and he was followed by Dr. Francis Deng, and now Dr. Adama Dieng is the Adviser). After the World Summit, an office was created at the UN with a Special Adviser on the implementation of R2P (Dr. Ed Luck, now Dr. Jennifer Welsh), and the Secretary General has wisely decided to unite the two offices. Any effort for states to act cooperatively against MAS can now have the combined support of UN agencies.
The realization that political action based on research and combining academic expertise with political wisdom has undoubtedly spread. Recently, in early March, a new Forum was established at a conference in Costa Rica called Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC), which was the result of years of preparation. It combines work for genocide prevention with the effort to develop and activize R2P. Some 56 states participated, and the fact that it took place at the initiative of a number of states, so to speak from the bottom up, is encouraging. It broadened its concern to include all the aspects of MAS. From my perspective, it is based on an understanding of the historical background as presented earlier in this contribution. It may have started with countries such as Switzerland, Argentina, Tanzania, Denmark, Ghana, Australia, and others, but many more have either joined or expressed interest. The development of ‘focal points’ – individuals or groups strategically placed in the government bureaucracy and equipped with budgetary means is crucial. Such focal points could then establish, hopefully within reasonable time, enough mutual trust between the different states and governments to enable a political coalition against MAS to take shape, within the framework for the UN and with the active participation of the Special Advisers. The meetings in Costa Rica and Brussels may have pointed the way to such a development. The approach, as stated above, has to be one of a combination of moral fervor, academic research, almost cynical political realism, and much effort.
The great French philosopher, Rene Descartes, said ‘I think, therefore I am’ (cogito ergo sum). I would suggest we adopt the principle of ‘I struggle, therefore I am’. If we struggle for a slightly better world – for there will never be good world, but there may possibly be one with a slight improvement – we will succeed. We must not stop struggling; it is worth a lifetime’s effort.
Prof. Yehuda BauerRead More
Rwanda at twenty years
Roméo Dallaire offers a number of painful, indeed excruciating observations in his searing account of the Rwandan genocide that claimed the lives of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus beginning on April 7, 1994. As UNIMAR commander during the months leading up to and during the genocide, Dallaire provides an almost day-by-day account of what he saw, what he heard, what he smelled, and what he was compelled to imagine and dream. And he was compelled also to confront the almost unimaginable failure of the international community in responding to what was clearly genocide. Despite the now infamously disingenuous parsings of the word (and acts of) “genocide” by the U.S. State Department, there are very few who then or now dissent from the view that this was clearly genocide. And yet there was no effort to halt or control the ethnically-targeted mass slaughter—by the UN, by the U.S. or by the European nations that had so solemnly vowed “Never again!”
Perhaps “never again in Europe,” although this requires an explanation of what occurred in the Balkans during the 1990s, atrocity crimes for which the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted a number of individuals on charges of genocide. Particularly conspicuous in 1994 were the failures of Kofi Annan, then head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and subsequently UN Secretary-General; of President Bill Clinton, who would later admit that his failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide was the greatest of his presidency (he actively worked against an international response); and of the European Union, where the leadership was simply dismal. Annan’s failure is in some ways most telling, as Philip Gourevitch makes clear in his devastating indictment of Annan’s refusal to respond meaningfully to a crisis clearly in the making, certainly as far back as January 1994—the date of the infamous “Genocide Fax” (See Appendix One).
In his Preface to Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Dallaire offers his largest assessment of what he proceeds to recount over the course of more than 500 pages of text:
The following is my story of what happened in Rwanda in 1994. It’s a story of betrayal, failure, naiveté, indifference, hatred, genocide, war, inhumanity and evil. Although strong relationships were built and moral, ethical, and courageous behavior was often displayed, they were overshadowed by one of the fastest, most efficient, most evident genocides in recent history. In just one hundred days over 800,000 innocent Rwandan men, women, and children were brutally murdered while the developed world, impassive and apparently unperturbed, sat back and watched the unfolding apocalypse or simply changed channels. Almost fifty years to the day that my father and father-in-law helped to liberate Europe—when the extermination camps were uncovered and when, in one voice, humanity said, “Never again”—we once again sat back and permitted this unspeakable horror to occur. We could not find the political will or the resources to stop it. Since then, much has been written, discussed, argued, and filmed on the subject of Rwanda, yet it is my feeling that this recent catastrophe is being forgotten and its lessons submerged in ignorance and apathy. The genocide in Rwanda was a failure of humanity that could easily happen again.
There is an eerie prescience to Dallaire’s words—published in 2003 but written before what was occurring in Darfur was known to any but a very few—those working in the region or following Sudan very closely. Dallaire’s book, which won Canada’s highly prestigious Governor General’s Prize for non-fiction, is utterly unsparing, including of Dallaire himself. It is thus all the more appalling that in their efforts at self-exculpation, so many have sought to lay blame on Dallaire himself. Most egregiously, the Belgian government determined that Dallaire was responsible for the ten Belgian UN peacekeepers in Kigali who were killed in the opening days of the genocide; this ignores the fact that extremist Hutu elements well understood that such killings would compel the precipitous withdrawal of the 450-man Belgian contingent from Rwanda, essentially crippling Dallaire’s small UNAMIR force. Attacks on Europeans would have come sooner or later, if only to forestall Western military intervention. Blaming Dallaire also ignores Belgium’s own significant role in the recent and more distant events in Rwanda’s often grim history. In its blaming of Dallaire, Belgium is also painfully exclusive in its concern for its own nationals in Rwanda. Indeed, the extraction of foreign nationals was the only real concern that European nations and the U.S. demonstrated.
After the fact, and in the face of such massive failure, scapegoats are much in need; and no one was in greater need than the Belgians. Scapegoating, however, can’t take the place of assigning true responsibility. And the real question is how we have assessed responsibility for some 800,000 lives lost, countless more civilians raped and displaced, and continued instability throughout the region, for which, to be sure, the present government in Kigali bears far too much responsibility. And there are difficult questions that linger still: what should the UN have done in responding to the massive refugee flight to the Democratic Republic of Congo, knowing that among these Hutu refugees were some of the worst elements of the infamous Interawheme? knowing that these brutal men continued to be a threat, to those in the camps and possibly—if reconstituted as a force—to Rwanda itself? Such questions had to be answered in the context of hopelessly inadequate resources and enormous urgency, given the desperate state of those arriving in DRC and their urgent need for “safety.”
We must also bear in mind how little time was available once the genocide began, which makes Annan’s dilatory and disingenuous role as head of UN peacekeeping all the more culpable (again, see Appendix A with its note on Philip Gourevitch’s “The Genocide Fax”). If warnings from Dallaire, beginning in January 1994, had been taken seriously, if an unaccountably unconcerned Annan had argued passionately for what needed to be done, events might well have been altered or deflected in significantly different ways. But here we pass into speculation, even as the present day realities of Darfur require a similar assessment of responsibility and of the myriad failures of the international community: the African Union, the Arab League, the UN, the Organization of Islamic Conference, Russia and China, the countries of the EU, and of course the United States.
PART ONE: Darfur, ten years later
If the extraordinary speed with which some 800,000 people were killed in roughly 100 days remains the single most shocking fact of the Rwanda genocide, Darfur presents us with a very different spectacle of international failure, but one equally shocking. Large-scale, ethnically-inflected violence in the region has now entered its second decade, already having claimed some 500,000 lives (see August 2010 mortality assessment). More than 2 million people are internally displaced and over 300,000 remain refugees in Chad. Humanitarian operations can barely continue amidst the violence that the Khartoum regime continues to sanction, indeed encourage; and with the recent mobilization of its newest Janjaweed militia ally, the Rapid Response Force, we are seeing violence of the sort that defined the earlier years of what most observers have judged to be genocide. Wholesale destruction of the villages of non-Arab or African tribal groups has accelerated over the past two years—but never really ceased. What we see now is a crescendo of violence directed against increasingly vulnerable civilians, much of it revealed by the Satellite Sentinel Project. This is how the men of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime have chosen to conduct counter-insurgency war against armed forces rebelling against decades of political marginalization, chronic insecurity, and economic deprivation.
The use of rape and gang-rape as a weapon of war has long been a central element of the Darfur genocide—often revealingly accompanied by hateful racial epithet (see “Rape and Sexual Violence Ongoing in Darfur” by Doctors Without Borders/MSF-Holland, March 2005). Radio Dabanga continues to report frequently on aerial military forces directing their attacks against civilians or deploying these forces in an utterly indiscriminate manner. Bombardment has been relentless, and nowhere more than in the Jebel Marra region in the center of Darfur. There have been more than 600 confirmed aerial attacks on civilians since the beginning of the conflict, continuing a pattern established in the long North/South civil war and now extended to the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan State and Blue Nile State. The actual number of bombing attacks in Darfur is almost certainly many times the number confirmed (see updated data at www.sudanbombing.org). Each such attack is a war crime under international law; in aggregate, they are (according to the terms of the Rome Statute) crimes against humanity (see original analysis of this issue, May 2011, at www.sudanbombing.org).
In all of the military arenas of greater Sudan, the aircraft of choice for Khartoum is the Russian-built Antonov cargo plane, retrofitted to be a crude “bomber” from which shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs are simply pushed out the cargo bay at very high altitudes and without aid of a bomb-siting mechanism, or indeed any way of ensuring that bombs drop within a radius extending hundreds of meters. As military weapons they are useless; as a means of attacking the civilians perceived to be supporting the rebel forces in these various areas, they have proved devastatingly effective. In concert with a total blockade of humanitarian assistance to rebel-held areas of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State, the bombing campaign has crippled food production in the two areas and forced millions to flee, or remain and face the increasing likelihood of starvation.
All this comes at a time when South Sudan is in the throes of convulsive self-destruction following the ominous political events of December 2013, events that have led to widespread ethnic killings, retaliatory killings, and yet further revenge killings, auguring a terrifying cycle of continual inter-ethnic violence that threatens to destroy the new nation. Millions now face famine, according to the most recent UN assessment, which could not be grimmer.
In a perverse irony, news about South Sudan, which is accessible to intrepid journalists, makes Darfur even more invisible, especially since Khartoum allows neither a news nor human rights reporting presence in its western region. The UN and African Union “hybrid” force (UNAMID) has been deeply negligent and dishonest in its accounts of what is occurring; so, too, have some UN humanitarian officials, most notoriously George Charpentier (see May 25, 2012 account). A catalog of the statements by officials from both sides of the UN, as well as successive AU heads of UNAMID, reveals a steady pattern of denial, disingenuousness, concealment of data and reports, and outright mendacity in downplaying the continuing catastrophe in Darfur (see here). We know this chiefly because of hundreds of reports from the ground conveyed through Radio Dabanga, and until recently the reports of courageous humanitarians on the ground who defied both the UN and Khartoum in reporting directly on what they had seen (see, for example, analysis of August 11, 2012).
Like the morally dissolute response to the 100 days of genocide in Rwanda, the international response in Darfur has failed for more than ten years to be remotely adequate to the threats and realities of human destruction—destruction that may well eventually surpass that of Rwanda. As humanitarian operations and personnel are continually more restricted, both by insecurity and Khartoum’s denial of access, millions of people are at increased risk from malnutrition, disease, and the life-threatening challenges of further displacement. Clean water is becoming an even scarcer commodity in this arid land. And despite its various manipulations of the figures for displacement, the UN itself indicates that more than 200,000 people have already been displaced this year. The UN figure for 2013 was 400,000 newly displaced civilians. And since UNAMID officially deployed (January 1, 2008), more than 2 million people have been newly displaced, staggering evidence of the Mission’s abysmal failure. The last issue of the UN’s “Darfur Humanitarian Profile” (No. 34, representing conditions as of January 1, 2009) reported a figure of 2.7 million displaced in IDP camps. The current UN estimate of those surviving in tenuous conditions as refugees in eastern Chad is 330,000, also reflecting a recent and sharp uptick in the number of those escaping violence, in this case by crossing an international border.
And yet despite these overwhelming numbers, as recently as August of last year the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was promulgating a figure of “1.4 million displaced” in such fashion that it was used by important news organizations. The BBC, for example, reported on May 23, 2013 that “As many as 1.4 million remain homeless after the decade-long conflict”) and Agence France-Presse reported “[this newly displaced 300,000 as of May 2013] adds to an existing displaced population of 1.4 million in Darfur.” The figure of “1.4 million” grossly misrepresents the true total of those who have been driven from their homes, some on multiple occasions, by violence and the threat of violence. OCHA is evidently doing some statistical soul-searching, as there has been no figure for IDPs offered in the weekly Sudan Bulletin for a number of months; instead, an insert appears declaring: “IDPs in Darfur: figures are fluctuating and are being reviewed.”
In recent weeks, villages have been destroyed in startlingly high numbers. Much of this is captured in Satellite Sentinel Reports of March 27, 2014 and March 28, 2014; given the ongoing and extremely high levels of violence, we may expect that many more such reports will be forthcoming. Radio Dabanga has also doggedly reported widely on what it hears from its legion of contacts on the ground in Darfur. The most ominous of recent reports detail the attacks on displaced persons camps, something that has a long history, but which now occurs with terrifying frequency and immensely greater destructiveness. Here it may be useful to recall a typical incident from September 2005—a date that falls well outside the “2003-2004″ window often used to designate the “real” genocide in Darfur. The following formal statement comes from Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, at the time Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur (essentially he was the head of an AU observer mission):
On 28 September 2005, just four days ago, some reportedly 400 Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback went on the rampage in Aru Sharo, Acho, and Gozmena villages in West Darfur. Our reports also indicate that the day previous, and indeed on the actual day of the attack, Government of Sudan helicopter gunships were observed overhead. This apparent coordinated land and air assault gives credence to the repeated claim by the rebel movements of collusion between the Government of Sudan forces and the Janjaweed/Arab militia. This incident, which was confirmed not only by our investigators but also by workers of humanitarian agencies and nongovernmental organizations in the area, took a heavy toll resulting in 32 people killed, 4 injured and 7 missing, and about 80 houses/shelters looted and set ablaze.
The following day, a clearly premeditated and well rehearsed combined operation was carried out by the Government of Sudan military and police at approximately 11am in the town of Tawilla and its Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in North Darfur. The Government of Sudan forces used approximately 41 trucks and 7 land cruisers in the operation which resulted in a number of deaths, massive displacement of civilians, and the destruction of several houses in the surrounding areas as well as some tents in the IDP camps. Indeed, the remains of discharged explosive devices were found in the IDP camp. During the attack, thousands from the township and the IDP camp and many humanitarian workers were forced to seek refuge near the AU camp for personal safety and security. (Transcript of press conference by Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission on Darfur Khartoum, October 1, 2005)
That such attacks have continued for almost a decade without serious interruption should be the occasion for serious reflection by those arguing that the violence in Darfur was largely over by the end of 2004.
To be sure, it must be emphasized that not all the civilian victims are non-Arabs/Africans. Arab tribal tensions have been markedly increasing in recent years, and inevitably Khartoum chooses sides to create an ally and sustain its “divide and conquer” strategy (an excellent overview from 2010 was provided by Julie Flint for the Small Arms Survey, “The Other War: Inter-Arab Conflict in Darfur”). Flint sets out to investigate “the background to and the development of the fighting between camel-herding Abbala and cattle-herding Baggara.” The motive for fighting vary: sometimes it is something as specific as competition over access to the gold mines of Jebel Amir in North Darfur (gold exports by the regime have become a critical part of its effort to secure foreign exchange currency (Forex)). More often fighting is over land that has been abandoned by African populations; and frequently it is an extension of growing competition for the increasingly scarce natural resources of Darfur, mainly water and land that is arable or pasturable. Much of this fighting has long historical antecedents.
But the overwhelming number of those living in the camps are African; those who have died in the hundreds of thousands are African; the many tens of thousands of girls and women who have been raped and gang-raped are overwhelming African; the targets of aerial bombardment and helicopter gunship attacks have been almost exclusively African. Ignoring the conspicuous ethnic inflection of conflict over the past eleven years is either a function of ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation of the fundamental character of the violence involving civilians. Certainly there has been much deliberate misrepresentation by the UN, including the politically, morally, and methodologically corrupt UN Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (UN COI, report issued January 2005).
One investigating member of the UN COI team, Deborah Bodkin, has told me directly that despite claims by Commission chair Antonio Cassese that they were not impeded by the Khartoum regime, the team did not in fact visit or attempt to investigate the claims of mass graves in the Wadi Saleh and Mukjar areas of West Darfur (see my notes of this interview). Indeed, according to Ms. Bodkin, the forensic specialists with the team did not put a single spade in the ground or do any forensic investigating. She also makes a series of specific accusations about the incompetence and political corruption of the investigation, reported by Samuel Totten and included here as Appendix Two (my own extensive critique of the contents of the report presented to the Secretary-General appears here). The specific location in Wadi Saleh was in one case identified by a survivor of one of the mass executions who reported the incident to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and to me (by telephone from Nyala, South Darfur; April 2004).
The Human Rights Watch account is painfully blunt in announcing its report on sustained mass executions specifically targeting Fur men and boys (the Fur are the largest non-Arab/African ethnic group in Darfur):
The 22-page [HRW] report, “Targeting the Fur: Mass Killings in Darfur,” documents in detail how the Sudanese government and its allied Janjaweed militias have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur with impunity. These crimes include the round-up, detention and execution in March of more than 200 Fur farmers and community leaders in West Darfur’s Wadi Saleh and Mukjar provinces. (January 25, 2005 press release; full report )
Targeted mass murder has continued without cessation during the Obama administration, and remains directed overwhelmingly against African tribal populations even as it is sanctioned by the Khartoum regime.
It was with full knowledge of all this that candidate Barack Obama declared, using a politically appealing rhetoric that would be fully abandoned once he was elected President:
“When you see a genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia or in Darfur, that is a stain on all of us, a stain on our souls . . .. We can’t say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again, and as a president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.” (Video recording available here)
Despite these strong words, early in his first term Obama appointed as special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration, a former Air Force Major General who had been very helpful to Obama with military people during the presidential campaign. Gration also had clear designs on the ambassadorship to Nairobi. Gration had no appropriate qualifications for this extremely difficult assignment, no diplomatic experience, spoke no relevant languages other than a less than fluent English, had no significant knowledge of Sudan—and yet he was rewarded, at a critical moment in Darfur’s history, with a Sudan “stint” that would provide the diplomatic experience to enable him to become ambassador to Kenya, which he did shortly after resigning. On leaving Gration had—by all non-administration accounts—done irreparable harm to greater Sudan and to U.S. efforts to work effectively for a just peace in Darfur.
It was Gration who failed in March 2009 to develop an adequate U.S. response to Khartoum’s expulsion from Darfur of thirteen of the world’s finest humanitarian organizations, cutting overall relief capacity by roughly 50 percent at a stroke. It was Gration who quickly endorsed Khartoum’s “New Strategy for Darfur” (September 2010), which was little more than a euphemism for forced “returns” of IDPs from the camps, enabling Khartoum to shut down these embarrassing reminders of violence and displacement; this something for which humanitarians had already taken Gration to task when he pushed this ambition for “returns” prematurely. It was Gration who, among other acts of mindless diplomatic gambling, pushed for the “de-coupling” of Darfur from broader U.S. Sudan policy. And it was Gration who led the charge to push South Sudan into compromising yet further on Abyei, despite the explicit terms of the Abyei Protocol of the CPA and the glaring fact that both Khartoum and Juba had accepted the binding resolution to the Abyei boundary issue issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (July 2009).
Although the very embodiment of diplomatic incompetence, Gration would receive—with jovial Senate confirmation—his appointment as ambassador to Nairobi; he was fired by the State Department within a year for what amounted to incompetence.
Gration’s successor, Princeton Lyman, nominally presided over U.S. policy during the seizure of Abyei and the all too predictable subsequent assaults by Khartoum on South Kordofan and Blue Nile. There was painfully little outrage or even dismay conveyed by Lyman, who also remained perversely skeptical about the realities of what was occurring in South Kordofan beginning June 5, 2011. Moreover, he was wholly ineffectual in helping to ensure that the African Union plan for humanitarian access to these two regions was accepted by Khartoum. And he was content to leave Darfur “de-coupled.” In short, Lyman was weak, often disingenuous, but at least revealed the fundamental premise of the Obama administration’s Sudan policy. In a December 2011 interview with the influential English-language Arabic news outlet Asharq Al-Awsat, Lyman said in response to a question
Frankly, we do not want to see the ouster of the [Sudanese] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures. We want to see freedom and democracy [in Sudan], but not necessarily via the Arab Spring. (December 3, 2011)
It appears not to have mattered to Lyman or the Obama administration that the overwhelming majority of Sudanese—and not just Darfuris—have long wanted regime change, and have grown increasingly explicit in expressing this goal. Their seriousness can be measured by the increasing willingness to risk their lives and well-being to achieve such change. More than 300 people were killed during demonstrations calling for regime change in September/October 2013; they died when security forces in Khartoum and elsewhere immediately began firing with what Amnesty International concluded were “shoot to kill” orders. On July 31, 2012 scores of student demonstrators were gunned down in Nyala (South Darfur) by Khartoum’s security forces—ultimately under control of the regime—using automatic rifles. And there have been many other clear signs of popular support for regime change. An imploding economy has created shortages and long lines for bread, a food staple for many, and also for cooking fuel; inflation is running at an unsustainable 70+ percent when realistically assessed, and this hits hardest the poorest and most economically vulnerable.
But the expedient and disingenuous declaration that the U.S. wants “to see the regime carry out reform via constitutional democratic measures” is finally so preposterous as to serve only as a measure of how morally bankrupt the Obama administration’s Sudan policy has become. There is not a shred of historical evidence that the NIF/NCP has the slightest interest in “reform via constitutional measures”—and Lyman and the Obama administration know this full well. There are all too clearly other considerations in Obama’s Sudan policy, and they hinge in large part on the putative value of counter-terrorism intelligence the regime can provide—this despite the fact that the regime is clearly still in the terrorism business (see analysis of March 7, 2014). Certainly nothing else explains the massive new U.S. embassy in Khartoum, which when fully completed and equipped as a listening post for northern Africa will have cost the American taxpayers several hundred million dollars.
The U.S. response to Darfur and greater Sudan under President Obama will continue to be a “stain on our souls,” and for this alone he deserves his full measure of opprobrium.
PART TWO: Darfur, the early responses
What were the early international responses to evidence of genocide in Darfur? What did we know and when did we know it? On the basis of ample evidence from humanitarian organizations, human rights groups, and journalists on the ground throughout 2003, I argued in February 2004 that there could no longer be any reasonable skepticism about whether or not genocide was occurring, concluding my piece in the Washington Post:
There can be no reasonable skepticism about Khartoum’s use of these militias to “destroy, in whole or in part, ethnic or racial groups”—in short, to commit genocide. Khartoum has so far refused to rein in its Arab militias; has refused to enter into meaningful peace talks with the insurgency groups; and, most disturbingly, has refused to grant unrestricted humanitarian access. The international community has been slow to react to Darfur’s catastrophe and has yet to move with sufficient urgency and commitment. A credible peace forum must be rapidly created. Immediate plans for humanitarian intervention should begin. The alternative is to allow tens of thousands of civilians to die in the weeks and months ahead in what will be continuing genocidal destruction. (Washington Post, February 25, 2004)
Ten years later all this remains true, particularly the lack of a “credible peace forum.” The international community has acquiesced in the so-called “Doha (Qatar) peace process” and the “Doha Document for Peace in Darfur” (July 2011). Arguing that it is better than nothing, those justifying this acquiescence in the face of diplomatic failure have only emboldened Khartoum, which pushes the DDPD as providing the only negotiating auspices for peace talks precisely because it knows the “Doha Process” will fail. For the Doha Document has been overwhelming rejected by Darfuri civil society and the major rebel groups. Even the very small, factitious splinter groups that signed the group are in dismayed disarray as they have watched Khartoum renege on all meaningful terms of the agreement.
In March 2004 Mukesh Kapila, chief UN humanitarian official for Sudan, gave a powerfully revealing interview to the BBC, ensuring the end of his UN career, but bringing to international attention realities that he had seen first hand. His remarks then have a particular significance, given what has happened over the past decade:
“The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the numbers involved” [said Kapila]…. This is more than just a conflict, it is an organised attempt to do away with a group of people.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 22, 2004)
And of course “the numbers involved” have grown hideously in the past decade. Kapila has repeatedly said that he refused to preside over the “first genocide of the 21st century.” His assessment was widely echoed by human rights and humanitarian organizations speaking out at the same time. In a March 2004 briefing shortly after Kapila spoke out, “concerned humanitarian workers in Darfur” declared in the clearest of terms:
[The Janjaweed Arab militia] make it clear that [Khartoum] has now given them a mandate to make these areas “Zurga free” (Zurga is a derogatory term for Black) and that they represent [Khartoum] in the area [Darfur]. Violence is systematically reported, people killed (especially males), goods including cattle looted, and houses burned. If people do not move immediately, a second more deadly attack is launched, and civilians are left with no option but to move away to the nearest “safe haven,” which is usually also attacked within the next few days. (“A Briefing Paper on the Darfur Crisis: Ethnic Cleansing,” March 25, 2004, “presented to UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to bring this to the attention of the international community”)
Given the massive human destruction that has relentlessly accompanied, indeed defined human displacement, “ethnic cleansing” has always seemed to me an inadequate term. The phrase is typically defined as the forceful, sometimes violent clearing of an ethnic group from specific areas to make room for another ethnic group. But the people of Darfur have not simply been forced from their villages, which were indeed comprehensively destroyed, making return impossible. They were deliberately slaughtered en masse within those villages, often by Khartoum’s regular military forces (the SAF) and the Janjaweed working in concert. Many times aerial military aircraft, including helicopter gunships, were part of the attacks, killing many within villages and hunting down those who fled. Massacres of large numbers of people were commonplace, as the examples of Fur men and boys in Wadi Saleh and Mukjar should have made clear (see Human Rights Watch report noted above). Murder was occurring on a huge scale; it was systematic, widespread, and ethnically-targeted. Millions did flee, but hundreds of thousands died from violence or the consequences of fleeing without resources. A great many have died from dehydration following violent displacement, especially in more arid regions with few water sources. In the main, those who fled have ended up in camps for the internally displaced, often in appalling, indeed life-threatening conditions. This is genocide, not ethnic cleansing.
But does even such a powerful conclusion mean anything? The response of the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs at this time—often described as the second most powerful figure in UN headquarters—is illuminating. Interviewed shortly after UN approval of the “responsibility to protect,” which was in many ways a highly belated response to genocide in Rwanda and the Balkans, Kieran Prendergast said:
“We don’t mean it when we say we’re not going to accept other Rwandas, further Rwandas, but I never thought we did mean it. That’s a very sad conclusion, but I don’t think there is any evidence to support the view that we did mean it. We may have meant it as a kind of generalized level of indignation. But when it comes to accepting the consequences of that, we don’t.” (Frontline, “On Our Watch,” November 21, 2011; ).
If this cynical view is true, if there is no international willingness to confront even the most brutal genocidal assaults on innocent civilians, then we are indeed lost, morally and politically. Moreover, we might wonder why, amidst such unbounded moral and political nihilism, there should be such an office as UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. Is his salary commensurate with his cynicism? How, given his ruthless and debased Realpolitik, do we measure his contribution to world affairs?
The UN does have another face, and that is the humanitarian side of the world body; predictably, tensions between the political and humanitarian sides can be fierce. Thus in the same documentary, questioned about the lack of an early response to the Darfur genocide, Prendergast bristles, declaring:
“I don’t accept that I or my [political] department were tardy in that respect [responding to the crisis in Darfur]. And I think that if the humanitarians had felt as strongly as they appear to now—that this was a political crisis requiring political actions—they would actually have taken some form of bureaucratic action to act on that [the widespread political and humanitarian crisis in Darfur].”
This claimed ignorance is of course nonsense on its face. But when subsequently questioned about the dire and urgent memoranda that Mukesh Kapila, UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, had been sending to UN headquarters and to his immediate superior Jan Egeland, Prendergast testily replies that,
“I have no idea what memos he [Kapila] was writing to Jan Egeland because I didn’t receive them.”
But this claim turns out to be importantly false: researchers for the “On Our Watch” documentary subsequently found memos from Kapila that were addressed directly to Prendergast, including a December 2003 report “Political and Security Update on Darfur, Sudan.” That revealing report was addressed to both Egeland and Prendergast as primary recipients. Another memo with the striking title of “Ethnic Cleansing in Darfur” (March 2004) was sent to UN headquarters and copied to Prendergast. The copied individuals are included in the video footage showing the document, and there, conspicuously, is Kieran Prendergast’s name, along with those several other very senior UN officials. Can Prendergast credibly say that neither he nor his political office saw these deeply important memoranda? Or is it simply convenient not to remember? To my knowledge, Prendergast has never clarified his understanding of the matter publicly, and we are thus left with the impression of a man both deeply cynical and ethically disingenuous at best. Echoes of the Rwandan “genocide fax” are ominous.
The UN did have a heroic voice for Darfur in the person of Jan Egeland, head of UN humanitarian operations globally. Though more restrained than Kapila, he was equally defined by moral passion and the deepest concern for the people of Darfur—and he also made the strongest case possible from within the UN. He used the term “ethnic cleansing” repeatedly in spring 2004—first in April 2004 and then on May 27, 2004, referring to a “scorched-earth campaign of ethnic cleansing” in Darfur (Reuters, May 27, 2004). Again, it must be noted that the language, while strong for a UN official, doesn’t fully acknowledge the vast scale of violent ethnic slaughter, or the consequences—very often fatal—for those who attempted to flee the “scorching.”
Despite the courage of Egeland’s words, it is important to note that his assessment was effectively erased from UN pronouncements on Darfur, and Kofi Annan—bearing so much responsibility for what occurred in Rwanda—again figures prominently as Secretary-General in this erasure.
Notably, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary commemoration of the Rwandan genocide (April 2004), Annan explicitly invoked Darfur and spoke in ways suggesting he would not allow Darfur to become another Rwanda, indeed clearly invoking the possibility of military intervention if the genocide did not end. But this would soon change, and evidently on the advice of the UN political side, he declared on June 17, 2004: “Based on reports that I have received, I cannot at this stage call [the human destructions and atrocities in Darfur] genocide. There are massive violations of international humanitarian law, but I am not ready to describe it as genocide or ethnic cleansing yet” (Voice of America, June 17, 2004). He is thus implicitly claiming that he had not heard the repeated characterizations of Darfur as the site of “ethnic cleansing” made by his own Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, or read any of the many detailed reports from Mukesh Kapila, head of UN humanitarian operations in Sudan, making unambiguously clear what was occurring on the ground in Darfur. Yet again, at a critical moment, Annan chose to ignore the evidence of genocide in evident hopes that the problem would simply slowly die out or go away. Ten years later, such a choice makes Annan as complicit as any member of the international community in sustaining the horrors we see today.
The following month (July 2004) the U.S. Congress, in a unanimous, bipartisan, and bicameral vote, declared that genocide was occurring in Darfur. The executive branch spoke through the voice of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who issued his genocide determination before the U.S Senate Foreign Relations Committee (September 2004). His findings were based on extensive research by the Coalition for International Justice, commissioned by the U.S. State Department (August/September 2004). This research consisted chiefly of some 1,200 carefully randomized and collated interviews conducted under controlled circumstances with Darfuri survivors who made it to eastern Chad. I have been told by one member of this large team of experts in various relevant fields that every single person surveying the evidence reached an unambiguous conclusion: what they had heard was the clearest possible evidence of genocide.
Powell’s follow-up to his genocide determination, however, is the more important part of his testimony: “No new action is dictated by this determination” (Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2004). And indeed, the Bush administration, despite occasional bluster, was as good as Powell’s words on the score of “action” on behalf of the victims of the Darfur “genocide.”
On other fronts the response has been just as feckless and more dishonest. The African Union, along with the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference, has never described realities in Darfur as either genocide or ethnic cleansing. Indeed, there has been no useful characterization of the violence that makes clear its ethnic dimension. It is difficult not to surmise that this is out of deference to Khartoum, a deference that has long been in evidence, particularly with the ascendency of Thabo Mbeki to be chief AU negotiator for all issues in greater Sudan. To be sure, his abject failure in Darfur makes a continuing mockery of the name of his diplomatic road show, which generally is cited by its acronym: AUHIP. But the full name is the “African Union High-Level Implementation Panel.” And what was to have been “implemented? Mbeki’s own wholly derivative “road map for peace in Darfur,” a document almost completely ignored and gaining no traction in any quarter. There is quite simply nothing for Mbeki and his cohort to “implement,” but the acronym lives on.
Other early African Union commentary on Darfur has been either appallingly ignorant or arrogantly confident, often by way of suggesting that the situation was under control. A large AU force of thousands of troops was promised by President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria in September 2004, to be assembled that October. Obasanjo stressed that this was not in response to genocide because he’d seen to evidence that such was in progress in Darfur (New York Times, September 24, 2004). This force materialized much later, as the hopelessly inadequate African Union Mission for Sudan (AMIS), a substantial supplement to the 300 or so observers and protection forces, but inherently incapable of halting what Obasanjo would later (2006) describe as “near genocide.” It had been prevented from becoming a “full genocide” only by virtue of the “intervention of the AU forces.” This was the beginning of a long train of African Union members and officials trumpeting their successes in Darfur even as the killing and displacement raged on and humanitarian conditions and security deteriorated. Most recently, former UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari, also from Nigeria, declared on the occasion of his September 2012 retirement party, “‘I am gratified to note that barely 31 months on, all the objectives I set out to meet [in Darfur] have largely been met” (PANA, September 11, 2012). Obasanjo never indulged in such fulsome self-congratulation, but his words of 2006 are worth noting carefully:
“It is not in the interest of Sudan nor in the interest of Africa, nor indeed in the interest of the world, for us all to stand by, fold our hands and see genocide in Darfur,” Obasanjo said. The United States and some relief agencies have described the three-year-old conflict in Darfur as “genocide” before, but the pan-African body has always avoided using the word to describe the ongoing violence in the western Sudanese region. The term has also been rejected by the Sudanese government. “We have seen near genocide before the intervention of the AU forces; we should not allow a full genocide to develop,” Obasanjo repeated later at a joint news conference with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. “If nothing is done and AU forces have to withdraw, we do not know what can develop in Darfur,” he insisted. “We should not allow that.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Addis Ababa], October 11, 2006)
It would be another fifteen months before UNAMID would officially replace AMIS as the international protection force in Darfur; but that deployment, given its hybrid (AU and UN) nature, the often poor quality of troops and equipment, and Khartoum’s continuing dictation of the terms of composition and what military equipment could be used ensured that Obasanjo’s worry remained all too relevant: “If nothing is done and AU forces have to withdraw, we do not know what can develop in Darfur.” In fact, even with the deployment of UNAMID, few could have imagined the number of years Obasanjo’s “near genocide” would continue, or that 2 million more civilians would be violently forced from their homes or places of refuge as UNAMID proved wholly inadequate to its protection mandate.
Much of the problem derived from an arrogant over-estimation of what the AU could accomplish, or even deploy militarily. Thabo Mbeki, in a prelude to his later demonstration of ignorance about how to manage peace negotiations for Darfur, is cited in a report from late 2005 declaring: “‘We have not asked for anybody outside of the African continent to deploy troops in Darfur. It’s an African responsibility, and we can do it’” (Refugees International, “No Power to Protect: The African Union Mission in Sudan [Darfur],” November 2005, page 1; ). The consequences of such arrogance can only be surmised, but they are ghastly indeed when we survey Darfur then and now.
The Brookings Institution issued a report at the same time, and was equally scathing in its criticisms of African Union capabilities in Darfur. And it also cited a now infamous memorandum from Musa Hilal, the brutal Janjaweed leader who is once again in the news for civilian destruction in Darfur, though apparently not in collusion with Khartoum (indeed, attacks by his militia forces on civilians, especially north of el-Fasher, may be a way to extract political concessions from Khartoum):
The [Khartoum] government’s objective in this [military] campaign is clear. A document seized from a Janjaweed official [Musa Hilal] that appears to be genuine orders all commanders and security officers in Darfur to: “Change the demography of Darfur and make it void of African tribes.” The document goes on to encourage “killing, burning villages, farms, terrorizing people, confiscating property from members of African tribes and forcing them from Darfur.” (“The Protecting of Two Million Internally Displaced: The Successes and Shortcomings of the African Union in Darfur”, November 2005)
The document is cited as authentic by many others, including Julie Flint and Alex de Waal in their 2005 book, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War. I for one cannot imagine a document more suggestive of “genocidal intent,” the key term that has befuddled those attempting to understand the legal issues of genocide in Darfur. What greater evidence of “intent” could there possibly be? Only the actions that followed this script all too completely.
Other African Union assessments were simply terrifying in their arrogance. Jean-Baptiste Natama, a senior AU political official, declared:
“If the situation is getting worse, we are not going to pack our luggage and leave Darfur…. We are going to have a robust mandate to make sure we are not here for nothing. We should be able to bring peace, or impose peace.” (New York Times, November 29, 2004; cited in the Brookings Institution report, page 16)
The enormous risks of such presumption were contemporaneously recognized by Jan Egeland, even if he could speak only indirectly by virtue of the constraints upon his office in the UN:
“My warning is the following: if [insecurity] continues to escalate, if it continues to be so dangerous on humanitarian work, we may not be able to sustain our operation for 2.5 million people requiring lifesaving assistance,” said Jan Egeland, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “It could all end tomorrow—it’s as serious as that.” (Associated Press, September 28, 2005)
The Europeans evidently judged Egeland to be somewhat hysterical, and certainly there was no concerted push to provide the security for humanitarians in Darfur he was essentially begging for (many of these relief workers were of course Europeans).
Nor did Egeland’s warning provide occasion for then President Bush to fashion a multilateral plan, outside UN auspices if necessary, to protect endangered civilians and humanitarians. Nor has the equivalent threat that exists today given President Obama sufficient reason to re-assess the administration’s Sudan policies, and Darfur policies in particular. Darfur has been effectively “de-coupled” from broader U.S. Sudan policy—indeed, the phrase “de-coupling Darfur” was used by a “senior Obama administration official,” according to a State Department transcript (November 2010).
Reflecting the views of the administration he served—though certainly without adequate knowledge of Sudan or Darfur to make the judgment on his own—former special envoy Scott Gration declared in 2009 that there were only “remnants of genocide,” this at a time when large numbers of African civilians were being targeted—killed, raped, or displaced from their lands into wretched camps. This—”there are only remnants of genocide”—would seem to have been Obama’s means of retreat from his now infamous “stain on our soul” declaration. But in fact, since the beginning of the Obama administration in January 2009, UN data indicate that more than1.5 million human beings have been newly displaced, humanitarian conditions have deteriorated badly, chiefly by design on Khartoum’s part, and killings have been a constant in the life of those in the camps and rural areas—altogether a rather large “remnant.”
And violence now is all too comparable with that of the most violent years of the genocide, 2003 – 2005, a time-frame that is frequently and expediently compressed to 2003 – 2004; this is apparently to suggest that in Darfur the genocide was largely over before the world awoke to what was occurring in remote western Sudan. For one of countless examples of why this generalization is seriously in error, see Ambassador Kingibe’s account above, from October 2005, detailing the slaughter of civilians in IDP camps and areas in the vicinity of Tawilla (North Darfur) by the Janjaweed and regular Sudan Armed Forces. There are hundreds of similar accounts, a great many of them archived here.
Why a Rwanda or Darfur genocide commemoration?
If there is any value to commemorating the Rwanda genocide, it should be to reflect on both the scale and consequences on our past failures, and to resolve to address ongoing, widespread, and systematic ethnic destruction in Darfur. Tragically, in Darfur the tipping point has likely been passed; violent chaos seems destined to grow wider and humanitarian access is so perilous that there may be a shutdown of the entire operation as an international endeavor at any time. Presently only three percent of those working for humanitarian organizations in Darfur are expatriates, and they are largely hunkered down in the major towns, which have themselves become increasingly violent.
We have only to look at a few of the recent dispatches from Radio Dabanga, confirmed by the Satellite Sentinel Project in many cases, to gain a sense of how extraordinarily violent and dangerous a place Darfur remains for civilians. Any shred of a claim to be upholding the “responsibility to protect” vulnerable civilians has long since been swept away by this continuing avalanche of violence.
See Philip Gourevitch’s brilliant reporting on Annan’s appalling response to an infamous fax of January 11, 1994—from General Roméo Dallaire, UN force commander in Rwanda. The fax warned Annan of impending “extermination” of the Tutsis, and the “ordering of the registering of all Tutsis” in Kigali, capital of Rwanda (“The Genocide Fax,” The New Yorker, May 11, 1998). Gourevitch received the fax anonymously, but clearly someone within the UN was appalled at the implications of such warning going unheeded. It is an astonishingly powerful piece of journalism.
Concerning the performance of the UN Commission of Inquiry for Darfur under Cassese, see (included below) Sam Totten, “US Investigation into the Determination of Genocide in the Darfur Crisis an its determination of genocide,” Genocide Studies and Prevention, 2006, Footnote 50:
Footnote 50: Debb Bodkin, a police officer based in Canada and the only person who served as an investigator for both the ADP and the COI, told this author that the data collected by the COI was unsystematic and not as focused as the ADP’s. More specifically, in recent correspondence with the author, Bodkin commented as follows: “During our briefing [about the COI] in Geneva, we were given no format or indication as to how the investigation and interviews were to be conducted. As a result every investigator conducted his/her investigation and interviews in whatever fashion he/she preferred. I cannot believe that with the vast difference in expertise of each investigator there would be any semblance of consistency in regard to the gathering of evidence…. The UN investigation did not have any laid out parameters whatsoever and as a result an untrained interviewer could easily ask questions in a manner that would elicit whatever response the interview hoped to obtain…. [Also,] each investigator was open to choose who they interviewed and how…. As far as the soundness of the COI, when I compare it to any of the sexual assault or homicide investigations which I was part of during my police service in Waterloo, Ontario, it would not [have gone forward] due to the low probability of a conviction, mainly because of the fact that the investigators did not meet the required adequacy standards to be conducting interviews and did not have the knowledge, skills or ability to be doing so…” (email sent to the author, April 15, 2006).
Furthermore, Bodkin asserted that while the COI team was in Geneva, prior to entering the field, Antonio Cassese, who oversaw the COI, inferred that the COI would not result in a finding of genocide. More specifically, Bodkin, in recent correspondence with the author, conveyed the following: “Commissioner Antonio Cassese, who had traveled to Khartoum and some parts of Darfur for a few days and had conducted some interviews, stated that he felt that we would find that there were two elements of genocide missing: (1) target group (victims are from mixed tribes) and (b) mens rea (intent). He talked for a while and my personal opinion was that he was telling us that the outcome of the investigation would show that it was not genocide which was occurring. He did not specify how long he had visited nor how many interviews he had conducted but I don’t believe either were extensive. I felt it was very inappropriate for him to plant this opinion in the investigators’ minds prior to starting the investigation and other investigators felt uncomfortable about it as well. The female Commissioner [Ms. Hina Jilani from Pakistan] stated: ‘Go with an open mind.’ During the briefing I got the distinct impression that there was some tension between Commissioner Cassese and Commissioner Jilani as their comments often conflicted with one another and he was expressing what he thought our findings would be whereas she always made comments about us doing our job open-mindedly” (email received by the author on April 15, 2006).
Dr. Eric Reeves; professor of English language and literature at Smith College in Northampton, MassachusettsRead More
Barak Sella’s speech in the International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2014.
Teaching of the holocaust is a very integral part of an Israeli child’s education. On a things I find most memorable, is the Evian conference, in which the nations of the world decided to ignore the severe situation of the Jewish people, by refusing to take in a substantial number of Jewish refugees. As a young student I was of course very naïve and didn’t understand how could this happen. How could the world’s leaders ignore such an obvious human crisis? How could they not see the meaning of the decision? As I grew up I became less innocent and was exposed to how most leaders make their decisions most of the time. It is very hard to realize, that while I was educated that your values, mainly humanistic values should lead your actions, many leaders and politicians are driven mainly by political and economic interests. Therefore, I think that the Syrian situation has caught most of the Israeli society in great embarrassment. On one hand, as a state founded by not only, but many refugees themselves, we must be the first to come to the aid of refugees all over the world. We have learned the lesson from evian and shouldn’t act the same. On the other hand, Syria is an enemy state with no diplomatic relations with Israel. This situation is very complicated and demands a complex action by our behalf.
A terrible civil war has been raging for some two years on the other side of the Syrian border. Since the conflict broke out, over 160,000 people have been killed, some half of them civilians, including 40,000 women and children. Approximately 9 million residents – 40% of the Syrian population, primarily women and children – live today without a roof over their heads. Most of the refugees and displaced persons are in constant mortal danger due to shortages of bare survival necessities and lack basic and critical supplies necessary to survive the cold winter. For example, during the recent cold snap in our region Jerusalem was covered with beautiful white snow and Israeli public and service workers worked hard in to keep everything in order, 27 Syrian children lost their lives due to the harsh conditions.
As a response to this awful situation on the other side of the border, Israeli Flying Aid, the Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed Youth Movement and Dror Israel have decided together to lead a nation-wide humanitarian operation in order to collect life-saving winter supplies, including coats, blankets and sleeping bags.
The project was led by Israeli youth, in order to aid non-combatant women and children. Beginning on 29/12 and until January 15, a nation-wide operation took place to collect winter supplies. Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed clubs served as local collection points, 80 in number. Operation organizers called on the public to join this important project and bring winter supplies to one of the 15 movement clubs in which the supplies were initially collected (list attached). In order to assure that all the information is available for the public, a website and facebook page were set up immediately.
Members and counselors of Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed lead the collection, packaging and sorting of the supplies. In each collection point, an adult councilor was appointed to make sure that all packaging protocols were followed.
Those donating supplies were asked to follow several guidelines in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the refugees and displaced persons who will use the items collected: for example, do not donate items with logos of Israeli brands or Hebrew print. Packaging coordinators will remove all tags from each item. After sorting and packaging, supplies will then be transferred to Israeli Flying Aid storage sites. In summary, after 3 weeks 20,000 items were collected in 1,200 boxes and 8 trucks. Approximately 30 tons of life saving equipment that will pass on the Syrian refugees and misplaced persons,
Many individuals, groups and organizations joined the operation: Hamachanot Haolim youth movement, technological schools from the “Ort” network, the Christ church in Jerusalem and more. This is an emergency situation which we cannot ignore. Our history as a nation and the fact that we are a democratic society obligates us from a moral perspective to act in order to help all victims, no matter who they are – to be the voice of the voiceless. We must not stand aside when we can help those who need it. A human disaster of enormous proportions is taking place four hours by car from Tel Aviv, and a mere hour from the Sea of Galilee, committing us as Israelis and human beings to act so lives are saved.
I am proud to be a part of a movement in which young people are not willing to remain silent, and are actively gathering aid for women and children without shelter who are suffering from cold and hunger. Because of our past and our geographic proximity and despite the complexity involved, Israeli citizens, are putting politics aside and not remaining indifferent to the suffering of innocents. To me, these young people are fulfilling the Zionist dream.
This operation was very meaningful and may even genuinely save lives. It was a great effort of thousands of people, Jews, Bedouin and Muslim Arabs, Christians and Druze who have worked together in order to reach out and do what they can. When you have an opportunity to save human lives we have a real obligation to do so. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small act of human decency or something much larger, everyone has to take part in whatever way they can.
This reminds me of the story about an old man who threw star fish, one by one, back to the sea while thousands of more were stranded on shore. A young child walking by asked him what is the point of throwing them back – he is ne old man and there are thousands… he can’t save them all. The old man smiled at the child and said while throwing another starfish back – “it matters. For him.”
This is a story about the sanctity of life. It is inspiring. But it always made me wonder. As a story on its own it is beautiful and meant to inspire, but how can we ignore the thousands of starfish left to die?.. Have we truly done enough to save them? Or are we just doing enough to quit our conscience?
This is my question and therefore it is also our duty. Not to rest and not to feel good about ourselves, but to prepare for tomorrow and convince more to join us in the struggle to reduce and prevent human suffering wherever it is possible.
Dror – IsraelRead More
Victims of genocide die twice: first in the killing fields and then in the texts of denialists who insist that “nothing happened” or that what happened was something “different”. On the eve of two centennial anniversaries in 2015 — the Gallipoli landings, and the start of the genocide of long-settled Armenians, Assyrians and Hellenes in Ottoman Turkey — the Turkish denial of events evokes serious political debate here.
The Ottoman Empire and, later, the Republic of Turkey, implemented a plan of unprecedented forced demographic change from 1914 to 1924, It sought the physical elimination of the indigenous non-Muslim populations as the only way of securing their territorial, cultural, religious and linguistic integrity. In 1911, one of the governing Committee of Union and Progress, chaired by Talaat Pasha, declared: “The nations that remain from the old times in our empire are akin to foreign and harmful weeds that must be uprooted … to clear our land…” (“The Salonika Congress, The Young Turks and their Programme”, The Times 3 October 1911, p. 3.)
In the words of Secretary of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, this “administrative holocaust” prompted immediate international reaction. Relief committees arose world-wide. A Joint Allied Declaration of 24 May 1915 stated:
In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied governments announce publicly … that they will hold personally responsible … all members of the Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres. (Churchill, The World Crisis: The Aftermath 1929, p.158).
In a decade, between two and three million Armenian, Assyrian and Hellene men, women and children were murdered; another two million became destitute refugees. Tens of thousands of female teenagers and children were abducted and forcibly “Turkified”. The Christian minorities of Anatolia had been virtually wiped out.
The imperial parliament adopted the “Tehcir Law” (27 May 1915).It squarely blamed the indigenous Armenians, Assyrians and Hellenes for their own destruction: those living near the war zones had hindered the movements of, and logistical support for, the Ottoman armed forces; they had collaborate with the enemy; attacked the Ottoman troops and innocent Muslim civilians; and so on.
Since the Kemalists came to office in 1923, the official Turkish position has been constant: there was no plan to destroy the indigenous Christian populations of Anatolia. Those who died were “merely” and “only” victims of international war, civil war, famine and disease.
Article 301 of the current Turkish constitution – though no longer enforced – makes criminal any discussion of the genocides as “denigrating Turkishness”. Amongst those prosecuted was Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. The battle for the memory of the destruction of non-Muslim minorities rages on, with the denialists now very much on the defensive, inside and outside Turkey.
France’s parliament not only recognised the genocide, but under President Nicolas Sarkozy, denial of the Jewish and Armenian genocides was criminalised. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan attacked the statute as a “discriminatory, racist” bill, a “grave, unacceptable and historic mistake … which denigrates Turkish history”. That bill was declared unconstitutional in February 2012, though current leader Francois Hollande asserts he will re-introduce the legislation.
When France officially recognised the genocide in 1998, Turkish sanctions were threatened. In 2012, France retained its position yet bilateral trade with Turkey was worth US$13.5 billion. For all the threats about destroying the Australian–Turkish friendship, elaborate plans to mark the ANZAC centenary continue, with Turkey set to reap rich financial rewards from battlefield tourism.
Yet even in this “sacred” moment of a shared history, the genocide issue consumes Turkey to a point of near absurdity. South Australia and New South Wales have officially recognised the genocide of these three minorities. After the NSW Parliament’s vote recognising the Assyrians and Pontian Greeks as genocide victims (the genocide of Armenians was recognised earlier), the Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that parliamentarians will not get visas to attend the centenary commemorations at Anzac Cove. Led by Premier Barry O’Farrell, the response has been outrage at the politicisation of Anzac memory.
Australian journalists have been invited to Ankara and American denialist Professor Justin McCarthy was invited by the Australian–Turkish Advisory Alliance (“Stand Up Against Armenian Lies”) to give lectures in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra on “What Happened During 1915–1923? The Armenian Question”. Melbourne University’s Faculty of Arts and the NSW Art Gallery cancelled the events scheduled there [in November 2013]when apprised of the tenor of the lectures. McCarthy did address a very small gathering of “invitation only” in a federal Parliament committee room, organised by the pro-Turkish advocate, Labor’s Laurie Ferguson. Three MPs attended. It was left to journalist Andre Bolt to berate the ABCs Lateline for broadcasting these conflicts. McCarthy, Bolt claims, is not a denialist: he only denies that the genocide was planned. These genocides are recognised by 22 nation states, 60 regional governments and a dozen world bodies. Those who recognise genocide do, indeed, recognise the intent involved.
Denialists very rarely illustrate, demonstrate or prove their points. They simply assert, leaving opponent on the back foot, reaching for the heavy supporting texts in the “debate”. There are several events that are beyond debate of any kind: the realities of the Holocaust, the atomic bombs on Japan, and the events in Turkey from 1915.
Dr. Colin Tatz; Professor in Australian National University, Canberra
Dr. Panayiotis F. Diamadis; Professor in University of Technology, SydneyRead More