Uphold promises to end genocide with action in Darfur
The Antonov plane looms in the air, soon to bring about the destruction of a village and a community. As bombs hit the ground, the earth becomes charred. Men, women and children flee for their lives. Then the government leaves the dirty work to the Janjaweed. Formed from the Arabic words “man,” “horse” and “gun,” their name can fool you because it excludes one very relevant piece of the puzzle—terrorism. This isn’t a militia group that fights against some great army but a group whose singular purpose is to destroy the lives of civilians in whole or in part.
The genocide in Darfur began in 2003, and 11 years removed from its start, it persists as one of the greatest ongoing humanitarian crises. Following decades of governmental neglect of Darfur, Darfuri rebel groups launched a series of attacks against the Sudanese government. The government struck back with massive bombardments on villages and the creation of the Janjaweed. John Prendergast of the Enough Project put it well when he said the Sudanese government’s policy is to “drain the pond to catch the fish.” Thinking massive civilian death and suffering will lead to the inevitable downfall of the groups who took up arms against them, the Sudanese government has wreaked havoc upon the country’s Darfur region. The Save Darfur Coalition’s estimates put the death toll at 300,000 and those displaced at 3 million.
Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard much about the genocide in Darfur lately. We thought it ended, right? But Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is still very much at work, and the Janjaweed terrorist group is back. They are an essential element in the orchestration of heinous crimes in Sudan such as the destruction of food and water supplies and widespread rape, torture and murder, but oftentimes their importance falls from the headlines. And now, the organization which, in its former Secretary-General’s words, is supposed to “chart a course for the world’s people in the first decades of the new millennium,” is acting like the Janjaweed isn’t a threat. If the United Nations is charting its course for how it will respond to genocide throughout the millennium, it is charting one of inaction and tolerance, not leadership.
10 years ago this month, Colin Powell, then secretary of state, concluded that genocide had been committed in Darfur by the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed. Whether or not genocide is occurring in Darfur has been a subject of great contention. Proving what international law calls the “intent to destroy” is a challenging task.
Darfur is not like Rwanda where the ethnic divides were so distinctive, and cries of destroying the “cockroaches” (Tutsis) were blasted on the radio. However, the Arab-dominated government of Sudan abandoned the black African Darfuris, leaving them underdeveloped and lacking autonomy. They also encouraged Arab Janjaweed militias to essentially finish the job once the bombing of villages was completed by the Sudanese army. Since the initial statement from Powell, the International Criminal Court has indicted al-Bashir on 10 counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. According to The Atlantic, Powell used the word “genocide” in an attempt to spur international action. He also inspired the creation of the U.S. citizen-based Save Darfur movement, which in turn pressured the U.N. into deploying additional military forces in 2006.
Last month, though, the U.N. Security Council voted to stay in the region for only 10 more months, and at that time, the mission to disarm the Janjaweed will come to a close. The U.N. has stated that the mission to disarm the Janjaweed was doomed to fail—taking away weapons from the most powerful tribes in Sudan is near impossible. All the while, the U.N. is crippling under the competing interests of the P5.
This troop withdrawal comes at an incredibly poor time as the power the Janjaweed wield has become somewhat legitimized as of late. The group was deemed the Rapid Support Forces by the Sudanese government in August 2013 and are newly armed and uniformed.
And yet, the U.N. is preparing to leave Darfur behind, accepting the idea that genocide is not preventable.
What ever happened to our commitment to “never again,” our commitment to act when we witness mass slaughter, even if it’s difficult? Throughout the years, various leaders in the West have spoken about a world devoid of genocide but have done little to make this ideal a reality. We need to turn away from the false political promises and get to work on a strategic peace process.
Therefore, we need to understand that the only achievable way to bring peace to Darfur is to see that Sudan is at peace. A step in the right direction is the Sudan Peace, Security, and Accountability Act of 2013. Sponsored by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), the bill seeks to allow for human rights and conflict resolution in Sudan through encouraging a democratic transition to a newly elected president, improving access to humanitarian aid, imposing new sanctions against Sudanese officials and improving old ones, emboldening the international community to sign on to these sanctions and ensuring accountability for human rights crimes committed by Sudanese government officials. In the long run, all of these proposed actions may not be achievable or realistic. The transition from a country that is essentially run by a dictator to one run by a democratically elected leader is tricky. However, imposing sanctions against the Sudanese government and ensuring accountability for actions committed by Sudanese officials is realistic.
By doing this, the international community will finally eliminate al-Bashir’s “divide-and-conquer” strategy, by which he distracts the international community from one atrocity by performing one act of normalcy. Most recently, he allowed southern Sudan, an oil-rich region of his country, to become the independent Republic of South Sudan. All the while, he was committing atrocities in South Kordofan, a region of Sudan where many allied with South Sudanese communities live. This balance of leniency and abuse has distracted the international community, but we cannot allow it to continue. History cannot be allowed to remember al-Bashir for his political maneuverings—he has committed genocide, and he must be held responsible for it.
Bashir is the only sitting head of state wanted for the crime of genocide by the ICC. While his actions alone did not cause the grievous atrocities that occur in Sudan, we need to realize that the legitimization of the Janjaweed is just one of the results of the latitude the international community gives him. Throughout all 11 years of the genocide in Darfur, no matter how many terrible things the “president” of this country manages to do, he gets away with it. It seems as if nobody in the international community is anything but talk. It seems as if nobody in the international community wants to see “boots on the ground.” But what the international community doesn’t realize is that a peace in Sudan is achievable, that “man,” “horse,” “gun” shouldn’t mean absolute power.