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Sudan: More Reports, Little Action

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 10, 2004 (040510)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The United Nations Security Council met on Friday in private session and heard a report from the UN Commissioner for Human Rights documenting a "scorched earth policy" and "repeated crimes against humanity" by Sudanese militia and troops in Darfur, western Sudan. But they failed to take any collective action other than pledging to "monitor developments."

Also on Friday, Human Rights Watch issued its latest report on Darfur, concluding that "the response of the international community to the events in Sudan has been nothing short of shameful."

The U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee also held hearings in full session last week on Sudan. Despite recent statements by U.S. officials critical of Sudan, John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group told the House Committee that the Sudan government does not believe "the U.S. will apply significant or meaningful pressure in response to its actions, allowing Khartoum to act with virtual impunity." The committee unanimously passed a resolution urging President Bush to impose additional sanctions on Sudanese leaders.

European governments have been largely silent, failing to match stronger statements by UN and U.S. officials. African governments, for their part, have not only failed to speak out, but have actively worked to undermine action by the UN Human Rights Commission. The election of Sudan as one of the African members on the Human Rights Commission itself, moreover, sent a strong message to Sudan of international indifference to the killings.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from Prendergast's testimony to the House International Affairs Committee, and from another presentation by Omer Ismail of Darfur Peace and Development. Each made specific proposals for actions on Darfur by the U.S. and the international community.

The web version of this bulletin contains two other recent documents:
* Excerpts from the May 7 report on Darfur presented by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the UN Security Council, at and
* An op-ed I wrote for the Providence Journal (May 6) entitled "Global Inertia Means Death in Sudan," at

An article by Charles Cobb Jr. of provides a fuller report on the House Committee hearing and on the political roots of Sudanese government policy
( Other presentations made at the hearing are available at:

For previous bulletins and other background links on Sudan, see:


Many thanks to more than one hundred of you who have sent in a voluntary subscription payment to support AfricaFocus Bulletin. If you have not yet made such a payment and would like to do so, please visit for details.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives

John Prendergast
Special Advisor to the President of the International Crisis Group

May 6, 2004: "Ethnic Cleansing In Darfur"

[first section only: for full text, including background, see:]

Thank you, Mr Chairman, for the invitation to testify at this hearing, and for the Committee's unflagging interest in the multi-faceted crisis in Sudan.

My first opportunity to testify to a Congressional committee occurred nearly fifteen years ago, when I spoke of a government in Khartoum that was using ethnic-based militias to undertake ethnic cleansing in south-western Sudan. So it is almost surreal to be back again, with many visits here in between, talking about the very same tactics being deployed by the very same government with the very same result of displacement, destruction and death. This time, though, the victims are Muslim, and from the North. More than anything else, this should demonstrate to anyone that hasn't paid sufficient attention that Sudan's war never was simply between North and South, or between Muslim and Christian. Rather, this is a national war, in which a small group from the center of the country maintains power by any means necessary.

Ten years after the Rwandan genocide, the world still frets about what it should have or could have done during that 90-day slaughter. In Sudan, three times as many people have died, spread over a twenty year period. We are still fretting, still wringing our hands, still wondering if our aid workers will be granted travel permits to clean up after another bout of ethnic cleansing has occurred. Sudan is Rwanda in slow motion.

At some point, culpability must enter into the equation. Through its military tactics, the government in Khartoum is responsible for creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world (Darfur), the second largest death toll since World War II (the conflict with the SPLA), and the world's largest forgotten emergency (northern Uganda, courtesy of the Lord's Resistance Army). If we keep treating the symptoms without squarely identifying the cause, we will be here again in another fifteen years discussing these very same issues, still wringing our hands.


There are five priorities that must be addressed immediately and simultaneously if we are to have any impact in ameliorating the current emergency and addressing the roots of the crisis.

1. Prevent Famine in Darfur

The international community acted too slowly to prevent ethnic cleansing from occurring in Darfur. The policy of constructive engagement that was pursued throughout 2003 in pursuit of an IGAD peace deal compromised the international response to Darfur's killing fields. The White House did not weigh in publicly until March 2004, after Khartoum's campaign was completed. Ironically, this was nearly ten years to the day after the Rwandan genocide had begun. Even UN representatives spoke out publicly before we heard from the President on this issue.

Despite being too late to stop the ethnic cleansing campaign, the international community still has a chance to prevent a major famine from killing hundreds of thousands more Darfurians. At the middle levels of USAID up through to Roger Winter and Andrew Natsios, with some mid-level State Department support, the U.S. is engaging in this famine prevention effort. But much more must be done at the highest level to get the Ceasefire Commission stood up, get international monitors into Darfur, open up access to the OTHER half million internally displaced persons through road and rail options, and begin a process leading to the disarmament of the Janjaweed. Rather than waiting to see if access is granted, much more assertive planning must be done, in cooperation with Secretary General Annan on alternative access modalities, such as cross border operations from Libya, Chad or even southern Sudan, and/or options for Chapter VII armed protection of emergency aid distribution.

2. Address Darfur's Political Roots

It would be a grave mistake if the international community limited its involvement in Darfur to humanitarian band-aids. This is exactly what happened for most of the last fifteen years in southern Sudan, while over two million people perished as the aid faucet was turned off and on at the whim of the government in Khartoum. There must be a corresponding push to get a credible, internationally supported peace process established quickly for Darfur, as soon as the ceasefire is operational. Venue, structure and substance for the talks all need to become the subject of immediate international interest. ICG will have a report on these critical questions in the next couple of weeks.

A negotiated political solution between the government and the Darfur rebels is, ultimately, the only option for restoring peace and stability to Darfur. This is also the best way to deal with the devastating humanitarian situation in Darfur and the massive displacement in a manner that can be sustained.

3. Close the IGAD Deal in Naivasha

The other casualty of the international community's policy of constructive engagement with Khartoum on the IGAD peace process has been the delay in finalizing the deal in Naivasha. Constructive engagement and quiet diplomacy in the IGAD talks emboldened the Sudan government to continue bombing in Darfur and delaying in Naivasha. The lesson should not be that engagement is wrong, but rather that engagement needs to be backed up by more serious and multilateral pressure, as outlined below.

I just returned from Naivasha, where all of the major issues have now been ironed out. All that remains is for the parties to take the political decision to sign. If the government decides to sign the framework deal, we must understand it is only that - a framework - and that work will have to continue to finalize a comprehensive peace agreement, which provides yet another opportunity for delay and obfuscation.

A major push is needed to finish this process and begin implementing the deal. Such closure will lay the groundwork for resolution of the Darfur crisis as well.

4. Multilateralize the Sudan Crisis

When the international community has been united on Sudan and used pressures and incentives in a coordinated way, we have seen progress on a number of issues. But unfortunately, that has not usually been the case. The U.S. must work much more intently through the UN Security Council to convince others to counter the threat to international peace and security that the Sudan crisis represents, given the major spillover effects in Chad, Uganda and elsewhere.

When the UN World Food Programme and UN Human Rights Commission brief the UN Security Council on Friday, the U.S. must be prepared to press forward with a resolution that provides Chapter VII authority for further action in Sudan. That authority should be used for contingency planning for the protection of emergency aid deliveries as well as for the establishment of a high level panel to investigate the commission of war crimes in Darfur, as a precursor to the possible establishment of further mechanisms of accountability.

Chapter VII authority remains a pipe dream unless key Security Council members, starting with the U.S., begin to urgently campaign for such authority. Sources within the Security Council and the UN Secretariat believe that if the U.S. is willing to seriously engage on behalf of Chapter VII authority, the dynamic of debate could change. Leadership is required. At present, the U.S. mission remains fixated on getting humanitarian workers into Darfur, a worthy but insufficient objective.

5. Build Leverage

The Sudan government no longer believes the U.S. will apply significant or meaningful pressure in response to its actions, allowing Khartoum to act with virtual impunity. This results from three years of a policy of constructive engagement that has witnessed, but not reacted to, a human rights crisis without parallel in Africa. Not delivering promised incentives related to normalization of relations is the current form of pressure being utilized by the U.S. This is again insufficient.

It has to be understood that regime survival has been the principal impetus for movement in the IGAD peace process. Khartoum was forced to recalculate after 9/11 because of concern about possible U.S. action. Khartoum now believes it has effectively neutralized the post-9/11 threat of U.S. action, and has called the U.S. bluff. This renewed confidence could lead to non-implementation of any IGAD agreement, and continued intransigence in Darfur.

To alter this damaging calculation, the existing set of sanctions and pressures should be enhanced by the following U.S.-led actions:

  • Apply targeted sanctions against specific members of the regime that are most directly responsible for the human rights violations in Darfur. This would include travel bans and asset freezes. All efforts should be made to multilateralize these targeted sanctions through engagement with the European Union and the United Nations. The most important point is to create individual culpability for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • Impose a UN arms embargo through the UN Security Council, banning the importation of arms by any party to the conflict, including the government.
  • Lay the foundation for the possible creation of further mechanisms for accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity by pressing for the establishment and deployment of a UN high level panel to conduct an investigation and report to the Council and the Secretary General.
  • Undertake much more concerted and multilateral planning and diplomacy in pursuit of cross border emergency aid operations, looking at Chad, Libya and southern Sudan as possible staging areas.
  • Revive discussion of capital market sanctions, with the new caveat that such a provision would only apply if the government of Sudan were found by the UN to be responsible for ethnic cleansing or genocide. Thus, a high bar would be set which would not open the door to the indiscriminate use of this policy instrument, but would be reserved for only the most heinous of crimes against humanity.

Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.

Omer G. Ismail Program Director,
Darfur Peace and Development

May 6, 2004: "Ethnic Cleansing In Darfur"

[excerpts: for full text see:]

In the wake of the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, the world that had said "never again" several times in the past, has come face to face with another human catastrophe. The present crisis in Darfur, far Western Sudan, is of different character, yet has too much the same blue print. ... words are hardly enough to curb the cruel determination of the regime in Khartoum.

The current humanitarian and the human rights situation in Darfur

Many experts, diplomats, journalists and politicians are describing the humanitarian situation in Darfur with words like catastrophe, calamity, the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today, 10,000 to 30,000 are already dead; one million people have been displaced, of which 110,000 have crossed the border to live as refugees in neighboring Chad. Their livelihood has been destroyed and their terrible destitution is evident. Roger Winter of the USAID has estimated that 100,000 more will perish before we can catch up with the situation. ... Mr. Gerard Galucci, the Charge D'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, spoke recently of a looming famine, a sentiment echoed by experts in the UN, USAID and several international NGO"s working in Darfur. ...

The human rights violations registered in Darfur are unprecedented. The marauding Janjaweed militia, aided by the army, has gone on a rampage of killings, pillaging livestock, burning villages and gang-raping women. Many hundreds of villages have been destroyed and their inhabitants displaced. Women were branded on the forehead or hands after they were raped, to live with the shame and become stigmatized for life. ...

The scorch-earth policy of the Government that has led to the demise of two million people in south Sudan, and hundreds of thousands in the Nuba Mountains continues in Darfur. The government of Sudan ---which has perfected the art of stalling and deceit --- has also taken several measures to conceal the evidence of ethnic cleansing, and human rights violations in the area by:

# Delaying issuing visas to the human rights as well as the humanitarian staff of the U.N. and other NGO's in order to "clean-up" before their arrival.

# Even when visas are issued, the delegations will be delayed in Khartoum for weeks because of "lack of security" in the areas they intend to visit, or will be denied those permits to travel and work in Sudan.

# The Government has started to absorb its savage militia allies -- "the Janjaweed" -- into the regular army and is in the process of removing them from Darfur under the guise of redeployment.

# The Government of Sudan issued death certificates to the known leaders of the Janjaweed and removed them from the area to avoid future trials or becoming witnesses to implicate the Government.

# The Government is using military marked trucks to remove corpses from mass graves and rebury them away from the identified sites. Large sums of money were also paid to some local leaders to deny the atrocities, and with the help of security forces, intimidate possible witnesses.

The US government response, North-South v. North-West

The involvement of the US government in Sudan is vital to the peace and stability of the country. The Machackos protocol that was signed in July of 2002 between the GOS and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army ( SPLM/A) has paved the road to a comprehensive settlement to the North-South issue. With the negotiations in Naivasha inching towards fruition, the US government is wary of undermining that process by pushing too hard on the GOS. Hence, its official response to the crisis in Darfur has been that of hesitation to commit to more than strong words for the regime in Khartoum, denouncing the atrocities of the GOS and its Janjaweed allies.

The conflict in Darfur emphasizes the political failure of the successive governments in Sudan to address the issues of power-sharing and equal distribution of wealth. It is a political problem and demands a political solution. The US government -- in the words of Mr. Gerard Galucci -- seems to consider the problem to be merely humanitarian in nature and capable of being solved solely in these terms. But the humanitarian catastrophe, and the massive human rights abuses that have produced the catastrophe, are symptoms of the much larger political problem. ... It fits all too well into the overall GOS scheme of Arabization and Islamization of the entire country. The manifestation of this policy was evident in declaring Jihad (religious war) against the South. The Nuba Mountains was the next site for the ethnic cleansing and forced depopulation, and Darfur is the culmination of the previous efforts. ...

The role of the US and the International community

In the face of Khartoum's relentless bad faith and these deplorable actions, the international community, led by the U.S., should do the following:

  • Work to pass a resolution in the Security Council rebuking the Government of Sudan in the strongest terms, with the threat of military intervention if complete humanitarian access is not granted to all of Darfur.
  • A no fly zone over Greater Darfur should be imposed.
  • A delegation from the U.S. Congress should visit Khartoum and tell the Government of Sudan in unambiguous language that it will face dire consequences if unfettered access was not granted to humanitarian aid to Darfur, as well as demanding that the GOS stop its reign of terror and disband and dismantle the Janjaweed militia.
  • Encourage President Bush and the leaders of the European troika involved in the North-South peace talks to speak of the importance of a peaceful settlement in Darfur as an integral part to the overall peace in Sudan.
  • The international community should move the North-West peace talks from Chad, which has demonstrated its inability to remain impartial and an honest broker of peace. The rebels have lost faith in Chad after they were intimidated and by the virtue of the fact that Chad knowingly allowed unauthorized individuals that do not represent the rebels to sign an agreement on political issue with Khartoum. The European countries or the US should be the host to any coming negotiations especially after what has happened in Geneva and the shameless position of the African countries.

In conclusion:

While the North-South negotiations should continue, the leverage of the US government over the GOS should be used to send a clear message that the GOS must expedite the peace process by negotiating in good faith and stop its stalling tactics. On the North-West front, the international community should stand firm and demand of the GOS unfettered access for humanitarian aid and access for as many teams as are required, and to work for as long as necessary to unearth the crimes against humanity and demand that the perpetrators stand trial for their heinous crimes.

The conflict in Darfur, if not addressed properly will not only undermine whatever peace may be desired for Sudan, but will significantly contribute to the instability of the whole sub-region. With the lessons of Rwanda still fresh in our memories, we owe it to coming generations to prevent another genocide from taking place.

Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Situation of human rights in the Darfur region of the Sudan


7 May 2004

[excerpts: full text available in Word format on site of UNHCHR, at]

5. Today, the people of Darfur continue to endure armed conflict and a severe human rights and humanitarian crisis. From early 2003 fighting intensified in the region following the emergence of two armed groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and later the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and the commencement by them of hostilities against the Government. Broadly speaking the SLA and JEM share an ethnic background [Zaghawa, Fur and Masaalit] They also appear to share similar political demands, which are essentially for the Khartoum authorities to address the marginalisation and underdevelopment of the region.

6. It is the manner of the response to this rebellion by the Government of Sudan which has led to the current crisis in Darfur. Following a string of SLA victories in the first months of 2003, the Government of Sudan appears to have sponsored a militia composed of a loose collection of fighters of apparently Arab background, mainly from Darfur, known as the "Janjaweed". ... In certain areas of Darfur, the Janjaweed have supported the regular armed forces in attacking and targeting civilian populations suspected of supporting the rebellion, while in other locations it appears that the Janjaweed have played the primary role in such attacks with the military in support. ...

9. On 8-13 April, the mission visited the northern portion of the Chad border with Sudan. ...

11. On 24-30 April, the mission visited Darfur. It travelled to the three regional capitals: Nyala (South Darfur), El Fasher (North Darfur) and El Geneina (West Darfur). From each of these towns, the mission travelled to outlying locations to meet with, and interview, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). ,,,

13. The humanitarian consequences of the situation in Darfur, and by extension the border regions of Chad contiguous with Darfur, should not be underestimated. Inside Darfur, it is now estimated that there are just over one million IDPs, as compared to 250,000 in September 2003. Over half of these (c.570,000) are located in West Darfur, with the rest divided between North and South Darfur (c.290,000 and 140,000 respectively). ,,,


21. The mission met and spoke with many IDPs and refugees in all sites and camps that it visited in both Sudan and Chad. These discussions either took place in the form of individual interviews or group meetings. The two missions were complementary of each other building up what is, in effect, a broad map outlining the main patterns of human rights violations that appear to be being perpetrated in Darfur. ...

25. Nonetheless, there was a remarkable consistency in the witness testimony received by OHCHR in all places visited on both sides of the Sudan/Chad border, from among individuals throughout Darfur and who had been displaced both many months ago and more recently. ...

29. Attacks on villages appear often to have taken place at night or in the early morning. Where there were alleged air raids, land attacks invariably shortly followed. These were carried out either by Janjaweed or Government of Sudan soldiers or a combination of both. The chief visible distinction between these two forces appears to be in their method of transport: Janjaweed were invariably said to use horses and camels, while Government soldiers were described as travelling in military vehicles. Both were dressed in combat fatigues and both were well armed (AK-47s, G3s and rockets were often mentioned). From some descriptions it appears that the Janjaweed were more active in attacks on villages with the military more prominent in attacks on towns, though the primary operational distinction appears to be that the military were significantly more active in the north and the Janjaweed in the south.

30. Attacks in the main involved the destruction of property, often through burning, as well as the destruction of essential supplies such as flour, millet and other crops; in certain instances, these supplies were fed to livestock. Also, and frequently, these livestock were stolen. In a number of cases, it was reported that attacks continued even as people were fleeing.

31. There were frequent reports - often eyewitness accounts - of killings. More specifically, a number of testimonies alleged that men, and even boys, were particular targets; those who were not able to flee - the disabled and elderly - also appear to have been at particular risk. Many witnesses were able to name individuals who had been killed. Some reported seeing dead bodies and some reported family members or other acquaintances as having disappeared. In many instances those with whom the mission met stated that they did not have the time to bury the dead before fleeing. A sizeable number reported having heard of killings and it was the fear of this - rather than actually having witnessed it - that seems to have triggered flight in many cases.

32. Other violations frequently reported to the mission both by refugees in Chad and even more so by IDPs in Darfur, included sexual violence, and particularly rape. In the opinion of the mission, these allegations of rape were credible. ...

36. It is clear from the findings of the mission that a climate of impunity has prevailed, and continues today to prevail, in Darfur. While the Government of Sudan maintained that it was making a concerted effort to re-establish law and order and effective accountability in the region but that it was being undermined in these efforts by the actions of the rebels, this was not, in the opinion of the mission, borne out by realities on the ground. ...

54. The Government of Sudan is responsible not only for the actions of its regular armed forces and law enforcement officials, but also for the actions of all irregular forces that it sponsors and supports. The responsibility of the Government for the actions of the Janjaweed, also sometimes referred to as the "Fursan" or "Peshmerga", deserves particular attention.

55. Many with whom the mission spoke, including senior Government officials, stated that the Government had recruited, uniformed, armed, supported, and sponsored militias. ...

56. At one IDP location, the mission interviewed a number of individuals who referred to themselves as Fursan. They were uniformed in military fatigues and were on horses. The Fursan said that they were all Arabs and that they had been armed and were paid by the Government. They said that they acted upon Government instructions. Significantly, the mission met the Fursan, a group totalling 17, in the local police station. They outnumbered the three police present. They were also better equipped than the police who had no means of communication or transportation. In the opinion of the mission the police were visibly intimidated by the presence of the Fursan. ...

65. There are consistent reports among refugee and IDP women from various locations that "men in uniform" raped and abused women and young girls. Most allegations were against the Janjaweed. While there is no doubt that rape is widespread, because of the trauma and stigma associated with rape and other forms of sexual violence, it was not possible for the mission to establish the full extent of this practice.

66. The mission interviewed tens of refugee and IDP women who said they had been raped. Many more suspected cases were brought to the mission's attention. Rape was often multiple, carried out by more than one man, and it was associated with additional severe violence including beating with guns, and whipping. Rape often appears to have taken place while victims were restrained, often at gunpoint, and at times in front of family members. The mission was informed that several women have become pregnant as a result of rape.

67. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse by the Janjaweed was widely alleged to be continuing inside and around IDP sites. Women often reported that they would be kidnapped and raped if they went any further than one and a half kilometres away from their camp to collect wood or to tend their vegetable gardens in their home village. Rape represents a policy that is employed to intimidate and humiliate the IDP population and to prevent them from leaving the vicinity of the IDP sites. ...

72. The mission visited a number of villages in Darfur that had been burned. Those living in these villages had fled. In two locations, however, the mission was able to find a few individuals who had stayed on; they were either too elderly to leave or, in one case, were compelled to return to their village to irrigate those crops which constituted their families' only means of sustenance. Those interviewed told a consistent story of attacks by a large number of uniformed men on horses or camels, who killed, destroyed, and looted. ...

76. Particularly worrying to the mission was that reports of attacks on IDPs and, to a lesser extent, of cross-border raids on refugees, were ongoing suggesting that the violence was continuing largely unabated. In several locations, IDPs particularly reported that uniformed armed men continued to loot and attack individuals, particularly at night. In several IDP locations, the mission witnessed what clearly appeared to be armed militia, either on foot or riding a camel. Women universally feared leaving the vicinity of their camps because of the risk of abduction and rape. ...

91. While the mandate of the OHCHR mission was to focus on the human rights situation in Darfur rarely can human rights be looked at in isolation from the pervading political context; the situation in Darfur is no exception. It is clear to the mission that a resolution to the crisis in Darfur will be unlikely for as long as the basic demands of its people for justice, equality and development - refrains the mission heard often from the displaced - are not met. ...


97. The Government of Sudan should, at the highest levels, publicly and unequivocally condemn all actions and crimes committed by the Janjaweed and ensure that all militias are immediately disarmed and disbanded. Violations of human rights and international humanitarian law must be thoroughly and swiftly investigated and perpetrators must be brought to justice.

98. Humanitarian workers must be given full and unimpeded access to Darfur in order to ensure that there is no blockage in the delivery of much needed humanitarian assistance. Such measures are urgent given the fact that the rainy season is approaching. The international community should ensure that the Consolidated Appeal for Chad (2004), aimed at assisting this country in facing the crisis in Darfur, is met in full and on time.

99. The Government of Sudan should pursue a policy of national reconciliation for Darfur, end impunity and promote the rule of law based on non-discrimination, the effective protection of minorities and indigenous populations, as well as the participation of all in public life and the active promotion of development programmes for Darfur. Although officials in Khartoum stated that more prosecutors and police were being deployed to Darfur, the mission saw little evidence that this was the case. It is important that such officials, well-trained and properly empowered, are deployed as soon as possible. It is particularly important that the police are publicly empowered to carry out their responsibilities in maintaining law and order, including by bringing other armed elements to justice. ...

103. An international Commission of inquiry is required given the gravity of the allegations of human rights violations in Darfur, and the failure of the national legal system to address the problem. To be credible, such a Commission must be, and must be seen to be, independent. The Government of Sudan should cooperate with this Commission. ...

105. There is a need for continuous monitoring of the human rights situation in Darfur. To this end, the Government of Sudan should permit the deployment by the United Nations, and the African Union if desired, of human rights monitors in Darfur. ...

William Minter: Global inertia means death in Sudan

Providence Journal (

May 6, 2004


In a part of the world little known to most Americans, a tragedy is unfolding. In December a top United Nations official called the situation in western Sudan's Darfur region "the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe."

Ten years after the genocide in Rwanda, another scenario of extermination -- thousands of civilians killed and more than a million people forcibly displaced -- is playing out, while the world pays slight attention.

Diplomats and relief agencies are now stepping up their response. But even these efforts are half-hearted. Diplomatic reluctance to challenge the Sudanese government is part of the problem: There has been no clear international message demanding a stop to the campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Whether or not the killings in Darfur meet the formal definition of genocide, it's clear that a business-as-usual response can result only in tens of thousands more deaths.

Researchers from Human Rights Watch spoke in March to some of the 100,000 refugees who had fled across Sudan's western border to Chad. They document a clear pattern: Government troops have joined with government-supported militia in razing villages and killing their inhabitants, or forcing them to flee. The rights organization confirmed two massacres in early March, in which more than 200 men were executed after their villages were destroyed. Other reports estimate that thousands of villages in Darfur had been similarly destroyed.

The Darfur region is an area the size of France, with a population of some 7 million. It is both ethnically diverse and marginalized by the central government, based in Khartoum. All groups in the region are dark-skinned and Muslim, but some identify culturally as Arabs, while others do not.

The government has created, armed, and directed militias among the Arab-identified groups, while rebel movements opposing the government have gained support among the non-Arab-identified groups. The Sudanese military government has long practiced this strategy of divide and rule. It has also promoted ethnic militias and instigated atrocities against civilians elsewhere in the country, particularly in southern Sudan, which has been at war for decades.

The conflict in the south has different ethnic outlines from the fighting in Darfur. For one thing, much of the southern population is Christian, or else follows traditional non-Muslim practices. But the patterns of violence are similar.

In all cases, the Sudanese government attempts to evade responsibility by claiming that it has no control over its surrogates. Yet Sudanese church sources report that in the last few weeks, several hundred villagers have been killed, and as many as 120,000 people displaced near the southern town of Malakal. According to Bishop Kevin Dowling, of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum, those responsible were militias under government control, supported by regular Sudanese troops.

In recent years, East African countries, led by Kenya -- and supported by Britain, Norway and the United States -- have pressed negotiations on southern Sudan. By late last year the peace talks had nearly reached an agreement between Khartoum and the main rebel group in the south, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army.

But failure to deal with fundamental issues of democracy and power sharing among all the groups in the country could cause that agreement to unravel and fuel conflict in other regions.

Rhode Island College Prof. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, a leading scholar on Sudan, says that any comprehensive peace settlement must cover the crisis in Darfur. "A separate peace with the south alone," she says, "would work against the goal of national unity to which virtually all parties to the decades-long peace process have agreed."

The Bush administration has energetically backed the negotiations between Khartoum and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army. An agreement including shared oil revenues from that area could simultaneously please U.S. Christian groups and allow closer U.S. cooperation with Khartoum against global terrorists. But the peace process in western Sudan has suffered from U.S. and international neglect.

Neighboring Chad, acting as mediator between the Sudanese government and the rebel groups in Darfur, brokered a cease-fire agreement last month. Chadians are sharing their limited resources with the refugees pouring over the border. But the Chadian government has neither the influence nor the independence to monitor the cease-fire or compel the Sudanese government to negotiate seriously.

Late last month, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded that the Sudanese government allow relief workers into Darfur immediately -- before the mid-May rainy season blocks overland convoys. A U.N. aid assessment team also visited the region. The African Union is planning a peacekeeping observer mission.

But even delivering relief supplies will require more money, high-level attention, and pressure, to overcome stalling in Khartoum. Deterring further ethnic "cleansing" and fostering genuine negotiations will require determination and sustained engagement from Washington and other world capitals.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission, which last month passed a watered-down resolution on Darfur, must insist on follow-up after a more comprehensive fact-finding report. President Bush -- who has deferred sanctions against Sudan, saying that Khartoum and the southern rebels are negotiating "in good faith" -- must be willing to threaten sanctions to protect the Sudanese in Darfur from further violence.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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