Redefining Genocide

by Bradford L. Phillips

Mary Yar Makut, a destitute returnee in Rumbek, southern Sudan, shows the wild fruits she has to survive on. While the violence is horrific, starvation is the leading cause of death in the Darfur conflict.Define a man as "property," and he can be marketed. Define a baby as "fetal tissue," and she can be disarticulated, suctioned, and discarded with the biological waste.

In what the UN called "an unprecedented situation," World Food Programme officials announced in March a 50 percent cutback in food deliveries to families in Darfur-this just before the start of the rainy season when needs soar. The WFP also warned that it would have to ground all humanitarian flights at the end of March, unless it received a massive infusion of funds to offset a shortfall of as much as $700 million.

Lack of security was cited for the cutbacks. In the first quarter, five UN passenger vehicles and 45 trucks were attacked. Food deliveries slowed as truckers refused to risk their lives.

A horrible situation. But Sudan expert Eric Reeves says it also is evidence of a subtle shift in rhetoric and emphasis that threatens to be even more deadly.

"Human destruction and displacement," he pointed out, "are no longer genocidal,' but rather a function of rebel fractiousness, opportunistic banditry and a generalized insecurity.' Similarly, the role of the Khartoum regime is no longer that of orchestrating indefensible acts of violence, but of obstructing humanitarian operations and defying various international demands. All of it is terrible, of course, but not termed genocide.

"Well, recent events in West Darfur, along the border with Chad, should compel us to start calling things by their correct names again. What we're seeing in Darfur now is a level of ethnically-targeted violence that hasn't been approached since the terrifying days of 2004.

"Beginning on February 8, Janjaweed militias, coordinating with Khartoum's regular troops and military aircraft, began to attack areas north of el-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. They targeted the towns of Sirba, Abu Surug, and Silea-all of which had come under control of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) this past December and January. Determined to drive the rebel group from its close proximity to el-Geneina and bent on destroying its perceived base of civilian support, Khartoum struck quickly and savagely (but not quickly enough to take out the rebels, who fled in advance of the attacks).

Soon, the destruction of ethnically African Masseleit and Erenga civilians and towns began in earnest. Militarily imprecise barrel bombs leveled much of these three towns, as well as surrounding villages and displaced persons camps. More than 60,000 civilians fled, perhaps 12,000 into eastern Chad, where the intensity of Khartoum's bombing attacks forced the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to withdraw its personnel. In Silea, a town of 25,000, only 200 remained when aid officials arrived on February 14.

"And if that weren't enough, Khartoum has also suspended all humanitarian flights to the region. As a result, 160,000 people have been cut off from food, medical and water assistance. Ominously, a large number of children aged 12 through 18 are missing, disproportionately boys. Both the Janjaweed and Khartoum's regular troops have a long history of executing young males from non-Arab ethnic groups.

"Sensing a parallel between today's events and those from February, 2004," Reeves said, "I re-read a column I wrote for The Washington Post at the time. This was the concluding paragraph:

"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, refuses to grant unfettered 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 rapidly be 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.'

"I could have written the same words today. Except four years have passed. In that time, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, the victims of violence, disease and malnutrition. More than 2.5 million others have been displaced. And peace feels as distant today as it did then.

"There's a word for this-one that nobody should be hesitant to say from now on: "unforgivable."

From Africa Messenger

Brad Phillips is president of Persecution Project Foundation,
P.O. Box 1327, Culpeper, Virginia 22701-6327

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad