Since conflict began in the Darfur region in 2003, a total of 1.8 million people have been displaced from their homes and villages and an estimated 300,000 thousand people have died – either from direct violence, preventable diseases, or malnutrition (Bellamy 31). Innumerable awareness campaigns have been launched by the United States and other NGOs. Still, the conflict remains unnamed. Is it genocide, a case of numerous war crimes, or does it constitute crimes against humanity?
Non-Arabs from the Zaghawa, Massalliet, and Fur tribes were deliberately targeted, the force and scale of the killing of Africans was exaggerated and disproportional to the force originally displayed by African insurgents, and there occurred a mass displacement of large numbers of people. Are these offenses crimes against humanity? Absolutely. Should the situation be considered genocide? As with all human rights issues, the topic is highly debatable but, in my opinion, I would say yes. Absolutely.
The fighting in Darfur, between the Janjaweed and the insurgents, began as a result of domestic tensions, power struggles within Sudan’s political classes, and disagreements between nomads and farmers over previously shared land. The nomads later formed the Janjaweed militia and the farmers, the insurgents. For this reason, Mamdani sees the conflict as a political one. This may be the case, however, the conflict did not stem from fair and just government policy – if it had, an “African” insurgent group against the Sudanese leadership would not have been necessary. Nonetheless, the real issue is that political groups are not included in the Convention’s definition of genocide – even if they are just as valid as the other groups mentioned. This made it very easy to discount Darfur as a case of genocide. The way I see it is that regardless of the type of group you belong to, discrimination based on difference goes against the principles of international human rights.
A specific target
Mamdani’s article makes many references to the difficulty of defining the “Arabs” and “Africans” of Darfur. He claims that they cannot be simply defined or distinctly separated. He emphasizes this to prove that victims could not have been from a specifically targeted group. He has a point in that both the insurgents (“Africans”) and Janjaweed (“Arabs”) share the Muslim religion and Arab language. Yet, the “African” tribes are set apart by a sedentary farming lifestyle/communities (as opposed to the popularized nomadic lifestyle), broken Arab dialect called “rottana” (Mamdani 15), and a mostly darker skin colour. They are not considered Arabs by the elite of Darfur and do not play a role (or hold any power) within the Sudanese government. Herein lies the reason for the ethnic cleansing brought about by the government backed, Janjaweed. The separation of a people into worthy and un-worthy of life is based on political, cultural, and class distinction. Regardless of which one we choose to focus on, the counter-insurgency has still committed mass crimes against humanity.
Proof of intent
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo stated on behalf of the African Union in 2004 that the crimes in Darfur were not genocide because there was no “definite decision and plan and program of a government to wipe out a particular group of people” (Mamdani 4). This seems to be enough to prove otherwise (especially considering the Janjaweed was established by the Sudanese government to crush any and all insurgent forces, and that the deaths all targeted those particular tribes).
To disprove this point, let us question how the tribes were expected to survive the injustice, difficult life conditions, and large measures taken to ensure their suffering. Were the actions deliberate, painstaking, and continuous? Yes. Were any means taken to end the killings once the insurgent forces were clearly overpowered and the tribes’ populations slowly dwindling? No. The intention to eliminate was never directly stated or made public; but a hidden agenda does not mean a lack of an agenda altogether.
A civil war
In his essay, Mamdami claims that the situation in Darfur is not genocide, but a civil war. He first expresses doubts about terming it genocide because the infighting seems very similar to the insurgency and counter-insurgency in Iraq. He then likens Darfur to a violent and tragic civil war:
In the Kristof columns, there is one area of deafening silence, to do with the fact that what is happening in Darfur is a civil war. Hardly a word is said about the insurgency, about the civilian deaths insurgents mete out, about acts that the commission characterizes as ‘war crimes’ (Mamdani 6).
The United States says…
I do strongly believe the situation in Darfur to be a genocide, and I am not alone. After much debate and hesitation, the U.S. Congress unanimously voted to label the conflict as “genocide” in 2004 (Bellamy 31). Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has also emphasized the genocide in Darfur for years, in his passionate op-ed column.
Three Reasons for Hesitation
Why, then, have we been so hesitant to label the crimes in Darfur as genocide? This is mainly due to three key reasons. Firstly, some international governments and world powers such as China have denied the genocidal nature of the crimes. Labeling it as such genocide would mean they would be forced to intervene. Of course, intervention is expensive. It entails resources, national efforts, a risk of ruining foreign policy, and can mean an end to profitable relations (such as China’s gifts of arms and funds in exchange for Sudanese oil). None of these things are in the state interest. Before Iraq, intervening in other states affairs (in the name of universal jurisdiction) could be profitable. Now states are seriously scrutinized, making perks very unlikely.
Secondly, it has proved very difficult to examine the situation in the region of Darfur and accumulate proof. The Sudanese government not only refuses to cooperate with outside investigators, but they also continue to deny their involvement with the Janjaweed and deny that more than 100 people were dying every day.
Thirdly, Mamdani states that the number of deaths in Darfur has always been fuzzy. Even Kristof, he says, can never get his numbers straight: “Each time figures were given with equal confidence but with no attempt to explain their basis”. This seems to instill doubt – doubt of the scale of the crimes and of the trustworthiness of sources. However, I do not believe this to be reason enough to disregard the whole matter as a question of civil war. The Convention states that whether “in whole or in part” (para. 1), the targeted killing constitutes genocide. When it comes to deciding if the crisis in Darfur is genocide or not, we can conclude that whether the number is 200, 000 or 500, 000 is completely irrelevant.
By: Sophia Loffreda
Follow her on twitter: @sloffreda(http://twitter.com/ – !/sloffreda).
For more information on Darfur, to read about the End Genocide Action Summit, the Save Darfur Coalition, or to write a post card to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, visit http://www.savedarfur.org/.
Author’s note: Please note that the opinions here are my own, and not The Cafe Phenomenon’s.
Feel free to comment, agree, disagree, or give your opinions by writing in the comment section below this article.
Bellamy, Alex J., “Responsibility to Protect or Trojan Horse? The Crisis in Darfur and Humanitarian Intervention after Iraq”. Ethics and International Affairs. 2005: 31-53. <http://www.students.sbc.edu/ostrow06/resptoprotect.pdf>. Web. 27 Sept. 2011.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. New York: 9 December 1948. <http://www.un.org/millennium/law/iv-1.htm>. Web. 27 Sept. 2011.
Mamdani, Mahmood. “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency”. London Review of Books, 8 March 2007. Vol. 29. No. 5. <http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n05/mahmood-mamdani/the-politics-of-naming-genocide-civil-war-insurgency/print> Web. 27 Sept. 2011.
Save Darfur. <http://www.savedarfur.org/>. Web. Oct. 14 2011.
United Human Rights Council. <http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/genocide/genocide-in-sudan.htm>. Web. 27 Sept. 2011.
Featured picture courtesy of http://www.foodcrisis2010.com/latest-sudan-darfur-conflict-news.