"Never Again" Again and Again

Genocide in Darfur: at least three genocides have occurred since the Holocaust

By Michelle Singerman | 2006-01-01 12:00:00

The genocide in Darfur is still escalating. To date, the number of murders is estimated at 400,000, with another three million displaced. The continued failure of foreign governments to respond contributes to the increasing casualties. As in previous genocides, nations around the world are keeping their blinders on and focusing on their internal affairs. The world's inaction has permitted the perpetrators to continue achieving their genocidal intent.

Open warfare erupted in Darfur in January of 2003, after the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) took up arms, accusing the central Khartoum government of monopolizing wealth and power. Though the rebel groups were the first to pick up arms, it is the Janjaweed militias who are fulfilling the Khartoum government's desire to rid all "Black" Africans from the land. These militias bombard villages, burn settlements, rape the females, and murder the males. Eighty to 90 percent of African villages in Darfur have been destroyed.

Though all inhabitants of Darfur are Muslim, not all share the same religious views. Darfur was a separate country from Sudan until being annexed to the Republic of the Sudan in 1916. Three large periods of migration to Darfur have left the new province of the Sudan with varying degrees of "Black" Africans and "Arab" Africans. Despite their basic sharing of the Islamic religion, the newest wave of migrants, who control the Khartoum government, do not see their neighbors as equals.

Distinguishing between the "Arab" Africans and "Black" Africans is complicated -- besides by intermarriage -- because some of the earliest settlers have lost their traditional language and adopted Arabic, while some Arab Africans have lost their traditional language and adopted an African dialect. The claim by "Arab" Africans that they can distinguish between the two ethnicities holds the same value as when Hutus distinguished themselves from Tutsis during the Rwandan Genocide.

"We want to wipe you out"

Khartoum's National Islamic Front (NIF) is increasing violence to accomplish what they have announced: to rid the land of black Africans in the State of Sudan. After an attack, one victim recalled an NIF member saying to her, "You are black people. We want to wipe you out." The NIF, the Janjaweed, and the government support their massive raids and violence with the excuse of clearing civilians from areas considered disloyal to the Sudanese government. However, the rebel forces are opposing the government for what the "Black" Africans declare to be unequal: the distribution of wealth, including oil. The Khartoum government uses the land's wealth to benefit the newcomers, while the Black Africans are left to struggle.

It is unrealistic to seek safe refuge when the government itself is funding mass killings and the dehumanization of its citizens. This current genocide differs from previous instances that the world has watched, such as the Holocaust and Rwanda, for here the focus is not on swift mass killings. Instead, there has been slow demoralization through mass raping, forced starvation, and continued attacks even on refugees in camps.

The government feels no threat from the international community, as no action has still been taken. The violence in this region has increased since the beginning of July. Air raid attacks on surviving villages have intensified with the use of Khartoum government helicopters and firebombs. An example of such occurrences is the village of Donki Dereisa, and the violence that consumed it on July 12, 2005. Villagers were awakened by the sounds of these government helicopters circling above the settlement and dropping explosives. The Janjaweed surrounded the village from every direction. People tried to run but were unable to escape such a well-planned and well-funded attack. That morning, 150 unarmed villagers were shot as they tried to flee.

Fatima Ibraham, a "Black" African, revealed the horror she witnessed that day to Refugees International, who then reported it to the Washington Post: "Several of the attackers began grabbing the screaming children and throwing them one by one into a fire. One of the male villagers ran from his hiding place to plead for their lives. It was a fatal error. The raiders subdued him and later beheaded him and dismembered his body. All six of the children were burned."

Incidences such as these have been increasing. The continued attacks on refugee camps employ the genocidal formula of demoralization. Mass raping is the strongest form of demoralization used in this genocide due to its religious connotations. In Muslim culture, rape is a grave social disgrace and victims are often ostracized by their communities and families. The females -- adults and children alike -- are raped not only in the initial village attacks, but also during camp attacks, as well as when leaving the refugee camps to collect firewood and water. When one victim was asked why it is the women who leave the camp to gather the supplies, she responded, "When the men leave, they are killed. When women leave, we are only raped."

Many of these acts are committed for pure humiliation. Some women have reported being raped by sticks, which leave their insides torn and cause them to lose the ability to control their bladder, resulting in a constant trickling of urine. There have also been reports of militia men raping their victims with bayonets.

Using the G Word

Although President Bush proclaimed this ongoing crisis as indeed genocide, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described Darfur's dire situation as being worse than hell, the world continues to sit back and allow the first genocide of the 21st Century to escalate. The African Union (AU) has too few resources to protect its citizens, and the United States has concentrated its military exercise on Iraq and Afghanistan. Amanda Grzyb, genocide lecturer at the University of Western Ontario adds, "I think the US is currently over-extended militarily and I do not think it is realistic that they will send troops to Darfur. However, there are other ways to help, including financial support and training for the AU troops, aid to IDP and refugee camps, and diplomatic support for an international bridging force (either through the UN or NATO)."

The African Union (AU) is working to the best of its abilities, but low funding and low troop numbers make their peacekeeping job increasingly difficult. This past October 8, the SLA attacked an AU convoy in North Darfur. Three AU soldiers were killed. Though this is the first of such attacks reported, it is a warning of more to come.

Further unease struck Darfur and the AU the next day, with the kidnapping of African Union personnel in West Darfur. The acting head of the AU in Sudan, Jean Baptiste Natama, told Reuters: "Eighteen (AU) personnel including military observers, civilian police, a US representative, and a Justice and Equality Movement (rebel) representative are held hostage today."

The 7,000 AU troops deployed in Darfur are not enough. Though the troops on the ground are doing everything they can to protect Darfur's citizens, the extreme conditions are too challenging for such a low number. The lack of funding the AU receives makes it progressively more difficult to accomplish their peacekeeping mission, despite the violence they continuously face. Basic supplies are even a struggle, such as blankets and adequate shelter. The AU lacks gas money, so vehicles often exhaust their fuel supply before even reaching their destination.

A female aid-worker in Darfur posted this message on a blog on December 4: "The US Congress recently cut back on $50 million of funding they'd pledged to the AU, and here in Khartoum everyone seems to be more interested in talking about how and when the UN can take over from the AU rather than discussing what could be done to help the troops who are already there."

During the Rwandan genocide, the US had made clear their stance on international matters: If the affair does not directly concern or benefit the United States, they will not intervene. The US authoritative stance has been made clear once again by the deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, who said, "If people are determined to kill each other, there's not a lot the United States can do." And though the UN has not labelled the Darfur crisis a genocide, they have admitted that Khartoum's government's actions are of genocidal intent. However, this is a language construction employed by the UN to relieve the international community from responsibility to intervene.

At the 1948 Genocide Convention, Raphael Lemkin coined the term "genocide" in response to the inaction taken during the Holocaust. The term genocide represents not only crimes against humanity, but also an attack on social institutions, language, religion, economic existence, and international feelings. The articles produced at this conference by the General Assembly of the United Nations were to ensure that such atrocities never took place again, and to guarantee the termination of genocide entirely. These articles include one stating that any contracting party who feels there is a need for action may call upon the UN to intervene.

However, Darfur is entering its third year of genocide and there is yet to be military intervention of any sort. "Never Again" has been said time and time again, but at least three genocides have occurred since the Holocaust and now we see a fourth in progress.

Living in a consumerist society, as we do, the media play an increasingly important role, whether right or wrong, in our daily lives. As the press continues to fail in the obligation to report on such significant events, the public remains in the dark. It is essential that our media report and our government initiate a military intervention so that we too do not become culpable in this genocide, as we -- Canada, the United States, and many other wealthy nations -- were during Rwanda and Cambodia.

Concerned citizens are forced to take matters into their own hands since their governments have failed to act, including the Canadian government. Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) is a student organization dedicated to raising awareness about this ongoing genocide, pushing for political action, as well as raising money for humanitarian intervention. STAND can be accessed at standnow.org. Save Darfur, located at www.savedarfur.org, is another grassroots organization seeking to put an end to the atrocities. This website offers history and extensive updates on the genocide, and also enables visitors to make a donation.

Action is urgently needed. As the months progress, so does the killing, starvation, and torture. Act now.

Michelle Singerman is a student of Media Inforamtion, and Technoculture at the University of Western Ontario.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2006

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2006, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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