Still a Genocide

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

IT'S BEEN MORE than three weeks since a Darfur peace accord was signed, bringing hope for an end to the genocide in Sudan's western territory. Since then the news has been terrible. The two rebel factions that refused to sign the peace deal have continued to snub it. Violence between rebel factions has generated blood-curdling attacks on civilians. Human Rights Watch has reported fresh evidence of atrocities committed by government-backed Janjaweed death squads across the border in Chad. The cash-strapped U.N. World Food Program has been forced to reduce the already meager rations it distributes to 6 million Sudanese, including 3 million in Darfur. And Sudan's government has waffled on the crucial question of whether it will allow in an expanded peacekeeping force, without which violence, hunger and mass death are likely to continue.

The only external force at present is a 7,000-strong African Union contingent. It is too small and ill-equipped to cover a territory the size of France, and its mandate allows it to monitor violence but not actually stop it. Gunmen in Darfur have learned that it is toothless. Even the displaced civilians whom the African Union is trying to help have staged violent demonstrations against the force out of frustration with its shortcomings. There is no way that this contingent can oversee the implementation of Darfur's peace treaty, which envisages the complex demobilization of combatants and the eventual repatriation of some 2 million displaced people. Recognizing this, the African Union has agreed to fold its soldiers into a larger U.N. peacekeeping force.

After much prevarication, Sudan's government appeared to agree last Thursday to allow in a team of U.N. military planners. But that concession came just a day after the speaker of Sudan's parliament ruled out a foreign deployment in Darfur, and it was undermined by the foreign minister's simultaneous statement that "any forces, if that is agreed upon, would be a force for supervision and not a force for peace implementation." In a repeat of its tactics toward humanitarian workers, Sudan's regime plainly means to stall peacekeepers for as long as possible -- and never mind that the aid workers and peacekeepers are trying to save the lives of Sudanese civilians.

The U.S. government has described the killing in Darfur as genocide, a term that Sudan's government rejects and that the United Nations and Europeans have also shrunk from using. The more that the conflict in Darfur features infighting between rebel factions rather than just atrocities by the government's militia, the more observers may resist pointing the finger at the government and accusing it of genocide. But the reason that Sudan's government is culpable, today as in the past, is that it is deliberately creating the conditions in which thousands of civilians from rebel-aligned tribes are likely to die. First the government and its militia drove these people from their villages. Then it impeded humanitarian workers so that thousands of them fell prey to disease or starved. Now it is obstructing a serious peacekeeping deployment, with the result that its victims will continue to face shortages of medicines and food.

This may not be genocide by gas chamber or machete. But it is still a calculated policy of targeting ethnic groups and planning, meticulously, to eliminate them.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company