In the strongest U.S. statement to date on the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell today said for the first time that "genocide" has been committed there and that the government of Sudan and Arab militias "bear responsibility."
"Genocide may still be occurring," Powell said in a statement submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As a party to an international genocide convention, he said, Sudan is obligated to prevent genocide and punish perpetrators. "To us, at this time, it appears that Sudan has failed to do so," Powell said.
Powell cited a State Department report formally released today based on interviews of Sudanese refugees in Chad. The report found "a consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities committed against non-Arab villagers in the Darfur region of Western Sudan."
The government of Sudan, Powell said in his testimony, has "made no progress in disarming" the Janjaweed militias committing those atrocities. "The situation on the ground must change and must change quickly," he said. "There are too many tens of thousands of human beings who are at risk."
Many of them, he said, "will not make it through the year."
Powell noted that Sudan faces possible sanctions under a U.N. resolution if it fails to disarm the militia and bring its leaders to justice.
To that end, the U.S. distributed a draft U.N. resolution Wednesday that threatens consideration of sanctions on Sudan's oil industry if Khartoum fails to stem the violence or blocks the deployment of thousands of African monitors.
The draft Security Council resolution, which the 15-nation council is to begin debating today, also calls on U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to establish a commission to investigate and prosecute human rights violators and determine whether their crimes amount to genocide.
The U.S. initiative is designed to ratchet up political pressure on Khartoum to accept a U.N. proposal to expand a small African Union observer mission by creating a force of more than 3,000 African peacekeepers. The mandate of the new force is the subject of Nigerian-sponsored talks between Sudan and Darfur rebels in Abuja, Nigeria.
Senior Security Council ambassadors said the resolution is likely to face intense resistance, particularly from the council's strongest opponents of sanctions, including China and Pakistan, both of which import oil from Sudan. But even European governments, including Britain, believe that the U.S. resolution will have to be watered down to gain broad support in the council, according to a European diplomat.
"I think the U.S. approach is what I would call stick-based rather than carrot-based," one council diplomat said. "We feel now is not the time for sanctions."
Powell's use of the word "genocide" for the first time in describing the situation in Sudan followed a strong debate within the government. On one side of the argument, some human rights officials contended that a declaration of genocide would be a powerful statement that would draw world attention to Darfur and promote efforts to halt mass killings there.
However, some in the U.S. government argued that the explicit use of the word might alienate the Sudanese government and limit U. S. ability to pressure its leaders to halt marauding Arab militias, which have killed, raped and tortured black African refugees in the region.
The 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defined the act as a calculated effort to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. The convention calls on signatories, including the United States, to prevent and punish genocide.
Earlier this year, Congress urged the Bush administration to call the situation in Sudan genocide. Organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights have also called it genocide.
The European Union and Amnesty International, among other groups, have said they do not have enough information to determine if the situation in Darfur meets the definition of genocide.
Washington Post Staff Writers Emily Wax and Colum Lynch contributed to this story.