Genocide is one of the ugliest words in our language. The deliberate attempt to depopulate is reserved for the likes of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Idi Amin. New seats will have to be reserved soon in this gallery of mass murderers for three of the bloodiest dictators in the world: Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia, Omer el-Bashir in Sudan and Siad Barre in Somalia.
The international community, rightly obsessed with feeding the starving masses in the three countries, are fearful of condemning these three Horn of Africa governments too strongly. It is often the case that with criticism comes closure of relief supply conduits. So the killing goes on silently.
The rationale for these policies of regional depopulation are quite sinister in their racism and religious intolerance. The tactics employed are horrifying.
In Sudan, both race and religion play a part in government policies. Two particular ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Fur, have been targeted by Gen. Bashir's junta for extinction. Though the circumstances for the two groups are different, the common themes between the two are that they are both non-Arab and large enough groups to be considered a threat by reactionaries like Bashir to what he would consider "his people" -- fundamentalist Moslem Arabs.
The Dinka peoples have actually been on the run from government policy since the mid-1980s. The Dinkas form the backbone of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), the armed opposition group fighting against successive governments since 1983. Gen. Bashir has strengthened and expanded a program, begun under prior governments, which armed certain Arab ethnic groups to destroy Dinka villages and massacre civilians.
Another tool in the Sudanese government's campaign to depopulate Dinka areas is the deprivation of food. The use of food as a weapon of war has become institutionalized in Sudan. The agreement negotiated by the SPLA and the previous government to allow food to travel to contested areas was abrogated by Bashir in October. New agreements were not signed until the end of April, making it difficult to beat the oncoming rains when positioning relief supplies in majority Dinka areas. The government's starvation policies take many forms and have been very successful. More than 200,000 Dinkas have perished since 1988 from hunger or because of the militias.
The other ethnic group that the Sudanese government seems bent on eliminating is the African Fur peoples of the western part of the country bordering Libya and Chad. The Fur are the only non-Arab people populating this region, and both the Libyan and Sudanese governments would like to see this area exclusively Arab. Hence, Arab militias armed by the Sudanese government are conducting a scorched-earth war against the Fur, burning down villages and massacring those that remain to attempt to return.
Government troops have recently begun to intervene on the side of the Arab militia. Overall, thousands of Fur civilians have been killed during the past three years.
Col. Mengistu, Ethiopia's ruthless leader, actually perfected the tactic of utilizing the food weapon long before Sudan's leadership employed this cruelly effective war strategy. Access to distributing food to separatist Eritreans and revolutionary Tigreans in the north has been systematically and consistently denied or destroyed. Since the Ethiopian government lost control of its main port of Massawa in February, government planes have repeatedly strafed the city with cluster bombs obtained either directly from Israel or with Israeli assistance. The government air force has targeted food stocks and health centers desperately needed by Eritreans left there.
Dissatisfied with conventional war tactics, the Mengistu regime, in addition to using the food weapon and regularly bombing villages, has forcibly resettled hundreds of thousands of people out of areas considered sympathetic to rebel forces in an effort to exterminate or remove from contentious areas the civilian population. These same government tactics led to over a million deaths in 1984-85.
In Somalia, the Isaaq clan is the target of government genocide. The Isaaq-based Somali National Movement (SNM), an insurgency group headquartered in Ethiopia for years, invaded Somalia in mid-1988 and now controls a large part of the north.
The government's response has been brutal. An aerial bombing campaign devastated large sections of the cities and productive areas in the north. Wells have been poisoned, villages have been burned and Isaaq civilians have been rounded up and executed by government troops. President Barre has also supplied weapons to Ethiopian refugees inside Somalia and to opposition Ethiopian groups to attack Isaaq civilians. Africa Watch estimates that 50,000 Somali citizens have been killed during the past year and a half, the majority being Isaaq civilians.
The governments of Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia are just as non-democratic, exclusionary and racist as the apartheid regime in South Africa. The international community cannot continue to apply band aids to a cancerous system. The same policies used to isolate the South African government should be emphasized against Horn dictators.
First, the United States, the Soviet Union and Egypt should work toward an arms embargo of the region, similar to the U.N.-sponsored embargo of South Africa. Second, all bilateral and multilateral sources of non-emergency aid should be cut off. Third, trade sanctions should be employed against major foreign exchange-earning exports for the three governments. Fourth, public and private credit spigots should be temporarily turned off. And fifth, cross-border and cross-sea emergency relief and rehabilitation operations into southern Sudan, Eritrea, Tigre, and northern Somalia that directly feed civilians in contested areas need to be expanded.
Feeding the millions of women, children and men victimized by the internal policies of Horn governments is unquestionably a critical task for the international community. But just as important is the need to address the variety of ways external sources keep these genocidal war machines running. The child that is saved today will surely die tomorrow if we do not do both.
Almami Cyllah is government program officer of Africa Amnesty International. John Prendergast is a research associate of Center of Concern.