A State Department report detailing atrocities in the Darfur region of western Sudan concludes that the Sudanese government has promoted systematic killings based on race and ethnic origin, but officials said Tuesday that there was strong debate over whether Secretary of State Colin L. Powell should classify the violence as genocide.
State Department lawyers reviewing the report, based on 1,136 interviews collected in 19 refugee camps in neighboring Chad last month, said the evidence of rape, killing of male babies, use of racial epithets, burning of villages and displacement could easily meet the legal definition of genocide. Powell visited Darfur in June and requested the investigation.
A draft of the report, which was obtained by The Post and which will be issued in its final form Thursday, says the Sudanese government in coordination with the Arab militia known as the Janjaweed sought victims who were non-Arabs. Assailants often shouted racial and ethnic epithets such as "Kill the slaves" and "We have orders to kill all blacks."
Use of the word genocide is "a political question now," a high-ranking State Department source said. "Not a legal one."
On one side of the debate, some human rights officials contend 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 argue that the explicit use of the word might alienate the Sudanese government and limit the United States' ability to pressure its leaders to halt marauding Arab militias, who have killed, raped and tortured black African refugees in the region.
The "primary cleavage is ethnic: Arabs against Africans," according to the eight-page report, which will be released as Powell testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Powell said Tuesday he was focusing on efforts to enhance relief operations in Darfur. "We've seen improvement with respect to humanitarian access," Powell said at a State Department briefing. "The security situation isn't as improved as we would like it to be."
But "with respect to the issue of what to call it -- genocide or not," he said, "it doesn't open any new doors that are not available to us now."
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.
The office of the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan said that the expulsion of 1.2 million mainly African ethnic groups from their homes was deliberate and systematically carried out by the Sudanese government, according to a recent briefing paper on the Darfur crisis.
Tens of thousands of civilians face disease and death in squalid government camps; thousands more lack shelter and aid in hard-to-reach rebel-held areas.
As attacks continue in Darfur, the emotional debate over using the word genocide has evoked memories of inaction during previous episodes of violence.
In Rwanda a decade ago, Hutu extremists slaughtered an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus as various factions argued over the use of the word.
"We all had the Rwanda experience, and we all have to live with ourselves," said Charles Snyder, the State Department's senior representative on Sudan and the former acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Meanwhile, analysts have said the United States is reluctant to antagonize Sudan because the Bush administration does not want to jeopardize a U.S.-backed peace deal to end a separate civil war with rebels in southern Sudan. In addition, Sudan, which once harbored Osama bin Laden, now plays a role in the war on terrorism.
High-ranking Sudanese officials, including the head of National Intelligence Security Services and the former external affairs intelligence chief, are among the key figures ordering and coordinating the violence in Darfur, State Department sources said.
"Senior Bush administration officials appear reluctant to publicly identify senior officials involved in the atrocities in Darfur, including First Vice President Osman Taha and NISS chief Salah Abdala Gosh, because these officials are also in charge of the counterterrorism efforts and have been cooperating with U.S. officials," said Ted Dagne of the U.S. Congressional Research Service. "Targeting these officials could end cooperation on counterterrorism."
Human rights analysts said that describing killings in Darfur as genocide does not prescribe a specific U.S. course of action.
"Just calling it a genocide does not open a magic book," said Jerry Fowler, staff director on the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "But it raises the moral and political stakes. You can't just say it's genocide and then not get involved."
Members of the State Department who contributed to the new report also worked in Kosovo and Bosnia. After touring the camps, they likened their experiences there to their experiences in Sudan and discussed the need for additional international pressure to end the violence in Darfur.
"If you have women without their men, that changes the face of the future society," said Jan Pfundheller, a retired police officer from Brewster, Wash.
"I was shocked by the scope of the tragedy," said Pfundheller, an expert on sexual violence. "What happened in Kosovo was evil. This is more vast and equally as evil."