Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said for the first time yesterday that genocide has taken place in Sudan and that the government in Khartoum and government-sponsored Arab militias known as Janjaweed "bear responsibility" for rapes, killings and other abuses that have left 1.2 million black Africans homeless.
Powell's long-awaited declaration -- the result of months of investigation and discussion within the State Department -- is intended to increase pressure on the Sudanese government to end the violence in Sudan's Darfur region. But refugee organizations and aid groups said it also will make it much harder for the Bush administration to step away from the problem if its diplomatic efforts are unsuccessful.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Powell said: "We concluded -- I concluded -- that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility -- and genocide may still be occurring."
Powell's statement came as the United States began negotiations at the United Nations on a Security Council resolution that threatens to consider new sanctions against Sudan if it fails to crack down on the militias, and calls for the establishment of a U.N. commission of inquiry to determine whether Sudan and the militia are responsible for genocide. A finding of genocide does not impose obligations on the United States, but as a signatory to the 1948 Genocide Convention, the United States is committed to preventing and punishing genocide.
Sudanese officials reacted angrily to Powell's announcement, saying it will only make it more difficult to resolve what they describe as an internal problem. At the United Nations, officials from a number of Security Council member nations expressed concern that Powell's statement would complicate efforts to win broad support for a new resolution. Both the African Union and the Arab League have said there is no genocide. The European Union said it does not have enough information.
Powell cited a report released by the State Department yesterday that found a "consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities committed against non-Arab villagers." The report, based on 1,136 interviews with refugees this summer, said 61 percent had witnessed the killing of a family member and 16 percent had been raped or had heard about a rape victim. About one-third had heard racial epithets while they were being attacked, the report said.
For the moment, a declaration of genocide by the United States has little practical effect. But coming in the midst of continuing attacks, it puts the imprimatur of the world's most powerful nation on a serious and grave charge against Sudan, possibly setting in motion an inquiry that ultimately could result in war crimes tribunals. Other recent instances of genocide, such as in Rwanda and Cambodia, were recognized only long after the crimes.
When Powell visited Darfur in June, he resisted questions about whether the abuses amounted to genocide, saying "what we are seeing is a disaster, a catastrophe, and we can find the right label for it later." The U.S. Congress has since passed a resolution urging the administration to label the Darfur situation a genocide, and the Sudanese government has failed to comply with a U.N. resolution passed July 30 calling on it to end the suffering.
State Department officials familiar with Powell's deliberations said he decided last week he needed to make a clear statement at the Senate hearing. Over the weekend, he took home the State Department report and concluded that Khartoum was complicit in genocide because he had put the government on notice two months ago, laying out what officials needed to do to end the violence, and they had not acted.
Another factor in Powell's decision was that Sudan is a signatory to the 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines genocide as a calculated effort to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. The convention calls on signatories to prevent and punish genocide.
"The acts are clearly genocidal," said one senior U.S. official familiar with the debate. "The question was the intent" of the government.
Security Council members Britain, Spain and Germany back U.S. efforts to establish a commission of inquiry. But some European diplomats expressed concern that Powell's statement would complicate efforts to win broader support. China warned that it may veto the resolution, noting that it does not believe genocide has occurred. "There are problems in Darfur, but we don't see it as that category," said Wang Guangya, China's ambassador to the United Nations. The council should "come up with constructive ideas to help solve the problem, not to make the problem more complicated."
Pakistan's ambassador, Munir Akram, said Powell's statement has weakened Washington's case for the commission because it prejudged the outcome. "If you already brand it as genocide even before an inquiry, I think that might be more difficult."
Lynch reported from the United Nations.