Darfur: Genocide in Africa Again–Ten Years After Rwanda

by Eva Dadrian

(April 22, 2004) There is no doubt that the painful memory of the 800,000 victims of the Genocide in Rwanda will live with us forever. For many years to come, we will continue to unearth the remains of children, women and men hacked to death in one of the most frenzied, planned and organized massacres ever witnessed by the world.

For the past ten years we said never again, we made resolutions, we set up commissions and tribunals, we organized conferences … yet Genocide was revisited this very year, Rwanda’s Tenth year. Still sore and raw in our memories, the Genocide of Rwanda has made way to that of Darfur. Same crimes, same atrocities and same disregard to human lives. In the name of greed, hatred and spite, the Janjaweed, the Sudanese government armed militias and very much equivalent to the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi of Rwanda, have killed, looted, burnt, and raped their neighbors. Like vultures, they have cleansed villages from their people and destroyed the dreams of entire communities.

In the space of a few months more they have uprooted from their homes more than one million people and reduced them to statistics for the UN and for various humanitarian organizations. The early warning signs were very much present in Darfur. For more than three decades, indigenous Africans — Fur, Massaleet and Zaghawa to name but a few — were at the mercy of successive ruthless regimes, military as well as the so-called “democratically elected” government of Sadiq el Mahdi (1986-89).

Ruling by the gun and with the gun they imposed a religious-ethnic-sectarian ideology on the country. Their proxy killers, Muraheleen in the South and Janjaweed in Darfur, implemented various scorched-earth strategies to take over land, pastures and water points from their legitimate owners. For years, the international community and us Africans, deserted Darfur. ‘Il n’est pire sourd que celui qui ne veut pas entendre’ (so we closed our eyes and turned away) from the plight of the people of Darfur.

Better not to see, not to hear and not to know was the general attitude. Now, there is some hope, or should we say, there was some hope when two weeks ago, a cease-fire agreement was signed in N’djamena between the Darfur fighters and the Sudanese government.

The 45-day cease-fire that was to come into effect on Sunday 11 April was mainly meant to guarantee safe passage for humanitarian aid, free prisoners of war and especially disarm militias. The ceasefire is good news and a first step to stop the killing but it requires the immediate dispatch to Darfur of an international monitoring team of observers, military and civilian, to prevent further killing, stop the continued displacement of the population and secure humanitarian assistance to the people.

Today, after ten days, where do we stand? Recently, Kofi Annan has pointed out that UN peacekeepers “are no longer restricted to using force only in self-defense” and that they are also “empowered (to protect) local civilians threatened with imminent violence.” At the time of the Genocide of Rwanda, Kofi Annan was Under Secretary General for UN Peace Keeping Operations (PKO) and we all know what happened. Today he is UN Secretary General, he is Alpha Dog, but will he give his marching orders to “armed” peacekeepers?

Again and again Khartoum has broken its agreements, prevented a UN human rights team from entering the country to investigate the widespread atrocities committed in Darfur, delayed humanitarian workers to reach the displaced, denied entry to independent observers, turned away the media, closed the borders. The list of Khartoum’s violations is too long to continue.- On the humanitarian front, reports indicate that “nearly 3 million people are beyond the reach of aid agencies trying to provide assistance, and mortality rates in the region are possibly as high as 1,000 per week”.

– On the military front, the ink was hardly dry on that farcical cease-fire agreement before government-backed Janjaweed Arab militias were back into action. Mounting attacks against civilians in Mastrey, a farming locality south of Al Geneina (Western Darfur) and south of Nyala, the capital of Southern Darfur. Despite denying any violation of the cease-fire, Khartoum’s request to “postpone” the trip of the chief of the UN Emergency Relief clearly indicates that the fighting is still continuing and that the Janjaweed have not been disarmed.

Shall we give Khartoum the credit of the doubt when instead of disarming the Janjaweed the Sudanese government is providing them with military costumes and integrating them into its regular forces and into the much-hated Popular Defense Forces (PDF)? Now, as Khartoum’s “official” killing machine they have been posted in and around Nyala, capital of Southern Darfur, preventing the return of the refugees. They are attacking internally displaced people and preventing them from returning to their homes. They are occupying the farmland and villages of the Fur farmers they chased away earlier, and
refusing to allow them to retake possession of what remain from their homes.

Posted on the borders with Chad, they are preventing anyone crossing into Darfur. Aid agencies allowed in the region have reported that “Sudanese soldiers” have even beaten back women searching for food and firewood. By enrolling the Janjaweed into its regular forces, Khartoum is not only protecting its proxy killers, but also it is covering up its own crimes against the people of Darfur.

The European Union (EU) has put forward a resolution calling for a special Rapporteur to monitor human rights abuses in Sudan, but the vote was postponed until April 22 at the request of the African group. Coordinated by the government of Congo-Brazzaville, the African Group has consistently blocked scrutiny of African governments regardless of their human rights records.

Isn’t it true that the well being and the safety of a country’s nationals is the first and foremost duty of a responsible government? Isn’t it true that that duty is enshrined in national constitutions in Africa as it is elsewhere in the world and that it figures also in the Charter that governs the African Union? Indeed the African Union has announced from Addis Ababa that it will deploy military observers next week to the Darfur region to monitor the ceasefire.

According to Said Djinnit, AU’s Commissioner for Peace and Security, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Namibia have agreed to send military officers to be deployed in the region. Discussions are under way in
N’djamena and in Addis for the arrangements but reports from the Chadian capital are grim and nothing has been decided as we go to press.

The Sudanese government and the Darfur fighters are to meet again next week in the Chadian capital to iron out a definitive settlement to the conflict, whereby the political issues that have driven the people of Darfur to rebel, will be addressed.

The most crucial issues are land and water points and as redistribution of farmland is high on Khartoum’s agenda, Fur leaders are suspicious about the recent Idriss Deby-Omar el Beshir’s meeting in N’djamena. The Fur believe that to quell any dissent among the Zaghawa, on either side of its borders, the Chadian president would favor them in any future political settlement between Khartoum and fighters. Such arrangements would be in line with the “divide and rule” policy that Khartoum pursued for years in the South.

I doubt whether the people of Darfur can still trust any one to come to their help. Already they have lost faith in a government that has devoted its time and efforts to usurp them from their land, kill their
children and force the survivors into exile. Now it is the turn of the African community to fail them. We reported here in Pambazuka News 112 that the challenges facing Africans and the African Union are enormous. On each and every front – economic, social, scientific and political – the continent is “yet to fulfil its potential”. Ten years after Rwanda and in the wake of Darfur, many African political and civil society activists are calling for the establishment of an “early warning mechanism” for detecting any attempt, by groups or governments, to violate human rights in any part of the continent.

Eva Dadrian is an independent broadcaster and Political and Country Risk Analyst for print and broadcast media, who currently works as a consultant for Arab African Affairs (London) and writes on a regular basis for AFRICA ANALYSIS (London), for Al Ahram HEBDO Echos Economiques and Al Ahram WEEKLY (Cairo) and contributes to Africa Service BBC WS (London). Published reports include: Religion and Politics in North Africa; The Horn of Africa: Country Risk Analysis; The Nile Waters: Risk Analysis; State and Church in Ethiopia; Policing the Horn of Africa; Religion and Politics in Sudan; Can South Sudan survive as an independent state?

This article first appeared in Pambazuka News, an electronic newsletter for social justice in Africa, www.pambazuka.org.

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