After the "G Word," Then What?

The Bush administration rightly called Sudan's genocide by its true name, but it must back its words with action.

| Tue Sep. 14, 2004 3:00 AM EDT

Secretary of State Colin Powell's admission that the killings, rape, and mass expulsions of African villagers in Darfur constitute genocide made a welcome contrast with the Clinton administration's refusal, in 1994, to call the Rwandan Genocide by its true name. As the architect of a policy as a result of which up to 50,000 people have been killed and 1.2 million more displaced from their homes, the Sudanese government could hardly have been expected to concur with Powell. So instead it accused him of trying to exploit the crisis to win some African-American votes in the U.S Presidential Elections. But seemingly less self-interested parties have been reluctant to use the term "genocide" -- defined by United Nations as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnic, racial or religious group" -- in connection with Sudan.

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In the end, the debate about the semantics of the tragedy is only important if the choice of words produces action on the ground. As British Foreign Minister Jack Straw told the Scotsman:

"Some people call it genocide, some people call it ethnic cleansing, some people call it civil war, some people call it none of the above. Whatever it is, it's a desperate situation which requires the urgent attention of the world."

To that end, the European Union is finally taking a tougher line with Khartoum. Yesterday, the European Union Council of Foreign Ministers concluded that "there is no indication that the government of Sudan has taken real and verifiable steps to disarm and neutralize" those responsible for the atrocities and that the E.U. will impose sanctions in the "immediate future" if it doesn't see progress.

Later this week, the U.S. will introduce a U.N. resolution, which will give 30 days for the Sudanese government to rein in Arab militias or face sanctions. China, which is the largest importer of Sudanese oil and one of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, has threatened to veto the resolution. The resolution will also seek to bolster the number and mandate of the 300 African Union force currently in Darfur—that force is charged with protecting AU's monitors, not defending the local population. Finally, the resolution will create a commission to investigate whether or not the atrocities in Darfur meet the U.N.'s definition of genocide, a proposal the E.U. Council of Foreign Ministers has endorsed.

The U.N., of course, passed a resolution back in July ordering the janjaweed to disarm and for the Sudanese government to insure that they do so. To see how thoroughly that resolution has been ignored, one needs to look no further than the refugee camps. According to Oxfam, a UK-based aid organization working in the Greda refugee camp in Darfur, from August 26th to September 7th, the camp's population jumped from 10,000 to 40,000. Yesterday, the World Health Organization said that between 6,000-10,000 people die in camps in Darfur each month because of disease and violence, with many of the victims children.

The Sudanese government continues to insist that it has no control over the janjaweed, which it funded and armed or that the Sudanese Army bombs villages, even when investigations by human rights groups and the U.S. State Department have reached the opposite conclusion. The government lays the blame for the crisis on the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), which is demanding an end to discrimination against non-Arabs and more autonomy—not secession form the central government. Khartoum is also hoping that the international community will turn a blind eye to atrocities in Darfur for fear of jeapordizing a conclusion to the North-South peace process that would conclude the country's 21-year running civil war.

Continuing anger over the Iraq war—with the Bush administration's bashing of European allies and slighting of the U.N.—is cited by some as a reason why France and Germany are only now adopting a tougher approach to Khartoum. As Samantha Powers argued recently in the New Yorker:

"Regardless of whether Sudan's murderous campaign in Darfur stems from a racist conspiracy, a counter-insurgency strategy run amok, or a combination of the two, its policies deserve to be condemned. Yet international opinion has been strangely divided. Europe's lingering hostility to the Bush Administration over the invasion of Iraq seems to have infected its response to Darfur. In April, at a meeting at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, in Geneva, European diplomats opposed a strong American denunciation of the atrocities, preferring a resolution so watered down that Sudan welcomed it. At a time when America had given twenty-eight million dollars to the U.N.'s Darfur relief program, Germany had given one million dollars, and France nothing."

Some statements by French officials have been used by Khartoum to bolster its claim that the United States' accusations of ethnic cleansing (and now genocide) have no basis in fact. Charities have complained that France is being stingy when it comes to funding aid efforts, but French officials counter that France provides for $35 million dollars of the European aid to Darfur.

The British Guardian, like several major newspapers in the United States, lauded Powell for his remarks. But it also took issue with the proposed U.N. resolution and the lack of urgency that the British and U.S. governments have shown in tackling the crisis:

"..Targeted sanctions such as an assets freeze and a travel ban on senior Sudanese officials would be more effective than the oil embargo currently being proposed by Washington. And there is the familiar dilemma that such sanctions are a notoriously blunt instrument, as the Iraqi experience taught. But urgent though the crisis is, Washington and London are still not trying the sort of heavy-duty arm-twisting they tried when seeking a second UN resolution authorizing war on Saddam."

President Clinton has called the United State's failure to act in Rwanda as one of the biggest regrets of his presidency. The Bush administration, which is culpable for more than its fair share of foreign policy disasters, has a chance to lead the international effort in Darfur and avoid a repeat of Rwanda. However imperfect the proposed U.S. resolution is, the U.N. Security Council must back it, not water it down. As Ana Gomes, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament put told Deutsche Welle: "I have the feeling that the government of Sudan is at the moment laughing at us. They know how to read the contradictory signs that were given by the international community in dealing politically with this issue." The end to mixed signals to Khartoum must start this week with a tough U.N. resolution backed by action on the ground.

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