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Darfur is a right mess – but that does not absolve us. Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Ailbhe Darcy, Ireland Dec 18, 2007
Genocide , Peace & Conflict   Opinions


Jonathan Kolieb, an international lawyer writing for the Baltimore Sun, has argued that the vicious campaign of the Sudanese armed forces and the Janjaweed militia does not satisfy these criteria. “Their intent is to forcibly put down or drive out of Darfur a secessionist movement and the insurgency that supports it…sheer scale is insufficient to transform massacres into genocide.” The UN commission charged with investigating whether any international crimes had been committed in Darfur unanimously concluded that Omar al-Bashir’s regime, while probably guilty of crimes against humanity, “has not pursued a policy of genocide.” Kolieb further argues that the term ‘genocide’, “by conjuring up images of the one-sided slaughter of innocents”, belies the complexity of the Darfur conflict.

It is arguably true that the ‘genocide’ label, and the framing of the crisis in humanitarian terms generally, has allowed the world’s most powerful countries to limit their response to expressions of concern and self-righteous demands that the UN take action. The problem with Kolieb’s argument is that it swerves towards relativism. It is muddying the waters to point out, as he does, that “several rebel groups have engaged in despicable acts themselves, such as the targeting, rape and murder of international aid workers.” One is tempted to sing out, as we did as children, that two wrongs don’t make a right! It is irrelevant to the charge of genocide whether the victims are “innocents” or not. Condemning the slaughter of a people by its government should not be denounced as “Khartoum-bashing,” as it has been by certain commentators.

Successive Khartoum regimes have played an undeniable role in miring Darfur, the isolated western dependency of Sudan’s more fertile heartland, in deep poverty. Yet more nefarious was the tendency that emerged in the eighties when Khartoum regimes began to encourage Arab militias, whose emergence was itself inspired by the possibility of seizing official positions and land from non-Arab Darfuris.

Alex deWaal explains this progression from neglect of the region to out-and-out violence as the consequence of the total dominance of Khartoum and its faction-ridden elite, for whom Darfur’s remote people and land are little more than playing chips for endless power struggles. It was the policy of the government that turned multiple and relatively minor local conflicts into a general state of violent displacement and war, as the Fur, Zaghawa and other non-Arabs armed themselves in self-defense.

Governmental complicity in later years has produced new armed groups, worsened conflicts over land, and further entangled Darfur’s politics with those of adjacent Chad. Meanwhile the government has suppressed information by jailing and killing witnesses, tampering with evidence and obstructing and arresting journalists.

As Justin Willis has suggested in his review of deWaal’s book for the TLS, the worst aspect of Khartoum’s culpability is that “the situation is now such that even if the current regime tried (a sizeable if, given its complex internal politics), it could not by itself bring peace to Darfur. This is a government that can break things, but cannot fix them.” Horribly, deWaal even suggests that it may be ‘many years’ before the time is right to negotiate another peace agreement, and, for all my glee when Brown and Sarkozy made their announcements, it is certainly a struggle to see what good the much-heralded UN force can do in the current environment.

Justin Willis ends his review bleakly: “What is to be done? Nothing, except to wait for better times, for Darfur and Sudan are trapped beneath the rubble of political failure; pinned down by the weight of ruthless, egotistical and incompetent leaders, who apparently cannot be shifted. One can see the attraction of the climate change argument; blaming the weather is less depressing than trying to unpick this sorry mess.”

Must we really sit on our thumbs and wait it out? Images in the daily media, of burnt corpses, fighting soldiers, starving children, hardly allow us to do so in peace. And perhaps, after all, there is another angle of attack. Willis does not mention China. China has consistently opposed economic and non-military sanctions on Sudan. Amnesty International has issued reports accusing China, along with Russia, of supplying arms, ammunition and associated equipment to Sudan. This hardware has been transferred to Darfur for use by the government and the Janjaweed militias in violation of a UN arms embargo against Sudan. In June this year, Airforces Monthly Magazine confirmed that China and Iran had again financed and delivered “newer” aircraft to Sudan.

Sudan, far from lacking natural resources, has a plentiful supply of oil. It is unsurprising that China considers good relations with Sudan to be strategically essential, given China’s eagerness to guarantee fuel for its booming economy. China also has direct commercial interests in Sudan’s oil, with a Chinese state-owned company, Petrochina, controlling about two thirds of Sudan’s total oil production.


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Writer Profile
Ailbhe Darcy

Ailbhe Darcy was born in Dublin and currently lives in Cambridge. She has published poetry widely in Ireland and Britain and will make her US debut with a poem in the next issue of The Cortland Review. She writes critically for a number of journals and websites and co-edits an online journal of new Irish art and writing at www.moloch.ie.
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