Too little, too late

Sudan | Recent "action" by the UN to end violence in Darfur comes five years into a breathtaking genocide, chronicles scholar Eric Reeves in new book

Issue: "Tough love," Aug. 18, 2007

It's been three years since the Bush administration first pronounced the crisis in Sudan's western region of Darfur a "genocide." Yet as Smith College professor Eric Reeves, author of the new book A Long Day's Dying puts it, the world is "acquiescing in a mortality rate that, on gruesome statistical average, will soon reach to 3,000 human beings a day, possibly every day for the foreseeable future."

With passage of a new UN Security Council resolution last month on Darfur that could put 26,000 African-led UN soldiers on the ground by year's end, and with passage of a bill in the U.S. House last month to promote divestment from companies doing business with Sudan, WORLD asked Reeves to comment on the violent destruction of lives and livelihood in Darfur and whether outsiders are doing enough to stop it.

WORLD: A Sudanese official in North Darfur recently cited 9,000 as the number killed in the Darfur conflict. Humanitarian sources and most news media regularly quote a number around 200,000. What do you say is the current number? Why this wide discrepancy?

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REEVES: The figure of 200,000 comes from a study now almost a year old. The authors of the study failed to look at the most important source for violent mortality, an assessment by the Coalition for International Justice from 2004 that served as the basis for the State Department's determination of genocide in Darfur. It comprised some 1,200 carefully randomized interviews conducted along the Chad-Darfur border and has data that are critical to calculating violent mortality, the overwhelming cause of death in Darfur through the summer of 2004.

Surveying all the data, including that of the coalition, I concluded in April 2006 that the aggregated data for deaths from all causes (violence, disease, malnutrition) is approximately 500,000.

The sad truth is that we can't know, in part because it's been over two years since the UN attempted to do a serious mortality study. A senior UN official told me it was because the effort of early 2005 was made simply too dangerous, too subject to harassment by the Khartoum regime. But the data as a whole clearly suggest a figure far in excess of 200,000-indeed one of the authors of the study generating this figure had done an earlier study that arrived at a figure of 400,000 in summer 2005.

WORLD: What is your number of "war affected" and can you explain that term?

REEVES: The relevant UN agencies and non-governmental humanitarian organizations have generated data which the UN reports as yielding a figure of 4.2 million conflict-affected people in Darfur and 500,000 for eastern Chad-a total of 4.7 million. There are also some 2.5 million people who have been displaced from their homes, either by violence or the threat of violence.

WORLD: Explain what you mean by "genocide by attrition"?

REEVES: The 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide specifies in Article 2 a number of acts that are genocidal, including (Clause C): "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

What I call "genocide by attrition" is the whole range of after-effects of such acts, which defined the violence orchestrated by Khartoum's military and its janjaweed proxies. People now die because of previous destruction of their homes, villages, and ways of making a living-especially from the destruction of 2003-2005.

WORLD: In your book you describe a paralyzed UN Security Council and predict that it is unlikely to act in Darfur. Does the resolution passed July 31 change that perception?

REEVES: There are huge obstacles to the actual deployment of the force contemplated in UNSC 1769, including institutional lethargy and opposition from member states. There has been no timely action by the UN. And "actions" taken to date (including resolution 1769 but also resolution 1706 of Aug. 31, 2006, or resolution 1556 of July 30, 2004, which "demanded" that Khartoum disarm the janjaweed) have meant exceedingly little.

One must hope that there will be some effective security provided to civilians and humanitarians by the current resolution-but signs are not encouraging. And "acting" must also mean acting if Khartoum resists or obstructs or reneges. Chapter 7 authority, which defines the key parts of the current resolution, must not be subject to the whims or vetoes of genocidal regimes. We are in the fifth year of brutal genocidal counterinsurgency warfare, and the UN has yet to act effectively. Perhaps this will now change; but it will be much too little, and much, much too late.


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