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?
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.
WORLD: You repeatedly cite the government of Sudan's unwillingness to disarm the janjaweed militias. How did the janjaweed take hold in the first place? Will the latest UN resolution do more to disarm and disengage them?
REEVES: The janjaweed were recruited by Khartoum from some-not all-of Darfur's Arab tribal groups. Many have been mercenaries in the past. Many have been pressed into service. Many are eager to take over the lands and water of non-Arab or African tribal populations in Darfur. Khartoum has armed the janjaweed, coordinated with them militarily, and has "paid" them in the form of booty from the villages they have destroyed by the thousands-80 percent to 90 percent of all African villages in Darfur. That figure is the consensus among my Darfuri contacts.
The janjaweed tend to be the most racist, most ideologically driven of the Arab population in Darfur-they have been described (I think suggestively) as the "Ku Klux Klan" of Darfur. They often express contempt for the devotion of their African co-religionists (all are Muslim in Darfur).
WORLD: Explain your distinction between "peacekeeping" and "peace-enforcing."
REEVES: Peacekeeping implies that there is a peace to keep. Peace-making, on the other hand, required armed confrontation with any combatants who threaten the mission of the peacemaking force, e.g., protecting themselves, protecting civilians, protecting humanitarians.
WORLD: What about the role of rebel groups in Darfur?
REEVES: They must be united for there to be a peace process. Rebel divisions along multiple lines-political, ethnic, personality-are now a very serious obstacle to a coherent negotiating presence in talks.
WORLD: You write of leaders-Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, others-who seem determined to say the right things about Darfur but, you say, leave the real work to others. Who is doing the real work?
REEVES: The African Union, for all its failings, has at least put about 7,000 or so personnel in the field in Darfur. No one else has.
Pressure on China-which resulted in the recent UN resolution (albeit with China playing a key role in weakening the resolution)-has derived from grassroots advocacy efforts, not from international actors or governments. Humanitarian and human-rights groups have performed, when it comes to Darfur, magnificently.
WORLD: How can most of us, average citizens in America, help alleviate the crisis?
REEVES: Support humanitarian efforts; demand more of the Bush administration in supporting Resolution 1769 and in pressuring China; demand that congressional folks do more to highlight China's obstructionist role.