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To Save Lives in Darfur, Back African Peacekeepers and Demand War Crimes Accountability, Says ICG's
August 4, 2004

August 4, 2004
Posted to the web August 4, 2004

Washington, DC

Nearly four months after President Bush called the situation in Darfur the "worst humanitarian crisis of our time," the international community has responded with resolutions from the United Nations and the U.S. Congress condemning the violence. But there has been little concrete action to stop the killing, and a debate rages over whether to formally designate the conflict and refugee crisis a 'genocide.'

More than a million people have been displaced from their homes, and between 30,000 and 50,000 people have suffered preventable deaths, the United Nations said last week. Unless firm measures are taken to protect the threatened populace, the death toll could climb into the hundreds of thousands, relief agencies estimate.

The International Crisis Group's (ICG) John Prendergast visited the rebel-held areas of Darfur late last month with Harvard University professor Samantha Power and was an eyewitness to atrocities in the region. Prendergast is currently special adviser to the president at the ICG. He was also special adviser to the U.S. State Department on conflict resolution in Africa and served as director of African Affairs at the National Security Council. He has worked for many years in Africa with organizations such as the U.S. Institute of Peace, Human Rights Watch and Unicef. Prendergast has written six books on Africa, including God, Oil & Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan, and co-authored the forthcoming ICG book, Blood and Soil: Land and Conflict in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Prendergast spoke with AllAfrica about the situation in Darfur and the reluctance of many U.S., UN and African officials to use the term 'genocide', as well as what he thinks should be done in Darfur. ICG Researcher Gideon Maltz contributed to the discussion on legal definitions of genocide.

What do you think it will take for the international community to take decisive action in Darfur?

John Prendergast: In Somalia, there were stick-thin figures on our nightly television when former President Bush decided to send in American troops [in December 1992]. In Darfur, the pictures aren't as graphic yet. The Darfurian population has survived cyclical drought and some conflict for generations through a very sophisticated array of survival activities, which they cannot utilize while they are trapped in the camps that they are in now, camps that they can't leave because of the ongoing threat posed by unrestrained Janjaweed militias.

What's going to start killing them in large numbers, which will then create the dramatic graphics that will - three months from now - instill the kind of emotion necessary for sufficiently robust action, are the diseases that are going to rip through these camps. I think that there will eventually be some form of action, but it just may happen after a couple hundred thousand people who could have been saved will have died.

Does it matter if the word 'genocide' is used to describe the situation in Darfur?

John Prendergast: As far as the international community's legal obligations are concerned, nothing should be riding on the formal determination. However, the determination has political significance. The crime of genocide resonates with the broader public and inspires in them a special revulsion. A recent opinion poll, for example, found that 53 percent of the U.S. public supported the UN sending peacekeeping troops to Sudan with U.S. participation, but the figure jumped to 69 percent if an official determination of genocide were made. Calling the crimes "genocide" certainly would have the practical effect of creating much greater pressure to intervene more forcefully than the Bush administration is now prepared to do.

Is that the primary reason you think the U.S. government is reluctant to call it genocide?

John Prendergast: In part, yes. The Bush administration does not want to foment additional public pressure on itself to act. But ironically, the political effect of the g-word has also inhibited some human rights and conflict prevention organizations. They are worried about the potential cheapening of the term because it is invoked every time a handful of people are killed. And they are concerned that if the international community intervenes this time only because the events in Darfur are labeled genocide, it might stand aside next time when a crisis - which threatens massive loss of life but does not qualify as genocide -- spirals out of control.

Secretary Powell and other leaders have suggested that the genocide debate is a diversion. How do you respond ?

John Prendergast: Given the lack of any significant action to prevent further atrocities or punish those crimes, these protestations seem hollow and themselves diversionary. Rather than make self-serving statements about the need to respond to the humanitarian emergency and leave other issues in Sudan until later, Secretary Powell and other government officials around the world should acknowledge that this humanitarian crisis is a direct result of the most appalling human rights crisis in the world. Sudan is at its core a human rights emergency created by a criminal, autocratic regime.

The international community has a responsibility to protect civilians in circumstances of mass atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity. That responsibility to protect has the same implications as the Genocide Convention - the compulsion to prevent and punish atrocities. And in fact, under the Genocide Convention itself, signatories' duty to prevent genocide and the obligation to initiate legal proceedings for punishment both start long before any formal legal pronouncement of genocide.

What do you think the international community should do about Darfur?

John Prendergast: The international community must discharge its legal obligations by making civilian protection and accountability the core elements of its future action. It must act to stop the atrocities by supporting the deployment of an African Union-led force to protect civilians. There is absolutely no reason one American soldier has to go to Darfur, so that false argument should not be allowed to undermine the imperative for immediate action. The U.S. has spent the last decade working very assiduously to train African forces for just this kind of event.

What forces are available and willing to go?

John Prendergast: The United States has already agreed - with the European Union - to pay for the deployment of three hundred troops. So that's not an issue. At this point, any hold-up in the deployment is a bureaucratic problem driven by a lack of political will at the top. So they haven't been able to deploy.

Our effort now has to be to capacitate the African Union in its infancy. President Kagame [of Rwanda] has volunteered troops, as has Nigeria. The force should be mandated to protect civilians, and be much larger than the 300 currently authorized. This will demand a great deal of assertive diplomacy to make this force acceptable to Khartoum and will require much greater resources to support the deployment of these forces. The European Union, the Arab League, Japan, China, all have to pony up for this effort, in addition to the U.S.

Do these troops have transportation to get to areas in Darfur where they're needed?

John Prendergast: Kagame doesn't have the lift capacity, but that's our job. The issue is whether the U.S. would agree to resource the lift and logistical supply line for a larger force for the AU. Now that there's a developing consensus that there has to be a larger force in Darfur to protect these civilians from the militias - that the Khartoum government is actually supporting as opposed to obstructing - then the U.S. has to be at the center.

The international community must also double the grossly inadequate humanitarian assistance effort, impose targeted sanctions against specific regime officials and ruling party businesses, and hold leaders accountable. These are arguably the measures that could have a greater effect on Khartoum's calculations than anything else, by authorizing a Commission of Inquiry to investigate charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan.

You don't need a formal determination of genocide to start punishment proceedings?

Gideon Maltz: No. The legal proceedings actually result in the formal determination of genocide. You start the legal proceedings if you have a reasonable belief that genocide is taking place, and there is certainly that reasonable belief here.

John Prendergast: More generally, the proposition that something must be called genocide before meaningful action can be taken is erroneous and only dilutes the responsibility states have in responding to all manner of atrocities. A determination of genocide should have no bearing on the commitment of the international community in the coming weeks to protect Darfurians, provide emergency aid to them, and introduce accountability for the crimes committed against them.

Do you believe that genocide is taking place in Darfur?

John Prendergast: The position of the International Crisis Group is that the atrocities in Sudan are likely to constitute a genocide, but we cannot make the final legal determination. My own personal view is that the evidence that has been presented so far indicates that genocide is indeed occurring in Darfur.

What goes into the legal determination of genocide?

Gideon Maltz: The determination depends on two elements. The first element involves specific actions, such as killing members of a group, and there is no question that this has taken place. The second element requires the perpetrator to perform these actions with a particular mental state, specifically an intent to destroy in whole or in part that group as such. The question of intent is the real issue here, simply because it is so much harder to definitively prove.

Does the evidence suggest that the Janjaweed militia are the ones committing genocide?

John Prendergast: Eyewitness testimony clearly suggests that many of the government-supported Janjaweed militia have acted with genocidal intent. They have targeted victims because of their membership in the Fur, Zaghawa and Massaleit ethnic groups and they have done so with the deliberate aim of destroying these groups as such.

And what about government officials? Does the evidence link them to genocide?

John Prendergast: Government officials are much further removed from the commission of the crime, so it is much more difficult to show that government officials have been acting with the requisite intent -even with their fifteen-year track record of population clearing, use of food as a weapon, slave-raiding and other atrocities throughout other parts of the country, particularly the south and the Nuba Mountains. Regime officials will argue that their intent was not to destroy an ethnic group, but rather to do nothing more than suppress a rebellion. Hopefully, some day they will have to make this argument in front of a war crimes tribunal.

Gideon Maltz: It is important to emphasize, as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has in several recent decisions, that it is not necessary to show an official's intent to commit genocide in order to hold him culpable for it. First, under the doctrine of accomplice liability, if a Sudanese official aids and abets some Janjaweed and these Janjaweed commit genocide, then it is necessary to show only that the official had knowledge that the members would commit genocide (not the intent to commit genocide). Second, under the doctrine of collateral liability, if a Sudanese official aids and abets some Janjaweed militia in a subordinate crime, such as murder, and these Janjaweed proceed to commit acts of genocide, then it is necessary to show only that the official had the reasonable expectation that these militia would perform these crimes.

So why are you hesitating yourself to call it genocide?

John Prendergast: The evidence strongly points to the crime of genocide and we think it is likely that both members of the Janjaweed and senior officials in the Sudanese government would be found guilty of genocide in some court of law. However, without a large-scale, on-the-ground investigation and formal proceedings, it is difficult to definitively pronounce the atrocities in Sudan 'genocide.'


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