A quiet genocide in western Sudan is in the offing

By A. H. Jaffor Ullah


In the post 9-11 era, everyone�s mind is focused on global terrorism for good reasons. For one thing, America is now fretting for more than ever over the possibility of al-Qaeda again attacking their soil. The year 2004 is very important for America. The nation is gearing up for a presidential election. Therefore, America does not want any terrorist attack lest it disrupts the election process. The rest of the world also follows American dictums. Thus, when the world of ours is mired in global terrorism who has time to think about what goes on in the hinterland of Africa, which was once called the Dark Continent by white men.

On May 19, 2004, I heard an in depth report on human rights violation that is going on right now in the Darfur region of western Sudan in National Public Radio (NPR)�s "Morning Edition" program. I was not fully aware of the viciousness of the on going genocide against the indigenous people of western Sudan perpetrated by militias who are predominantly of Arabic extraction. Therefore, in one sense it is a classic case of ethnic cleansing, which has been going on for several months. Unfortunately, the news of the plight of indigenous black people of western Sudan, who speak a dialect of Bantu language, came to us very late when an astounding 30,000 people have lost their lives. The perpetrators of the genocide are Arabic speaking Sudanese Muslims who works for the government in some capacity. Surprisingly, the victims are Muslims too. Therefore, unlike the past Muslim versus Christian feud in Sudan that made the headlines a few years ago, this time around the conflict has racial overtone. In this case, the victims complained that they were targeted primarily for their ethnicity and for their dislike of authoritarian regime in Khartoum. The Arab Sudanese have raided hundreds of villages in Darfur region in the west, burned houses, taken forcibly the villagers� cattle, raped their women, forced them to flee out of Sudan. The villagers after losing every tangible asset they had moved to neighboring Chad where a draught-like condition exists at this time. International relief organizations have set up refugee camps over there. Some experts who are now at the scene in Chad have opined that if corrective actions are not taken now, an estimated 350,000 indigenous people from Darfur region may die of malnutrition, hunger, and disease. Under this backdrop, it remains to be seen what the civilized democracies of the world would do to assuage the plight of the refugees.

The NPR�s web site has the following blurb - "In Western Sudan, a conflict worsens -- and some say it's the world's latest case of ethnic cleansing. Can lessons from the past help leaders prevent genocides in the future? We look at attempts to avoid a humanitarian disaster in Sudan." The NPR interviewed 4 experts who forewarned the danger that is lurking in Darfur region of Western Sudan.

It is very disturbing to know that when a full-scale genocide takes place not many people in the world are aware of it happening. It is only after when the genocide is completed that we hear about it. Take the case of Armenian Genocide that took place during the World War I (1914-1918) in the hands of Turks in which about 600,000 to 1 million ethnic Armenians lost their lives or the Holocaust in which about 6 million Jews were exterminated by Nazis during the World War II (1939-1945). The world quite did not notice the extermination of such a huge number of people. In 1947, when India and Pakistan were being created, the world witnessed killings of both Hindus and Muslims that may surpass a million marks. In 1971, the Punjabi dominated army of Pakistan killed an estimated 3 million Bangalees purely for political reason. Again, the world remained very silent. In April 1994, the Hutu tribesmen of Rwanda killed about 800,000 Tutsi tribal people in a civil war but we learned about the systematic genocide once the killing had stopped. Therefore, it is imperative that the plight of Bantu-speaking indigenous people of western Sudan be told at this time.

A week after I heard the news of the recent genocide in western Sudan, I saw a video clip in the evening television news in the ABC network. We saw Sudanese Arab militia raiding a village in Darfur region. The perpetrators came riding horse or camel. They beat the local Bantu people with stick while igniting their house made with straws and other ignitable plant materials. The unarmed indigenous people were fleeing nervously leaving their house and cattle. It was later reported that the Arab Sudanese were after the cattle, which they rounded up and take with them. Therefore, the Arab Sudanese are doing this ethnic cleansing for financial gain and at the same time squashing the rebels who despise an authoritarian government in Khartoum.

To give the readers some idea about how serious the problem is in western Sudan let me just cite some figures pertaining to refugees and effected people in Darfur region. The U.N. has said an estimated one million people have been displaced by the conflict in Darfur, and calls it the largest humanitarian emergency facing the world at this time. It also says about 120,000 refugees have crossed into neighboring Chad.

Rebels and human rights groups have accused Sudan�s government of arming militias of Arab heritage to loot and burn black African villages, and accused Khartoum of carrying out ethnic cleansing, a charge the government readily dismisses. Villagers and human rights groups accuse Khartoum of arming the janjaweed (horseback riders) to loot and burn African villages and fight a proxy war against rebels who launched a revolt last year demanding a fairer share of power and resources. The Khartoum government, however, readily denies the charge, calling the janjaweed outlaws. Western powers including U.S. should mount an aggressive diplomatic campaign to ensure that the government in Khartoum implements a promise to provide immediate, full access for aid operations to effected people, including opening the railway line so that the UN can deliver food and medicine from Port Sudan.

Regarding the present crisis in Darfur region of Western Sudan the powerful think-tank organization the International Crisis Group (ICG) said, "Urgent international action is required on several fronts if �Darfur 2004� is not to join �Rwanda 1994." The ICG invoked the memory of Rwanda 1994 as shorthand for international shame in which the Hutu tribesmen killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis in 1994 as world power did nothing to stop the ethnic cleansing in East Central African nation of Rwanda. The ICG also said, "What UN officials have already called the worst humanitarian situation in the world today could claim an additional 350,000 in the next nine months, mainly from starvation and disease."

To give credence to the Darfur genocide respected international human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) has done its investigation. On June 8, 2004, the AI gave press release in which it mentioned that incommunicado detentions, unfair trials, torture, and ill treatment of western Sudanese are the hidden side of the Darfur conflict.

Because of the wide coverage in late May 2004, international attention has focused on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur; however, the failure of the legal system, which underpins the human rights crisis, has gone practically unnoticed. The vast majority of detainees in Darfur and those arrested outside Darfur in connection with the conflict were not told the reasons for their arrest. The arrestees are not allowed access to lawyers, families, and medical assistance. They are denied their right to be brought promptly before a judge or other judicial official. Torture is widespread amongst the detainees. The AI further stated, "The failure of the justice system cannot be ignored. Injustice is not just a consequence of the conflict; it is one of its causes. These abuses, like the fighting, will worsen if immediate preventative measures aren�t taken."

Because of the wide news coverage in the western nations and also due to pleas from Amnesty International (AI), the international donors' conference on Darfur met in Geneva on June 3, 2004 to decide how to provide humanitarian help to displaced people from Western Sudan. We hope that the conflict between the rebel group (of western Sudan) and Arab militias will come to end because of outside intervention. Let us not forget that the conflict has engendered the refugee problem. Without this political conflict ending soon, the problem in Darfur region will not go away.

In summary, a regional political crisis in western Sudan had engendered a wide-scale ethnic cleansing in Western Sudan. The indigenous black people who speak local language (of Bantu family) are the victim in this conflict. The Arab militias who are loyal to Sudanese government are the aggressors. An estimated 30,000 black Sudanese have so far been killed, about a million people have left their homes; some have moved to neighboring Chad creating a massive refugee problem. If humanitarian aid does not reach these displaced people, an estimated 300,000 refugees may die because of hunger, malnutrition, and disease. Political pressure should be applied from donor countries and neighboring Muslim nations so that Khartoum government immediately stops mobilizing Arab militias to western Sudan. The refugees should be brought back to their villages as soon as possible. Lest we forget, genocide is a crime punishable by a trial in the International Court of Justice. Let the Khartoum government be aware of this. The ex-President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, is now being tried for genocide against Kosovo Albanians and committing crime against humanity. The same could apply for the head of the authoritarian regime that runs Khartoum administration. Incidentally, the government is run by an alliance of the military and the National Congress Party (NCP), formerly the National Islamic Front (NIF), which espouses an Islamist platform.


Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

[Mukto-mona] [Articles] [Recent Debate] [Special Event ] [Moderators] [Forum]