Sudan’s Shame

by Jeff Fleischer

(Mother Jones, July 21, 2004)


With the April 8 cease-fire still ignored, the Sudanese government of Omar Hassan Bashir has again promised it will take steps to end what the U.N. has labeled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But two new reports strongly suggest the government itself is actually behind the “ethnic cleansing” of blacks in the Darfur region by Arab “Janjaweed” militias.

For well over a year the Sudanese government has denied charges that it supports the Janjaweed. But survivors of the violence have regularly described the military and militias working side-by-side. In a briefing paper released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch uses documents obtained from the civilian administration in Darfur to back up these claims.

“Numerous reports from Human Rights Watch and other sources have described the ‘hand-in-glove’ manner in which the government in Khartoum and the nomadic ethnic militias known as the Janjaweed have operated together to combat a rebel insurgency in Darfur. Hundreds of eyewitnesses and victims of attacks have testified to the close coordination between government forces and their militia partners in the conflict. Militia leaders and members have been supplied with arms, communications equipment, salaries and uniforms by government officials and have participated in joint ground attacks on civilians with government troops, often with aerial bombing and reconnaissance support from government aircraft.”

Human Rights Watch points to a Feb. 13 directive telling security forces in Darfur to “allow the activities of the mujahedeen.” The document continues:

“We also highlight the importance of non-interference so as not to question their authorities and to overlook minor offences by the mujahedeen against civilians who are suspected members of the rebellion.”

The damning paper trail also includes a Feb. 9 directive from Bashir calling for the recruitment and mobilization of “loyalist tribes” in an area that soon saw a marked increase in Janjaweed activity; and a November 2003 report detailing a visit to a Janjaweed camp by the governor of South Danfur and a federal Interior minister, who asked the militia to “recruit 300 knights for Khartoum.”

Peter Takirambudee, executive director of HRW’s Africa division, summed up the report’s findings:

“It’s absurd to distinguish between the Sudanese government forces and the militias – they are one. These documents show that militia activity has not just been condoned, it’s been specifically supported by Sudan government officials.”

Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Ismail dismissed the report, saying, “It is nothing new of this organization to take up this role that raises suspicion.” But HRW isn’t alone in its conclusions. On Monday, Amnesty International released a 51-page report on the use of rape as a weapon in Sudan, which places much of the blame on the government:

“In addition to the military and logistical support and the impunity that it provides to the Janjaweed, the Sudanese government has used a policy of repression to deal with the problems of Darfur. It has engaged in arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, ‘disappearances’ and torture in order to punish human rights activists, lawyers, leaders and members of communities in Darfur. The Sudanese government has also used unfair and summary trials, using confessions sometimes extracted under torture without the right to defence, and applied cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, such as amputations, floggings and the death penalty.”

Amnesty’s report, which includes firsthand accounts from abused women in Darfur, also points out how the government allows the Janjaweed to flout Sudanese law. It points to the penalties for rape in the country’s penal code, which include a hundred lashes and up to 10 years in prison – or the death sentence if the victim is married.

Bashir’s government claims it is taking steps to keep its earlier promises to enforce peace in the region. On Monday, a court there handed down the first verdicts against militia members, 10 of whom were sentenced to six years in jail and cross amputation (the amputation of a hand and foot from opposite sides of the body).

But those prosecutions, which only came after threats of U.N. sanctions, are just a small step, and do little to solve the overall crisis. Writing in Tuesday’s London Guardian, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the government has a long way to go before fulfilling its promises:

“Over the past several days since I visited Darfur, the government of Sudan has made some announcements with respect to getting the Janjaweed militias under control, allowing humanitarian aid to flow more freely, ending the problem of getting visas for aid workers, and stopping support to those who are intent on violence in Darfur.

“We are closely monitoring the government’s response to the actions we requested. While the government has taken some positive steps, violence is continuing, and we have not yet seen a dramatic turnaround of the situation.”

Given the strong evidence tying the Bashir govenrment to the militias, it seems doubtful that such a turnaround will happen, absent an international intervention.

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