One week after Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that the killings, rapes and other atrocities committed in Darfur amount to "genocide," in mid-September the United Nations' World Health Organization issued new figures saying 6,000 to 10,000 people are dying per month there in one of Africa's worst humanitarian crises.
Powell had based his finding on a State Department survey of 1,136 refugees living in neighboring Chad. He determined that "the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility, and genocide may still be occurring."
The Sudanese government claimed that Powell's statement was "flawed, regrettable and dismaying." The government claimed the report was "based on partial observations by an American team that had never set foot in Darfur and interviewed politicized refugees in Eastern Chad."
What is Genocide and Why is it Significant?
The word genocide came out of the violence of World War II and recalls the Nazi attempt to systematically eliminate the Jewish people in the Holocaust. The official definition is the intentional destruction of a national, ethnical, religious, or racial group. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly gave genocide a legal definition in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Historically, many heads of state have been hesitant to use the label "genocide," as doing so would make them legally obliged to act to "prevent and punish" the perpetrators.
Ten years ago, the Clinton administration resisted applying the term genocide to ethnically motivated massacres in Rwanda until 800,000 people had been killed. The former president later apologized for not having acted more quickly.
However, Powell was careful to emphasize that "no new action is dictated by the determination" that genocide is occurring, a statement that has left some activist groups frustrated. "You don't declare genocide and then fail to act," Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action told the Inter Press Service News Agency.
The Conflict in Darfur
Tension in Darfur between black Africans and Arabs dates back decades. The two groups have long competed over scarce land, water and other natural resources.
However, the situation came to a head in early 2003, when two groups of black Africans from the region openly rebelled against the Sudanese government, demanding inclusion in new power-sharing arrangements.
To suppress the rebellion, the Sudanese government trained and armed Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, according to human rights groups. The Sudanese government denies supporting the Janjaweed.
To date, the violence has claimed some 5,000 lives and has forced 1.4 million people from their homes. …