Magazine article The American Prospect

Khartoum Characters: Exactly 142 Days after Bush Said the Word "Darfur," He Added a More Important Word: "Genocide." but Does the Policy Match the Sentiment?

Magazine article The American Prospect

Khartoum Characters: Exactly 142 Days after Bush Said the Word "Darfur," He Added a More Important Word: "Genocide." but Does the Policy Match the Sentiment?

Article excerpt

AS PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH sat down at a joint press conference with South African President Thabo Mbeki on June 1, he preempted a question about the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, one of the topics of the two men's White House luncheon.

It had been 142 days since Bush had uttered the word "Darfur" and this day, he spoke carefully. "This is a serious situation," Bush said. Then he made a statement that would effectively end a dispute within his administration over the true nature of the war crimes in Darfur. "As you know, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, with my concurrence, declared the situation a genocide. Our government has put a lot of money to help deal with the human suffering there."

His latter point is beyond dispute. The United States gives a substantial portion of the world's humanitarian assistance to the roughly 150 camps for the internally displaced that dot Sudan's western region. But where a government has recognized genocide, dictates of treaty law require an effort to punish and prevent war crimes--and that's an effort the Bush administration has yet to undertake.

"Declaring Darfur a genocide every six months or so leaves the administration open to criticisms that they are politicizing the use of the term," says John Prendergast of the respected non-governmental organization the International Crisis Group. "The genocide declarations appear less demonstrative of policy and more of a political ploy to be seen as being tough on the [Sudanese] regime."

Indeed, both Powell's genocide declaration--delivered September 9, 2004--and Bush's recent concurrence belie the general trend in the administration's Sudan policy. The rhetoric can occasionally be tough, but the policy behind it bears the hallmarks of a creeping rapprochement with the regime in Khartoum, which is responsible for the deaths of as many as 400,000 in Darfur and the displacement of 2 million more. And if the current trajectory of the Bush administration's Sudan policy is sustained, there's the likelihood of a new era of constructive engagement with Khartoum-pursued in the name of fighting the war on terrorism--after the Sudanese government undergoes a constitutional restructuring in July.

IN FEBRUARY 2003, MILITIA FROM non-Arab "African" Muslim tribes caught the central government of Sudan off guard with a series of attacks on military and government installations in Darfur. The non-Arab peoples of Darfur had launched an apparent rebellion against the central government long considered to be hostile to their existence. Their perception would soon prove prescient.

The Khartoum government, unable to mobilize its own military to the region, turned to local tribal leaders to put down the rebellion. The fighting force they assembled--collectively known as the Janjaweed, or bandits--would systematically target African towns and villages throughout Darfur. By the spring of 2004, with support from Sudanese air-power, several thousand people had been killed and as many as a million displaced.

As the crisis began to threaten regional stability, the highest levels at the State Department began to take serious notice. "There was a lot of discussion of Darfur at State, and there was the feeling that the U.S. could not just stand by if another genocide was occurring," says Stephanie Frease of the Washington-based NGO Coalition for International Justice.

In June 2004, Frease, a former investigator for the United Nation's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, was invited to a high-level meeting at the State Department. The ambassador-at-large for war-crimes issues and the assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor called on Frease and other NGO representatives to devise a survey tool that would help establish the scope of the atrocities in Darfur. "There was a big push ... to interview refugees to determine was actually going on in Darfur," Frease told me. …

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