Still Overdue, Still Undone
John Hagan & Wenona Rymond-Richmond
In our book, Darfur and the Crime of Genocide, we analyze evidence that goes well beyond the new charges filed against Sudanese President Al Bashir by the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. The evidence is largely developed from an important but neglected U.S. State Department interview based survey of more than a thousand Darfur refugees four years ago in Chad.
The Prosecutor reports from his investigator’s accounting that 35,000 were killed outright in Darfur, while overall 100,000 died. Five years after the onset of the mass killing and rape, the Prosecutor’s numbers are impossibly small. We present detailed and systematic evidence of no fewer than 200,000 and as many as 400,000 dead. At its peak, the death toll reached or surpassed 12,000 per month. The Prosecutor does not attempt to enumerate the rapes. We find that nearly a third of the refugees reported that rapes and sexual assaults occurred in their villages during the attacks. The Prosecutor identifies the dead as mostly from three targeted ethnic groups – the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa – which Al Bashir himself called “Zurgas.” Although the Prosecutor does not clearly explain this, the latter is a derogatory slur of pan-ethnic racial inferiority and animosity aimed at non-Arab groups generally in Sudan. The Prosecutor gives insufficient weight to the explicit racial targeting of the killing and rapes in the attacks on these groups’ villages.
Attackers shouted racial epithets to incite the frenzied ferocity of the attacks.
This was especially the case when Sudanese forces joined with Janjaweed militia in attacks, demonstrating the government’s essential racial intent and responsibility. The organizing and energizing role of race is crucial to understanding the genocidal scale of the mass atrocity in Darfur. Ignoring racial targeting fails to adequately correct a mistake made by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, which concluded in 2005 that victims of violence in Darfur were not objectively distinct from their attackers and recognizable as protected ethnic or racial groups under the Genocide Conventions. They concluded that: The various tribes that have been the objects of attacks and killings (chiefly the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa tribes) do not appear to make up ethnic groups distinct from the ethnic group to which persons or militias that attack them belong. They speak the same language (Arabic) and embrace the same religion (Muslim). In addition, also due to the measure of intermarriage, they can hardly be distinguished in their outward physical appearance from the members of tribes that allegedly attacked them (page 129 of the report).
Although this U.N. Commission conceded that victims of violence in Darfur might subjectively identify themselves as ethnically or racially distinct, it did not find evidence that the attackers intended to destroy victim groups protected on this basis in international law. This ignores the fact that racial differences, in Darfur and elsewhere, are often the subject of malicious motivational manipulation, and are no less consequential for characteristically being subjects of factual fabrication and falsification. The U.N. Commission urged the Security Council to refer the Darfur case to the International Criminal Court for investigation as a crime against humanity rather than genocide. Yet we show in our analyses that al-Bashir’s government armed and trained landless Arab groups and motivated them with racial epithets. The Arab Janjaweed groups were easily enlisted in the government’s killing.
The desert was expanding and the landless Arab groups were increasingly desperate for water and pastures for their herds. Desertification intensified a dichotomy in Darfur between the nomadic Arab herders and the more sedentary ‘non-Arab’ or ‘black African’ farmers. Differences of livelihood and language – the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa also speak their own languages and dialects – increasingly were linked to perceived skin tone, whether imagined or real, and responded to as racial.
Bashir’s government seized on both real and constructed racial divisions and incited the genocide along the resulting fault lines thus created between the competing groups. Racial hatred was explicitly used to recruit Arab militias and ramp up the genocide. There is abundant evidence that racial epithets were used to terrorize and target non-Arab Zaghawa, Fur, and Masalit villages, and to escalate the killing, rape, destruction and displacement. To underestimate the role of race in the Sudanese government’s organization of this genocide is to miss its essential place in the killing, rape, displacement and ultimate destruction of group life in Darfur – the force and scale of which is similarly underestimated by the Prosecutor’s understatement of the shear enormity of this mass atrocity.
John Hagan is MacArthur Professor at Northwestern University and the American Bar Foundation.
Wenona Rymond-Richmond is Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Their book, Darfur and the Crime of Genocide, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.