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US lack understanding of Darfur crisis, unprepared to halt genocide by Eric Reeves

11/12/2005 4:50 pm

US lack understanding of Darfur crisis, unprepared to halt genocide
Monday 7 November 2005.
"[Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer] cautioned against dwelling too much on the current level of violence [in Darfur]" --- Washington Post, November 4, 2005

By Eric Reeves

Nov 7, 2005 Despite a series of well-publicized visits to Sudan by officials from the Bush administration State Department, and despite protestations by US ambassador to the UN John Bolton that "the situation in Darfur is of highest concern to President Bush," there is growing evidence that the Bush administration lacks understanding of the crisis in Darfur and is unprepared to commit the various resources required to halt ongoing genocide. Coupled with the neglect of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Khartoum and the southern Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, this represents a fundamental failure in Bush administration foreign policy. The north/south peace agreement (January 9, 2005) seems to have marked the end, rather than the beginning, of truly effective engagement with the difficult issues in Sudan---all that will secure a meaningful peace for this tortured land.

Bush administration policy toward Sudan is increasingly marked by dishonesty, incompetence, ignorance, and expediency---and the evidence is overwhelming. Easy words of "concern" and "priority" aside, the Bush administration is allowing for the slow collapse of the CPA, even as ethnically-targeted human destruction again accelerates in Darfur. The State Department is willing to appease rather than confront the National Islamic Front-dominated government in Khartoum over its manifest bad faith and refusal to honor a wide range of commitments in both southern Sudan and Darfur.

To be sure, there is a stunning silence from liberal political voices in the US (see a compelling analysis by New Republic editor Richard Just ["Blind Spot: Liberalism and Darfur"], November 4, 2005, at And voices in Europe are also deeply, culpably silent; public opinion outside of Britain is appalling in its acceptance of genocide that happens to occur outside of Europe itself. Just as dismayingly, international opinion seems not even to expect outrage over genocide in Darfur from the Arab world, the Organization of Islamic Conference, or any number of other important international actors. Even Western human rights groups, while deploring the atrocities in Darfur and demanding greater security, cannot bring themselves to speak honestly of what is required in the immediate near-term to protect millions of vulnerable civilians.

In the wake of such shameful public and governmental indifference, Darfur has been abandoned to a fundamentally incapable African Union (AU) observer force. International willingness to accept such conspicuous incapacity inevitably leads Khartoums genocidaires to believe that there is no greater international will in seeing that the terms of the CPA for southern Sudan are respected. In short, we are witness to mutually enforcing failures of will and commitment on the part of the Western democracies---and the number of impending victims throughout Sudan is too great to bear easy contemplation.

The world is failing Sudan. Even so, that failure is most significantly an American one, if only because the US now sends the most powerful signal of appeasement and accommodation to Khartoum.


In a remarkable dispatch filed by the Washington Posts Glenn Kessler (November 4, 2005 at, we catch several important glimpses of State Department failings. Particularly revealing are comments and testimony by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer.

This writer has recently (October 27, The New Republic [on-line], called attention to the inexplicable and disgraceful decision by the State Department to upgrade Sudans status on the issue of slavery and human trafficking---from "tier three" (the least favorable rating, assigned to governments that fail to meet international standards in responding to human trafficking) to "tier two" (a category comprising countries, including Switzerland, that have demonstrated a commitment to addressing their problems). As recently as June of this year, John Miller, the senior adviser on human trafficking in the State Department, highlighted Sudans well-deserved standing as a "tier-three" country. Many slaves from the countrys south continue to be held in the north, and the Darfur region has seen rampant abductions as well. Despite all this, on the issue of slavery, Sudan is now regarded by the State Department as no more problematic than Switzerland.

In Congressional testimony on this particular issue, Frazer attempted to justify the decision:

"Testifying before Congress this week, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer said the administration decided to move Sudan from the lowest level---known as tier 3---to tier 2 watch list because the Sudanese government presented [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice with a plan to end sexual violence against women when she visited Khartoum in July. But the plan, which calls for a public campaign against violence and the prosecution of rapists, was actually conceived by [Deputy Secretary of State Robert] Zoellick, who presented it to the government two weeks before Rices trip." (Washington Post, November 4, 2005)

In other words, in a monstrous bit of circularity, Frazer was testifying to the Congress that the National Islamic Front-dominated government has been removed from its "tier 3" standing on slavery because of a plan, presented by Khartoum to Rice, that originated with the Secretary of States own deputy. It is difficult to imagine a more grotesquely incompetent justification for a significant change in policy.

What is the status of Khartoums "public campaign against sexual violence"? How is the NIF doing in its "prosecution of rapists"? And if the issues of rape and sexual violence are the basis for upgrading Sudans standing with respect to slavery and human trafficking, just how much improvement have we seen on the ground in Darfur?

As every single recent human-rights report has stressed, a "climate of impunity" continues to reign in Darfur, and unpunished sexual violence against women and girls is the hallmark atrocity within this terrible ethos. Moreover, the Khartoum government---despite its cynical recycling of the Zoellick "plan" on sexual violence---remains in complete denial about the reality of rape in Darfur:

"The chairman of the special criminal court for the Darfur states, Mahmoud Abkam, said the rape cases which the court was looking into were individual cases. He said the court had not found anything on the ground about the cases which Western media always speak about. Abkam stressed that even if the court went back to the files of the cases in al-Fasher and Nyala there were no testimonies which indicated that rape was a result of a planned and systematic group act." (Sudan Tribune, October 24, 2005)

In fact, as authoritative reports from Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) and human rights investigators make decisively clear, rape (including pervasive gang-rape) and other forms of sexual violence are and have been used as a systematic weapon of war throughout Darfur (see extended analysis by this writer at MSF offered all too many painfully compelling examples in its clinically informed study, "The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur" (Amsterdam, March 8, 2005). Tellingly, in response to the report, the NIF regime last spring arrested the two senior MSF humanitarian officials in Sudan.

Despite the continuing, well-documented realities of rape and sexual violence in Darfur, including ethnically-motivated sexual violence, Assistant Secretary of State Frazer attempted to justify the decision to upgrade Khartoums standing on slavery and human trafficking simply on the basis of a US-generated "plan" to address the terrible realities confronting many hundreds of thousands of innocent girls and women.

This is political and diplomatic incompetence of the first order.


Perhaps it is then easier to understand the painful ignorance, or supreme callousness, that lay behind another statement by Frazer on Darfur, also reported by the Washington Post:

"Frazer cautioned against dwelling too much on the current level of violence [in Darfur]. In an interview, she said this is a long process that over time has begun to show progress. If you look at a snapshot at one moment, you will miss that dynamic movement, she said. The fighting among rebel forces, for example, is one snapshot but she said that was a not uncommon effect of the end of a war as groups jockeyed for position in negotiations." (Washington Post, November 4, 2005)

It is clearly an understatement to say that Frazer has no gift for appropriate metaphor; for of course no one is arguing that we simply view a "snapshot" of current realities in Darfur. On the contrary, the emphasis among humanitarians and human rights groups has consistently been on how current realities---what we see in any comprehensive "picture" of Darfur---grow out of more than two and a half years of massive, ethnically-targeted human destruction. "The current level of violence" that Frazer disingenuously suggests is primarily "jockeying" among the insurgency movements remains very largely the responsibility of Khartoum and its brutal Janjaweed militia proxy forces. Significantly, Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick was equally disingenuous in seeking this week to blame violence in Darfur on the insurgents: "[Zoellick said,] Darfur rebel groups are fighting among themselves. Any spark could set off a wildfire" (Reuters, November 4, 2005).

The rebels are indeed responsible for a growing amount of Darfurs violenceand, unforgivably, violence against humanitarian targets. But it is deeply dishonest to suggest that Khartoum and the Janjaweed do not continue to bear much greater responsibility for violence and insecurity.

Even the "banditry" that increasingly serves as a catch-all term for smaller-scale violence in Darfur has been strongly linked to Khartoum, both by humanitarian organizations and by Juan Mendez, UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide. In speaking of the many attacks in West Darfur over the past two months, attacks that have also been frequent elsewhere in Darfur, Mendez says:

"Though government [National Islamic Front] officials attribute these attacks to banditry and common crime, their coordinated planning and apparent use of intelligence to prepare the attacks suggest a decree of organization and fire-power that is consistent with Janjaweed activity, albeit under a different name." ("Report of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide: Visit to Darfur, Sudan," October 4, 2005, Paragraph 19; available at genocide/docs/mendez-report.pdf).

The Janjaweed have of course been repeatedly proven to operate in coordination with Khartoums military and intelligence services (most recently in an extensive indictment issued by the AU on October 1, 2005). Mendez continues:

"With regard to the selection of targets and the time and location of attacks, attackers may have informants within Government of Sudan authorities on the movement of [humanitarian] organizations." (Paragraph 23)

Khartoums complicity in attacks on humanitarian personnel and operations is more than strongly suggested here. Even so, we may be certain that violence on the part of Khartoums regular military forces and the Janjaweed continues to be most consequential---does most to create the current intolerable levels of human insecurity in Darfur. In particular, large-scale attacks on villages, by the Janjaweed as well as by Khartoums regular forces, continue in large numbers. An especially brutal attack on Tama, South Darfur has recently been highlighted by the Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT) and a number of humanitarian workers on the ground in Darfur. What we must bear in mind is that the attack on Tama simply happens to have been chronicled (in part because of its proximity to Nyala): most such attacks go unreported or unnoticed in the vast expanses of rural Darfur.

On October 23, 2005, Janjaweed militia attacked Tama village, 22 kilometers north of Nyala (capital of South Darfur). Over thirty-five innocent villagers were killed and more than 200 wounded in this extremely serious attack. 250 households were displaced to Amki Sara, and the Janjaweed continue to occupy Tama. The scale and the brutality of the violence in this attack tell us far too much about current conditions on the ground in Darfur.

In an attack even closer to Nyala itself, Abu Odam village was assaulted by Janjaweed on October 18, 2005; "one villager, Adam Mahmoud Hamid (37yrs), belonging to the Dajo tribe, was killed and approximately 50 cattle were looted" (SOAT, Human Rights Alert, October 25, 2005). Abu Odam is less than 8 kilometers northeast of Nyala, and this attack only confirms the growing sense on the part of humanitarian workers that access to needy civilians is contracting throughout Darfur. West Darfur has already seen a closing of all roads out of the capital el-Geneina because of insecurity; the same may now be happening in Nyala and South Darfur.

Radia Achouri, spokeswoman for the UN Mission in Sudan (Khartoum) declared on October 12, 2005---before the above attacks---that "almost two-thirds of the areas of operation of the humanitarian community in South Darfur is considered hazardous for the safety of humanitarian personnel and have been declared no-go areas" (AP, Agence France-Presse, October 12, 2005). South Darfur is the most populous of the three Darfur states, with approximately half the population of the region.

At the same time, Niels Scott, a UN humanitarian official, said "there were 300,000 refugees in West Darfur and 350,000 in South Darfur affected by the security situation" (Reuters, October 12, 2005). Area coordinator for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in West Darfur, Andy Pendleton, declared:

"With each passing day we are in a race against time to get assistance to over half a million people to whom we have lost regular access. The situation is desperate, more desperate than ever before, [Pendleton] warned." (UN IRIN [el-Geneina], October 12, 2005

When US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer "cautions against dwelling too much on the current level of violence in Darfur," she is in effect declaring that these threats to humanitarian access are not unsurpassably urgent. It is difficult to conceive of a more disgraceful response to these terrible realities.


Frazers flippant assessment of current violence in Darfur is even more shocking if we look at deteriorating food security throughout the region. Of greatest immediate consequence is the threat of violence against African agriculturalists who are desperately seeking to reap a harvest, now and over the next six or so weeks. Though the harvest will be only a fraction of what might normally be expected, it offers a critical opportunity to create desperately needed foodstocks. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has played an enormously important role in providing food throughout Darfur, has become the leading voice in warning of the threat posed by increasing violence:

"The ICRC is warning that rising violence is threatening food security in Sudans Darfur region. [Paul Conneally, spokesman for the ICRC,] said, Traditional harvest time in Darfur is in November. And for a number of months leading up to this crucial time the ICRC has been supporting rural communities with agricultural seeds and tools and even training in order to boost agricultural production and decrease the dependency on food aid. Now, unfortunately, from about mid-September in Darfur up until the current day, there has been a noticeable increase in armed confrontations as well as banditry, which has caused further displacement of the population, particularly in rural areas. And of course they would be the people very much engaged in farming and agricultural production." (Voice of America, October 28, 2005)

Reuters reported (October 27, 2005):

"The escalating violence is a threat to the much-anticipated November harvest and has further hampered the seasonal migration of livestock, [the ICRC] said in a statement. This could have disastrous consequences for the recovery efforts of the last 18 monthsincluding an extensive ICRC agricultural assistance programme---and intensify the cycle of dependency on humanitarian aid."

Nor is the ICRC immune from attack itself, raising enormous concerns about the ability of this key organization to continue its present level of operations in rural Darfur:

"Armed men seized two vehicles belonging to the ICRC in Sudans Darfur region but harmed none of the nine-member aid team. [ ] ICRC spokesman in Sudan, Paul Conneally, said the nine workers were left unharmed on the side of the road. This is a cause for concern because ICRC is not normally a victim to such banditry and looting and there has been an overall increase in violence and instability in Darfur since mid-September." (AP, November 2, 2005)

We must wonder whether the State Departments Frazer believes that the ICRC, operating on the ground in Darfur rather than in the miasma of Foggy Bottom, is "dwelling too much on the current level of violence in Darfur."

The fragility of the food situation in Darfur simply cannot be overstated. Though the UNs World Food Program (WFP) has worked heroically to provide food for the people of Darfur---dispatching an extraordinary 57,000 metric tons of food into Darfur in October---this will not benefit people who cannot be reached because of insecurity. Nor is there any guarantee that amidst such high and increasing levels of violence the WFP will be able to sustain its operations: "The WFP says that each day a food truck is looted, fired upon or harassed" (The Scotsman [dateline: Zam Zam IDP camp, North Darfur], November 5, 2005).

The population of Darfur as a whole is certainly much less food secure than it was last year. Indeed, the largest economic consequence of genocide in Darfur is reflected in a UN nutritional assessment ("Food Security and Nutrition Survey, September 2005), reported in the most recent UN Darfur Humanitarian Profile (No. 18, reflecting conditions as of September 1, 2005):

"Resident [as opposed to displaced---ER] households have become more impoverished over the last year, with only 20% having reasonable food consumption from their own means, in comparison to 46% in 2004." (Page 6)

Given the larger population data presented, the UN report indicates that approximately 90% of all affected resident households and registered IDPs in Darfur (now almost equal populations) have been brought to the point of at least partial food dependency. These are the people UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres had in mind following his recent assessment mission to Darfur:

"Even our [humanitarian] staff can barely move. There is no security. What we are witnessing on the ground is a very serious deterioration." (Reuters, October 21, 2005)

"[Guterres warned] that the cease-fire [Darfur] is unraveling, which could lead to a catastrophic increase in deaths in coming weeks and spread instability in sub-Saharan Africa. [ ] People are dying, and dying in large numbers." (Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2005)

The more closely we look at actual assessments of violence on the ground in Darfur, the more viciously preposterous is Frazers warning not to "dwell too much on the current level of violence in Darfur."


Given the growing disposition of the Bush administration State Department to regard the NIF-dominated government in Khartoum as one it can "deal with," it is important to bear in mind the role the NIF plays in orchestrating violence in Darfur. Certainly Janjaweed attacks continue to be conducted in concert with Khartoums regular military forces. The AU, though incapable of providing security for the vast majority of civilians in Darfur, or even investigating all reported attacks on civilians, has recently begun to speak more authoritatively:

"On 28 September [2005] some reportedly 400 Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback went on the rampage in Arusharo, Acho and Gozmena villages in West Darfur. Our reports also indicate that the day previous, and indeed on the actual day of the attack, Government of Sudan helicopter gunships were observed overhead. This apparent coordinated land and air assault gives credence to the repeated claim by the rebel movements of collusion between the Government of Sudan forces and the Janjaweed/Arab militia. This incident [ ] was confirmed not only by our investigators but also by workers of humanitarian agencies and NGOs in the area." (Transcript of AU Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibes press conference, Khartoum, October 1, 2005)

This military operation included an attack on the completely undefended Aro Sharow camp for approximately 5,000 displaced persons. Kingibe continued:

"The following day, a clearly premeditated and well rehearsed combined operation was carried out by the Government of Sudan military and police at approximately 11am in the town of Tawilla and its IDP camp in North Darfur. The Government of Sudan forces used approximately 41 trucks and 7 land cruisers in the operation which resulted in a number of deaths, massive displacement of civilians. [ ] During the attack, thousands from the township and the IDP camp and many humanitarian workers were forced to seek refuge near the AU camp for personal safety and security."

In assessing the "joint operation" referred to here, it is important to remember that the "police" in Darfur are increasingly Janjaweed who have been incorporated in order to satisfy international "demands" for an increased security presence. Thus it is not at all surprising that the "police" would coordinate with Khartoums regular military forces in an attack on Tawilla and its IDP camp. Indeed, by recycling the Janjaweed into the "police" forces in Darfur, it is much easier for Khartoum to keep them well supplied militarily. All the automatic weaponry used by the Janjaweed, including machine-guns mounted on Toyota Land Cruisers, were originally supplied by Khartoum and require continual ammunition re-supply and replacement. The only source in the region for such material support is Khartoums military.

This is the context in which to understand the violent attacks in Darfur that are so often reported in the most attenuated fashion, even as the human destruction and suffering consequent upon such violence are scarcely imaginable---here briefly noted in the UN "sit rep" of October 9, 2005:

"West Darfur: On October 1 [2005] a group of armed tribesman attacked Burunga, a village located northwest of Abata (41 km northeast of Zalingei). Ten civilians were reportedly killed and six injured. On October 3 or 4 [2005] armed men attacked and looted (livestock) from the village of Rijil Mur. As a result, the local population moved towards Abu Suroug IDP camp."

"South Darfur: On October 2 [2005] armed tribesman attacked the village of El Hegleig, followed by an attack on village of El Diraiga. SLA mobilized its forces and launched a counter-attack."

"North Darfur: On October 1 [2005] 400 armed men in uniform supported by armed tribesmen, attacked the village of Um Bulli (10 km east of Kabkabiya). Reportedly houses were looted and torched, and 900 camels stolen. The number of casualties and injured were not confirmed. The October 4 [2005] attack on the villages of Kabga and Mazood (roughly halfway between Zam Zam camp and Shangil Tobayi) reportedly led to more [Government of Sudan armed forces] and SLM/A clashes. Many houses were burnt, two civilians were wounded, and up to 100 families from both villages have fled and are hiding in the bush."

This is but one "sit rep," another issued by the UN every several days. Though evidently invisible to State Department officials such as Jendayi Frazer, this ongoing violence deeply threatens not only civilians and their efforts at food production, but humanitarian relief as well. It is certainly the consensus among UN officials and humanitarian workers that their sphere of action and accessibility is gradually shrinking. Further, most aid officials expect that the next six weeks will see significantly increased levels of violence in direct connection with the harvest, as well as an outgrowth of frustration on the part of nomadic herders who find that their traditional migration routes have been blocked by violence or threats from the SLA/M.


As dismayingly ignorant as Frazers comments on violence are, they are more than matched by her comments on current diplomacy to end conflict in Darfur:

"Frazer told the [Congressional] panel: The US is on the right track and our strategy is moving forward. We believe we have the tools in place to maintain momentum and influence the parties to make the CPA work and to negotiate an end to the conflict in Darfur." (Washington File [State Department publication], November 2, 2005)

What tools are in place to "negotiate an end to the conflict in Darfur"? Negotiations in Abuja (Nigeria) have collapsed without progress. Without an effective internationalizing of the peace process, it is impossible to see a way forward. Roger Winter, special representative of the Deputy Secretary of State, has rightly called Abuja a "dysfunctional negotiating process" (AP, October 4, 2005). Here a major problem is the conspicuous political weakness of the AU itself, not just the parties to the negotiations (which, significantly, do not include the Janjaweed, even as there can be no peace or security in Darfur without a disarming of the Janjaweed).

Revealingly, the AU Peace and Security Commission has still not demanded of Khartoum a meaningful mandate for civilian protection in Darfur. The AU has been unable to secure from Khartoum permission to take delivery on 105 armored personnel carriers currently in Senegal (where they were delivered by Canada in August). And most shockingly, the AU has not yet moved the next AU plenary conference (January 2006) from its presently scheduled site: Khartoum. Under current protocol, the hosting government becomes the next chair of the AU; this means that unless the AU changes venues, Khartoums genocidaires will be in line to chair the AU. In other words, the very men responsible for genocide in Darfur will also be responsible for security in Darfur; they will also be responsible for overseeing negotiating efforts. It is impossible to conceive a more perverse---or disastrous---political outcome for the fledgling AU.

And yet no African nation has publicly declared that this state of affairs is intolerable. Khartoums chairing of the AU is gradually becoming a fait accompli. There are evidently expedient denials of this from within the US State Department, but no explanation of why this should not be a pressing public concern for the international community.

There is more bad news for the peace process. Following a recent conference inside Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) elected a new leadership, including former Secretary-General Minni Arcua Minnawi as Chairman---a move that will certainly further splinter an already badly divided movement. Former Chairman Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur boycotted the conference, having lost most of his support on the ground in Darfur; but he still retains much international support and has been peculiarly favored by the AU in Abuja as the singular interlocutor for the SLA/M. Compounding the difficulty facing the insurgency movements in presenting a united negotiating front, Minnawi has an especially poor relationship with the Justice and Equality Movement. Together these developments virtually guarantee continued diplomatic stalemate, with Khartoum the beneficiary of a genocidal status quo.


Like its European allies, like human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, and like all too many others in the international community, the Bush administration dishonestly pretends that the AU has the capacity to provide human security in Darfur. But the AU is by all serious military accounts under-manned, under-equipped, without the logistical or transport capacity required to operate in Darfur, increasingly inefficient, often poorly motivatedand operating without a meaningful mandate for civilian protection. In the strikingly honest assessment of the UNs Guterres (following his recent Darfur assessment mission):

"The AU force cannot effectively protect the people of Darfur...and in some cases even themselves, [Guterres] said, likening the task facing the fledgling force to placing one policeman in London and asking him to stop all crime there." (Reuters, October 21, 2005)

More circumspectly, the International Crisis Group recently reported:

"It is common thinking in Brussels that increased troop numbers in the AU Mission in Sudan have been accompanied by declining efficiency. One EU official claimed the mission is operating at 40-50% capacity, while another asserted the mission conducted fewer patrols in September than in April and May when it had a least 2,000 fewer troops." ("The EU/AU Partnership in Darfur: Not Yet a Winning Combination," [Brussels] October 25, 2005)

Despairing of AU capacity, UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland is urgently calling for a force "three times" the current AU deployment---a force level clearly far beyond AU abilities. (See also extended analysis by this writer at

Despite all this, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick this week spoke with d

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