Tragedy of a People under Attack: Who is Responsible for the Failure?
Recently, two authors have published an interesting, thoughtful book titled The Scramble for Africa: Darfur””Intervention and the USA. The two authors of this book, Steven Fake and Kevin Funk, deeply analyze issues of particular significance, not only to the US public and foreign policy but also to the entire world. The foreign policy of the United States, for instance, affects almost every and each of us because of the role the US plays on the world political scene. In addition, this book derives its significance from throwing light on a cutting edge issue in international law and international relations i.e. humanitarian intervention. The book falls in nine chapters or parts. It is full of historical and current information that gives a clear background to the US involvement in Sudan, but also Africa in general. The most important point that the authors make is that the situation in Darfur illustrates our failure to turn rhetoric into concrete actions.
The Scramble for Africa traces, critiques, and analyzes not only the history of the US foreign policy and humanitarian intervention but also the history and the root causes of the Darfur crisis. In this regard, the book, to mention one example, discusses the role of Al Sadig Al Mahdi, the leader of the Umma Party of Sudan, in creating and supporting the Janjaweed militia when he in 1987 appointed Fadlalla Burma Nasir, the mastermind of the Baggara militia that fought against South Sudan, to a post in the Ministry of Defense. One could make a couple of comments on some of the Darfur/Sudan-related issues or points raised by the two authors.
The first is the genocide issue. Whenever the situation in Darfur is mentioned, the genocide debate, no wonder, arises. In this book, the authors excellently explain the possibility of establishing the dolus specialis (the special intent) to commit genocide in Darfur’s particular case. They explain that there are many factors, such as the concentration of attacks on certain ethnic communities, which could be depended upon to establish the dolus specialis. The authors, however, hint that the fact that most Darfurians were forced to leave their land demonstrates the intention was to clear the land, but not to eliminate the people. I think that many authors are distracted by this fact””the fact that many Darfuris were able to make their way out of the pogroms””from the intent of the genocidaire. There is no doubt establishing the mens rea and dolus specialis as lawyers very well know is not an easy task. In most of the cases, the criminal intention of the criminal or the suspect overlaps with other intentions that might completely change the classification of the crime or at least lessen the punishment that could be meted out. When it comes to genocide, it is always possible to claim that the intention was anything but not to kill in whole or in part a group for it is ethnical, racial, national, or religious background, as such. For example in the Rwandan case, it is possible to ask whether the Tutsis were being wiped out only because they were a distinct ethnic group or because they were a political power.
On the other hand, that many of the targeted, religions, ethnical, racial, or national groups could escape and even find a safe haven in areas controlled by the orchestrators of genocide is not a sufficient reason or justification to argue that the dolus specialis is not there. Here again, to go back to the Rwandan example, many of the Tutsis were able to escape the organized killing. Genocidaires are not stupid to the extent that they would make evidence of their intention to kill that obvious. Criminal law lawyers know and understand that criminals always do their utmost to erase any sign that would indicate a crime was committed or that a certain person or persons committed a certain crime. Political and military organizations are no doubt much more adept at ensuring that their intention is not clear. As far as the direct perpetrators of atrocity violations in Darfur is concerned, my positions has always been that the dolus specialis can be derived from the magnitude of the violations, the political agendas of the perpetrators, and the context of the conflict.
It should be noted that the dolus specialis is required to hold direct perpetrators responsible. However, the indirect perpetrators and states can be held responsible once the intention of the direct perpetrators is established. The Genocide Convention of 1948 does not speak about the special intent of states. It, instead, speaks about complicity, abetment, attempt, and direct and public incitement to commit genocide. In point of fact, article III of the Convention aims at equating the acts of genocide mentioned in article II to those detailed in article III. In addition to this, under general principles of international law, the responsibility of the state can always be established as long as the intention of the direct perpetrators is established. Only the establishment of the relationship between the state and the wrongdoers is required.
The authors also shed light on the role of the Bush administration in addressing the Darfur situation. History will tell that President Bush had paid the Darfur crisis sufficient attention, had the presidents of the other countries had the same determination to put an end to the Darfur crisis, the situation would have been completely different by the end of his second term. I believe that President Bush and human rights advocacy groups could not succeed in stopping the violations and end the crisis once and for all because of the deficiencies of the international institutions that are responsible for dealing with crises and massive human rights violations. The Save Darfur Coalition for instance has been exerting enormous efforts to end or at least help diminish the suffering of the innocent civilians of Darfur, but the decision could only be made by the diplomats of the United Nations. There are indeed many individuals and institutions to be blamed for inaction. The Save Darfur Coalition is not one of them as it is just an advocacy group. Neither is President George Bush. Both have done all what they could to raise awareness and, within the limits of their powers, they took practical steps to pressure the Khartoum-based government to change its behavior. As the authors themselves mention in the book in a different context, it was the Bush administration that played a crucial role in putting the Darfur crisis on the top of the world agenda.
The authors, citing Professor Mahmood Mamdani, argue that the US and other international powers are paying attention to the Darfur crisis while ignoring others such as the Congolese one for geopolitical interests. The rise of the Darfur crisis is related to several factors the most important of which is the direct involvement of the state, which is responsible for security, in the destruction and slaughtering operations against innocent Darfurian civilians. Here I would like to refer to an interesting article, “the crisis where? Why some world trouble spots get all the attention,” by Joshua Kurlantzick (Boston Globe, July 19, 2009). In his article, Kurlantzick, comparing between the Xinjiang province of western China and Tibet, details the reasons that help some causes get more attention than others. Having a charismatic influential leader like the Dalai Lama, powerful or organized émigré communities in the West to publicize a cause and donate money, familiarity with the West, and attraction of celebrities’ attention are the common factors that help some causes get more attention than others. Even proficiency of English, the world’s most widely spoken language, Kurlantzick argues in his article, helps in attracting attention. He adds that the limitedness of the resources in the era of a global economic crisis enforces rich nations to focus their efforts on the most acute problems or the most solvable ones. In addition, there are too many crises to address today.
Regarding Darfur, which is no exception to what Kurlantzick mentions, thousands of Darfurian and Sudanese political and human rights activists immigrated to the United States and the United Kingdom many years ago. Prominent political leaders such as Ahmed Ibrahim Diriage, Dr. Sharif Harir, and Dr. El Tigani Seisie, to mention three persons only, left Sudan in search of opportunities to promote the cause of Darfur. Even before the war started, the three of them and many others were campaigning and organizing. Some Darfurians and Sudanese in general in the Diaspora have established social and human rights organizations and associations. These organizations and associations played a significant role in pushing forward the cause of Darfur. One of the Sudanese groups that have played a central role is the Southern Sudanese communities in the United States. They went through the same tragic plight. That is why their reaction was very fast, timely, and strong. From day one, they were on the side of the cause of Darfur. They were already in touch with many advocacy groups. The late Dr. John Garang devoted a lot of his time and effort using his international relations and powerful connections to attract attention to Darfur’s crisis. Another circle of Sudanese that actively mobilized advocacy groups and policymakers in the West has been the Sudanese who were enforced to leave Sudan in the aftermath of the 1989 coup d’état. Some of them have established Sudanese human rights organizations in London and elsewhere. Before leaving Sudan, many of them were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and dismissed from their jobs, some even lost family members. This is in addition to many Darfurians who have lived in the US for 15 years and more. In Maine in the United States, I met a Darfurian who told me that he used to spend the whole night making calls and sending out e-mails to raise thousands of US dollars from Darfurians in the US for Darfur. The birth of the Save Darfur movement was simply a practical response to the call by the Sudanese, the Darfurians, and the human rights activists from all over the world to do something. Save Darfur founders have chosen to act and advocate at a time when those who criticize it were, as they are today, silent and sitting by.
As far as geopolitical and other interests of some countries are concerned, I would like to mention here that Khartoum has always been ready to give the United States opportunities to explore and exploit oil in Sudan provided that Washington stops its pressure. Furthermore, high profile Sudanese government officials visited Paris last April and met with the Foreign Minister of France in a bid to normalize relations with Paris. The objective was to secure that France eases its position vis-í -vis the ICC indictment of the Darfur war crimes suspects. They also wanted France to expel the Chairperson of a Sudan Liberation Movement faction, Abdulwahid El Nur, who lives in exile in Paris. Khartoum does all this, instead of solving the real problems that bring international pressure from Paris and Washington. It does not want to normalize relations with the suffering and vulnerable people of Darfur, but wants to do everything it can to normalize relations with powerful nations for purely opportunistic objectives. In international politics, it is quite understandable to adopt and follow a pragmatic foreign policy that secures political and economic interests for your nation. What is not understandable, though, is to seek normalization of relations with other countries and gaining of interests against your own people.
Discussing the causes of the Darfur conflict, the authors touch on the role of the split of the Islamist movement in Sudan. Citing Alex de Waal, they argue that most commentaries’ inability to observe the fact that the split of the Islamists was one of the reasons responsible for the breakout of the war “is another distortion amenable to those who wish to demonize Islam for Western audiences-no small category.” I do agree with the authors that the divide of the Islamists has played some role in the war in Darfur. But it was not the main factor, and that is probably why many activists, Sudanese and non-Sudanese, did not observe the role of this factor. In fact, the Sudan Liberation Movement was the largest and most powerful rebel organization before its fragmentation that started in 2005. It was and is still the most popular rebel organization there. The root causes of the Darfur crisis have been there even when the current leading members of the Justice and Equality Movement were part of the Sudanese government. If there is anyone who wishes to demonize Islam in the context of the Darfur conflict, it is the Sudanese government and its barbarous Janjaweed militia that kill innocent Darfurian Muslims in the name of Islam and Arab nationalism. Therefore, I think it is both misleading and wrong to make statements that Darfur activist and advocacy groups have any intention to demonize Islam.
The authors also critique the efforts of the international community to address the insecurity situation in Darfur. In this context, they criticize the reluctance of many Western countries to equip the United Nations-African Union hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID). They admit that both the Sudanese government and the African Union objected to the idea of sending a purely UN force to Darfur. From my perspective, there are two reasons why some Western countries are not willing to support UNAMID. The first is that there is no peace to be kept in the first place. The second is that states and activists that suggested the idea of sending international troops instead of hybrid ones realized from the very beginning the hybrid force would not make a different on the ground. This was the same reason that made the Sudanese government reluctantly endorse the hybrid force. If I were a president of a powerful state, I would only support workable projects and reliable peace forces. Besides its ineffectiveness for whatever reason, UNAMID, as a recent report by the Small Arms Survey demonstrates (see p. 17, bullet point 8), has become a source of stolen weapons for the militias in Darfur, which means the more advanced weapons it has the stronger the militias that create chaos in Darfur become.
It is pretty funny that the AU very often supports or defends the Sudanese government with regard to many issues and suggestions, and then asks the Darfur advocacy groups and the West to financially and technically help it put them into practice. There are many AU countries that have the financial ability to provide some assistance to the AU-UN force, but they do not. Libya, which opposed the possibility of Western intervention in Darfur as the authors mention, is an obvious example. I have always wondered why a state whose troops are not welcomed by the Sudanese or the AU authorities should be obliged to bear the responsibility of funding a force that would not do anything to protect civilians. As recent as last week on Friday November 27, UNAMID troops were bystanders while the Sudanese security forces and the Janjaweed were opening fire on a group of civilians in Deleig in West Darfur killing seven in a few minutes. This is what happens usually even in situations where one could save a life using a pistol. The memory of each and every Darfuri in Darfur is replete with such examples. Therefore, the question with regard to the infectiveness of the mission is not only one of equipment or under-funding. Some other explanations have to be found as well.
Nasredeen Abdulbari is a Sudanese lawyer based in Nairobi. He was an international law lecturer at the International and Comparative Law Department, University of Khartoum, Sudan. He can be reached at: [email protected].