U.S. urges U.N. to halt Sudan `genocide'

`The world cannot ignore the suffering of more than 1 million people,' Bush says

September 10, 2004|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The United States, in a rare move, declared yesterday that forces backed by Sudan's Arab-controlled government committed genocide against black villagers in the violence-racked region of Darfur, and called on the United Nations to investigate the atrocities and hold Sudan accountable.

President Bush, in a statement released last night, said that as a result of a U.S. investigation into large-scale killings, rapes, destruction of African villages and the blocking of aid, "we have concluded that genocide has taken place in Darfur."

The president urged other nations "to work with us to prevent and suppress acts of genocide," partly by backing a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would strengthen an African monitoring force and bar Sudanese military aircraft from Darfur.

"The world cannot ignore the suffering of more than 1 million people," Bush said.

Earlier, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the intent of the Sudanese military and Arab militias, called Janjaweed, in committing the atrocities was to destroy an ethnic group, and told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "genocide may still be occurring."

Officials and human rights experts said this might be the first time the United States has made a finding of genocide while the offenses were still in progress.

The conclusion is likely to spur increased U.S. and international pressure on Sudan to prevent further bloodshed and to cooperate with a monitoring force put together by the African Union, which the United States hopes will be strengthened.

But Powell said neither the United States, because of the war in Iraq, nor Europe is prepared to send military forces to pacify the troubled region, which borders Chad.

"When you take a look at Darfur, the size of the place, the very rugged and isolated nature of the country, and what would the mission be of such forces coming from outside into a sovereign government, it's a daunting mission to contemplate," Powell said. The committee chairman, Republican Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, called the idea of U.S. military action "a nonstarter."

Powell said the United States will propose that the next Security Council resolution on Sudan demand a U.N. investigation "into all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law that have occurred in Darfur, with a view to ensuring accountability."

Sudanese officials denied the U.S. accusation, and Sudan's deputy foreign minister, Najeeb al-Khair Abdel-Wahab said: "We don't think this kind of attitude can help the situation in Darfur."

"We expect the international community to assist the process that is taking place in Abuja and not put oil on the fire," he told the Associated Press in the Nigerian capital.

The U.N. Genocide Convention of 1948 does not require a specific response but allows countries to push for action by the United Nations "that they consider appropriate." While the United States has imposed economic sanctions on Khartoum, it is unlikely to get Security Council support for tough penalties such as an embargo on oil imports from Sudan.

According to the convention, genocide occurs when members of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group are killed or forced to suffer serious hardship with the intent "to destroy [the group], in whole or in part."

The Darfur crisis began in February 2003 with rebel attacks against local forces of the government in Khartoum, which is controlled by ethnic Arabs. Government forces retaliated by arming, equipping, paying and sometimes joining with Arab militias in attacks on villages of the Zaghawa, Fur and Massalit ethnic groups.

U.S. investigators found "a consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities," Powell said.

A State Department report released yesterday described various types of attacks, including men being shot, knifed and abducted, women and girls being raped or abducted, aerial bombardment, strafing by helicopter gunships, destruction of livestock and looting of villages.

The department's investigation involved 1,100 interviews with Darfur refugees, many now in neighboring Chad, over a six-week period in July and August. Many of the refugees indicated that government forces and Janjaweed militiamen were collaborating in systematic attacks against non-Arabs. Many of the refugees heard attackers hurl racial epithets. One recalled hearing, "Slaves, run! Leave the country. ... Why are you not leaving this area for Arab cattle to graze."

Unlike the long-running conflict in southern Sudan, in which the United States and other nations have tried to broker a peace settlement, the Darfur strife in western Sudan is based solely on ethnicity. Both the African villagers and the Arab militias are predominantly Muslim. In the south, government forces have been fighting a population composed mainly of Christians and Animists.

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