If the tsunami and earthquake tragedies in Asia
brought out the best in both Canadians and our government, the
response to the continuing horrors in Sudan's western province
of Darfur is evidence of an indifference that suggests the
Canadian government has forgotten the important lessons of the
The recent declaration in Sudan's capital by
all three members of the prime minister's task force that the
murders in Darfur did not qualify as genocide is only the most
recent indication. Ambassador Robert Fowler, the government's
issue manager, reportedly downplayed the entire situation by
asserting that it is simplistic to blame the Sudanese government
for what continues to occur in Darfur. Both messages were
presumably intended to convince Canadians that the ongoing
crisis is not really as serious as many of us think.
We certainly live in unfortunate times. Two
well-researched books were published very recently about this
government-created catastrophe, which was escalating even as the
books reached bookstores. Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide by
Gerard Prunier of the University of Paris, who also wrote about
Rwanda's experience in 1994, is clear that the mass killings,
gang rapes and forced-starvation deaths of displaced Darfurians
-- being "Africans" -- at the hands of "Arab" janjaweed
militias, are continuing. Another brutal raid by 400 janjaweed
and government of Sudan helicopter gunships on three villages in
West Darfur occurred only a few weeks ago.
The Ambiguous Genocide is good at
disentangling complex truths from oversimplified and usually
partisan fictions. It explains, for example, how, while
virtually all six million or so Darfurians are black and Muslim,
the nomadic community came to be called "Arabs," while farmers
are called "Africans." A preventable famine in 1984, systematic
blatant discrimination against Africans by Khartoum officials in
favour of Arabs, decades of marginalization of the province --
all had created a time bomb in Darfur by the late 1990s.
The outside world ignored the growing turmoil
in the province until late 2003, when the United Nations head of
emergency relief, Jan Egeland, declared that the humanitarian
situation had become "one of the worst in the world." His UN
colleague then in Darfur, Mukesh Kapila, who had observed
happenings on the ground in Rwanda earlier, added that the only
difference between the two situations was the number of deaths.
In mid-2003, Khartoum unleashed its janjaweed,
which played a role strikingly similar to what the Interhamwe
did in Rwanda, to crush all "non-Arab" Darfurians with the help
of its bombers and gunship helicopters. A common method was to
surround a village, rape the women and girls (as young as
eight), steal the cattle, burn the homes and shoot anyone who
couldn't flee. Prunier: "Small children, being light, were often
tossed back in the burning homes."
Julie Flint and Alex de Waal (of Harvard
University's Global Equity Initiative), who wrote the second
book, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War, have done research,
together or separately, on Sudan for fully two decades. They
document carefully how successive governments of Sudan began as
early as 1985 to deploy Arab militias in the 21-year North-South
civil war. The same tactics of terrible destruction have now
been applied systematically for more than two years across
Short History documents the detailed planning,
creation and control of the regime over the various militias.
Musa Hilal, head of the janjaweed in Darfur, has made it clear
that the goal of his political masters in Khartoum and himself
is to "empty (Darfur) of African tribes." With an estimated
400,000 African Darfurians dead of unnatural causes -- probably
about half murdered -- since April 2003, it's difficult to see
how any impartial body would not find a deliberate violation of
the UN convention on genocide.
The UN commission of inquiry, though declining
to reach this conclusion, at least had the courage to note that
between 700 and 2,000 villages across Darfur were destroyed in a
"nightmare of violence," and to find that the widespread and
systematic pattern "may amount to crimes against humanity."
Whether war crimes, genocide or crimes against
humanity, Khartoum is continuing to use national sovereignty as
a shield for mass murder against the African community in its
western province. Governments such as Canada's, following the
unprincipled lead of others, declare the regime innocent of
really heinous acts and can thus continue to do nothing
effective to stop the killing. What happened to our federal
government's responsibility-to-protect principle when hundreds
of thousands of Darfuri villagers desperately need it? Or to our
much-cited human-security policy?
Despite some rhetoric critical of U.S.
President George W. Bush's Sudan policy coming from Robert
Fowler and the two other Canadians temporarily in Khartoum,
Canada's own role is little different in substance. The U.S.
assistant secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, also in Sudan's
capital this month, completely mischaracterized Darfur as a
In reality, of course, it is a
government-directed campaign to wipe out the African community
Canada's own policy in Darfur represents no
visible Canadian value.