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UN backtracks over ´genocide´ in Sudan (TELEGRAPH UK) Alec Russell 02/02/05)Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/02/02/wsudan02.xml DAILY TELEGRAPH DAILY TELEGRAPH Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Attempts to tackle the atrocities in Darfur have raised emotions but confused the issue. Alec Russell reports

American and United Nations officials are tying themselves up in knots over the use of the word genocide. The "g word" was at the centre of the West´s biggest foreign policy debacle in the post-Cold War era in 1994 when it stood by as extremists in Rwanda´s dominant Hutu tribe tried to wipe out the minority Tutsis.

Then, even as machete-wielding killers gloried in the slaughter and boasted of their plan to exterminate every last Tutsi, western officials bent over backwards to avoid using the emotive word genocide, fearing it would trigger calls for intervention.

Now, little more than 10 years later, officials are again writhing over the use of the word. Once again the dispute is over a bloody war in sub-Saharan Africa that means little to most Americans. Only this time American officials find themselves accused of erring in the other direction - after branding the conflict in Sudan´s Darfur region last year a "genocide" they are now having to backtrack.

A UN commission investigating the fighting in Darfur has concluded that the government in Khartoum and state-sponsored Arab militias engaged in "widespread and systematic abuse" that may constitute crimes against humanity, but that they did not pursue a policy of genocide.

The report makes clear that the Janjaweed militias have waged a brutal programme of ethnic cleansing, primarily against black African tribes. Since the worst violence began in February 2003 the commission concludes that 70,000 people have been killed and more than 1.8 million people have been driven from their homes.

The five-man UN panel urges war crimes prosecutions against those suspected of the worst abuses. It also stresses that the finding that genocide was not committed should not detract from "the gravity of the crimes", some of which may be "no less serious and heinous than genocide".

But it does also raise questions over the Bush administration´s emotive use last year of the word genocide, which appears to have been as political - albeit not as cynical - as the Clinton administration´s failure to use it over Rwanda.

In the summer of 1994 American diplomats, backed by the British among others, deleted the word "genocide" from UN statements, even though it was clear from early in the 100 days of Rwanda´s frenzied killings that these were far more than acts of war.

The Americans were haunted by the disastrous intervention in Somalia in 1992 and aware that the burden of UN peacekeeping usually fell on US soldiers. In particular they feared the use of the "g word" would lead to an invoking of the UN´s 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which calls on signatories to take action.

Last year, however, there was no such coyness. In early July Colin Powell toured Darfur and declared the crisis was "moving towards a genocidal conclusion".

Two weeks later Congress stepped up the pressure, urging President George W Bush "to call the atrocities by their rightful name: "genocide". In early September Mr Powell formally came out and called the conflict "genocide". State Department officials say that he was keen to put pressure on the UN to take action. But there was also a political dimension.

John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, was calling on the administration to be more decisive and, in an odd alliance, the black American lobby and the Christian Right, which campaigns on behalf of Christian rebel groups in Sudan, were also agitating for more action.

Now the world´s attention has been grabbed, a row is brewing over how to try the perpetrators of the Darfur crimes - and the State Department is now referring to the violence as "atrocities."

Last September Mr Powell tried to play down the use of the "g word". "Call it civil war. Call it ethnic cleansing. Call it genocide. Call it ´none of the above´. The reality is the same. There are people in Darfur who desperately need help."

But for Rwandans, who unquestionably were caught up in a genocide, this smacks of inconsistency. (© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004. 02/02/05)


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