UN backtracks over ´genocide´ in Sudan (TELEGRAPH UK) Alec Russell 02/02/05)
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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
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
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
Last year, however, there was no such coyness. In early July Colin
Powell toured Darfur and declared the crisis was "moving towards a
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
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