United Nations, 9 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell briefed the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, for the first time calling what has happened there "genocide."
"When we reviewed the evidence compiled by our team and then put it beside other information available to the State Department and widely known throughout the international community -- widely reported upon by the media and by others -- we concluded, I concluded, that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed [pro-government Arab militias] bear responsibility and that genocide may still be occurring.," Powell said.
The United Nations calls the situation in Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The UN says some 50,000 people have been killed, mostly Sudanese black Africans, and that 1 million others have been driven from their homes. The United Nations has so far been reluctant to call what is happening in Darfur genocide, however, because such a designation that could trigger sanctions and even military intervention.
Sudan's finance minister rejected the declaration of genocide today. Ahmed Hassan al-Zubeir called the conflict "an internal tribal problem."
Powell said Sudan has not made any significant efforts to end what he called the "atrocities" being committed in Darfur. "Khartoum has made no meaningful progress in substantially improving the overall security environment by disarming the Janjaweed militias or arresting its leaders," he said.
The UN Security Council is due to discuss later today a U.S. proposal to increase pressure on the government in Khartoum to end the abuses.
About 40 days after an initial warning from the council, Sudan has failed to rein in militias which continue to carry out attacks, killing, raping, and assaulting villagers in the western part of the country.
Powell spoke about the new UN resolution that the U.S. government is now circulating: "We have begun consultation [at the UN Security Council] in New York on a new resolution that calls for Khartoum to fully cooperate with an expanded AU [African Union] force and for cessation of Sudanese military flights over the Darfur region. It also provides for international overflights to monitor the situation in Darfur and requires the Security Council to review the record of Khartoum's compliance to determine if sanctions, including on the Sudanese petroleum sector, should be imposed."
The U.S. draft measure also calls on Sudan to take new steps -- such as submitting names of militiamen disarmed and arrested for rights abuses -- to end what it calls a "climate of impunity." It also supports a UN call for a much larger monitoring force and asks UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate all human rights abuses in Darfur.
The draft does not use the word "sanctions" but makes reference to possible future actions "with regard to the petroleum sector" in the event Sudan's government does not comply.
The international community has assisted Sudanese civilians with humanitarian aid but has been unable to stop what many rights experts label an ethnic-cleansing campaign in Darfur. The conflict has already killed more than 30,000 people and caused 1.2 million to flee their homes.
There are currently about 80 military observers from the African Union in the vast region of Darfur, protected by about 300 soldiers. They are monitoring a cease-fire signed by the government and rebel groups.
UN special envoy Jan Pronk has asked Sudan to permit more than 3,000 troops into the region. Sudan has resisted a larger force but its foreign minister said in Japan yesterday that the government had asked for more monitors from the African Union.
"I do favor a much larger presence, preferably I think under UN auspices, to protect people who are being victimized. I frankly think that's more important than sanctions on the Khartoum government against oil or anything else."
Robert Johansen is a senior fellow at the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies and professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. He told RFE/RL that a robust international force with policing powers is essential to protect civilians and eventually allow them to return home. "I do favor a much larger presence, preferably I think under UN auspices, to protect people who are being victimized," he said. "I frankly think that's more important than sanctions on the Khartoum government against oil or anything else."
Sudan produces an estimated 250,000 barrels of oil per day and its customers include China and Pakistan, two Security Council members that oppose sanctions.
The issue of oil sanctions is likely to be sensitive in the Security Council but should be raised, said Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. diplomat in Africa and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent policy institute. "The pressure on Sudan, even if they can't get it through the Security Council, to talk about sanctions on the oil trade is something I felt we ought to be talking about for a long time. [The threat of oil sanctions] ought to be out there -- even the thought that if the UN can't do it, maybe selectively other countries will. Because those are the only sanctions that would really hurt," Lyman said.
Lyman also stressed the importance of the political talks taking place in Nigeria between representatives of the Sudanese government and two rebel groups from Darfur. Fighting broke out in Darfur in early 2003 over scarce land and water resources. Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, escalated the fighting by targeting villagers, who have fled into camps or into neighboring Chad.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will brief a U.S. Senate committee today on a report that says the government of Sudan has promoted systematic killings in Darfur based on race and ethnic origin. It's uncertain whether Powell will label the violence as genocide, which could create a strong legal case for a military intervention.