Global Policy Forum

UN Report on Sudan Draws Mixed Reaction


By Emily Wax

Washington Post
February 2, 2005

Sudanese officials said Tuesday that they felt vindicated by a U.N. investigation that found that atrocities in Sudan's western region of Darfur did not amount to genocide. But they disagreed with the call by the U.N. investigators to prosecute Sudanese government and military officials for crimes against humanity. "We feel relieved," said Jamal Ibrahim, a top official in the External Affairs Ministry, speaking by phone from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. "But we are also still studying the report. There are parts we take issue with."

Human rights observers warned that the tragedy in Darfur should not be forgotten, pointing out that the 177-page report did find widespread evidence of war crimes, killing of civilians, torture and rape. The report said individuals responsible may have acted with "genocidal intent" and should be brought to an international criminal court. The U.N. Security Council commissioned the investigation.

Last August, the Bush administration formally labeled the still-unfolding two-year conflict in Darfur as genocide. In recent days, several U.S. legislators have pushed for U.N. intervention to end the violence. Attacks by the Janjaweed militia and bombardments by the air force have driven nearly 2 million African farmers from their land.

Rebel leaders said Tuesday that they were disappointed that the word "genocide" was not used in the U.N. report. They also said the investigators failed to probe reports of mass graves in the vast and rugged desert area of Darfur, which has few paved roads and is the size of France. "It's unbelievable, actually," said Bahar Ibrahim, spokesman for the Sudanese Liberation Army, Darfur's main rebel group. "We hoped that the U.N. body would have seen the systematic attacks on our people. Maybe they didn't look closely enough. I don't know what you call it. But it's still very serious, and we hope we aren't forgotten."

The report followed claims of new violence last week, with aid groups and African Union monitors reporting Arab militia attacks followed by government bombings in South Darfur. An estimated 9,000 people were displaced and 105 people were reported killed. African Union forces investigating the bombings were shot at by unknown assailants.

Peace talks are scheduled to resume this week in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The previous round of talks collapsed in December. Humanitarian groups have renewed appeals for food and medical aid. Officials of the independent group Human Rights Watch said the Sudanese government was ignoring the facts outlined in the report. They said they hoped world leaders would remain attentive to the issue. They also said the Security Council must prosecute war criminals in the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

"The report unequivocally condemns the Sudanese government for massive atrocities. It's amazing that if it's not genocide, it does not matter. There is no such thing as saying something is just war crimes against humanity," said Leslie Lefkow, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who investigated atrocities in Darfur. "There's been mass murder, mass rape and mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people," Lefkow said. "It's just appalling if the international community does not act on this."

The debate over the term genocide began last year, during events marking the 10th anniversary of the slaughter of more than half a million Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in Rwanda. Revived discussion of those atrocities prompted U.N. officials to question whether what was happening in Darfur amounted to genocide.

Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, sent researchers to interview more than 1,000 Sudanese refugees on the Chad-Sudan border. They found evidence of intent to commit genocide by the Janjaweed militia, backed by the government, against a largely African population. The United States has called for economic sanctions and an arms embargo against Sudan. But China, a major oil client of Sudan, has opposed sanctions. The Bush administration has urged action against Sudan but opposed setting up an international criminal court, for fear that such courts could prosecute U.S. soldiers and officials living abroad. Instead, the administration wants to set up a U.N.-backed tribunal like the one established in Tanzania after the Rwandan genocide.

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