Allegations by the chief prosecutor of the
International Criminal Court (ICC) that Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir is
guilty of war crimes, including genocide, continue to spark speculation around
the world. One of the questions is whether or not there's enough evidence to
charge him with mass murder. The United Nations says at least three hundred
thousand people have died in Darfur so far and two and a half million have been
displaced. According to ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Mr. al-Bashir
orchestrated a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the black people of the
area. But the president's defenders insist that it's not fair to label what's
happened in Darfur as "genocide." VOA's Darren Taylor reports.
Darfurian human rights activist Omer Ismail says the death
toll in the crisis in his homeland, which began in earnest in 2003 when rebels
rose in revolt against the Sudan government, has long been a point of
government always says we are exaggerating the numbers of people killed and
displaced in order to gain international sympathy, whereas we feel the state is
lying about the actual numbers of people harmed by the conflict in order to
divert attention from themselves," says Ismail, a policy advisor at the Enough
says Moreno-Ocampo's recent action has given new impetus to arguments among
activists, Sudan government members and analysts about whether or not genocide has
actually occurred in Darfur.
us be clear that we are not saying what has happened is exactly the same as
what happened in Rwanda. They are different conflicts. Different situations.
But they are the same in that murder on a mass scale has happened in both
locations," says Ismail.
The question of exactly how many people have been killed and displaced in
Darfur is extremely important, he emphasizes, because of the "great
implications" it holds for the international response to the events unfolding
in the region.
A spokesman for the Sudan embassy in Washington, D.C.,
Seif Yasin, puts it this way: "The more people that are said to have died, the
more evil the Sudan government, right? The more international opposition to the
evil people in Khartoum, right?"
But Ismail says, "Countries, activists, regional blocs, the United Nations,
the African Union – all base their response to the tragedy on the numbers of
people that have died. The death toll has consequences for everything – whether
numbers of peacekeepers sent to the area, funds donated, or whatever."
The activist says he has "no reason" to disagree with official UN estimates
that 300,000 people have so far lost their lives, and about two and a half
million have been displaced, as a result of the conflict in Darfur.
is no body count in Darfur….'
Dr. Eltigani Salah Fidail, Sudan's minister of international cooperation,
agrees with the UN estimate on the number of people forced from their homes as
a result of the violence.
"Those who are in (refugee) camps are about 625,000," he states. "But there
are (also) those who are affected by the war, who are not in the camps. The
total of the displaced and the affected goes up to (about) two million."
But El-Tahir El-Faki, a senior official of the Joint
Equality Movement (JEM), one of the main rebel groups fighting Khartoum's
forces in Darfur, says these figures are too low. "It's three and a half
million Darfurians who have been displaced. And the number of refugees in Chad
is half a million. This is a catastrophe beyond imagination."
When Fidail is asked how many people have died in Darfur, he comments:
"There is no body count (possible) in Darfur; nobody can say exactly what is
this, Dr. Gerard Prunier, an internationally respected political consultant on
East African affairs based in Addis Ababa who has done extensive research on
Sudan, responds, "The Sudan government doesn't want a mortality study on
Darfur, for obvious reasons. It's still pretending there were only 10,000
(people killed in Darfur)."
a statement made earlier this year, President al-Bashir reiterated that
international estimates of people killed in Darfur were "exaggerated" and that
only 10,000 had died.
El-Faki says his movement's estimate is that the UN is
"more or less correct" that 300,000 people have lost their lives as a result of
the conflict in Darfur. But he adds, "Even if what al-Bashir has said, that
only 10,000 have been killed, is true…. For a president of a state to come out
like that and say 10,000 people killed. My God. The West would have gone to a
war if only one person has been inadvertently killed."
says according to international law, even the killing of a "few hundred"
members of a particular ethnic group can be defined as genocide, and that it's
therefore "fair" for Mr. al-Bashir to eventually appear in the dock before the
ICC judges in The Hague.
though, says most estimates of a death toll in Darfur are unreliable.
"The last serious study that was done was in October 2004. So we can only
work with the crude mortality rates (available) from the refugee camps…."
Prunier estimates that based on this and additional information available
to him, "around half a million people died so far. I would say out of this half
million, probably no more than 80,000 were killed (at the direct hands of
government troops, militia or rebels). The rest died (as a result of
consequences of the violence, such as disease or hunger). But if you are made
to die, you are killed. (It may be) without a bullet or a knife, but that's how
The analyst explains, "Most of the people who've died in Darfur were not
killed. They died. That is a typical thing of all African wars…. If you look at
the (Democratic Republic of the) Congo – the most devastating conflict in the
whole world since World War Two – you probably had four and a half million
people who died in the Congo, between 1998 and 2003. Out of these, less than
250,000 were killed. The proportion in Darfur is probably in the same
But Fidail scoffs at Prunier's estimation that 500,000 people have died
thus far in Darfur. He insists, "No one is in a position to put an exact number
on it. We cannot say 2,000, 11,000 or 15,000 – nobody can say what exactly is
the number. On what basis can they give that number?"
Dr. Bakri Osman Saeed, a senior member of Sudan's ruling
National Congress Party, reiterates that activists and certain governments,
such as that of the United States, have exaggerated the scale of the disaster
in Darfur to serve their own interests.
are little things happening here and there (in Darfur and Sudan) and they are
always overblown because whatever is related to Darfur now has a tendency for
being amplified," he says.
are for integration, not ethnic cleansing….'
Saeed says rather than targeting black Sudanese for ethnic cleansing, the
authorities in Khartoum are actually dedicated towards their "full integration"
into Sudanese society. He points out that his compatriots of all ethnic origins
and religions are present in all areas of the country. But, while Prunier
agrees that black Sudanese reside across the country, he says it is "nonsense"
that this offers proof that they're accepted by and integrated into Sudanese
Darfurians that you find in Khartoum…. are exactly like the (black) people of
the east you find in Port Sudan, or the Nuba (black ethnic group). There's such
a large Nuba group in Port Sudan. Do you think they are there by choice,
because they like it or because they're happy? No. They are there because they
are dirt poor at home…. So I wouldn't call that integration at all."
says black Sudanese gravitate towards cities such as Khartoum and Port Sudan
not because the urban areas offer any social acceptance, but simply because
they're "economic magnets," where the poor "stand at least a small chance of
putting food on the table," in contrast to the impoverished deserts of Sudan.
'Not a single
Mudawi El-Turabi, the chairman of Sudan's Parliamentary Defense and Security
Subcommittee, points out that the only government in the world to have labeled
what's happened in Darfur "genocide" is the administration of President George
to El-Turabi, a number of factors need to be taken into account when
considering "how Darfur came to the attention of the world" and the reasons
behind the war crimes charges against Mr. al-Bashir.
says the start of "heavy conflict" in Darfur in 2005 "coincided with the
(10-year commemoration) of the genocide in Rwanda." This important event,
El-Turabi maintains, "primed" the world to focus on Darfur, and an
international campaign began against the "so-called genocidal" authorities in
Sudanese official also attaches significance to the fact that "three of the top
leaders in the world" at the time that the spotlight began to be trained
brightly on Darfur were "of African origin," namely then-UN secretary general
Kofi Annan, then-US secretary of state Colin Powell, and then-US presidential
security advisor and current secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. These
individuals, he says, were "under a very heavy and deep pressure from the black
caucuses" in the US to take firm action on Darfur. This, El-Turabi says,
resulted in Washington branding the situation "genocide" and is partly
responsible for the war crimes charges against President al-Bashir.
he maintains, there's no evidence that mass, state-sponsored murder has indeed
occurred in the region.
United Nations have sent, twice, fact-finding missions to the country and not
one of them at all managed to determine that what is going on in Sudan is an
ethnic cleansing or a genocide."
El-Turabi adds that despite the presence of thousands of
refugees, peacekeepers and aid workers on the ground in Darfur, "not a single
mass grave (has) been found in the country to determine this is a genocide, or
an ethnic cleansing. It is a conflict; there's people dying; yes of course. And
the government of Sudan is doing its best to negotiate and we will continue
negotiating with any armed groups."
Alex De Waal, an academic at Harvard University and a
highly respected authority on Sudan who's written extensively on the situation
there, is a former member of the African Union's mediation team for Darfur. He
says, "The findings of an International Commission of Inquiry…. (used) these
words (when referring to the atrocities in the area): 'crimes no less heinous
than genocide'. And I don't think that any government should seek to hide
behind that as exoneration. I don't think that really stands up."
the activist Omer Ismail says the "international conversation" about the
charges against the Sudanese leader and the humanitarian tragedy in Darfur
"should not be about semantics or body counts."
fact is, he emphasizes, that "many, many people" have died. "And precious
little has been done to stop the killings. If we want to debate, that is what
we should be debating."