Friday, May 8, 2009

Making Sudan policy based on fact, not emotion

I am moved to respond to a brief comment taken totally out of context by New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist, Bob Braun, on my recent Congressional testimony dealing with Sudan. My written and oral remarks took place on 12 March 2009 before the House Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations of the Committee on Appropriations. The Committee asked me to testify on the Horn of Africa. My entire testimony is available on this blog. Bob Braun, in a May 6 piece dealing with U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), who participated in the hearing, included the following comments concerning my testimony:
"In one week, Rothman uses his talking skills to face down those in charge of the border with Mexico, Army and Marine generals, transportation security officials and even a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn. Shinn suggested to foreign operations committee members they should not use the term "genocide" when referring to Sudan’s treatment of Darfur residents. "If we call it mass slaughter, would that be better?" Rothman asks.
For the record, I made clear in my written and oral testimony that it is inaccurate to refer to what is happening in Darfur today or throughout 2008 as genocide. I stated explicitly in my oral testimony that my remarks did not refer to the 2003-2005 period. In the written testimony, I stated:
U.S. policy is not well served when it says that genocide is continuing today in Darfur. Alex de Waal, one of the world’s leading authorities on Darfur, recently made an analysis of the violent deaths that occurred in 2008. The figures he worked with exclude any excess mortality caused by hunger and disease, sexual violence and forced displacement, although he does not believe these numbers are unusually high. In 2008, UNAMID reports there were about 1550 violent deaths in Darfur. Less than 500 were civilians, more than 400 were combatants and about 640 died in inter-tribal fighting. The Sudan government armed all of the militia involved in inter-tribal fighting and is ultimately responsible for these deaths. This is a deplorable situation to be sure, but it is not genocide. Using the term genocide today to describe the situation in Darfur adds an emotional quality that distorts the discussion. It is time to acknowledge that the situation has changed in Darfur.
The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Article II describes two elements of the crime of genocide:
  1. the mental element, meaning the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, and
  2. the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called genocide.
The five acts are:
  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Then Secretary of State Colin Powell declared in September 2004 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the actions of the Sudanese government and its proxies amount to genocide against the people of Darfur. One could make a strong argument that genocide was occurring in 2003-2005. Curiously, to the best of my knowledge, no other government has ever declared the situation in Darfur as genocide. The United Nations and African Union have never used the term. While human rights organizations have accepted the situation as genocide, other governments, the UN and African Union usually referred to it as "crimes against humanity." Is this hair splitting? It is not if you recognize the emotional baggage that the term genocide brings to the policy table. But what about the situation today? Does the situation in Darfur continue to be terrible? Of course it is. Should the international community take all possible measures to alleviate the suffering and end the violence? Of course it should. At the same time, it is important to understand that what is happening in Darfur today is not genocide. Continuing to use that terminology will only add an emotional component that results in a flawed U.S. policy response. A couple of months ago, replying to my question, a former senior foreign policy official in the Bush administration acknowledged that what is occurring in Darfur is not genocide but low-intensity conflict. When I asked why he and others continue to refer to an ongoing genocide in Darfur, he replied what difference does it make so long as bad things continue to happen. In my view, there is a big difference to making policy on the basis of the current situation and not inaccurately using emotionally-laden terminology in an effort to support a policy agenda. The United States can be as critical as it desires of the government in Sudan, but the criticism should be based on the facts. In the case of Darfur, it should also be appropriately critical of the other groups that have misbehaved in the region. Image: Darfur refugee camp in Chad. Source: Wikipedia.

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