Years before Sudan’s General Omar al-Bashir began the genocide in Darfur, I was reporting on another genocide—also conducted by al-Bashir, the Sudanese army, and his vicious Arab Janjaweed militia—in the south of Sudan. While his later victims in Darfur were black African Muslims, the corpses in the oil-rich south were black Christians and animists. General al-Bashir is an equal-opportunity destroyer.
By June 2002—in the 17th year of that first genocide—I was citing a much-belated report by an American-led commission (with members from Britain, Italy, France, and Norway) about how the Janjaweed were still being sent south to “burn villages, loot cattle, rape and kill civilians, and abduct and enslave men, women, and children.” The slaves were then herded north to continue their bondage.
In October 2002, George W. Bush signed into law the Sudan Peace Act—passed unanimously in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House— which declared that “the acts of the government of Sudan constitute genocide as defined by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”
General al-Bashir was not impressed. In May 2003, a Christian group, Servant’s Heart, with four medical centers and schools in southern Sudan, reported that the Sudanese armed forces attacked 10 villages in a nighttime assault: “Many of those killed were burned to death in their homes as they hid. Ten children and women were abducted” to be sent north into slavery.
At last, in January 2005, al-Bashir seemed to yield to international pressure, signing a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the south’s outgunned rebel armed forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The SPLM became the ruling party in the south, and al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) ruled the north. The south was given semi-autonomous status and, by 2011, would be able to vote on whether it preferred to become independent or remain under the Khartoum government in the north.
Of particular interest to al-Bashir was the town of Abyei, adjacent to the rich oil fields that account for almost half of Sudan’s daily production of 500,000 barrels of oil. The purported peace treaty soon began to unravel—violently—this May when al-Bashir’s government soldiers and Janjaweed turned Abyei into ruins.
On May 26, The Washington Post reported: “Sudanese government officials blame southern forces for the destruction, but southern officials, U.N. officials, witnesses and people who fled say it was a systematic campaign by the Sudanese government to depopulate the oil-rich area and take it by force.”
Roger Winter—the former U.S. State Department special representative on Sudan and, before that, the head of the Agency for International Development’s humanitarian bureau—says he was in Abyei on May 16 and 17. He adds: “The perpetrators were the men of the Sudan Armed Forces 31st Brigade that has been operating illegally in the area for months, terrorizing and displacing civilians—at least 106,000 of them.”
In the illusory 2005 peace agreement, there was a special Abyei Protocol on the sphere of authority in that area—which, Winter adds, “was written by the United States, which then basically disappeared on Abyei. The U.S. is culpable for having created the environment in which Khartoum realistically believed it could act on Abyei without consequence.”
What the hell! After all, al-Bashir has ignored, broken, or obstructed numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions throughout these many years. He feels he has nothing to fear from the U.N. or the U.S.
The first reports from the clashes in Abyei indicated that at least 22 people had been killed, and thousands more torn from their homes. But although both al-Bashir’s forces (in which the Janjaweed militia has increasingly been hidden and put into uniform) and the SPLM have since pulled back from Abyei, officials on both sides agree on one point, according to The Washington Post on May 26: “Perhaps the most dreaded scenario . . . is beginning to unfold—a resumption of the north-south civil war, which killed an estimated 2 million people, making it one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II.”
When I asked Winter if he believes the north-south war has actually begun, he confessed that he does see the return of those horrors: “Bashir’s government has produced one of the largest civilian body counts since the Holocaust”—referring to the two million killed in the north-south war, as well as the half-million or so killed thus far in the Darfur genocide.
Soon after becoming president, George W. Bush—reading a report on how President Bill Clinton and the U.N. deliberately avoided intervening in the Rwandan genocide—wrote a pledge on a page of that report: “Not on my watch.” Later, he was the first world leader to publicly call al-Bashir’s holocaust in Darfur a “genocide.”
On May 28, IRIN (a United Nations news service) quoted Ashraf Qazi, the special representative in Sudan for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as saying that the inability of thousands of people to return home after the devastation in Abyei “could lead to political instability” throughout the Sudan—and then in adjoining regions.
The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement is not composed of pacifists. Its secretary general, Pagan Amum, says of the 31st Brigade’s attack on Abyei: “This is a clear indication that he [al-Bashir] may be thinking of ‘a final solution’ to the Abyei problem by killing the people and displacing them.”
Another SPLM official, Musa Malei adds: “We are not desiring to go to war— we have been forced to fight.”
But once that “final solution,” conducted by many more forces than al-Bashir’s 31st Brigade, obliterates Abyei and its people, who would stop him from finishing up the job in Darfur—and then neighboring Chad? The U.N. Security Council? (Which, by the way, the United States takes its turn to head this month.) Or is the answer to be found in John McCain’s commendable vision of an alternative to the feeble U.N.: a band of free nations—”a League of Democracies”—to intervene when a sovereign government commits atrocities against its own people?
And what of George W. Bush’s chance to at least partially transform his presidential legacy? A May 27 Washington Post headline read: “Bush Straddles His Hard Line in Engaging Sudan.” Mr. President, how about taking a bite out of al-Bashir?