SUDAN WATCH: It's hell in Darfur, but is it genocide or ethnic cleansing (and what is the difference between the two) or civil war?

Monday, May 15, 2006

It's hell in Darfur, but is it genocide or ethnic cleansing (and what is the difference between the two) or civil war?

On 26 April 2006, Ben Lieberman emailed me via Sudan Watch, saying:

Prof Benjamin Lieberman

Subject: Re: Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing


Thanks for your useful blog. I was very interested to find this since I am teaching a class on African history, and I have written a history of ethnic cleansing in Europe and Western Asia.

I think your recent discussion of the definitions of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing was very clear. In practice, I think the two can merge together in that the methods used to expel a group can in some cases predictably lead to genocide.

Thanks for your work.
Ben Lieberman

Fitchburg State College
Fitchburg Massachusetts
- - -

I emailed the following reply to Ben 14 May 2006:


Subject: Re: Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

Dear Ben,

Thank you for your interesting email. Please forgive my delay in replying. I was pleased to hear from you, and started to reply right away but was unable to complete due to an avalanche of news reports appearing in the run up to the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

I thought of you today when I read an article in the Los Angeles Times (14 May 2006) entitled "It's hell in Darfur, but is it genocide?" by Michael Clough, director of the Africa program at the Council on Foreign Relations from 1987 to 1996. He is the author of "Free at Last? United States Policy Toward Africa and the End of the Cold War."

To save you registering with the LA Times to read the piece, I am copying it in full, here below.

I'd like to publish an excerpt from the piece (probably the opening paragraph) at my blog Sudan Watch, along with the information in your email. Would you mind if I published your email in full?

If you do mind, I wonder if you would be kind enough to please send me a few lines (or however much you can manage) of text that would be OK to quote you on that explains what you mean when you say "In practice, I think the two can merge together in that the methods used to expel a group can in some cases predictably lead to genocide."

I'm having difficulty attempting to articulate in a short piece about why (when some critics see little difference between genocide and ethnic cleansing - and the findings of the UN's International Commission of Inquiry* on Darfur concluded the Sudanese government was NOT pursuing a policy of genocide in Darfur) some UN officials like UN SGSR Jan Pronk and others continue to refer to Darfur as ethnic cleansing.

My view is Darfur is not genocide or ethnic cleansing. It's civil war, no?

Here's some wishful thinking: I wish you could write a piece (and, if you can, get it published in mainstream press) that answers this question:

It's hell in Darfur, but is it genocide or ethnic cleansing (and what is the difference between the two?) or is it civil war?

Thanks again for your email and kind words.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Ingrid (Jones)
England, UK

*The International Criminal Court (ICC) - Summary [Apr 7 2006 UN assembly president calls Darfur violence "ethnic cleansing" - The International Criminal Court (ICC) Summary: The International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, chaired by the Italian judge Antonio Cassese, concluded in its report published on 31 January 2005 that crimes against humanity and war crimes such as killings, rape, pillaging and forced displacement have been committed since 1 July 2002 by the government-backed forces and the Janjaweed militia. It declared, however, that the government of Sudan was not pursuing a policy of genocide in Darfur]

Apr 8 2006 What is the difference between genocide and ethnic cleansing?

Apr 9 2006 Juan Mendez, UN Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide, tells press "definitely ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur"

Apr 9 2006 The Genocide Convention required States to prevent genocide - Mendez
- - -

Today, 15 May 2006, I received the following reply from Ben:

Prof Benjamin Lieberman

Subject: Re: Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

Dear Ingrid,

Thanks very much for your reply. The Michael Clough essay is indeed very interesting, though as you'll see I have doubts about his conclusions. Please feel free to post my original email or this new email--I've tried to improve my explanation.
Best regards,

Here's my (modeslty) extended explanation with a brief comment on the Clough op-ed.

In discussing Darfur or any other similar crisis it is important to keep in mind that crimes such as ethnic cleansing and genocide do not exist in a single form, but fall on a spectrum of violence. Ethnic cleansing can be defined as the removal, through violence and intimidation of an ethnic group from a given territory, but the victims may be defined by ethnic identity, race, religion, or by some combination of the three. In genocide, the goal is not removal of the group but extermination.

In practice, however, ethnic cleansing and genocide exist on a spectrum of violence. The goals of removal or extermination can be distinct, but ethnic cleansing and genocide can merge together because the methods used to expel a group can in some cases predictably lead to genocide. In the Armenian Genocide, for example, most of the Armenian population of Anatolia was deported, though many, especially men were massacred. However, it was predictable that a very large proportion of Armenian civilians deported south into the desert under the threat of continuous attack would die, and as I point out in my book Terrible Fate, contemporaries, included Germans who served a government allied with Turkey, knew that mass death was predictable.

Michael Clough is obviously extremely knowledgeable about Dafur, but some of the arguments in his Los Angeles Times op-ed may not apply to the issue of defining genocide.

First, the boundaries between the identity of victims and perpetrators in both genocide and ethnic cleansing can be malleable. There is often a paradox to ethnic cleansing. Many who witness violence are shocked not just at the horrors of killing and rape, but because they remember previously close or at least amicable relations between victims and perpetrators, but at the very same time they may stress a different picture of old tensions.

Secondly, a policy of combating insurgency by attacking villages and displacing civilians can be entirely consistent with ethnic cleansing if the goal of such a policy is to drive out large numbers of civilians and remake ethnic and or religious maps.
- - -

Prof Benjamin Lieberman

Photo: Historian Benjamin Lieberman is professor of history at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts and a graduate of Yale and the University of Chicago. His recent lecture at Clark University focused on the topic of his new book - the first comprehensive history of ethnic cleansing in Europe - entitled Terrible Fate: Ethnic Cleansing in the Making of Modern Europe (Ivan R. Dee, Publisher). He has also written From Recovery to Catastrophe, a study of Weimar Germany. He lives in Maynard, Massachusetts, USA.
- - -

It's hell in Darfur, but is it genocide? The Sudanese government has targeted villagers, but not a whole race.
by Michael Clough
Los Angeles Times May 14, 2006

GENOCIDE IS not being committed in Darfur. This is not a popular position, I know. But to call what's happening there "genocide" when it's not is unlikely to help the people of Darfur - and could even make it harder to mobilize the public to respond to similar crises in the future.

For 25 years, I've studied and written about conflicts, human rights catastrophes and humanitarian emergencies in Africa. I'm all too familiar with the many official excuses for inaction that can be given while millions of civilians die. Sadly, one of the reasons I prefer working as an attorney for prisoners on death row, rather than as a foreign policy analyst, is that I find it far less depressing than trying to change U.S. policy toward Africa.

The debate about what to do in Darfur - and the use of anti-genocide rhetoric to arouse public concern - has only deepened my misgivings about the way the United States responds to African crises.

From September 2004 to July 2005, I worked as Human Rights Watch's interim advocacy director for Africa, helping to publicize the organization's findings in Darfur. Beginning in February 2004, Human Rights Watch researchers documented horrifying abuses and released evidence that the Sudanese government was responsible for them.

There are no reliable estimates of how many Africans have died in Darfur. Including those killed in attacks and those who have died from disease or malnutrition, the total could be as high as 200,000.

As with so many tragedies in Africa, no one had heard of Darfur until U.N. humanitarian organizations began reporting that hundreds of thousands of civilians had been driven out of their villages. If the world had noticed and responded in early 2003, when the Sudanese government first armed groups of Arab nomads, known as janjaweed, and ordered them to attack villages suspected of harboring antigovernment rebels, the question of genocide would have never arisen - and thousands could have been saved.

But it wasn't until December 2003 that U.N. relief officials warned about an impending humanitarian disaster in Darfur. Soon after, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported that janjaweed, in concert with Sudanese military units, were slaughtering and displacing villagers.

Both organizations immediately urged the United Nations, the U.S. and other major powers to pressure the Sudanese government to call off the attacks and provide relief to victims flowing into refugee camps in Chad. But lawyers and researchers within Human Rights Watch (and probably Amnesty International) concluded that the events in Darfur did not rise to the level of genocide, a legal designation in international law, because there was no proof of "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such."

That didn't stop activists - inspired in part by Samantha Power's book, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide" - from invoking the emotive power of the word "genocide" to mobilize the international community. They buttressed their case by drawing attention to the fact that the atrocities in Darfur were coming to light as the world was holding ceremonies commemorating the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.

In September 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, after hearing from a team of lawyers and investigators sent to Darfur by the State Department, famously declared that "genocide has been committed in Darfur." Congress had already done so.

But the pattern of human rights abuses in Darfur is very different from what happened in Rwanda. As Alison Des Forges, a senior advisor to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, and others have documented, the slaughter in Rwanda was carefully planned and ruthlessly carried out in a matter of weeks; the clear intent was to eliminate the Tutsi population of Rwanda. In all, 800,000 people were butchered.

In Darfur, the Sudanese government has targeted African villagers. But it is not clear that the government's intent is to wipe out these Africans. The assaults followed successful rebel attacks on some government military facilities. In unleashing janjaweed and targeting the rebels' base of support, the government used the same counterinsurgency tactics it employed in a decades-old war against southerners. (Darfur is in eastern Sudan.) The Sudanese government is certainly not the first to combat an insurgency by attacking sympathetic villages and displacing civilians.

Paradoxically, labeling the atrocities in Darfur genocide may exacerbate the underlying conflict and make it more difficult to create the conditions necessary for civilians to return and live in peace.

Alex De Waal, an activist, longtime expert on Darfur and advisor to the African Union, has written that ethnic, tribal and racial lines in Darfur have been far more malleable than the genocide characterization suggests. Before Darfur, there had been conflicts between janjaweed's nomadic Arabs and the African pastoral tribes that support the rebels. But these clashes were chiefly the result of environmental pressures and competition for land, not deep-seated ethnic or racial animosities. And, until 2003, Darfur was relatively peaceful.

BY CONTRAST, the genocide in Rwanda was presaged by a history of attempts by Hutus and Tutsis to slaughter each other. Even so, many scholars have attributed the tribes' antagonism to colonial policies that reinforced the ethnic dimension of economic and political competition.

Over the long run, peace in Darfur will require Africans and Arabs to live together. Calling their conflict "genocidal" won't make that easier. In Rwanda, for instance, the Tutsi government that came to power after the genocide now uses the rhetoric of genocide to rationalize political repression.

There is also a grave risk in raising the specter of genocide to galvanize a global response to the human rights abuses in Darfur - the international community may be less inclined to react to serious abuses that don't rise to the level of genocide. This could be truly tragic because the only way to prevent genocide is to act at the first sign of threats to civilians.

Of the many tragedies of Darfur, one is that it had to be mislabeled a genocide before politicians and activists were stirred to respond.

Further reading

May 15 2006 Genocide: Lessons from the 20th Century - by Dr Matthew Levinger, director of the Academy for Genocide Prevention at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, in OneWorld - via CFD blog.

May 17 2006 The Daily Star Genocide: a crime lost in definition - by Jerome Mayer-Cantu, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley who closely follows genocide and international law issues. - via CFD.


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