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A National Gathering of the Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders
As the 10-year anniversary of the Darfur crisis approaches, the International Criminal Court, or ICC, is considering new arrest warrants for Sudanese officials most responsible for orchestrating crimes against civilians. ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda briefed the U.N. Security Council and submitted a report [pdf] last month that highlights recent incidents that may constitute war crimes and “could be part of ongoing acts of genocide” for which the court has already issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and three of his affiliates.
"The words of the government of Sudan representatives, promising further peace initiatives, are undermined by actions on the ground that show an ongoing commitment to crimes against civilians as a solution to the government's problems in Darfur," Bensouda said.
Longtime Sudan specialist and Smith College professor Eric Reeves stresses the same conclusion, without having to conform to diplomatic pressures, in his extensive, recently released archive of state-sponsored violence across Sudan over the past five years.
The book—available in a free electronic format—compiles accounts of incidents, attacks, and trends that have garnered little public attention. Importantly, Reeves also delves deeper into events that did capture headlines, if fleetingly, to explain the implications that persisted even as media and diplomatic interest waned. In one example:
Khartoum’s March 2009 expulsion of thirteen distinguished international humanitarian organizations has received insufficient attention, largely out of fear that more expulsions and a greater reduction of humanitarian capacity would follow. But U.N. and other sources have repeatedly—if confidentially—confirmed that approximately half the humanitarian capacity was lost at the time and has never been recovered.
The introduction provides a comprehensive overview of a host of red-flag issues that signaled trouble between civil war foes, even as the 2005 peace agreement remained officially intact. Reeves discusses the broad array of issues that have marked the hostile and still often violent relations between Sudan and South Sudan since the split in mid-2011—among them, the deferral of the most contentious secession-related topics, the “decoupling” of progress to resolve conflict in Darfur from U.S. moves to normalize relations, the Sudanese government’s raid of Abyei town in May 2011, and ongoing aerial bombardments of South Sudanese territory by the Sudanese army since 2010. Reeves’ accounting of the deterioration of security in Darfur and in areas along what would become the new international border—largely linked to Khartoum’s tried-and-true tactic of engaging local Arab militias—offers a compelling illustration of how violence rose while international attention fixed on the impending division of Sudan.
At 500,000 words, the text is detailed and dense, even repetitive at times. But that was the purpose of the project, as Reeves explains. His interest in presenting a full account of the recent tumultuous years in Sudan and South Sudan, cross-referencing a variety of sources and preserving, in some cases, the redundancies authentic to their testimonies, necessitated the unrestricted format of an e-book replete with 14 annexes and links to notes with additional information. “An archival history—the primary ambition of this project—must be richly inclusive if it is to preserve the materials that will be critical to any future history about the past five years in this tortured region,” Reeves wrote.
By the time Reeves reaches the concluding section of his archival account his assessment of the underlying causes of the region’s protracted conflict is strikingly concise: “[W]hatever discrepancies in strategic outlook and tactics exist among its leadership, the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime is a force of evil.” He continues:
The men who have defined Khartoum’s policies since their military coup 23 years ago have repeatedly employed a policy of genocidal counter-insurgency in confronting rebellion by marginalized and abused populations. These men have shown themselves to be brutal, merciless, and racially intolerant: they do not hesitate to cause large-scale civilian destruction to achieve their ends, especially when the lives destroyed are ethnically African.
In the face of this inherent brutality, however, the international community has played a crucial role—a revealingly inept one at best and, even if unwittingly, an abetting one at worst. Throughout the text, Reeves highlights foreign engagement with the Sudanese government at crucial junctures over the past five years with an emphasis on drawing out lessons from the patterns of missteps that either failed to deter the government’s predations or even emboldened Khartoum to continue brutal tactics. Lest the passing of time serve to obscure the international role, Reeves writes:
Indeed, if there is a primary goal to this archival project, it is to ensure that those who bear most responsibility for allowing the current regime in Khartoum to continue its savage tyranny will never be able to say, ‘we didn’t know.'
Photo: Abu Souk camp in North Darfur (AP)