UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
SUDAN: US Congress unanimously defines Darfur violence as "genocide"
NAIROBI, 23 Jul 2004 (IRIN) - The US Congress on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution declaring the human rights abuses in western Sudan's Darfur region as "genocide".
By a vote of 422 to zero, the House of Representatives, with "the Senate concurring", passed the resolution, which stated that the violence appeared to be particularly directed at a specific group based on their ethnicity and appeared to be systemised, Agence France Presse reported.
The resolution also reportedly urged the US government to call the atrocities by their "rightful" name and "to seriously consider multilateral or even unilateral intervention to prevent genocide should the United Nations Security Council fail to act".
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide - to which the US is a signatory - obliges the UN to act to prevent genocide. The convention defines genocide as acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, racial or religious group". Such acts include killing; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group; and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of a group in whole or in part.
Ten years ago, the Clinton administration was heavily criticised because it failed to recognise the Rwandan genocide as such, while about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were being slaughtered.
John Prendergast, the special adviser to the president of the International Crisis Group, told IRIN on Thursday that new evidence suggested that Khartoum's role in genocide in Darfur was now indisputable. "The government's complicity is no longer in doubt, thus meeting the conditions as outlined in the Genocide Convention for culpability in this greatest of crimes."
The Sudanese government has admitted backing the Janjawid militias to fight a rebellion in Sudan, but has repeatedly denied any responsibility for the atrocities committed by them including ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Khartoum's ambassador in Washington, Khidr Harun Ahmad, said on Thursday that the Sudan Campaign - an umbrella of organisations and individuals - in the US was dramatising the situation in Darfur in an election year "to take advantage of their suffering and plight to get elected or attract attention".
He accused the US of trying to destabilise "a relatively stable nation", saying "it's like pitting a heavyweight champion against a child".
"Congress has the chance to resolve the conflict in Darfur by joining hands with the government of Sudan and the international community to consolidate the measures taken by the government."
"Mounting pressure and bashing" can only lead to a failed state that is the largest in Africa, he added.
In a joint press conference in New York on Thursday with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, US Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated that the US government was "examining very carefully" whether the ongoing violence against civilians in Darfur constituted genocide, but did not specify when such a determination might be made.
He added that the genocide debate was "almost beside the point". "The point is that we need to fix the security problem, the humanitarian problem. Whatever you call it, it's a catastrophe. People are dying at an increasing rate."
The government had created the Janjawid so it was able to get rid of them, he continued: "Since they turned it on, they can turn it off."
The question was whether there was "enough incentive for them to turn it off. And we're making it very clear to them that there will be consequences if it is not turned off," he warned.
But other Sudan watchers say the genocide debate is of utmost importance, because of the legal imperative to act and in the light of inaction during previous genocides, such as that of Rwanda. "The debate does indeed matter, because of the implications for punishing the crime, as is called for in the convention," said Prendergast.
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