Two Genocides and the Perpetrators Remain Free

Fifteen years after the worst war time massacre in Europe since World War II and now a second arrest warrant issued for the architect of this century's first genocide. Srebrenica and Darfur. Both genocides, each carried out in very different ways and each orchestrated by notorious thugs who remain free.

I was in the former Yugoslavia 15 years ago when Bosnian-Serb leader Ratko Mladic marched his troops into the small Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica and annihilated 7,000 Bosnian men and boys. Ten years later, I sat in front of a UN supplied blue canvas tent in a refugee camp along the Chad-Sudan border documenting the systematic destruction of lives and livelihoods in Darfur, Sudan. There I listened to a frail, elderly farmer named Nourein tell me how his village was destroyed by eight months of aerial bombardments followed by a ground assault. He described the loss of his home, his camel and his cows. His crops had been burned, his well had been poisoned and the village medical clinic had been looted.

Nourein's story, and the hundreds of others I gathered, highlight what the Genocide Convention calls the inflicting of "conditions of life" calculated to bring about a group's demise. In Darfur, this meant the systematic plundering and destruction of houses, wells, crops, livestock and assets, combined with restricted access to humanitarian aid. The cultural ties to villages and the fabric of the former residents' social structures were virtually eliminated.

Consider the plight of Nurein's village, Furawiya. To see the devastation first hand, I traveled to his village in a windowless, brakeless Land Rover that was shot at by rebels. In spite of the risk involved, it was important to witness the destruction of Nurein's life and livelihood with my own eyes.

Furawiya and its outlying settlements were once productive and intensely interdependent. Families farmed their own fields, which were handed down generation to generation. Through financial exchange and pooling of resources, they built and maintained mosques, clinics and schools. Livestock - sheep, goats, cattle, camels - was the main measure of disposable wealth. He proudly told me that he once had 15 camels, 10 cows, two donkeys and more than 150 goats and sheep. Two years prior to our meeting, he was able to pay two camels and 10 sheep for a medical operation.

When the government sponsored forces entered his village, all their herds disappeared. This wholesale robbery of livestock destroyed the ability of the villagers to return and rebuild their lives. For them, losing even a donkey was like bombing the family car. Without it, transport and access to food, water and safety become impossible.

With the elimination of access to all that sustained life, the Sudanese government deliberately created "conditions of life," making it impossible to survive. Each and every person I interviewed said both they and their attackers were well aware that death from starvation, thirst or disease was a looming possibility. One woman described being captured. A soldier was about to shoot her until she overheard another soldier tell her attacker, "Don't bother don't waste the bullet. They've got no food and will die from hunger."

When I returned to Washington, I and others documenting the devastation of lives and livelihoods called for the protection of Darfurians who remained vulnerable to attacks. At the same time, we emphasized the need to hold perpetrators accountable for these heinous crimes. We wrote about Sudanese proxy militias carrying out a "systematic campaign of destruction against specific populations". They obliterated thousands of villages, killed, pillaged, plundered, and forced men, women and children to flee into a "no man's land" amounting to an "all out assault on the very survival of a population."

In issuing the arrest warrant this week, the ICC now recognizes what others documented years ago: Bashir's campaign against the civilian population of Darfur was genocidal.

Whether it is the wholesale assault on the survival of hundreds of thousands of Darfurians or the massacre of Bosnians at Srebrenica, those most responsible for such acts need to be held accountable. Robert F. Kennedy once wrote, "Let's dedicate ourselves to what the ancient Greeks wrote so many years ago, to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that." In the case of Sudan's Bashir or Bosnian-Serb leader Ratko Mladic, the actual apprehension of these genocidal architects will help us get a little closer toward taming the savageness of man.