Genocide in Darfur: How Sudan Covers It Up

Most governments don't acknowledge it. The Sudanese president dismisses it. Darfurians demand that it be recognized. Academics, activists, and lawyers dispute whether it is still occurring or whether it occurred at all. International Criminal Court (ICC) judges debate standards of evidence surrounding it. The nature of recent attacks this past week by Sudanese government forces and militia allies against defenseless civilians potentially augurs its resurgence. And if a fledgling peace process continues to move forward, then any evidence of it ever happening may well be swept under the rug.

The "it" in question is Darfur's genocide. Seven years after a small rebellion in western Sudan by Darfurian insurgents unleashed a massive counter-insurgency strategy by the Sudanese government and its Janjaweed militia allies, the debate continues: What should be done about the genocide? How can justice and peace simultaneously be pursued?

The ICC's recent ruling that genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir are possible gives new life to the issue. And responding to a YouTube question posed by the Enough Project, President Obama appeared to reverse his administration's stated policy of an "ongoing genocide" by referring to it in the past tense. How do we make sense out of all this?

In our eight trips into Darfur over these past seven years, we have never met a Darfurian who does not believe genocide has occurred. But genocide is ultimately the subject of international law. The Genocide Convention states that the crime pertains when a party intends to destroy - in whole or in part - a particular group of people based on their identity. Although judges will ultimately rule on this, we believe the evidence for genocidal intent is there.

Eyewitness reports this past week of aerial bombardment of villages followed by attacks on civilians populations by armed horsemen echo back to a period just a few years ago when much of Darfur was literally on fire. These reports are emerging simultaneous to a series of framework ceasefire agreements, thus complicating the Darfur landscape further. What we do know, though, is that these recent attacks and their aftermath reinforce a disturbing trend: evidence of the human rights crimes that have been and are being committed is being concealed and compromised.

The ruling party in Sudan responsible for the bulk of the crimes in Darfur is covering up the evidence for previous and ongoing human rights crimes in five unique ways. The international community must act now - in the context of peacemaking efforts - to blow the lid off this elaborate and deadly cover-up.

First, most of the aid agencies that were thrown out last year by President Bashir were working quietly to support survivors of sexual violence and to protect thousands of women and girls from rape. One of the principal tools of war in Darfur has been systematic rape, a factor in any argument supporting the existence of genocidal intent. By removing most of the groups that were protecting or caring for rape survivors, the cover up is on.

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John Prendergast is Co-Founder of Enough, the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

This post co-authored with Enough policy advisor Omer Ismail originally appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.