It’s been more than three weeks since a Darfur peace accord was signed, bringing hope for an end to the genocide in Sudan’s western territory. Since then the news has been terrible. The two rebel factions that refused to sign the peace deal have continued to snub it. Violence between rebel factions has generated blood-curdling attacks on civilians. Human Rights Watch has reported fresh evidence of atrocities committed by government-backed Janjaweed death squads across the border in Chad. The cash-strapped U.N. World Food Program has been forced to reduce the already meager rations it distributes to 6 million Sudanese, including 3 million in Darfur. And Sudan’s government has waffled on the crucial question of whether it will allow in an expanded peacekeeping force, without which violence, hunger and mass death are likely to continue. ~The Washington Post

One wonders whether the rebel groups committing atrocities against the other’s civilians are committing genocide. I don’t want to be flippant about something so grim and serious, but ultimately what distinguishes the massacres and brutality of the rebels from the massacres and brutality of the Janjaweed? These things are all atrocities and war crimes, but are they “acts of genocide”? Clearly they are not. If they were, and if every side is committing genocide under the exceedingly loose definition of the genocide convention, what can the term possibly mean anymore except to say that everyone is fighting and killing?

I don’t want to beat this into the ground, but it is a little perplexing to me what makes the conflict in Darfur a genocide when the seven-nation Congo War in central Africa from 1998-2003 (with some lingering conflicts still flaring up from time to time) that caused the deaths of somewhere between 3 and 4 million people from violence, disease and famine barely registered on anyone’s radar. If you didn’t read The Economist or newspapers from Africa itself, you would have almost never heard of it. That seems to tell us something else about what makes something a genocide in the Western mind: if we have seen it in the media, and it has been sensationalised, it may be a genocide. If it is not on TV, it probably isn’t.

This is all the more striking given that it was caused more or less directly by the political upheaval following the flight of the Hutu genocidaires into what was then Zaire and the attempt by the late Laurent Kabila, thug and Marxist warlord, to drive them from eastern Zaire in a conflict that quickly became internationalised. The point is, of course, that as horrible and destructive as that war was of entire regions in Zaire/Congo, there were no genocides and no one was daft enough to speak as if there were. Westerners can only imagine a genocide narrative if there is one clearly superior ethnic group dominating one or more weaker ones–multiple vying factions from a bewildering array of backgrounds make it difficult to create a story of virtuous suffering victims and evil racists.

The Post recognises the problems the complexity of the situation presents for their usual moralising, but concludes all the same:

But it is still a calculated policy of targeting ethnic groups and planning, meticulously, to eliminate them.

The government in Khartoum would likely say that it is targeting the bases of support for the rebels, and in this they would have a point. Arguably, they are not targeting these ethnic groups for elimination. That is something Western observers have supposed from the beginning. They are, crudely, brutally and viciously, reasserting political control in the face of a rebellion that is continuing. You may accuse them of war crimes, and you would be right, but they are doing nothing that any clumsy authoritarian government wouldn’t do to suppress an insurgency. Be outraged about that if you will, but don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by calling it a genocide.