afrol News, 9 September - US Secretary of State Colin Powell today made a statement saying his government had reached "the conclusion that genocide has occurred and may still be occurring in Darfur." A US government team that was launched in July had interviewed 1136 Sudanese refugees in Chad had come to this conclusion, Mr Powell said. Before taking unilateral steps, Washington now was to urge the UN to "take action" and "to initiate a full investigation."
Given the legal implications of officially terming the massive attacks on civilians in Darfur as "genocide", the US government, its allies and the UN have avoided this, until now. The US House of Representatives earlier declared the situation in Darfur genocide, but this resolution was not binding for the US government. Mr Powell's declaration however may have legal consequences for how Washington has to act towards Sudan.
Mr Powell today briefed the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee on "the crisis in Darfur". The American Secretary of State said: "The evidence leads ... the United States to the conclusion that genocide has occurred and may still be occurring in Darfur. We believe the evidence corroborates the specific intent of the perpetrators to destroy 'a group in whole or in part,' the words of the [UN] Convention. ... We believe other elements of the convention have been met as well."
Under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide occurs when several criteria are met. This includes the deliberate physical destruction of a group in whole or in part; that a national, ethnic, racial or religious group is targeted and that killing or other crimes are committed against this group.
The UN Convention also imposes a general duty on states that are signatories to "prevent and to punish" genocide. By saying that the US concludes that "genocide has occurred" in Darfur, Mr Powell thus indirectly says that Washington is obliged by international law to prevent this "genocide" that according to him "may still be occurring in Darfur."
Mr Powell however told the US Senate that the next step would be urging the UN to act. Following US' obligations, "today we are calling on the UN to initiate a full investigation. To this end, the US will propose that the next UN Security Council Resolution on Sudan request a UN investigation into all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law that have occurred in Darfur, with a view to ensuring accountability," the Secretary of State said.
The top US diplomat however made it clear that Washington holds the Sudanese government accountable for what it calls "genocide" in Darfur. His investigation team had found "evidence" of "large-scale acts of violence, including murders, rape and physical assaults on non-Arab individuals" committed by the Khartoum government and its allied Janjaweed militias. "Sudanese military forces destroyed villages, foodstuffs, and other means of survival," he added.
- I know, that the government ... in Khartoum will reject our conclusion of genocide anyway, Mr Powell said, adding that this conclusion was the current US judgment "and not the judgment of the international community."
Correspondently, the Khartoum government has rejected most of the claims presented by the US, other Western powers and some UN officials regarding the Darfur crisis. While the UN claims the conflict has caused up to 50,000 deaths, Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail yesterday said that fewer than 5,000 people have died in the conflict. Khartoum further denies backing the Janjaweed, calling the militias "a group of criminals."
While the Khartoum government has experienced a diplomatic setback by Mr Powell's statement, the US-backed Darfuri militias, fighting Khartoum, celebrated the statement as "a welcome development." The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) has been warning about preparations of genocide for more than a year. "We believe the international community will now take more practical and decisive action against the government," an SLM spokesman told the French news agency AFP in Nigeria.
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