Proving Genocide in Darfur: The Atrocities Documentation Project and Resistance to its Findings
By Gregory H. Stanton
The United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on 9 September 2004 declared “that genocide has occurred in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility, and that genocide may still be continuing.” The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, by unanimous vote on 23 July 2004, declared “that the atrocities unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, are genocide.”
The State Department has not historically been forward-leaning in making findings of genocide, as was notoriously evident during its refusal to apply the term “genocide” to Rwanda in 1994 until most of the 800,000 victims had been murdered. For Darfur, however, the State
Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the Ambassador for War Crimes Issues, Pierre-Richard Prosper, adopted an exemplary strategy of proof. Prosper was the prosecutor in the Akayesu case , which resulted in history’s first conviction after trial by an International Criminal Tribunal applying the Genocide Convention. The State Department’s strategy demonstrated the careful investigation and solid legal analysis that made Prosper such a formidable prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
The Atrocities Documentation Project
Prosper knew that proof of genocide must be based on authoritative facts. He arranged for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to commission a thorough investigation by experts recruited by the Coalition for International Justice (CIJ), and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives. The result was the Darfur Atrocities Documentation Project, the first use of systematic social science survey research to prove commission of genocide and crimes against humanity. An interviewing tool was formulated and tested, and systematic random sampling methods were then used to interview 1,136 eyewitnesses in Sudanese refugee camps in Chad, a sample large enough to be a statistically significant representation of the estimated 200,000 Darfuri refugees in Chad. The interviewing teams were carefully chosen and given full support for the project. Then Prosper and the State Department Legal Advisers’ Office applied international law to the facts, without determining in advance what the conclusion would be. The legal conclusions were properly separated from their political consequences.
The results of the CIJ report were shocking. Over 60 percent of the people interviewed had witnessed the killing of a family member. Two-thirds had witnessed the killing of a non-family member. Over 80 percent had witnessed destruction of a village. Two-thirds had witnessed aerial bombing of villages by the Sudanese government. And perhaps most chillingly, one-third had heard racial epithets used while they or their relatives were being murdered or raped. Assailants often shouted, “Kill the slaves” and “We have orders to kill all the blacks.” Over 250,000 black Africans have died in Darfur, and over two million people have been displaced from their homes. The State Department Report stated that as of September 2004, over six hundred villages had been burnt to the ground by Arab Janjaweed militias, supported by Sudanese government bombing.
The Finding of Genocide
Genocide, as defined by the U.N. Genocide Convention is “the intentional destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such.” Was the killing “intentional?” Yes. According to the elements of crimes defined by the Statute of the International Criminal Court, genocide must be the result of a policy, which may be proved by direct orders or evidenced by systematic organization. Was the killing in Darfur systematically organized by the al-Bashir regime using government armed Janjaweed militias, bombers, and helicopter gunships? Yes. Were the victims chosen because of their ethnic and racial identity? Yes. Fur, Masseleit, and Zaghawa black African villages were destroyed, while Arab villages nearby were left untouched. The State Department report concludes that the “primary cleavage is ethnic: Arabs against Africans.”  Does this conclusion constitute the intentional destruction, in part, of ethnic and racial groups? Yes. In short, the violence in Darfur is genocide; and it continues. The atrocities committed by the Sudanese government and Janjaweed militias in Darfur meet all three requirements for genocide:
1. The atrocities are intentional, evidenced by the systematic nature of their destruction of major parts of the Fur, Massaleit, Zaghawa, and other African groups through killing and mass rape. The widespread expression of ethnic and racial intent to destroy by the perpetrators was strongly proven by the CIJ survey. The intent is specific – it is aimed at partial destruction of specific ethnic and racial groups. The fact that some members of the groups have been spared, and allowed to flee to refugee and IDP camps is irrelevant to this finding of specific intentionality, contrary to the finding of the UN Commission of Inquiry. This is a case of “ethnic cleansing” being accomplished through genocide. The two crimes are not mutually exclusive.
2.The crimes are directed against groups protected by the Genocide Convention. The Fur, Massaleit, and Zaghawa are ethnic groups which have their own languages, cultures, and preferential kinship systems, distinguishing them from the Arab perpetrators not by color, but by ethnicity. The claim by the Sudanese government that both perpetrators and victims are alike is simply false. The fact is that the African groups being attacked are culturally distinctive, and their attackers certainly recognize the distinctions when they refer to their victims as “blacks” or “slaves.”
3. They include all the acts of genocide enumerated in the Genocide Convention: widespread mass killings of people targeted because of their ethnic identity; mass rape, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the groups; deliberately inflicting on the groups destruction of crops, poisoning of wells, and other conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births by the group (directly declared by rapists who tell their victims, “Now you will bear light-skinned children”); and forcibly kidnapping the children of the group into slavery.
The al-Bashir regime in Sudan has mastered genocide and ethnic cleansing, having combined these crimes before in the Nuba Mountains and in the southern Sudan, where over two million black Africans died over the course of the 21-year long civil war between the north and the south. In the south, the government wants to confiscate rich oil reserves under the lands of the Nuer, Dinka, Shilluk, Nuba, and other black African groups. In Darfur, the regime is driven by the racist ideology of the “Arab Gathering,” a secretive elite reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan or Nazi Party, that wants to “arabize” Sudan and drive out black Africans in order to confiscate their grazing lands, water resources, and cattle herds.
One of the most insidious aspects of the Sudanese government’s genocide in Darfur is that its policy of direct mass murder is complemented by a longer term strategy of what Helen Fein has named “genocide by attrition.” Alex De Waal calls it “famine that kills.” Mass murder by starvation has been a method of genocide for centuries, perfected by the Turks in Armenia in 1915 and by Stalin in 1933 Ukraine. It has been the strategy of choice of the Sudanese government, both in the south and in Darfur. It is a shrewd strategy because death comes slowly for many of its victims and denial is easy. All a government need do is arm and support militias, which drive a self-sufficient people off their land through terror, herd them into displaced persons and refugee camps, then systematically impede aid from getting to them, letting them slowly die of starvation and disease. The deaths can then be blamed on “famine,” “disease,” “ancient tribal conflicts,” or “civil war,” or most cynically, “failure of the international community to provide needed relief.”
Resistance and Denial
There was dissent within the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser from die-hard deniers including George Taft, who was one of the State Department lawyers who notoriously opposed calling the Rwandan genocide by its proper name for over two months in 1994. Even after more than 250,000 people had died in Darfur, George Taft told me personally in Washington, DC on August 16, 2005 (witnessed by the former U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda, David Rawson) that the Darfur mass murders do not constitute genocide, and he opposed use of the term genocide for Darfur. Fortunately, the State Department’s Legal Adviser, William H. Taft IV, and the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had already exercised better legal judgment in September 2004 as a result of the Atrocities Documentation Project and had determined that the mass killing in Darfur is genocide.
The legal deniers’ main argument is that the killings don’t fit the definition of genocide. Such “definitionalist” denial, which is based on technical legal doubt about proof of one of the elements of the crime of genocide (usually intent), is most common among lawyers and policy makers who want to avoid intervention beyond provision of humanitarian aid. It results in “analysis paralysis,” which the State Department/CIJ Atrocities Documentation Project and report brilliantly overcame. Nevertheless, the European Union, the Secretary General of the United Nations and even Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International still avoid calling the crimes in Darfur by their proper name. There are five reasons for such reluctance.
1. Among journalists, the general public, diplomats, and lawyers who haven’t read the Genocide Convention, there is a common misconception that a finding of genocide would legally require action to suppress it. Under this misconception, having been informed that the U.S. would take no action in Rwanda in 1994, State Department lawyers ordered avoidance of the word. They made their legal conclusion fit the Procrustean bed of U.S. policy.
Unfortunately, the Genocide Convention carries no such legal compulsion to act. It legally requires only that states-parties to the Convention pass national laws against genocide and then prosecute or extradite those who commit the crime. Article VIII of the Convention says they also “may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide”(emphasis added). But they are not legally required to do so. Article I of the Genocide Convention creates a moral obligation to prevent genocide, but it does not dictate military intervention or any other particular measures.
2. Another misconception is the “all or none” concept of genocide. The all-or-none school considers killings to be genocide only if their intent is to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group “in whole.” Their model is the Holocaust. They ignore the “in part” in the definition in the Genocide Convention. This school would render the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (emphasis added) functionally useless, since genocide could only be found after an entire group was dead. It would also limit applicability of the Convention to just three cases: Armenia, the Holocaust, and Rwanda, a mistake that Dr. Alain Destexhe, M.D. made in his 1994 book on the Rwandan genocide.
3. Since the 1990s, a new obstacle to calling genocide by its proper name has been the distinction between genocide and “ethnic cleansing.” Genocide and “ethnic cleansing” are sometimes portrayed as mutually exclusive crimes, but they are not. Professor William Schabas, for example, says that “it is incorrect to assert that ethnic cleansing is a form of genocide, or even that in some cases, ethnic cleansing amounts to genocide.”  He argues that the specific intent of “ethnic cleansing” is expulsion of a group, whereas the specific intent of “genocide” is its destruction, in whole or in part. He illustrates with a simplistic distinction: in “ethnic cleansing,” borders are left open and a group is driven out; in “genocide,” borders are closed and a group is killed. The fallacy of the distinction arises from the misconception that an act or policy can have only one specific intent. Any prosecutor knows that the same act may have several intents and constitute the basis for several criminal charges. The Sudanese government has at least two intents in Darfur: one is to destroy a significant part of the Fur, Massaleit, and Zaghawa population of Darfur. That is genocide. The other intent of the Sudanese government and their Janjaweed militias is to drive Fur, Massaleit, and Zaghawa black African farmers off of their ancestral lands, using terror caused by mass murder, mass rape, mass starvation, and concentration camps run by Janjaweed and Sudanese army guards. That is “ethnic cleansing.” Thus, both ethnic cleansing and genocide are underway in Darfur.
4. Another way to avoid use of the term “genocide” is to confuse motive with intent. An example is the claim that the motive of the perpetrator is merely “ethnic cleansing” of a territory, not “genocide,” which requires the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The U.N. Commission of Experts report of 2005 made this mistake. Ironically, the U.N. Commission report even included a paragraph saying motive and intent should not be confused, an exhortation the Commission promptly violated. Even if a stated or otherwise evident motive of a perpetrator is to drive a group off its land (“ethnic cleansing”), the methods used to terrorize the group may include killing part of the group and other acts enumerated in the Genocide Convention, resulting in the destruction of the group, in whole or in part. That is what is happening in Darfur. That is genocide.
5. The most important diplomatic argument against using the term “genocide” was that it would antagonize the Sudanese government, cut off U.S. ability to act as a mediator in “the peace process,” and jeopardize Sudanese cooperation in the war on terror. George Taft explicitly stated this view to me when I discussed the State Department’s determination with him. This realpolitik argument has been especially effective in frightening diplomats who fear upsetting the peace processes between North and South, and now between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government in Abuja. In 2005 the argument has become: “don’t upset the fragile new order in Khartoum put in place by the agreements settling the civil war in the south. Let’s concentrate on getting the Darfur ‘rebels’ to reach a similar agreement with Khartoum in Abuja under the African Union. And by all means don’t jeopardize Sudanese cooperation with the U.S. in the war on terror.” Most recently that policy was demonstrated when the chief of the Sudanese intelligence service Salah Abdallah Gosh, one of the main planners of the Darfur genocide, was flown by executive jet to confer with the CIA in Langley, Virginia.
Meanwhile, the ethnic cleansing of Darfur is nearly complete, and genocidal massacres and rapes continue daily. Diplomats repeatedly and naively avoid antagonizing genocidists, ignoring the fact that they are serial killers. Policies toward them based on fear lead only to appeasement and further genocide. Unfortunately, such appeasement now seems to be the main illusion driving U.S. policy.
It is time for the U.S. to recognize that 7000 African Union military observers without a robust mandate cannot protect civilians in Darfur. We should seek a Chapter VII U.N. Security Council resolution mandating the African Union to protect civilians in Darfur, and calling on U.N. members to quickly provide it with strong military and financial resources. If the resolution cannot pass the Security Council, or if the African Union refuses the mandate, the U.S. and NATO should declare a No-Fly Zone over Darfur and enforce it with AWACS planes, NATO jets, and helicopter gunships. If Sudanese government bombers and gunships violate it, and continue to bomb and machine-gun villagers in Darfur, the planes should be shot down. NATO should also prepare a heavy infantry force to intervene if Janjaweed militias continue their reign of ethnic cleansing, mass rape, and genocide.
Those who are bystanders to genocide are guilty of complicity. In genocide, only the stars are neutral.
 This article is published in Markusen and Totten, The Darfur Atrocities Documentation Project, Routledge, forthcoming 2006. Portions of the article are adapted from chapters in The Aegis Review on Genocide, Volume 1, Number 3 (Summer/Autumn 2004) and Joyce Apsel, ed., Darfur: Genocide Before Our Eyes, Institute for the Study of Genocide, 2005.
 Dr. Gregory H. Stanton is the James Farmer Visiting Professor of Human Rights at the University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is President of Genocide Watch and Chair of the International Campaign to End Genocide. He is Vice President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. He served in the State Department from 1992 to 1999, where he wrote U.N. Security Council Resolutions 955 and 978, which established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He founded the Cambodian Genocide Project in 1981 and has since worked to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice. In 2003 – 2005, he drafted rules of procedure and evidence for the mixed UN/Cambodia tribunal.
 Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 9 September 2004
 S. CON. RES. 133, 108th Congress, 2nd Session, 2004
 Jean-Paul Akayesu was a bourgmestre (mayor) in the Taba commune of Gitarama. On 2 September 1998, the ICTR found him guilty of “genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity (extermination, murder, torture, rape and other inhumane acts.)” One of the court’s most significant findings was that systematic mass rape is an act of genocide under Article 2 (b) of the Genocide Convention (“Causing serious mental or bodily harm to members of the group”) when it is intended to destroy the group. (ICTR-96-4-1)
 Lieutenant General Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir took power in a military coup by the National Islamic Front (NIF) in 1989, when he became Prime Minister, and he has been President since October 1993.
 Eric Reeves, “Darfur: Genocide Before Our Eyes,” in Apsel, ed. Darfur: Genocide Before Our Eyes, Institute for the Study of Genocide, 2005, p. 28
 Helen Fein (1993). “Accounting for Genocide after 1945: Theories and Some Findings,” International Journal of Group Rights, I, 79 – 106.
 Alex De Waal (2005, rev. ed.). Famine that Kills.Darfur, Sudan. London: Oxford University Press.
 Alain Destexhe (2004), Rwanda, essai sur le genocide. Paris: Editions Complexe.
 William Schabas (2000), Genocide in International Law (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England 2000) 200.
 Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1564 of 18 September 2004, 25 January 2005, paragraph 493: “Of course, this special intent must not be confused with motive, namely the particular reason that may induce a person to engage in criminal conduct. For instance, in the case of genocide a person intending to murder a set of persons belonging to a protected group, with the specific intent of destroying the group (in whole or in part), may be motivated, for example, by the desire to appropriate the goods belonging to that group or set of persons, or by the urge to take revenge for prior attacks by members of that groups, or by the desire to please his superiors who despise that group. From the viewpoint of criminal law, what matters is not the motive, but rather whether or not there exists the requisite special intent to destroy a group.”