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Fabienne Le Houérou
Eguilles, France - Française

The Conflict in Darfur and the Western Medias

I want first of all to thank the anti-genocide coalition for inviting in Swartmore. I must thank the Ash Center of Ethnopolitical Studies in Philadelphia and Katie Ashmore.

I’m really pleased to visit your campus to know more about you and your commitment against Sudan atrocities. I have also noticed that this admirable interest is not limited with Sudan but extended to other countries like Congo or Burma. Coming back recently from Tibet, I would also advise to be concerned by the atrocities committed there.

I am actually doing research about comparing the two scenarios in Darfur and Tibet. The reason I’m so pleased to be here is also because I’m impressed to observe the commitment of the Academic World concerning the atrocities in Darfur in the USA compared with the European Academic World.
At the end of this presentation, I would also be very interested if you explain the reasons that drove you to be active in this purpose.

Before going directly to the point you should know one or two things about your speaker today. I’m a French researcher at the University of Provence (South) historian specialised in the Middle East and Horn of Africa. I was in Egypt and Sudan during years working on a field program on Forced Migrations and Refugees Studies (2000-2004). During this field research I made two documentaries films on Africans refugee situation in Egypt and Sudan. I largely uses cinema in my research. I shoot myself, do the editing and auto produce the films.

The documentaries are then broadcasted in various culturally interested channels. I also teach the students how to use video as a heuristic tool in field research. Images being the heart of a methodology built on two decades of filmmaking.
My presentation is going to speak about Darfur in relation with the Medias and through the last events concerning the president Omar Al-Bashir and the indictment against him by the ICC (International Criminal Court) and its impact on the humanitarian space specially the refugees.

I will insist on the concept of genocide and its juridical ambiguities to end by examining the situation of the Darfurian refugees in Egypt. Refugees are my main academic concern and my central humanitarian interest. I will illustrate my purpose by showing some part of a last film shot in Cairo with the Darfurian refugees. I apologize for not having an English version. Low budget documentaries sometimes do not have the necessary funding to get subtitled. That is why I will show only short parts of the film translating my self. And I will ask you to be very tolerant for sometimes hesitating in English and making an involuntary mistake in the language of Shakespeare.

- International Justice
The Sudanese President is the subject of an international arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court. The ICC prosecutor announced the decision on the 4th of March, 2009 and the pre-trial chamber excluded the charge of genocide but announced seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The ICJ court and the ICC are two different bodies.

The ICJ court was established in June 1945 by the charter of the United Nations and began work in 1946. The seat of the court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the UN system. The only of the six organs of the United Nations not to be located in New York. The court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions. The court is composed of 15 judges who are elected for 9 years.

As it is stipulated by the San Francisco charter only States are eligible to appear before the Court in contentious cases. At present this basically means 192 United Nations Members Sates. The International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction to deal with applications from individuals, NGO, corporations or any private entity.

ICJ (International Court of Justice) has a different goal and diverse procedures compared to the ICC (Criminal Court of Justice) As the ICJ is not a criminal Court it does not have a prosecutor able to initiate proceedings. This task is the preserve of national courts, the ad hoc tribunals establishes by the United Nations such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia or International tribunal for Rwanda was set up under the Rome status.

The ICC is quite recent , it was created in July 1998: the International Community reached an historic milestone when 120 States adopted the Rome Statute, the legal basis for establishing the permanent International Criminal Court. The Rome statute entered into force on the 1 July 2002 after ratification by 60 countries. The Rome statute is the first permanent treaty based to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

Contrary to the International Court of Justice the ICC is an independent Organisation and is not part of the United Nations System It seats at the Hague (Like the ICJ) Funding as stipulated by the Article 116 of the Rome Statute the Court is funded by Sates parties and receives voluntary contributions.

-The Rome Statute

The text was first written in 1998 but was corrected by “procés-verbaux” to be fully completed in 2002. The Rome Statute define the legal status and the powers of the court and article 5 examine the crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court

-Article6 - Gives the definition of genocide
-Article 7 -Gives the definition of Crimes against Humanity
-Article 8 -War Crimes.

-The concept of genocide as stipulated in Article 6

“Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intend to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such

a) Killing members of the group
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring its physical destruction in whole or in part
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,
e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article 7 defines the “Crime against Humanity” acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.

Article 8 gives a definition of War Crimes grave breaches of the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949.

-Historical context

On a juridical perspective the Court needs to demonstrate the intention to destroy to define a crime as genocide. All crimes or atrocities are not made with the intention to destroy.
In the Sudan case it is very difficult to demonstrate that intention.

The Sudanese government is obviously responsible in the atrocities committed in Darfurian villages together with the militia the janjawids. The Court has a lot of material and proofs to asset that the head of the Sudanese State had full responsibility in the crimes. The government was bombing the villages while the militia was on the ground putting the villages on fire and torturing the Civilian. A heavy material had been reunified to confirm the role of Haroun and Ali Kubaysh two high rank State Ministers.

The Court nevertheless has not enough elements to demonstrate the reality of genocide in Sudan.
It is not obvious that the horrors are planned to destroy an entire group of people on racial, ethnical or religious basis. In fact every one is Muslim and Black in Darfur and the populations are not destroyed because of their races or religion. The main motivation is rather economic and my investigation in the field proves that the presence of oil in Darfur province is a key factor for eliminating the natives Darfurians from their farms.

There are also political factors such has the existent rivalries and historical centuries of hostilities between Arabic tribes and other so called African tribes. That is to say tribes with an Arab pedigree (ancestor) even though these Arabs tribes are mostly completely Africanised by centuries of mixing populations.

The Darfurian sultanate at the 17 century was originally a produce of a local melting pot between Arabs and Africans. In reality for any one who spend some times in the Sudan the differences between Baggara tribes and Fur, Massalit or Zaghawa tribes are not a motivation to explain the atrocities committed by the Janjawids.

The janjawid militia is composed by Baggara nomads with an Arab pedigree and Massalit , Fur and zaghawa tribes are sedentary peasants living in villages with nilotic African origins.

But every body there was Islamised during the 14 th century. Most of the religious tribes belong to the same Sufi order called Tijjanniyya (coming from el Tijjani from North Africa).

Observing recent genetically results from a research carried in Singapore University proves that Fur are inter mediate between Arabs and Negroïds. Blood analysis shows that the Fur is the fruit of an original “metissage” between Arabs and Africans.

It is not on an ethnic ground that the Sudanese government wants to get rid of the local populations in Darfur. It is more a political calculation. The State in Sudan, from its independence in 1956 had always been ruled by Northerners with Arab and Egyptians origins. They had always been in conflict with the other populations of Sudan. The South of the country is Christian and does not accept the Charia law that the Northerners in Khartoum started to impose all over the country in 1984 . The rulers of Northerners Sudan were in conflict with the Christian Southerners for more than 50 years. The war in Southern Sudan started in 1956 and ended in 2004. This was the longest African civil war who created 4 millions of displaced and 2 millions of people have died.

The conflict between the Sudan government and the South ended in 2004 with a peace treaty.
During that long civil war the janjawids, was already active and committing crimes in the South in the same ways that people were killed in Darfur. This war was never called genocide even though the atrocities were alike.

Sudan is the biggest country in Africa and the military system in Sudan is unable to control the territory that is why the government supported a militia to do their jobs. Janjawid exist in Sudan since the seventies and were always used by the government to control the territory and to crash rebellions. For Khartoum, Darfur case was just another province to be dominated and controlled.

What happened in Darfur when the war started in 2003 already took place in the south of the country. To impose his law the Sudan State, ruled by Muslims Bothers since Hassan El-Turabi in 1989, relies on Northern tribes (Jailiyn, Dongola, and Shaigiyya). These tribes consider themselves as Arabs tribes. The Arabisation of North Sudan is very ancient and is the result of mass migration from Egypt and Libya before the introduction of Islam.

Egypt is a neighbour country and was always very influent in Sudan even before the Condominium. Egypt ruled Sudan for many years with the British.
So the Egyptian / Arab influence is ancient in the North of Sudan .

The South of Sudan was not under Arabic influence, the south is too far geographically to be submitted to a real Arabic influence. The south of Sudan is religiously Christian.
But Darfur, contrary to the South, was always submitted to Arab influence. The Nomads Baggara came very anciently to Darfur mixing with the local population. Darfur Sultanate was rich and brilliant during the 17 and 18 centuries, its economy was based on slave selling.

The business of Slaves was the key bone of the Darfurian sultanate’s economy. They became Muslims to escape enslavement. Only non Muslims could be taken as slaves. The Arab Merchant Ibn El-Tounsy gives a very special attention describing the Slave hunting in the sultanate in a book of memories published in the 19th century. (Travels in Darfur). In migration to Darfur incorporated Berberians and Arabs tribes in the 14th and 15 th centuries.

At that time Darfur as a whole became Muslim.
These historical elements are fundamentals to understand that Khartoum and the Northern rulers of Sudan today are not destroying groups for ethnical or religious purpose and they have not any intention to eliminate a targeted group but to get rid of a population for political and economical motivations.
To my view it is obvious that the horrors committed in Darfur are not juridical falling on the definition of genocide. This does not mean that the government in Khartoum is not responsible of abominations. Not all horrors are genocides.

Individual crimes, tortures are not automatically registered as genocide because you are obliged to demonstrate the intention to destroy a group on religious, ethnic, nation or racial basis. What if a group destroys another group on an economical ground? Does the crime become genocide? Ethimogically “genos” means race in Greek and “cide” means to eliminate in Latin: the neologism was created after War World II by Raphael Lempkin a jurist. The word explains exactly the essence of the crime.

Genocide is the elimination of a race and the concept emerges in the context of the Shoah and the racial abominations the Nazis had done to the Jewish community. Therefore the international community was willing to create a juridical tool to prevent such cases.

The ICC has accused al-Bashir of complicity in crimes against Humanity committed in the Governments campaign against rebels.
In my view the qualifications of the crimes are juridically justified.

Article 7 defines the “Crime against Humanity” acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.

The population was systematically attacked by the militia and the government. The state is clearly responsible of these atrocities.

-Media overusing the concept of Genocide.

The Media are using the word without cautious. The concept is precise and has consequences in term of international relations. If the crime of genocide is applied to Omar al-Bashir it will accuse the whole Sudanese Government and be a terrific tool to justify a potential military intervention. Genocide is understood as a step beyond War Crimes or Crimes against Humanity.

I do not think that we should call any crime genocide because then it will become counterproductive and meaningless. To day we assist to the emergence of New African mass crimes that are not to be very simplistically defines as African Shoah and the juridical international system is trying to find the right juridical tools for qualifying the facts.

The term genocide was employed by Colin Powell in September 9, 2004 and the US congress voted that the atrocities in Darfur represented a genocide. That means that the concept is highly politicised. Why do we call Darfur a genocide and never mentioned the crimes in South Sudan which made 6 millions of victims, for more than five decades, genocide? According to the numbers given by the UN agencies Darfur War made two millions of displaced and 300 000 people that have died. Even if it is quite indecent morally to compare dead rates it is useful to recall these records because comparisons are analytical tools.

The word genocide is used as symbolic weapon for all western public opinion. In this concern The Harvard Journal of Human Rights published a paper from Alex De Waal, well known specialist of Darfur, underlining the danger of defining Darfur’s crisis as genocide.

De Waal writes “ The danger of the word genocide is that it can slide from it’s wider, legally specific meaning, to a branding of the perpetrators group as collectively evil. Having labelled a group or a government “genocidal”, it is difficult to make the case that a political compromise needs to be found with them. This leaves only various forms of pressure, such as sanctions, prosecution in a Court of law and of course military intervention.
According to De Waal “Military intervention is a clumsy tool that runs serious failure and inflammatory side effects”.

An armed intervention in Darfur without the consent of the Sudanese government would have further complications of being seen in Africa and the Middle East as an arbitrary projection of American power into a Muslim Arab country.
Implicitly using the concept of genocide leads to a moral condemn that can justify military action.

-Media and politics

The concept was used in a bulimic way without any juridical analysis in the American and European Medias and the western world in general. The conflict was presented as Black Africans victims of Arabs aggressors. Some African tribes of Darfur like Massalit, Fur and Zhagawa were pictured as a targeted group in a racial perspective. This simplistic way to present the conflict was giving the opinion that a genocide was going on. The Western Public opinion had a sense of guilt related with Rwanda. The Western World did not do anything to stop the killing process in Rwanda. The events in Rwanda meet the genocide definition, according to the 1948 convention, in a clearer way compared to the Darfur War.
In our democracies politicians know that they need public opinion to justify action. Bush government used the word genocide also to drive American public focus else where than in Irak. Most intellectuals and diplomats in Africa recall why Irak was not considered genocidal?

When Bashir received the arrest warrant, journalists in the Middle East asked why Bush was not arrested by the CCI. They were very critical with the Criminal Court considering this organ as the voice of the Western World and interests with no universal potential. Blogs every where in the Arab World claimed that it was a justice for the dominating countries of the world to impose their visions.

The role of the Medias has a formidable impact on politics, especially international relations.
In the internet images of violence, tortures were flourishing everywhere on the net in a horrible manner zooming on scars and injuries provoking in the public opinion a guilty sense of voyeurism.

I remember when I was editing the film “Voices of Darfur” a well known channel sent one of their bureaucrat in the studio who told me that the film was going to be difficult to sell “because no body was raped, there were no injury or dead bodies”…
Televisions in France just could not admit to show ordinary suffering of the refugees… It was too casual and not enough sensational. They wanted something bloody and sanguinary.

The film was edited out of a hundred hours of rushes and explained the life of Darfurian refugees. I was shocked to see that they clearly wanted some “hot suffering” and neglected completely the harsh time of refugees escaping the democide (from the Greek people and Latin elimination) a better concept in my opinion to qualify the atrocities.
What are the consequences of the caricatural language (image language) of the Media on the public opinions?

In our democracies there is a good sense of humanity that I think is genuine and comes from a global ethic. Zooming on horrors makes you feel that the “voyeur” is an incarnation of justice and influence a kind of identification to the victims. The one who sees is therefore always on the victim side and will justify a policy of humanitarian action. No policy is really humanitarian and after observing conflicts, especially in east Africa, I am afraid to conclude that humanitarian feelings are mostly instrumentalized in a wider policy. In France, it is very obvious, our Ministry Of Foreign Affair is a French doctor coming from on of the first NGO in France “Médecins Sans Frontière”. Using humanitarian feelings to make politics is quite clear since the 80’s and as a growing impact on international relations.

The language the Media uses is violent and provokes strong emotions in favour of the victims. They worked on selling a genocide picture of the situation giving a simplistic message about a very complex situation. In our Western World it is also very common to present poor countries as monolithic. It is not because the societies are poor that they are not complex bodies. Actually the role of the Medias is so negative that they can really turn the ambiguous reality into a real genocide. I will explain why.

-The consequence of the international arrest warrant on the humanitarian space

After the arrest warrant was given to the Sudanese president Omar El-Bashir on the 4 of marsh 2009 a huge manifestation was held in Khartoum to support him. Most of the Northern population of Sudan had understood the warrant as a humiliation for the Sudan. As an insult from a politicized justice, a tool of political domination of the West.
A colonial justice that does not really understand the Sudanese reality, specially the complex melting pot of this society.

The prosecutor Moreno has given a rigid juridical decision and used the term holocaust for the Sudanese situation. This is an abusive language in an historical perspective. The situation in Darfur has nothing in common with the Shoah because no body is being killed as targeted group. The African diplomats have the feeling that the paradigm of the Shoah is abusively applied in an African complex society so different from Germany in the thirties.
They have the feeling of manipulation of concept far from the reality. The past is abusively exported in the current situation in Darfur.

The Arab World is truly shocked to read what the western Medias picture evil Arabs killing Black African innocents and the Arab World refuses this manichean presentation of the conflict. There is a true solidarity among African states and Arabs countries not to read Darfur case in these terms. That is why Omar Al-Bashir can travel freely in the Arab World without any fear. This situation will undermine the legitimacy of the ICC.

More important after the arrest warrant was given by ICC the Sudanese government will affect the life of thousands displaced Darfurians.

Just after the arrest warrant, Sudan ordered 13 NGOs to leave, saying they provided information to the world court before it issued an arrest warrant for president Omar el-Bashir.

“The decision by the government of Sudan to expel 13 NGOs could cause irrevocable damage” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki –Moon.

These humanitarian operations were key to maintain a lifeline to 4.7 million people in the Western region of Darfur. The expulsions, according to UN, will leave 1.1 million people, without food, 1.5 million without health care and more than a million without drinking water. (IRIN, 10 Marsh, 09) Al-Bashir denies the ICC charges describing them as a plot of western “neo-colonialism”. The removal of important agencies would be a severe blow to the poorest especially in Darfur. The NGos were expelled on March 5, 2009. These included Oxfam, Care, MSF-Netherlands, Mercy Corps, Save The Children, The Norvegian Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee, Action Contre la Faim, Solidarités and CHF International. Some of them were asked to turn over a list of their assets and banking details, while others had their computers, communications equipments and vehicles confiscated. Other were detained some international staff were given 24 hours to leave Sudan.
Between 200 and 300 international staff are believed to employed by organisations a total of 16 000 workers some 95°/° of whom are Sudanese.
NGos are openly attacked by the Sudanese Medias and accused of spying and stealing. Bashir told on 7 March than 99°/° of their budget was to pay their own salaries and never reached the poorest.

-The closure of refugee camps

The consequence will also affect the refugee camps in Darfur. The Sudanese government was waiting for a good reason to close the camps. The Government perception of the camps is very negative, the state sees these spaces as potential pockets of rebellion against its authority. A dozens of camps are scattered across Darfur to house 2.7 million who have lost their homes in six years of fighting. Some of the larger camps host up to 90 000 people and are suspected by the government. Sudanese Medias has publicised the closure of the camps. And the return of IDPs back to their villages. Mahdi Qutbi, a senior member of the ruling National Congress Party had said more than 200 Sudanese Organisations will fill the void, including the Sudanese Red Crescent. However clean water will become a key issue in the next months especially during the dry season starting in April.

-Possible influx of refugees to Chad

The consequence of the expulsion of important NGOs, according to UN aid agencies, is the possible influx of refugee to Chad a neighbouring country.
The scarcity of natural resources like water and wood in eastern Chad already puts a strain on aid agencies who are already assisting a quarter million Sudanese refugees, some 160 000 displaced Chadians and local populations.
A major influx will also break a fragile balance in Chad and can bring communities to turn against each other as resources disappear.


The paradox of CCI is that threatening a president does not really have a practical effect on his movements. Bashir has already gone to Eritrea. He travels freely in the Arab World.
The ICC arrest warrant ironically will affect directly almost two millions of people.
The most fragile populations will be at risk, innocent populations relying on the humanitarian system. Because obviously the loss expertise following the expulsion or closure of 16 aid agencies cannot be replaced in the short run. At the same time Darfurian do not trust the State NGOs.
Competion for resources will extend out of the camps and influx of refugees could also export instability in Chad. So we have an example of a courageous justice (CCI arrest warrant is theorically courageous) blocking a political peace process in Sudan.
We understand here the consequence of using such word as genocide by the Media instead of the classical concept of a classical civil war going on is far from being neutral. Words are never neutral.

1. President Nimeiry brought Sharia in 1983. The most serious consequence of the declaration of Sharia Law is that the conflict was interpreted by the Southeners as a Jihad and it gave second impulse to the conflict.

2. Reflections on the difficulties of defining Darfur’ crisis as genocide, in Harvard Human Rights Journal, vol 20, 2007.

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LE HOUEROU F., 1994, L’épopée des soldats de Mussolini en Abyssinie, les « ensablés », Paris, L’Harmattan, 199 p.

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