Sudan: Western Oil Greed Trumps ‘Genocide’ Concerns

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (center) congratulates Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (center) congratulates Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha (left) and rebel leader John Garang after signing a peace accord in Nairobi, Kenya, in January. (Photo: Simon Maina / AFP-Getty Images)

After four months of virtual silence and tens of thousands more deaths, the Jan. 31 release of the report of the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur has prodded U.S. spokespeople into repeating the charge that “genocide” is taking place in Sudan’s Darfur provinces.

However, if the recent past is any guide, Washington’s sudden rediscovery of the persecution of Darfur’s non-Arabic-speaking farmers will only last as long as it takes to pressure Khartoum to again tone down the worst aspects of its ethnic-cleansing campaign.

The U.N. report concluded that while the military regime in Sudan “has not pursued a policy of genocide ... in some instances individuals, including government officials, may commit acts with genocidal intent.”

The report said it had established that the Sudan government and its state-sponsored janjaweed Arab-chauvinist gangs are guilty of “crimes under international law,” including attacks on villages, killing of civilians, rape, pillaging and forced displacement of people. These crimes have continued without interruption, despite Khartoum’s commitments to stop the attacks, disarm the janjaweed and bring its leaders to justice.

The commission presented U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan with a sealed file of “likely suspects” and recommended that the U.N. Security Council refer them to the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) in The Hague.

This recommendation is unlikely to be implemented because the U.S., which has veto power in the Security Council, is opposed to the I.C.C.’s existence. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush vehemently rejects the body because it fears that its illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq (and future offensive military operations), and the crimes its troops have committed there, may see it brought before the   I.C.C.

To deflect criticism, U.S. State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher on Feb. 1 said that Washington was again discussing with Security Council members “further measures, including possible targeted sanctions.” According to Reuters, “without providing details Boucher told reporters Washington had proposed ‘oil sanctions,’ an assets freeze and travel ban on Sudanese officials and militia members, and the extension of an arms embargo on the government.”

History Repeats

Yet, we have heard all this before. Last July, after Western governments had quietly stood by for 18 months as the farmers of the Darfur region were being massacred and driven from their land, the U.S. administration and European Union governments belatedly began to pressure the Sudanese regime to rein in the janjaweed.

On July 1, Powell visited Khartoum, where he sternly warned Sudan’s leaders: “Unless we see more moves soon ... it may be necessary for the international community to begin considering other actions, to include Security Council action.”

On July 3, Sudan’s rulers took the hint and issued a joint communiqué with the U.N. secretary general promising to “immediately start disarming the janjaweed and other armed outlaw groups,”… “allow the deployment of human rights monitors” and “ensure that all individuals and groups accused of human rights violations are brought to justice without delay.”

Despite the pledges, janjaweed and government attacks in Darfur escalated. In mid-July, Powell circulated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that threatened Khartoum with unspecified “sanctions” unless it implemented the July 3 communiqué. However, when the resolution finally passed on July 30, the word “sanctions” had been deleted.

On Aug. 30, Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council’s members that, despite the Sudan government’s failure to meet “some of the core commitments,” it had made “some progress” in addressing the Darfur crisis. Annan did not recommend the imposition of sanctions. Annan’s main recommendation was that Sudan be pressured to accept a “larger international presence” based on an expansion of the existing 305-member African Union (A.U.) military force already in Darfur to protect A.U. ceasefire monitors.

However, Sudan continued to resist the deployment of an enlarged A.U. force.

On Sept. 6, Powell suddenly declared the Sudanese military dictatorship’s vicious ethnic-cleansing campaign against Darfur’s non-Arab farmers to be “genocide.” Yet, despite the gravity of Powell’s characterization, another U.S.-drafted Security Council resolution was passed on Sept. 18 that again dropped specific reference to sanctions against the Islamist regime, did not impose a deadline for Khartoum to comply with the U.N. Security Council’s July 30 demand that it disarm the janjaweed and urged Sudan to admit an expanded A.U. monitoring force (but without a “peacekeeping” mandate to protect the persecuted Darfuri villagers).

On Oct. 1, Khartoum at last agreed to the deployment of 3,500 extra A.U. troops in the devastated region. Powell welcomed Khartoum’s acceptance of the token force, unconcerned that the responsibility for “security” in Darfur remained in the hands of Sudan’s military. On top of this, the A.U. has not received enough Western funding to deploy more than half the force.

Within weeks, the long-running Darfur crisis virtually disappeared from the corporate media’s headlines. Washington just as suddenly abandoned the Darfuri peasants to their fate.


Since 2001, the Bush administration’s priority in Sudan has been to end the more than two-decade-long war between the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (S.P.L.M.) and the Arab-chauvinist rulers in Khartoum. The resulting “stability” in Sudan would allow Washington to lift existing sanctions and permit U.S. oil corporations to return to southern Sudan.

Khartoum unleashed the Arab-chauvinist gangs — backed by Sudan air force bombers and helicopter gunships — when Darfur’s majority non-Arabic-speaking farming tribes rebelled against Khartoum’s neglect of the region in February 2003. Washington and the E.U. had all but ignored the atrocities taking place there until Khartoum’s brutal treatment of the Darfuris threatened to derail the north-south peace deal and prevent the opening of Sudan’s lucrative oilfields to greater Western exploitation. Only then did Western governments begin to apply real pressure on the Sudanese regime to rein in the janjaweed.

Knowing that Sudan’s regime is keen to normalize relations with the U.S., Washington’s goal has been to lure Khartoum’s rulers back into the fold using the “carrot” of promises to lift existing U.S. sanctions (imposed in 1997) — which have left Sudan’s potentially huge oil industry starved of massive U.S. investment — and the “stick” of the threat of further sanctions.

Washington is also keen to lift its economic sanctions. Since 1997, U.S. oil companies have been excluded from profiting from the expansion of Sudan’s oil exploration, and its production since 1999, while Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and European companies have taken the lion’s share.

Despite playing the role of “tough cop” at the U.N., U.S. officials have worked closely with the other Security Council members, and the A.U., to craft a settlement that will be bearable for Khartoum, while being sufficient to defuse the Darfur crisis enough to allow the final phase of the north-south peace deal to be completed. Of course, Sudan’s reactionary rulers have continually probed to test the limits of the West’s tolerance, requiring Washington to periodically escalate its rhetoric.

Peace Deal Signed

On Jan. 9, the long-anticipated final signing of the north-south peace agreement took place in Kenya, bringing a formal end to the terrible civil war that has devastated the south. The conflict has caused the deaths of more than 2 million people since 1983 and driven 4 million from their homes.

Under the agreement, the ruling National Islamic Front and the S.P.L.M. will form a government of national unity to run Sudan, with S.P.L.M. leader John Garang becoming vice president. The S.P.L.M. will govern an autonomous southern province in which Islamic law will not apply, and it will equally share Sudan’s enormous oil revenue with the central government. In six years’ time, the people of the south will vote in a referendum on southern independence.

For the Western powers, the settlement raises hopes for the return of their oil corporations to Sudan. Associated Press reported on Jan. 16 that the peace deal “gives investors an opening in a needy country with large oil reserves,” specifying renewed investment attempts by French oil giant Total and Houston-based Marathon Oil.

Meanwhile, in the four months following Powell’s self-serving genocide determination, tens of thousands more Darfuri villagers have died, tens of thousands more have been displaced and millions remain at risk of hunger and disease. According to independent Sudan expert Eric Reeves, the total death toll in Darfur has been consistently misreported by the mainstream press. He estimates that about 200,000 people have died from disease and hunger since February 2003, and around 215,000 from violence. Up to 2 million people have been displaced from their homes (see for more information).