Human-rights groups Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have published reports accusing the Sudanese government of complicity in the mass rapes and ethnic cleansing attributed to Janjaweed, despite previous denials by Khartoum, although president Omar Hasan al-Bashir must have begun to hope that the pressure on Sudan over the Darfur issue would be relieved by his decision to let aid-workers into the region and put members of the ‘Arab pro-government Janjaweed militia' on trial.
As if that were not enough, a prominent Sudanese opposition leader has accused vice-president Ali Osman Taha of supervising the attempt on the life of president Mubarak of Egypt in Addis Ababa nine years ago. The accusation was made when Bashir returned from a visit to Cairo, during which it was believed that relations between the two rulers had improved. To cap it all, US secretary of state Colin Powell declared in a newspaper article that the "Sudanese promises are not enough", adding that he had given Khartoum "a list of actions to take in Darfur". This indicates that the US-led plan to break up Africa's largest country is in place, and that Bashir's government lacks the ability to unite the Sudanese people to resist that agenda or to counteract the methods used to achieve it.
The two human-rights groups make very serious charges against the government, which, if allowed to go unchallenged, could have serious consequences for Sudan's unity, and strengthen the hands of those who claim that Khartoum is backing the ‘Arab' Janjaweed militia's war to wipe out the African groups in Darfur that are demanding autonomy. The US and its allies, the UN and the international media, are all alleging that the ‘Arab-dominated' government in the north is using the Janjaweed men to put down the rebellion begun by two ‘African' groups two years ago, and by doing so is committing genocide, or at least ‘ethnic cleansing'. They also claim that Khartoum is not allowing aid-groups into the region to feed the starving population or to disarm the Janjaweed militia and end the ‘ethnic cleansing' there.
The AI report, published on July 19 and widely covered in the international media the next day, is supposed to be based on the testimonies of more than 250 refugees who were interviewed by the group's researchers. It argues that the testimonies "point to rape and other forms of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war". Abuses against women have become "an integral part of the conflict" and do not just reflect the conduct of undisciplined troops, it concludes. The report pins responsibility on the Sudanese government, saying that attacks by Janjaweed militias against African groups have been carried out with impunity and "the full knowledge or acquiescence" of the army. Pollyanna Truscott, AI's Darfur crisis coordinator, explained that the events that AI has documented will have "the effect of tearing at the fabric of society". She added that "the horrific nature and scale of the violence appears to be a collective punishment of a population whose members have taken up arms against the central government." The title of AI's report, which is Sudan & Rape as a Weapon of War in Darfur, says it all.
The simultaneous report by Human Rights Watch makes equally grave charges against the Sudanese government, claiming that Khartoum has put pressure on the Janjaweed militia to recruit additional fighters, and has not only trained them but also armed them. HRW also claims that it has documents dating back to last November that prove that the government has trained, financed and armed the ‘Arab militias'. The documents include ‘directives', issued by the government to the militia's leaders, that prove the allegations, HRW says. And during BBC World Service interviews HRW representatives expressed their conviction that the documents could be used to support charges of war crimes against both government and militia leaders. The Sudanese foreign minister dismissed the claims as nonsense, arguing that HRW should have coordinated its research with the government. But the foreign minister said that the claims were "90 percent false", thereby admitting by implication that 10 percent were true.
The human rights groups, however, were not the only ones making serious charges against the Sudanese government. Dr Ali al-Haj, deputy leader of the National Congress Party, headed by Dr Hasan al-Turabi, has made two serious criminal charges against Ali Osman Taha, the vice-president. He told the London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat on July 20 that Taha had directed the attempt on the life of president Husni Mubarak of Egypt in Addis Ababa in 1995, and also the elimination of several Libyan Islamic activists in Khartoum in 1997. Al-Haj told al-Hayat that "12 of the regime's members named by the US Congress as supporters of international terrorism were embroiled in the attempt on Mubarak's life." He had no doubt of Taha's responsibility because "he was in charge of the security agencies" at the time, he said. The vice-president had full responsibility for the murder of the Libyan activists, who had been brought to Khartoum airport supposedly to transfer them to Libya, but who were disposed of then and there, he added.
However, Al-Haj absolved president Bashir and Dr Turabi of knowledge of and involvement in the assassination attempt and the murders of the Libyan activists. But Bashir cannot take much consolation from this, because al-Haj also makes the damaging accusation that what is happening in Darfur is tantamount to "ethnic cleansing and genocide", committed by "security elements operating in the south, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Darfur." Accordingly, he calls for the resignation of the "current government... as it has failed to solve the Sudanese crisis, worsening it in fact, and has refused to introduce democracy and freedom." Despite the fact that he has held ministerial posts under Bashir, as has Dr Turabi, he confirms that his party will continue to oppose the regime.
Al-Haj is right when he accuses the Bashir regime of being dictatorial and of failing the Sudanese people, but he is exaggerating when he accuses it of committing "genocide" in Darfur. Even UN secretary general Kofi Annan and Colin Powell do not go to the extent of claiming that genocide is taking place there, limiting their charge to "ethnic cleansing". The combined effect of al-Haj's allegations is that the regime will stop at nothing, thereby giving credibility to the charges that Khartoum is using Arab militias to wipe out African tribes in Darfur, and to the calls for Sudan to be divided up on ethnic and religious lines, despite the fact that two thirds of its people are Muslim.
The government is playing into the hands of Sudan's enemies by not being more open about what is happening in Darfur and by not making any serious concessions to the opposition in Khartoum. But the opposition will not help matters by being as extreme as al-Haj has shown himself to be. Unity is the best defence for a country under threat from outside, as Sudan is.