July 26, 2004
WASHINGTON, DC — For the first time in its history, the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today declared a “genocide emergency,” saying that genocide is imminent or is actually happening in the Darfur region of Sudan.
“We began warning about the threat of genocide in Darfur at the beginning of this year,” said Committee on Conscience Chairman Tom A. Bernstein. “That threat is now becoming reality.”
Estimates of the current death toll range from 50,000 to more than 100,000, with the likelihood that hundreds of thousands more will die in coming months because of direct violence and “conditions of life” deliberately inflicted on targeted groups by the Sudanese government and its militia allies. The victims are largely members of the Fur, Zaghawa and Masaalit ethnic groups, considered in Darfur to be “Africans.”
Under the United Nations Genocide Convention, adopted in 1948, in the wake of the Holocaust, nations vow to “undertake to prevent and punish the crime of genocide.” Genocide is defined as certain acts, when committed “with intent to destroy” a targeted group, in whole or in part. The specified acts include killing members of a group, causing severe bodily and mental harm and deliberately inflicting on a group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part.
“We take a very conservative approach to the definition of genocide,” said Jerry Fowler, staff director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience, who visited refugee camps in Chad in May and collected testimonies from refugees who had fled Darfur. “We don’t use the term lightly. But the situation clearly has reached the point now where that term is appropriate. The U.S., the U.N. and other countries must now act to stop this genocidefrom going further. And then they need to punish those responsible.”
Fowler pointed to the Sudanese government’s responsibility for the large number of Darfurians now perishing and likely to die in the coming months.
“By hindering and slowing access for the international relief assistance that the displaced require for survival and failing to rein in their janjaweed allies,” he said,“the Khartoum government and its proxies are directly responsible for the increasing deaths from malnutrition, lack of clean water and related diseases.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development predicted in April that 350,000 or more people would be dead by the end of the year. More recent assessments by independent aid groups suggest that this estimate may be conservative.
The Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience first issued a “genocide warning” for Sudan in Fall 2000, based on government actions in the southern part of the country. Intensive diplomatic efforts by the U.S. and other countries resulted in an end to attacks on civilians and access for international relief efforts, and have brought that conflict close to resolution.
The conflict in Darfur began in early 2003. The Committee on Conscience reiterated its genocide warnings for Sudan in January and April of this year, and on June 24, the Museum took the extraordinary step of suspending normal operations for 30 minutes to focus attention on Darfur. Senators Sam Brownback and Jon Corzine, and Rep. Donald Payne joined a Holocaust Survivor and member of the Darfurian community-in-exile in a special program in the Museum’s Hall of Witness to bring attention to the crisis.
In addition to the “genocide emergency” declaration, on August 2the Museum will open a display, “Who Will Survive Today? Genocide Emergency: Darfur, Sudan,” to help visitors understand the situation in Darfur.
Mandated by Congress, the Holocaust Memorial Museum is America’s national memorial to the Holocaust. A public-private partnership that has welcomed 21 million visitors, the Museum brings the history and lessons of the Holocaust to the nation through educational outreach, teacher training, traveling exhibitions, and scholarship. The Committee on Conscience guides the Museum’s efforts to educate about, prevent and respond to contemporary genocide. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org/conscience.