Breath of the dragon

The burning of the village of Um Zeifa in Darfur after the Janjaweed looted and attacked it. The Chinese Government has supplied much of the munitions used by the Janjaweed to destroy the non-Arab peoples in the south of Sudan.

Photo by Brian Steidle

Women from Darfur don’t willingly expose their wounds. Dignity and privacy still have meaning in their traditional society.

Nevertheless, at a women’s group in a tent at a refugee camp on the Chad-Sudan border in Africa, the participants reluctantly pulled up their colourful robes to reveal the puckered and slashed flesh where the bullets and shrapnel penetrated. Sudanese armed forces had attacked their villages with Antonov planes and Chinese-made helicopter gunships, dropping fragmentation bombs made in China.

Attackers followed on the ground. Janjaweed nomads – paid by Sudan’s Government to kill the non-Arab tribes of Darfur – sprayed the fleeing villagers with gunfire from Chinese-made Dushka guns, killing the men and raping any women and girls that they caught. Sudanese soldiers were transported into the killing zone in Chinese Dongfeng trucks, and they used Chinese weapons, rocket launchers and grenades.

One Darfuri woman called Hawa told me what happened to ‘a lady of great age’ (meaning older than 60). ‘The militia came prepared,’ she said. ‘They had knives to cut open her private parts before they raped her to death.’ Another woman exposed the shrapnel wound on her leg, now patched with a skin graft. She was illiterate and couldn’t have found China on a map, but she knew China supplied the regime in Khartoum – Sudan’s capital – with the ordinance that was dropped on her village.

She was also aware of the deals behind the deaths. Sudan supplies around seven per cent of China’s oil needs. In exchange, China supplies the means to kill the people of Darfur.

Bloody business

Evidence of China’s deathly quest for minerals and resources can be found across Africa. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, China signed a deal in 2008 giving it sole access to vast deposits of copper and cobalt. A major Chinese arms maker owns that country’s largest iron mine. Virtually every weapon used by warlords there is a Kalashnikov stamped with the number 56, indicating it was made in China. The death toll from the scramble for the Congo’s resources is 5.4 million since 1998.

In West Africa, China is the most significant operator of mines and oil fields. It is the biggest investor ($2.68 billion) in the new Liberia, having supplied the weapons that tore the old one apart. Paul, a local NGO worker, shares his memories of the highway we take out of the Liberian capital, Monrovia: ‘During the war, this road glittered with shell casings, like broken glass; like the stars in the heavens.’ He pulls up his shirt to reveal three scars. ‘A kid in my village became a child soldier. Before the war I yelled at him when he kicked his football at my windows. When he got the gun he came and shot me. That’s how the war was. They were giving six-year-olds AK47s and bullets.’

China is also the biggest investor in neighbouring Guinea. In June 2006, Guinean troops armed with weapons supplied by China, and led by commanders trained in China, killed 21 children protesting because their school exams had been postponed yet again by a regime that regularly tramples on the rights of its citizens.

‘Business is business,’ observes China’s ambassador to the US, Zhou Wenzhong. ‘We try to separate politics from business.’ It is a questionable claim.

In Sudan, China must know where their guns will end up. For twenty years the regime’s proxies have terrorized Southern Sudan, resulting in an estimated two million dead.

In addition, Sudan’s political protection of Chinese business interests can now be clearly seen. Since 2005 Sudanese armed forces have provided extra security for the Chinese workers building the region’s oil plants and pipelines, using Chinese guns to protect Chinese assets. When rebels kidnapped nine China National Petroleum Corporation staff in October 2008, Khartoum feared the beginning of the instability that plagues the Niger Delta oilfields. The regime reacted with extreme, if incompetent force (resulting in the deaths of several Chinese).

Political exports 

China’s ‘business’ is also evident in international politics. Like everyone in her refugee camp on the Chad-Sudan border, Hawa’s lifeline is the radio. Through it she hears how the Chinese since the start of the conflict have used their veto at the United Nations to neutralize efforts to rein in Khartoum. Most recently, in March 2009, China vetoed a UN attempt to criticize Sudan for expelling humanitarian groups from Darfur as well as a subsequent effort to impose new economic sanctions.

In 2004 the UN passed resolution 1556, banning arms transfers to Darfur. Even though it provides 90 per cent of the regime’s small arms (worth about $55 million), China’s officials deny that Chinese arms end up in Darfur. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang characterizes his country as one that loves peace and upholds justice. Concerning Darfur he says, ‘China has made great efforts for peace and stability’.

China has actively helped create one-party structures in its own image

By stability he means maintaining the status quo, however brutally a regime treats its citizens. To ensure a reliable supply of oil and minerals from Africa, China has consistently offered to prop up its strategic partners. The deal includes cheap, easy-to-use military equipment, often at a discount or in exchange for commodities (including illegal ivory in the case of Zimbabwe in 2000 and 2008). The China Export-Import Bank facilitates loans, and the Chinese armed forces and civil servants provide training and advice on maintaining power. Thus in Zimbabwe as well as in Angola (which supplies 13 per cent of China’s oil exports), China has actively helped create centralized, authoritarian, one-party, human rights-abusing structures in its own image. In Sudan, Nigeria, Egypt and Zimbabwe, China has also built and run arms factories for local production to keep its friends in power.

In exchange, Beijing’s allies ensure that whenever Taiwan applies for UN membership, it fails. China also rallies its friends to defend the principle of state sovereignty, essential if Beijing is to continue denying rights to those people within its boundaries who are seeking independence such as the Uighur and Tibetans.

Spot the hypocrites

China – disingenuously describing itself as a fellow victim of colonialism and a developing nation – duly vetoes or abstains on resolutions criticizing its strategic partners’ less savoury behaviour, as it did in 2008 when it prevented sanctions against Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Using its veto sparingly compared to Russia, China’s greatest influence is felt in the corridors of the UN where it ensures critical resolutions are never tabled.

But before becoming too sanctimonious about China’s record, let’s bear in mind the great arms dealers of Europe. Russia has provided three-quarters of Sudan’s heavy military arsenal, and German and Swiss companies have built power plants for the Khartoum regime. Across Africa, France still leads the arms-sales pack, and the US targets its military aid (of $300 million) to oil-wealthy Nigeria and Angola. British arms sales to Africa quadrupled when Tony Blair was Prime Minister and his successor Gordon Brown has offered military support to Nigeria’s forces in the Niger Delta to keep the oil flowing. Indeed William Patey – Britain’s ambassador to Khartoum when 90 per cent of the killing took place in Darfur during 2003-04 – boasted that 130 British companies were working in Sudan (‘up 25 per cent’). ‘We are and wish to remain true friends to Sudan,’ he said.

There are glimmers that China may take a more humane approach. In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, China played a more positive role, persuading Khartoum to allow the joint United Nations/African Union peacekeepers into Darfur. Chinese diplomats basked in the glow of international approval and have since been actively pushing Khartoum into peace talks with various Darfur rebel factions. Then in April 2008 Beijing recalled the ship An Yue Jiang, with its cargo of ammunition, mortars and mines destined for Zimbabwe’s armed forces. Dock workers in South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia had refused to unload the arms. While critics say this was window dressing to enhance China’s international image prior to the 2008 Games, there may be benefits to China promoting peace in the region.

Events in Africa’s volatile oil producing countries – such as the increasing likelihood of violence targeted at Chinese interests – may force China to reassess its eagerness to promote the status quo at the expense of human rights. China may find that using its enormous influence quietly and pressing its strategic partners for compromise, reform and justice may be of greater long-term benefit to its interests than shipping more weapons to prop up tyrants. This will test whether China can evolve into a true world power, accepting the responsibilities of statecraft and telling its friends what they need to hear.

Rebecca Tinsley is the founder of Her novel about Darfur, When the stars fall to earth, will be published in October.


Since 2000 
12 x Russian MiG 29 attack aircraft
15 x Russian Mi24P helicopter gunships
60 x Russian armoured personnel carriers

20 x A-5C Chinese Fantan fighter bombers

200 x Chinese Dongfeng military transport trucks
6 x K-8 Chinese military aircraft
China reportedly negotiating 12 x FC1 fighter aircraft

$55m Chinese small arms

Russia reportedly negotiating to sell BTR-80A armoured personnel carriers and armoured equipment at UAE defence show.

Source: NATO Sitcen handbook

Why the world is ignoring Darfur

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made it plain that if the genocide in Rwanda were to happen again, Britain would have a duty to act. In 2001 he told the ruling Labour Party’s annual conference that there was a moral duty to prevent such carnage being repeated. President George Bush famously wrote the words ‘not on my watch’ on a memo summarizing the Clinton Administration’s inaction over Rwanda.

The United Nations now acknowledges that in the last two years 180,000 black Africans have died in the Darfur region of Sudan. The British House of Commons International Development Committee, in line with several non-governmental agencies active in western Sudan, believes the figure is nearer 400,000, with two million people displaced because of ethnic cleansing.

The Blair Government’s reaction has been to deny the scale and cause of the suffering in Darfur, to portray it as a humanitarian rather than a political problem, and to cast both ‘sides’ as equally guilty. In other words, apart from sending food to refugees, British policy in the face of mass murder and ethnic cleansing is not to confront the perpetrators, in this case the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum.

Kofi Annan has repeatedly warned the United Nations that events in Darfur demand a tough multilateral reaction to convince the Sudanese to stop the bloodshed. However, the Security Council’s resolutions on Darfur have lacked teeth, and the massive oil interests of the Chinese and the French, both permanent Security Council members, will ensure those countries put their national self-interest first and veto any action.

Last May Annan’s staff believed they had persuaded the Canadians to lead a civilian protection force of like-minded interventionists such as the Australians, Dutch and Scandinavians. When Canada announced it wanted to send troops, the Sudanese regime feigned outrage. To general dismay, the Canadians backed down rather than arguing the case, or calling Khartoum’s bluff.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that what has occurred in Darfur is genocide, as defined by the 1948 Convention. Sudan’s military junta in Khartoum has deliberately targeted the black Africans of Darfur because they want the land for their largely Arab supporters. The Coalition for International Justice, the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and others are in agreement: Sudan’s regime has burned and bombed 90 per cent of black villages in Darfur, and it has paid and armed Arab militias known as the Janjaweed to sweep across this vast, dry region, killing, raping and looting as they go.

When I interviewed dozens of women survivors in refugee camps in Darfur, they told me remarkably consistent stories about aerial attacks by Sudanese airforce Antonovs and helicopters, followed by waves of Janjaweed on horse and camel. The Janjaweed killed the men and boys, raped the women, stole cattle, torched homes and threw babies on to fires (for photographic evidence please visit The women walked for days to the camps, built shelters from twigs, and now face daily attack whenever they venture out for firewood.

Of the women I met, all had been attacked or raped within the last two weeks. They told me that the Janjaweed screamed racial abuse at them as they raped them. The racism did not surprise them, however, because it is common practice for Sudanese Arabs openly to refer to black Africans as ‘slaves’.

Despite Prime Minister Tony Blair’s commitment to prevent another Rwanda, and his concern about Africa, his Government shows no inclination to pressure the Sudanese regime. In off-the-record briefings, British ministers warn that the small-scale Darfur rebels are equally as responsible as the mighty Sudanese armed forces working in concert with their Janjaweed proxies. The subtext is that these savage people are all as bad as each other, and that we will only provoke an Islamic jihad if we intervene against the junta in Khartoum. Evidently, the same concern about attracting militants from around the world did not inform the Blair Administration’s thinking over Iraq. Even the House of Commons International Development Committee recently condemned ministers for deliberately downplaying events in Darfur and for misrepresenting the genocide there as a humanitarian disaster resulting from ‘ancient ethnic tribal hatreds’.

In 2004, at the height of the slaughter, officials at the British Embassy in Khartoum made it clear to me that Darfur was an irritating sideshow, and that their priority was Sudan’s north-south peace deal. In saying this they revealed who was driving British foreign policy: the White House.

Since it took power the Bush Administration has been under pressure from highly organized American Christian groups to stop Islamist Khartoum from killing southern Sudan’s black Africans, many of whom happen to be Christians. Coincidentally, there are vast oil reserves under the blood-soaked earth of southern Sudan, and everyone is keen to establish a stable economic environment there.

The future looks bleak for Darfur. The genocide and ethnic cleansing have succeeded

In an impressive display of tough, focused diplomacy, the US State Department’s John Danforth forced the Sudanese regime to come to a power-sharing agreement with southern rebels, led by General John Garang. Danforth’s unrelenting pressure on Khartoum was a textbook example of how to use the threat of military and economic action to achieve your aims without firing a shot. Britain assisted Danforth in south Sudan, and together with the Americans is determined to make sure the comprehensive peace treaty sticks, despite the death of Garang in a helicopter crash in July 2005. They believe this entails not upsetting the generals in Khartoum, rather than using other possible tactics such as the prospect of economic aid as an incentive to stop the killing in Darfur.

There was a brief period when Britain was at odds with the Bush Administration. The same Christians, in coalition with black church groups, pushed the White House to get tough with Khartoum over Darfur. In September 2004 Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, determined that genocide was happening in Darfur, and the Government of Sudan was to blame. Cynics might suggest that the November 2004 presidential elections could have had some bearing on Powell’s announcement.

Nevertheless his view was echoed by President Bush, and the governments of Germany and Canada. Unfortunately it seems that recognizing the existence of genocide no longer triggers any duty to act – a development that surely deserves wider debate. The Americans were at least applying pressure to the authors of the genocide in Khartoum.

In sharp contrast, in April 2004, during one of the deadliest periods in Darfur, the then British Ambassador, William Patey, boasted to an audience in Khartoum that British trade with Sudan was up by 25 per cent. ‘We are and shall remain good friends with Sudan,’ he assured them.

Seasoned Sudan-watchers, such as the American professor Eric Reeves of Smith College, credit the generals in Khartoum with fine diplomatic skills, pointing to the way they have run rings around Westerners for years. The junta quickly responded to American pressure on Darfur by offering to share their intelligence on al Qaeda with Washington. Osama bin Laden lived in Khartoum for five years during the 1990s, and in 1998 the Clinton Administration sent several cruise missiles to destroy a factory thought to be producing chemical weapons near Khartoum.

In April 2005 the CIA sent a private jet to collect the head of Sudanese intelligence, himself wanted for war crimes in Darfur, and ferried him to their Langley, Virginia, headquarters for debriefing on bin Laden. At the same time Bush stopped describing the events in Darfur as genocide or even mentioning the issue. It is also rumoured that the name of the head of Sudanese intelligence has been removed from the secret list of 51 individuals accused of war crimes in Darfur. In the War Against Terror it would seem that anything is negotiable.

The excuse for remaining cosy with the junta is that pressure on the Khartoum regime might endanger the north-south deal. Underlying this is a favourite mantra: we must work with the big powers in any region, whatever our reservations about their human rights record, because the worst possible outcome is instability. The foreign policy establishment lives in fear of someone redrawing maps according to the wishes of the inhabitants of the nations created in an arbitrary fashion by colonial powers.

British ministers warn that a much worse gang of thugs might replace the current mass murderers, were they to be overthrown. When questioned about his relationship with Khartoum, Chris Mullin, then Africa minister, said in November 2004: ‘In diplomacy sometimes you have to work with people with whom you might not see eye to eye on everything.’

Of the women I met, all had been attacked or raped within the last two weeks. They told me the Janjaweed screamed racial abuse at them as they raped them

At the risk of being picky, taxpayers might not see ‘eye to eye on everything’ with a junta that allows no elections and no free press; tortures hundreds of political prisoners; has encouraged and facilitated institutional racism towards its black African citizens in all walks of life for decades; has killed two million in south Sudan and another 400,000 in Darfur; imposes extreme Sharia law, and allows virtually every eight-year-old girl to be forcibly mutilated.

Anyone demanding consistency from diplomats does not appreciate the subtle arts of realpolitik. As explained to me by sundry officials and ministers, those of us outside the system simply don’t understand the complexity of Sudan. We should be grateful that humanitarian supplies are being sent. ‘There is no military solution,’ Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary in Britain contends, although he believes military intervention was the appropriate response to Saddam’s Iraq.

The future looks bleak for Darfur. The genocide and ethnic cleansing have succeeded. Now the priority is to protect the survivors in refugee camps. Sadly both the African Union and the Arab League have chosen not to condemn Sudan. The African Union has a mere 2,700 soldiers ‘monitoring’ an area the size of France with only a handful of paved roads.

Human Rights Watch believes that the Janjaweed are joining the army and police, and Médecins Sans Frontières catalogues their systematic rape of Darfur’s women. The BBC dutifully reports that the Sudanese Government is investigating reports of attacks on women, as if it were not the architect and paymaster of the whole wretched disaster.

The international community disgraced itself over Rwanda and it is doing so again in Darfur. The Canadian general turned human rights activist, Romeo Dallaire, who was present in Rwanda, believes more than 40,000 troops are needed in Darfur to protect civilians. The Sudanese junta needs international investment and respectability, which gives the ‘international community’ the power to make them stop the killing and terror. Although they deny it, Khartoum could call off the roaming bands of Janjaweed rapists and looters tomorrow. Instead the survivors of the genocide must fend for themselves. It is, in Dallaire’s words, ‘Rwanda in slow motion’ – and he should know.

Becky Tinsley is director of Waging Peace.

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