The great betrayal: how the world is ignoring the victims of racist slaughter

These men on horseback have been scything through the black population of Darfur for more than a year
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So 2004 ends with Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, admitting: "Quite frankly, our approach towards Darfur isn't working." The 75,000 people killed in the genocide in Darfur this year would probably agree. The "solution" agreed in the summer by the UN Security Council has had no effect at all. In fact, the situation in the killing fields is getting worse: Save the Children has been forced to withdraw its aid workers this week.

So 2004 ends with Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, admitting: "Quite frankly, our approach towards Darfur isn't working." The 75,000 people killed in the genocide in Darfur this year would probably agree. The "solution" agreed in the summer by the UN Security Council has had no effect at all. In fact, the situation in the killing fields is getting worse: Save the Children has been forced to withdraw its aid workers this week.

Ah yes, you shrug - more remote statistics and terrible stories from Africa. Well, 12-year-old Adam Erenga Tribe knew some of those statistics. He called them family. This August, he came home from school to find the corpses of his big brothers rotting in the yard. Inside, his mother and father had been shot through the neck by the Janjaweed militias. These men on horseback have been scything through the black population of Darfur for more than a year now, destroying black villages. But don't worry: Adam didn't have much time to dwell on his grief. The next day, he was captured by the Janjaweed and enslaved.

While the lives of thousands of Adams have been wrecked across Darfur, two gross distortions about the crimes against humanity in the afflicted region have become popular in the complacent West.

This is a racist holocaust, where people are targetted for slaughter because of their ethnicity - yet many people deny this basic truth. I was recently on a phone-in show in South Africa, where a white caller asked: "Look at the pictures. Both sides are black. How can it be a genocide when black people kill black people?" This argument has been echoed in many Western countries, even in the pages of the liberal press, and it shows an extremely naïve understanding of what "race" means.

Racial and ethnic categories are the arbitrary products of history, not fixed biological categories. The Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland, for example, are physically indistinguishable. Apartheid South Africa provided some vivid examples of how farcical "racial" categories are. Japanese businessmen were named as "honorary whites", because the regime wanted to do business with them. If a black family gave birth to a pale-skinned child, he or she could apply to a government panel to be "reclassified".

So "race" is a fluid category, and in Darfur it is a relatively new one. This isn't some "age-old conflict" or "ancient tribal battle", as patronising Westerners often assume. Until very recently, the tribes of Darfur had high levels of inter-marriage, and didn't think of themselves in the simplistic racialised categories of Arab vs African. That has been changing only in the past few years, since the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum began to arm Arab militiamen - the Janjaweed - to slaughter the rebellious African population.

The Janjaweed has been immersed in an openly racist Arab supremacist ideology since the early 1980s. The militiamen believe all Africans are on a par with slaves, and still use the derogatory name "abid". (It's like white South Africans still calling black people kaffir.) The Janjaweed's propaganda openly states that Africans like Adam are sub-human. The Aegis Trust - a group dedicated to ending genocide - explains just how new this ideology is. "While the notion of African inferiority has been a feature in Sudanese society for centuries, the emergence of an aggressive Arab supremacist ideology in Sudan began in the early 1980s," it writes. And it emerged because a group of highly dedicated ideologues in the Sudanese government decided to promote it.

This leads us neatly to the second myth that is developing about Darfur: that the government in Khartoum isn't responsible for the Janjaweed pogroms. Some Western journalists opposed to doing anything about Darfur - and those like the Chinese government and large, Western multinationals who want to carry on merrily trading with the genocidaires - have made this argument.

It sounds reasonable at first. Since the beginning of the genocide, the Sudanese government has claimed that the Janjaweed militias are freelance operators - random lunatics wrecking Darfur without any encouragement from the folks back home.

We are the weak government of a poor country facing a rebellion and anarchy, they protest.

Yet the regime has a record of promoting the genocidal ideology now followed so enthusiastically by the Janjaweed. The regime committed genocide against African tribes in the 1980s and 1990s; the Janjaweed didn't have to look far for inspiration.

But Khartoum's role extends far beyond the world of ideas. In the past few months, evidence has emerged of blatant links with the militias. Human Rights Watch has documents in which the Khartoum government explicitly directs the actions of the Janjaweed. Women kidnapped from Darfur have even been taken to Khartoum for forced marriages to Sudanese government officials.

So: a genocide is happening, and the government in Khartoum is involved. Where do we go from here? The UN is deadlocked. Because it wants access to Sudan's oil supplies, the Chinese government has made clear that it will veto any attempt at a UN military intervention.

The range of people across the world who have betrayed Adam and his countrymen is staggering. Nearly 100 corporations have continued trading with Khartoum. This includes a British company, Glasgow Weir Pumps, that is helping to develop Sudan's oil fields - and therefore to funnel money to the genocidaires. As Human Rights Watch explains: "Oil revenues have been used by the [Sudanese] government to obtain weapons and ammunition that have enabled it to intensify the war." This corporate activity is not a cause of the genocide, but it is an essential ingredient. Why aren't there protests outside this company's offices every day they put their profits before the lives of innocent people?

Glasgow Weir Pumps claims it has consulted with the UK Government and it was not told by the Department for Trade and Industry to stop dealing with these murderers. If so, we can add another name to the list of people who have betrayed Darfur.

Anybody who is serious about ending genocide - the worst crime of all, according to the UN - must now adopt a two-pronged strategy. First, we need to lobby our governments to isolate the Khartoum regime. Don't let its leaders visit the West. Don't sell it arms. Indict any businessman who deals with it before the International Criminal Court as an accomplice to crimes against humanity.

But if our governments fail us - if they show yet again that they don't give a toss about human rights - we, as democratic citizens, will have to act alone. There is currently a campaign to force multinational corporations to disinvest from Sudan, just as they were forced by consumer pressure to disinvest from Apartheid South Africa. You can join the campaign at www.divestsudan.org.

If we don't stop the genocide, what will the world say to Adam when this holocaust is over? Let me guess: never again.

j.hari@independent.co.uk

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