The ICC issued its arrest warrant for Sudanese president for Omar al-Bashir today. I won’t add to the cacophony of voices (including in yesterday’s Times: read for and against arguments) weighing in on where this is going. Suffice it to say, there is plenty of hope and maybe even more anxiety about what the arrest warrant means for peace, stability and justice in Sudan.
In poking around for more info on the conflict, though, I came upon an interesting discussion of violent deaths in Darfur in the first three-quarters of 2008. Analyzing UNAMID and Genocide Intervention Network figures, Alex de Waal at the Social Science Resource Council estimates that between 1,200 and 1,500 violent deaths occurred in Darfur between January 1 and September 8, 2008. Between 359 and 720 and civilians died violently in that period.
I wondered how these figures compared to those in crime-ridden cities. Rio de Janeiro is interesting because it has a population of 6.1 million — about the same as the (admittedly contentious) estimations of the population of Darfur. In 2006, there were 2,273 murders in Rio (OK, I got this from a Wikipedia article, but it is cited); in earlier years, there have been more than 7,000. Yet Rio remains an international tourist destination.
In pointing out this extremely rough comparison, I risk vast oversimplification. Not only do violent deaths not tell the story of horrible suffering brought on by displacement, poverty, sexual violence and environmental degradation, they also do not include the many deaths caused by disease and hunger that are basically a result of the violence. I also do not wish to distract from the terrible violence of 2003-2005, during which most of the frequently cited figure of hundreds of thousands of Darfuri deaths (both violent and otherwise) occurred. That violence remains unanswered, and ICC supporters hope that the Bashir case will bring closure and resolution to that. We also know that, just because Rio is a tourist destination doesn’t mean it’s fun and games for everyone — it is no picnic to live in its favelas.
Despite all those provisos, though, these violent death figures do make one stop and think about all the energy being devoted to Darfur right now, when there are much more extreme losses of life going on in the world. (Three weeks of Israeli bombs in Gaza killed as many people as eight months of factional fighting in Darfur last year.) If nothing else, it helps clarify why there is such continued controversy over what the U.S. and anyone else should do vis-a-vis Darfur.
Oh, and if I haven’t linked to it before, here’s a great discussion of the ICC and Darfur, featuring Sudanese officials and Mahmood Mamdani, among others.