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For more than a year, as the violence in Darfur has escalated, the world has stood by. Since the start of the Bush Administration, U.S. policy toward Sudan has been focused on ending the country's long-running war in the south, which has killed more than 2 million people. Prodded to take action by an unlikely alliance of the religious right and the Congressional Black Caucus, Bush appointed former Missouri Senator John Danforth as a special peace envoy to Sudan and pressured Khartoum and the southern rebels to put down their weapons. But just as a peace deal looked imminent, Darfur exploded. Rather than risk a collapse of the deal in the south, the Administration--and much of the international community--chose to avoid the issue. "They didn't want to know about Darfur," charges Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani, a friend and adviser to President al-Bashir and then Khartoum's lead negotiator in the talks. "They kept saying, 'Please get rid of this problem.'"
Congressional leaders and some members of the Administration have tried recently to make up for lost time by denouncing the killing in Darfur. Despite Powell's statement, however, there are disagreements within the Administration and between the U.S. and its allies over whether the violence against Darfur's Africans amounts to genocide--and about what to do to stop it. In August a mission from the European Union to Sudan concluded that the killings fell short of genocide, which is defined by the convention as a deliberate attempt to kill or seriously hurt a group of people "to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." The U.N.'s representative to Sudan, Jan Pronk, has also stopped short of calling it genocide. "Atrocities, very bad things, killings, rape, burning of villages have taken place," Pronk told a press conference in Khartoum last week. Some human-rights advocates are concerned that if the U.S. fails to intervene after Powell characterized the conflict as genocide, the significance of the convention will be undermined. That and Sudan's clampdown on aid provision in retaliation for the declaration could make it a major diplomatic mistake on Powell's part, the advocates fear. "If that's the case, then we come out of this with the worst of all worlds," says a U.S. Agency for International Development official. "We put the aid at risk, and you undermine the convention."