TOULOUM, Chad – Mercedeh Momeni, a New Jersey deputy attorney general, can’t forget the story of a 15-year-old disabled boy in Sudan’s Darfur region whom two Sudanese soldiers threw into a burning hut to die.

Jan Pfundheller, a retired police officer from Brewster, Wash., remembered a black African woman who was raped by Arab thugs, members of a militia called the janjaweed. Then she was forced to watch men in her village be castrated and executed.

Pfundheller’s husband, Brent, a retired federal narcotics agent, recounted how black African men were raped with sticks and rifles.

The three were among two dozen experts, most of them American, who spent a month interviewing refugees in Darfur under contract to the U.S. State Department to help determine whether the violence that’s sweeping the western region of Sudan constitutes genocide. More than 30,000 people have died.

and 1.2 million have been driven from their homes in ethnic violence pitting the Arab militias against black African villagers.

The full report, made up of 1,200 refugee interviews, is on the desk of Secretary of State Colin Powell. It’s unclear when the State Department will announce its conclusion.

But many of the experts – who have backgrounds in law and human-rights and criminal investigations, and experience in zones of ethnic cleansing, including Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo – said it was clear that the atrocities in Darfur needed to be stopped, whether or not they were called genocide.

“I was shocked by the scope of the tragedy,” said Jan Pfundheller, who interviewed rape victims for the study. “What happened in Kosovo was evil. This is more vast and equally as evil.”

“Obviously, there is evidence to bring a lot of indictments for war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Convention,” Brent Pfundheller said.

Two teams of 12 experts each conducted the study. The interviews were in every 10th refugee dwelling, and typically lasted an hour. The interviewers included employees of the State Department and the Agency for International Development, as well as human rights lawyers.

The study is the largest of its kind by the U.S. government, and some who worked on it hope it’ll help reshape the way the international community understands genocide and make it react faster to detect and prevent it.

“What are the indicators of genocide? How do you realize genocide is happening? There hasn’t been much research on that,” said Kelly Askin, a senior legal officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York-based international justice group, who worked on the study. “Does it require a genocide before the international community has a duty to intervene to assist the people?”

On Thursday, U.N. Security Council members will decide whether to slap financial sanctions on Sudan. China and Russia – which have oil, arms and other trade deals with Sudan – as well as some European nations are reluctant to press for sanctions.

Meanwhile, the evidence is mounting. A preliminary report from about a quarter of the interviews in the State Department study found widespread atrocities – including mass rape and summary executions, and strong links between the government and the janjaweed, which Sudan denies backing – though it didn’t label them genocide.

The Pfundhellers had no trouble defining what they were hearing in the refugee camps of Chad. They both had worked in Kosovo for the former Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal. There, ethnic Serbs had driven Kosovar Albanians from their homes, burning and looting, while raping girls and women and executing men.

Here, the Pfundhellers were hearing stories of how the Arab janjaweed and Sudanese soldiers looted and razed villages and drove out black Africans, how women were gang-raped, how they targeted and executed males, even babies.

“As a tool of terror, killing your men and raping your women seemed effective,” Jan Pfundheller said. “If you have women without men to make a family, it changes the face of their society.”

For Momeni, the refugees’ stories brought back images of Rwanda.

“You see a lot of similarities,” said Momeni, as she stood outside a refugee tent. “The attackers in Rwanda dehumanized their victims by calling them cockroaches. The attackers here are dehumanizing victims by calling them slaves.”

Others clearly were moved by the interviews they conducted.

“There was a strong current of racial animus running through the stories,” said Andrew Loewenstein, 30, who practices international law in Boston. He was visibly shaken and fighting back tears.

He added: “They would check to see if a baby was a male or girl.”


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