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Carter Center Fails to Consider Key Issues in the South Kordofan Gubernatorial Election

Political incompetence and misprision—and a failure to ask key questions—produce unwarranted ratification of NIF/NCP victory by indicted war criminal Ahmed Haroun

By Eric Reeves

May 20, 2011 (SSNA) -- The Carter Center has stumbled badly in assessing the enormously consequential South Kordofan gubernatorial election, which produced a “victory” for Khartoum’s candidate, Ahmed Haroun. Haroun—handpicked by the regime—was a central figure in the worst years of the Darfur genocide, as well as an energetic participant in the genocidal jihad conducted by the National Islamic Front regime in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan during the early 1990s. This validation of Haroun’s election by the Carter Center appears to reflect, to an inordinate degree, the views of former President Jimmy Carter, whose pronouncements over the years reveal a disturbing myopia when it comes to the nature and behavior of the NIF/NCP regime. Since Carter is notorious for micro-management, there can be little doubt that he influenced the tone and tenor of the report in significant ways.

Carter’s pronouncements at the time of Sudan’s April 2010 national elections were revealingly preposterous, though even the Carter Center was ultimately obliged to admit that the elections were not credible. For example, shortly before the 2010 elections Carter claimed that, “‘If no one gets an absolute majority, then there will be a run-off election in May and I think that's a high likelihood,’ Carter told reporters during a trip to south Sudan” (Reuters [dateline: Juba], February 9, 2010). It is difficult to imagine a more foolish prediction: President al-Bashir of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime won easily and predictably with more than two thirds of the vote. The very notion that the regime would allow itself to be put in the position of having to participate in a run-off election betrays profound ignorance of Khartoum’s attitudes and ambitions—nothing new for Carter.

Unfortunately, Carter found some significant company in his absurd prediction: U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration declared that Sudan’s national elections would be “as free and fair as possible.” Some international observers had also suggested that even if not entirely successful, the elections would be a move toward “democratization” in Sudan. But in fact, the election was massively fraudulent, hopelessly compromised by the manipulation of census results, registration, and voting; by the physical appropriation of ballot boxes; by widespread and paralyzing insecurity in Darfur; and by deeply intimidating actions on the part of the regime’s security services, which also guaranteed the NIF/NCP monopoly on broadcast media. In short, all the powers of the state were put in service of al-Bashir’s election. The most comprehensive Sudanese human rights assessments of the election and electoral irregularities were produced by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (February 2010 and May 2010). The Darfur Peace and Development Organization produced a devastating critique of the census that undergirded the elections (January 2010). International observing teams, including the Carter Center, all found that the elections “did not meet international standards,” the euphemism most often deployed to characterize this travesty. Human Rights Watch was blunt in its account of the atmosphere for voting in the North: “Human Rights Watch found that the National Congress Party-dominated government continued to foster a restrictive environment during the voting period through harassment, intimidation, and arrests of activists, opposition members, and election observers.”

There was no move toward “democratization,” and the suggestion of a “run-off”—implying that al-Bashir would not use the state apparatus to secure at least a 51 percent majority—was the most foolish prediction made by any observer. Instead of “democratization,” what has followed is a more tyrannical political monopoly. The Khartoum regime emerged from the elections retaining full control of national wealth and power—and full control of the security services. The crackdown on human rights that has followed the elections has been severe and suggests just how manipulative Khartoum can be (some very small political space was carefully opened shortly before the elections, but not nearly enough to permit real political opposition to gather forces, as Human Rights Watch has made clear).

All this previous electoral history has bearing on the recent election in South Kordofan (May 2 – 4), and to suggest otherwise—as the Carter Center does in its report—reflects either a fatuous or tendentious view of Sudanese politics in this extremely volatile and militarily critical state on the North/South border. Indeed, the Carter Center report (hereafter CCR) does a particularly poor job in conveying the military realities defining South Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains in particular, and the implications for Abyei. The CCR authors would do well to read Julie Flint’s compelling and ominous report for Pax Christi (“The Nuba Mountains: Central to Sudan Stability,” January 2011) and the numerous authoritative reports from the Small Arms Survey. Although the CCR talks about insecurity and alludes to military issues, it does so in ways that convey none of the dangers that presently exist and have been so thoroughly chronicled in these and other reports.

To be sure, as a “technocratic” account of the elections, the CCR is of considerable value—but only as such. It rehearses a good deal of familiar but relevant regional history, legislative and otherwise. It reveals a clear and detailed understanding of the electoral procedures that were to have been followed, the role of the CPA and other agreements, as well as international humanitarian and human rights law. It offers a full narrative of the electoral milestones, though it seems to understate on a consistent basis the significance of electoral problems and controversies; and it nowhere acknowledges how fully the “National Election Commission” is controlled by Khartoum—a fact made abundantly clear during the April 2010 elections.

But the CCR fails fundamentally in appreciating the political context of the South Kordofan election, its importance for Khartoum, and the implications of key actions by senior regime officials (in a PDF document of 18 pages, less than one page is given over to “Political Background to South Kordofan Elections”). And yet this is where any meaningful assessment of the election must begin.

Fortunately, Africa Confidential (AC) has provided a highly informed account (May 13, 2011—complete text below) of just what is politically at stake in the election and which political calculations and electoral machinations determined its outcome. In this, the AC researchers are able to do what an entire team of Carter Center officials were unable to do, and their astute observations make clear that Khartoum was never prepared to allow its war criminal candidate to lose—South Kordofan is simply too important strategically.

“It was clear that Ahmed Mohamed Haroun had lost his bid to be elected Governor of Southern Kordofan when the National Congress Party sent Presidential Assistant Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e to Kadugli on 8 May, the day the results were supposed to be announced. Nafi’e, a former chief of security for whom Ahmed Haroun once worked, told the State Election Commission to declare him winner, say opposition sources. The Commission’s head, Adam Abdin, sought refuge with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). The results were rescheduled for 10 May and again delayed, as NCP operatives scrambled to produce new figures. Their methods included the invention of new polling stations: when challenged, the officials replied that voters had found it difficult to reach the other stations, a tactic used last year in Darfur.”

This extraordinary report—“The [State Election] Commission’s head, Adam Abdin, sought refuge with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS)”—is inexcusably omitted from the CCR. Has this no suggestiveness for the Carter Center people? Abdin complained to the Sudan Tribune (May 7, 2011) “that the process of matching votes to registered voters is proceeding slowly and said there are proposals of forming additional committees to speed up the process.” These proposals went nowhere, and Khartoum was determined to brook no delay in announcing results it had already determined; this may account for Abdin’s reported flight following Nafi’e’s inevitably intimidating visit. Nor is there any meaningful discussion in the CCR of the Africa Confidential account of Khartoum’s behavior:

“NCP operatives scrambled to produce new figures. Their methods included the invention of new polling stations: when challenged, the officials replied that voters had found it difficult to reach the other stations, a tactic used last year in Darfur.”

The belatedly announced new polling stations are in fact acknowledged in the CRR—more than 25 altogether, some established only on the day of voting—but in peculiarly unconcerned fashion: “Better planning would help to prevent such issues in the future” (page 12). But if such added polling stations did spontaneously appear, this and other maneuvers could more than account for Haroun’s evident surge from behind (the Carter Center was able to observe, even very briefly, fewer than 25 percent of the polling stations). For as Africa Confidential notes:

“Initial figures obtained by Africa Confidential showed Governor Ahmed’s Deputy, Abdel Aziz Adam el Hilu of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, ahead by about 11,000 votes. His final lead was around 4,000, said an SPLM source on 11 May, claiming that the difference was largely due to NCP rigging….” [Al-Jazeera reported on May 6 that according to figures it had received, el-Hilu had a “comfortable” lead of 14,000, with only six polling centers of 666 still to report; The Sudan Tribune, May 6, 2011.]

Despite accusations of fraud from many quarters (including northern Sudanese political and academic figures—see appendix to this analysis), the CCR report concludes that the elections were “generally peaceful and credible,” and the Center did “not observe systemic irregularities that would invalidate the results.” But this conclusion ignores one of the CCR’s most troubling findings, one that may explain just how the manipulation of vote totals was achieved (we should recall that even the manipulated final results were very close):

“The Carter Center is concerned, however, that election officials appear to have chosen not to use the official database developed to handle the preliminary results. The database is programmed to reject results where the numbers do not reconcile and these results would then be quarantined and investigated before they could be entered. This process was bypassed by the [Kordofan] State High Election Commission, thus removing an important safeguard that can highlight anomalous results. Moreover, this software is used to post results, disaggregated by polling station, on to the NEC website. At the time of this report the results [sic], this has not happened.” (page 14; emphasis added)

Why was this available and task-specific database technology not deployed? The CCR offers no answer, and this highlights the importance of what Africa Confidential reports of these “preliminary results”:

“The National Election Commission said that the preliminary results could not be changed and the NCP slammed the SPLM ‘adolescent mentality’ for protesting. Northern opposition parties accused the NCP of fraud…. [T]he elections, delayed from last year after the SPLM challenged the census figures, benefited from few external monitors, the only widespread and systematic presence being that of the Carter Center.”

Khartoum was no more going to allow Haroun to lose than it was al-Bashir in the presidential election (al-Bashir is also under indictment by the ICC, including for genocide). To ignore this reality, to talk around it as the CCR does, to present so blandly and superficially the current political and military realities in South Kordofan, Abyei, and the North/South border regions, is deeply irresponsible and vitiates whatever usefulness the CCR may have had going forward. Africa Confidential again makes the essential point about South Kordofan and the election of its next governor:

“South Kordofan is the military backyard for Abyei (which has a special status within the state) and for Upper Nile, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity states in the South, all of which it adjoins. ‘We are especially concerned about the alarming situation in Abyei’, said a 10 May statement by the Troika – Britain, Norway, United States. It called on the parties to ‘work together’ to tackle the ‘rising tensions’ in South Kordofan. As ever, it treated both parties even-handedly. The problem with that is obvious in Abyei, where the NCP has persistently reneged on agreements it has signed, exploiting international ‘neutrality’ to shift the situation to its advantage.”

This commitment to making all comments and observations as “even-handedly” as possible is indeed at the heart of Western diplomatic strategy. But Africa Confidential is right to argue that international “neutrality” is simply being exploited by Khartoum; for this is yet another case of an intolerable “moral equivalence,” in which the culpability for any and all problems lies equally with Khartoum and its adversaries in the marginalized regions. A recent and grimly illustrative example of this tendency comes from Darfur, where Ibrahim Gambari, head of the UN/African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID), responded to Khartoum’s most recent aerial attacks on civilians: “‘I call upon all parties to exercise the utmost restraint in the use of lethal force,’ Gambari said” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: UN/New York], May 18, 2011). But the Darfur rebels have no aerial military assets; and so to bring them within the ambit of his “call,” Gambari deliberately blurs the issue by referring not to deliberate aerial attacks on civilian targets (several villages have been targeted since May 15), but the broadest military designation possible: “lethal force.” Here it is important to keep in mind that Gambari, UNAMID, and the UN (as well as its most important member states) have all been largely silent over the more than 80 attacks confirmed so far in 2011 (see my comprehensive account of aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets in Sudan for the years 1999-2011).

But the key point for South Kordofan that is lost through moral “neutrality” or “equivalence” is highlighted with unrelenting acuity by Africa Confidential:

“The NCP cannot afford to lose control in South Kordofan. State governors have great power, which is why they are normally party men. They chair the state’s vital Security Committee. Several of the militias plaguing the South are based in South Kordofan (Meiram area) or in the northern part of Abyei, already ceded to the NCP by the 2009 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling. They include those of Abdel Bagi Ayii Akol Agany, a tribal chief-turned-warlord from North Bahr el Ghazal; General George Athor Deng, now warlord-in-chief; and Gen. Peter Gadet (Gatdet) Yaka, absorbed into the SPLA in 2006 but now again on the rampage.”

“The NCP is not about to stop sponsoring militias in the South. If it is to supply its proxies, including the Missiriya militias, it cannot afford to lose either Abyei or South Kordofan (AC Vol 52 No 9). It could live with the SPLM/SPLA controlling large swathes of the Nuba Mountains before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, since the rugged hills are discrete and isolated. The Sudan savannah plains of the rest of Southern Kordofan are a different matter: they have long been the home of mechanised ‘strip farming’ by townsmen from further north. These plains are now politically and militarily critical to Khartoum’s attempts to retain Abyei and to its intervention in the South.” (“Indicted war criminal fights election,” Africa Confidential, May 13, 2011)

Not to understand this critical political context, and to see how that context has defined the South Kordofan election, is deeply irresponsible. For in the absence of other international observers, the Carter Center report is the only assessment being reported by wire services and other news outlets. Despite its acuity, the Africa Confidential assessment will be read by far too few to change the story line. The Carter Center has done a significant disservice to the people of Sudan, and South Kordofan in particular, by prematurely validating the results of the recent election without answering the questions raised by their own findings, in particular the failure to use the official spreadsheet designated for elections results, and designed to catch “anomalous results.” The SPLM did in fact complain about “non-reconciled results,” but got nowhere.

Even more importantly, the Carter Center needs to speak explicitly to the question raised by a critical finding of Africa Confidential: “The [State Election] Commission’s head, Adam Abdin, sought refuge with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).” If such refuge was sought, we need to know why—and we need to know how it is related to the ominous presence in Kadugli of Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e, the most powerful of al-Bashir’s presidential advisors. That the Carter Center Report does not mention Adam Abdin or this incident is a sign of its fundamental shortsightedness.

APPENDIX 1:

Indicted war criminal fights election
Africa Confidential, May 13, 2011
http://www.africa-confidential.com/article-preview/id/3977/No-Title
Khartoum’s ruling party tries to hold on to its base in Kordofan, a springboard for operations in Abyei and the South

It was clear that Ahmed Mohamed Haroun had lost his bid to be elected Governor of Southern Kordofan when the National Congress Party sent Presidential Assistant Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e to Kadugli on 8 May, the day the results were supposed to be announced. Nafi’e, a former chief of security for whom Ahmed Haroun once worked, told the State Election Commission to declare him winner, say opposition sources. The Commission’s head, Adam Abdin, sought refuge with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). The results were rescheduled for 10 May and again delayed, as NCP operatives scrambled to produce new figures. Their methods included the invention of new polling stations: when challenged, the officials replied that voters had found it difficult to reach the other stations, a tactic used last year in Darfur.

Initial figures obtained by Africa Confidential showed Governor Ahmed’s Deputy, Abdel Aziz Adam el Hilu of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, ahead by about 11,000 votes. His final lead was around 4,000, said an SPLM source on 11 May, claiming that the difference was largely due to NCP rigging. In elections for the South Kordofan State Assembly, the NCP had won 22 seats, the SPLM, 10, he said. The 40% of seats reserved for women and political parties were still being counted and some predict a hung parliament. The SPLM says privately that it accepts a degree of NCP malpractice but will not back down on the gubernatorial election. Some in the SPLM believe it can become a major party in Northern Sudan.

The National Election Commission said that the preliminary results could not be changed and the NCP slammed the SPLM ‘adolescent mentality’ for protesting. Northern opposition parties accused the NCP of fraud. The SPLM had been able to reduce fraud by training thousands of party observers to cover the vast territory which includes the Nuba Mountains (SPLM heartland) and the Missiriya Arab lands to their west and east. Yet the elections, delayed from last year after the SPLM challenged the census figures, benefited from few external monitors, the only widespread and systematic presence being that of the Carter Center.

This looks like another mistake. The polls are crucial for several reasons. South Kordofan is the military backyard for Abyei (which has a special status within the state) and for Upper Nile, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity states in the South, all of which it adjoins. ‘We are especially concerned about the alarming situation in Abyei’, said a 10 May statement by the Troika – Britain, Norway, United States. It called on the parties to ‘work together’ to tackle the ‘rising tensions’ in South Kordofan. As ever, it treated both parties even-handedly. The problem with that is obvious in Abyei, where the NCP has persistently reneged on agreements it has signed, exploiting international ‘neutrality’ to shift the situation to its advantage.

The NCP cannot afford to lose control in South Kordofan. State governors have great power, which is why they are normally party men. They chair the state’s vital Security Committee. Several of the militias plaguing the South are based in South Kordofan (Meiram area) or in the northern part of Abyei, already ceded to the NCP by the 2009 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling. They include those of Abdel Bagi Ayii Akol Agany, a tribal chief-turned-warlord from North Bahr el Ghazal; General George Athor Deng, now warlord-in-chief; and Gen. Peter Gadet (Gatdet) Yaka, absorbed into the SPLA in 2006 but now again on the rampage.

The NCP is not about to stop sponsoring militias in the South. If it is to supply its proxies, including the Missiriya militias, it cannot afford to lose either Abyei or South Kordofan (Africa Confidential, Vol. 52 No. 9). It could live with the SPLM/SPLA controlling large swathes of the Nuba Mountains before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, since the rugged hills are discrete and isolated. The Sudan savannah plains of the rest of Southern Kordofan are a different matter: they have long been the home of mechanised ‘strip farming’ by townsmen from further north. These plains are now politically and militarily critical to Khartoum’s attempts to retain Abyei and to its intervention in the South.

By getting Ahmed Mohamed Haroun elected, the NCP also hoped to ‘cleanse its crimes in Darfur’, said an SPLM official: the former junior Interior Minister is wanted by the International Criminal Court on 51 counts of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The crimes have continued in Abyei.

APPENDIX 2:

A range of Sudanese political, academic and other voices have made their views of the South Kordofan election known. For its part, the SPLM has been quite specific in its claims about vote rigging, none of which is discussed in the CCR:

[1] “Vote-counting was supposed to proceed immediately after the polls closed, but the north Sudan sector of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which controls South Sudan, on Wednesday said it objects to the beginning of counting. The SPLM said in a press release that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in north Sudan had a three-phase plan to rig the elections. It claimed that its members had found three rigged ballot boxes in the areas of Kadugli, Buram and Al-Quzair. On Tuesday, the SPLM claimed that three ballot boxes were seized in the area of Um-Battah in the state’s capital Kadugli. It also said that one polling station was relocated from the police club to Al-Merikh in Al-Bananusa in the geographical constituency number 7 without prior notice.” (The Sudan Tribune, May 4, 2011)

[2] “…the NCP [National Congress Party] rigged the gubernatorial elections in Southern Kurdufan [central Sudan] in favour of its candidate, Ahmad Harun. Dr Haydar Ibrahim Ali said on Monday [16 May] from Cairo that the NCP motive is to shield Harun from being arrested by the International Criminal Court [ICC].

[Ibrahim]: “The nomination of Harun specifically, was an attempt by the regime to do an action similar to what we can call money laundering. They wanted in one way or another to acquit Harun from the charges against him by the ICC. Therefore, the NCP has caught two birds without throwing a stone, rigging the elections for the second time, making the rigging exercise as part of Sudanese political life, and the third thing is jumping over the ICC charges.” (Text of report in English by independent, Nairobi-based, USAID-funded Sudan Radio Service, 16 May 2011 [Cairo])

[3] “A coalition of the national opposition parties in Sudan says they have doubts in the credibility of the Southern Kurdufan (central Sudan) elections. The coalition's spokesperson, Faruq Abu-Issa claims that the gubernatorial elections were rigged and warns of potential violence.”

[Abu-Issa]: “This area has suffered a lot; it is a very sensitive area which includes Abyei, terrible ethnical conflicts and the intermingling areas between south and north. Even the rigged election results itself, have shown that the SPLM [Sudan People's Liberation Movement] has strong presence in the region. Therefore, if we intend to let only one party to govern this region despite its known circumstances, and exclusion of the other party, that will continuously make the area encounter catastrophic consequences.”

[4] Notably, al-Jazeera reported on results two days after the voting was completed:

“Early results from the gubernatorial race in South Kordofan revealed a comfortable lead for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) candidate Abdel-Aziz Al-Hilu, news channel Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Hilu is running against the incumbent governor Ahmed Haroun who is the National Congress Party (NCP) nominee and also one of the suspects wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged role in Darfur war crimes when he was Sudan’s minister for interior. Al-Jazeera said the figures it obtained showed that the SPLM’s candidate is ahead by 14,000 votes after counting all but results from six polling stations. It did not say whether the remaining centers would be a game changer. (Sudan Tribune, May 6, 2011)

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

Darfur: Life in the Darkening Shadows

By Eric Reeves

May 18, 2011 (SSNA) -- News coverage of Darfur continues to diminish, even as the humanitarian crisis deepens and violence expands. Fewer and fewer news stories appear, largely because the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum refuses to permit access to journalists and human rights reporters. Relief workers have been largely terrified into silence by threats from the regime and its security apparatus—threats all too often realized in the form of well-orchestrated expulsions and harassment. For his part, the UN humanitarian leader in Sudan, Georg Charpentier, refuses to speak honestly about conditions in the region, helps to suppress data and reports on malnutrition, distorts the figure for internally displaced persons, lies about humanitarian access in the region, silences his subordinates, refuses to listen to workers in the field, and allows Khartoum to vet his press releases. (A well-placed UN relief worker recently described my accounts of Charpentier’s actions as “very accurate.”)

Charpentier’s  most recent decision is to join the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in a self-serving public relations effort, code-named “Operation Spring Basket.”The goal of the operation, from the standpoint of actual humanitarian workers, is clear: UNAMID, having failed on so many fronts, is seeking to enhance its image with Dafur is by supposedly opening humanitarian corridors in eastern Jebel Marra (West Darfur) and areas north of Kutum (North Darfur). None of this was done in consultation with the aid workers on the ground, who know the real circumstances—and consequences—of this PR gesture.

The problems in accessing these regions are not related primarily to security on the ground, though this is indeed a significant constraint and major threat to aid personnel. Rather, the main obstacle has been Khartoum’s callous withholding of permission to move humanitarian workers and supplies, especially in the locations targeted by “Operation Spring Basket.” To pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari, who has whitewashed the actions of the Khartoum regime before, may be counted on to participate in the photo opportunity that handing out modest supplies provides, even though the supplies will not approach what is required in those regions and will do nothing to change the fundamental humanitarian problem in Darfur: obstruction from Khartoum. Experienced humanitarians know just what this UNAMID stunt really means: after Gambari’s self-congratulatory declarations and subsequent boasting about UNAMID success, present realities will re-assert themselves. The resource-strapped international organizations doing the real work in Darfur will face renewed obstruction, harassment, and denial of access.

One highly informed source believes all this may actually lead to further humanitarian shut-down sand expulsions. Beyond the thirteen distinguished international humanitarian organizations expelled from Darfur and northern Sudan in March 2009, Khartoum has expelled other personnel, including key officials of the UN High Commission for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration (in the summer of2010); both organizations would be critical in overseeing any secure and voluntary returns by displaced persons. Several aid organizations, including Médecins du Monde, have determined that the degree of insecurity is intolerable and have withdrawn. UNAMID has done nothing to address this fundamental problem.

What is most dismaying about Charpentier’s actions is that they fly directly against the advice he is receiving from the field in Darfur: the people who know the situation best are simply being ignored. Charpentier is also ignoring advice from within the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which he heads in Sudan as UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. This willfulness has translated into Charpentier’s efforts to push the UN agencies in Darfur, as well as UN political offices in New York, to support this deeply misconceived plan.

Darfur Obscured by Other Sudan Issues

None of this is being reported because Khartoum has successfully turned Darfur into a “black box” for news and information, with the shameful support of Charpentier. At the same time, crises are intensifying in Sudan’s North/South border areas, and both the Abyei and South Kordofan regions have commanded nearly all international diplomatic efforts in Sudan. Both are poised to explode, and either could lead to a resumption of full-out war. Many of the issues in dispute reflect the gross diplomatic mismanagement of former U.S. special envoy for Sudan Scott Gration, but it is not yet clear that Princeton Lyman, the new envoy, recognizes the extent of Gration’s errors. He should be pushing for a fundamental recalibration of U.S. policy, particularly with respect to the various incentives Gration so promiscuously offered Khartoum.

Until the United States and Ambassador Lyman make clear to Khartoum that the regime is violating the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (most egregiously in Abyei) and that there will be consequences for continued reneging, the regime will seek further concessions, “compromises,” and renegotiations of the sort Gration so willingly offered. To avoid a resumption of war in Sudan, the United States must seek as much international help as possible in making clear to Khartoum that until it is in full compliance with the CPA and permits unfettered humanitarian access in Darfur, there will be no lifting of U.S. economic sanctions—and that the regime will remain on the State Department list of terrorism-sponsoring countries until it ends its crushing war of attrition against civilians in Darfur. Barring a change in regime behavior, the United States, using its clout at the IMF and World Bank, should also make clear that there will be no debt relief for Khartoum following the independence of South Sudan.

And yet Khartoum continues on its destructive path. Last week, in an important but almost completely overlooked election for governor in South Kordofan State, Khartoum’s candidate was Ahmed Haroun, a central figure in the Darfur genocide and a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for forty-two counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Despite the obvious popularity of his opponent, Abdel Aziz al-Hilu—who, unlike Haroun, is a native of South Kordofan and widely respected—the election was never in doubt. The electoral process has been marked by conspicuous fraud and rigging, much as the April 2010 national elections were, and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (of which al-Hilu is a senior member) has now disowned the South Kordofan vote. There was exceedingly little international observation of this key election—including by the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Sudan (UNMIS), which has a base in Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan, and is charged with protecting and securing implementation of the CPA. With no meaningful supervision, and Khartoum’s control of the electoral machinery, Haroun’s election was a foregone conclusion.

This is likely to cause major problems in the near term, for one element of the 2005 peace agreement was the promise of “popular consultations” for both the Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan and(southern) Blue Nile—geographically in the north of Sudan, but culturally, politically, and militarily allied with the South. Haroun, who played a central role during Khartoum’s genocidal jihad against the people of the Nuba Mountains in the early 1990s, was almost certainly complicit in the April 13, 2011 torching of his opponent’s home village of el-Faid in the northern Nuba. More than 300 structures were burned to the ground by militia forces, which killed more than twenty people, including women and children. Yet it is Governor Ahmed Haroun, war criminal, who will now oversee the main phase of these “popular consultations” for the people of the Nuba. It is difficult to imagine a more perverse situation.

I know from my own travels and conversations in the Nuba that these people will not acquiesce in this travesty, and are much more likely to fight renewed tyranny. According to Africa Confidential, there are as many as 13,000 well-armed Nuba in the SPLA, presently stationed in northern South Sudan; if fighting breaks out, or if there are more attacks such as that on el-Faid, they will return to protect their homeland. It is difficult to imagine how such fighting, or fighting in Abyei, just to the south of South Kordofan, might be contained.

Darfur’s Suffering Continues

All this is bad news for the people of Darfur. Reports from Radio Dabanga—our only reliable source for most locations—continue to bring accounts of rape, severe deprivation in the camps, and assaults reminiscent of the worst years of the genocide, particularly in attacks by the Janjaweed and other Khartoum-allied militia forces:

An armed group on four Land Cruiser cars, five horses and thirty camels burnt 20 huts in the village of Sangira, 25 kilometers east of Kutum at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday [May 1, 2011]. One of the residents of the village told Radio Dabanga that the gunmen first took all the stored food which belongs to the citizens of the village at gunpoint and after that set fire to 20 huts.

Bombing attacks of civilian targets also continue, with large numbers of casualties. On Monday Radio Dabanga reported,

Thirteen (13) citizens were killed and 10 people wounded in two consecutive airstrikes in South Darfur. An Antonov plane belonging to the Sudanese Army dropped bombs on the area of Asharaya in Yass in district of Darfur this Sunday morning leading to the death of 12. The second incident happened in the area of Libdo [Labado], leading to the death of one.

So far there have been more than eighty such attacks this year, and yet another was reported today (see my extensive chronicling of these war crimes at www.sudanbombing.org). There is no evidence that UNAMID is prepared to work seriously to halt these attacks. Predictably, Khartoum immediately denied access to both investigators and humanitarians trying to reach the civilian populations in the areas of South Darfur that were attacked.

And though the UN long ago gave up its efforts to track global mortality in Darfur, the deadly consequences of diminished humanitarian access, security, and capacity are reflected in countless dispatches such as these, also from Radio Dabanga:

Officials responsible for children’s care in Zamzam A and Zamzam B informed UNICEF on Monday [May 2] that the rate of death among children reached thirteen deaths per week in the past two weeks due to the spread of cases of measles and diarrhea among the newly displaced children….An activist from Zamzam camp told Radio Dabanga that the officials of the children’s network in the camp informed a delegate from the children’s protection department in UNICEF about the danger of the situation and the increase in mortality rates in children and also informed them about the lack of enough health centers and life-saving medicines.

Valerie Amos, the chief UN humanitarian official, should be speaking out in the most forceful and persistent terms, demanding that Khartoum grant full access to UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations, as well as UNAMID patrols and investigations—and yet instead she defers to Charpentier and has accepted the stunt UNAMID and Charpentier have concocted, “Operation Spring Basket.”

Amos seems to be focusing elsewhere in Sudan. She recently criticized in severe terms an attack on the UN World Food Program in South Sudan that killed one senior official, saying, “These incidents demonstrate complete disregard for the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and I condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”

One may agree entirely with Amos’ assessment and yet wonder where her sense of proportion is: the attack on the WFP in South Sudan was despicable, but not part of a pattern, and was condemned by the Government of South Sudan (GOSS). On the other hand, such atrocities are virtually weekly occurrences in Darfur, and Khartoum bears major responsibility in many cases. There have been hundreds of car-jackings targeting humanitarians, dozens of kidnappings, and more than 150 assaults on aid workers since 2004, a number of them deadly (more than fifty peacekeepers have been killed in Darfur, some clearly at Khartoum’s behest). And this is to say nothing of the intimidation, denied access, threats, bureaucratic obstruction, and abuse that define daily life for humanitarians in Darfur.

One must surmise that Amos felt free to make such critical comments about an incident that occurred in the South because she knew there would be no retaliation from the GOSS. Precisely the opposite is the case in Darfur: Khartoum has made clear that it will retaliate in brutal fashion if similar criticism is leveled against regime officials as often as is warranted by incidents targeting the humanitarian community in Darfur. From such cowardice, appeasement, and duplicity catastrophes are made and exacerbated. “Operation Spring Basket” is a sign of just how weak and morally corrupt key UN humanitarian officials have become.

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

 

“They Bombed Everything that Moved”

Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2011 (release of a comprehensive report and database, www.sudanbombing.org)

By Eric Reeves

May 9, 2011 (SSNA) -- Over ten years ago I published a condemnation of the aerial bombardment of civilians and humanitarians in South Sudan. Khartoum's National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime had for years deliberately attacked schools, hospitals, emergency feeding centers, churches, and a wide range of other non-military targets. In a2000 Washington Post op-ed, I offered as particular examples the bombing of the International Committee of the Red Cross at their well-known and clearly identified locations in Chelkou and Billing, South Sudan. I also noted a bombing attack on a school in the Nuba Mountains region that killed fourteen young children as they began their English lesson book, "Read With Us." In none of these instances was there a military presence by southern Sudanese forces to justify bombings. And the examples seemed endless at the time.

I had noted that the bombings were carried out by Russian-made Antonov cargo planes, retrofitted to be "bombers" from which crude but deadly barrel bombs—loaded with shrapnel—were simply rolled out the back cargo bay. There were no bomb racks or bays, nor any useful targeting mechanism; it was impossible for these aircraft to achieve militarily purposeful accuracy. They were, and remain, instruments of civilian terror and destruction.

I was initially encouraged by the outrage my piece seemed to generate. The Khartoum regime appeared at the time to have a lock on the "Africa seat" on the UN Security Council, but by September opposition had grown substantially and Khartoum was forced to withdraw its bid (Mauritius joined the Council instead). I like to think that my column helped prevent this travesty.

But these suggestions of partial success were mere wisps of hope. I am issuing with the publication of this post a report and data spreadsheet representing all confirmed aerial attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets in Sudan from1999 to the present (www.sudanbombing.org). The report includes confirmed bombings in the South, the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, Eastern Sudan, and of course Darfur. Data sets and data-rich documents are highly numerous and dismayingly replete; yet they have never been collected, collated, and systematically organized. The assembly and rationalizing of the data have been highly time-consuming, but as I say in the preface, "I find the almost complete anonymity and invisibility of Sudanese civilian victims of targeted aerial military assaults morally intolerable."

In the years since August 15, 2000, there have been more than 1,000 aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarian operations in Sudan. Altogether, the data spreadsheet contains more than 1,400 such incidents; individual entries provide locations, sources, dates, casualties, and observational notes. A great many of these attacks involved not only retrofitted cargo planes but helicopter gunships and advanced jet aircraft; these have been reported as well.

There have been many thousands of casualties, and human displacement has been in the hundreds of thousands. Agriculture has suffered badly, as the attacks have deeply demoralized farmers in both the South and Darfur. Water points and livestock herds have also been bombed, strafed, and rocketed. The assault has been not simply on civilians and humanitarians but on a way of life.

These attacks are all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Individually, they are war crimes; collectively they come within the legal ambit of "crimes against humanity." Moreover, the figures for attacks and casualties that I have confirmed vastly understate the actual numbers, perhaps by an order of magnitude. As one human rights report noted, "There are reports of frequent bombing in Blue Nile…but local people are so accustomed to it that they see no point in keeping records."

Revealingly, most entries for "number of casualties" simply read "unknown." The international community has no way of investigating reported attacks, despite the presence of a UN-authorized peacekeeping force in Darfur. Nominally guaranteed "freedom of movement," the UN/African Union "hybrid" force (UNAMID) has been virtually paralyzed by Khartoum and its security forces. It conducts exceedingly few investigations, and only very rarely publishes its findings.

In the end little has changed since my column of August 2000. I have already recorded more than eighty aerial attacks in 2011. Khartoum still faces no serious pressure to halt aerial attacks on civilians, and will persevere in this savagery until the world community specifies—explicitly and credibly—intolerable consequences. Tragically, international actors of consequence, especially the U.S., see normalizing relations with this brutal regime as the more important basis for Sudan policy going forward. And so the bombs will continue to fall.

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

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