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Obama's Second 'Rwanda Moment’

President Obama failed to make good on his campaign commitments to Darfur; unless he takes strong action, urgently, he will have failed in the face of the second genocide on his watch, currently accelerating in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan

By Eric Reeves

June 13, 2011 (SSNA) -- Recalling President Bill Clinton's massive moral failure in the face of the Rwandan genocide of spring 1994, many spoke of Darfur as President Obama's "Rwanda moment"---the moment in which he was obliged to choose whether or not to commit truly substantial American diplomatic and political resources to halt the ethnically-targeted human destruction that has raged for more than eight years.  As I've recently noted, candidate Obama virtually invited such a framing of his actions, declaring: "The government of Sudan has pursued a policy of genocide in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have been killed in Darfur, and the killing continues to this very day" (April 2008).  But more than three years later the situation has not improved in Darfur; rather, a grim genocide by attrition continues, and Obama’s incompetent special envoy, former Air Force General Scott Gration, made no progress on the key issues.  He failed to secure a peace agreement (or even the trust of Darfuris), and he produced no improvement in access for humanitarians or freedom of movement for the UN/African Union peacekeeping force.  Conditions are if anything worse than when candidate Obama spoke, and his "Rwanda moment" has passed.  He has failed.

But the consequences of General Gration's incompetence extend to critical issues that remain unresolved between Khartoum and Juba, the capital of what will be in less than a month the independent Republic of South Sudan.  Most pressing is the genocidal violence that has exploded in South Kordofan over the past week and threatens to take all of Sudan back to civil war.  There are increasingly ominous reports of mass executions and the ethnic targeting of civilians, especially those with origins in the Nuba Mountains---including women and children. Arab militias armed by and allied with the Khartoum regime are going house-to-house, searching out "SPLM (Southern) sympathizers," who are either summarily executed or detained.  The fate of a great many of these people is unknown.  Numerous reliable accounts from the ground make clear that Khartoum's military aircraft are again engaged in the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets throughout the Nuba.  Churches have been burned in Kadugli (the capital of South Kordofan) and church staff murdered.  Most terrifyingly, a humanitarian situation that is already desperate is deteriorating rapidly: Khartoum has engineered a security crisis that has produced mass evacuations of humanitarian personnel from South Kordofan, and if this is not very quickly reversed, vulnerable populations that have fled up into the mountains will die from exposure, malnutrition, and dehydration.

General Gration came to his position without significant diplomatic experience or knowledge of Sudan; his conviction, evident from his first pronouncements, was that we should make friends with the men of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party, and that they in turn would become reasonable and accommodating.  His notorious policy of appeasement was most conspicuously on display when during an early trip to Khartoum he declared diplomatic success was more likely if the U.S. offered the regime's génocidaires "cookies," as well as "gold stars" and "smiley faces."  Out of such foolishness are genocides sustained.

Gration, having failed in Darfur, was just as ineffective in securing full implementation of the North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005).  Khartoum refuses to negotiate in good faith on border delineation, oil revenue sharing (approximately 75 percent of Sudan’s reserves lie in the South), citizenship and civil rights for southerners who remain in the North, and a host of economic issues, most pressingly the $38 billion in external debt that the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime has run up.  Khartoum is pressing Juba to accept a significant percentage of this debt, even as none of the money borrowed was seen by the people of the South except in the form of military hardware directed against them.  This intransigence and unconstrained pursuit of self-interest is the ultimate consequence of ill-informed and expedient diplomacy.

But most critically, Gration failed to deal effectively with the two most obvious flashpoints for renewed civil war---the contested Abyei region and the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan (immediately to the north of the border with the South).  Indeed, many blame Gration for Khartoum's intransigence on Abyei, and ultimately its decision to seize the region militarily. For in mid-May Khartoum responded to Gration's various offers of treats, including yet further compromises on delineation of the contested border area, by taking full military control of Abyei---a move that was foreseen by a number of analysts, and indeed had taken de facto form by March 2011. These military actions violated not only the key Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, but also a "final and binding" ruling by the Permanent Count of Arbitration in The Hague (July 2009).  In the immediate wake of Khartoum's military move, more than 100,000 Dinka Ngok have fled for their lives to the South; this represents the entire estimated Ngok population of Abyei prior to the invasion.

An early UN assessment of the aftermath of the regime's brutal military seizure of Abyei---an area a bit smaller than the state of Connecticut---found that the actions by Khartoum's military and militia forces---including killings and ethnically-targeted destruction of property and food stores---were "tantamount to ethnic cleansing."  But shamefully, senior UN officials, in their own effort to accommodate Khartoum's sensibilities, toned this down dramatically, suggesting only that these actions "could" lead to ethnic cleansing.  The spineless Ban Ki-moon declared flatly, "It is far too early to claim that ethnic cleansing is taking place."  Ban was evidently not interested in the mass of satellite and ground photography depicting precisely ethnic cleansing, or the testimony of hundreds of those interviewed once beyond the range of Khartoum’s security forces.  Nor did Ban think it important to consider the extraordinary statements by former U.S. State Department Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes, speaking about the evidence of "crimes against humanity."

Humanitarian conditions are poor for those who fled Abyei and for many there is no assistance at all.  Khartoum has thrown up an economic blockade on goods moving from North to South Sudan, including fuel.  This has had the effect of leaving many relief organizations without mobility.  A large number of the displaced are dehydrated and badly weakened. And in the voice of the survivors we can hear a despair that will only deepen:

"…life for the [human] bargaining chips [in negotiations over Abyei in the wake of Khartoum's military seizure of the region], meanwhile, has been miserable. For Mary Achol, it has meant eating leaves. On a recent morning in the border town of Agok, Ms. Achol slumped in the meager shade of a thorn tree, her belly rumbling from the nearly toxic mix of wild plants she ingested, a baby sweating profusely in her arms. During the chaotic exodus out of Abyei, Ms. Achol lost two other children. 'Maybe they died of thirst, maybe they were eaten by lions,' she said. 'I don't have a lot of hope.'" (New York Times, June 5, 2011, dateline: Agok [South of Abyei])

All this has predictably set the stage for the much greater violence rapidly unfolding in South Kordofan State, which abuts Abyei and lies immediately north of oil-rich Unity State in the South.  For the past week events long warned of have exploded into violent ethnic slaughter and widespread military violence (including repeated cross-border bombing attacks just south of South Kordofan, in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity State).  But it's not at all clear whether the Obama administration appreciates the enormous differences between South Kordofan and Abyei, in particular the potential for large-scale genocidal destruction.

Certainly the administration's response to the seizure of Abyei was far too muted and lacked a clear articulation of specific consequences if Khartoum failed to abide by a UN Security Council "demand" that the regime withdraw militarily.  This only encouraged Khartoum to believe that there would be an even less forceful response to military action in South Kordofan, which is geographically clearly in the north.  Gration, who had no diplomatic skills or instincts, has been replaced by Princeton Lyman, a seasoned and widely respected career diplomat, with much experience in Africa.  But Lyman seems out of his depth in dealing with the men in Khartoum, and there are signs that he only now realizes how dangerous the situation in South Kordofan has become in recent months.

The local events that led to the rapid escalation of violence in South Kordofan are not fully clear, but the premeditation that defined Khartoum's seizure of Abyei---and which the Obama team now acknowledges---is again clearly in evidence.  Indeed, reports from assessments groups like the Small Arms Survey (Geneva) going back to October 2010 have made clear that the military build-up of regular military forces and particularly ethnic militias has been massive, and was undertaken with brutal ambitions.  Tanks had rolled into Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan, within hours of the first shots.  El Obeid, the primary military base outside Khartoum, lies just north of South Kordofan, but connects by road to Kadugli, and puts the regime’s advanced military jet aircraft--including MiG-29s--within easy flying distance of the Nuba Mountains, a region the size of Austria in the middle of South Kordofan where fighting will be concentrated.  Significantly, the Nuba Mountains are nowhere contiguous with South Sudan.

The ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse people of the Nuba sided militarily and politically with the South during the civil war, and feel deeply threatened by Khartoum's ideological Islamism and Arabism.  A gathering of Nuba civil society and military leaders made this point emphatically when I traveled to the region in 2003.  Commander Ismail Khamis, the senior military officer at the time, declared with both anger and resolve: "Khartoum does not consider us to be human beings."  There is much justification for this view; indeed, immediately before the self-determination in South Sudan (January 9, 2011) President Omar al-Bashir declared:

"If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution, and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity ... shari'a and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language."

That leaves little room for the Nuba in the north, even as they were vaguely promised "popular consultations" in the 2005 peace agreement.  But these have proved meaningless in the wake of Khartoum's rigging of the May gubernatorial election, which brought to the post an indicted war criminal and a primary executioner of the Darfur genocide, Ahmed Haroun.  Haroun, who has been acting governor of South Kordofan, was clearly brought in to undertake some very nasty business, and the reports of the past week are consistently of ethnically-targeted executions, destruction of churches, the killing of church officials, and widespread bombing in the Nuba Mountains themselves.  We have no way of now how many have fled in South Kordofan but the estimates are growing with terrifying speed; the UN estimate for Kadugli now exceeds 50,000, and people continue to flee, desperate to escape the ethnic killings.

Human Rights Watch reports "tens of thousands of people" fleeing toward el Obeid; the town of Dilling to the north is reportedly completely deserted; virtually all civilians have fled from el-Fayd; and there are almost hourly reports from Nuba on the ground and in the diaspora that the number of women and children fleeing to the bush is growing rapidly. The World Council of Churches, with close ties to the people of the Nuba, reports that as many as 300,000 civilians are besieged and cut off from relief assistance. Humanitarian conditions have deteriorated precipitously, with critical shortages of water and food already reported; these will only grow worse, and more deadly.  Khartoum's forces have permitted the looting of UN World Health Organization warehouses in Kadugli, which contained critical medical and other humanitarian supplies.  Roadblocks have been put in place in some areas, "preventing medical and humanitarian access," according to the UN High Commission for Human Rights.

Ominously, we also know that President al-Bashir and his top advisor, Nafi'e Ali Nafi'e, have given a "free hand" to military forces in South Kordofan, and this is a license for the slaughter of highly distressed civilian populations, overwhelmingly non-Arab and conveniently labeled "SPLA sympathizers." The nature of the violence is all too familiar from Darfur and from the previous genocide in the Nuba Mountains in the 1990s (very few dissent from this characterization of the ruthless killing and displacement of the time, as well as an accompanying total humanitarian embargo).  Human Rights Watch reports receiving "credible reports" that:

"…[Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF] soldiers and Popular Defense Forces, a militia force, deployed in large numbers in Kadugli and other towns, targeted a number of civilians they suspected to be SPLM members. The forces carried out house-to-house searches and set up checkpoints, where they stopped civilians trying to flee the violence and killed some of them, according to witnesses. Reports from the ground indicate that military personnel arrested people who had sought refuge inside the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) compound, in violation of international humanitarian law. One of those arrested was later found dead."

…forces carried out house-to-house searches and set up checkpoints, where they stopped civilians trying to flee the violence….

The echoes of Rwanda become louder, and we are seeing mainly what is occurring in Kadugli, which lies west of the Nuba Mountains, Khartoum's real target.  The highly reliable Sudan Ecumenical Forum has declared in outrage that "[other civilians] have fled to the Nuba Mountains, where they are being hunted down like animals by helicopter gunships" (listen to a June 13 BBC interview with John Ashworth, senior advisor to the SEF).   Reports of indiscriminate air and artillery attacks are too numerous to catalog, as the ethnically-targeted destruction of non-Arab people in the region gathers pace.  There are also a number of reports that Nuba civilians have been collected in cattle trucks (in one instance witnessed by a security office of the UN High Commission for Refugees); that these human round-ups are being conducted by Arab paramilitary and militia forces, including the notorious Popular Defense Forces (PDF), is extremely ominous.  Most chilling are the repeated reports, from various quarters, of mass graves in the Kadugli area.

The militia and paramilitary forces are in one sense the Interahamwe of South Kordofan, and once loosed, once blood lust is in the air, violence (including reprisal attacks) will be extremely difficult to restrain.    The fact that Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) forces---and those fighting in the SPLA are themselves nearly all from the Nuba Mountains---are evidently defeating Khartoum's regular forces on the ground in a number of locations may not prevent Khartoum from achieving its largest goal.  For that goal is the same as it was in Abyei and in Darfur: to "change the demography" of South Kordofan.  Here we should recall the ominous words of Musa Hilal, the primary Janjaweed leader in Darfur:

"The ultimate objective in Darfur is spelled out in an August 2004 directive from [Janjaweed paramount leader Musa] Hilal’s headquarters: 'Change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes.' Confirming the control of [Khartoum's] Military Intelligence over the Darfur file, the directive is addressed to no fewer than three intelligence services---the Intelligence and Security Department, Military Intelligence and National Security, and the ultra-secret 'Constructive Security,' or Amn al Ijabi.'"

(Alex de Waal and Julie Flint, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War 2005], page 39)

The White House issued a belated statement about “Southern Kordofan” on Friday evening (June 10), and it was a first step---but far too tentative and lacking in the force necessary to change the thinking in Khartoum; and it gave no true sense of the scale of atrocity crimes we know to be occurring.  One would of course expect the administration to be "deeply concerned by ongoing developments in Southern [sic] Kordofan."  But it will take threats made a good deal more forcefully to effect change in the killing fields:

"The United States condemns reported acts of violence in Southern [sic] Kordofan that target individuals based on their ethnicity and political affiliation. Accounts of security services and military forces detaining, and summarily executing local authorities, political rivals, medical personnel, and others are reprehensible and could constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity. We call on the UN to fully investigate these incidents, and we demand that the perpetrators immediately halt these actions and be held accountable for their crimes."

But the UN has a terrible record investigating atrocity crimes in Sudan, whether in Darfur, Abyei, or South Kordofan; a "UN investigation" is likely to take many weeks or months, even if access could be secured from Khartoum (a highly unlikely development); moreover, a UN investigation will be quite incomplete, as the UN force in South Kordofan, UNMIS, has completely lost the trust of the Nuba. Indeed, Egyptian elements of UNMIS in the region have repeatedly been accused of turning away those seeking UN protection, assisting in ethnic round-ups, and of raping Nuba women in the Kadugli area.  They should be immediately replaced, although they have already disabled UNMIS as a protective force, now feared and hated by those who were to have assist been assisted.

"Rwanda Moment"

We know what is happening, given the very substantial reporting, including desperate emails and phone calls from the ground, satellite photography, as well as many accounts from those in the region with contacts in South Kordofan.  We know what is happening, and waiting is not an option.  As Sudanese church groups have declared:

"Only … urgent international efforts can halt what is threatening to become a repeat of the mass atrocities, war crimes and protracted humanitarian crisis the world witnessed in neighbouring Darfur over the past decade, in Abyei in recent weeks and during the previous war in the Nuba Mountains in the early 1990s." (June 10, 2011)

But instead of promising decisive action to halt Khartoum’s genocidal ambitions, the White House statement of June 10 equates the responsibilities of Khartoum and Juba:

"Although the United States has demonstrated a commitment to forging closer ties with Sudan, grave violations of international humanitarian law as have been reported to take place in Southern [sic] Kordofan will negatively impact this process and put Sudan on a path toward deeper international isolation.  We also call upon the leaders of the Sudan People's Liberation Army in South Kordofan to avoid reprisals and other human rights violations, to agree to a cease-fire, to provide full access to the UN and humanitarian agencies and to cooperate in a UN investigation of the reports of such violations."

In this key final paragraph the Obama administration spends as much time admonishing the SPLA as it does warning Khartoum.  This "moral equivalency---a perverse legacy of the Gration era---is wholly misplaced in the context of South Kordofan.  The ethnic killings, the summary executions, the indiscriminate aerial bombardments (only Khartoum has an air force), the use of heavy artillery against civilian targets, the destruction of churches and murder of church officials---these are singularly the responsibility of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime.  As well blame the Tutsi resistance in Rwanda for the actions of the Hutu killing machine.

When I was in the Nuba in 2003 I heard again and again the same simple declaration: "we have no way out."  This meant that lacking geographic contiguity with the South, there was no physical exit and the only choice was to stay and fight for their traditions and lands.  Led by Abdel Aziz el Hilu, a formidable military commander, they will fight to the death rather than surrender to al-Bashir's vision of what North Sudan is to become. No one in the Nuba has forgotten the genocide of the 1990s.

But the cost of such defiance, given the overwhelming military force---regular and militia---Khartoum has put in place, will be devastating.  The hundreds of thousands now besieged and without humanitarian relief are deeply endangered, as relief organizations are withdrawing rather than deploying.  Khartoum has shut down the Kadugli airport for all humanitarian transport, and has deployed instead military aircraft.  It is also now the "hunger gap," the period between fall/winter harvest and the next round of harvests beginning in October.  Mortality will swing sharply upward in the coming weeks and months unless humanitarian access is secured and protected.

Ethnically-targeted human destruction, genocide, need not make use of machetes, or even more sophisticated instruments of destruction.  As this regime has learned over the past 22 years, the cheapest way to wage war on the African peoples of Sudan is by pitting ethnic groups against one another and then denying humanitarian access.  We saw this in the Nuba Mountains in the 1990s, in South Sudan at many points during the civil war, and most recently in Darfur.  That it has begun again in the Nuba brings us full circle in the regime's savage history of genocidal counterinsurgency wars.  The Nuba were largely invisible during the first genocide, even as we know now that hundreds of thousands were killed or displaced.  But this time it is as clear as April and May of 1994 in Kigali.

President Obama confronts his second "Rwanda Moment," and how he responds---now---will determine the moral character of his historical legacy for decades.

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 and Ban Ki-moon's Bid for a Second Term

By Eric Reeves

June 10, 2011 (SSNA) -- [Note added June 10, 2011: Ban Ki-moon has been no less a disaster for the South, Abyei, and now South Kordofan. He has done nothing in the face of the Khartoum regime’s contemptuous dismissal of the UN Security Council "demand" (June 3)that all its military forces be withdrawn from Abyei. He also likely played a significant role in excising from the first UN report on Abyei the finding that Khartoum’s military actions have been "tantamount to ethnic cleansing." More than two weeks after Khartoum’s military invasion and comprehensive destruction of Abyei town, Ban himself declared, on what basis it is quite unclear, that it was "far too early to claim that ethnic cleansing is taking place." In addition to massive numbers of satellite and ground photographs, showing ethnically-targeted destruction of food and property in progress, there are countless interviews that have been conducted with those who fled, making clear that Khartoum was intent on "changing the demography" of Abyei. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that more than 100,000 have fled south from the violence in Abyei, virtually the entire Dinka Ngok population of the region; the implications of this have clearly not been absorbed by Ban. He has also been conspicuously silent on the war that is exploding in South Kordofan---and the events that so clearly led to this premeditated and rapidly expanding violence.

During his entire tenure, Ban has been shamefully obsequious in his relations with the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime; his response to the human catastrophe in Darfur has as a consequence been destructively incompetent.]

"Darfur and Ban Ki-moon’s Bid for a Second Term as UN Secretary-General"

Ban Ki-moon is presently being considered for a second term as UN Secretary-General. Given the wide spread criticism that he has received on many fronts, much of it severe, his odds might seem long. But this is a decision that will be made largely by three wary members of the Security Council: China, Russia, and the United States. And their criteria for assessing job performance reflect nothing so much as their own geostrategic interests, which are often directly in conflict. This has the effect of producing a "lowest common denominator" candidate, a competition in which Ban Ki-moon excels. As one critic has put it, these three Security Council members "have conscientiously vetted for dynamism" since the early 1960s, and anodyne Secretaries-General like Ban, Kurt Waldheim, and Javier Pérez deCuéllar have been the result. The same dynamic gives Ban a better than even chance of a second term, especially since the United States announced this week its support for Ban's reappointment. This decision should be reconsidered.

Ban's nickname in his native South Korea was "Ban-chusa," suggesting both someone bureaucratically fastidious but also, as the Economist put it shortly after Ban's election, hampered by a "lack of charisma and a supposed willingness to bend to the will of his superiors." It is notable that several of Ban's most prominent critics from within the UN have also repeatedly cited his lack of "charisma," going so far as to call him "spineless" and "repulsive."In the eyes of many, he has failed so profoundly as a leader of the world body that there are barely enough words available to account for his miserable performance.

One outraged senior official, Inga-Britt Ahlenius of Sweden, when resigning last summer from her post as UN undersecretary general of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, left behind a scathing, fifty-page memo characterizing Ban's job performance: "Your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible.... Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing for yourself.... I regret to say that the secretariat now is in a process of decay." Oversight reform was one of the issues on which Ban campaigned, so Undersecretary Ahlenius' criticism cannot be dismissed lightly.

Another diplomat--Mona Juul, Norway's deputy permanent representative to the UN--had the previous year (2009) made criticism just as tough on Ban in a confidential memo to the Norwegian foreign ministry (it was leaked shortly thereafter). She describes him as "spineless" and merely a "passive observer" to the crisis in Myanmar; she judged him to have been no better on the human destruction in Sri Lanka. He lacks "moral authority" and leadership qualities, Juul wrote, and has made the UN irrelevant on a host of important international issues where its role is vital:

Common to all of this is the fact that high-profile aides cannot compensate for a bland secretary-general who is lacking in charisma.... Apart from Afghanistan, Ban has generally chosen special representatives and secretariat chiefs who don't make much of an impression either.

My purpose in offering this brutal summary (and there are a great many accounts that could be adduced on each of the issues raised) is to suggest that Ban has proved just as feckless and disappointing in leading the UN response to Darfur, a vast human catastrophe that he promised would be for him a signature issue. He has nothing to show for his efforts in Darfur, despite various efforts at self-puffery. The conflict and suffering seem more intractable than ever, and the atrocity crimes by Khartoum and its military forces are endless (see this June6, 2011 report from Human Rights Watch). The catalog of his missteps, moments of moral failure, and misrepresentations of the genocide in Darfur is a long one, much longer than any indictment I might render here. Butlet's take brief stock.

Since Ban assumed his position on January 1, 2007, more than 1 million civilians in Darfur have been newly displaced—more than 600,000 in his first two years in office. If we want a crude measure of the failure of the UN/African Union "hybrid" peacekeeping force (UNAMID) that Ban has so continually touted, this is it. During his entire tenure, security has continued to deteriorate, both for humanitarians and civilians. Ban and his disastrous special representative to UNAMID, Ibrahim Gambari, have had no success in pressuring Khartoum to permit freedom of movement for the peacekeepers and their military investigators, or in securing unfettered access for humanitarians seeking to reach critically underserved areas in Darfur.

Typical was Ban’s response to Khartoum's expulsion of half the humanitarian capacity in Darfur in March 2009 based on the absurd charge of espionage. Ban claimed "things will be alright" and minimized the impact of the expulsions. A year later, in his April 28, 2010 report to the Security Council, Ban was still arguing that the "humanitarian operation in Darfur has been successful in stabilizing the situation in the food security, health, nutrition, and water sectors."

But in fact the populous Jebel Marra region of central Darfur was under a total humanitarian embargo, imposed by Khartoum in January 2010 (the embargo continued throughout the year and is still largely in place). There has been much cruel suffering as the regime's military and militia forces resumed scorched-earth destruction of villages throughout eastern Jebel Marra. Camps for displaced persons, many of which had suffered terribly for lack of food, water, and primary medical care, were clearly not part of Ban's assessment. Three months later Ban finally acknowledged that the absence of skilled humanitarian workers, like those who had maintained pumps providing clean water to many hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, was biting deeply: "The scarcity of water in Darfur is growing, with reports of a significant number of wells drying up."

Ban's account made no mention of the fact that UN agencies and aid organizations were flying blind in many respects because of Khartoum's refusal to allow the production and distribution of reports on malnutrition. There was evidence, however, that food shortages were rising sharply in some areas: anecdotal reports and scattered statistical data suggested that the emergency level for Global Acute Malnutrition (15 percent) had been reached in a number of populations. Yet Ban has never criticized or challenged the UN's chief relief coordinator for Sudan/Darfur, Georg Charpentier, despite his failure of nerve in confronting Khartoum’s leaders and his disingenuousness about humanitarian conditions. UN agency leaders and NGOs, almost without exception, are fearful of speaking out about conditions before Charptenier and are thus obliged to accede to his distorting comments about humanitarian access and the size of the population in need.

Ban has also done nothing of significance to further the Darfur peace process, which Khartoum has determined will be "domesticated," with a heavy emphasis on premature and unsafe returns of displaced persons. Ban indulged in factitious optimism on this score, declaring in July 2007, "During the last six months, we have made slow but credible and considerable progress in helping resolve this Darfur situation." But peace talks, which have now found an apparently indefinite home in Doha, Qatar, have dragged on for years. Despite various "agreements" there is no tangible progress on the ground, and the main rebel groups have not joined the talks. The most recent agreement leaves unsettled the key issues of representation in the national government, human security for the region, and the administrative division of Darfur—an especially important issue for non-Arab Darfuris, the Fur in particular (the largest ethnic group in Darfur).

Instead of a focused diplomatic process, with the UN secretariat orchestrating broad international support, there has been a succession of negotiating venues and actors, as well as unseemly wrangling among the UNAMID’s Gambari, the UN/AU joint mediator for the peace process, Djbril Bassolé (who is leaving his post soon to return to Burkina Faso), and Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, representing the AU. Ban has done nothing to bring order to this diplomatic mess or to bring pressure to bear on Khartoum to negotiate in good faith. Instead, by celebrating diplomatic non-events, Ban has provided the regime with cover: in February 2009 Ban declared that "the [Doha] agreement of goodwill and confidence-building [signed by the Justice and Equality Movement and the Khartoum regime in Qatar on February 17] represents a constructive step in the ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful conclusion to this long-running conflict." The Justice and Equality Movement would shortly thereafter abandon the talks in Doha as a betrayal of its cause.

Critically, Ban has done nothing of consequence in persuading China to play a more active role in Darfur, even as China's obstructionism on the Security Council is acknowledged by virtually everyone. China's attitude toward the human catastrophe in Darfur, governed entirely by its oil interests in South Sudan and Kordofan, was one of unsurpassable indifference. In April of 2007, as insecurity was accelerating and conditions in the camps becoming more difficult, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said, "My general impression is that the current situation in Darfur is basically stable, the local government runs normally, the refugee camps are well managed with sound health conditions and the basic living of refugees is guaranteed." This surreal assessment served as the basis for an aggressive push to enervate the robust peacekeeping force that had originally been proposed by the Security Council in August 2006, a force that would instead become in July 2007 the disaster that is the UNAMID. Unsurprisingly, China's views remained unchallenged by Ban, who knows that Beijing's leaders are almost certainly the key to any second term. Bronwen Maddox of the London Times put the matter best, declaring, "When Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, said that China had played a 'constructive role' in the process, and that he was 'satisfied' with its contribution, he was being polite to the point of dissembling, or has standards which are inhumanely low."

If Darfur has been a signature issue for Secretary-General Ban, as he insisted at the beginning of his first term, then he must be held accountable for the massive UN failure in the region. Whether this---along with his mishandling of the crises in Burma and Sri Lanka, his lack of leadership, and his failure to bring accountability and oversight to the UN---is enough to block his reappointment is a judgment that will be made in Moscow, Beijing, and Washington. It has been reported that the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has strong objections to Ban's continued leadership of the secretariat, but given the White House's announcement of support for Ban, Rice will need to find outside political support. This should come from domestic political and human rights constituencies, as well as the other two permanent members of the Security Council, France and the United Kingdom. U.S. acceptance of Ban's reappointment will reflect the survival of a "lowest common denominator" selection process and set back for years the chances for true reform of the secretariat.

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.

Khartoum Dramatically Escalates War in Sudan

Violence, including ethnically-targeted destruction, has accelerated in South Kordofan over the past few days. Aerial attacks are reported throughout South Kordofan, especially in the Nuba Mountains; one report is of bombing attacks against the major base of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in Jau (Pariang County in oil-rich Unity State). A precipitous embargo on fuel and other goods moving from North to South Sudan is designed to create economic instability prior to the South's independence in one month (July 9, 2011). Those in South Kordofan believed loyal to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) or opposed to the Khartoum regime are being hunted down in retribution; the destruction of churches and the targeting of Christians in and around Kadugli give anominous sense of what is to come.

By Eric Reeves

Highlights of reports, as of 7pm June 9:

June 9, 2011 (SSNA) -- •As in Abyei, the military actions by Khartoum in South Kordofan were clearly premeditated. The potential for precisely the conflict we are seeing now has been repeatedly noted by several observers. And yet the international community has again been caught flat-footed, wholly reliant on the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS); this force has performed poorly, especially in Kadugli where it is widely perceived to have sided with Khartoum. Reports continue to stream in of more tanks moving south from el-Obeid, the main Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) military base outside Khartoum. Military air assets have been rapidly deployed in the conflict, for the Nuba Mountains---where the war will be concentrated---are within range of the jet fighter aircraft based in el-Obeid. Khartoum's most brutal leaders, including President Omar al-Bashir and his chief advisor Nafi'e Ali Nafi'e, have publicly declared that the SAF has been given a "freehand" throughout South Kordofan, and that any southern troops in the North after June 1 would be "legitimate targets"—this despite the fact that tens of thousands of these troops consider South Kordofan and southern Blue Nile their home. Reprisals against civilians thought to be sympathetic to the SPLM/A have been brutal.

Khartoum has explicitly declared its intention to "spread its forces throughout [South Kordofan] state after in gained military control in Kadugli" (Sudan News Agency [SUNA/Khartoum], June 8, 2011). Given the central location of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, this is a declaration of all-out war. UNMIS has already reported that the SAF is "shelling SPLA positions in the mountains of South Kordofan."UNMIS also reports (June 9) that "fighting was ongoing and had spread across the state."

•As was true following the invasion of Abyei, Khartoum's decision to resume war in South Kordofan has very quickly produced tens of thousands of displaced civilians, even as humanitarian organizations have halted operations or withdrawn. The humanitarian situation for the Nuba and non-Arab populations of South Kordofan has immediately become critical. The 10,000civilians who have sought security at the UNMIS base in Kadugli are desperately short of water and facing growing security risks. Many have already left Kadugli, and the town of Dilling to the north is reportedly deserted. One estimate from a Nuba source is that 75,000 people have already been displaced.

•On Sunday, June 5 senior leaders of the SPLM flew to Kadugli to arrange a cease-fire with Khartoum officials, and signed an agreement to this effect. In a signature move of bad faith, an hour after Yasir Arman (head of the SPLM in North Sudan) and Malik Agar (governor of Blue Nile and senior member of the SPLM) flew out of Kadugli, Khartoum's SAF began an assault on the home of Abdel Aziz el-Hilu, SPLM candidate for governor of South Kordofan during the rigged elections of May and a true son of the Nuba. El-Hilu is widely popular among the people of the Nuba and a superb military leader. If he had in fact been killed in the SAF attack, the consequences would have been enormous; as one Nuba put it, "If Aziz goes down the entire Nuba Mountains will erupt." El-Hilu is now reported to be “fully in military uniform." That Khartoum was willing to take this risk indicates that the regime has already determined on a course of war.

Here, the consequences of the Carter Center's poorly informed ratification of the South Kordofan gubernatorial election---in which indicted war criminal Ahmed Haroun defeated el-Hilu following a fraudulent vote count---continues to make themselves felt, and contribute to the climate of deep hostility and mistrust.

•The Sudan Tribune reports (June 9) that Antonov bombers attacked Jau in South Sudan (oil-rich Unity State); this attack on a major SPLA base of operations in the South represents a radical escalation in the war that is rapidly unfolding. Predictably, the long-range, high-altitude Antonovs (not "bombers,"but cargo planes from which crude barrel bombs are rolled without sighting mechanisms) dropped their bombs wide of the SPLA headquarters and hit civilian targets instead (see my report on Khartoum’s history of bombing civilian and humanitarian targets over the past twelve years: Three were reported killed, including a child.

The threat of much greater military incursion into South Sudan has been dismissed by many observers, but this seems unwise. Indeed, a SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer notes today, "The borders have not been demarcated and SAF plans to take some of these areas now. We have said this is part of a plan by SAF." And indeed, any inspection of a map of the oil concession areas reveals just how much is concentrated along the 1956 North/South border. In a January 2011report for Pax Christi, researcher Julie Flint writes in "The Nuba Mountains: Central to Sudan’s Security":

"Today senior SPLA officers in Southern Kordofan claim that SAF is 'preparing for war all the way along the border.' They claim SAF divisions recast as brigades in2009 remain at division strength; four separate brigades that arrived in2008-09 constitute another, unacknowledged division; and 40-barrel Katyusha rocket launchers, B-10 anti-tank guns and 120 mm mortars have been moved to the border area. Deputy governor al-Hilu says that despite agreement that SAF would move into 15 assembly points, it now has 55,000 troops in more than 100garrisons---'more than needed to control Southern Kordofan; more even than at the height of the jihad.'"

•In South Kordofan SAF military aircraft and artillery reportedly attacked five villages south of Kadugli as well as Talodi, Heiban, Kauda, Abdel Aziz el-Hilu's compound on the outskirts of Kadugli, and many other towns. Civilians are reportedly fleeing from many locations: Kadugli, Talodi, Dilling, Umm Dore in (again, Dilling is reportedly nearly deserted). The SAF spokesman, al-Swarmi Kahled, has refused to take calls from journalists. One source on the ground reports that there have been100 casualties in Heiban (Nuba Mountains). Khartoum shows no interest in the SPLM offer [June 8] of an immediate cease-fire.

•Civilians who fled from Khartoum’s brutal military seizure of Abyei are struggling, as humanitarian organizations increasingly find themselves short of supplies, most critically fuel by which to maintain mobility. The outlook is increasingly grim, according to a news dispatch from Turelei, South Sudan. These Dinka Ngok people are struggling simply to survive. At the same time it is clear that the original UN report on the Abyei invasion found sufficient evidence to claim that Khartoum’s "'attack and occupation’ of the disputed town of Abyei 'is tantamount to ethnic cleansing.'" But in the final report—leaked to Associated Press on June 3---the language has been changed substantially by the UN bureaucracy: now the report claims only that "the 'occupation' of Abyei could lead to ethnic cleansing…." This revision was made with transparently political motives, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and senior UN officials sought to mollify Khartoum. The spineless Ban declared flatly that it is "far too early to claim that ethnic cleansing is taking place."

•The origin of the fighting will be disputed in the absence of any neutral reporting presence; in this sense, it is like the military invasion of Abyei, which was precipitated by the disputed events of May 19---events that nonetheless served as a casus belli for Khartoum. One highly informed source reports that the initial shooting occurred at Umm Dora in when Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) attempted to disarm SPLA troops at the border stations that delineated the military boundary between the two sides during the civil war; this has been confirmed by a Western official who closely follows regional events. But Khartoum was clearly planning for this war in the Nuba and many tanks quickly appeared in Kadugli, along with a rapid deployment of other offensive military resources.

•Civilian reprisals are increasing, and are like to accelerate rapidly going forward. A reliable source reports that Khartoum’s fearsome Military Intelligence forced its way into UNMIS headquarters in Kadugli and took many suspected SPLM sympathizers. This source also reports that a "disabled man in a wheelchair was found killed outside the UNMIS compound after he sought protection [there]." This has had an understandably chilling effect on those looking to UNMIS for protection, and many who had originally gathered at the UNMIS base are melting away. A number of those caught and labeled "SPLM sympathizers" have almost certainly been executed.

Many within the SAF ranks are forced recruits from the South or the Nuba; many wish to join the SPLM and have started defecting. It is ironically appropriate that Khartoum yesterday [June 8] described the situation as a "mutiny":

"The National Congress Party [National Islamic Front] today declared that situation in South Kordofan is an 'armed mutiny' and a breach of the law by the SPLM supported by foreign powers and some internal opposition movements who are working to further ambitions of some SPLM figures."(Sudan Tribune translation of the Arabic)

This trend of defections from the SAF is likely to increase quickly, although for the moment it has created a highly dangerous situation in Kadugli. One report from the ground, confirmed by a US government source, puts the matter this way (lightly edited for clarity):

"There are many Nuba in the SAF and Kadugli police who are defecting to the SPLM/A, and at times unwittingly [complicating] the situation. For SAF troops and Popular Defense Forces have no qualms about killing and destroying the Nuba people or their homes and businesses, whereas the Nuba must show such restraint because it is their own people in the crossfire. This gives the SAF and PDF an advantage as well as 'plausible deniability' by deflecting responsibility to SPLA. In short, SAF soldiers may not only kill such 'traitors,' but easily accuse the SPLM/A of the attacks." (email received June 7, 2011)

•Economic warfare has begun in earnest, as Khartoum has virtually shut down the movement of all commercial and other goods to the South. This means that the South has run extremely short of fuel, and this is putting humanitarian organizations in a highly dangerous situation, one in which they have insufficient fuel to evacuate. Prices have skyrocketed, especially for fuel. Earlier this week Juba accused Khartoum of deliberately closing all commercial routes to the south. In the words of Stephen Dhieu Dau, minister of trade and industry in the Government of South Sudan:

"The government in Khartoum is not happy to see people of south Sudan living in peace. It says one thing and does another. It is not sleeping. It is working day and night to sabotage peace and development in the area. It has adopted detrimental policies."

UNIRIN today reported on the threats felt by Southerners living in the North following the secession of South Sudan in a month. They have good reason to fear, and this extends to the people of the Nuba:

"'If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution, and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity ... shari'a and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,'[al-Bashir said]." (The Guardian, January 8, 2011)

As one prescient military observer has put it,

"'The North will get away with horrors in Nuba again,' a western military observer warned in Tchalian'stime [Karen Tchalian was first UNMIS head of security in Kadugli]. 'The UN would probably be able to do little.”’ ( )

This was many months ago, and very little has changed.


•The spirit of the Nuba: In January 2003, while traveling in the Nuba Mountains, I was able to dispatch these words from Kauda (one of the sites that UNMIS today reports has been attacked); my effort was to reveal both the extraordinary determination I found among the people of the Nuba, and their supremely clear understanding of their own history since independence in 1956,particularly in light of the Machakos Protocol that had been signed in July2002, guaranteeing the right of a self-determination referendum to the South. I concluded at the time, and can only emphasize again, that these people will not surrender, they will not again be forced into "peace camps," and they will fight ferociously, realizing that if they should succumb militarily, their lives are over.

Kauda, Nuba Mountains
January13, 2003

"The Nuba Mountains Region: An Inescapable Issue at Machakos"

The Khartoum regime has delayed, and perhaps ultimately aborted its participation in the most recent round of the Machakos peace talks. It has done so because it refuses to accept a decision by the peace process mediators that geographical issues must have a place on the agenda if a true and just peace is to be realized. The Machakos mediators have rightly decided that there can be no meaningful agreement that ignores the historically marginalized areas of Abyei, Southern Blue Nile, and the Nuba Mountains. Twenty years of fighting cannot be ended by ignoring the fate of peoples who have allied themselves politically and militarily with South Sudan, and who feel themselves culturally at risk from the tyranny of Khartoum’s Islamicist project.

The Nuba people in particular have recently expressed their determination to be part of any peace agreement, and have designated the SPLM/A as their representatives at the Machakos talks (as have the people of Abyei and Southern Blue Nile). There should be no mistaking the passionate resolve of these people to live in dignity, to see their culture preserved, and to exercise the right of self-determination.

One reason that international optimism about Machakos has seemed excessive is that the difficulties of remaining issues, while recognized in general terms, have not been sufficiently appreciated in their particulars. Nowhere is this more the case than with the southern part of Blue Nile Province (Southern Blue Nile), as well as Abyei and the Nuba Mountains region of western and southern Kordofan Province. Though these areas have ended up in what was determined to be "northern Sudan" at the time of independence in 1956, this is little more than perverse historical accident, and fails utterly to take account of current political, ethnic, and cultural realities.

In the case of the Nuba Mountains, this history has been especially perverse. The people of the Nuba were not consulted during the process that led to Sudan's independence from British and Egyptian condominium rule, and have never felt themselves represented by any of the governments that have come and gone since 1956. Though the Nuba people have made various political efforts to secure just representation, they have seen no success in these efforts. In the Addis Ababa agreement of 1972, the people of the Nuba were again without meaningful representation, and that deeply flawed peace agreement offered them nothing. War resumed all to predictably in 1983, in part because of Jafer Nimeiri’s imposition of the infamous "September shari'a laws" throughout Sudan, including the Nuba region (where Muslims and non-Muslims have historically coexisted peacefully). The people of the Nuba long ago decided to resist militarily the tyranny of Khartoum, joining cause with the SPLA in 1985. This resistance has only increased since the current regime---the National Islamic Front---came to power by military coup in June 1989.

The recent "All Nuba Conference" (December 2002) marked a consensus decision by the people of the Nuba to be represented by the SPLM/A at the Machakos peace talks. This sends a clear signal, and must not be ignored by those who understand the suffering that has defined so much of their recent history. Before the Nuba Mountains cease-fire was secured by the international community last year, the people of the region had been living under brutal humanitarian embargo for over a decade, denied all food and medical assistance, even by the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan. The most recent humanitarian assessment conducted before the cease-fire was negotiated revealed that Khartoum had brought many tens of thousands of people to the brink of starvation. This followed years of driving Nuba people from the fertile valleys to much more difficult and less productive mountainous areas.

Peace that excludes the voices of the people of the Nuba, and a recognition of their suffering at the hands of successive regimes in Khartoum, cannot be a just peace. It is thus difficult to imagine that the present Nuba Mountains cease-fire will survive in the wake of merely partial peace, one that leaves the essential geographical issues unresolved and ignores the voices of the Nuba. I recently had the privilege of hearing many of these voices during a lengthy discussion with regional leaders at Lwere, near Kauda. I was struck both by the passion and unanimity in what I heard---from Commander Ismail Khamis (acting governor of the SPLM/A-controlled region of the Nuba), Abais Ibrahim (Food Security Coordinator for the Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development Organization [NRRDO]), Mariam Yuhana (regional chair of the Nuba Women’s Association), Simon Kalo (regional director of education), Sodi Ibrahim(SPLM/A secretary for Rashad County), Mosa Abdualbagi (regional director of health care), Tia Tutu Tutu (assistant coordinator for NRRDO food security program), and Alamin DaHalla (secretary in the regional political office).

Again and again I heard the same words: to be consigned to a forced integration with Khartoum’s Islamicism and Arabism was death---and that resistance would continue if the international community attempted to foist such a resolution upon them. "Khartoum does not consider us to be human beings," was a steady refrain amidst the anger and bewilderment over what is felt to be an all too obviously intolerable state of affairs. No Nuba has forgotten the deliberate denial of humanitarian access by Khartoum for over a decade, or the steady denial of agricultural land---efforts that marked a destruction that has widely been described as genocidal.

"We have no way out," I was told. There is neither a political nor a geographical exit for the people of the Nuba unless it is achieved at Machakos. For as all those present in our discussion recognized, Machakos is a singular opportunity---as singular for them as for other parts of Sudan. If they area abandoned, or made part of an expedient compromise with Khartoum, they will have no recourse, no choice in their minds but to fight on for their own right to self-determination. They can no more concede this right than can the people of South Sudan.

"The 1956 boundaries have become irrelevant," Commander Ismail told me. The historical vagaries that left this distinctive region of southern Kordofan as part of "northern Sudan" have long since ceased to have any relevance, culturally or politically. The deep resentment of a viciously tyrannical Islamicism and Arabism was never far from the surface in our discussion. Notably, in a comment that suggested to me that there is finally no parochialism in the Nuba point of view, Commander Ismail (representing Abdul Aziz el-Hilu, Governor of the Nuba region) said, "people should not talk in terms of geography, but in terms of politics." By this he meant that it is not geography per se that is, or should be, the issue at Machakos; rather, the essential issue is the political and cultural realities of the people who are geographically located within the Nuba Mountains regions.

"The problem at Machakos is not the problem of Southern Sudan," or the problem of the Nuba or other marginalized areas---"the problem is Sudan," he continued. By which Commander Ismail meant that the essential problem is the National Islamic Front regime, which rules Sudan without support from any region of Sudan outside Khartoum. And of course there is resistance to the NIF's tyranny even in Khartoum, though it continues to be harshly repressed.

The case of the people of the Nuba Mountains may be special in a sense, but it all too aptly crystallizes the essential challenge of Machakos. Either Khartoum is confronted forcefully, consistently, and with the sharpest moral focus, or the regime will delay, obfuscate, promise and renege, and delay further---continuing negotiations only in bad faith, calculating merely what best serves their survivalist desires. And if military victory should seem within reach---if resistance in the Nuba Mountains, Southern Sudan and other marginalized areas comes to be regarded as militarily vulnerable---then Machakos may overnight become irrelevant. The massive redeployments of offensive military power that have marked Khartoum’s activities since the cease-fire was agreed to on October 15, 2002 are a clear sign of this possibility.

But whatever the chances that remain for Machakos, what is represented by the people of the Nuba Mountains cannot be forgotten. To lose sight of their suffering will be an ominous portent of a much greater moral blindness.

[Too little has change in the past eight years---June 9, 2011]

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide (2007).

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