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Asking Seriously about Humanitarian Access to Blue Nile & South Kordofan

By Eric Reeves

May 22, 2012 (SSNA) -- The northern Sudanese border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan are on the verge of catastrophic human destruction. 

This should not come as a surprise.  For many months now warnings of famine, and diseases consequent upon malnutrition, have become increasingly urgent.  The devastating effects of bombing attacks during the planting season in the Nuba Mountains quickly became apparent last spring: following the June 5 outbreak of hostilities between Khartoum's Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the indigenous northern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N), aerial assaults on villages, fields, and livestock became relentless.  A terrible reprise of these attacks on civilian livelihoods began in Blue Nile on September 1.

Some 150,000 people have already fled South Kordofan and Blue Nile for Ethiopia or South Sudan, which itself is facing potentially catastrophic food insecurity, deliberately exacerbated by many of Khartoum's actions.  Conditions in the camps in Upper Nile, where most of the refugees from Blue Nile have fled, are appalling and unsustainable.  And the refugees themselves, who continue to flee in large numbers, are the best indicators of conditions for those who remain in the war zone, many too young or too feeble to make the exhausting trek southward. 

IRC reports that some children show signs of "severe malnutrition"; Oxfam declares its sense that "we're on the path from crisis to catastrophe"; and Save the Children puts the issue most broadly: "A toxic combination of conflict, rising food and fuel prices, and severe cash shortages is having a devastating effect on the civilian population in both countries. With the rains on the way the situation could not be more critical."

Tom Catena, the only Western physician working in the Nuba, wrote to me recently declaring: "The food shortages now are very severe.  No one seems to have any food stock left and there's absolutely nothing to buy in the market. We have a small stock here that we're preserving for our staff and in-patients and are hoping to make it through the rainy season.  Most people are eating leaves and these pod-like things from the trees" (email rec'd May 20, 2012).  Even more terrifyingly, people are widely reported to be eating their seed stocks, ensuring that there will be nothing for the current planting season---or a harvest next fall.

But again, there is nothing surprising in what we are seeing. By October 2011 the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization had predicted that harvests would largely fail in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. By November the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) was warning that near-famine conditions would be seen by March without humanitarian relief.  Currently health workers are warning of "devastating epidemics" for lack of vaccines for children and other critical medical supplies.  Reports from a wide range of humanitarian sources make unavoidably clear that many hundreds of thousands of lives are at acute risk.

And yet in UN Security Council Resolution 2046 (May 2, 2012) the Council can bring itself to do no more than "strongly urge" that Khartoum allow humanitarian access.  Despite the Chapter 7 authority of the resolution, it ignores the regime's obduracy in the past, and its consistently demonstrated willingness to use the denial of humanitarian assistance as a weapon of war: in the Nuba Mountains in the 1990s, during the long civil war in the South, and currently in Darfur.  The Council resolution points to the access proposal made jointly by the African Union, the UN, and the Arab League in early February---a proposal the SPLM/A-N quickly agreed to.  Predictably, Khartoum declares it is still "studying" the joint proposal; and almost four months later has succeeded in delaying any action until this year's heavy seasonal rains have begun.

This forces a question the international community has either skirted or denied any legitimacy: should humanitarian corridors be opened without Khartoum's consent if the only alternative is to watch hundreds of people slowly starve to death? 

As the dying continues, the question will only become more exigent.

Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, 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 and the Language of War: Who's Really Listening?

By Eric Reeves

May 11, 2012 (SSNA) -- Every day it becomes clearer that unless Juba buckles before Khartoum's extortionate demands, on a range of issues, then the regime will settle matters militarily---as it did in Abyei precisely one year ago.  Yet in a remarkable display of obtuseness, the international community, putatively concerned with peace between Sudan and South Sudan, refuses to hear what the regime is actually saying.  This obtuseness is apparent in the toothless UN Security Council resolution of May 2nd, which contains a cease-fire demand that has already been repeatedly violated by Khartoum; in the African Union roadmap, which (though backed by the Security Council) Khartoum accepts only "provisionally," claiming the roadmap is "full of shortcomings and outright bias in favor of the SPLM"; and in the vehement and geographically ill-informed condemnations of the Southern "invasion" of Heglig along the contested North/South border, a profoundly misguided effort to accommodate Khartoum's tendentious territorial claims (April 10 - 20). 

The failure of comprehension is also apparent in the now increasingly perfunctory condemnations of Khartoum's relentless bombing of civilian targets inside sovereign Southern territory, even as these bombings are meant by Khartoum to bring both political and military pressure on Juba. And perhaps the most telling sign of policy myopia is the refusal by the Security Council to do more than "urge" Khartoum to allow humanitarian access to those starving in Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains, where civilian bombings have been relentless for over eleven months.  Without securing humanitarian access from the regime in the very near term, the international community is likely consigning tens of thousands of people to death by starvation as Khartoum continues its genocidal counter-insurgency tactics.

A distorted narrative

Despite its furiously bellicose rhetoric---which contrasts sharply with what we mainly hear from the Southern leadership (see Deng Alor's recent comments below)---Khartoum is continually depicted as simply the northern obverse of a South now depicted misleadingly as intransigent, aggressive, and thoughtless.  Despite displaying extraordinary restraint in the face of repeated, authoritatively confirmed military provocations over the past year and a half, Juba is held equally responsible for the current military crises along the border region. Despite the absence of any evidence that Juba is supplying the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North with significant military supplies, the international community repeatedly equates what is at most relatively small supplies of fuel and food---which can also be used for humanitarian purposes---with Khartoum's confirmed provision of major weapons and ammunition supplies to renegade militias operating in the South, and indeed providing these deadly militia forces with transport, logistics, and sanctuary in northern Sudan.  Despite this fundamental asymmetry, the international community relentlessly demands that "both parties cease supplying opposition groups" in the other's territory---a way of avoiding coming to terms with the implications of Khartoum's deliberately destabilizing use of these brutal militias.

Here it also useful to look closely at the language and actions recently reported from Khartoum, as well as the emerging outlines of a grim end-game that now governs the regime's larger strategy in its confrontation with the South.  For there are, in fact, clear patterns and priorities in this larger strategy, despite occasional rhetorical modulations.  And the first priority is defined by the urgent need to confront the growing military threat represented by the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North, under the leadership of General Abdel Aziz el-Hilu.  There is strong evidence that after almost a year of fighting, Khartoum's regular and militia forces in South Kordofan have been badly mauled, and the loss of weaponry and ammunition has been extraordinary (one reason Juba has no incentive to provide military assistance to the SPLA-N).  The reports are consistent, and reveal that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) are both demoralized and in danger of losing control of even more of South Kordofan. 

What Khartoum wishes to do is make this potential military disaster the primary diplomatic issue in negotiations with Juba.  The regime is in effect demanding that Juba use its putative influence with the SPLM-N leadership to end conflict in what has become Khartoum's "new south Sudan" (notably, Khartoum has increasingly taken to referring to the SPLA-N as a "foreign army").  This is what President Omar al-Bashir meant by declaring that, "In the coming negotiations, if we don't solve the security problems ... there will be no talk over any other clause---not oil, not trade, not citizenship, not Abyei, or any other file."  By "security problems" al-Bashir is referring to the military threat posed by the SPLA-N---and to Juba's refusal to accept Khartoum's untenable claims about the 1956 North/South border.  In short, the regime is insisting that peace will be preserved only if two conditions are met:

[1]  Juba is to be made the point of international leverage in compelling capitulation by the SPLM-N leadership.  For Khartoum refuses to negotiate directly with the SPLM-N, despite a Framework Agreement committing the regime to do precisely this.  It was signed by Khartoum on June 28, 2011 in Addis Ababa under African Union auspices.  Unsurprisingly, three days later---using language that referred to the "military cleansing" of the Nuba Mountains---al-Bashir renounced the Agreement under pressure from increasingly aggressive generals in Khartoum.

The UN Security Council resolution conveniently ignores this declaration by the regime head, and simply "decides" that "the Government of Sudan and the SPLM-North shall extend full cooperation to the African Union [mediators] and the Chair of IGAD, to reach a negotiated settlement on the basis of the June 28, 2011 Framework Agreement on Political Partnership between the National Congress Party and SPLM-N and Political and Security Arrangements in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan States" (§3).  It is as if the Security Council is either unaware of al-Bashir's renouncing of the June 28 agreement, or has simply chosen to pretend that it never happened.

But Khartoum hasn't forgotten, and has made as much clear:

"The leadership council of the ruling National Congress Party chaired by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir announced late Wednesday [May 9] that it does not agree to elements of a recent United Nations Security Council resolution regarding negotiations with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N)." (Sudan Tribune, May 9, 2012)

Following this leadership council meeting, Foreign Minister Ali Karti "totally rejected" the clause concerning negotiations with the SPLM-N. The regime has considerable experience in ignoring UN Security Council resolutions (more than 20 on Darfur alone), and there is no evidence that the response of the Council to current recalcitrance from the regime will be more vigorous.  But ignoring Khartoum's defiance will not help; indeed, as on so many occasions previously, refusing to take responsibility for "demands" and "decisions" and "urgings" encourages the regime to believe that the international community simply will not hold it accountable, not matter how outrageous its actions---including cutting off humanitarian assistance to many hundreds of thousands of starving civilians.

[2]  Khartoum is also demanding---in effect as a pre-condition---that contested border areas be delineated on the basis of the regime's distortion of the 1956 border. And if we want evidence of just how outrageously distorted Khartoum's vision of the border is, we need only look to the telling example of the Kafia Kingi enclave in the far west of Western Bahr el-Ghazal.  The "enclave" is the product of two very different borders: the border at the time of independence in 1956 (the constant geographic determinant throughout the Comprehensive Peace Agreement), and another drawn by Khartoum in 1960 that sweeps steeply south of the 1956 border at Radom (see maps on pp. 8 - 9 and pp. 168 - 169 of The Kafia Kingi Enclave: People, Politics, and history in the north-south boundary zone of western Sudan, Rift Valley Institute, 2010).  In short, Kafia Kingi was arbitrarily moved into the north by the military regime of Ibrahim Aboud (the regime of General Jaafer Nimeiri reneged on a promise to return to the 1956 border).

In various ways, Khartoum is insisting---despite the explicit terms of the CPA---that Kafia Kingi is part of the North, and declares any SPLA presence to be an "invasion" and hence one of the "security issues" that al-Bashir refers to: "In the coming negotiations, if we don't solve the security problems ... there will be no talk over any other clause---not oil, not trade, not citizenship, not Abyei, or any other file."

Khartoum's increasingly aggressive re-redefinition of the border accounts for the intense hostility to the Security Council resolution, accepted originally only "in principle" and now reduced by Khartoum to an irrelevant exhortation.  The most telling comment by al-Bashir is that reported by Reuters ([Khartoum] on May 10: "The clauses we want to implement, we will implement. And what we don’t want to implement, we won’t. Neither the Security Council, nor the [AU] Peace and Security Council, nor the whole world will make us implement it." 

This is not the first time al-Bashir has expressed strong views of a UN Security Council resolution: of Resolution 2003, reauthorizing the UN/African Union force in Darfur and its civilian protection mandate, he declared bluntly: "'They can shove the new resolutions' Al-Bashir said, reiterating his threats to expel whoever is tempted to implement Resolution 2003" (Sudan Tribune, October 13, 2011).  The May 10 Reuters dispatch also reminds us that Khartoum views the Southern leadership as "insects," an ominous reminder of the racial contempt that animated the Rwandan genocide: "Bashir vowed to play hardball with South Sudan, whose ruling party he branded 'insects.' 'We tell them if you want a second lesson, we will give you a second and third lesson because you (the South Sudan government) do not understand.'"

In declaring that his regime will "implement only the clauses we want to implement," al-Bashir is objecting in particular to Security Council efforts to produce a disengagement of forces along the border.  As Agence France-Press reported from Khartoum (May 10, 2012), "The UN resolution also ordered Sudan and South Sudan to pull troops back from their disputed frontier [ ], but Khartoum said it could not comply until there was a border agreement."  But of course it has been Khartoum, not Juba, that over the past several years has refused to engage in good faith efforts to delineate and demarcate the North/South border.  The UN Security Council and the rest of the international community, having failed to make border delineation/demarcation a priority, are now obliged to refer to a border that Khartoum does not acknowledge.  This failure undermines the Security Council "decision" (under chapter VII authority of the UN charter) to demand that Khartoum and Juba "unconditionally withdraw all of their armed forces to their side of the border." 

A dispatch from Agence France-Presse (Khartoum, May 5) is one of the very few to connect these two issues as they play out in Khartoum's strategy in responding to the Security Council resolution: "[Khartoum] maintains that South Sudanese 'aggression' continues in the form of direct occupation of other disputed areas along the border, and by support for rebel groups inside Sudan. In its letter to the UN and the African Union, Sudan again repeated an allegation that South Sudanese troops occupy three points along the Darfur border."  Of course the most conspicuous of these "three points" is Kafia Kingi (Khartoum names in particular Kafen Debbi and Kafia Kingi town, which are both well inside the Kafia Kinga enclave).  And yet Khartoum claims that Southern presence, in an enclave clearly within South Sudan, amounts to an "occupation." This illustrates perfectly how "security issues" are actually being defined by Khartoum. 

Other examples are not so dramatic as that of Kafia Kingi (which has promising mineral and other resource deposits, especially copper), but they all are governed by the same extortionist logic on the part of the regime: "either we get our way with border issues or we will declare that our 'security' is threatened and respond militarily."  The justification, of course, will be "self-defense."  And until the international community does more than pass hortatory resolutions at the UN Security Council, until it actively engages in pressuring Khartoum to accept what has so far merely been "urged," this pattern will persist all along the border, where some 20 percent remains undelineated, and a vastly higher percentage undemarcated.

Yet again, that there has been no such international response to this conspicuously outrageous violation of the CPA terms for border delineation only encourages the regime to believe that it can behave similarly in other areas where the border is disputed.  And Abyei stands as a stark reminder that what the regime can't achieve through negotiations, it is perfectly well prepared to achieve militarily.

Aerial military assaults on civilian targets 

Especially in light of recent military conflict in the border regions, there has been far too little done by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to confirm in timely fashion aerial attacks on civilian and military targets on sovereign Southern territory, including the bombing of Bentiu, the capital city of Unity State.  While certainly facing constraints and obstacles, UNMISS must make verification of aerial attacks a significantly higher priority for the resources it has. Otherwise, Khartoum will continue to send out military spokesman army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid to declare with shameless mendacity, "'We affirm completely we have no airplanes nor bombardments that have attacked inside South Sudan's territories, even before a month ago. These are just accusations'" (Reuters [Khartoum], May 5, 2012).

In fact, UNMISS has confirmed many more attacks than the UN has declared publicly, and we must ask in turn why the UN has decided not to publicize the findings of the Mission.  It is difficult not to conclude that the refusal to release the results of investigations confirming aerial attacks is politically motivated---part of a larger pattern described in this brief. 

Notably, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, declared today that she "was 'saddened and outraged' at bombing raids that broke a UN ceasefire order" (Agence France-Presse, May 11, 2012).  But we also catch in her remarks a glimpse of the excessive caution and politically motivated skepticism that resulted in Pillay's deliberate evisceration of the UN human rights report on atrocity crimes committed by Khartoum's forces in Kadugli, South Kordofan (June 2011).  Today Pillay would say only that," Deliberate or reckless attacks on civilian areas can, depending on the circumstances, amount to an international crime." 

Why this mincing of words when Pillay knows perfectly well that many of the bombings, including that of the Yida refugee camp, are clearly violations of international humanitarian and human rights law?  She acknowledges that Khartoum has engaged in "indiscriminate bombing without consideration that civilians are living there," and yet cleaves to the language of "can, depending on the circumstances ..."--- even as those circumstances have been repeatedly confirmed in the most damning detail.  Yet again, it is difficult not to discern political considerations here---considerations entirely inappropriate for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Indeed, how else to make sense of Pillay's preposterous claim of August 2011 that "while there is much disturbing information coming from the region [South Kordofan], we are regrettably not in a position to verify it"?  The "information" was even then confirmed by countless interviews with survivors of atrocity crimes, conducted by journalists and human rights organizations; it was confirmed by multiple authoritative reports from the Satellite Sentinel Project; and it was confirmed, in detail, by a UN human rights team that had prepared the report that Pillay subsequently distorted in her briefing of the Security Council.  As UN correspondent Colum Lynch reported at the time, there was an eerie similarity to the UN's earlier response to violence against civilians during Khartoum's military seizure of Abyei:

"The remarks follow a pattern by the United Nations of minimizing Sudanese excesses. Last month, UN officials in New York watered down an internal draft that accused Sudan of engaging in practices that were 'tantamount to ethnic cleansing' in another Sudanese hot spot, the border region of Abyei. But UN officials in New York dropped the claim that ethnic cleansing had occurred, according to UN sources." (Foreign Policy, August 4, 2011 ["Why is the UN soft-pedaling its criticism of Sudan?"])

Pillay also knows, or certainly should know---on the basis of countless human rights reports, news dispatches from the region, and the UN human rights team present in South Kordofan in June 2011---that Khartoum has essentially destroyed the agricultural economy of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan by means of relentless.  The bombing attacks---by Antonov "bombers," military jet aircraft, and helicopter gunships---have left the people of the Nuba essentially without food, creating a large and rapidly growing refugee population in South Sudan. 

Why does Pillay she not speak out about this brutal campaign---continuously, forcefully, with clear representation of the international crimes embodied in these attacks?  Why doesn't she speak out about the crimes against humanity embodied in Khartoum's deliberate and calculated denial of food and humanitarian relief to the people of Blue Nile and the Nuba?  Has the UN decided to "de-couple" South Kordofan and Blue Nile from the diplomatic efforts to prevent a resumption of North/South war? Are we seeing a repeat of the Obama administration's "de-coupling" of Darfur from larger issues of Sudan policy?  (Excepts from the UN human rights reporting of aerial assaults on civilians in South Kordofan, leaked in early July 2011 and still available, appear as an appendix below.)

The Khartoum regime should be well known as it approaches the 23rd anniversary of its seizure of power through a military coup (June 1989)---the 23rd anniversary of the deliberate aborting of Sudan's most promising chance for a North/South peace agreement since independence in 1956.  But judging by the expediency and disingenuousness of what is said, and by the failure to act on what we know, such knowledge continues to be insufficient to produce appropriate policy responses.

The view from the South

Here it is useful to consider the rather different tenor of very recent comments by Deng Alor, Minister of Cabinet Affairs for the Republic of South Sudan: "Alor said the new attacks alleged by his government [in Juba] did not affect its commitment to resume talks with Sudan on the thorny issues of oil exports, security, border demarcation and citizenship that have remained unresolved since South Sudan became the world's newest independent nation last year. 'We are ready to go the extra mile to negotiations,' he said. 'Nobody is interested in war, we don't want it, the international community doesn't want it and the region doesn't want it.' Alor said South Sudan was waiting for former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the head of a high-level AU panel tasked with resolving the disputes between Khartoum and Juba, to formally call the two sides to resume talks on a specific date."

Alor continued: "The AU road map for talks made resolving the dispute over oil a priority, Alor said. 'It's a priority for everybody, for us, the government of Sudan, for investors and for the AU,' he said. 'We are committed to negotiations and discussing everything.'" (Reuters [Juba/Khartoum], May 10, 2012)

Until there is an informed and determined international resolve to weigh the relative commitments to peace on the part of Juba and Khartoum, the lurch toward war will continue.  If we are to judge by recent commentary on the part of regional and international actors of consequence, including supposedly "informed" diplomats (typically speaking off the record), we are far, far indeed from such resolve.

APPENDIX: Excerpts on civilians bombings from UN human rights report (2011)

United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS)


8. On 6 June, SAF commenced aerial bombardments and intensified ground assaults on civilian populated areas in Um Dorein and Talodi localities. Many civilians fled the towns taking up refuge in the Nuba Mountains. Civilians wounded by the bombardments flocked to hospitals in Kadugli. Civilian movement was curtailed further east in Heiban and Kauda localities, as SAF and SPLA roadblocks from the north and south prevented residents from leaving the town. In Kadugli town, residents in the largely SPLM-inhabited Kalimo area were warned by both the SAF and the SPLA to evacuate the area. In the late afternoon, SAF heavily bombarded the west of town in Al Messanie which continued until the early morning of the 7 June. Residents in the Kalimo neighbourhood reported that the SAF was indiscriminately shelling homes where it suspected SPLA elements were hiding. There were also reports that the SAF was conducting house to house searches and systematically burning houses of suspected SPLM/A supporters.

12. The security situation continued to deteriorate from 9 June onwards with further reinforcements of the SAF and the SPLA that spread the fighting to other localities. The fighting led to the withdrawal from Kadugli of the SPLA component of the JIU. Meanwhile the SAF persisted with daily aerial bombardments and attacks in Kadugli, Dilling, Rashad, Heiban, Kauda, Talodi and Um Dorein localities deep in the Nuba Mountains where civilian populations had sought refuge. Aerial bombardments reduced after 14 June but continued although with less intensity and frequency. However, civilian casualties continued to be reported in Kadugli, Umm Dorein, Um Serdeiba, Heiban, Kauda, Dilling, Salara areas, where many civilians were trapped due to the fighting. UNMIS Human Rights also received reports of abductions, arrests, detentions and executions of civilians throughout the Kadugli region. By 30 June, when this report was being finalized, UNMIS noted that aerial bombardments were still on-going, with continuing SAF and SPLA artillery exchange, as well as SAF and militia shelling, house to house searches for Nubans and pro-SPLM supporters and continued human rights violations.

39. Since the eruption of the conflict, the SAF has carried out daily aerial bombardments into the Nuba Mountains and in several towns and villages populated by Nubans. The consequences of these bombardments on the Nuban people and in particular civilians, including women and children, are devastating. They have resulted in significant loss of life, destruction of properties, and massive displacement. UNMIS Human Rights has received photographs of mangled and mutilated bodies of civilians, some cut into halves, including women and children.

40. Starting from 5 June, the SAF has conducted daily aerial bombardments in Kadugli, Kauda, Dilling, Talodi, Um Dorein and other parts of the State populated by Nubans including Heiban, Kauda Julud, Kudu and Kurchi. These bombardments often start from early evening at about 18:00 and last until daybreak. The bombardments have also targeted civilian facilities such as airstrips. On 14 June UNMIS personnel from the Kauda Team Site reported that the SAF launched air strikes on the airstrip and areas close to the UNMIS compound causing damage to structures inside the Team Site. The bombing rendered the airstrip unusable and impeded humanitarian organizations from re-supplying their stocks from Kadugli town or relocating/rotating staff in these areas. On 25 June, SAF air-strike dropped two bombs on Julud airstrip, just 350 metres from a school, and three kilometres from UNMIS Julud Team Site. As of 27 June, according to UNMO reports from Kadugli and other Team Sites, the SAF was intensifying aerial bombardments in Southern Kordofan. On SPLA positions. Following the SAF aerial bombardment of Shivi village, in Dilling locality on 8 June, UNMIS Julud Team Site reported two civilians were killed, one male and one female. Bombs have also been dropped very close to UNMIS Team Sites. On 19 June, UNMIS Kauda Team Site confirmed that seven bombs dropped in Kauda hitting areas south and northwest of the Team Site.

72. Accounts of aerial bombardments with significant loss of civilian lives including women, children and the elderly, targeted killings, house-to house searches and reports of mass graves are some of the most grave human rights violations taking place in Southern Kordofan. The alleged use of chemical weapons has not been substantiated. The International Community cannot afford to remain silent in the face of such deliberate attacks by the Government of Sudan against its own people. If the current conduct of the SAF, especially the aerial bombardments, does not stop, it will dissipate the Nuban population in Southern Kordofan.

Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, 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.

Will the Cease-fire Hold in Sudan Border Regions? A Timeline of Agreements Made and Abrogated by Khartoum

If history is any guide, Khartoum’s agreement to the cease-fire terms dictated by the May 2, 2012 UN Security Council Resolution, supported by the African Union, will prove meaningless; follow-up agreements will be signed, and they too will prove meaningless. The National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime has never abided by any agreement with a Sudanese party---and never will, certainly not without much more vigorous international pressure on Khartoum, pressure that is not disabled by a factitious “even-handedness,” a moral equivalency between the NIF/NCP génocidaires and the struggling leadership in Juba.

By Eric Reeves


May 7, 2012 (SSNA) -- That we should be asking with such uncertainty about the fate of a cease-fire agreement that may hold the key to whether Sudan and South Sudan resume war is not surprising.  At countless junctures in the past year and a half, the Khartoum regime has been encouraged to think that it can, without real consequence, abrogate or renounce agreements made with various Sudanese and South Sudanese parties.  The military seizure of Abyei represents only the most conspicuous example.  Present uncertainty, then, is not surprising; what is surprising is how rapidly the international community, and too often news reporting, has lost sight of the historical context out of which our uncertainty grows.  Since fall of 2010 there have been a great many agreements abandoned by Khartoum---indeed, if we are even slightly scrupulous, all agreements the regime has made have been abrogated, renounced, violated, or simply ignored. 

This in turn continues a pattern that stretches back to the beginning of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime following its military coup in June 1989---a coup, we should recall, deliberately timed to abort the most promising chance for a North/South peace agreement since independence in 1956.  Both the Umma of Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Democratic Unionist Party seemed prepared to reach an agreement with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army.

Instead, unfathomably destructive war continued, in which more than 2 million people were killed, and as many as 5 million displaced.  The human suffering, overwhelmingly by Southern and Nuba civilians, defies all description.  And yet, despite the demands of a UN Security Council resolution on Wednesday, May 2, Khartoum violated the cease-fire on Friday, May 4 according to reports from Juba: Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) used long-range artillery to target Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) positions within the Tishwin, Lalop and Panakuach area of Unity State.  Indeed, on the very day following the UNSC cease-fire demand, backing the African Union peace mediation effort, Juba reported that twelve bombs again targeted Lalop, critically wounding a child and mother.  There are unconfirmed but highly plausible reports of artillery fire into these same areas on Saturday, May 5.  The cease-fire has already been violated by Khartoum.

We should note that the UN Security Council threw its support squarely behind the AU effort despite the fact that the Southern leadership has long been distinctly unhappy with chief AU mediator Thabo Mbeki (as were Darfuris before Southerners).  Even so, it was Juba that first and eagerly embraced the cease-fire proposal and continued AU mediation, even before the Security Council resolution; it was Khartoum that accepted the AU framework only "in principle"---a qualification behind which massive violence is likely to be justified.

We have only to look at comments coming from the Foreign Ministry to see the implications of Khartoum's "acceptance in principle," and its claims that the SPLA is still "occupying" parts of northern Sudan.  Encouraged by the hasty and deeply misguided international effort to describe SPLA seizure of Heglig as an "invasion" of the North, Khartoum is now making a series of commensurately misleading claims:

"[The Foreign Ministry cited] 'continuous aggression and attack from South Sudan's army on Sudanese soil until today.' 'The government of Sudan hopes the other party will commit to stop the hostilities completely and withdraw its troops from the disputed areas so as not to put SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces) in a situation where it has to defend itself,' the ministry added." (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], May 4, 2012)

Here we see the dangerous result of South Sudan becoming independent without strong international commitment and assistance in resolving border disputes with Khartoum and overseeing final border demarcation.  We can expect to see this excuse for military actions on Khartoum's part for the foreseeable future, even as some of the "disputed" areas are disputed only on the basis of regime intransigence (see, for example, the Rift Valley Institute analysis of the Kafia Kingi area in Western Bahr el-Ghazal, where the January 1, 1956 border conspicuously puts the enclave in South Sudan). Without clearly delineated and demarcated borders, the opportunities for Khartoum to initiate military actions self-described as "self-defense" will be many and continuous. In turn, the grim and dispiriting lessons of Abyei have certainly not been lost on Juba.

Yet again, the international community focuses on only one issue in Sudan

Arguably the most dangerous part of this uneasy "cease-fire" is that it diverts international attention away from the massive humanitarian crises the regime has engineered in other parts of Sudan, including the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, Blue Nile, the refugee camps for people who have fled from conflict in these regions (more than 100,000 in Upper Nile; likely more than 40,000 in Unity; and perhaps 40,000 in Ethiopia)---and of course Darfur. Relentlessly suffering, and increasingly invisibly, the people of Darfur have been betrayed repeatedly by the international community, most recently and destructively in the form of the widely despised Doha Peace Agreement (July 2011) (see Appendix 1 to Part 1 for a bibliography of recent reports on humanitarian and security conditions in Darfur).  As Darfur was sacrificed on the altar of CPA completion in 2004, at the very height of the genocide---and beyond---so it is again the victim of diplomatic tunnel vision.

Despite increasingly desperate calls from humanitarian organizations, especially those working on food, water, and sanitation, many of these humanitarian efforts remain under-funded and without adequate resources. More dangerously, there is still no access to the Nuba Mountains or displaced persons in Blue Nile.  Although Juba accepted a joint UN/African Union/Arab League proposal for humanitarian access to all in need on February 9---three months ago---Khartoum has recently declared that it is still studying this multilateral proposal, which it again welcomes "in principle."  The clear effort is to wait out the remainder of the dry season, and offer limited access only once the rains have begun (any week now), making delivery inordinately more difficult.

One measure of how little access there is to these desperate regions is the continually recycled figure of "417,000 displaced by fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile."  This figure was first promulgated by the UN in early December 2011 (see a Reuters dispatch of December 13, 2011).  That the figure has not changed in five months---it continues to be regularly cited in a range of dispatches and reports, without any acknowledgement of its original date---is a measure of how little we know about the scale of the catastrophe that is unfolding, largely invisibly; substantial anecdotal reports, however, from a wide range of observers in the Nuba make clear that this number almost certainly vastly understates.  That the UN is not in a position to update this figure---only the relentlessly increasing number of refugees pouring into Upper Nile and Unity States (South Sudan) and Ethiopia---should be a scandal. Instead, the figure is uncritically re-cycled.

Attention remains diverted as well from Abyei, where we are approaching the one-year anniversary of Khartoum's military seizure of the contested region, in violation of the Abyei Protocol and the 2009 ruling by the PCA.  More than 100,000 Dinka Ngok who were forced to flee Abyei to Warrap and other Southern states are still unable to return, and confront grim humanitarian conditions.  There is no evident pressure on Khartoum to withdraw its forces from Abyei, despite a June 20, 2011 commitment to do so with deployment of an Ethiopian peacekeeping force under UN auspices.  Indeed, Khartoum still refuses to negotiate in good faith a Status of Forces Agreement with the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).  The international community, taking its cue from the U.S., seems content to see the dream of self-determination for the "residents" of Abyei, promised by the CPA, slowly wither away.

The need for historical context

No assessment of prospects for the current cease-fire agreement, such as it is, can possibly be meaningful without taking account of the Khartoum regime's 23 years of relentless abjuring, reneging, renouncing, ignoring, and denial of agreements it has signed or committed to.  That it continues to receive international diplomatic credit for these agreements---despite relentlessly consistent bad faith---of course only encourages the regime to sign more agreements, agreements that it has no intention of abiding by.

This promiscuous agreement-making and -signing is part of what energizes the deeply misguided "moral equivalence" that has stalked Sudan diplomacy for well over a decade.  It is the illusion that the political, diplomatic, and finally moral equities of Southerners and the Khartoum regime are somehow equivalent when they clearly are not.  This is the same illusion that leads U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman to oppose regime change in Khartoum, and at the same time to declare his confidence in the regime's ability to "carry out reform via constitutional democratic measured." Once Khartoum has been conceded this much, it is no surprise that the results are the very opposite of those Lyman professes to believe possible under this tyrannical regime.

With such a perspective dominant within the international community, we can do no more at present than survey recent and more distant history: the chances that this cease-fire agreement is more likely to hold than Khartoum's commitment to previous agreements can be calculated only on the basis of previous abrogations. 

The present time-line focuses in Part 1 on those agreements Khartoum has made and/or violated in the first five months of 2012. It extends the time-line running through December 31, 2011, which appears here---in revised form---as Part 2.  Part 2 focuses on events leading up to and including the May 2011military seizure of Abyei, which abrogated the agreement represented by the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), as had the earlier denial of a self-determination referendum to the people "resident" in Abyei, as defined geographically by the 2009 PCA ruling.  The timeline continues through Khartoum's military assaults on Southern Kordofan (June 5, 2011) and Blue Nile (September 1, 2011).

[Significant violations of agreements, signed or committed to, are highlighted by §.  All emphases, bold and italics, throughout these timelines have been added.]

Introduction: A time-line of reneging and bad faith

§ 1999:  As a framework for understanding the agreements to which Sudan has formally committed itself (Parts 1 and 2), we should recall a time when the UN human rights reports on the "situation in Sudan" were actually worth reading---here from May 1999 (E/CN.4/1999/38/17):

"As a Member State of the United Nations, the Sudan is bound by the Charter of the United Nations. Further, it is obliged to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons within its territory, as set out inter alia in the following instruments to which the Sudan has become a party:

the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;

the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;

the Convention on the Rights of the Child;

the Slavery Convention, as amended;

the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery;

the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Additional Protocol thereto.

"As a member of the International Labour Organization, the Sudan has ratified its Conventions concerning Forced Labour (No. 29), the Abolition of Forced Labour (No. 105), the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (No. 98), Employment Policy (No. 122) and Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) (No. 111).

"On 23 September 1957, the Sudan became a party to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which set out humanitarian rules for armed conflicts.

"Further, it is to be noted that the Sudan has signed the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Although signature has not yet been followed by ratification, the Sudan has, by signing, shown the intention to accept the obligations under this Convention and, under customary international law, as reflected in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, is obligated not to do anything which would defeat the object and purpose of the Convention against Torture, pending a decision on ratification.

"In addition to the obligations arising from conventional international law, the Sudan is also bound to respect the standards of international customary law."

This list of obligations will seem a dismaying grotesquerie to those familiar with the regime's long history of brutal domestic repression, it policy of enslaving Southerners, its massive and continuous violations of the Geneva Conventions to which it is party, the vast crimes against humanity represented by the systematic denial of humanitarian assistance to desperate civilians, as well as by widespread and systematic bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets for more than a decade, its routine use of torture as an instrument of the security forces, and the conspicuous racism embodied not only in the practice of slavery, the widespread institutional exclusion of "Africans," the racial basis for targeted human destruction (including the Nuba and the people of Darfur), but the present practice of "ethnic culling" of the northern population, a policy that de-nationalizes "Southerners" solely on the basis of race and ethnicity (see July 4, 2011 in Part 2).

The violations of these various "agreements" are so utterly routine that only the most dogged human rights organizations continue to make mention of them.

Other agreements violated over the past decade:

§  January 2002: Although usually touted as impressive success, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Nuba Mountains was responsible for securing compliance with an agreement that included, inter alia, the demand that there be no redeployment of military forces.  On signing the agreement, and in direct contravention of its terms, Khartoum immediately took military advantage of the cease-fire and re-deployed two full brigades from South Kordofan to the fighting in the oil regions of what was then Western Upper Nile.  In January 2003 I questioned in Kauda the head of this mission, Norwegian Brigadier-General Jan Erik Wilhelmsen, about the redeployment of the two SAF brigades in violation of the agreement.  The General sniffed contemptuously and said only that "this occurred before I got here."  Such casual acceptance of violations of agreements set the stage for much that would follow.

§  October 2002: Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army signed a "Cessation of Hostilities Agreement."  And yet three months later I was interviewing civilians from Western Upper Nile who had recently been badly wounded by helicopter gunships.  Not until further international pressure in February 2003 was the cease-fire meaningfully observed by Khartoum, in large part because of the superb work of the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) based in Rumbek (Lakes State).

§  2004: The breakthrough Abyei Protocol---negotiated in 2004---was a linchpin in the successful completion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (signed January 9, 2005).  As discussed above and below, Khartoum massively violated this agreement and construed its terms in ways that were contemptibly disingenuous.  Especially conspicuous actions included:

§  July 2005: President Omar al-Bashir refuses to accept the findings of the Abyei Boundaries Commission, established by the CPA and whose membership was agreed to by both Khartoum and Juba.

§  May 2008:  Khartoum's regular and militia forces burn Abyei town to the ground, and in a prelude to the military seizure of May 2011, force many tens of thousands of Dinka Ngok to flee southward to Warrap State.

§  January 2011: efforts by the regime to delay and ultimately prevent the agreed upon self-determination referendum prove fully successful.

March 2011: SAF military deployments captured in satellite photography make unambiguously clear that Khartoum intends to seize Abyei militarily; there is no meaningful response from the international community, which is well aware of what is impending.

§  May 20 - 21, 2011: Khartoum easily moves from its positions of forward deployment to seize Abyei militarily.  A year later, the SAF remains in full military control, despite the presence of an Ethiopian peacekeeping brigade with UN auspices.

[for a detailed timeline of the events in Abyei through late May 2011, see: "An Abyei Timeline: The Long Road to Khartoum's Military Invasion."]

§  2005 - 2011: The various terms of the CPA designed to "make unity attractive" for all Sudanese quickly fall apart, as many of the most powerful officials in Khartoum's security cabal have no intention of fulfilling the terms of the CPA.  Southerners quickly find that whatever portfolio they might nominally hold, a "shadow ministry"---staffed by senior regime officials---wields real control over the ministry portfolio.  Key meetings are either secret or deliberately conducted in an Arabic that goes at a pace and with a colloquial content that often makes it difficult even for those with fluent "Juba Arabic" to keep up with important points of discussion.  This is the regime's vision of "power-sharing."

§  Wealth-sharing quickly became for Khartoum an exercise in bookkeeping obscurantism: we will never know how many billions of dollars altogether were kept from the South by means of accounting legerdemain, but it is a very substantial number.  Khartoum's willingness to cheat on the terms of wealth-sharing were recently underscored when during fighting between Tishwin and Heglig, the SPLA discovered an illegal and surreptitious "tie-in" pipeline designed.

Khartoum also refused to convene in a timely way the boundary commission charged with first delineating and the demarcating the North/South border as it stood on January 1, 1956.  What participation occurred was largely in bad faith, at least at the highest political levels.  The deliberate obstruction of this critical task was, it is now clear, designed to make possible the present militarily ambiguous situations, which profit only Khartoum; Juba gains nothing from such indeterminate borders, and international policing is made infinitively more difficult in the absence of demarcation, indeed even delineation in far too many places.

§  The CPA was also to have afforded "popular consultations" for the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile; they were to address key outstanding political issues in these long marginalized regions.  Precisely what these "consultations" were to provide, and by what mechanisms, was never adequately specified.  But Khartoum's intentions were easily discerned when in early May 2011 the regime engineered the election of Ahmed Haroun as governor of South Kordofan.  Haroun is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for scores of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He was put in his present position by Khartoum to continue those crimes against the Nuba.

Although hastily and foolishly ratified by the Carter Center, the South Kordofan elections were yet another violation of the CPA, no matter how we construe "popular consultations."  Moreover, the Carter Center account was subsequently vigorously challenged by a forceful and fully informed critique from the Rift Valley Institute; but the damage had been done, and a month after Haroun's election, South Kordofan was turned into a bloodbath by Khartoum's regular and militia forces

§  October/November 2010: Obama administration officials, including special envoy Scott Gration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, bring conspicuous pressure to bear on Juba to compromise further on Abyei, despite the compromises already represented in both the Abyei Protocol and Juba's acceptance of the July 2009 ruling on Abyei's boundaries by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.  Senator John Kerry, part-time administration envoy and aspirant to the office of Secretary of State, reveals a contemptible but consequential ignorance in declaring Abyei to be an insignificant "few hundred square miles" standing in the way of peace for millions (in fact, Abyei as defined by the PCA is over 4,000 square miles, almost the size of Kerry's larger neighbor to the south, the state of Connecticut.

§  November 2010: Khartoum begins regular bombings of South Sudan, right up to and following the self-determination referendum of January 9, 2011. Even before the recent massive wave of aerial attacks, there had been more than 40 confirmed attacks on civilians or humanitarians in the South---or attacks so indiscriminate as to have no possible primary military purpose. These attacks violate a wide range of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Part (2012), including Darfur Appendix, can be found at:

Part 2 (2011) can be found at:

Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, 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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