While the world's limited attention to Africa momentarily focuses on the popular uprising in Khartoum and other areas of Sudan, the regime continues to deny true humanitarian access to Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Khartoum's recent, highly conditional signing of the "Tripartite Agreement" changes nothing on the ground.
By Eric Reeves
June 30, 2012 (SSNA) -- Today, the 23rd anniversary of the military coup that brought the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party to power, international attention has understandably focused on the widespread civilian uprising that began almost two weeks ago in (northern) Sudan. Reports suggest that more than 1,000 people were arrested for protesting yesterday (June 29) after evening prayers; hundreds more were injured; and many have disappeared into Khartoum's infamous "ghost houses." Today is to be the occasion for even larger protests. Most significant has been the geographic diversity of the protests (http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/32601/). Since the regime has shut down much of the Internet and blocked mobile phone service, information coming out of Sudan is patchy at best. Wire services and the websites of Girifna and #SudanRevolts are providing very few updates.
What is clear is that this is the most serious challenge to NIF/NCP power in many years, and yet international actors of consequence seem content to take a neutral, indeed agnostic view of developments. There have been the obligatory condemnations of "excessive use of force" by the security forces, but such condemnations mean nothing to this regime---no more than the condemnations of aerial bombardments of civilians and humanitarian targets, atrocity crimes that have been perpetrated for many years with impunity.
At the same time, the NIF/NCP is (unsurprisingly) trying to change the subject as much as possible, and this is the explanation for several recent actions. Most conspicuously, in an effort to diminish what international criticism might be forthcoming as the uprising continues, the regime has nominally committed to the so-called Tripartite Agreement on humanitarian access proposed by the Arab League, the African Union, and the UN in early February of this year. This agreement was to have allowed humanitarian access to civilians in need and at risk in all parts of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, whether under the regime's control or that of the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement-North (SPLA/M-N). Although the proposal was accepted in short order (February 9) by the SPLA/M-N, Khartoum balked and repeatedly put off a decision, claiming it needed more time to "study" the proposal.
Now, five months later, as the rainy season has begun in earnest and transportation is impossible in many areas, the regime has agreed---or so it says, and so it is being reported in a number of quarters. This is dangerously naïve, as even the diffident and excessively cautious Valerie Amos, UN humanitarian chief, declared emphatically yesterday (UN News Centre, June 29, 2012):
"'While the Sudanese Government announced its acceptance of the Tripartite Proposal of the African Union (AU), the Arab League and the UN for the delivery of humanitarian assistance in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, the Government has laid out operational conditions that do not allow for the delivery of assistance by neutral parties in SPLM-N-controlled areas,' Ms. Amos noted."
"'I therefore continue to call on the Government of Sudan to deliver on its stated commitment: that assistance can reach all Sudanese people in need,' Ms. Amos said, reiterating the UN's commitment to work with all parties to 'find an acceptable solution for the immediate delivery of assistance to all people in need.'" (all emphases added)
The head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) could not have been more explicit:
"…the Government has laid out operational conditions that do not allow for the delivery of assistance by neutral parties in SPLM-N-controlled areas."
It is the assistance by neutral relief agencies in rebel-held areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan that is of course the central point of the Tripartite Agreement. In fact, the conditions laid out by Khartoumare such that nothing changes on the ground, except insofar as the regime chooses to permit:
"….based on the nine principles as mentioned below on the distribution of humanitarian aid to be carried out by the Sudanese Red Crescent (SRC) and any other NGOs approved by the Government of Sudan and observed by World Food Program (WFP) and the implementation modalities to be agreed upon." (Khartoum's statement from Addis Ababa, June 27, 2012)
Giving Khartoum the power of "approval" for specific humanitarian organizations would be an appalling mistake. One need only look at the fate of these organizations in Darfur over almost a decade---including the recent suspension of activities by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in North Darfur. Facing relentless obstruction and harassment by Khartoum's Humanitarian Affairs Commission (HAC), MSF felt itself without recourse:
"MSF said hurdles to procedures like getting permits and shipping in medical supplies forced it to suspend most of its medical activities in the Jebel Si area, a conflict area in North Darfur state, where it is the only healthcare provider. 'With the reduction of our activities in Jebel Si, more than 100,000 people in the region are left entirely without healthcare,' Alberto Cristina, MSF’s operational manager for Sudan, said in the statement." (Reuters [Khartoum], May 22, 2012)
This is but one of countless examples.
The regime laid out nine principles that must be respected if aid operations are to proceed, all of them either insisting on Khartoum's claim to national sovereignty or refusing to acknowledge the extent of the crisis (No. 4 below, for example, works to suggest that Khartoum has provided assistance to the most at-risk populations in Blue Nile and South Kordofan---this is a lie).
 "To strictly adhere to the sovereignty of Sudan and the obligation of the Government of Sudan to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country as well as its right to maintain security and enforce the law…."
 "To acknowledge what the Government has provided in terms of humanitarian aid to affected areas in both States.
 "To affirm the sovereignty of the Government of Sudan in supervising humanitarian aid operations in all territories in Sudan.
 "To affirm the partnership between the Government and the (three) sponsoring parties in reviewing technical arrangements to resolve humanitarian problems in the affected areas."
 "To endorse and implement, in both States, the laws, regulations and directives governing humanitarian work of the Government of Sudan."
And with Darfur clearly in mind, the regime insists on, "The need to agree on a definite time frame for humanitarian operations." The possibility of peremptory expulsion of any organization working in the regions is preserved.
And given the central role Khartoum accords the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS) in these "humanitarian operations," it is worth recalling the performance of the SRCS as the regime's humanitarian organization in Kadugli, South Kordofan, in June of last year. It will never live down permitting Khartoum's security officials to pose in SRCS uniforms as 7,000 civilians disappeared after seeking UN assistance in Kadugli (Associated Press [Geneva], June 28, 2011):
"Earlier this month, the [7,000] civilians had featured prominently in UN aid agency reports. Agencies described how the civilians sought refuge at the camp because of fighting in Kadugli, and how they were provided with water, food, medical care and mosquito nets for several days. Then, on June 20, they disappeared. An internal UN report obtained by The Associated Press concluded Sudanese intelligence agents---some posing as Red Crescent workers---told the civilians to go to Kadugli for an address by the local governor and to receive humanitarian aid. The refugees were threatened with forced removal from the camp if they did not comply."
These 7,000 civilians have never been accounted for, even as there is now overwhelming evidence---satellite photography and interviews with eyewitnesses from Kadugli---that a number of very large mass graves have been dug in and around the town. And the number of civilians who disappeared may be higher: the leaked UN human rights report on events in Kadugli in June 2011 notes:
§11 "By 8 June, the Protective Perimeter at UNMIS compound [in Kadugli] had received an influx of 6,000-7,000 IDPs seeking refuge from the on-going fighting, as approximately another 1,000 civilians fled Kadugli and moved north. According to aggregated calculations between UNMIS, UNHCR and OCHA, by 20 June, when IDPs started leaving the Protective Perimeter, an estimated 11,000 IDPs had sheltered there." (July 2011)
And in the end, the SRCS allowed itself to become complicit in the likely murder of all these people:
§54 "UNMIS Human Rights also observed a well known National Security agent wearing a Sudan Red Crescent reflective vest intimidating IDPs. When approached and questioned by UNMIS Human Rights the agent identified himself as a NSS agent and said he had received instructions from state-level authorities to move out IDPs from the UNMIS Protective Perimeter. IDPs interviewed said that they were informed by Sudan Red Crescent personnel that they must evacuate the [UN] Protective Perimeter by 16:00 and that they [the IDPs] feared the Central Reserve Police would evacuate them forcibly if they did not leave the premises."
And of course ultimately, the SRCR is completely subject to the authority of the Humanitarian Affairs Commission and thus the regime. Again, the UN has never offered an accounting for these thousands of civilians seeking UN protection.
But even more telling is the clear ambition of Khartoum to starve the people of these two desperate regions as part of a genocidal counter-insurgency strategy. As Human Rights Watch recently reported (May 4, 2012), on the basis of a mid-April 2012 assessment mission to South Kordofan:
"Human Rights Watch researchers went to the region in mid-April 2012 and interviewed victims and witnesses in three areas. They consistently described almost-daily aerial bombardment by government forces, the destruction of grain and water sources that are critical to their survival, arbitrary detentions, and sexual violence against women."
The people being attacked and whose food is being destroyed are all of the Nuba tribal group, the same ethnic group Khartoum attempted to starve to death in the 1990s. The 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide explicitly declares as genocidal those acts "Deliberately inflicting on the [national, ethnical, racial or religious group] conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." This is precisely what the Khartoum regime is doing.
Malik Agaar, former governor of Blue Nile and head of the umbrella Sudan Revolutionary Front (which includes the SPLA/M-N), reported today (June 30, 2012) that in Blue Nile, "dozens of people were dying each day due to lack of food and medicine" (Reuters [Addis Ababa/Khartoum], June 30, 2012). This number will soon grow to hundreds of people per day, and the ultimate death toll---given the appalling hesitation on the part of the international community---will certainly be tens of thousands. Indeed, it is increasingly likely that in the end hundreds of thousands of lives will be lost.
Refugees now arriving in South Sudan from Blue Nile and South Kordofan are typically in terrible condition; and they tell us much about those who remained behind or are unable to travel south (the elderly, the infirm, young children, the sick and the wounded). They are coming in ever greater numbers, overwhelming humanitarian capacity, especially in Upper Nile, to which an enormous number of people are fleeing from Blue Nile. Several weeks ago, MSF estimated that some 4,000 refugees were pouring into South Sudan every day; that number has likely grown.
But even reaching South Sudan is no longer enough, as MSF has stressed with growing alarm for a number of weeks. A week ago (June 23, 2012) the medical relief organization reported on the ghastly conditions confronting people who have often walked for many days and are badly weakened for lack of food and water:
"Sudanese refugees who are stranded in South Sudan with almost no water will start dying in large numbers unless aid agencies respond immediately to what is now a 'full blown emergency,' the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières has warned. Some 16,000 people are camped along a dirt road in Upper Nile State after fleeing fighting between the army and rebels in neighbouring Sudan. MSF said they would run out of water in eight days.
"Aid workers say refugees in the region are already dying of dehydration and diarrhoea. 'Agencies involved (need) to switch gear and realise this is a full blown emergency---they cannot plan for weeks or months to make it perfect. They have to step up activities right now,' Voitek Asztabski, MSF's emergency coordinator for Upper Nile State, told AlertNet in Nairobi.
"'So switch the gear to emergency and realise the seriousness of the situation because otherwise we are going to lose people like flies.' The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) is racing to move the refugees by truck from the makeshift site, dubbed K18, to a new camp 60km away before the rainy season makes routes impassable. MSF warned that if there were heavy rains in the next week refugees would be left stranded without water in an area where temperatures climb to over 40 degrees Celsius during the day."
And MSF is far from alone: IRC and Samaritan's Purse report many children showing 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 many weeks ago: "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."
Such terrible human suffering and destruction is deliberate on Khartoum's part, and until the international community accepts this basic fact and responds accordingly, the regime will push ahead with its genocidal assault on civilians in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. On its grim 23rd anniversary the regime is being challenged by increasing numbers of courageous Sudanese; the brutal tyranny they wish to end deserves no credit, in any quarter, for a disingenuous and expedient agreement on "humanitarian access."
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.