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You are here: Opinion Articles A Responsibility to Protect? An Idle Promise When It Comes to the Nuba Mountains

A Responsibility to Protect? An Idle Promise When It Comes to the Nuba Mountains

By Samuel Totten

July 27, 2011 (SSNA) -- The concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is on the verge of becoming a dead letter. What other conclusion is there as the Government of Sudan (GoS) continues to bomb, disperse and kill the people of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains while the international largely plays dumb, claiming “I see no evil” and “I hear no evil.” The latter, of course, conveniently translates into, “Thus, I do not need to deal with evil.”

Such a position is totally antithetical to the concept of The Responsibility to Protect. Indeed, it is akin to seeking an easy (and unconscionable) way out of acting responsibly.

There must be a name for such irresponsibility.

· The realpolitiker’s way out?
· The bystander’s way out?
· The coward’s way out

All three seem to apply.

Over the past eight weeks, the people of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains have variously been subjected to aerial bombings by GoS’ Antonov bombers and MIGs; ground attacks by GoS troops; and the alleged threat of being attacked by chemical weapons. The bombings have flattened tukuls and churches. The shrapnel from the bombs have sliced people in half, severed arms and legs from bodies, and turned human faces to a mush of blood and skin and bone. Neither the bombs nor the shrapnel have discriminated between rebels and unarmed citizens (females, children, babies and the elderly).

At least four alleged mass graves have been detected in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan. While there is no definitive evidence that the graves contain the bodies of black Africans and Nuba Mountains people, many fear that is the case.

Reports of extrajudical killings of suspected members and supporters of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel group, and black Africans are rife. Following door-to-door searches, suspects have been executed on the spot. Some have been shot and killed, others had their throats sliced and left to bleed to death.

An estimated 80,000 civilians have fled from their villages and homes into nearby mountains in search of sanctuary. The internally displaced people and refugees are largely without food or water, and if the crisis continues unabated for much longer there is the fear that the internally displaced peoples will begin to starve.

The United Nations, individual nations, and scholars are expert at coming up with potential “solutions” to mass killing -- that is, ways to head off such killings, to prevent conflict from erupting into crimes against humanity and genocide. Where they fail, time and again, though, is in putting such putative solutions into action. In other words, the international community either does not implement the purposed solutions or do so in a haphazard and ineffective manner. The end result is often death, in the thousands, and sometimes in the hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.

Promises not backed with action are a joke. Contemptible jokes. Those, however, who count on the promises don’t laugh; rather, they suffer horribly from fear, anxiety, a lack of food and water, rape, and, not infrequently, death.

Just six years ago, the international community celebrated the new concept of The Responsibility to Protect. And over the past five years it has been touted as, if not the panacea to inaction, something hopeful.

Sadly, right now it seems as if the international community does not care one whit about the fate of the people of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. So much for idle talk, idle promises, and idle concepts.

At the website of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Project, the following rationale is provided for R2P:

Recognizing the failure to adequately respond to the most heinous crimes known to humankind, world leaders made a historic commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic  cleansing and crimes against humanity at the United Nations (UN) 2005 World Summit. This commitment, entitled the Responsibility to Protect, stipulates that:

1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.
3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

The goals and objectives are lofty, and admirable. But, words only go so far. Put another way, the words do the victims of mass atrocities no good.

Here are the facts of the Nuba Mountains, all of which suggest that The Responsibility to Protect should have been initiated by now:

*At the least, the people of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains have been and are being subjected to crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing. It is possible that they have been subjected to genocidal actions;

* The Government of Sudan, under the leadership of Omar al Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for the atrocities perpetrated in Darfur, has not only failed to protect the people of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains from war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, but it is the cause of such.

One hopes that the international community has attempted to “use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes.” But then again, that is not a given. Indeed, it is hardly evident since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has seemingly done little more than wring his hands over the matter. As for U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman, he has waffled left and right when confronted with the facts of the atrocities that have been perpetrated against the civilians of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains.

In light of all of the above, is it not time for the international community to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council, in order to force and then enforce a cease-fire and provide the people of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains with the protection that they are entitled to under the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide, and The Responsibility to Protect?

It certainly seems so. If the killing continues unabated and no meaningful measures are taken then R2P is destined for the dead letter department.

Samuel Totten is a genocide scholar based at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He served as one of the 24 investigators with the U.S. Atrocities Documentation Project in eastern Chad. His most recent book is An Oral and Documentary History of the Darfur Genocide (Praeger Security International, 2010). He was last in the Nuba Mountains in January 2011 conducting research for a new book, Genocidal Actions Against the Nuba Mountains People: Interviews with Survivors of Mass Starvation and Other Atrocities.

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