What will it take to halt the atrocities by two of the most wanted men in the world today?
by Samuel Totten
June 27, 2011 — If Slobodan Miloševi? had remained in power and wrangled a way to get General Ratko Mladic, the "butcher of the Balkans,” elected to the presidency of Republika Srpska, the world community would have erupted in outrage. After all, Mladic, recently arrested and facing a trial in The Hague, is allegedly responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre — the worst atrocity perpetrated in Europe since the Holocaust — of some 8,000 Muslim boys and men.
Average citizens all over the world, as well as international and national leaders, would have likely denounced such an election, decried that fact that a killer was now deemed a “legitimate leader,” and likely demanded that Mladic not only step down forthwith but be turned over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Outrage over a dastardly crime in Europe, but outrageous complacence when a similar scenario plays out in Africa (and it has). In 2009, Omar al Bashir, the president of Sudan, who is wanted on charges genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), appointed Ahmed Haroun governor of the state of South Kordafan. Haroun is also wanted by the ICC for the atrocities perpetrated in Darfur. He’s been charged with of 20 counts of crimes against humanity (including persecution, rape and torture) and 22 counts of war crimes (including attacks against the civilian population, destruction of property and outrage upon personal dignity).
Admittedly, complaints over Haroun’s appointment were issued by various actors and bemoaned, at least to a certain extent, in the media. But outrage? No!
More recently, Haroun “won” the election for governor of South Kordafan that pitted him against, Abdel Aziz al Hilu. Aziz, a former and highly popular commander of the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLMA), the rebel group that fought against the North during the infamous north-south war that took the lives of some two million people, was expected to win by a landslide.
Not only does it seem that the election was rigged, but it was an election in which one of the most wanted men in the world, Haroun, ran for and is now serving as governor. That is outrageous but where is the outrage?
Is the lack of outrage due to people in the West simply not caring what takes place in Africa? Is it due to the stereotype that all of Africa is rife with strife and thus nothing is surprising? Is it due to racism (the victims in Europe were white, the former and potential victims in Sudan are black)?
While both al Bashir and Haroun were instrumental in perpetrating the genocide in Darfur, they brazenly continue about their business. Al Bashir continues as president of Sudan and now Haroun is in control South Kordafan, a state located in central Sudan. Impunity reigns.
South Kordafan just happens to be the home of the Nuba Mountains people, a group that faced genocidal actions perpetrated by the Government of Sudan (GoS) in the early 1990s. A huge number of males from the Nuba Mountains fought with the south against the north during the course of the twenty-year civil war. As one can imagine, the people of the Nuba Mountains want absolutely nothing to do with al-Bashir, Haroun, or the GoS. Indeed, they were keen to join the south in the recent referendum that saw the people of the south vote massively in favor of secession, but the conditions set out by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) prevented that from happening.
The people of the Nuba Mountains fear that the government of the north will retaliate for their involvement in the war. They also fear that their lives under the GoS will revert to the way it was in the past, marginalized and oppressed, if not worse. Likewise, they fear the consequences of the recent announcement by al Bashir that he plans to ratify the constitution of Sudan to make Sharia law the law of the land.
Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of well-armed GoS troops bivouacking in the Nuba Mountains. Rumor has it that the people of the Nuba Mountains are also massing weapons, “just in case.” It is understandable why the Nuba Mountains people are on tenterhooks. They fear that they are sitting astride a tinderbox that will explode at the first sign of the proverbial match.
Hyperbole? Hardly. Just two and a half weeks ago al Bashir was in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordafan, where he reportedly threatened, “If the people here [meaning those in the Nuba Mountains] refuse to honor the results of the [gubernatorial] election, then we will force them back into the mountains and prevent them from having food just as we did before.” According to Article 2C of UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide (UNCG), under certain conditions, purposely and systematically depriving a people of food constitutes genocide.
According to sources on the ground in the Nuba Mountains, over the past three weeks fighting between GoS troops and the SPLM/A have exploded in various sections of the Nuba Mountains, including Umm Durein, Toladi, Angaruthu, Kadugli, and Heiban. A source, who must remain unnamed, informed me that “Aziz is back fully in military uniform.” Another source, who also must remain unnamed, told me over satellite phone this morning that “If Aziz goes down the entire Nuba Mountains will erupt.”
Undoubtedly, Bashir sees Haroun as his ally in controlling this region of Sudan, and as one who has the tenacity and viciousness to tamp down any resistance to GoS’ rule. Does he also see Haroun as becoming the architect of another genocide — this time in the Nuba Mountains? If that’s the case, so much for the international community’s comforting pledge of “Never Again!”
Samuel Totten who is a genocide scholar based at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.