The cost of this shameful dishonesty may soon be measured in many tens of thousands of Nuba lives, and the final collapse of any international commitment to a "responsibility to protect"
July 17, 2011
Evidence of mass graves in and around Kadugli, South Kordofan is now overwhelming; it includes definitive satellite photography of three large sites and reports by numerous independently interviewed civilians from the region. Evidence also comes from interviews conducted in June by human rights investigators of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS); these findings appear in an internal UN human rights report whose findings have previously been suppressed by UN/New York. They were leaked to me and others, originally by someone who was evidently quite unhappy with UN silence about the deeply disturbing contents of this report. Given the immensity of the atrocity crimes revealed in this extensively documented but still officially unreleased report ("UNMIS Report on the Human Rights Situation During the Violence in Southern Kordofan"), it is imperative that the UN make clear who knew what, and when.
These terrible incidents and the weak UN response in Kadugli have already been likened, rightly, to the ghastly failure of the UN at Srebrenica, where some 7,000 Bosnian men and boys were rounded up in July 1995 by Serbian army and paramilitary units under the command of (recently captured) Ratko Mladic---and executed while Dutch peacekeepers looked on helplessly. Indeed, two days after Srebrenica was overrun by Mladic’s forces, 4,000 - 5,000 Bosniak Muslims were expelled by the Dutch from their base---as Mladic had demanded (some 15,000 - 20,000 additional Bosniak Muslims had sought safety outside the Dutch base). The events of Srebrenica have occasioned much painful self-reflection by the Dutch over the past decade and a half, and a recent decision (July 5, 2011) by a court in The Netherlands ruled that the Dutch government was responsible for several of the deaths. And notably from the standpoint of international law, Major General Radislav Krstic was convicted of the crime of genocide for his role in the Srebrenica massacre. His conviction by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was upheld by an Appeals Chamber review of "Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic," Case No. IT-98-33-T. This lengthy and superbly argued Appeals Chamber review is a seminal document in international legal interpretation of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and has particular relevance for the situations in South Kordofan and Darfur.
Given the extremely strong evidence of genocide in South Kordofan, and the Khartoum regime’s long history of genocidal assaults on marginalized populations in Sudan, the process of assessing awareness of and response to the UNMIS human rights report needs to begin immediately---for the UN, the US and the Europeans, and the African Union.
In particular, we need to know about the credibility of the skepticism expressed by U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman and UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos; we need a clear account of what Ban Ki-moon’s secretariat knew and how it responded to reports that made clear atrocities were being committed in Kadugli and elsewhere in South Kordofan from the very beginning of the conflict that Khartoum instigated on June 5. And we also need to know what was seen by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, particularly its Under-secretary Alain Le Roy. And finally, we need to know what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew when she made her recent remarks about Sudan. We need to know what all these various international actors and parties knew---and when they knew it.
The task is challenging. For example, on June 28, in an interview on the PBS NewsHour, Lyman was asked, "Would you say atrocities are occurring by the North Sudanese forces against civilians there?" Lyman’s evasive and disingenuous answer speaks volumes about his character as a diplomat and the larger U.S. response to events in North Sudan:
"We certainly have reports of that. Because we don’t have a presence there, we haven’t been able to investigate it fully. There are certainly reports of targeted killings. There are some reports from the other side also. What we’ve asked for is a full investigation."
And to the follow-up question ("By whom [should the investigation be conducted]?") Lyman responded:
"Well, by the UN would be the best. The UN presence has not been sufficient to get out and stop this or to investigate it."
Lyman certainly knew when he offered this answer that there would be no UN investigation beyond what was being completed by the human rights personnel attached to UNMIS, which had already been confined to its base and ordered out of South Kordofan by Khartoum the day following the independence of South Sudan on July 9. Saying "the UN presence has not been sufficient to get out and stop this or to investigate it" is merely to state the obvious, not to offer any meaningful reply about how the U.S. will actually respond to the now conspicuous human catastrophe in South Kordofan. I’ll return to the question of whether an international investigation of allegations of genocide could be conducted, with or without UN sanction; but we must bear in mind that any Security Council resolution authorizing such a thorough and unfettered UN investigation will be vetoed by China, which would regard such a precedent with horror, as well as deeply threatening to its relationship with Khartoum.
But the first question is whether or not Lyman knew what UNMIS human rights personnel knew. Was the special envoy to Sudan, representing the President of the United States, unaware of what was being compiled and then assembled at the very end of June in the 20-page UNMIS report? Was he not concerned enough by these extant "reports" to request U.S. satellite surveillance of the Kadugli area? It was precisely such surveillance by the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) that revealed three large mass gravesites on July 14, graves dug between June 17, when the earth on this spot was untouched, and July 4, when SSP revealed three conspicuous, capacious, and nearly identical plots of significantly turned earth. Dug in the midst of heavy military activity and following a vast number of summary executions, these mass gravesites have only one plausible explanation. Certainly if the Obama administration is skeptical it may investigate further: the U.S. has much greater satellite capacity than is available to SSP and faces no restrictions on degree of resolution (as SSP does by virtue of U.S. law).
Importantly, nearly all the eyewitness accounts in the UNMIS human rights report have been fully corroborated by subsequent accounts: from news organizations (several from the Nuba Mountains), from Nuba sources, from the Satellite Sentinel Project. (I offered an overview and synthesis of this evidence on July 14). How could Lyman so blithely profess agnosticism about these extremely alarming accounts, especially given Khartoum’s history of genocidal counterinsurgency? SSP reports the presence of irregularly shaped white bags heaped together near the mass gravesites, consistently corresponding to human dimensions. Why hasn’t Lyman requested high-resolution satellite confirmation of what these white bags are? Several eyewitnesses, independently of each other, have confirmed that they are being used for the many corpses that litter Kadugli.
What of the more than 7,000 Nuba people who were forcibly removed from UN protective custody at US headquarters in Kadugli on June 20, and who remain unaccounted for? The UNMIS report confirms what an earlier UNMIS internal situation report (sit rep) had detailed of actions by Khartoum’s Military Intelligence and security services: impersonating Red Crescent personnel, these brutal men compelled the removal of Nuba civilians from the UN protective perimeter (this was reported by Associated Press on June 23). The UNMIS human rights report declares that its authors had "verifie[d] [the allegation of forcible removal] through multiple interviews of IDPs within the UNMIS Protective Perimeter" (§53). We presently have no knowledge whatsoever of the location of these people. The UNMIS human rights report declares that by 5pm on June 20, "approximately 75 percent of the 11,000 IDPs in the vicinity of the Protective Perimeter had vacated the areas... At the time of this report, there are no IDPs in the UNMIS Protective Perimeter..." (§54). Why aren’t these UN reports sufficient to compel Lyman to ask for U.S. satellite surveillance? Can there be any reasonable doubt about the accuracy of either UN account? Is Lyman not worried that there are potentially thousands of Nuba in the large mass graves identified by SSP?
Perhaps Lyman has a plausible alternative explanation for why, between June 17 and July 4---during heavy military operations---Khartoum’s forces would be moving earth at three side-by-side and parallel sites, of nearly identical dimensions (five meters by twenty-five meters), and of a size large enough to hold many thousands of bodies, depending on the depth of the excavation. But in the absence of such an explanation, and in light of an apparent unwillingness to request U.S. satellite confirmation of what is occurring at this site, he and other Obama administration officials appear inert before the strongest evidence to date of massive ethnically targeted human destruction.
The same questions must be asked of Valerie Amos, head of UN humanitarian operations. On July 15 Amos declared in a prepared statement: "We do not know whether there is any truth to the grave allegations of extra-judicial killings, mass graves and other grave violations in South Kordofan."
"We do not know whether there is any truth to the grave allegations...”? This is preposterous skepticism, and betrays a highly defensive attitude in the face of evidence that makes all too clear that Amos has not made any serious effort to come to terms with the evidence of mass graves and the various atrocity crimes reported by the UN itself. For the UN human rights report, again focusing on the early days of military action when UNMIS still had some mobility, is a savage indictment---one that Amos certainly would not want to acknowledge having known of while saying nothing. Certainly the introduction to the report is quite unambiguous about what the UN had witnessed in the several weeks prior to the compiling of the report:
"Monitoring has also revealed that the Sudan Armed Forces, paramilitary forces and Government security apparatus have engaged in violent and unlawful acts against UNMIS, in violation of International Conventions and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) including: verified incidents of shelling in close proximity to UN property, resulting in damage; summary execution of a UN national staff member; assaults on physical integrity of UN staff; arbitrary arrest and detention of UN Staff and associated human rights violations including ill treatment amounting to torture; harassment, intimidation, and obstruction of freedom of movement; and intrusion on UN premises including the UNMIS Protective Perimeter established to protect civilians internally displaced as a result of the conflict. The international community must hold the Government of Sudan accountable for this conduct and insist that those responsible be arrested and brought to justice."
The ethnic targeting of Nuba is made explicit in the UNMIS human rights report as well:
"Interviews with witnesses and victims reveal that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and security forces have a list of Nubans wanted for being sympathetic to the SPLM/A, which supports the allegation that people in Southern Kordofan were targeted based on ethnicity. Witnesses also mentioned that persons of Nuban descent and ’other dark skinned people’ were being targeted by SAF and Arab militias." (§49)
And those contemplating a possible future UN presence in South Kordofan, including a human rights investigating team, should bear in mind just how UNMIS was treated:
"Throughout the conflict in Southern Kordofan, the SAF, Popular Defence Forces, and the Central Reserve Police Forces have treated UNMIS with gross contempt and a total disregard of its status as a UN body with the privileges and immunities set forth and contained in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Government of Sudan, as well as international conventions on the status of the UN, its staff, and assets, to which Sudan is a signatory. In addition to the killing of one UNMIS independent contractor, the SAF and PDF have intimidated UNMIS staff and subjected them to degrading and inhuman treatment, which has left as many as 45 staff held up in forced imprisonment in the UNMIS Kadugli Team Site, physically debilitated and psychologically traumatized." (§44)
Examples of this gross mistreatment of a UN-authorized force are many:
"On 7 June, an UNMIS truck was stopped at a checkpoint near the UNMIS Sector IV compound. Three of the ten IDPs who had been assisting UNMIS personnel with loading supplies for IDPs were pulled out of the truck and beaten up by SAF personnel. An UNMIS staff member who attempted to intervene was threatened at gunpoint by one of the soldiers who asked him ’do you want to stay or leave.’ The UN personnel drove off with the seven remaining IDPs. The fate of the three IDPs remains unknown." (§61)
"On 16 June, four UNMIS military observers on patrol were detained, interrogated, and subjected to cruel and degrading treatment for two hours. They were intercepted by SAF personnel near the SAF 14th Division Headquarters while en route to Kadugli town to verify reports of mass graves. The military observers were taken to the SAF-JIU 5th Division Headquarters where they were subjected to lengthy interrogation regarding the purpose of their monitoring mission, searched and forced to remove their shirts. A SAF Captain instructed the UNMOs to line up and be killed. He removed the safety of his AK-47, and just as he was about to point the weapon towards the UNMOs, a SAF Major entered the room and ordered him not to shoot [emphasis added]. Immediately following the intervention the officer with the gun shouted ’UNMIS leave Southern Kordofan, if not we will kill you if you come back here.’ The team was released and told not to return back to Kadugli town." (§62)
"On the evening of 22 June, SAF surrounded the UNMIS Team site compound in Kadugli with three heavy artillery gun-mounted vehicles pointed at the compound from three points, including the front gate. This occurred following the arrest and interrogation of six UNMIS national staff early in the day by SAF military intelligence at the Kadugli airport. These developments have left UN national staff, especially those of Nuban descent, in a state of fear, some psychologically traumatized." (§65)
There are other powerful observations made by the UN human rights report:
"With the reinforcement of SAF, Central Reserve Police and militia elements, the security situation deteriorated on 7 June, with indiscriminate shelling of Kadugli town apparently targeting densely civilian-inhabited areas. This led to the secondary displacement of thousands of IDPs who had taken refuge in churches and hospitals to the UNMIS compound where they were sheltered in an area adjacent to the compound that was set up specifically to receive IDPs and provide them security and humanitarian assistance (Protective Perimeter). The SAF took control of the Kadugli airport, including UN assets located at the airport, and closed all civilian air traffic. UNMIS Human Rights received confirmation that SAF, together with militia elements of the Popular Defence Forces (PDF), a paramilitary force established in 1989 to assist SAF in ’defending the nation,’ began going from house to house subjecting residents to identity checks." (§9)
"Eyewitnesses reported to UNMIS Human Rights looting of civilian homes, UN agencies/offices, and humanitarian warehouses, and destruction of property by PDF elements as they fought alongside the SAF. Meanwhile UN Security began the relocation of staff from UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes and INGOs to the UNMIS compound. By the evening Kadugli town, including hospitals, was emptied, as SAF checkpoints were established throughout the town." (§10)
These "checkpoints" have figured prominently in the accounts of many Nuba over the past six weeks; their clear purpose is to capture or execute all Nuba, claiming that they have "Southern sympathies." The looting and destruction of humanitarian warehouses has been repeatedly confirmed: these actions have as their goal the ending of humanitarian assistance to the Nuba Mountains, which are the ultimate focus of this growing campaign of genocide.
It is important to stress that the international response to the concluding recommendation of this human rights report will define any history of the present moment, particularly given the failure in Darfur to give meaning to the doctrine of a "responsibility to protect," a "responsibility" that obtains even when there are claims of national sovereignty:
"The attacks on UNMIS, its staff and assets are so egregious that condemnation is insufficient [emphasis added]. The conduct of the SAF, the PDF, the Central Reserve Police Force, and the Government Police, singularly and collectively, has frustrated and weakened the capacity of the UNMIS to implement in Southern Kordofan a mandate given to it by the UN Security Council. The conduct has also resulted in loss of life and injury of UN staff. The international community must hold the Government of Sudan accountable for its conduct and insist that it arrests and bring to justice those responsible." [emphasis added] (§74)
So, is Amos even remotely credible when she declares, "We do not know whether there is any truth to the grave allegations"? This thoroughly implausible skepticism confronts us again with the question: who within the UN system knew what and when? Is it conceivable that with such serious allegations building over more than three weeks they would not have made their way back to the UN in New York? To the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR)? To Ban Ki-moon’s Secretariat? Obviously the findings were far too sensitive to be released from within Sudan, even in Khartoum, where the UNMIS human rights team is based. This would have immediately imperiled the presence of remaining, if highly constrained UNMIS personnel in South Kordofan. But there was nothing from the UN in New York---not from UNHCHR, not from anyone in the Secretariat, not from the weak and uninspired Haile Menkerios, the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Sudan…no one said anything. Amos’s silence has been particularly galling, as Julie Flint reports in The Observer today, "causing fury among hard-pressed colleagues on the ground, who have been crying out for much stronger support from the security council, [as Amos] appeared to cast doubt on their reporting" (July 17, 2011).
History is quickly being obscured by those complicit in this cover-up, so let’s recall first what was known earlier in June, and look further at the specific findings of the UNMIS human rights report. On June 17 (one month ago), I published in the Washington Post a number of very specific accounts that had come to me and many others in the two weeks following the start of military activities (June 5). I prefaced these accounts by invoking my February 2004 warning in the Post concerning Darfur, which concluded with a prediction that was borne out with a terrible completeness:
"A credible peace forum [for Darfur] must be rapidly created. Immediate plans for humanitarian intervention should begin. The alternative is to allow tens of thousands of civilians to die in the weeks and months ahead in what will be continuing genocidal destruction."
Reports from the ground in South Kordofan were already numerous and in many respects just as compelling as early reports from Darfur: I referred to "disturbing accounts [that] have emerged of the African people of the Nuba being rounded up in house searches and road checkpoints, and subjected to indiscriminate aerial bombardment," and concluded by arguing that "all signs point to a new genocide." I noted out that such genocidal ambition by Khartoum was in fact not without precedent in the Nuba Mountains; in January 1992 a fatwah was issued in Khartoum, declaring---
"jihad against the peoples of the Nuba (who practice a range of religions, including Islam). Because the Nuba Mountains are not geographically contiguous with South Sudan (with which the area is militarily, politically and culturally allied), its people were largely left to fend for themselves. [The] regime imposed a total blockade of humanitarian assistance from the south. Many starving Nuba were forced into ’peace camps,’ where receiving food was conditional upon conversion to Islam. Some who refused were tortured or mutilated. Khartoum’s decade-long campaign killed and displaced hundreds of thousands."
I also reported the extensive use of aerial military aircraft against civilian and humanitarian targets, a tactic that has a very long history under this regime---in Darfur, South Sudan, the Nuba Mountains throughout the 1990s, and currently in South Kordofan. It was also clear, I insisted, that humanitarian access was extremely limited by Khartoum’s restrictions, its commandeering of the Kadugli air field, and by its relentless bombing of the Kauda airstrip in the Nuba Mountains. And I also noted that "on June 8 [the UNMIS] base was raided by Khartoum’s military intelligence, and the United Nations was effectively disabled."
This was clear more than four weeks ago. Despite Khartoum’s best efforts we have known what was going on, and so has the UN, though it has chosen not to speak out. This is beyond disgrace; and to the argument that silence about large-scale atrocity crimes was justified in New York as a means of keeping a UN presence in South Kordofan, with extremely limited reporting ability soon after hostilities began, I can only shake my head in disgust at such ghastly expedience.
Here it seems appropriate to recall that the initial UN investigation of Khartoum’s military seizure of Abyei (May 20-21) found that these actions were "tantamount to ethnic cleansing"; Ban Ki-moon and his office subsequently ensured that this phrase was excised from the final, public version of the report. This was a morally and intellectually corrupt effort to placate Khartoum, a signature feature of U.S. policy as well, even as it is likely that no decision has done more to produce the present catastrophic situation. I concluded my Post essay by noting that the UN Security Council "demanded" on June 3 that Khartoum immediately withdraw its forces from Abyei:
"The regime scoffed of course---as it has at previous council ’demands,’ including those bearing on Darfur. This is bad news for the people of Abyei and for the prospects of a just and peaceful separation of Sudan’s north and south, which is scheduled for July 9. For the Nuba people, such fecklessness spells catastrophe. Too often with Sudan, empty demands and threats signal to the regime that the world is not serious about halting atrocities. Either the international community gets serious about preventing further violence in Abyei and the adjacent region of South Kordofan, or we will again see [as I argued in February 2004 about Darfur] ’tens of thousands of civilians .?.?. die in the weeks and months ahead in what will be continuing genocidal destruction.’"
A month later, I would change not a word of this. And the UNMIS human rights report bears me out, underscoring as it does that the bombing campaign began in the opening days of the current military and civilian destruction campaign, and has continued throughout:
"On 6 June, the Sudan Armed Forces (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 neighborhood 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." (§8)
In a section devoted to "Aerial bombardments" the UNMIS human rights report makes clear just how constant, destructive, and terrifying this bombing has been:
"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 [emphasis added]. 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 [emphasis added]. UNMIS Human Rights has received photographs of mangled and mutilated bodies of civilians, some cut into halves, including women and children." (§39)
"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 meters from a school, and three kilometers 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." (§40)
Are Lyman and Amos and other senior UN officials claiming that they did not know of these reports from the ground in Kadugli and Kauda? Are they saying they didn’t credit them? Or are they saying that they did not think them important enough to publicize, given Khartoum’s anger over such truths being told?
The UNMIS human rights report provides not only compelling eyewitness accounts of mass graves and continuous aerial bombardment of civilians, but establishes that many other war crimes and atrocities have been committed:
"On 22 June, an UNMIS independent contractor reported witnessing SAF elements fill a mass grave in Al Gardut Locality in Tillo with dead bodies. She reported that SAF elements transported the bodies to the site, dumped them in the grave and using a bulldozer to cover the grave. " (emphasis added; SSP also reports the use of heavy earth-moving equipment) (§34)
"An UNMIS staff member who was detained by SAF at their military facility in Umbattah Locality reported during his detention, that he saw over an estimated 150 dead bodies of persons of Nuban descent scattered on the grounds of the military compound . Some of the bodies appeared to have bullet wounds and he reported a large quantity of blood on the ground. He reported a SAF soldier told them that they had all been shot dead." (emphasis added) (§28)
"On 8 June, an UNMIS independent contractor (IC) was pulled out of a vehicle by SAF in front of the UNMIS Kadugli Sector IV Compound in the presence of several witnesses, while UN peacekeepers could not intervene. He was taken around the corner of the compound and gunshots were heard. Later he was discovered dead by UNMIS personnel and IDPs. Several sources confirmed that the victim was an active SPLM member." (§29)
"Through house to house searches and targeted actions at checkpoints and at the Kadugli Airport, the SAF is believed to have engaged in arbitrary arrests and detentions of persons affiliated with churches or suspected of being supporters and affiliates of the SPLM/A. Thus far most of those arrested are Nubans. On 7 June a Catholic priest reported that SAF and PDF militia were engaged in house-to-house searches mainly in the Banjadid Locality west of Kadugli town causing civilians to panic...." (§43)
Several passages speak to the existence of earlier mass graves, dug even before the three very large sites discovered by SSP (which were dug sometime between June 17 and July 4):
"On 10 June, UNMIS Human Rights interviewed residents from Murta village, outside of Kadugli Town, who stated that they saw fresh mass graves located in a valley southeast of the Murta bus station near the Kadugli police training centre." (§35)
"[Two men interviewed by UNMIS] reported that, following their release from SAF custody, they saw fresh mass graves between the SAF 14th Division Headquarters and Kadugli Market. On 16 June, UN military observers, while on their way between the SAF 14th Division Headquarters and Kadugli Market in an attempt to verify the existence of these mass graves, were arrested, stripped of their clothes, and believed that they were about to be executed when a senior SAF officer intervened." (§36)
Again, these mass graves are in addition to those dug after June 17, as reported by SSP.
And there are many other sources for reports of mass slaughter and assaults on humanitarian operations and workers. Flint in The Observer (UK) (July 17, 2011) notes:
"National staff of international aid organizations have also come under attack. UNMIS cites the case of a young Nuba woman arrested and accused of supporting the SPLM. UNMIS human rights officers saw bruises and scars on her body consistent with her claim to have been beaten with fists, sticks, rubber hoses and electric wires. Underscoring the need for the ’independent and comprehensive investigation’ UNMIS recommends, the Observer has been told---by a hitherto impeccable source not connected to the SPLM/A---that 410 captured SPLM sympathizers were ordered executed on 10 June by Major-General Ahmad Khamis, one of four senior army officers sent to South Kordofan from Khartoum at the start of the war...."
"Khamis was one of the main implementers of a government jihad in the early 1990s that brought the Nuba people to the brink of destruction.... [In 1995] Khamis, then head of military intelligence, was repeatedly named as being responsible for torture and executions---including by his own hand."
The Independent (UK) reports from the Nuba Mountains (July 8) "shocking evidence that international peacekeeping mission [in South Kordofan] did nothing to stop ethnic cleansing":
"When fighting erupted in the South Kordofan state capital of Kadugli in early June, tens of thousands of terrified civilians flocked to a ’safe haven’ directly outside the gates of the UN Missions in Sudan (UNMIS) base. Hawa Mando, a school teacher, reached the camp for internally displaced people on 5 June with her family after fighting in the town forced her to flee her home. She witnessed government agents and irregular troops---notorious from atrocities in Darfur---known as the Popular Defence Force entering the camp hunting for people on a list of government critics."
"’They had lists of people they were looking for,’ said the mother of seven. ’Local spies would point people out and they would shoot them.’ She continued: ’In front of my eyes I saw six people shot dead. They just dragged the bodies away by their feet like slaughtered sheep. People were crying and screaming and the UN soldiers just stood and watched in their watchtowers.’"
Some of the atrocities bespeak complicity on the part of UNMIS in Kadugli, a unit dominated by the Egyptians (the UN human rights investigators were based in Khartoum):
"Eyewitnesses described to The Independent how they saw peacekeepers standing by while unarmed civilians were shot dead outside the gates of a UN base before being dragged away ’like slaughtered sheep.’ They also said that local leaders have been handed over to government forces after seeking shelter with UN officials."
(For a highly informed and devastating account of the despicable Egyptian performance in South Kordofan, see Julie Flint’s "Probe UN Neglect in South Kordofan," The Daily Star [Lebanon], July 5, 2011)
Aerial bombardment of civilians, obstruction of humanitarian assistance
Khartoum continues its virtually daily bombings attacks in the Nuba Mountains and elsewhere in South Kordofan, relentlessly targeting Nuba civilians (this is especially true of Antonov "bombers," retrofitted Russian cargo planes that have no militarily useful bombing accuracy). The regime also continues to bomb in northern Unity State (Republic of South Sudan), an extremely provocative military action. Confirmed bombing attacks occurred on June 9, June 10, June 11 (two attacks), June 13, and July 2. Bombing has also occurred in the Southern states of Northern and Western Bahr el-Ghazal and Warrab. And in Darfur such attacks are as relentless as they have been for more than eight years.
The consequences of these bombing attacks, especially the shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs dropped by Antonovs, have recently been chronicled---yet again (see my report and data spreadsheet chronicling aerial attacks on civilians from 1999 - May 2011). The Independent reports from the Nuba Mountains:
"When boys and girls started arriving at his hospital with missing arms and feet, they were the first casualties of war Dr Tom Catena had seen. ’The injuries are horrifying,’ said the mission doctor who comes from upstate New York, ’a girl with her feet blown off, another with her abdomen sliced open.’ The victims pouring in from the villages in Sudan’s Nuba mountains were being bombed by their own government, he discovered. Grass thatch villages were being turned to charnel houses as an air force dropped bombs from the back of ageing cargo planes."
"The government in Khartoum insists it is targeting armed rebels but the Antonovs it is using are non-military aircraft and are randomly destructive. ’The worst injuries are from the Antonovs,’ said Dr Catena. ’This is my first experience of war and you don’t understand the human toll until you see it. These people are being destroyed for nothing.’ The only qualified doctor in an area with hundreds of thousands people, the mission hospital has about 400 patients. The doctor who arrived recently from mission work in Kenya said he was nervous at first about speaking out as hospitals were targets. ’Why hold back?’ he asked. ’We should show what’s happening, this is the reality.’" (emphasis added)
"Yussef Abdullahi Kuwa reached the hospital in the north of the Kauda Valley on Sunday. The 15-year-old was playing when the bomb hit. He was unable to take cover fast enough and now half his face is missing where hot metal sliced through it. He cannot speak. ’My boy has done nothing to this government, ’ said his father, who took three days to get him to a doctor. ’We are powerless.’ Children with stumps where their hands or feet should be wander around in the hospital. Sixteen-year-old Jakumo lost his left arm after helping his sister with the washing. The children had been told to lie flat when they heard planes but Jakumo forgot. ’I tried to hide behind a tree instead,’ he said. ’But it hit me.’" ("Children With Horrific Wounds Pay Price of Sudan’s Bloody War," [dateline: Nuba Mountains], July 13)
An equally grim follow-up piece was filed by Howden of The Independent on July 15:
"Thousands of people are sheltering in the clefts and caves of the granite slopes of the Nuba Mountains, where Sudan’s government claims it is fighting a counter-insurgency campaign against armed rebels. Iqbal al-Nur perches on a wooden cot with a baby pressed to her breast in the shadow of an immense stone. ’We took what we could carry and came here to escape the planes,’ she says, pointing to the sky where bombers have been launching an aerial assault across the mountains. ’As long as the bombing continues, we will stay.’"
"Ms Nur, who has four children, fled with the rest of her village to the safety of the mountains. She gave birth to Ambu, who is now one week old, under a rock soon after arriving. A friend who had a child three days later had to be taken hundreds of kilometers away to the nearest doctor after the infant fell ill. ’I am scared Ambu is going to get sick here with the rain and wind,’ says Ms Nur, who admits she is also frightened of snakes. ’I hate it here but we have no way out.’"
"The towns and villages beneath the mountains are deserted. In Tonguli, a thatched roof is splayed on the cratered floor where it was thrown by the blast. A nearby hut has been reduced to a pile of blackened bricks. Others had their walls shredded by shrapnel. One man here was killed when a bomb ripped through his home as he slept last week. The long civil war’s end, which brought independence last week for South Sudan, has meant little in the Nuba Mountains...."
"But in the Tonguli mountains, Hussein al-Amin, the chief of a nearby village, reacts with rage at what was said: ’We have no roads, no schools, no hospitals; this government gave us nothing. Now they bomb us and they keep bombing us even as we run away from our homes.’ He says that refugees from the bombing campaign have come from all over the northern Nuba Mountains and more are arriving every day. Residents from two towns and at least seven villages are living among the rocks. He is concerned about disease and asks if people outside Sudan can ’stop the bombing.’" (emphasis added)
"Like many of the displaced people, Moussa Zeber Ismail comes from the nearest big town, Dalami. The town has witnessed some of the worst fighting since clashes broke out in South Kordofan last month when government forces launched a campaign against Nuban rebels. The town initially fell to the rebels but has since been retaken by forces loyal to Khartoum. ’Everything has been destroyed, you can’t find a school, a shop, a house, anything,’ Ismail, who is a farmer, says. ’They sent Antonovs [bombers] during the day while the fighting was going on. They just threw bombs everywhere, hitting everything, everyone.’ The 54-year-old fled into the bush after seeing a friend sliced in half by shrapnel. ’We hid for 18 days in the bush and then walked here. Up to now, I still don’t know who has been killed and where everyone is,’ he says."
On July 12 Associated Press reported that "the United Nations says staff in Sudan have reported heavy aerial bombardment in South Kordofan State in recent days." What has gone insufficiently remarked is that these attacks serve as a powerful recruiting tool for the SPLM/A North, which has already more than held its own against SAF forces in ground combat, and this augurs a long war. Agence France-Presse reports from the Nuba Mountains (July 17):
"But despite the army’s relentless bombing campaign over the past six weeks, the insurgency shows no sign of weakening, with the SPLA claiming to control much of the ethnically divided state and the new recruits swelling its ranks. Some are young, but many are older, like Abdullah, a middle-aged travel agent from Kadugli who volunteered after fleeing the heavy fighting in the state capital last month, along with 10 friends, four of whom were killed along the way."
"’I lost so many in Kadugli. First, one of us was gunned down by a Dushka (anti-aircraft machine gun). Then, when we were carrying him, two more were killed by an aerial bomb. Another was killed on the way here,’ he says. Others tell similar stories. Aut Maliga was a farmer in the Nuba town of Kurchi, southeast of Kadugli, where five bombs were dropped on a market on 26 June. ’I joined the SPLA because I lost so many friends in the bombing, my best friends,’ he says. Numerous local sources have confirmed that the air strikes on Kurchi destroyed the market and killed at least 16 civilians, including eight women and children. Another 32 people were hospitalized."
The extent and sustained nature of the bombing campaign, like so many of the actions reported here, bespeak significant advance planning: it is simply not possible to conclude that what is occurring is anything but a well-organized campaign that has as its animating ambition the destruction of the Nuba people and all support for the SPLM/A, North and South. The fact of such advance planning has critical implications in assessing the legal character of these atrocity crimes.
South Kordofan "De-coupled"?
What, then, are we to make of the tepid and wholly ineffective response by the Obama administration to what all evidence suggests is genocide in South Kordofan? Have senior officials silently decided that in continuing negotiations with Khartoum, Abyei and the Nuba Mountains will be "de-coupled,” as Darfur was "de-coupled" last November in the putative interest of securing peace for South Sudan? Of course there is a deeply false premise implicit in such thinking, to say nothing of its moral obscenity. As most informed observers realize, the broader center-periphery conflicts that are so variously ramified throughout Sudan have too often provided Khartoum with diplomatic leverage: narrow international focus on one problem (whether South Sudan, Darfur, or again South Sudan) gives a green light to Khartoum for abusing and assaulting the marginalized areas not the focus of negotiations. This is the diplomatic complement to the regime’s well-tested policies of dividing and weakening politically (and ultimately militarily) opposition to its tyranny. Abyei and South Kordofan are fully intelligible only if this dynamic is borne in mind.
But if such "de-coupling" has indeed been decided on, we are not likely to hear it explicitly acknowledged publicly, as a senior administration official did last November in speaking about Darfur. And so far, one must concede this earlier "de-coupling" has been managed deftly, so much so that it has gone unnoticed by even many presumably informed commentators. The New York Times, for example, recently concluded its editorial on the new Republic of South Sudan by declaring:
"The Obama administration, correctly, is not taking Sudan off its terrorism list and normalizing relations until Khartoum fulfills the peace deal and ends the conflict in Darfur."
But this is simply inaccurate. Last November a senior administration official explicitly and publicly "de-coupled" the genocide in Darfur (Obama’s ongoing characterization) and the issue of Khartoum’s longstanding place on the US State Department list of terrorism-sponsoring nations. This official (identified in the State Department transcript only as "Senior Administration Official Two") declared:
"One [of two new elements in U.S. Sudan policy] was to indicate that the U.S. was prepared to accelerate the removal of Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list if the Government of Sudan did two things. One is to fully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and two, to live up to all of the legal conditions required under law for Sudan to be taken off the state sponsors list. By doing this, we would also be decoupling the state sponsor of terrorism from Darfur and from the Darfur issue." [emphasis added]
The New York Times missed this and ended up by making a key claim that is simply wrong, an error that I pointed out to the Times but which they chose not to acknowledge, either by printing my (or another) letter or offering a correction to its readers. To be sure, the Times has a long tradition of weak editorials on Sudan, with a strong penchant for dodging difficult questions. But this is outright error, and reflects how badly too much of American journalism has followed Sudan’s complexities and the details of U.S. policy.
More broadly, the Obama administration seems not to appreciate the scale of ongoing human suffering and ongoing destruction in Darfur, much of it directly consequent upon Khartoum’s construal of just what was meant by the Obama administration decision to "de-couple" Darfur and its people. This occurred even as the agony of Darfuris continues relentlessly. (Those interested in understanding just how terrible conditions are for civilians, especially the more than 2 million displaced civilians in camps, can do no better than to read the daily accounts that come from Radio Dabanga. A substantial compendium of recent reports from Radio Dabanga can be found here).
Given the pronounced tendency to expediency that has been evident for more than two years in the Sudan policy of the Obama administration, particularly on the part of former special envoy Scott Gration, it seems more than reasonable to ask whether in celebrating the independence of South Sudan, and engaging only narrowly on outstanding issues between North and South, Obama officials have done and said all they intend to, at least with a seriousness that could change attitudes in Khartoum. Abyei is already lost to the South; even with temporary deployment of an Ethiopian brigade (notably, and unusually, without a human rights mandate), Khartoum retains de facto military control of the region, and there are no prospects for more than 120,000 Dinka Ngok to return to their homeland. Khartoum has already threatened war if South Sudan does anything to reclaim Abyei, or even the self-determination referendum guaranteed by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, now an agreement the Obama administration is prepared to see selectively implemented.
South Kordofan stands on the precipice, and there seems little to prevent its tipping over. And looming as the next crisis point in Sudan is Blue Nile, also in North Sudan, where war, if it comes, simply won’t be contained. It is not clear that anyone in the Obama administration is thinking seriously about the acute threat posed by recent military developments in this remote region, even as SPLM member and governor of Blue Nile Malik Agar has warned that war becomes increasingly likely as fighting in South Kordofan continues.
The UN in South Kordofan
The first recommendation of the UNMIS human rights report is the only one that matters: if it is not followed, the others will be meaningless, given Khartoum’s insistence that UNMIS remove all personnel from the North, including South Kordofan (remaining personnel have, UN officials in New York have declared, no continuing mandate---even to protect civilians killed before their very eyes):
"[The authors of this UN human rights report recommend] that the UN Security Council mandates the establishment of a commission of inquiry or other appropriate investigative authority, including the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the violence in Southern Kordofan and violations of human rights and humanitarian laws and to identify the perpetrators or those who bear the greatest responsibility, with the view to bringing them to justice." (§75.1)
This recommendation that a "commission of inquiry" be established will receive broad international support, largely because it does not have a chance of being authorized by the Security Council, given the certainty of a Chinese veto. Indeed, we should recall Beijing’s recent comment on North Sudan’s place in the world. Reuters reports (July 13):
"The world should recognize the efforts made by Sudan in bringing peace to its southern region, now an independent state, and normalize relations with Khartoum, state media on Thursday quoted a senior Chinese diplomat as saying." (dateline: Beijing)
This does not sound like a warm-up for authorizing a non-consensual human rights investigation, even if the issue is accelerating genocide, with indisputable evidence of large mass graves capable of holding many thousands of bodies, and a great many thousands of Nuba unaccounted for.
But instead of focusing on the enormously challenging task of how to obtain on-the-ground confirmation of what has been so substantially and variously reported by many authoritative sources, UN officials and other international actors indulge in rhetorical posturing with no real entailments:
"Ban Ki-moon [while in Khartoum] urged the Sudanese Government to put place mechanisms to ensure that humanitarian operations can continue in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and added that UN personnel need unfettered access." (UN News Center, July 15, 2011)
More to the point would have been an urging that Khartoum halt its war on humanitarian operations---in Darfur and South Kordofan. The notion that the regime conducting this terrible war of attrition will "put in place mechanisms to ensure humanitarian operations can continue" is simply a means to avoid speaking about the real nature of the crisis. In fact, the regime has recently threatened to expel all humanitarian workers and operations, from both South Kordofan and Darfur:
"[A]n official in Khartoum’s ruling party, Gudbi-Al Mahadi, has accused aid agencies of giving logistical support to the rebels, the pro-government Sudanese Media Centre (SMC) reports. He warned the agencies that they risked ’legal penalties’ and expulsion, SMC said." (BBC News Africa, July 13)
"North Sudan’s secretary for the political sector threatened Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) operating in Kordofan and Darfur with penalties or expulsion on Monday. Gudbi-Al Mahadi of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) is reported by the pro-Khartoum Sudanese Media Centre as threatening NGOs with ’legal penalties’ and ’halting of activities’ as some were ’found providing logistical support to insurgents.’ No evidence was provided to support the allegations against the NGOs. But officials from the ruling party said they do not want a repeat in South Kordofan of the large humanitarian presence and the creation of camps for the displaced civilians, as has happened in Darfur." ("Khartoum threatens NGOs in South Kordofan and Darfur with expulsion," Sudan Tribune, July 11)
The Observer also reports today on a second confidential UN human rights report, which I have not seen but which seems to comport with the one more widely leaked. It speaks specifically to the issue of Khartoum’s obstruction of relief aid:
"A second report details how ’active obstruction by state authorities (in South Kordofan) has completely undermined the ability of the peacekeeping force, UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), to fulfill the most basic requirements of its mandate’ in the Nuba region. The report says the humanitarian assistance and protection provided by UNMIS have become ’inconsequential’ as it prepares to leave Sudan, at Khartoum’s insistence, by 31 July." (July 16, 2011)
Given the terrible precedent of Khartoum’s expulsion of thirteen of the world’s most distinguished humanitarian organizations in March 2009, it would be foolish not to see the strong possibility of linkage between international action on South Kordofan and the fate of the vast humanitarian operation in Darfur on which more than 3 million people depend. Khartoum is in effect threatening relief efforts in Darfur if the regime is pressed too hard on South Kordofan; the regime counts on the international community accepting such a quid pro quo, as it has on so many other occasions.
Members of the Security Council are equally facile and irrelevant, "call[ing] on the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s northern sector to agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities" in South Kordofan (emphasis added). No mention is made in this "call" of the fact that al-Bashir and his security cabal have withdrawn from the "framework agreement" they signed in Addis Ababa on June 28, in which a cessation of hostilities agreement was indeed the primary agenda item:
"Al-Bashir’s decision yesterday [July 6] to quit negotiations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to end clashes in the north’s only oil producing state, Southern Kordofan, dashed chances of a quick cease-fire. The fighting in Southern Kordofan, which borders Southern Sudan, started when Sudanese troops tried to disarm members of the Nuba ethnic group who fought alongside the southern army during the civil war, according to Southern Sudan’s ruling party. Al-Bashir and his governor in Southern Kordofan, Ahmed Haroun, are wanted by the International Criminal Court over allegations they were involved in war crimes in Darfur."
"Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir quit talks in Ethiopia to end clashes in the northern oil- producing state of Southern Kordofan, two days before South Sudan becomes independent. ’There will be no more negotiations outside Sudan,’ Al- Bashir told a rally today in White Nile state in a speech televised live on the state Sudan TV station." (Bloomberg News, July 7)
"Bashir warned the north would hold no more foreign talks on solving internal conflicts such as violence in the northern border state of South Kordofan where the army is fighting armed groups allied to the south. Leaders of north and south had agreed on Monday in Ethiopia to continue talks on a series of issues both sides need yet to solve such as ending tensions in South Kordofan. ’After the betrayal in South Kordofan [the SPLM/North] come and want to hold talks.... But we will not hold any talks in Addis Ababa or elsewhere with those who take up arms,’ he said. North Sudan would not sign any more international agreements after it wrapped up a peace accord later this month with a small group in the western region of Darfur...." (emphasis added; Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], July 7, 2011)
Does anyone at the UN understand the meaning of the word "intransigence"? This seems an important question since it is Khartoum’s signature negotiating posture. No one seems willing to speak the truth about why there is nothing happening in Addis, even as nothing is gained by pretending the regime is anything but what is has repeatedly demonstrated itself to be.
A last chance for the "responsibility to protect"
UNMIS has been terribly ineffective over the past six and a half years, as has UNAMID in Darfur since it officially took up is mandate on January 1, 2008. At a cost of more than $2 billion per year, the international community has had a right to expect a great deal more from these two operations and from the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The humanitarian side of the UN in Sudan is just as bad in its leadership, especially Valerie Amos and the head of UN humanitarian operations in Sudan, Georg Charpentier. Both have contributed significantly to the invisibility of Darfur’s ongoing agony. But ultimately the real power to act effectively, or not, lies with the UN Security Council, and herein lies the obvious rub. The U.S. and other member states know that any resolution authorizing an intrusive or nonconsensual human rights investigation will be vetoed by China. The question, then, is what can be done in the face of such an obviously broken mechanism for responding to international crises, including incipient genocide?
First, the U.S. that must decide---with as much help as possible from the Europeans, the Canadians, from Latin American countries, and from any African allies that can be found---that is will bring a resolution authorizing a robust and urgent UN human rights investigation, and thus compel China to veto it (something Beijing much prefers to threaten than actually exercise, for self-serving reasons). And then the resolution should be brought again, modified as necessary to secure a second Security Council debate (Germany is President of the Security Council this month, and we should assume the Germans will strongly support efforts to investigate widespread and compelling evidence of genocide). China will be forced to veto this second resolution, bringing an important clarity to the diplomatic and political situation.
The utter futility of Security Council action would then be the backdrop for a nonconsensual investigation of atrocity crimes in South Kordofan, one without UN auspices. If genocide or crimes against humanity are found, as they quickly will be, the entire world will again face the same question that was before it in April 1994, when Roméo Dallaire made his well-known plea for 5,000 men to give the UN enough leverage to end the Rwandan genocide. But we are not looking at 100 days of slaughter; rather, the real concern must be for how to stop Khartoum’s grim extermination by starvation and denial of humanitarian access to the Nuba Mountains, coupled with aerial bombing that is destroying the current agricultural cycle. The killing of Nuba in Kadugli is winding down: people are already dead or have fled to the countryside or to the South.
What will it take to stop this current genocide? What protection can be provided to those now ethnically targeted on a vast scale? There are no simple military answers, though there are some; but since there is no political will in any event, it would seem simply posing the question takes us as far as we can go. U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has already explicitly and preemptively taken any U.S. military response off the table.
Those nations and organizations that have in the past supported the idea of a "responsibility to protect" endangered civilians, unprotected or attacked by their own government, must decide whether this much-touted ideal really means something, and if so, what it entails in circumstances like those presently threatening the Nuba people in South Kordofan. Darfur is a recent and defining example of the failure of the "responsibility to protect": the conflict and genocidal destruction began well before the UN World Summit Outcome Document was issued in September 2005---and continues 6 years after all member states of the UN declared that they were…
"...prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law." (UN World Summit "outcome document" on "the responsibility to protect," Paragraph 139)
Darfur would seem to have sounded the death knell for any meaningful commitment to the "responsibility to protect," but South Kordofan offers one last opportunity. Real hope, however, seems entirely unwarranted.
*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.