By Eric Reeves
June 17, 2014 - This past Thursday (12 June 2014) U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power issued an unusually strong statement condemning Khartoum’s bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states:
The US ambassador to the United Nations accused Sudan Thursday [12 June 2014] of intensifying attacks on civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and of deliberately bombing schools and hospitals. Samantha Power condemned "in the strongest possible terms" attacks she said were being carried out by the Sudanese government and its rapid support forces against ordinary people. Ground and air attacks have increased since April, with hundreds of barrel bombs and other ordnance dropped on towns and villages, deliberately targeting hospitals and schools, she said. (Agence France-Presse [UN/New York], 13 June 2014)
Although unusual in its strength—most such U.S. "condemnations" during the Obama administration have been so weak as actually to encourage further attacks—Khartoum’s response was entirely in character. For the medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has reported that four days after Power’s warning, Khartoum’s warplanes deliberately attacked the MSF hospital in Frandala, South Kordofan:
During an aerial attack on a Sudanese village, Sudan’s air force bombed and partially destroyed a hospital run by the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the war-torn South Kordofan region on Monday, depriving civilians of critical medical care, the organization said today. As bombs struck the village of Farandalla [more commonly spelled Frandala] on 16 June, two hit the MSF hospital. Five people were wounded in the village and one MSF staff member was injured at the hospital. MSF medical teams treated the wounded and organized the transfer of three severely injured patients to another hospital. (MSF Press Release, 17 June 2014)
If Ambassador Power was looking for a response to her warning on behalf of the Obama administration, this is it. Moreover, in a display of brazenness extraordinary even by Khartoum’s remarkable standards, Sudan Tribune reports (16 June 2014):
The Sudanese government summoned the American and Canadian envoys in Khartoum on Thursday to condemn a joint statement they issued on the bombing of a hospital in the restive South Kordofan state…. Diplomatic sources in Khartoum said the foreign ministry informed Canadian and US chargés d’affaires of its rejection of the statement. The statement and the language used to write it "are contrary to diplomatic norms and traditions," the source said.
This was a joint statement made over a month ago at the time Khartoum had just bombed the Mother of Mercy hospital in Gidel, near Kauda. (See my detailed report on this particular bombing and the first-person account by Dr. Tom Catena, the only surgeon working in the Nuba Mountains | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1i8; see also the account of intensifying aerial bombardment of civilians from the SPLM/A-North of May 27, 2014, English and Arabic | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1jQ.)
The bombing attack yesterday on Frandala was not an accident but a deliberate assault on a hospital working in an area where Khartoum wishes civilians to be without medical assistance. MSF had informed Khartoum of the precise location of the hospital, the press release emphasizes, and yet they were attacked anyway, with very significant consequences:
MSF calls for the respect of patients, staff, and medical facilities in South Kordofan. Several other medical facilities in South Kordofan have been bombed in recent weeks. The bombs destroyed the emergency room, a dressing room, the pharmacy, and the hospital kitchen. “Damage to the Farandalla hospital is significant, but MSF will continue to work there,” [MSF spokesman Brian] Moller said.
The MSF facility, with both outpatient and inpatient wards, began operating in 2012. Nearly 65,000 consultations have been carried out since then, along with close to 2,300 admissions. MSF is one of the few health care providers in South Kordofan. In addition to running the Farandalla facility, MSF supports five health centres in the area.
There can be no more savage war crime, indeed crime against humanity, than serial bombings of hospitals. And yet that is exactly what we have seen, what relief organizations, human rights groups, and journalists have reported for more than two decades. Many of the attacks are chronicled in my monograph "’They Bombed Everything that Moved’: Aerial military attacks on civilians and humanitarians in Sudan, 1999 – 2013" | www.sudanbombing.org). Indeed, reports from MSF about hospital bombings in Kajo Keji (what is now Central Equatoria of South Sudan, near the Ugandan border) generated the first organized data about such barbaric attacks. Contemporaneously, the Norwegian People’s Aid hospital in Yei (also in Central Equatoria) was bombed so many times that the NPA decided the Red Cross on its roof was being used as a siting target, and were forced to paint over this symbol of humanitarian neutrality.
The nature of Khartoum’s aerial assaults has long been widely known, if infrequently discussed among diplomats. On the basis of then current research, I wrote fourteen years ago in The Washington Post (August 15, 2000 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-gM):
[Khartoum has] escalated its assaults on humanitarian efforts. It is attacking, with much greater frequency, the medical and food relief programs of those trying heroically to save the people of the south from disease and starvation. Many of the hospitals and clinics that have been targeted are run by the world’s finest humanitarian organizations.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is but one example. Its clinic at Chelkou, in one of the most distressed regions of southern Sudan, was deliberately bombed on July 14. Reliable sources confirm that there was no military presence near Chelkou. Moreover, as part of its standard protocol, the ICRC had fully apprised the Khartoum regime of its presence in Chelkou and had secured permission. It was bombed anyway.
On July 25, some 200 miles to the southeast in the village of Billing, the Khartoum regime again bombed the Red Cross. Pilots on the ground, who had an approved flight plan from Khartoum, heard the bombers coming and desperately spread out a large Red Cross flag on the ground. It did no good. The bombs fell anyway.
There have been more than 2,000 such aerial attacks that I have been able to confirm using a range of sources, including MSF, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Norwegian People’s Aid, scores of journalists, and many other sources as well (all to be found at www.sudanbombing.org). Of course in all probability, given the difficulty of adequate confirmation, the total number of bombings is likely many times this number.
The Response of Western Nations
Despite such relentless attacks on civilians and humanitarians, which have occurred during the entire 25 years of brutal rule by the junta in Khartoum, the countries of the West seemed determined to give these ruthless survivalists every chance to prove that they will change character and oversee political change in Sudan. This was a preposterous notion when former U.S. special envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman articulated it in a 3 December 2011 interview:
“Frankly, we do not want to see the ouster of the [Sudanese] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Asharq Al-Awsat, 3 December 2011)
[See also my summary account of Lyman’s tenure as special envoy | http://wp.me/p45rOG-XK; he has left a disgraceful record of failing to respond to atrocity crimes in South Kordofan, often invoking a wholly factitious skepticism about reports, including from journalists, civilians who made it to South Sudan, and UN human rights reporters working in the region. See also my detailed account of what was being deliberately ignored by the U.S., the UN, and other international actors in summer 2011 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-BU.]
Lyman’s expressed desire is even more foolishly preposterous now, as the Sudanese economy implodes with skyrocketing inflation for food and fuels, civil unrest grows rapidly, repressive tactics against political opposition become harsher, and the men making the key decisions are from the hard-line military faction of the junta. Imprisonments, torture, beatings, extra-judicial executions, severe news and media censorship, and the terrible costs of war on several fronts—all have made any meaningful political reform much less likely, if ever conceivable under any circumstances. The specious call by President (and Field Marshal) Omar al-Bashir for a "national dialogue" is nothing more than a means of creating the impression of opening political space in Sudan, when in fact it is more closed than ever. Despite this, Norway, the UK, and the U.S. all signed off on a recent "Joint Statement on National Dialogue in Sudan." It offers, with some parsing, as clear a view as we’re likely to have of the diffidence, disingenuousness, and moral failure of those purporting to be responding to realities in greater Sudan.
The Members of the Troika welcome the National Congress Party’s stated intent to undertake a process of national dialogue in Sudan. We have long shared the view of many Sudanese that a sustainable peace and a prosperous Sudan can only be achieved through a fundamental review—and reform—of national governance systems that concentrate power at the center and marginalize the regions. (Joint Statement on National Dialogue in Sudan, by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague, Media Note, Office of the [State Department] Spokesperson, Washington, DC, June 10, 2014)
This is the kind of "welcome" Khartoum was looking for, and feels assured that it has more breathing space before being confronted with any sort of meaningful international pressure over its continuing domestic atrocity crimes. It is little more than the boilerplate of diplomats, but sends precisely the wrong signal to the regime. The Statement continues:
To this end, we are encouraged by the leadership’s stated intent to confront questions regarding the country’s ongoing conflicts, poverty, governance, political freedoms, and national identity. We note that a common understanding of the dialogue process, and the desired goals, will invite broad participation and offer the best chance for success. In this regard, we encourage Sudan’s leaders to work in close coordination with the AU High-level Implementation Panel, led by President Mbeki, to ensure that those goals are met.
"Encouraged" by a regime that is incapable of speaking the truth, and that has reneged on every agreement made with every Sudanese party for 25 years—every single agreement. Even the military coup that brought the National Islamic Front to power on June 30, 1989 was built on deception (e.g., the faux imprisonment of Hassan al-Turabi, the ideological mastermind of the coup).
Further, any reference to the "African Union High-Level Implementation Panel" and its incompetent but relentlessly self-promoting Thabo Mbeki seems a grimly bad joke. The name came from the original "African Union High Level Panel on Darfur" (convened in 2009), which devised the "Roadmap for Peace in Darfur"—and which then (unsurprisingly) became the panel charged with "implementing" the "Roadmap." But nothing ever came of either panel’s efforts except a long, wholly derivative report that was, remarkably, entirely without references to or acknowledgement of the work of the many organizations and researchers that had provided the materials that Mbeki & Co. used. Mbeki has long moved on to other issues in greater Sudan, with equally disastrous results—supported always by the African Union.
The Statement continues in its fulsome and platitudinous ways:
As history has demonstrated, a dialogue that involves voices only from Khartoum or from “traditional” political parties cannot yield the results that the people of Sudan demand. We encourage the political leadership to ensure the time and space necessary to deliver on their promise of a genuine, holistic, and truly inclusive dialogue that will include the armed and unarmed opposition, as well as civil society.
We have already seen, in graphic detail, the response of the regime to other, "non-traditional voices." The civil uprising that followed the regime’s lifting of fuel subsidies in September-October 2013 led to savage repression, with "shoot to kill orders" given to the security forces that the regime well knew would be necessary (see Amnesty International, September 26, 2013).
What follows in the Statement is diplomacy at its most obscenely disingenuous:
Unfortunately, the Government of Sudan has taken actions of late that have enabled some to raise doubts about the sincerity of this initiative. Most notably, the Government continues to wage a war and target civilians in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and bears primary responsibility for intensifying the conflict in Darfur, where some 300,000 have been displaced this year.
"Enabled some to raise doubts about the sincerity of the [regime’s] initiative"? What can this possibly mean? That a regime that is waging campaigns of ethnic extermination in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan is somehow, under some set of circumstances, to be trusted? Given what we know of the men in this regime, the burden of proof concerning "sincerity" is entirely theirs. Indeed, the Statement itself provides all the reason we need for skepticism about "sincerity": "the Government continues to wage a war and target civilians in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and bears primary responsibility for intensifying the conflict in Darfur, where some 300,000 have been displaced this year." To this we might add the more than 450,000 displaced in Darfur in 2013—and the more than 1.5 million people who have been newly displaced since the deployment of the UN/African Union peacekeeping mission (January 1, 2008). Khartoum continues to do everything in its power to abuse, restrict, intimidate, and demoralize the UNAMID force—including the killing of dozens of peacekeepers through militia proxies (see my detailed account of the evidence for this | http://wp.me/p45rOG-11S). This hardly is what the UN and African Union had in mind when they finally negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Khartoum in February 2008—yet another agreement dishonored.
The Statement goes on to provide more evidence of precisely what should forestall any crediting of Khartoum’s "sincerity" in a "national dialogue":
Similarly, the Government’s restriction and increased repression of individual, political, and press freedoms limits the space necessary for a successful national dialogue; such a process will demand both goodwill and a conducive environment if it is to enjoy broad legitimacy.
Such "goodwill" and "conducive environment" are nowhere in evidence—on the contrary, "restriction and increased repression of individual, political, and press freedoms" has grown significantly in the past two years. The Statement concludes with an ironically truthful self-description:
We will continue to follow developments closely and stand ready to work with those who seek to advance meaningful reforms.
We may be sure that they will indeed "follow developments"—but the past strongly suggests that "following" will be all they do—and they certainly don’t need to worry about finding, in the present political climate, "those who seek to advance meaningful reforms." Just ask the people of Darfur—who have been "followed" for more than a decade—how much commitment really exists in international community to halt genocidal destruction directed from Khartoum, including the use of military aircraft to attack civilians, humanitarians…and hospitals.
Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more the past fifteen years. He is author of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012 (September 2012)