There is hardly any meaningful international response to the horrible suffering of up to a million Sudanese now targeted in a military campaign by President Al Bashir – who is already indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
For well over a year, the world has known fully – from a wide range of sources – about military efforts by Khartoum to starve more than one million civilians in South Kordofan, and subsequently Blue Nile – overwhelmingly people of the African tribal groups in these two regions. These people are perceived by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime as the civilian base of support for the indigenous political and military rebellion by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-North).
The means of destruction have been various, but starvation is the potent weapon of mass destruction that is every day more fully deployed, not only in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, but in the refugee camps in South Sudan (and to a lesser extent in Ethiopia) to which some 250,000 people have fled (OCHA Sudan Humanitarian Bulletin, October 22 – 28, 2012). Many have died during this flight or in camps that have been nearly overwhelmed by the challenges of providing humanitarian assistance in these remote regions, particularly Upper Nile State. Many more have died invisibly in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Humanitarian indicators, discussed below in overview, are terrifying and rapidly growing worse.
Again, the international community has known full well what was occurring, and why, since late June 2011. The consequences of Khartoum’s initiation of hostilities in Blue Nile (September 1, 2011) have been equally clear from countless reports, despite the lack of access to most of the region. Refugees have told horrifying stories that have become unforgivably familiar.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization had declared in early October 2011 that harvests would ‘largely fail’ because of the violence Al-Bashir had initiated and purposefully directed at civilians and agricultural production. By December 2011 the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNet) was predicting ‘near-famine conditions’ in the Nuba Mountains by the following March (2012). And yet there were no consequential actions or commitments by the international community until early February 2012.
On February 2, the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU), and the Arab League jointly proposed a humanitarian access agreement, designed to provide critically needed food and medical deliveries in those areas controlled by the SPLA-North. A week later, the SPLM-North accepted the proposal without qualification. Since that time – over nine months ago – there has been no further movement toward actual implementation of the agreement: Khartoum continues to refuse all international humanitarian access. To be sure, the regime has changed its explanation for refusing to implement the agreement, to which it had nominally committed last June, and again in August. But the most recent comments from the regime-controlled press in Khartoum suggest retreat into a wholly predictable obduracy.
This obduracy is captured all too well in a November 12 dispatch from Sudan Vision, which fairly trips over itself in piling lie upon lie:
‘Sudanese government declared a new initiative to deliver the humanitarian assistance to the affected citizens in the rebel-controlled areas in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan States, following the elapse of the tripartite initiative which became invalid after November 3rd, 2012. HAC Commissioner, Suleiman Abdul Rahman said that the new initiative will provide the humanitarian and medical assistance, adding that the initiative represents a favourable opportunity for the participation of international and regional organization to distribute the humanitarian assistance. Abdul Rahman added that the tripartite initiative did not achieve its objectives as admitted by the partners (UN, AU, AL). The partners emphasized that they faced harassment from the so-called SPLM-N which set deplorable conditions.’ (Sudan Vision, November 12, 2012, ‘Sudan Announces New Initiative to Address Humanitarian Situation in South Kordofan, Blue Nile’)’.
It says something profoundly dismaying that the Khartoum regime feels so emboldened by international inertia and expediency that it can indulge in this bizarre concatenation of outright lies. The ‘tripartite initiative’ (of the UN, AU, and Arab League) has not become ‘invalid’: it is as valid and a great deal more urgently needed than when it was first proposed over nine months ago.
On the other hand, Khartoum’s ‘new initiative’ to assist ‘affected citizens in the rebel-controlled areas’ will quite certainly be a re-packaging of previous and wholly inadequate proposals, none of which begins to address the vast humanitarian crisis confronting more than 1 million people. The UN, AU, and Arab League initiative was never implemented: it is absurd to declare that it ‘did not achieve its objectives,’ a judgment certainly not rendered by any spokesperson for these organizations. Similarly, there has been no public utterance by any spokesperson to the effect that these organizations ‘faced harassment from the so-called SPLM-N, which set deplorable conditions.’ The SPLM-North set no conditions, and again signed within days of the initial ‘tripartite proposal’ last February.
And yet despite Khartoum’s mendacity and brutal obduracy, the international response will almost certainly be a reprise of unctuous handwringing and declarations of ‘demands’ that humanitarian corridors be opened. At the same time, we should expect continuing ‘engagement’ with Khartoum, engagement that extends even to discussion of lifting sanctions and providing debt relief–all this because of the agreement signed with Juba on September 27 and a deeply compromised implementing of the Southern self-determination referendum. Like Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile have been ‘de-coupled’ from the Obama administration’s Sudan policy, and other international actors have been content to follow suit.
I received today from Dr Tom Catena, the only surgeon remaining in the Nuba, more of the photographs that chronicle the effects of relentless Antonov bombing attacks in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The victims on this occasion were two women, both in their sixties; like so many other photographs taken by Dr Catena of his patients, they are stomach-churning.
I asked him in a reply email about the view from inside the Nuba Mountains of the ‘tripartite agreement’ and the international provision of humanitarian aid; his reply cuts through a great deal of the self-serving bluster from the likes of U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman, UN head of humanitarian operations Valerie Amos, the AU’s chief mediator Thabo Mbeki, and a range of voices from the European Union:
‘Most people here aren’t aware of the tripartite agreement, and the SPLA-N leadership feels the Khartoum government will always find a way to prevent aid from reaching us. Really no one has any hope that humanitarian aid will come here as long as the [NCP regime in Khartoum] are in control.’ (email received November 12, 2012)
The world has done nothing to convince these people that their assessment requires any revision.