Stopping Sudanese genocides

South Africa has long been a mediator in Sudan and its leadership is needed now more than ever.

January 23, 2012 22:18
South Sudanese independence

Sudan 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Earlier this month, the US special envoy on Sudan, Princeton Lyman, called upon South Africa – current chair of the UN Security Council – to ensure that “crisis is averted” in Sudan, saying, “The prospect of hundreds of thousands of people dying with no access to food or medicine is something we can’t accept.”

South Africa has long been a mediator in Sudan and its leadership is needed now more than ever. Sudanese officials are engaged in an escalating and violent triangular assault on two states that border South Sudan – South Kordofan and Blue Nile – as well as on the oil-rich region of Abyei coveted by Khartoum.

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Sudanese expert Eric Reeves recently described and documented this now ominously parallel triangular assault as follows:

Accelerating violence by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces threatens many hundreds of thousands of civilians in Blue Nile and South Kordofan; the regime’s military seizure of Abyei is now a fait accompli; the international community seems unable even to speak about the urgent need for cross-border humanitarian corridors to reach highly distressed populations. War has begun again in Sudan, and it is a war whose historical trajectory is tragically clear.

More particularly, as eyewitness testimony and NGOs have documented, hundreds of thousands of Nuba People in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan have been forced to flee their homes in the face of constant aerial bombardment, while being denied all international humanitarian assistance.

Similarly, the widespread indiscriminate bombing has been extended to the civilians in the Blue Nile state, with again the displacement and denial of humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of civilians, many of whom are already severely malnourished and vulnerable to disease.

Moreover, a particularly defiant assault on the Abyei region in May 2011 resulted in the displacement of virtually the entire Dinka Ngok population from Abyei, assaults which a UN investigative body concluded amounted to “ethnic cleansing,” while human rights experts called the assault “crimes against humanity.”

Despite protestations, remembrances and various declarations of resolve, Rwanda continues to stand as a grim reminder of the degree to which inaction and merely standing by can be as immoral as the unreasonable and illegitimate exercise of military power. In Sudan, Darfur marked the failure of president Bush during his “Rwanda moment”; and now the border regions of Sudan appear to be marking the failure of President Obama during his own “Rwanda moment.”

What then is to be done?

First, the overriding imperative is to bring the genocidaires to justice for their war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur and now for their ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the triangular assault on South Kordofan, Blue Nile and the Abyei region. It is shocking and scandalous that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior Ahmed Haroun and Sudanese Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein – all indicted by the International Criminal Court for their complicity with the genocide in Darfur – remain in their posts and able to travel freely. Rather than allowing them to continue their complicity in genocide, this cycle and culture of impunity must end and these individuals held to account.

Indeed, it should be noted that these international atrocities are underpinned by a targeted racism. President Bashir and his criminal co-conspirators have repeatedly targeted marginalized African peoples: the Fur, Masseleit and Zaghawa in Darfur; the Nuba People in South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile; and the Dinka and Nuer in Abyei and in the South.

Second, international humanitarian access in all the areas under assault is desperately needed. Tragically, there has been no movement to create on an urgent basis cross-border humanitarian corridors. As Reeves writes: “We have no idea of the death toll, but it will soon be staggering, given the massive disruption of the planting season caused by Khartoum’s relentless bombing campaign and the absence of any food supplies from any aid organizations.”

Third, the senior Sudanese government and military officials implicated in these criminal assaults – apart from President Bashir, Gen. Hussein and Gov. Haroun – should at the very least be subjected to human rights sanctions, including travel and visa bans as well as asset seizures where appropriate.

Fourth, the UN Human Rights Council should convene in an emergency session and should authorize an investigative commission of inquiry to South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei.

Fifth, a targeted no-fly zone should be put in place in South Kordofan to interdict the bombing and displacement of the Nuba People. The situation here is no less – if not more – compelling than it was in Libya, and a no-fly zone was put in place there.

Sixth, the United Nations Mission in the Sudan should have its mandate changed to authorize proactive intervention to protect people and save lives, rather than behaving as an observer presence with limited authority to act.

Seventh, China must be called upon to play a responsible protective role rather than an irresponsible enabling one, as it did in Darfur. Simply put, China buys Sudan’s oil; Sudan buys China’s arms; and the arms are then used by the Sudanese government in the triangular assault. This cycle must be broken.

Eighth, both the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Darfur Peace Process need to be resuscitated and rescued, lest the process be for nothing.

Ninth, the International Monetary Fund should call upon the Sudanese government to cease and desist from their assaults lest the IMF rescind its loans. The Khartoum regime has a foreign debt in excess of $30 billion, but with an astonishing promise by the IMF to forgive the loan. This is turning morality and accountability on its head.

Tenth, it is beyond the pale that the international community continues to engage in “business as usual” with the Khartoum regime, dispatching a series of envoys with baskets of “carrots” rather than combating the impunity inherent in this triangular assault and its resultant atrocity crimes.

Simply put, we have already witnessed one genocide in Sudan in which the world did not act and are now watching multiple genocides unfold yet still turn our backs. More time wasted means more lives lost – the time for action is now.

The writer is the member of Parliament for Mount Royal and the former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He has written extensively on Darfur and Sudan, and is the co-editor of the recently published book, The Responsibility to Protect: The Promise of Stopping Mass Atrocities in Our Time.

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