Well into the slaughter in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, the White House, State Department, and mainstream media finally got around to writing about what is taking place (only they always refer to it as South Kordofan, the Arab colonizers’ name for this African region). Various statements have deplored the violence and urged both sides to stop fighting. “Both sides” refers to the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) of the National Congress Party regime (a.k.a. National Islamic Front) in Khartoum, including its affiliated Popular Defense Front (PDF), a militia formed of Misseriya Arabs, otherwise known as the Al Qaeda of Sudan, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), that is fighting to defend the citizens of Nuba Mountains from their own government.
The Obama Administration does not seem to fully grasp — or at least wish to acknowledge — that what is taking place in the Nuba Mountains is ethnic cleansing. Khartoum has just picked up where it left off when Sudan Special Envoy former Senator John Danforth brokered a ceasefire there as one of the steps leading to the Sudan Peace Act in Congress and the following peace talks. Fortunately, a statement by three British Peers to their government concerning the current slaughter in Nuba Mountains and the atrocities that have taken place in another contested area, Abyei, contains no such moral vagueness or equivalency. And these activist members of the House of Lords have requested answers from their government to all of their questions by June 22.
Two days after the National Islamic Front regime (a.k.a. National Congress Party) in Khartoum started dropping bombs and executing men, women, and children in Kadugli and elsewhere, a U.S. State Department press release of June 7 referred to “escalating violence” in South Kordofan. It stated that the United States is “deeply troubled by reports of violent clashes between military units.”
This first U.S. response to the attack on Nuba Mountains sets the moral equivalency stage for the statements that were to follow. The violence, it worries, not only results in the loss of innocent lives, but jeopardizes the peace that “both sides had worked so hard to build.” The truth is that one side worked hard to build the peace, agreed to compromise when it should not have had to, and suffered various indignities by its “peace partners'” continuing violations of the provisions of the agreement. The other side did as it always does.
The White House Press Secretary soon followed suite. On June 10, a statement from the White House said, ” Fighting between forces loyal to the Government of Sudan–including its Armed Forces and the Popular Defense Force militia–and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army threatens efforts by the parties to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to forge a durable peace for the Sudanese people.” Actually, it would also threaten the CPA if the SPLA were to step aside and allow Khartoum to pursue its final solution to the problem in the Nuba Mountains. There would be no one left with which to forge a durable peace.
The White House statement condemned acts of violence that target individuals “based on their ethnicity or political affiliation” without identifying the ethnicity or politics of the victims. It is commendable that the statement calls on the UN to fully investigate these incidences. But reports on the ground confirm what the Nuba have warned us about ever since UN peacekeepers were sent to Nuba Mountains following the signing of the CPA. Peacekeepers have only come from nations approved by Sudanese President Omar al Bashir. Those would be nations with the same view on Sharia as that espoused by Khartoum, and hence, hostility to those in the region who resisted Sharia.
The White House press statement ends on an ominous note, chiding the Sudanese Government ” to consider carefully the consequences of its current actions in Southern Kordofan.” Referring to U.S. promises to remove Sudan from the list of terrorist nations and to end sanctions, (because they’ve behaved so well!) the statement warns, “Although the United States has demonstrated a commitment to forging closer ties with Sudan, grave violations of international humanitarian law as have been reported to take place in Southern Kordofan will negatively impact this process and put Sudan on a path toward deeper international isolation.” But then, the statement continues, calling on the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in South Kordofan to “avoid reprisals” and other human rights violations. This towards a military force that is unable to regain control of the UN Compound from the Islamists who have taken it for fear of harming civilians. The other side would have no such scruples and, in fact, goes out of its way to kill civilians.
So it is refreshing to read the far more forthright statement from Caroline Cox, the Baroness Cox of Queensbury, David Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, and Eric Lubbock, 4th Baron Avebury. In their joint letter to Foreign Secretary William Hague, they note that “respected partners on the ground. . . have starkly described the situation in South Kordofan as ‘ethnic cleansing.'” They continue, stating that the “aerial bombardment of civilians is a crime against humanity; the ethnic cleansing could soon become genocide.” Two of the Peers, Lady Cox and Lord Alton would be quite familiar with aerial bombardment in the Nuba Mountains. They probably spent some time in dodging Khartoum’s clumsly, yet still far too often deadly effective, barrel bombs rolled out of old Russian Antonov planes in the 1990’s. Now, thanks to oil money, Khartoum has upgraded its civilian-killing ability with MiGs and other jet fighters.
The Peers urged Hague to immediately raise the issue at the UN Security Council, call for the ICC “to extend its enquiries and remit from Darfur to include these regions of Abyei and Southern Kordofan,” establish whether UNMIS “is merely acting as a passive observer as the horrors unfold; and, if so, to call for an extension of its remit to fulfil the requirement of a ‘duty to protect,'” respond urgently to the severe humanitarian crisis, and to “to offer the interim Government of Southern Sudan all appropriate support to maintain its preparations for Independence,” if Khartoum continues to destabilize South Sudan as well.
The Peers’ letter follows Lord Alton’s written questions to the House of Lords for written answer, tabled on June 8 and 9. This process, rather than oral questioning, is used to hold government offices accountable and obtain information about their policies. Alton asks “Her Majesty’s Government” such questions for written answer as who they believe is responsible for the fighting in Kadugli; whether the events in Abyei and South Kordofan will affect the United Kingdom’s decision to grant official recognition to the Government of South Sudan; why UNMIS forces are not fulfilling their “duty to protect,” what events must take place “before they call for an investigation into crime against humanity and before they designate such acts as aggression as ethnic cleansing; and whether current
events in Southern Kordofan and Abyei meet these criteria,” and finally, will they ask the UN Security Council to extend the ICC inquiry into Al Bashir to include current events in South Kordofan and Abyei.
Asking all the right questions and framing the events honestly, these British Peers have shown their real commitment to stopping injustice and stopping genocide. Only actions such as theirs can make a real difference for those who are currently suffering in the Nuba Mountains and Abyei. Let’s challenge our own members of Congress to join their British counterparts in speaking truth to power.
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan, and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).