Sudan and the Obama Administration: A steady rapprochement | August 4, 2015

Eric Reeves | August 4, 2015

On July 5, 2015 the Embassy of the United States in Khartoum issued a remarkable statement, although it was judged newsworthy by only the Sudan Tribune and Radio Dabanga:

"We note with grave concern reports that on June 25 [2015] the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) attacked against civilians in gold mining areas near the town of Talodi, in Southern Kordofan state," said the embassy in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune on Sunday.

"The targeting of civilians is a violation of international humanitarian law."

"We urge the SPLM-N, all other armed groups, and the Government of Sudan to cease hostilities, to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular with regard to the protection of civilians, and to ensure safe, timely, and unhindered access for aid organizations," said the embassy. (Sudan Tribune, July 5, 2015)

It is of course a "violation of international law" to "target civilians," but the party in the conflict in South Kordofan responsible for the overwhelming majority of such attacks is the Khartoum regime-through its regular army forces (the Sudan Armed Forces, or SAF), its air force, and its paramilitary militias, including the Popular Defense Forces, and (until recently) the Rapid Response Forces (RSF), widely regarded as the "new Janjaweed" in Darfur, although much more heavily armed and more robustly supplied by Khartoum than the "old Janjaweed."

And it is Khartoum that is responsible for all aerial attacks on civilians in South Kordofan, particularly in the Nuba Mountains (see below recent and compelling reportage by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Timesbased on his dangerous trip into the Nuba Mountains).

So why did the U.S. Embassy statement single out the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North for criticism on this occasion? Which "reports" did the Embassy "note with concern? They are not characterized in the release, and all my efforts to secure information about these reports from the U.S. State Department have proved futile.

What makes these questions especially exigent is the slow but clearly progressing rapprochement between the Obama administration and the Khartoum regime-a process driven by the U.S. intelligence community, which has long had primary say in defining U.S. Sudan policy. Some U.S. economic sanctions have been lifted over the past year, diminishing pressure on a genocidal regime; recent discussions in Khartoum apparently focused on expanding Sudanese agricultural exports to the U.S., potentially providing the regime with access to U.S. dollars and the American financial system. Also recently, senior officials of the Khartoum regime-headed by a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity-have been invited to the United States or allowed entrance. Thuggish political operative and presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour was officially invited by the Obama administration in February to meet with White House and State Department officials. On returning to Khartoum, Sudan Tribune reports,

The political secretary of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) Mustafa Osman Ismail said the visit of presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour to Washington is part of an ongoing dialogue between the two countries. The pro-government Sudan Media Center quoted Ismail as saying that Ghandour will discuss with the U.S. administration ways for promoting bilateral ties in various domains besides efforts aiming at lifting economic and political sanctions imposed on Sudan. (February 8, 2015)

Several days later Sudan Tribune again reported on Ghandour's trip; Ghandour's comments were particularly important since they clearly had the endorsement of al-Bashir:

Sudanese presidential assistant [Ibrahim Ghandour] said he agreed with U.S. officials to resume dialogue on bilateral relations, adding he met with officials at the State Department and the White House. Ibrahim Ghandour met Monday with the president Omer al-Bashir to brief him about the outcome of his talks with the American officials during his recent visit to Washington. "We agreed to continue the dialogue which may resume soon, either in Khartoum or Washington," Ghandour told reporters after the meeting with president Bashir. (Sudan Tribune, February 16, 2015)

And just two days later Sudan Tribune reported on the outcome of these "exchanges": "Khartoum praises Washington's easing of economic sanctions" (February 18):

The Sudanese government has welcomed the United States move to ease sanctions imposed on Sudan and allow exports of personal communications hardware and software expecting further steps in the coming days. The United States Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control announced on Tuesday that is amending Sudan's sanctions to allow exports of personal communications hardware and software including smart phones and laptops.

The U.S. special envoy to Sudans Donald Booth on Tuesday emphasised that this move aims to help ordinary citizens by connecting them to the rest of the world and to further free speech.

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Donald Both, third---and current---Obama administration special envoy for Sudan

Booth, the third of Obama's special envoys for Sudan/South Sudan-none with anything to show for his efforts, at least as far as the people of the Sudans are concerned-here joins in the disingenuousness that has characterized his two predecessors (Scott Gration and Princeton Lyman). The notion that the allowing the import of communications hardware and software will "connect Sudanese to the rest of the world" in any politically meaningful sense is sheer nonsense and Booth knows it. During the civilian uprising of September 2013, involving thousands of people in cities across Sudan, one of the first steps by the regime was to shut down Internet access, over which it enjoys a virtual monopoly. Only when the worst of the violent crackdown was over (see below) was service restored. Personal communication devices are much more likely to be purchased on behalf of the security services, which certainly covet them. But fewer and fewer Sudanese can afford such high-tech purchases, and to pretend otherwise is simply to ignore governing economic conditions in the country.

Also in February of this year Foreign Minister Ali Karti was allowed into the U.S. to attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast, also attended by many notables, including the Dalai Lama and President Obama. This invitation and permission to enter the United States came despite Karti's brutal past (he head the Popular Defense Forces in the late 1990s, when some of the worst atrocities were committed in the long civil war, particularly in South Kordofan). Karti has also been Khartoum's point-man in denying that any sexual assaults occurred in Tabit, North Darfur in late October 2014-this despite overwhelming evidence provided by Human Rights Watch that more than 200 girls and women were raped by SAF soldiers, at the urging of their commander.

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Khartoum's Foreign Minister Ali Karti, formerly head of the brutally destructive and murderous Popular Defense Forces (late 1990s) and the regime official most outspoken in denying the rape of more than 200 girls and women in Tabit, North Darfur---a denial that flies in the face of overwhelming evidence of the sexual assaults assembled by Human Rights Watch

And at the very end of February, in response to the visits by Ghandour and Karti, the Obama administration in late February arranged a visit to Khartoum by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Steven Feldstein (the regime will not issue special envoy Booth a visa and Feldstein has no particular knowledge of Sudan or the regime). What is most notable about the State Department press release as Feldstein completed his mission was the incoherence of his comments about the "National Dialogue," which had long been seen for the charade it was by the major political and rebel coalitions in Sudan, and privately characterized as a mere political stratagem by the regime itself:

"[Feldstein] reiterated U.S. support for an inclusive and comprehensive National Dialogue to resolve Sudan's conflicts" (State Department media note, 28 February 2015).

Feldstein's fatuous support for the patently untenable and utterly expedient "National Dialogue" promoted by the regime was yet another concession to the Khartoum regime, even as Feldstein was obliged to admit as well that:

[The U.S.] position on the Darfur issue has not changed, and that he has not seen any improvement in the situation in Darfur, or other war zones. (Radio Dabanga, March 1, 2015(As we will see, the Obama administration's "position on Darfur" remains one that excludes the region from consideration in negotiations over the most important bilateral issues between Khartoum and Washington.)

Finally, President Omar al-Bashir, génocidaire-in-chief, has very recently again making noises about attending this year's opening of the UN in September; last year a feckless U.S. State Department neither granted nor denied a visa for al-Bashir; but this year we may expect Khartoum's demand to be a good deal more insistent. If al-Bashir is allowed into the United States, it will be a sign that Khartoum's leverage with the U.S. is growing.

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Omar al-Bashir, President of the Khartoum regime and indicted by the International Criminal Court for multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur

Of course rapprochement is not a one-way street.

Heavy economic sanctions remain in place, and the U.S. stands as the major obstacle to debt relief for Sudan, which now runs to approximately $47 billion. Such massive external debt cannot be serviced, given present economic circumstances in Sudan-let alone repaid. Debt relief is essential for continuing survival of the regime, although the economy is collapsing and even debt relief cannot reverse most trends in evidence unless profligate borrowing comes in the near term (which of course in the medium term only further weakens the Sudanese economy).

For its part, Khartoum continually dangles the prospect of greater counter-terrorism intelligence, and for the past ten years, that enticement has been enough to seduce the intelligence community under President George W. Bush and-to a greater extent-President Obama. No matter that in secret meetings, minutes of which have been leaked by someone within this now deeply riven regime, senior officials are heard ridiculing what is provided to the U.S. Triumph was the conspicuous note in the declaration by former Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein (indicted by the International Criminal Court for massive crimes against humanity in Darfur during the years in which he served as Minister of the Interior):

"America is facing the crisis of the ISIS and the other Jihadist movements that are newly formed and can move freely outside the traditional surveillance networks. Currently, there are twenty thousand (20,000) Jihadists and fifteen (15) newly formed Jihadist Movements who are scattered all over, from Morocco to EgyptSinaiPalestineLebanonIraq, all the Gulf States, a wide presence in Africa and Europe and nobody owns a database on that as the one we haveWe release only limited information to the Americans [and only] according to [their specific] request, and the price is the armed movements file. The coming days carry a lot of surprises." (page 21 of minutes(emphasis added)

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Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, former Minister of Defense, and Minister of the Interior during the most destructive years---to date---of the Darfur genocide; indicted by the International Criminal Court for massive crimes against humanity

The meaning of the last emphasized phrase here-"the price is the armed movements file"-is ambiguous and potentially quite ominous. The "armed movements" certainly include the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N), which in fact is part of the coalition of armed groups-the Sudan Revolutionary Front-attempting to topple the tyranny in Khartoum. But what is notable about the SPLA-N (the military wing of the movement) is that it is commanded by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, without doubt the most principled military commander in the ghastly conflict raging in South Kordofan, and the commander with the most integrity and field command skills.

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Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, commander of the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North

Those who know him-directly or indirectly through multiple contacts and friends in common-are fully convinced that Abdel Aziz simply would not allow the atrocity crime described by the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum on July 5, 2015 concerning events near Talodi, South Kordofan. His character as a man and as a military leader simply would not allow him to countenance such an attack-or to allow it to go unpunished. He well understands that even as his forces have fought Khartoum's military to a standstill over more than four years, he has prevailed precisely by not committing atrocity crimes of the sort that are committed daily by the SAF and its militia allies. In short, it is highly doubtful that whatever event occurred near Talodi is accurately represented by the U.S. Embassy statement. Abdel Aziz is fighting on behalf of the people of South Kordofan, his own people; Khartoum is fighting to destroy them.

Indeed, it is not clear that the Embassy made any effort to get an account of the incident from the SPLA-N, although there are certainly channels available. If such an effort had been made, the Embassy would have discovered that SPLA-N senior staff strongly deny that any but SAF soldiers were killed or wounded near Talodi on June 25. A senior SPLM-N official apprised the State Department of the fact that this was an area in which Khartoum's militia forces were known to operate. If this information is available to an American researcher, why was it not sought by the U.S. Embassy? Would it not have been appropriate to include the SPLA-N denial that their forces had committed any atrocity crime near Talodi?

In fact, there is no characterization whatsoever of the "reports" that generated the Embassy statement; and we may be sure that no one from the Embassy made any effort to ascertain the facts on the ground. Among other hindrances would have been Khartoum itself, which does not want any investigation in any part of South Kordofan. The reason is obvious: one cannot travel in anywhere in the region without coming across multiple sites where atrocity crimes by the SAF have indeed been committed. But without on-the-ground investigation, and without seeking a response from the SPLA-N, what do these "reports" consist of? And why won't the U.S. State Department respond to queries about sources for the "reports," even if only providing their character without any names attached?

This looks like nothing so much as a grotesque "trading chit" in the rapprochement effort by the Obama administration: "Look, we condemned the SPLA-N, so you can't say we have criticized only your SAF and militias as responsible for atrocities in South Kordofan." This of course ignores the most basic fact, already noted, that the overwhelming number of atrocity crimes that have been investigated-by Human Rights Watch, by Amnesty International, and by a great many intrepid journalists for major news media-are clearly the responsibility of Khartoum. Moreover, they reflect a clear strategic choice in how to wage war against the people of South Kordofan, the people of the Nuba Mountains in particular. The recent reportage by Nicholas Kristof includes an unsparing documentary (10 minutes) that captures some of what relentless aerial attacks mean in the lives of the people of the Nuba:

"The Worst Atrocity You've Never Heard of," New York Times, July 13, 2015 | (the accompanying documentary has same URL)

"A Rain of Bombs in the Nuba Mountains," New York Times, June 20, 2015

[Profile of Dr. Tom Catena of the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel (near Kauda), Nuba Mountains], New York Times, June 27, 2015

And just today (August 4, 2015) Amnesty International released a new and thoroughly researched report that is announced in the following terms (full text of announcement and link to the report itself appear as Appendix A):

Sudan: Attacks in South Kordofan "constitute war crimes"

Amnesty International, August 4, 2015 (based on research conducted in South Kordofan in May 2015)

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Government forces in Sudan have committed war crimes against the civilian population of South Kordofan, Amnesty International has definitively confirmed for the first time in a new report published today.

The report, Don't we matter? Four years of unrelenting attacks against Civilians of Sudan's South Kordofan State, chronicles the human cost of the conflict which has claimed hundreds of civilian lives and sparked a dire humanitarian crisis. It finds that indiscriminate aerial bombardments and ground offensives as well as the deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals constitute war crimes. For years Sudanese Armed Forces have been raining down bombs and shells indiscriminately on civilian populations, destroying lives and livelihoods and triggering a major humanitarian crisis.

"Targeting civilian infrastructure and civilian areas which have no legitimate military objective, using prohibited weapons and other weapons in an indiscriminate way are war crimes. It is time for the international community to stop averting its gaze from South Kordofan and take urgent action to end this conflict," [said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's ‎Deputy Regional Director].

Based on a research mission to the country, Amnesty International has found that Sudanese Armed Forces have targeted civilian areas and infrastructure which have no legitimate military objective. The use of prohibited weapons-such as cluster bombs-launched from high-flying aircraft, has resulted in civilian casualties. Amnesty International found cluster munitions at four sites in two separate locations in Dalami and Umm Dorain counties and heard testimony of how children have been killed playing with unexploded ordinance.

Between January and April 2015, the Sudanese Air Force dropped more than 374 bombs on 60 locations across South Kordofan under the control of the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N). The aerial bombardments and ground shelling over this period resulted in the deaths of at least 35 civilians, injured a further 70 individuals, and damaged civilian buildings including schools. 

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, 26 health facilities (hospitals, clinics and health units) have been bombed in SPLA-N controlled areas, some of which were clearly identified with flags and crosses on their roofs. Only two out of four hospitals in SPLA-N controlled areas are still functioning.

Humanitarian Crisis

The Sudanese government has refused to allow humanitarian relief into areas controlled by the SPLA-N exacerbating a protracted humanitarian crisis and has leaving the population without access to vaccinations and essential medicines.  Children in SPLA-N controlled areas in South Kordofan are excluded from an ongoing UNICEF/WHO immunization campaign against measles in Sudan. Between May 2014 and January 2015 an outbreak of measles claimed the lives of at least 30 of these children in one hospital alone.

Massive displacement has left around one-third of South Kordofan's population of approximately 1.4 million people internally displaced, living in precarious and insecure conditions. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, close to 100,000 people have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring South Sudan, itself wracked by internal conflict. (all emphases added)

Given this extraordinary and fully researched chronicle of unrelenting "war crimes" (many would argue that in aggregate these atrocity crimes rise to the level of "crimes against humanity"), it is simply bizarre for the U.S. Embassy to have singled out a particular "war crime" by the SPLA-N and made it in effect the basis for a moral equivalence between Khartoum's forces and those under the command of Abdel Aziz al-Hilu:

"We urge the SPLM-N, all other armed groups, and the Government of Sudan to cease hostilities, to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law..."

But of course there is another motive at work in this disingenuous moral equivalence, and it's not difficult to conclude that the Embassy statement was in fact part of the price the Obama administration was willing to pay to accelerate rapprochement, which seems destined to result in a commensurate acceleration in the lifting of sanctions and more "even-handed" diplomacy. No matter that the moral and political equities in South Kordofan are not remotely equal, as the Amnesty International report makes clear. And evidently it does not matter that a U.S. willingness to grow closer to Khartoum-even as desperate and horrific violence consume much of Sudan-will only encourage the regime to believe that if it is savage enough, if it is repressive enough, if it is sufficiently unrelenting in civilian destruction, then it will survive.

The Obama administration- lustful in the pursuit of counter-terrorism intelligence and full use of its new embassy building/listening post in Khartoum (fully equipped, likely to cost some $500 million)-is willing to sell out the people of South Kordofan and other regions of Sudan, as it has done on several occasions before.

Abyei

Abyei was essentially abandoned when Juba refused to yield in late 2010 to repeated demands by Obama administration officials to "compromise" further on Abyei's boundaries, despite the compromises embodied in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 (which included the Abyei Protocol, guaranteeing the people of Abyei the right to a self-determination referendum) and the findings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (July 2009), highly favorable to Khartoum but not sufficiently so once the U.S. seemed prepared to pressure Juba to give up more.

The military seizure of Abyei by Khartoum's regular forces and its Misseriya Arab allies was conspicuously in the making for over two months prior to the May 21, 2011 takeover. The Obama administration neither warned Khartoum off the obviously impending military seizure, nor did it offer more than tepid criticism of Khartoum's action-even going so far as to blame the (Southern) Sudan People's Liberation Army for an event that supposedly triggered Khartoum's military actions. The basis narrative of the account came via the UN's special representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, Haile Menkerios, which was in turned based exclusively on interviews with two SAF generals.

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Haile Menkerios, UN Secretary General's special representative for Sudan (since February 2010); comments made my Khartoum officials indicate they are confident he is in their "back pocket"

More than four years after Khartoum's military seizure of Abyei, the regime has begun a systematic incorporation of the northern sections of the region into Sudan, with clearly no intention of negotiating further the status of a region that was to have had a self-determination referendum. In March of this year, indicted génocidaire al-Bashir declared that the "Abyei area belongs to Sudan and will remain a Sudanese territory" (Sudan Tribune, March 12, 2015). There was no U.S. response.

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Women and children fleeing southward from Abyei to South Sudan; most will never return to their former lives in Abyei

Darfur

Darfur had been earlier abandoned: "de-coupled" was the euphemism of choice at the time the State Department publicly acknowledged that Darfur would not be considered in negotiations over the main bilateral issues between Khartoum and Washington: counter-terrorism intelligence and the lifting of U.S. sanctions. This was in fall 2011, and in the intervening four years violence has escalated in Darfur to the point where we are seeing conditions as threatening to civilians-overwhelmingly from African tribal groups-as in the early years of the genocide-"genocide" being precisely the word that Senator, presidential candidate, and President Obama used repeatedly to describe realities in Darfur.

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A "de-coupled" Darfur continues to burn, and civilians face the greatest violence in many years

A very brief history of U.S. diplomatic expediency and mendacity

In short, the Obama administration was willing to "de-couple" the site of genocide from the primary issues governing its relationship with Khartoum. There is little reason to see in preceding and subsequent actions and statements anything but a similarly appalling expediency:

[1] Newly elected President Obama appointed in March 2009 as his first special envoy for Sudan/South Sudan Major-General (retired) Scott Gration, a man with no diplomatic experience, virtually no knowledge of Sudan, and without Arabic or any other relevant language. Gration's main virtue was that he had given significant support to the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. It was Gration who, shortly after his appointment, spoke incoherently of there being only "remnants of genocide" in Darfur (the comments were disowned by the State Department). And when the expulsion of thirteen critical humanitarian organizations operating in Darfur occurred on March 5, 2009, Gration was completely incapable of responding appropriately to this deeply threatening action.

[2] Thus in April 2009, shortly after the expulsion from Darfur of these international relief organizations-roughly half the total humanitarian capacity on the ground-then Senator and now Secretary of State John Kerry was drafted by the Obama administration to "substitute" for Gration. Kerry proceeded to make one of the most obscenely disingenuous statements by any American official under any president:

"We have agreement [with Khartoum] that in the next weeks we will be back to 100 percent [humanitarian] capacity," said [Senator John] Kerry. (Reuters [el-Fasher, North Darfur], April 17, 2009)

John Kerry

John Kerry accepted at face value Khartoum's promise in April 2009 that "100 percent" of humanitarian capacity in Darfur would be restored in a matter of weeks; this followed the regime's expulsion of 13 critical humanitarian organization working in Darfur on March 5, 2009.  Kerry knew this promise was false, but not hesitate to trade on it to reduce the chances of confrontation with Khartoum

Humanitarian capacity has never reached nearly the levels that existed prior to the expulsions, and there would be more expulsions to follow. Other organizations have left because of intolerable insecurity, a deliberate creation of the Khartoum regime. And presently, humanitarian relief aid is dwindling rapidly-for reasons of insecurity, donor fatigue (Darfur is no longer a "fashionable cause"), and deliberate obstruction by Khartoum's officials. By accepting Khartoum's promise at face value-when the regime had never kept any promise or abided by any agreement made during its then 20 years of tyranny-Kerry signaled that the U.S. didn't really consider humanitarian conditions in Darfur a serious issue. Today we see the fruits of that cynicism.

[3] The Obama administration continues to refuse to push with any vigor or commitment for an end to Khartoum's humanitarian embargo, imposed on all rebel-controlled areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile in 2011. This is so even as the administration knows perfectly well that Khatoum's larger ambition is to starve the civilian population into submission and thereby weaken the SPLA-N. Indeed, the ambition was made explicit by General Siddig Amir, Director of Military Intelligence and Security, in the August 31, 2014 meeting noted above:

"This year the Sudan People's Army (SPLA-N) managed to cultivate large areas in South Kordofan State [of course it was the civilians of South Kordofan who cultivated a bumper crop, against very long odds-ER]. We must not allow them to harvest these crops. We should prevent them. Good harvest means supplies to the war effort. We must starve them, so that, commanders and civilians desert them and we recruit the deserters to use them in the war to defeat the rebels" (page 10 of English translation of minutes). (emphasis added)

Since the target of Amir's proposed campaign of "starvation" were all Nuba civilians, this is arguably a push for genocidal destruction (the authenticity of the minutes of the August 31 meeting has repeatedly been established, and that authenticity is now beyond reasonable doubt; see | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1w5). Yet again, the Obama administration is acquiescing before the genocidal actions of a regime with a long history of such crimes. During the time of Khartoum's military assaults on Abyei (May 20, 2011), South Kordofan (June 5, 2011), and subsequently Blue Nile (September 1, 2011) the spokesman for acquiescence was Obama's second special envoy for Sudan/South Sudan, Princeton Lyman.

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Princeton Lyman, Obama's disastrously expedient second special envoy for Sudan

[4] Special envoy Lyman was perversely skeptical about realities in South Kordofan through the critical month of June 2011, and despite overwhelming evidence of ethnically-targeted destruction-including mass graves near Kadugli (capital city of South Kordofan) that may contain many thousands of bodies. In an interview on the PBS "NewsHour," Lyman was asked a fully legitimate interview question: "Do you think that the Nuba mountains conflict and the kind of ethnically targeted killings going on there has the potential to turn that into another Darfur, a new Darfur?

"I don't think so for two reasons. One because the Nuba Mountain people are fighting back and I don't think the North is capable of dislodging large numbers of people on an ethnic basis from the Nuba Mountains. That's the reality on the ground. Second, I'm not sure that's the objective of the government, though local commanders may have a different point of view." (PBS Interview, June 28, 2011)

Rarely has a diplomat's assessment of a crisis been so completely undermined by facts-as they were known at the time and as they continue to be revealed. On the question of displacement, Amnesty International notes in its report of today:

Massive displacement has left around one-third of South Kordofan's population of approximately 1.4 million people internally displaced, living in precarious and insecure conditions. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, close to 100,000 people have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring South Sudan, itself wracked by internal conflict.

As to the "objective of the regime," General Amir of Military Intelligence ("we must starve them") finds a great deal of company in the comments of others at the August 31 meeting in Khartoum.

Lyman's assessment was deliberately misleading, as it had been in assessing violence in Kadugli earlier in that fateful June. His effort was to minimize the scale of Khartoum's atrocities, their ambitions, and the brutality of their tactics. For Lyman was guided by a larger diplomatic ambition, and it will hardly be surprising that behind the scenes, he was actually pushing for Congressional support for a lifting of sanctions against Khartoum, an effort that brought a clear rebuke from several Congressmen (see link to PDF version of original letter at | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1ME ). Lyman was apparently furious at this rebuke of his plans for further rapprochement, a fact suggesting there were apparently no people in greater Sudan that he was not willing to treat in the most expedient manner.

[5] Lyman's expediency and disingenuousness were most conspicuous in the utterly preposterous claims he made in a December 2011 interview, during which he repeatedly used the plural first-person pronoun, making clear he was speaking for the Obama administration:

"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." (Lyman's response to a question from Asharq Al-Awsat concerning Sudan and the "Arab Spring," December 3, 2011) (emphasis added)

This view still governs Obama administration policy despite the transparently fraudulent national elections of this past April, the increasing crackdown on what little news media freedom remains, the growing repressiveness in response to political opponents, and the need to use "shoot to kill" force of the sort that was central to the regime's violent suppression of a civil uprising by thousands of people in several cities throughout Sudan in September 2013; hundreds of people were killed by security forces. The price hikes that precipitated the protests of September 2013 have been vastly exceeded by subsequent price hikes and indeed outright shortages, including key commodities such as bread, clean water, and cooking fuel, as well as important services (e.g., electricity). A total lack foreign exchange currency-the product of the regime's gross economic mismanagement and obscene self-enrichment-makes it impossible for the regime to import enough wheat or refined petroleum products (recently diesel fuel shortages have also been widely reported).

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There is an acute lack of drinking water in many places throughout Sudan, a function of years of neglect by the NIF/NCP regime of key elements of the country's infrastructure

The notion that the current regime might "carry out reform via constitution measures" is so obviously ludicrous, so conspicuously absurd, that we simply cannot escape the conclusion that Lyman's response was meant for the benefit of a very particular audience in Khartoum. But as events completely overtook Lyman's skepticism and disingenuousness in June 2011, so they have completely destroyed any possible plausibility for the vision that he claimed for the Obama administration in his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

[6] The Obama administration also refuses to condemn in consequential fashion the deliberate aerial assaults on civilian targets throughout greater Sudan. For in addition to bombardments of civilians in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan, South Sudan has also been bombed by Khartoum on many occasions: in October 2011 the Yida refugee camp inside Unity State was hit with four bombs and refugees and aid workers in Upper Nile (also in South Sudan) were deliberately bombed as well).

To get a sense of just how inconsequential Obama administration condemnations are, we need only look at the rhetorically strenuous comments offered in June 2014 by one senior administration official and reported by Agence France-Presse:

The U.S. 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)

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What does it say of the U.S. and the international community that such pleas are necessary?  That they have gone unheeded?

How seriously did Khartoum take a U.S. condemnation made in "the strongest possible terms"? We had our answer three days later from the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (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)

And to be sure that Ms. Power got the message, Khartoum again bombed the MSF hospital at Frandala on January 20 of this year. Nothing was said on this occasion by the UN ambassador, certainly nothing in the "strongest possible terms." The attack, however, was certainly a conspicuous "targeting of civilians [in] violation of international humanitarian law," to borrow the hypocritical language of the July 5 U.S. Embassy statement:

A hospital operated by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was directly targeted in an aerial bombing in Sudan on January 20, forcing the suspension of medical activities, MSF announced today [22 January 2015]. The hospital, located in the Nuba Mountains village of Frandala in the South Kordofan region of Sudan, was bombed by the Sudanese Air Force (SAF). Repeated and targeted bombings in the region prevent the safe operation of medical activities, depriving the local population of lifesaving care...

"With more than 100 patients present, we were very lucky not to have more casualties because people simply had no time to seek protection. Everyone is shocked and frightened of further attacks."

Approximately 150 patients and staff were in the hospital when a SAF fighter jet [almost certainly a Sukhoi-24 air-to-ground attack plane] dropped a cluster of 13 bombs, two of which landed inside the hospital compound. The others struck just outside the hospital fence. One MSF staff member and one patient were injured. The property also suffered damage...(MSF press release, January 22, 2015[The Mother of Mercy Hospital was also attacked by a fighter jet from Khartoum's air force, identified from its profile by Dr. Tom Catena, surgeon at the hospital, as a Sukhoi-24-ER.]

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A young victim of Khartoum's relentless campaign of aerial bombardment in the Nuba Mountains, fortunate to have reached the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel (near Kauda).  This is one of the hospitals that Khartoum has repeatedly attacked from the air.

There was an appalling, if revealing, silence on the part of the Obama administration.

The meaning of the July 5, 2015 statement by the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum:

The U.S. Embassy statement of July 5, 2015 may not seem particularly significant. But given Khartoum's clear desire for some such statement-the regime specializes in convincing the international community to settle for moral equivalence when speaking about Khartoum's military forces and their opponents-a motive is not hard to discern. And as Princeton Lyman's characterization of the regime in December 2011 reveals, hypocrisy, expediency, disingenuousness, and mendacity are all part of the Obama administration's tool box in dealing with the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime-as well as dealing with the international community and the American people. A lust for counter-terrorism intelligence has overwhelmed any meaningful sense of obligation to the Sudanese people.

Is this really a policy that Americans support? Is this really a regime with which Americans wish rapprochement? The answer is all too clearly no, and this accounts for the relentless expediency and disingenuousness-not to say outright mendacity-on the part of the Obama administration; and history will reveal the brutal Realpolitik that currently emanates from the U.S. intelligence community to have been profoundly misguided.

Americans have been made complicit in the ongoing human suffering and destruction that are enabled by Obama administration policies of acquiescence and the accommodation of men who survive only because of their ruthless brutality-and who know as much.

Appendix A:

Sudan: Attacks in South Kordofan "constitute war crimes"

Amnesty International, August 4, 2015 (based on research conducted in South Kordofan in May 2015)

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Government forces in Sudan have committed war crimes against the civilian population of South Kordofan, Amnesty International has definitively confirmed for the first time in a new report published today.

The report, Don't we matter? Four years of unrelenting attacks against Civilians of Sudan's South Kordofan State, chronicles the human cost of the conflict which has claimed hundreds of civilian lives and sparked a dire humanitarian crisis. It finds that indiscriminate aerial bombardments and ground offensives as well as the deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals constitute war crimes. For years Sudanese Armed Forces have been raining down bombs and shells indiscriminately on civilian populations, destroying lives and livelihoods and triggering a major humanitarian crisis.

"For years Sudanese Armed Forces have been raining down bombs and shells indiscriminately on civilian populations, destroying lives and livelihoods and triggering a major humanitarian crisis," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's ‎Deputy Regional Director. "Targeting civilian infrastructure and civilian areas which have no legitimate military objective, using prohibited weapons and other weapons in an indiscriminate way are war crimes. It is time for the international community to stop averting its gaze from South Kordofan and take urgent action to end this conflict."

Based on a research mission to the country, Amnesty International has found that Sudanese Armed Forces have targeted civilian areas and infrastructure which have no legitimate military objective. The use of prohibited weapons - such as cluster bombs - launched from high-flying aircraft, has resulted in civilian casualties. Amnesty International found cluster munitions at four sites in two separate locations in Dalami and Umm Dorain counties and heard testimony of how children have been killed playing with unexploded ordinance.

Between January and April 2015, the Sudanese Air Force dropped more than 374 bombs on 60 locations across South Kordofan under the control of the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N). The aerial bombardments and ground shelling over this period resulted in the deaths of at least 35 civilians, injured a further 70 individuals, and damaged civilian buildings including schools.

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, 26 health facilities (hospitals, clinics and health units) have been bombed in SPLA-N controlled areas, some of which were clearly identified with flags and crosses on their roofs. Only two out of four hospitals in SPLA-N controlled areas are still functioning.

Alfadil Khalifa Mohamed described to Amnesty International how an Antonov aircraft bombing raid killed his pregnant wife and unborn child in an IDP camp where they sought refuge in Dalami county on 6 February. "The bomb fell, only about ten metres from where she was standing. I ran to where she was, but she was already dead. Our baby was still alive.  But there was no medical treatment available to save the baby's life."

The bombing campaign has left many afraid to work in their fields with devastating consequences for food security. The intensification of bombings during harvest time and the planting season raises concerns that this might be part of a deliberate strategy by the Sudanese government to hinder people's ability to cultivate their crops.

Salha, an internally displaced person in Kimli IDP site, told Amnesty International researchers: "We haven't planted anything for the past two years. We couldn't because we had to run away. We are too afraid to work in our fields." 

Humanitarian crisis

The Sudanese government has refused to allow humanitarian relief into areas controlled by the SPLA-N exacerbating a protracted humanitarian crisis and has leaving the population without access to vaccinations and essential medicines.  Children in SPLA-N controlled areas in South Kordofan are excluded from an ongoing UNICEF/WHO immunization campaign against measles in Sudan. Between May 2014 and January 2015 an outbreak of measles claimed the lives of at least 30 of these children in one hospital alone.

Massive displacement has left around one-third of South Kordofan's population of approximately 1.4 million people internally displaced, living in precarious and insecure conditions. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, close to 100,000 people have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring South Sudan, itself wracked by internal conflict.

"We have been telling the world but nothing changes"

Despite the ongoing conflict, now in its fifth year, and escalation of attacks in recent months, the regional and international response has all but ceased. There has been no UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on South Kordofan since 2012. Recent UNSC resolutions and statements failed to address concerns in South Kordofan. African Union (AU) efforts to mediate the conflict between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM-N, facilitated by the AU High-Level Implementation Panel, ground to a halt in December 2014.

We have been telling the world for four years about what is happening to us. The facts are well known. But nothing changes.

Alfadil Khalifa Mohamed, a local schoolteacher, told Amnesty International: "We have been telling the world for four years about what is happening to us. The facts are well known. But nothing changes."

Amnesty International is calling on the UNSC and the AU Peace and Security Council, to put pressure on the Government of Sudan and SPLM-N to allow for unfettered humanitarian access in South Kordofan.

"This conflict has settled into a vicious deadlock and international bodies must urgently re-engage in order to end these grave human rights violations and war crimes and to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice," said Michelle Kagari. "War crimes cannot be allowed to be committed with impunity and a population facing a protracted humanitarian crisis can no longer be ignored by the world."

Amnesty International has also received information of international humanitarian law and human rights violations by the SPLA-N forces in government controlled areas of South Kordofan. The SPLA-N forces regularly carry out attacks by means of ground shelling and incursions by ground forces into government controlled areas. The Sudan Development Organisation (SUDO) reports that on 12 March 2015, the SPLA-N attacked the SAF present in Kalogi town, killing 27 civilians and injuring 25 more. 25,000 civilians were displaced following this attack, to the outskirts of the town. SPLA-N forces proceeded to attack another five villages around the area of Kalogi.

[This last paragraph seems in need of clearer, more effective formulation if it is going to be considered in the same context as deliberate assaults on civilians by Khartoum's forces. Collateral damage is a brutal fact of war, and while there are partially defined limits to what kind of civilian presence should constrain the dropping of bombs or shelling of ordnance, the fact is that this is a murky area. If the SPLA-N did "attack the SAF present in Kalogi town, killing 27 civilians and injuring 25 more," it would seem to be an open question as to whether military circumstances dictated that the SAF should have been protected by virtue of situating themselves inside Kalogi town. It is highly unlikely that the civilians in Kalogi wanted an SAF presence, and we may be confident that the SAF contingent present was using the town, in effect, as a human shield. This has been true on many previous occasions. Should artillery fire, targeted as precisely as possible, be ruled out as a military option in such circumstances? Given the asymmetric nature of war in South Kordofan, with the SPLA-N fighting what is largely a guerrilla war but with substantial firepower at its disposal, this is not a simple question. What is clear is the fact that Khartoum unambiguously targets civilians for aerial and artillery bombardment, that there is no effort to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.

Full report at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr54/2162/2015/en/

Eric Reeves 

Smith College
Northampton, MA  01063
       413-585-3326
       ereeves@smith.edu

       Skype: ReevesSudan 

 

 

 

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