Academic journal article African Studies Review

Humanitarian Obstruction as a Crime against Humanity: The Example of Sudan

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Humanitarian Obstruction as a Crime against Humanity: The Example of Sudan

Article excerpt

Widespread military violence, much of it targeting civilians, accelerated dramatically this past June in the Soutfi Kordofan region of Sudan, and as of September 1 it had spread to Blue Nile State. Like much of Sudan, South Kordofan and Blue Nile are a highly combustible mix of etiinic animosities, tortured history, and great numbers of heavily armed men (see Small Arms Survey 2011). South Kordofan has the added misfortune of being the Khartoum regime's only oil-producing state following the independence of South Sudan on July 9, 2011. But while geographically in northern Sudan, much of Blue Nile and South Kordofan - and virtually the entire Nuba Mountains area in the center of South Kordofan - identifies with the South culturally, politically, and militarily. Tens of thousands of Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers are from the Nuba and southern Blue Nile; they refuse to be sent back to the South or disarmed - and if pushed by Khartoum, they will fight to save their lands and cultural heritage. The SPLA-Nordi is now a distinct entity, and considers itself and its political counterpart (the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North) as fighting an aggressive tyranny in their homelands.

This is not hard to understand, particularly in the case of the Nuba. In the 1990s, during die first military action undertaken by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party, the African people of the Nuba were nearly annihilated; hundreds of thousands were killed or displaced from their fertile lands. Though not a widely known event, there is almost no dissent among students of Sudan that this episode of ethnically targeted destruction was in fact genocide. And one of its most notorious and consequential features was a total embargo on humanitarian aid to the region for much of the 1990s, even as South Sudan was the fitful beneficiary of the U.N. umbrella effort known as "Operation Lifeline Sudan." This embargo is of central concern here, given the horrific human suffering and destruction that followed direcdy from it.

Khartoum's more recent military offensive in South Kordofan and Blue Nile extends die offensive begun on May 20 in die contested border region of Abyei (which lies immediately to the south of South Kordofan). Only belatedly has the international community acknowledged that the incident cited by Khartoum as casus belliwas merely a pretext and that the attack was premeditated. The same is true of the regime's assault in South Kordofan, where on June 5 tanks and military equipment began to pour into Kadugli, die state capital. Within days widespread and clearly planned military actions were underway, again pitting Arab militias and Khartoum's regular armed forces against the African populations of the region, in particular those of the Nuba Mountains.

In Kadugli there were authoritative reports of house-to-house searches for Nuba, who were then piled into catde trucks - or summarily executed. Roadblocks reminiscent of Rwanda in April 1994, and serving the same purpose, were also widely observed. Satellite imagery confirmed the existence of mass graves, as did eyewitness accounts from the ground collected by U.N. human rights investigators (who were shordy thereafter expelled by Khartoum). The presence in Kadugli of a U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) peacekeeping team did nothing to deter violence, or even protect African Nuba people who sought protection within the U.N. compound.

Moreover, all of South Kordofan is within reach of Khartoum's major military air base at el-Obeid, which is just to the north. This has meant a constant aerial assault on civilian and humanitarian targets, especially in the Nuba Mountains - a continuation of the pattern I've analyzed and detailed for die past thirteen years (see Reeves 2011). The aerial offensive in South Kordofan has been extensive and concerted, and the clear goal has been to eliminate the troublesome populations of the Nuba once and for all. …

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