DURING the last few years, efforts have been made to publicize
and prevent the use of food as a weapon of war. Unfortunately, the
combatants in Sudan are a step ahead of the game. Outright racial,
ethnic, and religious genocide have become the preferred tactics in
an increasingly brutal power play.
Entire subcultures risk extinction in parts of southern Sudan.
The denial or blocking of relief food is often only the last step
in a descending staircase of terror, which includes forcible
displacement, stripping assets, slavery, laying mines on
agricultural lands, poisoning wells, and bombing market areas. For
most southern Sudanese children who have never experienced peace,
these degradations are perceived as normal facets of life.
Only a few years ago, 150,000 people lived in the town of Bor on
the bank of the Nile River. Retaken by the government after
fratricidal ethnic conflict, Bor is now a ghost town. There were
once hundreds of thousands of cattle in Kongor; recent United
Nations overflights reveal "not a single cow." At least eight towns
were nearly depopulated by a government offensive last summer. In
Ayod, 60,000 displaced people survived on wild foods during
January, with malnutrition peaking at more than 40 percent.
None of the combatants are exempt from blame. The government
regularly bombs civilians in southwestern Sudan. Besides bombing
rebel-held towns, government forces continue to hold civilians
hostage in the towns they control. In Juba, 300,000 displaced and
local people are used as human shields for the garrison outpost
against rebel attack, while fervent fundamentalists are free to
carry out their Islamization and Arabization campaigns with
Factions of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA)
regularly destroy or steal crops and raid cattle, exacerbating
ethnic tension in the south. Both the SPLA and government have
armed tribal-based militia that have wreaked havoc on certain
groups because of their perceived political orientation. A group of
prominent Southern Church leaders was recently moved to express its
disapprobation in a letter to SPLA factions: "We have tasted
liberation, but now the taste has turned sour as some of our
liberators have become oppressors of our people."
Particular mention must be made of a transitional zone between
north and south called the Nuba Mountains, an area the size of
Scotland in which 1 million people reside. In a vicious campaign of
ethnic cleansing unparalleled on the African continent, government
army and militia forces rape women, burn villages, enslave
children, and execute intellectuals in an effort to depopulate an
area rich in minerals and agricultural potential. Thousands of Nuba
people have been relocated to "peace villages," where they are used
as cheap labor and subject to virulent Arabization and Islamization
campaigns. Access to the Nuba Mountains and to the "peace villages"
is completely denied to international organizations, although one
Sudan Red Crescent survey team found malnutrition rates of 60
percent last summer.
The ill treatment of millions of Sudanese civilians expressly
violates international law. The Geneva Conventions, ratified by 164
states, spell out clear rules that all victims of war have the
right to protection from murder, torture, and starvation. Article
Three of the Conventions forbids the use of weapons against
civilians. Articles 55 and 56 of the UN Charter pledge states to a
collective responsibility for the observance of human rights and
fundamental freedoms. …