By Esther Sprague and Cynthia Tai
In response to the serious humanitarian crisis in Sudan and current negotiations related to the crisis, Sudanese and those advocating on their behalf sent a letter this week to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. President Obama urging them to uphold international humanitarian law and to insist that the Sudan government allow multiple access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance by the international community to war-affected populations.
Since 1989, the people of Sudan have lived under a military dictatorship when General Omar al-Bashir staged a coup and seized power. Since then, the country has largely been at war within its own borders as Sudanese have fought for equal rights, including access to health care, education, food and water in their communities; and to save their land from a regime intent on stealing the country’s resources. Millions have died while others have been violently attacked and forcibly displaced from their homes. Basic freedoms do not exist, and those who question the regime risk torture and death. The economy is in shambles due to isolation rightly imposed for egregious violations of human rights; and Bashir and other members of the government are wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and in the case of Bashir, genocide for crimes in the Darfur region.
The lack of media coverage in western news sources over the last few years does not correlate to a decrease in persecution and other crimes committed by the Sudan government. It does not mean that Darfur has been “solved”. Instead, the crimes have persisted in Darfur and in other regions of Sudan and have spread to the people living in the Nuba Mountains and other areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, commonly referred to as the Two Areas.
In January 2011, the southern region of Sudan voted almost unanimously to separate and to form a new state, South Sudan. Those left along Sudan’s new southern border in the Two Areas refused to disarm after rigged state elections in South Kordofan in May 2011, knowing too well the policies of the government from their own experience of decades of war and by simply looking west to the ongoing state-sponsored violence in Darfur. The government’s response was no surprise. In June 2011, the government began attacks that spread to both regions and it maintains a campaign of consistent aerial bombardment on elementary schools, community centers, homes and farms all the while refusing to allow the international community to deliver humanitarian aid to the war affected populations. The people of the Two Areas look to the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) for protection, and it is this group that has been in negotiations with the regime under the auspices of the African Union Highly Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) to secure humanitarian assistance for the Two Areas.
The 10th round of negotiations recently ended in Addis Abba without success. The government insisted on cross-line humanitarian assistance, meaning assistance that comes from the same government that has been attacking its citizens. The SPLM-N requested cross-line and cross-border assistance (assistance through adjacent countries such as South Sudan and Ethiopia) largely based on the fear expressed by people living in the Two Areas who, understandably, do not trust aid coming from the government that is bombing them. The distrust is so strong that some people have indicated that they would not feed their animals food from the Sudan government. Similarly, many in the population have indicated that they would not accept medical aid such as a simple measles vaccination for fear that the government would deliver poison instead.
The need for assistance is serious as indiscriminate bombing has made farming virtually impossible. Many of the people from the Two Areas have seen their homes destroyed and/or have been forced to abandon their homes to seek shelter in caves, which are difficult for Antonov airplanes to permeate. Most are reduced to a diet of grass, boiled poisonous plants, insects and roots in order to survive. In addition, their survival is at risk because of below average rainfall due to El Niño. FEWS.NET (the Famine Early Warning Systems Network) indicates that the Nuba Mountains is in crisis with regard to food security; it warns that in the Two Areas “food security is deteriorating;” and furthermore “without access to humanitarian assistance or opportunities to trade, these populations are likely to be much more acutely food insecure later in the year.”
As negotiations for humanitarian assistance are expected to resume again shortly, 115 Sudanese civil society groups from the Two Areas and from other parts of Sudan in addition to human rights organizations, activists, scholars and other prominent leaders have delivered an urgent message to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. President Barack Obama regarding unhindered assistance from multiple locations for the Two Areas and throughout Sudan. The letter below notes that “humanitarian actions are founded on four guiding principles: humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence”, principles clearly not observed by the regime. The letter recognizes that, “for obvious reasons, the people of the Two Areas do not trust the government of Sudan, and many parts of the population may well refuse to accept assistance that emanates from government-controlled areas. This will make assistance coming solely from government controlled areas ineffective and will undermine the very result that the international community is hoping to create.” The letter concludes by urging “the United States, the United Nations, and other interested parties to stop the ongoing crimes against humanity in the Two Areas and throughout Sudan by upholding international humanitarian law that ensures the unhindered delivery of assistance from multiple locations by the international community so that the people of Sudan can receive the life giving assistance that they so sorely need.”
The next round of negotiations could mean the difference between life and death for people from the Two Areas. Fortunately, international humanitarian law was established for such an occasion.
Blocking humanitarian aid to innocent civilians living in conflict zones is a violation of international law; however its effectiveness is dependent on the will of the world’s leaders to uphold and implement the law in favor of the civilians under attack. For the people of Sudan and those advocating on their behalf, it is General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and President Obama who bear this responsibility.