Is there no atrocity that will lead to full-throated international condemnation of Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime? Can Khartoum continue its barbarous aerial assault on civilian and humanitarian targets in southern Sudan without facing meaningful sanctions? The answer appears to be that no action by Khartoum weighs more heavily than its southern oil concessions and its unencumbered petrodollars. Witness today’s forceful, if apparently futile, condemnation of this past weekend’s bombing at Malual Kan by the immensely distinguished International Rescue Committee (IRC): “The IRC strongly condemns Sunday’s bombing by the Government of Sudan of a peaceful village in southern Sudan”; the IRC further notes that the village is “far from the frontlines and is an established centre for relief operations for the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, including IRC” (Reuters, June 26, 2002). But in the killing fields of southern Sudan, this is just another day’s work for Khartoum’s bombers.
Eric Reeves [June 26, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
How can the world look on as the National Islamic Front regime continues to bomb innocent civilians and humanitarian relief efforts in southern Sudan? What is there about the people of southern Sudan that renders their suffering and death inconsequential for the community of nations? How can such atrocities, such unspeakable barbarism—committed on a grimly ongoing basis—be lacking in newsworthiness? Such aerial assaults are unique in all the world: in no other country does a recognized government regularly, deliberately—without compunction or consequence—bomb and strafe innocent civilians and humanitarian relief efforts within its own borders. In Sudan, there have been many hundreds of such attacks confirmed by humanitarian workers, human rights teams, and UN personnel involved in Operation Lifeline Sudan.
The ugly truth needs to be spoken openly: this inaction and invisibility is racism of the worst sort, directly reflected in the diffidence and acquiescence on the part of the international community and the UN. Among most of the international news media, there is a correspondingly culpable indifference to what would be eminently newsworthy events if the victims were European or simply lighter-skinned. One only has to imagine the charges that would have been brought (and reported on in detail) at The Hague against any Serbian military commander complicit in ordering such bombing attacks as occur on such a regular basis in Sudan.
And yet the Khartoum regime—despite its aerial savagery—acts with impunity. Indeed, it finds itself with the prospect of European Union development aid sometime in the next year, and an international line-up of countries wishing to enter into oil development projects. Even IMF rehabilitation seems in the works, based on oil revenues derived from oil concessions that have been “secured” by such bombing attacks, as well as helicopter gunship attacks and massive scorched-earth warfare also directed against civilians and humanitarian relief.
The US for its part seems to have given up condemning these attacks, even when confirmed by an organization as distinguished as the International Rescue Committee (original confirmation was available from UN sources this past Sunday, certainly in terms authoritative enough to have justified American condemnation). Obviously such bombings don’t comport very well with the Danforth report and its unseemly self-celebration on this issue. Danforth claimed to have secured agreement for the halting of such attacks, and for their international monitoring; months after the agreement, there is no credible monitoring force visibly in the making.
There can be no excuse, no exculpation, no morally cogent explanation for the inaction that allows such aerial attacks on civilians and humanitarian relief to remain without significant consequence, or even truly international condemnation. These are not isolated events, nor are they events that happen in the abstract. Real Sudanese—with names, families, aspirations to live and work in peace—are killed by the bombs. At least four people were killed at Malual Kan, apparently near the compound of another distinguished humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders.
And the attacks are ongoing: just this morning the communications office of the Catholic diocese of Torit reported that the towns of Ikotos and Isoke had been bombed by Khartoum’s Antonovs. In the last two weeks, UN sources also report bombings at Kapoeta (Eastern Equatoria) and Mading (Eastern Upper Nile). Numerous other confirmed attacks have taken place this month, dozens have occurred this year, and hundreds in past years. And of course we may be morally certain, given the vast size of southern Sudan, that there have been hundreds and hundreds of attacks that could not be confirmed—or for which confirmation seemed pointless for those enduring such constant assault.
These ongoing aerial attacks, so deeply destructive of civil society and the agricultural economy, are even more deadly when seen in the context of Khartoum’s present denial of humanitarian aid to 1.7 million people in southern Sudan (source: UN World Food Program press release, April 5, 2002; full text available upon request). As famine again stalks southern Sudan, especially in the oil regions, the bombings become steadily more consequential, more deeply threatening to human life and livelihood.
The community of nations either accords full meaning to these lives, these Sudanese lives, or it ceases to be meaningfully a community. The issue does not permit of dilatory responses: if present ghastly realities do not compel immediate action, the world will be ratifying its already massive failure of the people of southern Sudan in the midst of their unspeakable agony.