With much contrived celebration by President Obama, U.S. special envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman this month resigned—without explanation, and without discernible success. As he retires, he leaves uncounted hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk of starvation in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and in Blue Nile, both embattled regions of Sudan facing ruthless campaigns of annihilation by the regular and militia forces of the Khartoum regime. Darfur also remains the scene of a grim genocide by attrition, having been relegated to the diplomatic back-burner by Lyman and others in the Obama administration—this despite Obama’s impassioned rhetoric about “genocide in Darfur” during the 2008 presidential election. And greater Sudan—Sudan and South Sudan—are perilously close to renewed war; violence earlier this year flared up along a contested border in the richest region of oil production, nearly tipping the two countries into much wider fighting.
The contested region of Abyei—seized militarily by Khartoum early in Lyman’s tenure—remains a dangerous flash-point for renewed conflict, as does the so-called “Mile 14″ band of land south of the River Kiir in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal State (to the west of Abyei). Nearly all issues left unresolved following Southern independence in July 2011—issues stipulated specifically in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)—continue to pose threats of further violence, even full-scale war. The economies in both Sudan and South Sudan are in a dangerous free-fall that creates immense pressures on political and military actors in both Khartoum and Juba. Khartoum refuses to abide by an agreement on oil transport signed under the auspices of the African Union on September 27, 2012—and subsequently endorsed by the AU Peace and Security Council. The economic meltdown consequent upon a loss of oil revenues brings a host of threats to both countries, mainly that of a massively destabilizing hyper-inflation.
Lyman’s tenure began in early 2011 as the issue of Abyei was coming to a boil. Failure to resolve the issue symbolized larger failures by both the Bush and Obama administrations to see through implementation of the CPA signed by Khartoum and the South. Although the issues involved in Abyei’s status had been definitively resolved—both in the CPA’s “Abyei Protocol” and in a “final and binding” ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (2009)—Lyman and Obama administration officials pushed the South to “compromise” yet further over Abyei with Khartoum. The regime rightly saw this as a sign of expediency and concluded it could militarily seize Abyei without significant consequence. This is precisely what happened on May 21, 2011, despite several months of visible military build-up. More than 100,000 indigenous Dinka Ngok were displaced, and the vast majority remain displaced in South Sudan a year and a half later.
Not coincidentally, following feckless condemnations of the Abyei seizure by Lyman and other international actors, Khartoum launched another massive military campaign two weeks later in South Kordofan, this time against the African tribal groups of the Nuba Mountains. Although nominally targeting indigenous rebel forces, Khartoum’s butchery fell primarily on Nuba civilians. Killings, torture, rape, and mass internment defined June 2011 for Nuba in Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan. Mass graves, capable of containing tens of thousands of bodies, were confirmed both by satellite imagery and multiple eyewitness accounts, many reported by a UN human rights team that was stationed in Kadugli during this grim month of Rwanda-like violence. Lyman expressed skepticism, despite the evidence, and in at least one case denied realities on the basis of U.S. “intelligence” that was either erroneous or fabricated.
Khartoum’s brutal assault continues in the form of relentless aerial bombardment throughout the Nuba, including systematic destruction of foodstocks and agriculture. Hundreds of thousands of people are slowly starving to death, hundreds of thousands more have been displaced (a great many to South Sudan)—and yet Khartoum refuses all humanitarian access. Despite a proposal on access for relief organizations made by the Arab League, the African Union, and the UN—February 2, 2012—Khartoum adamantly refuses to accept the proposal except in the abstract (the indigenous rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North, signed immediately in order to protect civilians). The reality is that no food, medicine or shelter is reaching the Nuba except by surreptitious means, and these are not remotely adequate to the scale of the crisis. The entire duration of this barbaric refusal to allow humanitarian access has occurred during Lyman’s tenure.
Part of the problem is that Lyman initially refused to credit the many reports of what was occurring in South Kordofan, and scoffed at claims of a repeat of the well-documented genocide in the Nuba Mountains during the 1990s: “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…. That’s the reality on the ground. Second, I’m not sure that’s the objective of the government….”
Both claims have been spectacularly upended by well-established facts on the ground; eighteen months later, as Lyman resigns, humanitarian access still hasn’t been secured and many hundreds of thousands have been displaced—and continue to be displaced—by Khartoum’s tactics, according to the UN. A similarly brutal campaign of extermination began in neighboring Blue Nile on September 1, 2011. Relentless aerial bombardment of civilians and civilian agriculture, mass killings, rape, village destruction—all familiar tactics in Khartoum’s counter-insurgency warfare were fully in evidence throughout Blue Nile. Here, too, Khartoum has denied all humanitarian access. Interviews with fleeing refugees provide horrific accounts that in aggregate provide the basis for a genocide indictment. Altogether, some 300,000 civilians have fled the Nuba and Blue Nile to South Sudan and Ethiopia; hundreds of thousands of those remaining are displaced and largely without food. And with the advent of the dry season, tens of thousands more are on their way southward—at least those strong enough to make the trek. Many simply die where they are or during the journey to refugee camps.
All of this has occurred during the tenure of retiring U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman.
As catastrophe was growing along the border and in Blue Nile and the Nuba, Lyman continued the policy of “de-coupling” Darfur from primary U.S. Sudan policy concerns, in particular whether to continue U.S. designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism. Lyman’s hopelessly incompetent predecessor, Air Force Major General (ret.) Scott Gration, had declared that there was nothing but politics behind this designation. He seemed content to ignore the fact that Khartoum has allowed Sudan to serve as a conduit for weapons from Iran to Hamas in Gaza, many of these recently put on grim display. Lyman simply failed to address the issue.
“De-coupling” Darfur (declared publicly in these terms by senior administration officials in November 2010) has been justified by Lyman on the basis of a meaningless agreement negotiated in Qatar. But the “Doha Document for Peace in Darfur,” signed July 2011, has done nothing to improve human security or humanitarian access in a region that has endured ruthless assault for a decade. Instead, both security and relief access have deteriorated significantly since the agreement was signed. This is unsurprising: virtually all Darfuri civil society groups and rebel factions have bitterly rejected the DDPD, which was signed only by Khartoum and a small, factitious rebel group (the “Liberation and Justice Movement”) cooked up by Libya’s Muamar Gadhafi and Gration. Yet even as Dane Smith, the Obama administration diplomat working until very recently on Darfur, now admits Khartoum has met none of the DDPD’s security or reconstruction commitments, Lyman has pushed the agreement as a viable plan for peace. This was disingenuous and deeply destructive of the chances for real peace or at least an improvement in security and humanitarian access.
Central in Lyman’s policy vision is a perverse insistence on “moral equivalence” between Khartoum and the South, holding each equally responsible for the failure of negotiations as well as for cross-border violence. But the evidence available will simply not support such conclusions. The moral, political and negotiating equities of the two countries are simply not the same—not concerning Abyei, or negotiation of border delineation and demarcation, or in supporting rebels in the territories of the other. Most notably, only Khartoum has an air force, which it uses to conduct relentless bombing attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets throughout Sudan, as well as in South Sudan’s border regions. Both are egregious violations of international law, and the latter attacks are acts of war. It has seemed expedient for Lyman not to make mention of these conspicuous facts.
It was finally an expedient “moral equivalence” that underlay Lyman’s bizarre claim last year: “we do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” The notion that this brutally repressive regime can preside over reform via “democratic measures” is absurd. There is not a shred of historical evidence to support such a conclusion. Indeed, the most powerful northern rebel political movement (the Sudan Revolutionary Front, which includes the SPLA/M-N) is avowedly working for regime change; the U.S. position as articulated by Lyman is recognized by the SRF as cynical, and perversely motivated.
Indeed, like so much in U.S. Sudan policy, it is a fig-leaf for more ruthless calculations about geopolitical interests in the Horn of African and Khartoum’s perceived usefulness in combatting terrorism. This, sadly, is the essence of current U.S. Sudan policy, and millions of people finds themselves at acute risk because of this moral myopia. It is Princeton Lyman’s grim legacy.
[ Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, is author most recently of Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012, www.CompromisingWithEvil.org ]