“A UN Seat for Genocide,” The Washington Post, 15 August 2000
With steadily increasing ferocity, an air campaign of genocidal destruction is being mounted in the African nation of Sudan. Sudan’s civil war—already the most destructive in a half-century–has taken on an even more savagely brutal quality. The civilian population of southern Sudan, primarily the Dinka and Nuer peoples, is almost daily the target of deliberate aerial bombardment by the illegitimate Khartoum regime in the north.
Nominally Khartoum is the “government” of Sudan. What Khartoum really governs are the country’s military resources–and the choices of civilian targets. Their favorites are undefended villages, schools, hospitals, herds of cattle, refugee centers and emergency feeding stations. One attack on a school in the Nuba region killed 14 young children as they began their English lesson book, “Read With Us.”
This air war is without question the cruelest and most destructive military effort by a recognized government anywhere in the world. In this case, not only is the government recognized, it is set to take a seat on the U.N. Security Council this fall. The same body that should even now be issuing the harshest condemnation of Khartoum’s actions will instead be welcoming Sudan’s envoy.
It is important to recognize the terrible ambitions this envoy will represent. For what makes the government’s air war on civilians so destructive is not just the number of people killed and maimed by the shrapnel-loaded bombs. The larger effect of these attacks is terror, and a dispersal of the civilian population. The consequence is much less efficient agricultural production in a land continually stalked by famine.
This is all quite deliberate on Khartoum’s part. Civilian destruction and dispersal are the means of ensuring that the opposition military forces in the south are denied food, or the aid of a cohesive society. It is a crude but terribly effective “weapon of mass destruction.”
To make sure of the genocidal efficacy of the bombing campaign, the Khartoum regime has also escalated its assaults on humanitarian efforts. It is attacking, with much greater frequency, the medical and food relief programs of those trying heroically to save the people of the south from disease and starvation. Many of the hospitals and clinics that have been targeted are run by the world’s finest humanitarian organizations.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is but one example. Its clinic at Chelkou, in one of the most distressed regions of southern Sudan, was deliberately bombed on July 14. Reliable sources confirm that there was no military presence near Chelkou. Moreover, as part of its standard protocol, the ICRC had fully apprised the Khartoum regime of its presence in Chelkou and had secured permission. It was bombed anyway.
On July 25, some 200 miles to the southeast in the village of Billing, the Khartoum regime again bombed the Red Cross. Pilots on the ground, who had an approved flight plan from Khartoum, heard the bombers coming and desperately spread out a large Red Cross flag on the ground. It did no good. The bombs fell anyway.
This is the government that will soon be represented on the U.N. Security Council. It is a disgrace that it has not been criticized in the most direct and forceful way for its barbarous cruelty. It is beyond disgrace and moral conception that it will smugly take its place at the table of the world’s governing body.
Rumbek. Malakon. Akwem. Lui. Kauda. Names that for the most part don’t show up even on detailed maps of Sudan. But all have become targets for a campaign of aerial terror that has as its clear goal creating dislocation and famine among the African populations of the south. The regime in Khartoum, which looks to the Arabic and Muslim world for political and cultural identity–as well as support–is conducting a war that is animated by viciously destructive racism. Its ultimate goal is to destroy as many people as possible who might constitute an obstacle to its domination of vast oil resources inconveniently located in the south.
This is genocide. Congress declared as much more than a year ago: House Resolution 75, passed almost unanimously, speaks of the Khartoum regime’s “deliberately and systematically committing genocide in southern Sudan.”
But if these words find no echo in resolute action, if they receive no amplification from our allies, they will be mere words. And if all Khartoum hears are words, we may be sure it will continue its savagely ambitious air war on civilians and humanitarian relief.
[The writer is a literature professor who has taken leave to write and do research on Sudan.]