Testimony of Eric Reeves, before the Committee on International Relations, US House of Representatives (Rayburn House Office Building, June 5, 2002)
“Defining the Next Step on the Path to Peace in Sudan”
Eric Reeves, Smith College
Sudan’s ongoing human catastrophe demands of the United States the clearest and most decisive policy response. Indeed, such a policy is long overdue, as present peace negotiations founder for lack of decisive and coordinated international support. The State Department must fashion a comprehensive policy for Sudan, devoting the necessary diplomatic resources; it must work with our European allies to create a clear and unified peace process; and it must respond effectively to the incontrovertible and massively destructive realities of oil development in Sudan. And it must do all this with an appropriate sense of urgency and high-level leadership.
For the destruction and displacement of the Nuer and Dinka people of the oil regions and elsewhere in the south is nothing less than genocide—the deliberate destruction of these people as non-Islamicized, non-Arabized impediments to further oil development and the consolidation of Khartoum’s military grip on political power throughout Sudan. The Khartoum regime has revealed an ongoing willingness to deploy high-altitude bombers, helicopter gunships, and ground assault forces against civilians, including innocent women and children, adding to the unfathomable human suffering and loss of life in southern Sudan–now exceeding two million dead and four million displaced.
These realities lead me to believe that we simply cannot accept as a principle of US policy the limitations articulated by former Senator John Danforth in his recent report to President Bush: “we would not attempt to arbitrate the competing claims of the parties in Sudan.” Genocidal destruction does not afford us the luxury of such moral equivalency in assessing the war in Sudan, or the ways of ending it. This is not to argue against engaging in a serious peace process, even with the brutal National Islamic Front regime. Rather, it is an argument for assessing soberly and realistically what will be required to insure that Khartoum’s engagement is in good faith.
For this reason it would be unwise to see in the Danforth report anything approximating to a policy roadmap. Indeed, the report is fundamentally misconceived in its approach—expending US leverage with Khartoum, such as it is, in so-called “confidence-building measures” rather than in holding the regime to a clear time-table and set of benchmarks in a fully credible and unified peace process. This is not to diminish the importance of the issues addressed in the Danforth report. But ending the terrible scourge of government-sponsored slavery, securing unconstrained and ongoing humanitarian access, halting barbarous assaults on civilians, and even sustaining a cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains—all require a just and lasting peace if they are to be truly realized.
To be sure, there is presently particular urgency for humanitarian relief efforts. The National Islamic Front in Khartoum is now deliberately withholding humanitarian aid from 1.7 million people, the latest estimate from UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan. This continues a long and unforgivably cruel policy of manipulating humanitarian aid as a weapon of war. I attach several documents bearing on the present deteriorating situation of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) which show how Khartoum, even when not explicitly denying humanitarian food aid, manipulates the procedures of OLS to deny emergency food and medical aid to southern civilians. As I have suggested in a recent analysis, Khartoum has begun a process that could result in the total collapse of OLS. But as important as it is to work for an end to Khartoum’s manipulation of humanitarian aid as a weapon of war, the most meaningful humanitarian relief can come only when a just peace has been secured.
With such a goal in mind, the US should also commit the financial support necessary for long-term peace-building, and in particular to the strengthening of civil society institutions and capacity to insure that a just settlement will be deeply rooted and sustainable. This represents a modest commitment in light of the massive US expenditures over thirteen years of participation in Operation Lifeline Sudan. Peace will not come easily to Sudan, and it will be sustained only with vigorous commitment to reconstructing a viable civil society. The State Department should be thinking now about how to win the peace that presents itself as a clear, if tenuous, opportunity.
But the opportunity for peace must be seized in effective fashion. Too often the Danforth report has put the cart before the horse, unwilling to see that many important issues simply cannot be resolved without first securing a just peace. At other points, the report attempts to prejudge critical diplomatic issues. This is especially true in its commentary on the possibilities for the southern self-determination referendum that is one of the key features of the “Declaration of Principles.”
This “Declaration of Principles” has anchored the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) peace process since 1994, but more significantly since 1997, when Khartoum agreed to negotiate peace under these key principles. The US has committed itself fully to the IGAD process, as have our European allies. The self-determination referendum holds out the possibility of southern secession as one outcome of a vote to be held after an interim period. Thus the Danforth report’s unilateral effort to abrogate the terms of self-determination—virtually ruling out the possibility of secession—compromises US commitment to the IGAD effort, and in the process accedes to Khartoum’s position on this key issue prior to the peace talks in which self-determination will actually be negotiated.
This redefinition of self-determination is almost certainly an effort to induce a more cooperative effort from Egypt, which has made no secret of its intense dismay at any thought of southern self-determination; but Senator Danforth’s redefinition has alienated many southern constituencies, and has left them wondering about the degree of US commitment to self-determination in any meaningful form. Egypt is a critical regional player, but must not be allowed to dictate the terms under which peace is negotiated. The Libyan-Egyptian Joint Initiative must be recognized for what it is: a transparent diplomatic ploy to take southern self-determination off the bargaining table
The logic of the peace process is also misconceived by the Danforth report in its discussion of oil revenue-sharing. Such revenue sharing is conceived of as an engine for peace, rather than as one critically important issue that can be resolved only in the context of a concluded peace. Moreover, Khartoum—almost immediately after the revenue-sharing plan was first reported—peremptorily rejected the idea, both through First Vice President Ali Osman Taha and subsequently Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail.
Here it is extremely important to keep in mind Khartoum’s strategic goals in its war on civilians throughout the oil regions. For the most promising oil concessions lie to the south of the only presently producing operation, that of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (with Canadian, Chinese, and Malaysian partners). Block 5a, which has over recent years seen some of the most brutal civilian destruction of a war now in its 20th year, lies within this more southerly area, and Khartoum has engaged in ferocious efforts to re-secure the concession area for the Swedish, Austrian, and Malaysian partners in this project.
Block 5b, as well as the enormous TotalFinaElf concession (running south almost to the Ugandan border), are also clear prizes for a Khartoum regime that is currently spending more on the war than present oil revenues can fund. The regime has, in effect, heavily committed future revenues from oil concessions presently unsecured. There is no oil revenue to share, given Khartoum’s voracious appetite for military hardware; there is even less inclination to do so as long as the regime believes it can control more of the extremely promising oil concession areas lying further south.
But to accomplish this the regime must conduct many further attacks of the sort that the world caught a glimpse on February 20th of this year, in the village of Bieh, just off the newly constructed oil road in the middle of Block 5a. There two of Khartoum’s helicopter gunships, in broad daylight and at point-blank range, poured heavy machine-gun fire and rockets into thousands of innocent women and children gathered to collect food from a UN World Food Program distribution site. Permission had been secured by the UN from Khartoum, the location was well-known, there was no military presence, and the building was well-marked. UN World Food Program workers were present as witnesses. None of this spared the dozens of civilians who were killed and the many more who were wounded, perhaps dying later. Bieh has now been put off limits to humanitarian relief, as has virtually every other relief site in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile Province.
The State Department is already well overdue in assembling and deploying the team of human rights monitors who will investigate attacks on civilians in southern Sudan. The important achievement of the Danforth mission in securing agreement on this issue is being squandered for lack of an effective monitoring regime. I have attached what I believe is a compelling outline of such a regime, offered to Senator Danforth by Human Rights Watch in December 2001—well before agreement was reached between Khartoum and the SPLA/M on this issue in March. The ongoing aerial attacks on southern civilians in the oil regions, reported by various sources, are presently not being investigated, despite the signal opportunity provided by agreement between the combatants.
I have deliberately used the word “genocide” to describe the realities of southern Sudan and to indicate why we may not afford to indulge the moral equanimity that lies behind the refusal of the Danforth report to “arbitrate the competing claims of the parties in Sudan.” For whatever the diplomatic exigencies of the peace process, whatever reasonable compromises are necessary to secure a just peace, we cannot lose sight of the nature of the regime in Khartoum. They will not negotiate out of a concern for justice, or because the human suffering and destruction in the south has become intolerable. The National Islamic Front will negotiate only if it sees that there is no alternative—that its very survival politically and economically will be threatened by a refusal to engage in good faith peace talks.
Ideally the pressures on Khartoum will be applied by the US in concert with our key Western allies, though the record of Canada, Europe, and the European Union on Sudan has hardly been encouraging, with the exception of the Norwegians. The Canadian government, for example, has proved singularly impotent in restraining Talisman Energy, the only Western oil company involved in the Greater Nile producing consortium.
Despite the damning findings of numerous human rights assessment missions to the oil regions, including one commissioned by the Canadian Foreign Ministry, Talisman operates without restraint of any sort. Consequently, its airstrips continue to be used by Khartoum’s helicopter gunships for attacks on civilian targets; its oil roads continue to facilitate the movement of Khartoum’s ground forces; the oil it pumps to the El Obeid refinery supplies all fuel for Khartoum’s deadly air assaults; and Talisman-generated oil revenues fund massive additional military purchases, including helicopter gunships, Khartoum’s present weapon of choice for civilian destruction. Talisman stands as the very embodiment of western corporate evil in Sudan, and shows no sign of ending its present complicity in genocidal destruction.
It was in response to these realities that the House of Representatives passed the Sudan Peace Act with provision for capital market sanctions against oil companies like Talisman Energy. Such sanctions offer a potent means of bringing US capital market leverage to bear in a way that will help pressure Khartoum. Without such leverage, we have no obvious policy options for moving Khartoum to engage in good faith peace negotiations. If we mean to end the most destructive civil conflict in the world today, we simply must acknowledge the ongoing recalcitrance on the part of Khartoum—we must see that their larger military strategy entails continued scorch-earth warfare to secure great sections of the south for further oil exploitation. This strategy is viable only with continued oil revenues at present or increased levels.
The House should continue to press the Senate on the Sudan Peace Act, which has stalled by virtue of the Senate’s failure to name conferees. The House of course named its conferees last year. Certainly all in the Congress must recognize that without meaningful pressure on Khartoum, peace will never come to Sudan. Genocidal destruction of the sort emblematized by the attack on Bieh will continue, and our refusal to do all we could to stop this catastrophe will mark a moment of terrible moral failure.
History will judge this failure savagely.
[June 5, 2002]