“Khartoum Continues Its Objections to UN Human Rights Reporting”
In an all too familiar pattern, Khartoum has strenuously objected to human rights reporting by the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Sudan, Gerhart Baum. Last year’s report by Baum, as well as the reports of his distinguished predecessors (Leonardo Franco of Argentina and Gaspar Biro of Hungary), have all been excoriated and dismissed. This year the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime has taken its objections to the UN General Assembly in a failed effort to have member nations vote down a resolution based on the findings of UN Special Rapporteur. Of particular concern to Khartoum, in both the present and preceding reports, is the inevitable highlighting of the role of oil development in Sudan’s ongoing human catastrophe. But concern no doubt also derives from Baum’s blunt language about Khartoum’s bombing campaign against civilians (presently in abeyance): “I also strongly condemn the bombing of civilians and civilian installations during the last months. I believe that investigations of war crimes should be undertaken as soon as conditions permit.” Khartoum alone has military aircraft in this war; the NIF regime alone can order attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets, attacks that number in the many hundreds in recent years.
Eric Reeves [November 22, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
Baum’s UN report both highlights the role of human rights in the peace process (“human rights abuses must be stopped. Indeed, human rights must be central to the peace process” [“Statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan,” November 12, 2002])—and also reaches a dire conclusion in its assessment of human rights in Sudan over the last year: “I conclude therefore that, overall, the human rights situation has not yet changed significantly.” Since Baum concluded last year that the appalling human rights situation in Sudan had actually deteriorated, this leaves Sudan as a human rights abysm. Baum noted in particular—as have his predecessors Franco and Biro—that oil development in southern Sudan “has led to a worsening of the conflict, which has also turned into a war for oil” (Reuters, from the UNITED NATIONS, October 10, 2001).
Baum has infuriated Khartoum by going further than his predecessors in speaking about the consequences of oil development (the regime even denied him entrance to Sudan earlier this year; AFP, Sept 3, 2002). Whereas Franco and Biro focused their attention on the massive scorched-earth clearances associated with expanding oil development and exploration, Baum has also challenged the lack of transparency in accounting for the oil revenues, and highlighted the obvious fact that Southern Sudan has received none of the benefits of oil extracted from underneath southern soil. Indeed, southerners have been the continuing victims of the weapons that Khartoum has purchased with oil revenues, a reality highlighted by any number of reports, including the IMF report of November 2000, which revealed that in a little over a year of oil production, oil revenues had permitted a doubling of military expenditures. (The most recent IMF report [June 2002] has unconscionably censored all data on military expenditures.)
In this year’s report Baum again highlights the destructive role of oil development (Section XI): “I repeatedly stated that oil is exacerbating the conflict, insofar as the war is the result of a fight for the control of power and resources.” And as the conflict is exacerbated, the result is inevitably a worsening of human rights abuses, abuses which extend to war crimes (as Baum himself indicates), crimes against humanity on a massive scale, and genocide.
Speaking specifically to Khartoum’s declared position that oil revenues are not part of the UN Special Rapporteur’s mandate, Baum declares:
“I refer to last year’s debate on the use of oil revenues. I took note of the Government’s stand whereby the use of oil revenues is a sovereign decision, not to be covered by my mandate. I responded by focusing on the oil issue in connection with the right to development, and more specifically the use of oil revenues and the need to develop a wealth-sharing arrangement with the South.”
In particular, Baum declared: “I wish to highlight once again the link between development and governance, defined as ‘the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. Good governance is, among other things, participatory, transparent and accountable. It is also effective and equitable and it promotes the rule of law. Good governance ensures that political, social and economic priorities are based on broad consensus in society and that the voices of the poorest and the most vulnerable are heard in decision-making over the allocation of development resources'” [United Nations DP, Arab Human Development Report 2002].
Khartoum’s refusal to accept these principles is hardly surprising: the regime depends upon a lack of “transparency” in accounting for oil revenues, since such a great percentage is devoted to military expenditures. There is no “participatory” governance in Sudan—it is a brutal junta that came to power by military coup; decisions about oil revenues do not involve the people of the south in any meaningful way. There is no “accountability” on the part of the National Islamic Front: they are accountable to no one but themselves and their ruthlessly survivalist instincts. There is no respect for the “rule of law,” as the Special Rapporteur’s report makes abundantly clear on any number of counts, including the obstruction of press freedom, the use of torture, and the many abuses of Khartoum’s security apparatus: “Overall, the role of the [government’s] security apparatus, as the main [sic] responsible for the occurrence of human rights abuses as well as impunity of security officers, remains an issue of serious concern” [Section II].
[In the relatively brief section on southern Sudan—Khartoum’s ban on humanitarian aid flights prevented Baum from entering the south in October–the Special Rapporteur is most persuasively critical in suggesting that civil administration needs more effective support from the SPLM/A leadership, particularly in the form of resources and political support. It is important that such civil administration begin now to develop the requisite autonomy for a possible peace agreement.]
So what has Khartoum said of the report by UN Special Rapporteur Baum and the UN General Assembly resolution, based upon the report, and that passed this Wednesday (November 20)? Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail is quoted by Agence France-Presse: “We consider it a bad, biased resolution” (AFP, Khartoum, November 21, 2002). Ismail continued, saying “the Sudanese UN mission would try and ‘garner opposition and lessen support to the draft resolution and persuade nations to make statements’ against it.” Fortunately, Khartoum failed and the resolution passed by a significant, though by no means overwhelming margin (dismayingly, half the nations of the Africa bloc voted with Khartoum).
Strong as the resolution is in many respects in speaking to human rights abuses in Sudan, it does not speak to the most potent finding in the present report by the Special Rapporteur:
“I also strongly condemn the bombing of civilians and civilian installations during the last months. I believe that investigations of war crimes should be undertaken as soon as conditions permit” [V. “Human rights and humanitarian law in the context of the conflict”]
The pressure for such investigations should be maintained in all possible ways by the international community. The Khartoum regime should be put on clear notice that a resumption of its bombing campaign against civilians and humanitarian relief efforts will be seen in the context of a UN finding that these are attacks that warrant investigation as war crimes—that there can be no impunity, no evasion of responsibility for atrocities in which shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs are deliberately dropped on medical facilities (including hospitals), refugee camps and emergency feeding stations, schools, churches, cattle herds, and villages that have no proximity to any fighting.
The logic of such urgency and primacy of concern is clear: if Khartoum is not held accountable for deliberate aerial attacks on civilian and humanitarian relief targets—if this most outrageous of war crimes is not met with relentless, determined condemnation, backed by the threat of tribunals—then the regime will hardly have cause to worry about sanctions for human rights abuses less brutally destructive.
If those concerned about human rights in Sudan are serious, then that seriousness must take the form of a decisive response to the most egregious of human rights violations. Special Rapporteur Baum has given the world a signal opportunity, but it must be seized with much more vigor than is presently in evidence.