“Southern Sudan: Current Imperatives for Humanitarian Access”
On October 26, 2002 agreement was reached in Nairobi over an outline for securing “unimpeded humanitarian access” to all areas and for all people in need in Sudan. Signatories included the Government of Sudan, the SPLM/A, and the UN; the language that guided this agreement derived from the October 15, 2002 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for a cessation of offensive military activities (signatories to the MOU were again the Government of Sudan, the SPLM/A, and Lazaro Sumbeiywo, Special Envoy for IGAD’s Sudan Peace Process). There is good reason to see this agreement as a watershed event: either it produces a firm and permanent mechanism for unfettered humanitarian aid delivery, or the humanitarian efforts that have averted complete catastrophe in Southern Sudan may be fatally compromised. This is the moment of truth, one illuminated by another excellent analysis from the International Crisis Group (“Ending Starvation as a Weapon of War in Sudan”). What makes the ICG report of particular importance is its cogent articulation of the critical relationship between the peace process at Machakos and the securing of agreement on humanitarian access.
Eric Reeves [November 14, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
The International Crisis Group has provided a continuing series of highly informed and deeply reflective analyses of various aspects of Sudan’s ongoing catastrophe. The current contribution (“Ending Starvation as a Weapon of War in Sudan”; ICG Africa Report No. 54, Brussels [November 14, 2002]) offers the most compelling analysis to date of the issues relating to humanitarian access for Southern Sudan and other war-affected regions of the country (the full report is available on-line at www.crisisweb.org). What emerges most clearly here is the decisive relationship between the peace process and the viability of any final agreement secured on the issue of humanitarian access:
“While much of the recent international attention on Sudan has focussed on the nascent peace process, it should be clear that no lasting peace will be secured if the government [of Sudan] were to resume these practices [the ‘manipulation, diversion and denial of international humanitarian relief’], which remain in direct violation of both the Geneva Conventions and earlier agreements with the international community regarding humanitarian access.” [pages 3]
The ICG report urges the mediators and international observers at the Machakos peace process to “press the parties to respect the October agreements and make permanent the clauses on unimpeded humanitarian access.” And this “not only because lives are immediately at stake but because those agreements are central to the fate of the larger peace negotiations” [page 3].
To be sure there are some who would encourage an exclusive focus on the peace process, and allow humanitarian issues to be passed over in silence as an expedient way of getting a peace deal. But this is fundamentally misguided, and the ICG report offers the more truly “realistic” perspective:
“Any international inclination to look past transgressions [‘overwhelmingly though not exclusively by the government (of Sudan)’]—as has happened with earlier agreements on humanitarian assistance—in the hope that it will help keep the parties focused on a negotiated settlement of the larger conflict would send the wrong message about international determination to get a workable peace and likely produce only more intransigence.” [page 3]
This is the assessment that must be kept in mind by those truly interested in bringing a just peace to Sudan. With a clear-eyed honesty, the ICG report reveals the full scale and consequences of the intransigence that has defined Khartoum’s response to the massive suffering and destruction the war has wrought upon the civilian population of the South. Despite its clear obligations under the original Operation Life Sudan (OLS) agreement on humanitarian aid (1989), despite its agreement to the 1999 Beneficiary Protocol on humanitarian assistance, Khartoum has relentlessly reneged and ignored these critically important obligations in pursuit of military victory:
“The government of Sudan has abused its veto power over OLS flights and otherwise hindered operations from the start, often to complement its military strategy. This has been clear in the 1998 Bahr el-Ghazal famine, the scorched-earth policy surrounding the oilfields, blanket denials of access in Equatoria, the blockade of SPLA-controlled areas of Southern Blue Nile, and manipulation of aid to eastern Sudan.” [page 4]
The military purposes for Khartoum’s manipulation of humanitarian aid have been especially clear in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile, and the ICG analysis gives us a deeper look at the savage destructiveness in which Western and Asian oil companies have been so callously complicit:
“[The government of Sudan’s] manipulation of OLS relief flights has been an effective complement to its military campaign in the oilfields region. By denying access to the core of Western Upper Nile, but allowing OLS to operate in isolated locations on the border with Bahr el-Ghazal or in government-controlled garrisons, Khartoum induced civilians to flee from areas it hoped to control to where they might actually receive assistance. Hunger has been a powerful incentive, but the resulting geographic concentration of civilians for aid purposes increased their vulnerability to both disease and government air attacks.” [page 10]
ICG also notes that restrictions on humanitarian aid access to Western Upper Nile have meant that there are many fewer independent observers in the region “to document often indiscriminate government attacks on civilians” [page 10]. The report highlights in particular the attacks on civilians that came in late July 2002 immediately after the signing of the Machakos Protocol. (Another major offensive in the oil regions was launched by Khartoum in late August.)
Overall, the ICG report estimates that “the last ten months have seen the displacement of nearly half a million civilians in Western Upper Nile” [page 5]; we cannot know how many have been killed by direct military action or as a result of displacement, but it is reasonable to assume on the basis of past human rights reporting and assessments that the figure is in the tens of thousands. ICG points out further that:
“The [oil regions] cannot be considered safe for exploitation of its oil unless hundreds of thousands of civilians can be moved out (or those who resist will be killed), as has been happening elsewhere in Western Upper Nile for five years.” [page 5]
What makes the ICG report especially valuable is its assessment of what must be done near-, medium-, and long-term to respond to the ongoing threats to humanitarian aid access. The report appropriately highlights the importance of robust international support for the upcoming (December) meeting of the Technical Committee for Humanitarian Assistance (TCHA), comprising the UN and the warring parties [pages i – iii, 20]. It also offers important analyses of the possibilities for capacity shifting between OLS and non-OLS humanitarian relief delivery [page 16], general capacity building [page 13], road construction [page 15]—and, significantly, recommends that there should be a review of the possibility of protecting humanitarian relief by military means, including a “no-fly zone” that would deny Khartoum’s military aircraft entry into southern Sudan [page 18]. (Other military options in support of unfettered humanitarian relief are discussed.)
But there are serious obstacles to all these recommendations, and several emerge with clarity in the ICG report. Particularly ominous is the agreement between the Kenyan government and Khartoum to establish a consulate for Khartoum at Lokichokio, the center of humanitarian relief efforts. The ICG report notes the fear of diplomats and aid officials that such a consular presence would be an (expanded) means for Khartoum to gather intelligence on aid flights, and that such a presence by Khartoum has the potential to create “a chilling effect on the non-OLS [nongovernmental humanitarian organizations]” [page 18]. The ICG report suggests that these vitally important non-OLS humanitarian organizations might be forced to “move their base to Uganda.” This would be a very serious logistical problem and would occasion significant aid disruption at a crucial time.
The US, the UN, and other international parties must make decisively clear the President Moi and the Kenyan foreign ministry that there will be serious consequences if Kenya does not back away from this highly unfortunate and deeply suspicious agreement. The US has taken the lead here and must have swift assistance from its allies.
The ICG report also highlights the threat to civilian humanitarian relief posed by Khartoum’s deliberate assaults on civilian and humanitarian relief efforts, and notes that there have been numerous violations of the agreement negotiated by US special Sudan envoy John Danforth to halt such assaults. A force to monitor attacks on civilians was part of the agreement signed by Khartoum in March 2002, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner testified to the US Senate in July that such a force could be deployed by late August. But it is clear that Khartoum has yet again reneged on an important agreement, as there is still—in mid-November—no fully deployed force. This can only be because Khartoum has blocked both final deployment and operational go-ahead for the monitoring force, one that could investigate attacks of the sort reported by ICG.:
“The government captured and razed Tam, Buoth, Kerial, Rier, and Wichok within a matter of days [in the July 2002 offensive]. Similar to past offensives in Western Upper Nile, civilians bore the brunt of the massive assault, in a clear violation of the agreement Khartoum had negotiated with former US Senator Danforth in March. A confirmed report from the education officer in Abieh Nyang to the Mayom County Commissioner on 28 July 2002 stated that a group of school children was attacked by helicopter gunships, wounding 37 and killing 16 in Tam and Toy Payom.” [page 5]
It should be noted that these locations are within oil concession Block 4, belonging to Talisman Energy of Canada (until December 31, 2002), China National Petroleum Corp., and Petronas of Malaysia. As of January 1, 2003, India’s ONGC will take Talisman’s place in the Greater Nile consortium that is so deeply complicit in this massive human destruction.
As the ICG report makes terribly clear, the stakes in dealing effectively with humanitarian access issues are enormous, both for the peace process and in immediate human terms. Speaking of the Khartoum-imposed total humanitarian aid flight ban of 27 September to 6 October 2002, ICG notes:
“Relief agencies estimated that the flight ban directly affected 800,000 people in Eastern and Western Equatoria. The escalation in fighting [in Eastern Equatoria] also froze food deliveries by road from Uganda. As many as 2 million civilians elsewhere in the South were affected by the inability of flights from Lokichoggio to cross the closed area. Although the blanket flight ban is now off, and some roads have been cleared by OLS security, the government maintained bans on 61 individual sites throughout the South for the entire month of October—even after signing the cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access agreements. The government further complicates aid delivery by denying the UN World Food Programme use out of Lokichoggio of two Buffalo airplanes—the largest cargo planes in OLS-Southern Sector.” [page 6]
But again, for all the immediate challenges posed by the need for unimpeded humanitarian access in the South and other war-affected areas of Sudan, the ICG report offers a larger perspective on the central problem—articulated at several junctures—that the international community must embrace if it wishes to move the Sudan peace process forward:
“What is unacceptable is for governments—particularly those most actively involved in or supporting the Machakos process—to argue that pushing the humanitarian envelope might undermine efforts at the negotiating table. The opposite is true. The more that either party is able to get away with humanitarian or human rights abuses, especially in the face of agreements signed within the current Machakos process under the auspices of IGAD, the more intransigence will be reinforced at the negotiating table, as they will feel they are immune from the consequences of their actions.” [page 13]
For the international community to ignore this perspicuous analysis is to compromise in serious fashion the Machakos peace process.