“Sudan and the Sudan Peace Act”
The Sudan Peace Act, passed by an overwhelming margin yesterday in the US House of Representatives, serves to bring into focus a great many of the issues that will determine whether Sudan is headed for peace or continued war. The bill speaks to Khartoum’s savagely destructive manipulation of humanitarian aid as part of its war strategy; it speaks to the ongoing and indiscriminate bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets; it speaks to the immensely destructive consequences of oil development, as well as the role of oil revenues in sustaining the war; it declares the importance of halting this revenue flow, and reporting on the extent to which oil development is funded with American capital; it recognizes the urgency of the peace process at Machakos (Kenya), even as it declares emphatically that the actions of the Khartoum regime “constitute genocide as defined by [UN] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” In short, it gives all too clear a picture of the viciousness and evil of the Khartoum regime, and thus the difficulty of securing from such a regime a just peace.
Eric Reeves [October 8, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
The Sudan Peace Act will be considered in the Senate today or tomorrow, and passage by a similarly overwhelming margin is virtually assured. President Bush will sign the bill into law in very short order. Though without robust sanctions measures, the bill nonetheless serves as a collective statement by both the Congress and the Executive branch of the US government. This is the context in which to understand the meaning of the “Findings” of the Sudan Peace Act, and in particular Section 2, Number 10:
“The acts of the Government of Sudan, including the acts described in this section, constitute genocide as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (78 UNTS 277).”
The US State Department, which has heretofore been reluctant to speak so honestly about the nature and meaning of Khartoum’s unspeakably brutal war efforts against the civilian populations of southern Sudan, must fully register the implications of a finding of “genocide,” and must accept the grave responsibilities and obligations of such a finding.
Similarly, Section 11 of the bill (“Investigation of War Crimes”) calls upon the Secretary of State to “collect information about incidents which may constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and other violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Sudan, including slavery, rape, and aerial bombardment of civilian targets.” Those who are senior in the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum are all either directly responsible or deeply complicit in countless such actions—actions that continue unabated.
Indeed, recent information from several highly reliable sources in the region indicates that Khartoum is now using napalm, or possibly chemical weapons, in its offensive against Torit in Eastern Equatoria. According to these sources, Antonov bombers are dropping barrel-bombs that explode on contact, with a wall of flame spreading over any persons in their path. The use of such weapons would certainly be consistent with the professed war policy of President Omer Beshir: “I gave the army a free hand to move out in all directions, to use all of its weapons, with no restraints, no restrictions, whatsoever” (Agence France-Presse, September 3, 2002).
The use of napalm-loaded barrel bombs dropped from high-flying Antonov bombers would be a continuation of the indiscriminate aerial assaults on civilians throughout the areas of conflict in southern Sudan. Napalm, at least in its cruder forms, is easily manufactured using gasoline and rubber/tire parts with a detonator. The effect is thoroughly indiscriminate, burning everything in a radius extending from bomb’s point of impact. Given the notorious inaccuracy of Antonovs (retrofitted Russian-built cargo planes from which barrel-bombs are simply rolled out the back cargo bays), these napalm bombs are yet another means of civilian terror.
The badly burned survivors are now awaiting evacuation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). But the town of Torit was recaptured by Khartoum’s forces today—October 8—and this may prevent the evacuation. This should not, however, prevent an investigation of such an extremely serious development. Napalm is an incendiary weapon that falls under the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Protocol III: “Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons”). Those with the power to move such an investigation along should do so immediately.
(Here again the US State Department’s failure to deploy in expeditious fashion a monitoring force to investigate attacks on civilians is painfully in evidence: the agreement between Khartoum and the SPLA/M was negotiated last March, and still there is no on-the-ground investigative capability.)
The issue of Khartoum’s repeated interdiction of humanitarian aid is also central to the concerns of the Sudan Peace Act. The issue could hardly be more urgent, with Khartoum having recently imposed an unprecedented ban on all humanitarian aid to all of southern Sudan. Though the ban was partially lifted this past weekend, Khartoum has still left in place an expanded list of relief sites denied access, significantly broadening the area in Eastern Equatoria that will be without humanitarian aid. Moreover, Khartoum continues its recent denial of humanitarian aid to SPLM-controlled areas of the Nuba Mountains from Lokichokio (Operation Lifeline Sudan headquarters), a flagrant violation of the much-touted Nuba Mountains cease-fire.
Both the Nuba Mountain aid ban and the expansion of interdicted territory in Eastern Equatoria demand high-level attention from the UN as well as Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) donor countries. The highly significant increase in restrictions for Eastern Equatoria takes the form of denying all access south of a line drawn from Narus through Mogoth, Lafon, Juba, and Yei. The effect of this restriction is to deny OLS access to Kokutok, which had afforded the only airstrip available to OLS organizations operating in Eastern Equatoria. There is now no air access for OLS to Eastern Equatoria, where some of the most desperately needy people of southern Sudan are located—many recently displaced by the fighting around Torit.
Reports also continue to stream in about Khartoum’s vast campaign of scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile. There human devastation has been occurring on a massive scale, with thousands killed and many tens of thousands displaced by helicopter gunships attacks, militia attacks, and full-scale assaults by Khartoum’s regular forces. These attacks and attendant civilian destruction have been especially intense in the areas around Tam, which lies in Concession Block 4 of Talisman Energy and its partners Petronas (Malaysia), and China National Petroleum Corp. Here again we have the appalling spectacle of international oil companies not simply profiting amidst immense human death and displacement, but providing the revenues that allow Khartoum to increase its purchase of the military weaponry that makes these attacks so deadly—attacks that serve as “security” for Talisman and its partners in genocidal oil production.
These companies were all targeted directly in the original version of the Sudan Peace Act, which would have denied them access to US capital markets. The present Sudan Peace Act, though lacking this robust and unquestionably effective sanctions regime, does demand that the President (if in six months he concludes that Khartoum is not negotiating in good faith):
“shall take all necessary and appropriate steps to deny the Government of Sudan access to oil revenues to ensure that the Government of Sudan neither directly nor indirectly utilizes any oil revenues to purchase or acquire military equipment or to finance any military activities.”
If this language is not to be merely hortatory, then an alternative to capital market sanctions should be urgently pursued by the Congress and the President. For like the money in the bill that has been “authorized” but not actually appropriated for peace and development projects in areas not controlled by Khartoum, language about denying oil revenues that merely threatens is worse than useless. Khartoum will approach its Gulf allies and successfully solicit financial aid on the basis of Congressional “authorizations” or “revenue denials” that may never materialize.
If the Congress is serious enough to talk about providing assistance “to prepare the [non-Khartoum controlled] population for peace and democratic governance, including support for civil administration, communications, infrastructure, education, health, and agriculture” (Section 5), then it must be serious enough to take up the question of appropriating the required monies early in the next Congressional session.
To its credit, the Sudan Peace Act also commits the President, through the Secretary of the Treasury, to “instruct the United States executive directors to each international financial institution to continue to vote against and actively oppose any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Sudan” (Section 6). This essentially codifies current US practice, though it should serve as an occasion on which to urge allies in the pursuit of peace for Sudan to join the US in making sure that Khartoum—in the absence of peace—enjoys no increased benefits from the IMF, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the African Development Fund.
The ultimate meaning of all this will of course be defined by what occurs at Machakos, where peace talks are tentatively slated to be renewed on October 14. Khartoum has made various and equivocal statements about its “preconditions” for resuming talks, but with regime’s re-capture of Torit it has lost even the expedient pretext it used in breaking off talks on September 2.
The real task for the international community, having betrayed the people of southern Sudan so many times, is to insure that Khartoum will pay a heavy price if it again breaks off these uniquely opportune peace talks. Though the Sudan Peace Act is without the vigor it might well have had, it should serve notice of American intention in holding Khartoum accountable for the success, or failure, of the Machakos process. American allies must make a similar commitment, or they will rightly be held ever more deeply responsible for the death and suffering that continues without diminishment in southern Sudan.