February 24, 2004
As the maniacal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of northern Uganda once again makes headlines on the international wires services with yet another example of unspeakable barbarism, it is important to remember that this brutal, heavily armed gang of thugs is directly supported, supplied, and provided sanctuary by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime. Indeed, this reality was recently highlighted in a lengthy dispatch by the East Africa correspondent for the Washington Post (February 16, 2004; dateline Pagak, northern Uganda). Filed several days before the slaughter of more than 200 unarmed civilians in a camp for internally displaced persons north of Lira (Uganda) on February 21, 2004, the Post dispatch quotes John Prendergast, Africa specialist for the International Crisis Group:
“Sudan broke a promise made in late 2002 to stop supplying weapons to the Lord’s Resistance Army, according to John Prendergast, an Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization that monitors global conflicts. ‘As yet, there is not enough pressure to make any diplomatic opening possible [to end the LRA insurgency],’ Prendergast said. ‘The US will have to lean heavily on the government of Sudan to cut off its support to the LRA and bring it to the table to talk.'” (Washington Post, February 16, 2004)
But as Prendergast and informed US officials suggest, all evidence indicates that Khartoum continues to provide weapons, uniforms, vehicles, and critical sanctuary inside southern Sudan (especially in and around Juba, Khartoum’s main garrison town in southern Sudan; see below). This is part of Khartoum’s strategic effort to ensure that Uganda does not provide any support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), even as Khartoum itself has dramatically improved its own military arsenal and deployments in southern Sudan during the 16 months since a “cessation of offensive hostilities agreement” was signed with the SPLM/A on October 15, 2002—an agreement which the NIF regime has repeatedly violated.
Khartoum must as a consequence be seen as directly complicit in the civilian slaughter of February 21, 2004 (reported yesterday by the BBC, Associated Press, Reuters, and other wire services). The Associated Press, with a dateline from the Barlonyo Camp north of Lira that was attacked, provides an especially authoritative account (excerpts from the February 23, 2004 dispatch):
“[The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)] guerrillas fanned out—hacking, shooting and burning alive more than 200 unarmed civilians, including [Okao] Lujino’s wife and their five-year-old daughter.
“Lujino and other survivors gave horrific accounts today of the rebel raid on Barlonyo camp, where the stench of burned flesh hung in the air and huts smouldered two days after one of the worst rebel attacks of a 17-year-old insurgency. In the town of Lira, 24 kilometres south of the camp, doctors treated dozens of wounded, some of whom writhed on the ground in pain.
“‘I heard dogs barking [ ] all of a sudden I looked back and saw many, many rebels in uniform,’ Lujino said, as nurses dressed a bullet wound to his thigh. ‘When they saw me they stopped. One of them blew a whistle. Then they started moving in a cow-horn shape around the camp. Then they started firing.’
“Crawling on his knees, Lujino took cover behind a tree before fleeing into the swamp as the rebels clashed with about 30 members of a local defence force charged with protecting the camp, home to about 5,000 people. The defence force was quickly overwhelmed, and the rebels began burning alive entire families as they cowered in their homes, witnesses said. An Associated Press reporter saw six charred bodies today.
“[Ugandan] Legislator Charles Angiro said camp officials calculated that 206 civilians had been massacred. Lujino, 42, said the rebels beat his wife, covered her with grass and set her on fire. They took a machete to his young daughter’s neck, he said, mortally wounding her.
“Today, the hospital in Lira was overflowing with wounded, including two badly burned young boys who sat in silence as doctors pulled dead skin from their bodies. ‘When we tried to run outside the hut, they would shoot you; when you remain inside, they burn you,’ said George Okot, as he winced in pain from gunshot wounds to his leg.
“‘This is a real massacre … we appeal to the international community to come in to intervene and to bring this carnage to an end … The government has tried its best, but it seems it has failed,’ Angiro said while visiting the camp.
“Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan condemned the attack, saying ‘such a barbaric act’ could fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
“The International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands, announced today it would investigate the attack, and Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo issued a statement promising ‘those bearing the greatest responsibility will be prosecuted.'” (Associated Press, February 24, 2004)
But if these are not to be empty words, then among “those bearing the greatest responsibility” are the leaders of the National Islamic Front. For little if anything has changed in the five months since there was a flurry of reporting on Khartoum’s complicity in the savage depredations of the LRA.
The BBC reported at the time on information that came from a key LRA defector:
“The latest round of accusations [directed at Khartoum for its complicity in the actions of the LRA] follows reports that the Ugandan army received information from an LRA defector, David Oneka, about the alleged supply of arms, including anti-tank missiles, by Sudan to the rebels. Mr Oneka also claimed that he witnessed Mr Kony crossing into Sudan accompanied by his wives and 600 rebel fighters.” (BBC, August 26, 2003)
The (Kampala) Monitor gave further insight into the evidence that had then recently been obtained by Uganda’s armed forces:
“The army spokesman, Maj. Shaban Bantariza, told The [Kampala] Monitor yesterday that Sudanese generals meet monthly and regularly supply arms to the LRA. ‘We are getting information indicating how Sudanese generals meet the LRA on the 15th of every month and supply them with arms on the 28th of each month,’ Bantariza said.
“The army has benefited from fresh intelligence reports provided by an LRA defector who handed himself over to the [Ugandan Defense Forces] at the weekend. The defector fighter, David Oneka, claims that Kony knows him personally, having been part of the rebel leader’s security detail in Juba, southern Sudan. He said that Sudan is supplying heavy arms to the LRA, including anti-tank destroyers. ‘The B10 is what the LRA has been using to attack our battle wagons. They used it last Friday in Katakwi and injured three of our soldiers,’ Bantariza said.” (The [Kampala] Monitor, August 26, 2003)
There have for many years been other authoritative charges that Khartoum’s forces are aiding the LRA. Especially significant was a June 2003 statement from the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI), representing many of the people most deeply affected by LRA attacks in northern Uganda. Notably, the ARLPI had been instrumental in bringing the Ugandan government and the LRA together in the (now) failed talks to end LRA terrorism by peaceful means. The ARLPI declared on June 16, 2003:
“Senior officers of the LRA have been receiving a constant supply of arms, ammunition and other items from SAF [Khartoum armed forces] officers since the last months of 2002. This accounts for the fact that in recent months violence has escalated to unprecedented levels in Northern Uganda, with the civilian population bearing the brunt of the rebel offensive.”
The church leaders went on to say that “had the LRA remained short of military supplies since last year, by now they would have been forced to come to a negotiated settlement with the Ugandan Government that would have made it possible to have peace in Northern Uganda.”
Father Carlos Rodriguez Soto, a key figure in the ARLPI’s efforts to bring about peace in northern Uganda through dialogue, told the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Network last June that, “We always had our suspicions when we kept seeing the LRA with new uniforms and new guns. But we didn’t have enough to be sure. Now, with each independent report coming from the bush saying the same thing, we know for a fact that they [Khartoum’s military forces] are doing this.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, June 19, 2003)
It should be said that the Ugandan army and the government of Yoweri Museveni have received a good deal of appropriate criticism for their handling of this longstanding insurgency in northern Uganda (it began in 1986), one that affects primarily the Acholi people (the politicization of ethnicity in Uganda derives historically from the “divide and rule” tactics of the colonial era). The Washington Post article of February 16, 2004 offers a fine overview (available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A44489-2004Feb15.html).
But it is doubtful that the Ugandan armed forces of “Operation Iron Fist” can prevail so long as Khartoum continues to provide both support and sanctuary to the Lord’s Resistance Army. And evidence of Khartoum’s ongoing support for the Lord’s Resistance Army is overwhelming (previous reports on the issue from this source are available upon request). The question is not whether the National Islamic Front regime is directly complicit in the slaughter at Camp Barlonyo—this is beyond reasonable doubt. The question is whether the words of the international community mean anything.
If acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan “condemns the attack,” and further declares that “such a barbaric act” falls within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, what is he prepared to do to act upon such a determination? If Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, believes that the LRA’s war on civilians in northern Uganda and southern Sudan is a “moral outrage” (Financial Times, February 24, 2004), what follows from this “outrage”?
If Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court promises an investigation of the attack, and promises that “those bearing the greatest responsibility will be prosecuted,” we must ask when the investigation will begin—and most critically, whether those who support the perpetrators of such ongoing slaughter will be held responsible. For if we believe Ugandan church leaders when they declare that—
“had the LRA remained short of military supplies since last year, by now they would have been forced to come to a negotiated settlement with the Ugandan Government that would have made it possible to have peace in Northern Uganda” —
then we cannot ignore the role of those in Khartoum who have facilitated and provided these very military supplies.
Certainly if we are to render any larger moral assessment of the Khartoum regime we must accept that there is nothing out of character in its brutally expedient support for the LRA and its atrocities in northern Uganda and southern Sudan. It is of a piece with the vast and terrible cruelty that defines the policies and actions of the National Islamic Front throughout Sudan. Amnesty International, in addition to reporting on Khartoum’s overwhelming responsibility for civilian destruction and suffering in Darfur, has recently highlighted the case—all too typical—of Mahasin Abaker Fadul, a 15-year-old girl who has been sentenced to 100 lashes for having sex outside marriage.
Sudan’s version of Islamic law (shari’a) is distinguished, at the behest of the National Islamic Front, by a notoriously brutal penal code (hudud). The regime’s ideological vision of “justice” ensures that Mahasin Abaker, who was just 14 years old and nine months pregnant when she was sentenced to 100 lashes at a court in Nyala, will endure a punishment that Amnesty International has rightly described as “degrading” and a “violation of basic human rights law” (Amnesty International release [London], February 18, 2004). The young woman has no remaining legal recourse, and having delivered her baby, simply awaits punishment. Depending on how the 100 lashes are administered, the punishment may be fatal.
This, too, is part of the pattern of evil that is embodied in the National Islamic Front.
A more comprehensive assessment of such evil must take full stock of the growing spectacle of massive, deliberate human destruction in Darfur, destruction that is overwhelmingly of the various African tribal groups in this far western region. For Khartoum shows no signs of allowing an appropriate international humanitarian response—gives no sign that it is willing to permit humanitarian access to the 1 million displaced persons and the more than 3 million now described by the UN as “war-affected.” This is true even as the international community gives no sign of readying a humanitarian intervention, despite understanding full well the cause and urgency of the vast catastrophe.
Just yesterday both Reuters and the BBC reported on the findings of a European Union (EU) assessment mission to Darfur. Under a heading entitled “Systematic Denial,” the BBC reports the comments of Richard Howitt, a British member of the EU delegation:
“Richard Howitt, said only 15% of the victims of the war have access to humanitarian aid in the region.
“‘There is direct evidence that military confrontation is continuing. The Islamist militia, the Janjaweed, supported by the government are running riot in most of the countryside,’ Mr Howitt said.
“‘There has been a systematic pattern of denial of travel to aid agencies and journalists by military intelligence to Darfur in western Sudan,’ [Howitt] said.” (BBC, February 23, 2004)
Reuters (dateline Khartoum) also reported yesterday on this assessment mission to Darfur:
“[Richard] Howitt said the humanitarian situation in Darfur was a ‘deep and dismal disaster’ and accused the Sudanese government of preventing journalists from going to the region to ‘hide this conflict from the world.’
“Khartoum denies supporting the Janjaweed, but Howitt said: ‘Everybody knows the Janjaweed are working on behalf of the government which supplies them their guns and uniform and are recruited by senior government officials.'” (Reuters, February 23, 2004)
To be sure, it has been clear for much too long that Khartoum has been systematically denying humanitarian access for transparently military purposes, and ultimately for purposes of civilian destruction. And the complete restriction imposed on news reporters attempting to travel to Darfur is also not new. But if we retain any moral bearings in assessing what this means, and if we are honest about the pervasive racial and ethnic animus that informs Khartoum’s “systematic” actions, then a conclusion of genocide is inevitable. Moreover, if we look at the rapidly expanding “concentration camps” that Khartoum is deliberately engineering for the displaced, then we will have a yet clearer understanding of the means by which this regime is now accelerating its military campaign.
And if we still doubt that what is happening in Darfur is genocide, if our agnosticism persists, then we must answer to those voices that have reached Chad and have conveyed the horror of what they have seen in Darfur—those voices that tell us all too clearly of Khartoum’s pattern of evil, of the very face of human evil:
“Tamur Bura Idriss, 31, said he lost his uncle and grandfather. He heard the gunmen say, ‘You blacks, we’re going to exterminate you.’ He fled deeper into Chad that night.” (The New York Times [dateline: Tine, Chad/Darfur] January 17, 2004)
“‘It is terrible, they are slaughtering us,” schoolteacher Ishmael Haggar, 30, said in broken English. ‘I need to tell somebody.” (Associated Press, January 26, 2004)
“‘I believe this is an elimination of the black race,’ one tribal leader told IRIN (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, al-Geneina [Darfur], December 11, 2003)
“According to an eyewitness, the militia accompanied by soldiers attacked people, saying ‘You are opponents to the regime, we must crush you. As you are black, you are like slaves. Then the entire Darfur region will be in the hands of the Arabs. The government is on our side. The government plane is on our side, it gives us ammunitions and food.” (Amnesty International Report on Darfur [“Too Many People Killed for No Reason”], London, February 3, 2004, page 12)
“A refugee farmer from the village of Kishkish reported to Amnesty International delegates the words used by the militia: ‘You are Black and you are opponents. You are our slaves, the Darfur region is in our hands and you are our herders.’ They also reportedly said: ‘You are slaves, we will kill you. You are like dust, we will crush you.’ Another civilian attacked was reportedly told: ‘You are in the fields, the rest is for our horses. We have the government on our right side, you are on the left side. You have nothing for yourselves.'” (Amnesty International Report, page 28)
“A civilian from Jafal confirmed this when he was reportedly told by the Janjawid: ‘You are opponents to the regime, we must crush you. As you are Black, you are like slaves. Then all the Darfur region will be in our hands. The government is on our side. The government plane is on our side to give us ammunition and food.'” (Amnesty International Report, page 28)
“A local chief in the Abu Gamra area, between Tina and Kornoy, painted the extent of the destruction in his village: ‘The Arabs and the government forces arrived on both sides of the village, with vehicles, on horseback and on camels, and armed with big weapons. The Arabs cordoned the village with more than 1,000 horses. There was also a helicopter and an Antonov plane. They shelled the town with more than 200 shells. We counted 119 persons who were killed by the shelling. Then the Arabs burnt all our houses, took all the goods from the market. A bulldozer destroyed houses. Cars belonging to the merchants were burnt and generators were stolen. They said they wanted to conquer the whole territory and that the Blacks did not have a right to remain in the region.'” (Amnesty International Report, page 20)
As Khartoum simultaneously claims “progress” at the peace talks in Naivasha and yet gives free rein to its Arab “janjaweed” militia allies in Darfur, these voices tell us all too much about the regime’s views of African lives, whether in Darfur, southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, or the Beja area of eastern Sudan.
Let us at least be honest, if collectively irresolute, in examining the nature of the National Islamic Front. Let us speak without euphemism or self-deception in characterizing the regime that is diplomatically “engaged” in Naivasha. For if we will only look clearly, we must see that the ghastly and brutal depredations of the Lord’s Resistance Army are directly supported by this regime. If we are not constrained by intellectually enfeebled notions of “cultural relativism,” then there can be no room for indifference in understanding what it means for this regime to countenance the sentencing of a 15-year-old girl to 100 lashes for the “crime” of having sex outside marriage. And if we will only hear the voices from Darfur, and if we are not morally stone deaf, then we must pose the most awful of questions: how can it be that the world is once again failing to respond to the evil that is genocide?
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