“‘Sudan’s Overall Human Rights Picture Has Not Changed Significantly,’ says UN Investigator [Special Rapporteur for Sudan, Gerhart Baum] ”
This headline quotation from a “Voice of America” account of the March 28, 2003 report in Geneva by Gerhart Baum, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan, should give profound pause to those nations preparing to acquiesce in a vote that will work to rehabilitate the human rights standing of Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime. This critical issue confronts not only the various European nations that seem to be working for a resolution that would allow Khartoum to escape its present designation as an Item 9 country (one with “special human rights problems”), but those African nations that also seem prepared to offer an entirely unwarranted and unjustified reward to Khartoum. Foremost among these is South Africa, which appears clearly poised to vote for the resolution that Khartoum is striving for. This seems an especially serious moral failing—the equivalent of the National Islamic Front in Sudan voting in 1989 for an international resolution that would have declared apartheid to be no longer such a serious issue as to command continuing international scrutiny. South Africa is itself now on the verge of casting a vote that will register the most callous of attitudes toward fellow Africans, a vote that will declare in effect that the lives of the African peoples in southern Sudan no longer matter enough to warrant the assiduous human rights monitoring offered by a UN Special Rapporteur. The cause of “African unity” that is offered as justification for such a vote is a declaration that such “unity” has meaning despite the ongoing slaughter and displacement of Africans in the oil regions of southern Sudan. Given South Africa’s painful history, from which it emerged only because of international moral pressure against the hateful apartheid regime, this vote will be a disgrace—and one that history will record as an instance of overwhelming hypocrisy.
Eric Reeves [March 30, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
How is “African unity” served by ignoring the outrageous human rights violations in southern Sudan, human rights violations animated by a vicious racism on the part of the Khartoum regime? How is “African unity” served by pretending as though the regime’s deadly helicopter gunship attacks on innocent civilians in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile are anything but the most consequential of human rights violations? How is “African unity” served by ignoring the fact that within the past year the Khartoum regime has deliberately denied humanitarian access to over 3 million African people in southern Sudan? How is “African unity” served by looking away from the ongoing scorched-earth clearances of African civilians in oil development projects in the south, a campaign of many years duration and chronicled by the last three UN Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights in Sudan?
These are the questions before South Africa—its people and its government. For by leading an African delegation in Geneva that is committed to removing Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime from so-called “Item 9” status, South Africa is declaring that there is no longer a need for a Special Rapporteur. Given South Africa’s own terrible experience with racism, it seems an inconceivable instance of moral hypocrisy for the South African delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva to vote to rehabilitate a regime that is patently racist in its conduct of the war, in its long history of abetting slave-taking among southern Sudanese populations, in its barbarous disregard for the value of African lives.
The last three UN Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights in Sudan—Gaspar Biro of Hungary, Leonardo Franco of Argentina, and presently Gerhart Baum of Germany—have all presented continuing reports fully justifying their mandates, making terribly clear the vast extent and savage nature of Khartoum’s human rights violations. Also critical of the SPLA/M, these reports offer some of the most important accounts available of what the human rights realities are in Sudan. To vote to end the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is to vote to end a critical means of international scrutiny. Such a termination is warranted neither by the facts or the urgent needs of the peace process. For if Khartoum believes that it may start enjoying the rewards and rehabilitation that should come only after a just peace agreement is reached, then that peace agreement will be all the harder to reach.
South Africa is poised, along with other African and European nations, to cast precisely such a morally inexplicable vote.
Contact information for South Africa’s embassy in Washington, DC:
3051 Massachusetts Ave NW,
Washington, D.C. 20008
Telephone: (202) 232-4400
Fax: (202) 265-1607
News Article by Voice of America, posted on March 29, 2003 at 04:17:17: EST (-5 GMT)
‘Sudan’s Overall Human Rights Picture Has Not Changed Significantly,’ says UN Investigator
Voice of America
March 28, 2003
GENEVA –The United Nations special human rights investigator for Sudan says there has been little improvement in conduct either by the government or rebel forces since its civil war began more than 20 years ago.
Addressing the annual U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting, the U.N. official, Gerhard Baum, said although there have been some improvements, Sudan’s overall human rights picture has not changed significantly. Mr. Baum says peacemaking efforts between the government and the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] have resulted in some improvements, but many problems continue.
“The country remains under the iron tight grip of the omnipresent security apparatus which continues to enjoy virtual impunity,” he said. “In the SPLM-controlled areas, military structures are still prevalent.” Mr. Baum charges that government-backed militias continue to attack civilians, forcibly displacing them from the oil-rich Western Upper Nile region. He says the government-backed forces attack such places as relief centers, schools, and churches.
The government denies the charges that its allies attack civilians, and says it tries to build hospitals and schools for civilians in the Western Upper Nile.
But Mr. Baum, the U.N. special human rights investigator for Sudan, says both the government and the rebels impede the people’s rights to free assembly and free speech.
He says in the cities of the north, far from any armed conflict, a state of emergency has remained in place for three years. He points to arbitrary detentions of human rights advocates, including students, who he says are held without trial and sometimes tortured.
Still, Mr. Baum says peacemaking efforts over the past year provide the chance to improve Sudan’s human rights record. He pointed to some positive developments resulting from the peace process.
“Some improvements indeed took place in the field of war-related human rights violations, a reduction of bombings, abductions and broader access for the humanitarian relief [and] decreased number of political prisoners,” Mr. Baum noted. For the past 20 years, Sudan has been torn by a civil war that pits forces of the Islamic government in Khartoum against non-Muslim rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement based in the south. Two-million civilians have died and two-million more have been displaced.
Mr. Baum recommends that any development aid for Sudan should be linked to real progress on human rights issues. He urged an end to the state of emergency and indiscriminate targeting of civilians, and a repeal of laws giving extensive powers to security forces.