August 17, 2001
An Open Letter to Kofi Annan
Secretary General of the United Nations
United Nations Plaza
New York, NY
Dear Secretary Annan,
As you are well aware, Sudan continues to be the site of almost unimaginably great human suffering and destruction. Operation Lifeline Sudan, the United Nations consortium of humanitarian aid organizations, has labored heroically since 1989 to respond to the acute needs of both southern and northern Sudan. But the civil war continues; and in the south, Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) is subject to constant obstruction, indeed military attack, by the Khartoum regime. Human suffering and destruction have not abated.
On the contrary, there is clear evidence that Khartoum is again escalating its aerial assaults on both civilian and humanitarian targets in southern Sudan (vide the report from the UN’s “Integrated Regional Information Network,” August 4, 2001). There is equally clear evidence that much of what motivates Khartoum in its conduct of the war is the present nature of oil development.
As you certainly know, all oil revenues accrue directly to the Khartoum regime, which has made no secret of its military ambitions for these revenues. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has documented a 100% increase in military expenditures since oil revenues began flowing in late 1999. At the same time, as various UN organizations and personnel are well aware, there is a ferocious campaign of scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions; it is directed at the indigenous populations with the clear ambition to displace them for purposes of further oil development by the foreign multinational corporations now operating in southern Sudan.
You are also surely aware, Mr. Annan, that what UN personnel see in the oil regions of southern Sudan has been chronicled in authoritative detail by a great many human rights organizations and assessment missions. These brutal realities have also been reported by the present and previous UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan (Gerhart Baum, Leonardo Franco, and Gaspar Biro). Dr. Leonard Franco reported to the UN in October of 1999 that, inter alia:
 “The economic, political and strategic implications of the oil issue have seriously compounded and exacerbated the conflict and led to a deterioration of the overall situation of human rights and the respect for humanitarian law, as well as further diminishing the already slim chances for peace.”
 “The oil issue and the extremely volatile situation prevailing in western Upper Nile are clearly at the core of the armed conflict in Sudan and have particularly dire consequences for peace.”
 “[Reports available to the Special Rapporteur indicate that] long-term efforts by the various Governments of Sudan to protect oil production have included a policy of forcible population displacement in order to clear oil-producing areas and the transportation routes of southern civilian.”
 “Human rights observers on the spot were told by survivors of the Ruweng [county] offensive in May  that government bombers, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery were used against unarmed civilians to clear a 100-kilometer area around the oils fields. Witnesses reported that over 1,000 government soldiers swept through Ruweng county, wreaking human and material destruction, including destroying 17 churches.”
Dr. Franco’s comments have been echoed, and amplified, in reports from Amnesty International, Christian Aid (UK), Human Rights Watch, the Assessment Mission assembled by the Canadian foreign ministry in late 1999 (which produced the “Harker Report” of January 2000), and other human rights assessment missions. In turn, dozens of news reports from the region, by some of the world’s finest journalists, confirm that oil development is directly responsible for massive human destruction and displacement.
Yet despite this overwhelming body of evidence, neither you nor the UN organizations in Sudan have publicly registered any concern about these appalling realities. This is so despite the fact that UN workers often have particularly valuable access to, and information about, the present nature of oil development.
The question, Mr. Annan, is why this silence is maintained. Why will neither you nor the leaders of UN organizations operating in Sudan speak openly and honestly about the realities of oil development? Why will you not speak of the obvious role of oil development in exacerbating conflict in Sudan, and providing the revenues that convince Khartoum that it can prevail militarily in the civil war? Why won’t you acknowledge that Khartoum will not negotiate in good faith with the people of the south so long as they feel oil revenues insulate them, economically and diplomatically, from international pressure?
I must confess that reports I have received from UN personnel working in Sudan, past and present, do not convince me that there are any morally adequate answers to these questions. I must confess also that I believe you are fully aware of these issues, and that your own silence represents a deeply misconceived decision about how to respond to Sudan’s agony.
There is simply no reason to believe that such silence will do anything but encourage Khartoum in its present policies of civilian destruction and humanitarian obstruction in southern Sudan. Silence will not deter Khartoum from the bombing of civilian targets and humanitarian relief; it will not halt their well-documented policies of scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions; and it will not persuade them to abandon their present efforts to implement a restrictive visa regime that will obstruct humanitarian relief efforts—whether by OLS or non-OLS aid organizations.
What, then, is the purpose of silence by the UN leadership on the terrible realities of oil development in southern Sudan? Why will you not use your highly significant authority to speak the truth?
Those who care for southern Sudan, Mr. Annan, await with growing impatience a morally responsible answer.
Sincerely, Eric Reeves
Northampton, MA 01063