Former Senator John Danforth, now US special envoy for Sudan,
has bluntly—and with frank skepticism—challenged the Khartoum regime to show that it will cease its brutal ways if the US is to engage seriously in the peace process. Though the key conditions Danforth has laid down are nominally challenges to both Khartoum’s National Islamic Front and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement, they clearly focus on the barbarism that has defined Khartoum’s conduct of the war:  the blocking of relief to the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan,  the denial of humanitarian aid to various regions of the south,  the aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets, and  the abetting of a brutal trade in human slavery. Reports from the region clearly indicate Khartoum has already begun to fail in meeting these conditions: how will the US respond?
Eric Reeves [November 26, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
The recent mission to Sudan by Special Envoy Danforth and his State Department entourage was marked by unusual frankness and the establishing of an extremely short time-frame for a demonstrated willingness to engage meaningfully in making peace. Either the Khartoum regime and the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) show a clear willingness to negotiate seriously, or by mid-January Danforth has indicated he will terminate active American involvement in negotiations: “I am simply going to report to the President that we tried, we did our best and that there is no further useful role the United States can play” (Inter Press Service, Nov 24).
But for all the pronounced even-handedness in demanding of the Khartoum regime and the SPLA/M that they both meet conditions set down by Danforth, it is clear that the changes in behavior will have to be on the part of the National Islamic Front regime. Indeed, Khartoum’s presidential peace adviser Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani declared: “The US says the proposals are a test to the positions of both parties, but they are a test to the government only” (Agence France-Presse, Nov 25). Atabani indicated that Khartoum was in no hurry to respond to Danforth’s proposals.
This hesitation is understandable, given the brutal military and genocidal tactics upon which Khartoum’s rulers have depended in their conduct of the civil war, especially in service of oil development:
They are the only ones with an air force in the war, and thus the only party that can engage in the aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets—and attack villages, cattle herds, and fleeing noncombatants with helicopter gunships. These attacks have been documented by dozens of humanitarian aid groups working in the south, including Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee, and the US Committee for Refugees. Further documentation of aerial assaults on civilians and humanitarian relief has been provided by human rights assessment missions in the oil regions of the south and by international human rights organizations (including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch).
It is Khartoum that has laid brutal siege to the Nuba Mountains region for over ten years. It is Khartoum that has blocked humanitarian access to various parts of southern Sudan, southern Blue Nile, and other regions—often by denying flight permission to the humanitarian organizations working through the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan or independently. And it is Khartoum that has clearly, authoritatively been shown to support a vicious trade in human slaves, especially among the Dinka people of Bahr el-Ghazal province (this hateful reality has been documented by the UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan, as well as by numerous human rights organizations).
What, then, has been the response of Khartoum so far to the very clear benchmarks set down by Senator Danforth and the US team recently in Sudan?
On the very eve of the US mission’s departure for Khartoum (Nov 11)—and three days after the beginning of a supposed “truce”—the regime engaged in the artillery shelling of UN World Food Program relief aircraft that had landed at Kauda in the Nuba Mountains; Kauda was one of the destinations for the Danforth mission. The shelling has been confirmed by UN and other sources in the region and was reported by both the New York Times and the Washington Post on November 18, 2001.
More recently, Agence France-Presse (Nov 23) and the Associated Press (Nov 24) have reported the very specific claims by the SPLA/M on the bombings of civilian and humanitarian targets at Malual Kon in northern Bahr el-Ghazal province (a refugee center and a major relief site for the UN World Food Program), a displaced persons camp at Pariang (very near the oil concessions in Western Upper Nile), and Magwi in Eastern Equatoria region. The bombings have been confirmed by various international aid and human rights organizations working in the areas attacked.
The SPLA/M has also reported the assassination by Khartoum’s forces of Judge Augustino El Nur Shimela, who lived in Kumo village in the Nuba Mountain area. Other civilians in the village (about 10 kilometers from the Kauda landing strip) were also reportedly killed in the attack.
If past, exceedingly well-established patterns of military behavior by Khartoum are repeated, we may soon expect to see additional clear violations of the terms stipulated by the Danforth mission. But Khartoum’s actions must not be construed to reflect any lack of desire for peace on the part of the SPLA/M or southern Sudanese. Rather, these brutally destructive actions explain why the south seeks to defend itself from further onslaught, especially as Khartoum attempts to expand its control of oil concession areas in the south.
So the questions to Senator Danforth are as blunt as his own assessment of what will keep the US engaged:
If Khartoum clearly shows itself to be the intransigent party, if it clearly fails to meet the benchmarks set down by Danforth, will the US simply turn its back on the peace process? Will a strong US diplomatic commitment to peace and ending the immense suffering and destruction in the south be abandoned because Khartoum continues its brutal ways? Will Khartoum’s refusal to meet the terms set down by Danforth dictate that the US abandon the cause of a just peace for the people of the south?
The status quo all too clearly favors Khartoum and its continuing oil development projects. Oil revenues have already permitted a doubling of military expenditures, according to the IMF and other sources. Will the US response be to reward Khartoum’s recalcitrance? Is the Bush administration prepared to say that after two months in which Khartoum’s behavior remains largely unchanged, the US will end high-level diplomatic commitment? Will the south be punished for Khartoum’s calculated decision to test the resolve of Danforth and the US?
Many questions—and some ominous indications about how the Bush administration will be answering them.
It is consequently incumbent upon the Congress to pass swiftly the Sudan Peace Act with provision for capital market sanctions against oil companies operating in Sudan. Doing so will give special envoy Danforth and the Bush administration a potent and credible threat to wield in confronting Khartoum over its refusal to move toward good-faith peace negotiations.
The Bush administration can’t have it both ways. They can’t declare that they will wait for only two months to test Khartoum, but refuse to endorse the key provision of the Sudan Peace Act, one that will give Khartoum a powerful incentive to pass the test and engage meaningfully in peace negotiations.
So far, Danforth has talked tough and bluntly. But if that’s all he offers, and Khartoum falls off the US policy radar screen because of its predictable intransigence, then this will not have been a serious effort by the US, but a mere gesture of appeasement toward the significant political, human rights, and religious constituencies that have made common cause in response to Sudan’s ongoing agony.
Last March, the administration declared through Secretary of State Colin Powell that, “there is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth than Sudan.” If such terrible reality is soon to be ignored because an oil-flush Khartoum does not care to engage meaningfully in the peace process, then many will remember this decision as the callous abandonment of southern Sudan—another in an unforgivably long series.