While the UN World Food Program and the United States have harshly condemned the recent bombing of civilians and humanitarian aid efforts in Akuem (southern Sudan), Canada and European nations have remained characteristically silent. Despite the outrageous nature of the event—the UN declares in its press release of today that “the incident coincided with humanitarian operations on the ground and endangered potentially a greater number of civilians and relief staff”—all of those nations that are investing in oil development in southern Sudan have remained conspicuously acquiescent. Canada, Sweden, Austria, France are the most culpably silent because they have invested most heavily in oil development. But the general European rush for economic advantage in Sudan, the lure of Khartoum’s petrodollars, has made silence into a policy for Germany, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Poland, Great Britain—not to mention non-European nations like Russia, China, and Malaysia, which have made major commitments in southern oil regions.
Eric Reeves [February 13, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
To its great credit, the United States has had no trouble finding its voice again. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declared yesterday: “The U.S. government is outraged by the government of Sudan’s aerial strike against a civilian target in the south of the country. This horrific and senseless attack indicates that the pattern of deliberately targeting civilians and humanitarian operations continues.”
The attack on Akuem, Bahr el-Ghazal Province, is only one of many hundreds of such confirmed attacks by the Khartoum regime on civilian and humanitarian targets. Still, this attack—like the three previous attacks on Akuem since May, 2001—was particularly barbarous, given the humanitarian ambitions represented by the presence of Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres and the UN’s World Food Program.
According to today’s UN’s World Food Program press release (attached): “On 10 February, an Antonov aircraft [flown only by the Khartoum military—ER] dropped six bombs on the town of Akuem, Bahr el Ghazal, at 17:00 hours. Three of the bombs landed directly on the World Food Program food drop zone, while the other three fell in the surrounding area. A 12-year-old girl and another child were killed in the attack. Another 10 to 12 people were injured. Some of the injuries occurred inside the [Doctors Without Borders/]MSF-France compound, which was hit by shrapnel.”
The World Food Program press release made clear that the attack came shortly after a food drop had been completed, insuring that a large number of desperate civilians would be present, as well as relief personnel. All the bombs fell inside the area of the food drop or very nearby. It should be borne in mind that the World Food Program is required by Khartoum to file flight plans for all aid deliveries.
This unspeakable savagery, which Khartoum mindlessly declares “it can’t confirm,” should provoke outrage not simply on the part of the World Food Program and the United States, but in all civilized nations. In fact, however, the response is entirely different if we look to nations whose multinational companies have invested in oil development in southern Sudan. Silence reigns in Canada, Sweden, Austria, France, as well as in Russia, China, and Malaysia. The terrible nexus between war and oil has already been incontrovertibly established; and today, Khartoum hears in the silence of oil-invested nations only encouragement for its aerial campaign of terror.
Apologists for oil development in Sudan, like the Canadian government and Talisman Energy, have touted the benefits of “constructive engagement” represented by such development. But the specious nature of this argument is readily apparent. As repeated human rights investigations (including one by the Canadian government itself) have found, oil development exacerbates conflict, has led to massive scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions, and has produced a huge upsurge in weapons acquisitions by the Khartoum regime.
Talisman has been present in Sudan since 1998: in that time Khartoum’s military expenditures have much more than doubled; scorched-earth warfare has expanded significantly beyond the original concession areas explored by Talisman and its Asian partners; Khartoum’s human rights record has deteriorated (this according to the most recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan); and the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum has continued to distance itself from the IGAD peace process, confident that it can prevail militarily in Sudan’s catastrophically destructive civil war.
Rightly holding the US to the highest international standards in its treatment of Afghan detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, countries like Canada, Sweden, France, and Austria have at the same time abandoned all concern for the most significant of international norms, those represented in the various Geneva Conventions governing the conduct of war. Indeed, they seem prepared to ignore the most basic features of the Geneva Conventions:
Article 13(2) of Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 prohibits:
“making civilians as such the object of attack; and act or threats of violence, the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population.”
Article 14 of Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 declares that:
“Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited. It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless, for that purpose, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water.”
Yet these are precisely the military actions that define Khartoum’s conduct of the war, most ferociously in the oil regions and territories near the oil regions. The attack on Akuem was precisely an attack on “civilians as such”; it was designed specifically to “spread terror among the civilian population.” It was an attack on critically needed emergency food supplies, and hence was an effort to “render uselessobjects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.” As the World Food Program’s spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said of the civilians in Akuem who were attacked: “People are living on the edge. This is desperate. People need that food.”
The despicable hypocrisy of those nations now silent before the massive, deliberate, barbaric violations of the Geneva Conventions will redound to their lasting shame. It makes a mockery of their putative concern for the animating principles of the Geneva Conventions and the general principle of sparing civilians in armed conflict. This is a moment of truth for Canada, for Sweden, for Austria, for France—and in this moment of truth they are found hollow.
World Food Program News Release
13 February 2002
WORLD FOOD PROGRAM CONDEMNS AIR ATTACK AT FOOD DISTRIBUTION SITE IN SOUTHERN SUDAN
NAIROBI — The United Nations World Food Programme today strongly condemned the bombing and subsequent death and injury of civilians living in Akuem, southern Sudan, where the Agency had just finished distributing food to 18,000 people suffering from drought and insecurity.
On 10 February, an Antonov aircraft dropped six bombs on the town of Akuem, Bahr el Ghazal, at 17:00 hours. Three of the bombs landed directly on the WFP food drop zone, while the other three fell in the surrounding area. A 12-year-old girl and another child were killed in the attack. Another 10 to 12 people were injured. Some of the injuries occurred inside the MSF-France compound, which was hit by shrapnel.
“The loss of innocent lives, particularly children, is totally unacceptable,” said Abdoulaye Balde, WFP operations manager for Southern Sudan. “The fact that the incident coincided with humanitarian operations on the ground and endangered potentially a greater number of civilians and relief staff, makes the act even more of a concern.”
Three hours before the attack, a team of WFP staff had finished distributing 77 tonnes of food ? a one-day distribution giving 18,000 people a 30-day ration — and departed on an aircraft to a nearby base. WFP does not maintain a permanent team in Akuem due to the prevailing insecurity in the area.
As part of the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), WFP was granted clearance by the Government of Sudan and the SPLA/M to deliver food assistance to Akuem. The food was airdropped two days before the attack. All humanitarian activities conducted by WFP in Southern Sudan take place with the agreement of all sides to the conflict.
Akuem has been affected by serious drought and instability, hampering the local population’s ability to produce enough food to survive. The village also hosts about 3,000 people from Aweil West who frequently flee their homes due to insecurity.
This latest attack is the fourth in Akuem since May 2001. The last bombardment took place in November 2001 when a number of people were killed.
The shelling of a southern Sudanese town while WFP food operations were underway also occurred in October 2001, in Mangayath, Bahr el Ghazal. A series of heavy bombings over three separate days took place directly in the area where WFP teams were in the process of distributing relief food to some 20,000 civilians. The incident was strongly condemned at the highest levels.