Yet again the world has received authoritative news of the military barbarism of Khartoum’s National Islamic Front. Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)—awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize—has reported that one of its health workers, as well as four innocent civilians, died last week in a bombing attack on Nimne, Western Upper Nile Province. The town is now virtually deserted, as critically ill patients and a desperate population have been scattered by the aerial attack, which followed on the heels of an immensely destructive ground attack by militia forces allied with Khartoum. And still we hear no words of condemnation from those countries whose stake in Sudan is not measured by humanitarian efforts but a fierce lust for southern Sudan’s oil riches and Khartoum’s petrodollars. As MSF pointedly notes, “Nimne lies only fifty miles from the disputed oil fields of southern Sudan.” Too much is explained by this geographical observation.
Eric Reeves [February 16, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
If we judge by the silence of countries like Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, Austria, France, Italy, Germany, and others, they seem to have been persuaded by Khartoum’s grotesque prevarication in speaking of a previously reported aerial attack on Akuem, some 160 miles to the west of Nimne in Bahr el-Ghazal Province. “The attack [on Akuem] was the result of a ‘technical error,'” Khartoum preposterously declared. But this was evidently enough for Canada and Europe to find reason to remain silent.
The absurdity of the explanation—and the moral bankruptcy of Canadian and European silence—has now been fully revealed: for the attack on MSF personnel and civilians at Nimne occurred the same day as the attack on Akuem, February 9, 2002. The Akuem attack was roundly condemned by the UN’s World Food Program and the US State Department—but no one else.
February 9, 2002 has thus become another “day of infamy.” Not so much because of the actions of Khartoum in bombing Akuem and Nimne: there have been hundreds and hundreds of similar attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets in recent years. Rather, the infamy attaches to those whose silence is now so obviously imperturbable, whose unwillingness to condemn even the most outrageous military actions by the Khartoum regime has become national policy. MSF declared Khartoum’s actions to have been “in total violation of the laws of war.” In Sudan, this has become inconsequential.
A terrible clock began to tick on February 9, 2002. Every day Canada and Europe maintain their silence adds yet another layer of callousness to their now fully revealed hypocrisy. Every day of silence is another day of acquiescence in the ongoing destruction of southern Sudan. Every day of silence finds these countries more fully defined by greed for hydrocarbon riches rather than concern for international law, the Geneva Conventions, or other civilized norms. The European push for an International Criminal Court seems now to have an especially deep odor of hypocrisy: the very crimes such a court is designed to punish are being committed with impunity, even as the voices of Europe remain united in silence.
Nowhere else in the world does a recognized government deliberately and repeatedly bomb civilians and humanitarian targets within its own borders. In Sudan these war crimes, these transparent violations of various Geneva Conventions, are commonplace, and have become acceptable in the most disgraceful calculus of economic and geopolitical interests.
Until these bombing attacks are taken up in the UN Security Council, all nations—including the United States—are guilty of convincing Khartoum that it will pay no real price for its savage barbarism. That China or Russia may block truly effective action in the Security Council is no excuse for continued acquiescence. The UN must become the forum in which this unspeakable cruelty is exposed fully to the world and condemned by all who believe in justice. And if Canadian and European countries can somehow overcome their pusillanimous record, they will join the US in pressuring Khartoum by means of vigorous economic sanctions, beginning with a suspension of all oil development and production activities.
If such responses appear unlikely, it is not because the events reported by MSF and others are anything but fundamental violations of international law. Rather, continued inaction will simply be a full measure of the sickening hypocrisy and moral weakness of Canada and Europe.
MSF PRESS RELEASE
MSF Denounces Killing of Aid Worker and Civilians in Southern Sudan
Nairobi/New York, February 15, 2002 — A Sudanese health worker from the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF), 20 year-old James Koang Mar, and four other Sudanese civilians were killed last week when at least three bombs were dropped by the Government of Sudan on the village of Nimne in southern Sudan. An MSF team visited Nimne today and received confirmation of James Koang’s death in the attack.
“We are shocked by this terrible news,” said Jan van’t Land, MSF Project Coordinator who visited Nimne today. “James worked in the primary health care unit in Nimne. He was recently married and his newborn baby is now fatherless. It’s a tragedy for his family, MSF, and the community, which can ill afford to lose a health care worker.”
MSF strongly denounces this act of violence against civilians and aid workers. “What is happening in western Upper Nile is unacceptable. The toll of human suffering goes up every day: Nimne is now virtually deserted; we don’t even know where our patients have gone, and a young health worker has been killed, in total violation of the laws of war,” said Arjan Hehenkamp, MSF Head of Mission for southern Sudan.
The bombing followed the recent looting by militia soldiers of Nimne village in early February. The MSF team and the Nimne community managed to escape just before the soldiers arrived in Nimne. Hundreds fled to Bentiu and other areas in the region. A few individuals, including MSF’s James Koang, returned several days later to Nimne where Koang was killed by the February 9 bombing.
The attack on Nimne came on the same day that planes of the government of Sudan bombed Akuem in the southern state of Bahr al-Ghazal, hours after a food airdrop from the UN World Food Program (WFP). The Akuem bombing resulted in the death of two children and wounded a dozen others.
These recent deaths are another episode in the ongoing suffering of the population of western Upper Nile. Fighting between militia groups allied to both rebel and government forces has swept through the region in the past three years and caused repeated displacements, deaths, and humanitarian suffering. Health facilities and other services provided by humanitarian agencies have ceased to exist in many areas due to the insecurity.
Nimne lies only fifty miles from the disputed oil fields of southern Sudan. Prior to the attacks, MSF was providing primary health care with approximately 2,000 consultations per month and medical treatment for kala azar, a wasting disease, which is fatal if left untreated. 107 kala azar patients and two meningitis patients are now dispersed in the region, their treatment interrupted by the incidents.