“The Economic Rewards of Misunderstanding Sudan’s Civil War”
The complexity and ghastly duration of Sudan’s civil war have slowly worked to obscure in the minds of many, especially in Canada and Europe, a fundamental reality of this conflict: there is no moral equivalency between the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum and the southern (and northern) opposition. These are not equally culpable parties, with comparable records on human rights and conduct in the war. Rather, there is a vast disparity, one that explains both why the war does not end, and why human suffering and destruction in southern Sudan is so appallingly great. Khartoum has shown no serious interest in negotiating peace in good faith, has one of the world’s worst human rights records, and is convinced that new oil revenues will allow it to prevail in its genocidal war against the people of the south. Responsible economic relations with Khartoum should be governed by these realities, not by rapacious instincts and the lure of oil wealth that has disabled the moral sensibility of so many.
Eric Reeves [January 30, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
In a war that has continued for almost nineteen years, especially in the often harshly difficult environs of southern Sudan, serious human rights abuses are almost inevitable. They are not therefore excusable, and it is the obligation of those in positions of authority to bring an end to such abuses and punish those who are found guilty. This clearly includes the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement, the dominant military opposition force in southern Sudan. But human rights abuses must be seen in the context of a people fighting for survival in the most literal of senses—and they must be seen in the context of the vastly greater abuses perpetrated by the National Islamic Front.
The SPLA/M must continue to work to end attacks on civilians, to end the diversion of relief supplies, and to sustain its efforts at ending the recruitment of child soldiers. At the same time, it is incumbent upon those who care about Sudan’s fate to note the significant improvement in the record of the SPLA, especially since the mid-1990s. And it is no less incumbent upon the world to confront honestly the massive and unabated abuses by the Khartoum regime.
These abuses include: the ongoing, deliberate aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets, typically with no military presence whatsoever; the deliberate withholding of humanitarian food and medical aid from starving and stricken populations; the abetting of Baggara militia in a brutal slave trade directed primarily against the Dinka people of Bahr el-Ghazal Province; the conducting of an exceedingly well-documented campaign of scorched-earth warfare against the Nuer and Dinka peoples of the oil regions of the south, primarily in Upper Nile Province. Khartoum has also continually been cited by human rights organizations for its extremely repressive practices in the north, including extrajudicial detainment, torture, cruel and inhumane penal practices, suppression of press freedoms, and a host of other abuses.
This fundamental asymmetry in the actions and conduct of the warring parties seems tragically and reprehensibly to have been overlooked again and again by Canadian, European, and Asian governments and companies. We see continual evidence that Khartoum’s newly acquired petrodollars have bought it “respectability” that translates into economic and commercial advantage. For example, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports (Jan 29, 2002) that the European Union has notified the National Islamic Front that it has decided to resume development aid to the regime after a suspension of more than ten years.
The head of the European Commission’s delegation in Khartoum, Xavier Marchal, has declared that he presented President Omar el-Beshir with a “formal notification that the preparation for the programming of the Cotonou Agreement can start.” (AFP also notes that Khartoum was a “signatory of the Cotonou partnership agreement, which allows African, Caribbean and Pacific nations to receive EU aid,” but that the EU suspended formal assistance in 1990, presumably because of Khartoum’s appalling human rights record and support for world terrorism).
Mr. Marchal said that the EU “was engaged in ‘political dialogue with Sudan aimed at addressing issues that have divided us in the past. These issues are now related to human rights, to democracy and the rule of law, and to the peace process’ aimed at ending Sudan’s 18-year-old civil war.” But if the concerns of the EU are “human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and the peace process,” then what possible evidence is there that Khartoum should be rewarded for its conduct in any one of these areas?
The present UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan, Gerhart Baum, has recently declared that Khartoum’s human rights record has worsened over the last year. Sudan is not a “democracy,” but rather a deeply repressive regime in which the military/security apparatus is governed entirely by the ruling junta (which overthrew an elected government in a military coup). The rule of law is routinely violated with complete impunity, as is press freedom.
And Khartoum has made it clear that it no longer feels obliged to negotiate a just peace under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD). This is the peace process that is nominally supported by these same EU governments, as well as by the US and Canada; it is the only peace process that addresses the fundamental issue of self-determination for the south. In 1997 Khartoum agreed to negotiate the issue of self-determination under IGAD auspices. But emboldened by its oil wealth, Khartoum has now fully reneged on its prior commitment (for a highly informed account of Khartoum’s view, see “God, Oil, and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan [Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2002], pp. 156-157).
In short, there is nothing that supports the EU decision to resume aid to Khartoum, even on the terms cited by Mr. Marchal in the name of the EU.
What Mr. Marchal was really attempting to do was provide a fig-leaf of diplomatic cover for the massive economic interests that will be served by allowing EU companies access to Sudan’s southern oil regions and to the petrodollars that flow to Khartoum from these southern oil development and production projects. (The south, of course, receives none of the oil revenues, even as it bears the terrible brunt of continued scorched-earth warfare, documented by Amnesty International, Christian Aid, the Canadian government, UN Special Rapporteurs, Human Rights Watch, and many others).
One example of a willingness to put aside concerns for Khartoum’s barbaric conduct of the war and its intransigence in negotiating a just peace is the recently consummated deal between the regime and the German electrical engineering giant Siemens, which announced this past weekend that it has been awarded a contract to build in northern Sudan what would be the world’s largest diesel power station. The company said its Industrial Solutions and Services Group (I & G) won the contract, worth more than $180 million, over a rival Malaysian bid (Reuters, Jan 24, 2002). Significantly, they will have as their partner the Polish company H. Cegielski SA of Poznan.
The Growing Role of Russia
Other examples of callous economic behavior abound. In particular, however, there is growing evidence that the Russian oil industry is perfectly willing to join Western and Asian oil companies in exploiting Sudan’s oil resources, both north and south, even if the inevitable result is to exacerbate the war and make a just peace more difficult to attain. Indeed, Russia’s recent commitments to provide advanced military hardware to Khartoum should receive much greater critical scrutiny from the world community. Certainly the very recent deal between Khartoum and Russia’s Slavneft oil conglomerate should be seen in the context of Russia’s sale of highly advanced MiG-29 combat aircraft to Sudan, a sale that included as many as a dozen MiG-29s, at a cost of $400 million (see Moscow Times, December 25, 2001).
In fact, evidence suggests that the commercial relations between Khartoum and Russian will likely be dominated by military purchases and military technology exchanges. For example, Itar-Tass reported (Oct 20, 2001) that oil development talks between Russia and the National Islamic Front included an expression of interest on the part of Khartoum in “buying high-tech products, such as Tu-214 aircraft, Mi-17 helicopters and optical devices made in Kazan, Russia.”
This account was echoed by MENL (Nov 7, 2001), which reported that Khartoum is “interested in attack helicopters and night-vision systems to fight the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army in the south.” The report went on to note that “last week, Sudanese Trade Minister Abdel Hamid Mussa Kasha toured Russian defense factories. Kasha examined the Mi-17 helicopter and subsystems.”
Africa Energy Intelligence, No. 309 (Oct 31, 2001) also reported that “a Sudanese delegation headed by foreign trade minister Abdul-Hamid Musa Kasha traveled to Tatarstan to examine the republic’s proposals for cooperation in return for an opening for Tatneft in Sudan’s offshore [concession]. Among the options under consideration were the sale of Tupolev 214 airliners and Mi-17 military transport helicopters to Sudan and the construction of a KamAZ truck factory in Sudan.” There are also credible reports that as part of the oil deal consummated between Khartoum and Russia, Russia will provide assistance in helping the National Islamic Front develop a domestic capacity for the building of tanks of Russian design.
The Russian role in the military escalation of Sudan’s conflict began in earnest several years ago with the sale to Khartoum of deadly Russian Mi-24 HIND helicopter gunships. These weapons were quickly directed to the task of crushing southern resistance and aiding in the scorched-earth warfare that has been used to secure the oil regions for international oil companies. Present evidence suggests that these earlier weapons transfers were only the beginning of a deadly commercial relationship.
The nexus between oil development and an exacerbating of the world’s most destructive war could hardly be clearer.
The US Response
The US administration, and in particular the mission headed by former Senator John Danforth, should be willing to speak frankly about the glaring asymmetry between Khartoum’s massively extensive human rights abuses—abuses that have become a primary means of waging war—and the behavior of the southern opposition. This does not entail overlooking abuses by the SPLA, or remaining silent about them, but rather maintaining a sense of proportionality and an understanding of why human rights abuses occur in the south.
In a war in which the deliberate, systematic destruction of civilians and civil society is the clear aim of one party—and in which this destruction is animated by a vicious racism—it becomes imperative to make moral distinctions. The actions by Khartoum amount to genocide as defined by the 1948 “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Senator Danforth cannot further the cause of peace by blurring fundamental distinctions between the combatants. He cannot conflate the military histories of Khartoum and the southern opposition, as he has several times done.
Khartoum’s point-blank refusal to meet his key stipulated “confidence-building measure,” viz., ending the aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets in the south, should have made the war’s asymmetry perfectly clear. So, too, should Khartoum’s reneging on its commitment to the IGAD peace process supported by the US. If the US intends to further the Sudan peace process, we must convey to our Canadian, European, and Asian allies our strong objection to a “business as usual” approach to economic relations with Khartoum.
We must also hold Canada and the EU to more than their present merely nominal support for the peace process that is breaking down under IGAD auspices. And we must demand that gross violations of human rights, such as aerial attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets, no longer occur with impunity. The UN must become a forum in which these attacks are addressed on every occasion that they are credibly reported by independent humanitarian or human rights organizations operating in the south.
Either we speak honestly about the realities of Khartoum’s tyrannical rule and barbarous conduct of the war—or we signal to the regime that it has successfully translated oil wealth into respectability on the world stage. The latter signal would deeply betray not only the people of Sudan, but the conviction of the many growing constituencies, in the US and abroad, that Sudan’s civil war is intolerable, and that it is a moral disgrace to suggest that the war continues because the combatants are equally culpable in their military conduct, and in the failure to date to negotiate a just peace.