Eric Reeves •
Sudan’s ongoing human catastrophe demands of the United States the clearest and most decisive policy response. Indeed, a clear policy is long overdue, as present peace negotiations at Machakos (Kenya) have foundered for lack of decisive and coordinated U.S. efforts and adequate international support. The State Department must fashion a comprehensive policy for Sudan, devoting the necessary diplomatic resources to the effort. It must work with our European allies to create a clear and unified peace process at Machakos, one that brings appropriate pressures to bear on the negotiating parties. And it must respond effectively in the very near term to the incontrovertible and massively destructive realities of oil development in Sudan. It must do all this with an appropriate sense of urgency and with high-level leadership.
The ongoing destruction and displacement of the Nuer and Dinka people of the oil regions and elsewhere in the south is nothing less than genocide: the deliberate destruction of people as non-Islamicized, non-Arabized impediments to further oil development and the consolidation of Khartoum’s military grip on political power throughout Sudan. The Khartoum regime has revealed an ongoing willingness to deploy high-altitude bombers, helicopter gunships, and ground assault forces against civilians, including innocent women and children, adding to the unfathomable human suffering and loss of life in southern Sudan—now exceeding 2 million dead and 4 million displaced.
These realities lead me to believe that we simply cannot accept as a principle of US policy the limitations articulated by former Senator John Danforth in his report to President Bush last February: “We would not attempt to arbitrate the competing claims of the parties in Sudan.” Genocidal destruction does not afford us the luxury of such moral equivalency in assessing the war in Sudan, or the ways of ending it. This is not to argue against engaging in a serious peace process, even with the brutal National Islamic Front (NIF) regime. Rather, it is an argument for assessing soberly and realistically what will be required to ensure that Khartoum’s re-engagement at Machakos, if it occurs, is in good faith.
For this reason, it would be unwise to see in the Danforth report anything approximating a policy roadmap. Indeed, the report is fundamentally misconceived in its approach—expending U.S. leverage with Khartoum, such as it is, in so-called confidence-building measures rather than in holding the regime to a clear timetable and set of benchmarks in a fully credible and unified peace process. This is not to diminish the importance of the issues addressed in the Danforth report, but ending the terrible scourge of government-sponsored slavery, securing unconstrained and ongoing humanitarian access, halting barbarous assaults on civilians, and even sustaining a cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains all require a just and lasting peace if they are to be truly realized.
There is a particular urgency in the need for humanitarian relief. The NIF in Khartoum is now deliberately withholding humanitarian aid from many hundreds of thousands of people, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Agency for International Development and humanitarian sources in the region. This continues a long and unforgivably cruel policy of manipulating humanitarian aid as a weapon of war. Indeed, Khartoum has begun a process of limiting humanitarian aid access that could result in the total collapse of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS). But as important as it is to work now for an end to Khartoum’s manipulation of humanitarian aid as a weapon of war—and it is urgently important—the most meaningful humanitarian relief can come only when a just peace has been secured.
With such a goal in mind, the Unite States should commit the financial support necessary for long-term peacebuilding, in particular to the strengthening of civil society institutions and the capacity to ensure that a just settlement will be deeply rooted and sustainable. This represents a modest commitment in light of the massive US expenditures during more than thirteen years of participation in Operation Lifeline Sudan.
Peace will not come easily to Sudan, and it will be sustained only with vigorous commitment to reconstructing a viable civil society. The State Department should be thinking now about how to win the peace that presents itself as a clear, if tenuous, opportunity. Too often the Danforth report put the cart before the horse, unwilling to see that many important issues simply cannot be resolved without first securing a just peace. For this reason, the Danforth report has been completely overtaken by developments at Machakos, in particular the issue of a southern self-determination referendum, which was secured in a breakthrough agreement in the Machakos Protocol of 20 July 2002, and which is one of the key features of the Declaration of Principles.
This Declaration of Principles has anchored the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) peace process since 1994, but more significantly since 1997, when Khartoum agreed to negotiate peace under these key principles. The United States has committed itself fully to the IGAD process, as have our European allies. The self-determination referendum holds out the possibility of southern secession as one outcome of a vote to be held after an interim period. Thus the Danforth report’s unilateral effort to abrogate the terms of self-determination—virtually ruling out the possibility of secession—compromises U.S. commitment to the IGAD effort and in the process acceded to Khartoum’s position on this key issue prior to the peace talks in which self-determination was actually negotiated. It is because of such an attitude that the first phase of the Machakos peace process almost collapsed prior to Khartoum’s agreeing (under tremendous pressure) to a self-determination referendum for the south, to be held six-and-a-half years after the completion of a peace agreement.
The redefinition of self-determination, which in various ways continues to inform U.S. policy thinking, is almost certainly an effort to induce a more cooperative effort from Egypt, which has made no secret of its intense dismay at any thought of southern self-determination. But such redefinition has alienated many southern constituencies and has left them wondering about the degree of U.S. commitment to the self-determination agreement that has now been negotiated. Egypt is a critical regional player, but it must not be allowed to dictate the terms under which peace is negotiated. The Libyan-Egyptian Joint Initiative (LEJI) must be recognized for what it is: a transparent play to take southern self-determination off the bargaining table (the LEJI was launched by Cairo and Tripoli in late 1999 as an alternative to the IGAD peace process, but has no support among important southern constituencies, primarily because it skirts entirely the issues of self-determination and separation of religion and state). The LEJI cannot be reconciled with what has already been achieved at Machakos.
The logic of the peace process is also misconceived by the Danforth report in its discussion of oil-revenue sharing, and this bodes ill for any resumed negotiations at Machakos. Such revenue sharing is conceived of as an engine for peace, rather than as one critically important issue that can be resolved only in the context of a concluded peace. Moreover, Khartoum—almost immediately after the revenue-sharing plan was first reported—peremptorily rejected the idea, both through First Vice President Ali Osman Taha and subsequently through Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail. This intransigent attitude must be overcome at Machakos, along with the vested interests of the various government officials in Khartoum presently benefiting from the lack of transparency in accounting for oil revenues.
Here it is extremely important to keep in mind Khartoum’s strategic goals in its war on civilians throughout the oil regions. This has much to do with whether or not the regime will resume talks at Machakos in good faith. The most promising oil concessions lie to the south of the only presently producing operation, that of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (with Canadian, Chinese, and Malaysian partners). Block 5a, which has over recent years seen some of the most brutal civilian destruction of a war now in its 20th year, lies within this more southerly area, and Khartoum has engaged in ferocious efforts to resecure the concession area for the Swedish, Austrian, and Malaysian partners in this project.
Block 5b and the enormous TotalFinaElf concession (running south almost to the Ugandan border) are also clear prizes for a Khartoum regime that is currently spending more on the war than present oil revenues can fund. The regime has, in effect, heavily committed presently unsecured future revenues from oil concessions to its war. There is no oil revenue to share, given Khartoum’s voracious appetite for military hardware, and there is no inclination on the part of the regime to share revenues as long as it believes it can control more of the extremely promising oil concession areas lying further south.
To accomplish this end the regime must conduct many further attacks of the sort that the world caught a glimpse on 20 February 2002, in the village of Bieh, just off the newly constructed oil road in the middle of Block 5a. There, two of Khartoum’s helicopter gunships, in broad daylight and at point-blank range, poured heavy machine-gun fire and rockets into thousands of innocent women and children gathered to collect food from a United Nations World Food Program (WFP) distribution site. Permission for the distribution had been secured by the U.N. from Khartoum, the location was well-known, there was no military presence, and the distribution building was well-marked. WFP workers were present as witnesses. None of this spared the dozens of civilians who were killed and the many more who were wounded, perhaps dying later. Bieh has now been put off limits to humanitarian relief, as has virtually every other relief site in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile Province.
The State Department is long overdue in assembling and deploying the team of human rights monitors who will investigate attacks on civilians in southern Sudan. The important achievement of the Danforth mission in securing agreement on this issue is being squandered for lack of an effective monitoring regime. Human Rights Watch (New York and Washington) offered the outlines for such a monitoring regime in December 2001—well before agreement was reached between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement on this issue in March 2002. In early autumn 2002, the continuing aerial attacks on southern civilians in the oil regions, reported by various sources, were still not being investigated, despite the signal opportunity provided by agreement between the combatants.
I have deliberately used the word genocide to describe the realities in southern Sudan and to indicate why we may not afford to indulge the moral equanimity that lies behind the refusal of the Danforth report to “arbitrate the competing claims of the parties in Sudan.” For whatever the diplomatic exigencies of the peace process, whatever reasonable compromises are necessary to secure a just peace, we cannot lose sight of the nature of the regime in Khartoum. It will not negotiate out of a concern for justice or because the human suffering and destruction in the south has become intolerable. The NIF will negotiate only if it sees that there is no alternative—that its very survival politically and economically will be threatened by a refusal to engage in good faith peace talks.
Ideally the pressures on Khartoum will be applied by the US in concert with our key Western allies, though the record of Canada, Europe, and the European Union on Sudan has hardly been encouraging, with the exception of the Norwegians and more recently the British. The Canadian government, for example, has proved singularly impotent in restraining Talisman Energy, the only Western oil company involved in the Greater Nile producing consortium.
Despite the damning findings of numerous human rights assessment missions to the oil regions, including one commissioned by the Canadian Foreign Ministry, Talisman operates without restraint of any sort. Consequently, its airstrips continue to be used by Khartoum’s helicopter gunships for attacks on civilian targets; its oil roads continue to facilitate the movement of Khartoum’s ground forces; the oil it pumps to the El Obeid refinery supplies all fuel for Khartoum’s deadly air assaults; and Talisman-generated oil revenues fund massive additional military purchases, including helicopter gunships, Khartoum’s present weapon of choice for civilian destruction. Talisman stands as the very embodiment of western corporate evil in Sudan.
It was in response to these realities that the House of Representatives passed the Sudan Peace Act with provision for capital market sanctions against oil companies like Talisman Energy. Such sanctions offered a potent means of bringing US capital market leverage to bear in a way that will help pressure Khartoum. Without such leverage, we have no obvious policy options for moving Khartoum to engage in good faith peace negotiations. The revised Sudan Peace Act, without capital market sanctions, offers relatively little leverage, though it is important for a variety of reasons that the President signed the bill into law on 21 October, 2002. If we mean to end the most destructive civil conflict in the world today, we simply must acknowledge the ongoing recalcitrance on the part of Khartoum—we must see that its larger military strategy entails continued scorched-earth warfare to secure great sections of the south for further oil exploitation. This strategy is viable only with continued oil revenues at present or increased levels.
The Bush administration and Congress must recognize that without meaningful pressure on Khartoum, and in particular the oil development that sustains the regime, peace will never come to Sudan. Genocidal destruction of the sort emblematized by the attack on Bieh will continue, and our refusal to do all we could to stop this catastrophe will mark a moment of terrible moral failure. History will judge this failure savagely.
 “Report to the President of the United States on the Outlook for Peace in Sudan,” from John C. Danforth, Special Envoy for Peace [26 April 2002];
[Eric Reeves is a professor of English at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts; he has written extensively on Sudan]