The “National Prayer Breakfast”—a sixty-two year tradition in Washington, held annually on the first Thursday in February—will this year commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Bringing together a wide range of guests from all fifty states and more than 100 countries, the event is hosted by the U.S. Congress and is designed to facilitate engagement between various social and religious groups. This year President Obama and the Dalai Lama are headline guests.
But we must wonder about the appropriateness of one of those invited, Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum, Sudan. Any perusal of Karti’s “record of service” to this cabal of génocidaires should make all in attendance uneasy, particularly given the terrible genocide of a century ago that is being commemorated on this occasion. For Karti has long been a key member of the regime and done some of its dirtiest work, particularly as head of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF)—a militia organization notorious for its savage attacks on civilians (Karti was appointed in 1997). The PDF were particularly active in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, where the Nuba people were targeted for most of the 1990s in a brutal campaign of extermination. No student of the period characterizes the actions by Khartoum and its military and militia forces in the Nuba Mountains as anything other than genocide.
And Karti is presently the international face of a regime that remains committed to genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur. Indeed, efforts to destroy the lives and livelihoods of the non-Arab or African tribal populations of Darfur have accelerated dramatically over the past three years, particularly in 2014, when some 500,000 people were newly displaced. The UN Panel of Experts on Darfur has recently reported that in the first five months of 2014, more than 3,300 villages were destroyed—overwhelmingly those of the region’s African tribal groups. As has long been the case, displacement and violence in Darfur correlate extremely highly. North Darfur is presently the region that is enduring the worst atrocities committed against civilians, including mass rape, indiscriminate bombardment of civilian targets, village destruction, land appropriation, and murder on a large scale. Again, the targets are inevitably the African tribal groups of the region perceived as supporting the longstanding rebellion; and Khartoum is using not only its regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), but the new Arab militia force known as the Rapid Response Forces (RSF), a part of the legacy of the PDF that Ali Karti once headed.
Currently some 3 million Darfuris are internally displaced or refugees in eastern Chad; many more are in critical need of relief efforts, efforts by distinguished international humanitarian organizations that Khartoum has, for more than a decade, systematically obstructed, harassed, expelled, and intimidated.
And yet Karti has attempted during his tenure as Foreign Minister—he was appointed in January 2010—to minimize the genocidal destruction in Darfur. In August 2011, speaking to a pending UN resolution—Karti’s office declared at his behest:
“The resolution is full of negative and obsolete references to be resolved within the framework of the tripartite mechanism, such as visa problems and allegations of aerial bombardment and the violation of human rights,” the foreign ministry said. (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], 2 August 2011.
In fact, what Karti referred to as “allegations” had for years been substantiated by every human rights group working on Darfur (until they were all expelled, along with all independent journalists). These include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Physicians for Human Rights. The civilian bombings were and have continued to be verified by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur. To refer to confirmed atrocity crimes as mere “allegations” tells us that above all, Karti represents the NIF/NCP regime, not the people of Sudan. And there is nothing “obsolete” about the daily reports of atrocity crimes committed in Darfur.
In short, Khartoum continues to wage genocidal counter-insurgency war in Darfur, and efforts by Karti to minimize these realities make him deeply complicit.
The regime Karti represents to the world also continues its campaign of more than three years against the people of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State. Relentless aerial and ground assaults in the two areas have left more than one million people displaced and without humanitarian resources; many are close to starvation because Khartoum has imposed an embargo on all relief efforts in areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N). It is nothing less than a repeat of the genocidal campaign of the 1990s in the Nuba. And for this, too, Karti makes no apology—even when SAF combat aircraft deliberately strike at hospitals, as has been the case at the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel and the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Frandala, South Kordofan. The latter, winner of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, has been attacked twice in the past year, despite apprising Khartoum of their location.
Because Karti is well-spoken, and has made some of the right noises for Western audiences, he is the point-person in Khartoum’s present charm offensive, particularly as it is addressed to the U.S. and the Obama administration. Karti has met with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and twice with current Secretary of State John Kerry. The effort, evidently encouraged by the Obama administration, is to achieve a détente between Washington and Khartoum. So lustful for counter-terrorism intelligence is the Obama administration that it is willing to overlook all the crimes this regime must answer for. Notably, for example, at a meeting on October 1, 2013,
Secretary of State John Kerry met his Sudanese counterpart [Karti] for talks on Monday on the South Sudan peace process and conflict-hit areas like Darfur, but did not raise U.S. concerns over the government’s crackdown on protesters, the State Department said. (Reuters [UN/New York], 1 October 2013)
This meeting followed immediately upon an extraordinarily bloody effort by the regime to put down a popular uprising over rapidly declining economic conditions. Amnesty International reported at the time that security personnel had been given “shoot to kill” orders in dealing with demonstrators, and many hundreds were killed or wounded in Khartoum, Omdurman, and other major towns in Sudan. Kerry knew this, but chose not to raise the issue with Karti. Karti for his part would have subsequently reported to the génocidaires in Khartoum that the U.S. was not inclined to press the regime on human rights abuses of the worst sort, this in exchange for putative counter-terrorism intelligence provided by Khartoum (which hosted Osama bin Laden from 1992 – 1996, the years during which al-Qaeda came to fruition).
Nor has the Obama administration pushed for a humanitarian corridor to be opened to the people of the Nuba or Blue Nile; indeed, the administration never speaks about these scenes of terrible human suffering and destruction. Thousands have already died from malnutrition and disease, and some 200,000 have fled to Ethiopia or South Sudan. People have fled their homes and villages to live in caves or ravines—desperate to escape the shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs that are a daily reality, particularly in the Nuba. For this Karti makes no apology; indeed, he and other civilians in the regime have long ceded decisions about war and peace to senior military officials. One of these men, Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, has been indicted by the international Criminal Court for massive crimes against humanity in Darfur; President and Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the Court on multiple counts of crimes against humanity and genocide.
The failure of the Obama administration to push hard and publicly for a humanitarian corridor to provide food, medicine, and shelter to many hundreds of thousands of human beings gives us all too clear a picture of the cost of doing business with the regime Karti represents.
Karti has arrived in the U.S. for the National Prayer Breakfast with a visa issued by the Obama administration’s State Department. He is accompanied by a less conspicuous but no less savage regime survivalist, political secretary of the NIF/NCP Ibrahim Ghandour, who was also issued a visa by the State Department. Ghandour’s views are revealed in the leaked minutes of a secret August 31, 2014 meeting of the most senior military and security officials, where he reveals his support for (among other policies) a scorched-earth campaign in the Nuba Mountains, designed to “starve”—the word accurately translates the Arabic—the Nuba people by burning their fall sorghum crop, the staple grain of the region. His comments from the minutes are excerpted and annotated at http://wp.me/p45rOG-1AO . His main task is clearly to rig the “re-election” of President al-Bashir; and the lengths to which the regime is prepared to go to orchestrate a “legitimizing” electoral process are both extraordinary and extraordinarily comprehensive—and completely corrupt.
The Obama administration has already declared its willingness to stand by the regime despite its record of serial genocides, which includes the massive human destruction and displacement of the Nuer people during the “oil war” (1997 – 2002) in what was then Western Upper Nile, now Unity State. Karti’s PDF militias were active participants in the conflict at this point. Former special presidential envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, declared in late 2011—after the campaigns of annihilation were well underway in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and continuing in Darfur:
“We do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Asharq Al-Awsat, 3 December 2011 | http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=3&id=27543
By “we” Lyman meant the Obama administration, which has expediently indulged this preposterous political scenario. This is the same administration that decided to “de-couple” Darfur from the issue of real strategic interest: counter-terrorism cooperation with Khartoum. The word “de-couple” was used by an unnamed senior State Department official, but was reported in the official transcript.
The Armenian genocide should be commemorated at a National Prayer Breakfast; the refusal to recognize this genocide—and the belated recognition by much of the world—is a failure to acknowledge the terrible suffering and destruction of the Armenian people a century ago—it remains a “stain on our soul.” But this is the same phrase that candidate Obama used to describe Darfur in 2007:
“When you see a genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia or in Darfur, that is a stain on all of us, a stain on our souls …. We can’t say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again, and as a president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEd583-fA8M#t=15 )
Obama’s attendance at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, in the company of Khartoum’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti, signals precisely that he is “turning a blind eye” to realities in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile—that he has “abandoned” them to on the going slaughter in which Ali Karti is deeply complicit.
It is a day of national disgrace.