Yesterday U.S. President Obama made a strong argument for the support of human rights, political freedom, and democracy. There was nothing especially innovative or useful in the speech, however much one might agree with the sentiments expressed. The occasion was a “summit” on how to confront ISIS and his words were evidently meant to serve as moral and political context for U.S. efforts. But what made his speech grimly ironic was the fact that it came a week before the Obama administration is to send a State Department official to Khartoum—and a day after the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control was directed to lift economic sanctions that prohibited the export to Sudan of certain items. Here are two excerpts from his speech, which—if we imagine them as directed to the brutal regime in Khartoum—would be entirely appropriate:
“When people are oppressed and human rights are denied, particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines, when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism,” Mr. Obama told a gathering of ministers from dozens of countries. “It creates an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit. When peaceful democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only answer available.
“So we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy,” he added. “That means free elections where people can choose their own future and independent judiciaries that uphold the rule of law, and police and security forces that respect human rights, and free speech and freedom for civil society groups, and it means freedom of religion.” (White House transcript, 19 February 2015)
But though of course these words were not directed at Khartoum’s génocidaires, how can we help but see a perverse image (and reverse image) of the National Islamic Font/National Congress Party regime in Obama’s words? “Oppression,” “human rights, “sectarian or ethnic lines,” the “silencing of dissent,” situations in which “peaceful democratic change is impossible,” “free elections,” “judiciaries that uphold the rule of law,” “police and security forces that respect human rights,” “free speech and freedom for civil society groups,” “freedom of religion.”
In every single word and phrase we see precisely what the people of Sudan either must endure or are denied. This familiar vocabulary is all we need to see that, on Obama’s terms, the people of Sudan are ripe to support terrorism. But in fact it is the regime that supports terrorism, radical Islam, and jihadist movements throughout the region. It remains one of four countries on the U.S. State Department list of “state sponsors of terrorism” (and the regime’s continuing military and political support for Hamas is only one of the reasons provided).
What we know about the inner workings of the Khartoum regime
President and Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir
The minutes of two key meetings—July 1, 2014 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Cb and August 31, 2014 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1wk—were leaked and have been forwarded to me from Sudan. They have been thoroughly vetted by Sudanese native Arabic speakers and experts on Sudan and the Khartoum regime (for July 1, 2015 see | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Ca; for August 31, 2015 see | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1w5). These minutes provide extraordinary insight into the thinking, policies, and actions of a regime that will stop at nothing to preserve its brutal monopoly on national wealth and power. This includes savage political repression, denial of free speech and a free press, torturing and murdering political opponents, and waging wars of unsurpassable barbarism in the peripheral regions of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.
I concentrate here on what is disclosed in the minutes of the July 1, 2014 meeting—more recently leaked, and containing a great deal coming directly from Field Marshal and President Omar al-Bashir. His comments, and those of others, make clear that while President Obama had many countries in mind with his statements, none could be more appropriately addressed than the regime in Khartoum. (I make occasional reference to the minutes of the August 31 meeting.)
War without restraint
The minutes begin with an extraordinary statement by Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, Minister of Defense, a man indicted by the International Criminal Court for massive crimes against humanity in Darfur.
General Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, génocidaire
Hussein seems more than willing to extend his role in atrocity crimes when he declares:
“We won’t stop the war on Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Our National Dialogue initiative is just a maneuver to provide us with political cover for a continuation of the war against the rebellion. We have instructed the Air Force to bomb any place, whether it is a school, hospital, or a nongovernmental humanitarian organization operating in rebel-controlled areas without permission from the government. Such presence is offensive and should be destroyed.” (page one of translation at | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Cb ) (all highlighting in all quotes has been added)
The effects of Khartoum’s unrestrained bombing campaign (an Antonov-26 appears in bottom photograph)
The “instructions” to the air force” constitute for Hussein command responsibility for countless atrocity crimes, rising to the level of crimes against humanity and (I would argue) genocide, at least when seen in the context of broader ethnically-target violence. Certainly Hussein has been as good as his word. The Mother of Mercy Hospital near Kauda in the Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan) was bombed on May 1 and 2, 2014 by a Russian-built Sukhoi-24 advanced military jet aircraft, and has been repeatedly targeted over the past three and a half years (the Sukhoi-24 was identified by Dr. Tom Catena, the only surgeon operating in the Nuba Mountains, and all too familiar with Khartoum’s military aircraft). The hospital of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Frandala, South Kordofan was bombed twice, once prior to and once subsequently to Hussein’s vicious declaration: on June 16, 2014 and January 20, 2015. The second attack was again carried out by a Russian-made Sukhoi-24.
On June 12, 2014, U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power declared, in unusually strong language for the Obama administration, that the U.S. condemned “in the strongest possible terms” bombing attacks on civilian targets. By way of responding, Khartoum ordered the first attack on the MSF hospital in Frandala four days later. Despite her strong language, there was no follow-up by Ambassador Power or anyone else in the Obama administration—a fact not lost on the Khartoum regime. This is not a regime to be coerced by mere words into ending its years of atrocity crimes. Hussein’s declaration of July 1, 2014 remains—as it has been for years—a standing order.
Khartoum’s version of Islam and support for radical Islam and jihadists
President Obama spends much time in his speech talking about “human rights,” “free elections,” “judiciaries the uphold the rule of law,” “police and security forces that respect human rights,” “free speech and freedom for civil society groups,” and “freedom of religion.” We have only to look at the open contempt for these ideals that Khartoum expresses in words and deeds to see that there is a total refusal to be part of Obama’s vision. Herewith an extended passage from al-Bashir’s comments toward the end of the July 1 meeting:
“We are Islamic resistance revolutionaries, and we refuse the domination of America in the Arab world and African continent. Our religion teaches us and encourages us to fight and terrorize the enemy, as well as preparing forces to confront him: our martyrs to heaven and their dead to hell. There is no way to stop the Jihad…”
“We cleaned and purged the SAF of any person who is not an Islamist. Thus there is no other political party that can take power from us through a coup d’état. All the senior officers in the Army are loyal because they are members of the “secret organization” cells of the Islamic movement—and the fate of the Army is tied to the fate of the Islamic Movement.”
There is no freedom of religion in Sudan: there is only Khartoum’s brand of radical Islam. And there is great confidence that the Islamic movement, as conceived by al-Bashir and his cabal, will prevail. Such confidence would seem justified so long President Obama does no more than acquiesce before what he himself has called, as President, “genocide” in Darfur; does no more than give lip service to the need to open humanitarian corridors to the more than 1.5 million people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, primarily food and medical care; and averts his eyes from the reality of Sudan’s central role in what is occurring in regional conflicts, refusing to see the regime’s ambition to export its version of Islamism.
Of Libya, where 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were recently beheaded by Islamic militants—militants who today also sent three suicide bombers on missions that have killed dozens—al-Bashir declares:
“It is clear that the Islamists [in Libya—the movement know as Libya Dawn—ER] will win in Libya because of the substantial support from Qatar and Iran, as you know. Today the Libyans [of Libya Dawn—ER] have joined forces with us, and we are supporting them with armaments and intelligence.”
Elsewhere al-Bashir declares ominously:
“Two-thirds of Gaddafi’s sophisticated armaments are in our hands; he didn’t use them because he lacked key technical expertise; but our experts, in collaboration with the Iranian experts, have managed to develop functioning missiles.”
“We really benefited from Gadddafi’s armaments, which are in our hands; we can proceed to develop them. Our allies from the Islamic movements are strong. We will contribute to the training of the Libyan army. I’ve advised them to ensure that all the army and security forces are loyal to the Islamists. You must continue to coordinate with them. Then the Libyan political decision will end up in our hands and under our control in the event the Islamic movements succeed in crushing Haftar (the General Haftar that Bashir wishes to “crush” is operating per the authority of the internationally recognized government of Libya—ER]. We can say that we would secure their oil reserves.”
Coptic Christians being led to their beheadings by Khartoum’s new partners in Libya
If Obama is serious about terrorism in the Middle East, he needs to take an honest look at the role of Sudan in supporting Islamic militants, terrorists, and jihadists. Moreover, in Yemen the Khartoum regime has also tried to wield influence with the Shii’a Islamic Houthis. While deeply opposed to al-Qaeda, the Houthis are responsible for the fall of the former government and have created the potential for extremely dangerous chaos. All American diplomats have been ordered to withdraw from Yemen in the wake of the Houthi victory, a group best known for its slogan “Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews!” We learn of Khartoum’s role in the August 31 minutes. Major General Hashim Abdalla Mohammed, Chief of Joint General Staff, reports that,
“We have a problem with Saudi Arabia because they found out about the weapons we sent by way of the Red Sea to Abd al-Malik Al-Huthi’s Shi’a group in Yemen.”
Central African Republic
The Khartoum regime has been active in the beleaguered and largely invisible Central African Republic, where the seizure of power by the predominantly Islamic Séléka movement created massive instability and widespread devastation, killings, and rapes. In September 2013 Human Rights Watch published an extensive study of the impact of the Séléka movement, summarized in the words of Daniel Beleke, Africa director for the human rights organization:
“Séléka leaders promised a new beginning for the people of the Central African Republic, but instead have carried out large-scale attacks on civilians, looting, and murder. What’s worse is that the Séléka have recruited children as young as 13 to carry out some of this carnage.” (September 2013)
Khartoum has a rather different view of Séléka, as al-Bashir makes clear in comments recorded in the July 1 minutes:
“Regarding Central African Republic (CAR). We are the ones who established and created the Séléka movement, and we worked with its chairman; and today they are a force to be reckoned with—nobody can overlook them.”
And then of course there is the regime’s open support for Hamas, which continues to have political offices in Khartoum. This is part of the “strategic relationship with Iran,” stressed over and over and over again in the August 31 minutes. This is the context for understanding another of al-Bashir’s comments in the July 1 minutes, bearing in mind that various regime officials say at various points in both sets of minutes that peace negotiations for Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan are merely for show:
“We will not accept a halting of the war; the solution is military victory. That will be obtained in the Decisive Summer Campaign. You are now instructed to crush the armed movements in all three fronts (Nuba Mountains, Darfur, and Blue Nile). The war against the rebellion must continue.”
More victims of Khartoum’s relentless aerial assault against civilians
Refugees from Blue Nile who fled Khartoum’s relentless attacks
Certainly judging by the outcome of endless talks over many years, we may take Khartoum at its word here about foregoing all but military victory.
Internal political repression and electoral manipulation
And as Hussein makes clear in his comment above, domestically there is also no intention of negotiating or accommodating the political opposition:
“We won’t stop the war on Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Our National Dialogue initiative is just a maneuver to provide us with political cover for a continuation of the war against the rebellion.”
Hussein is echoed General Engineer Imadal-Din Adawy, Chief of Joint Operations:
“The National Dialogue will serve to provide us with political cover. We will continue with this effort because it will serve us in our war against the rebellion in the coming dry season.”
The pretense that there is a “National Dialogue” among various political constituencies, that there is an opening of political space in Sudan, that the April 2015 presidential election is somehow open to all and not a fait accompli—all of this is preposterous. In the August 31 meeting, Ibrahim Ghandour, a senior regime political official, spends several pages describing the various and elaborate preparations—including brute force—that have been made to ensure al-Bashir’s re-election. This (we hear at several points) will “buy five more years of legitimacy.” Presumably, this is not what President Obama was talking about—nor, presumably, would be find much that is congenial in the comments of General Daleel al-Daw Mohamed Fadlalla, Chief of Staff of the Navy:
“No one other than the Sons of the Islamic Movement can rule Sudan. Today the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) are an Islamic movement, from the Chief of Staff of the Army down to the most junior officer. We reject any attempt that might be made to form a transitional government or to hold a constitutional conference.”
Ever closer to genocidal victory in Darfur
Khartoum is confident that its genocidal counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur—which has seen escalating violence for several years now, especially with the rise of the Rapid Response Forces—has an ally in UNAMID, and there is much that justifies this confidence. Most recently, the despicably mendacious UNAMID offered an initial report on the massive sexual assault on the girls and women of Tabit, North Darfur, declaring its investigators found no evidence of rapes. But the events of October 30 – November 1, 2014 have now been definitively established by Human Rights Watch (February 11, 2015) and it is clear from scores of interviews—many with the victims of rape—that more than two hundred girls and women were raped; men were beaten, some savagely. All this was done by regular SAF soldiers on orders from their officers in the garrison post just outside Tabit. Because of UNAMID’s initial declaration that it found “no evidence” of sexual assaults, Khartoum has felt at ease both in denying the findings of the Human Rights Watch report and in denying as well a new investigation by the UN, which pretends it is holding out for access to Tabit.
The victims, past and present, of the epidemic of rape in Darfur (first and third photographs by Mia Farrow)
Concerning UNAMID, one especially ominous moment in the July 1 minutes comes in a comment by General Mohamed Graham Omer, SAF Inspector General:
“We managed to strike a deal with UNAMID [in Darfur], and the Mission has started to coordinate fully with us now: any statement going to the media must be agreed upon first so that we are not blamed in it. [A similar arrangement was negotiated in 2011 by the UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Georg Charpentier; it is not fully clear what is new about this arrangement with UNAMID—ER]. Moreover, the SAF must get a copy of any report to be submitted to the UN: we have specified the channels of collaboration between us on the basis of a well-studied procedure that will not cause harm to the interests of either party.”
UNAMID’s mandate is to protect civilians in Darfur, not to shield Khartoum from unwanted publicity about the atrocity crimes of the SAF and the Rapid Support Forces. Under Charpentier, the agreement struck was that no reports on humanitarian conditions would be released without being previewed by Khartoum officials, and that displacement figures would be minimized. Since displaced persons in camps in Darfur have been the primary justification for an international humanitarian presence in Darfur, something the regime very much wants to end, this unjustified reduction amounted to a betrayal of the humanitarian mission.
Notably, UNAMID has already been quietly reduced by 6,000 personnel. The UN won’t respond to my query about whether 400 4×4 vehicles were deployed out of Darfur to West Africa at the height of the Ebola crisis. And just today Sudan Tribune (exclusively) reported on the result of negotiations in Khartoum between the regime, the African Union, and the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations—a department headed by the feckless and incompetent Hervé Ladsous, widely held in contempt within the UN. Talk of an “exit strategy” began with the last re-authorization of UNAMID, and accelerated following the leaking of internal UN documents about how obviously coerced and threatened the people of Tabit were during the “investigation.”
UNAMID has failed terribly in Darfur
Khartoum has succeeded in it larger goal with previous deployments out of Darfur, but now has a much greater victory:
Sudan Tribune was told by senior diplomatic sources that during the talks it was agreed to start withdrawing UNAMID troops from areas that have experienced significant security and stability. (20 February 2015)
Just where are these areas of significant security and stability? Why aren’t they identified? And what is to prevent them from experiencing in the future the devastating violence that is now wracking most of the populated areas of North Darfur? And why isn’t UNAMID deploying from areas nominally “secure” and “stable” to those areas where civilians are totally without protection? There are all too many places where UNAMID has consistently proved unable to undertake its Security Council-mandated protection of civilians.
UNAMID’s failure: causes and consequences
Positive reviews of UNAMID are part of the cover story, long in the making—especially by the AU heads of UNAMID—that the Mission has somehow enjoyed success. Ibrahim Gambari declared in September 2012 that, “I am gratified to note that barely 31 months on, all the objectives I set out to meet have largely been met.” Previous UNAMID head, Rodolphe Adada, declared in 2009 that major fighting was over. Gambari’s outrageous self-celebration came at precisely the time the current violence was escalating, and had been throughout summer 2012. UNAMID was a failure as a concept in peacekeeping, and has been an even greater failure as deployed. Since it officially took up its mandate on January 1, 2008 more than 2 million Darfuris have been displaced, overwhelmingly by violence UNAMID fails to control. Almost 500,000 people were newly displaced last year alone—the largest number since the first two years of the genocide—and this year looks to be even worse.
Displaced and alone in Darfur
The decision to withdraw, or draw-down, or re-deploy UNAMID is nothing but a cover for massive—and extremely expensive—failure. Indeed, UNAMID will certainly go down in history as one of the greatest failures in UN peacekeeping history; and yet the primary efforts at present seem to minimize the obvious consequences of that failure. Hence the UN and AU, no doubt prodded with threatening ultimatums from Khartoum, have factitiously created “secure” and “stable” regions of Darfur. There could be no ghastlier mendacity.
Moreover, as UNAMID continues to execute its “exit strategy,” it will necessitate similar exit strategies for the remaining UN and international humanitarian nongovernmental organizations—all of which are perilously close to withdrawal now. The UN’s World Food Program does not have nearly enough implementing partners for food distribution, even as an internal UNICEF document depicts massive malnutrition in the region. Children under five in North Darfur have a 28 percent rate of Global Acute Malnutrition. The emergency threshold in a war zone is typically 10 percent, so young children in Darfur are suffering from acute malnutrition at three times the humanitarian emergency threshold. If nothing else, UNAMID should be providing continuous escorts for food deliveries throughout Darfur. On the other hand, if 400 4×4 vehicles have in fact been deployed out of Darfur, such escorts would be impossible.
The minutes of meetings attended by the most senior military and security officials, including President and Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir, are at once shocking and unsurprising. Much that is discussed or planned for the future has already occurred (e.g., the attempt to burn the sorghum crop in South Kordofan, and the bombing of civilians targets—including schools and hospitals—has been unrelenting in all areas. Khartoum’s negotiating obduracy is fully on display wherever they meet their rebel foes. At the same time the stage is fully set for a sweeping victory by al-Bashir in eight weeks. It is highly unlikely that UNAMID will be re-authorized by the Security Council in any meaningful form when the current authorization expires on June 30, 2015—and thus highly unlikely that an international humanitarian presence can be maintained.
The Obama administration’s soft-peddling of atrocity crimes and political tyranny in Sudan is supposed to purchase for the U.S. critical information in the “war on terror.” But General Hussein, in comments recorded in the August 31 meeting, suggests just how contemptuous Khartoum is of U.S. wishes:
“America is facing the crisis of the ISIS and the other Jihadist movements that are newly formed and can move freely outside the traditional surveillance networks. Currently, there are twenty thousand (20,000) Jihadists and fifteen (15) newly formed Jihadist Movements who are scattered all over, from Morocco to Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, all the Gulf States, a wide presence in Africa and Europe—and nobody owns a data-base on that as the one we have. We release only limited information to the Americans and only per their request—and the price is the armed movements file.”
President Obama wants us to focus sharply on ISIS and efforts to combat what is certainly a terrifying threat—primarily to people in the region. But in attempting to achieve that focus he has unwittingly made clear just how deeply misguided his administration has been in assessing the Khartoum regime: in its support for regional radical Islam and terrorism; in its genocidal counter-insurgency campaigns; in its extreme political repression; and in its utter contempt for the very idea of human rights. His administration has received a senior regime official and allowed another to attend the National Prayer Breakfast; the administration has lifted some economic sanctions, when it should be tightening them further—and encouraging the Europeans to do so as well; and it is sending a State Department official to Khartoum next week. All of this has been welcomed in Khartoum’s state-controlled media—and that should in itself be cause for concern.
Certainly the Obama administration has given the regime no reason to halt such actions as are reported daily from the three areas by Radio Dabanga, Sudan Tribune, Nuba Reports, Dr. Tom Catena, “Protection Updates” from South Kordofan/Blue Nile Civilian Protection, and others—journalists and human rights investigators—who manage to enter and return with horrific news of human suffering and destruction. The bombing of hospitals, the gang-raping of girls, the obstruction of humanitarian relief, the intimidation and murder of members of a UN-authorized peacekeeping mission in Darfur; diplomatic and negotiating obduracy around issues of war and peace; and the most extreme political repression—all just got a boost from Obama’s words and his administration’s actions.