“Why Can’t the Obama Administration Speak Honestly About Sudan?”
Eric Reeves | July 5, 2016 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Uq
The Obama administration has from the beginning found it difficult to speak honestly about the ghastly realities defining Sudan under the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum. This is particularly true of human suffering and destruction in the western Darfur region, but also in the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Genocidal destruction of Darfur’s non-Arab/African tribal groups has been relentless for more than thirteen years – the longest genocide in more than a century, and apparently the most successful. The same sort of village destruction, murder, rape, pillaging, displacement, and wide-ranging brutality are as intense today as they were in the most destructive years of the genocide, 2003 – 2005.
In a telling example, former administration special envoy for Sudan Scott Gration badly misjudged the appropriateness of returns by displaced people in Darfur, prompting a stern rebuke from humanitarian organizations and UN agencies. Gration also terribly understated the effects on humanitarian capacity created by Khartoum’s March 2009 expulsion from Darfur of thirteen of the world finest relief organizations. Gration’s was the Obama administration response to an egregious and highly consequential violation of international humanitarian law.
Air Force Major General (retired) Scott Gration – a man almost inconceivably unqualified for the position of U.S. special envoy for Sudan – was selected by a grateful President Barack Obama, this in “reward” for Gration’s campaign assistance. The appointment of the completely inexperienced Gration came in March 2009, as Khartoum was in the process of expelling thirteen of the world’s finest humanitarian relief organizations from Darfur, roughly half the humanitarian capacity. Gration’s response? To downplay the significance of events.
His successor, Princeton Lyman, refused to credit clear evidence of ethnic slaughter by Khartoum’s forces in the early stages of fighting in South Kordofan (June 2011)—slaughter that was later confirmed by a leaked UN human rights report compiled by UN human rights observers on the ground at the time. In December 2011 Lyman committed the Obama administration to the preposterous notion that the current Khartoum regime should not be changed, but allowed to “carry out reform via constitutional democratic measures.”
Princeton Lyman, Obama’s second special envoy for Sudan, claimed to believe that the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum “could carry out reform via constitutional democratic measures” (December 2011). This was and is cynical diplomatic expediency at its very worst.
So absurd was such a notion that it could barely disguise the real engine of Obama administration Sudan policy: a lust for the counter-terrorism intelligence that Khartoum – which hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the 1990s – could purportedly provide the U.S. It has seemed not to matter that this entails rapprochement with a regime whose president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for multiple counts of genocide as well as crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Génocidaire-in-Chief, Omar al-Bashir. The president of the NIF/NCP regime has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on multiples counts of genocide, as well as multiple counts of crimes against humanity. He heads the process Envoy Lyman described as “reform via constitutional democratic measures.”
At various times statements coming from the Obama administration State Department have been misleading about facts on the ground, indulged a specious moral equivalence between Khartoum and its rebel opponents, or diminished the scale of human suffering and deprivation. Recently, however, the State Department has outdone itself in declaring its support for al-Bashir’s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in South Kordofan and Blue Nile (not in Darfur). No mention was made of the fact that the announcement came at the start of the heavy rainy season, when Khartoum’s massive advantage in mechanized transportation and weaponry is effectively neutralized. But most startling was the characterization of those who might be assisted by a permanent ceasefire:
We find this [cease-fire declaration] an important and welcome step towards a peaceful resolution to conflict in those states, which we would like to see extended to the Darfur region. An end to military offensives and fighting in these areas would bring much needed relief to thousands of Sudanese and create an improved environment for dialogue leading to a political solution.
John Kirby, U.S. State Department Spokesman
“Thousands of Sudanese”?
This is not understatement: it is disingenuous obfuscation. There are quite literally millions of people affected by the assault on humanitarian relief efforts in Darfur and the humanitarian blockade that Khartoum continues to impose on South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Some figures of note. Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur has forced more than three million people their homes in Darfur—overwhelmingly from African tribal groups of the region (see also http://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/jebel-marra-crisis-fact-sheet-issue-5-i-24-march-2016/). Some 300,000 of the displaced live as refugees in terribly inhospitable eastern Chad. Many of the displaced have no access to adequate food supplies, clean water, primary medical care, or other resources that could be provided by unfettered humanitarian access.
A spontaneous camp at Sartony (North Darfur) for newly displaced persons from the Jebel Marra massif (Central Darfur); Khartoum’s militias blocked entry of critical humanitarian supplies and many of those at Sartony had to be airlifted to El Fasher, capital of North Darfur and surrounded by already overcrowded IDP camps.
UNICEF, in a report leaked to journalists, estimates that some 2 million children in Sudan suffer from severe or acute malnutrition, with malnutrition rates in Darfur among the worst. A top EU humanitarian official recently estimated that more than 5 million people in Sudan are in “urgent need” of humanitarian assistance; they are concentrated in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.
This child is acutely malnourished and depending on his/her location in the Nuba Mountains, is likely dead by this time. It is the case, Mr. Kirby of the U.S. State Department, that many “thousands” have already been killed or died of disease and starvation in Blue Nile and South Kordofan since Khartoum suspended all international relief aid. Moreover, we have no clear idea how many have died during Khartoum’s relentlessly savage aerial assault on civilians, beginning in June 2011. We have no collated assessment data, but a survey of what data have emerged over the past five years, especially concerning malnutrition rates, makes clear such a death total is inevitable.
Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese have fled their homes in South Kordofan and Blue Nile—many to South Sudan (see also http://www.hart-uk.org/news/south-kordofan-blue-nile-coordination-unit-humanitarian-update-may-2015/). They have been forced to leave by Khartoum’s relentless, indiscriminate aerial assault, primarily in the form of inaccurate, shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs. To the extent there is targeting, civilians and civilian agriculture are the primary victims. Growing numbers of people face extreme malnutrition and may well starve, although Khartoum prevents even international humanitarian assessment efforts.
Does the price of counter-terrorism intelligence include an obscene downplaying of massive human suffering and destruction? The evidence is that the Obama administration thinks it does.
The man who made the unctuous promises about not turning a blind eye to human slaughter during his presidential campaign – the man who called Darfur “a stain on our souls” – now bears primary responsibility for a disastrous and consummately cynical Sudan policy, particularly with respect to Darfur, but toward Blue Nile and South Kordofan as well.
Eric Reeves has written extensively on Sudan for almost two decades; he is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights. His website is www.SudanReeves.org; he is on Twitter at SudanReeves]