"Intolerable" Inaction

Editor's Note: With the 2012 elections behind us, it is important that pressure be placed on the Obama administration to fulfill promises made with regard to the Sudan crisis more than four years ago prior to the 2008 election. The President has done next to nothing to seriously address the ongoing humanitarian crisis and genocide within greater Sudan. The following is an open letter to President Obama's Special Envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, written by Sudan expert and advocate Eric Reeves of Smith College. Professor Reeves presents an excellent and blistering indictment against the Administration and essentially calls for the resignation of Lyman. This entire letter can be found at http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article44442, but we have included the highlights below. This issue is not Left vs. Right, Republican vs. Democrat, etc. This is Right vs. Wrong. The US Government's action (and inaction) in Sudan is simply indefensible. PPF will not wait for a political solution. We have to act where we can-- and we are responding with your help. Please read Professor Smith's letter and then visit savethenuba.com to get involved on behalf of the persecuted in Sudan.  

Tuesday 6 November 2012

An open letter to: Princeton Lyman, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Department of State Washington, DC

Dear Ambassador Lyman:

I write to you to express my profound dismay at the character of Obama administration responses to the various political and humanitarian crises that continue to define greater Sudan. I wish in particular to express my distress at the failure of the administration you represent to respond with appropriate urgency and commitment to the vast and still-growing humanitarian crises in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, as well as the consequent exodus of Sudanese refugees to South Sudan...

With deep regret, I must simply note for the moment the extraordinary suffering and violence that have for almost a decade defined life for most of Darfur's civilian population, particularly the more than 2 million civilians who remain internally displaced or refugees in eastern Chad. Here again the Obama administration, including both yourself and Ambassador Dane Smith, has failed badly in using U.S. resources and influence to end violence that is now escalating and to help provide security for humanitarian operations that are steadily contracting amidst deteriorating security.

The facts about the origin of the crises in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are readily apparent, and indeed have been for many months; these facts make clear that your own initial response to the risk of a massive civilian catastrophe was excessively skeptical and dilatory. I discuss here in some detail that response as it emerged in the wake of Khartoum's initiation of military hostilities in South Kordofan on June 5, 2011. The atrocity crimes that began in the immediate wake of these well-planned hostilities were directed overwhelmingly against Nuba tribal groups, particularly in and around Kadugli during the early weeks of conflict. And yet for your part, Ambassador Lyman, you were neither sufficiently responsive to the evidence at hand nor willing to acknowledge the well-documented crimes, even as the evidence steadily accumulated and finally became overwhelming by mid-July 2011.

In negotiations on these and other issues with the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum, I believe that you have chosen the path of expediency. My conviction derives in large part from your wholly untenable characterizations of the potential for change within this regime. Asked by the respected Arabic news outlet Asharq Al-Awsat about the "Arab Spring," you said last year:

"Frankly, we do not want to see the ouster of the [Sudanese] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (March 21, 2011)

I believe the premise here — that this regime has revealed a potential willingness to "carry out reform via constitutional democratic measures"—is simply preposterous and, further, that you are quite aware that there is not the slightest historical justification for such an assumption. The men who make up the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime have successfully resisted all democratic change for 23 years. In the end, your views as expressed in the Asharq Al-Awsat interview, and subsequently, have served only to sustain the pretense that the U.S. is diplomatically engaged with an interlocutor who places value on something other than ruthless self-preservation...

With a grim predictability, the Khartoum regime seized Abyei militarily, and two weeks later began hostilities in South Kordofan. The hostilities began because the regime felt no serious international pressure to withdraw from Abyei, or substantial criticism of the fraudulent election of Ahmed Haroun to be state governor. As you are of course aware, Haroun has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on multiple counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Contriving his election in South Kordofan was transparently a means for Khartoum to ensure that Haroun's genocidal skills were fully redeployed. In turn, the hostilities initiated by Khartoum would soon spread to Blue Nile (September 1, 2011), and this violence—with Abyei as its clear point of origin — has caused untold suffering, a great many civilian casualties, displaced as many as one million people, and brought hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation...

[W]hen you were asked in late June [2011] about the reports of ethnically-targeted atrocity crimes that had already emerged repeatedly and authoritatively from South Kordofan, you would say only:

"We certainly have reports of [atrocity crimes]. Because we don’t have a presence there, we haven’t been able to investigate it fully. There are certainly reports of targeted killings. There are some reports from the other side also. What we’ve asked for is a full investigation."

This statement prevaricates about what the U.S. knew; moreover, in casually blaming the SPLA-N ("There are some reports from the other side also") in the same paragraph that you speak of reports about massive atrocity crimes committed by Khartoum's regular and militia forces, you provide one of the most disgraceful examples to date of the diplomatically disabling "moral equivalence" that prevails within the Obama administration.

To the follow-up question ("By whom [should the investigation be conducted]?") you responded glibly: "Well, by the UN would be the best. The UN presence has not been sufficient to get out and stop this or to investigate it." Yet the U.S. has done nothing to push effectively for such a UN investigation. Moreover, you knew full well as you spoke that there was no political will at the UN to mount such an investigation or even sustain a UN presence in Kadugli—either in the Security Council, the Secretariat, or the UN High Commission for Human Rights. No one, including you, offered more than lip service to the idea of serious investigation — a telling diplomatic irresolution whose implications were not lost on Khartoum.

I am just as troubled by your comments of June 16, 2011 — eleven days after the killing began in Kadugli — claiming that the United States "doesn’t have enough information on the ground to call the campaign 'ethnic cleansing.'" But contemporaneous reports — from civilians speaking with news organizations and to expatriate groups — should have been both chilling and compelling. Nuba were being systematically stopped at checkpoints grimly similar to those once seen in Rwanda. One aid worker who had recently escaped from South Kordofan told McClatchy News, "Those [Nuba] coming in are saying, 'Whenever they see you are a black person, they kill you.'" Another Nuba aid worker reported that an Arab militia leader made clear that their orders were simple: to "just clear." Yet another Nuba resident of Kadugli told Agence France-Presse that he had been informed by a member of the paramilitary Popular Defense Forces that they had been provided plenty of weapons and ammunition, and a standing order: "He said that they had clear instructions: just sweep away the rubbish. If you see a Nuba, just clean it up.... He told me he saw two trucks of people with their hands tied and blindfolded, driving out to where diggers were making holes for graves on the edge of town...."

In early July [2011] a leaked UN human rights report, based on what it was possible to investigate from the ground in Kadugli during June 2011, offered an extraordinary indictment of Khartoum's brutal actions, and yet there is no evidence that it had any impact on either your thinking or public pronouncements. Are we to believe that you were not aware of this report — widely available in early July — and its devastating findings? It remains shocking reading, the more so given the urgency of the recommendations by the UN human rights reporters who compiled this very substantial catalog of war crimes and crimes against humanity. UN monitoring had revealed "aerial bombardments resulting in destruction of property, forced displacement, significant loss of civilian lives, including of women, children and the elderly; abductions; house-to-house searches; arbitrary arrests and detentions; targeted killings; summary executions; reports of mass graves; systematic destruction of dwellings and attacks on churches."

And the assignment of responsibility to Khartoum and its paramilitary forces is explicit:

"Monitoring has also revealed that the SAF, paramilitary forces and Government security apparatus have engaged in violent and unlawful acts against UNMIS, in violation of International Conventions and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) including: verified incidents of shelling in close proximity to UN property, resulting in damage; summary execution of a UN national staff member; assaults on physical integrity of UN staff; arbitrary arrest and detention of UN Staff and associated human rights violations including ill treatment amounting to torture; harassment, intimidation, and obstruction of freedom of movement; and intrusion on UN premises including the UNMIS Protective Perimeter established to protect civilians internally displaced as a result of the conflict. The international community must hold the Government of Sudan accountable for this conduct and insist that those responsible be arrested and brought to justice."

Yet even as evidence confirming atrocities in Kadugli and throughout South Kordofan, and subsequently Blue Nile, grew rapidly throughout the summer of 2011 — and continues to grow — you felt no need to offer a correction to your earlier and clearly untenable skepticism about what was occurring in Kadugli and South Kordofan.

Inevitably your subsequent Congressional testimony (October 4, 2011) reeked of hypocrisy:

... accountability for human rights violations that have occurred in [South Kordofan and Blue Nile] is critical to a lasting resolution of the conflict. We will continue to push for a credible, independent investigation of violations of human rights that will contribute to efforts to bring those responsible to account. Unfortunately, to date, there has been insufficient support in the UN Security Council for such an investigation.

This was nothing more than political "boilerplate." Neither you nor the Obama administration has done anything in the interim to move forward with any meaningful investigation.

On the humanitarian crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, you have also spoken with a painful lack of urgency that has certainly registered in Khartoum, working to assure the regime's genocidaires that they would face no real pressure to halt deliberate, large-scale civilian destruction. Over the past seventeen months, this destruction has included ground assaults on Nuba villages and food stores, and more broadly a relentless campaign of aerial bombardment meant to destroy agricultural production and which has been the major instrument of civilian displacement — then and now. Yet in your Congressional testimony of October 4, 2011 you would say only: "We believe a major humanitarian crisis may be developing in Southern Kordofan and potentially in Blue Nile."

“May be developing”? "Potentially"? Had you not read the weekly reports from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs? Did you not listen to the many reports from the ground in South Kordofan and Blue Nile — from intrepid journalists, from a few courageous humanitarians, and from countless Sudanese witnesses? You yourself cited conservative figures indicating that some 400,000 people had already been displaced at the very moment of traditional food harvesting. Is this merely a potential “humanitarian crisis”? This sort of understatement is wholly inappropriate in the context of what was clearly — at the time — a “major humanitarian crisis,” one that I and many others predicted would grow in scope by the day as Khartoum continued its military actions...

According to present UN figures from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), approximately 1 million people have been made refugees, are internally displaced in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, or are acutely distressed for lack of food and primary medical care. Humanitarian aid workers have repeatedly expressed fears that another large wave of refugees would move southward as the dry season settles in and travel once again becomes possible...

Your efforts to respond to a humanitarian crisis of these proportions have been scandalously inadequate, and there are no plans in evidence to create the critically needed humanitarian corridors, especially to Blue Nile. Nor have you made progress in creating international pressure on Khartoum to accept the February, 2012 access proposal from the UN, African Union, and Arab League: Khartoum remains obdurate in preventing virtually all humanitarian access to the most critically endangered populations...

This is intolerable, Ambassador Lyman: Khartoum is attempting nothing less that the slow extermination of the African peoples of the Nuba and Blue Nile. To date your efforts and those of the Obama administration have been dismayingly dilatory and inadequate, acquiescing before Khartoum's claim that national sovereignty confers upon this illegal regime the right to starve its civilians to death. Given your belief that the Khartoum regime is capable of "carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures," it is difficult to see how you can respond to the viciously survivalist instincts that guide this regime or to its determination to use all necessary measures — however brutal, even genocidal — to ensure that it maintains its tyranny. More fundamentally, I fail to see how you can continue to function effectively as U.S. special envoy for Sudan in any new Obama administration.


Eric Reeves Smith College