Article written

  • on 24.04.2012
  • at 12:21 PM
  • by Randa Ghazy

Scandalous international hypocrisy on Sudan 0

The stench of hypocrisy and expediency is in the air wherever one turns in assessing international responses to recent events in Sudan.

The deeply imbalanced reactions to the seizure of Heglig by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) give us our starkest picture to date of how selective and tendentious the world is prepared to be in creating a narrative for the present multiple crises that threaten war in Sudan and South Sudan.

And in their attempts to achieve a factitious “even-handedness,” various actors—including the UN, the U.S., the AU, and the EU—have encouraged Khartoum to believe that it has somehow gained the diplomatic, even moral upper hand. It is difficult to imagine a more dangerous response to have encouraged, and the currently ongoing offensive military actions against South Sudan by the regime’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) stand as stark confirmation.

Notably, international reaction has worked to encourage the most vehemently bellicose language on the part of Field Marshal and President Omar al-Bashir, who has very recently declared that (northern) Sudan is now essentially at war with South Sudan, and that Khartoum’s military ambition is to destroy the “insect” government in Juba.

We have heard such language of racial contempt many times from al-Bashir’s regime; in this instance it is difficult not to recall the infamously ubiquitous calls in Rwanda in 1994 for the destruction of Tutsi “cockroaches.”

Certainly during the widespread ethnic slaughter in Kadugli (South Kordofan), beginning in June 2011, we repeatedly heard reports of similar racial contempt.

“Yusef,” a Nuba from Kadugli, told Agence France-Presse and The Independent (UK) that he had been informed by a member of the notorious Popular Defense Forces (PDF) that they had been provided with 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.”

This racial contempt and hatred, combined with a jihadist rhetoric, has already proved a potent brew in Khartoum, where on Saturday (April 21) various news agencies have reported the destruction of the Presbyterian Evangelical Church. Following an incendiary sermon by a nearby Muslim cleric during Friday evening prayers, hundreds of Muslims attacked and destroyed the church. Reuters offers the most authoritative account:

“Hundreds of Muslims stormed a Christian church complex used by southerners in Khartoum at the weekend, witnesses said, raising fears that recent clashes between Sudan and South Sudan were stoking ethnic tensions in the city. The attackers ransacked buildings, knocked down walls and burned Bibles on Saturday, Youssef Matar, secretary general of the Presbyterian Evangelical Church told Reuters.”

“The attack on the church came a day after South Sudan’s army pulled out of the key Heglig oilfield, an area it seized from Sudan in the worst violence between the two countries since secession. Sudan quickly declared victory over its former civil war foe, prompting widespread celebrations in Khartoum.

A Muslim preacher known for fiery sermons took advantage of the excited climate to call for ’jihad’ against Christians during Friday evening prayers, prompting hundreds to attack the church complex the next day, Matar said.”

The attack represents a terrible precedent in Khartoum, especially given the ineffectual presence of security forces:

“’No one could believe it. Nothing like this has ever happened before,’ Matar said. While Sudan is known for long and bitter conflicts fuelled by religious and ethnic animosity, communal violence in the capital is relatively rare. But communities also live separately for the most part and distrust between them often runs deep. Ethiopians, Eritreans and Indians, as well as Christians from Sudan and South Sudan, use the church, Matar said. A Reuters witness on Sunday saw smoke rising from some of the trees on the church compound, and security vehicles waiting nearby.”

(Reuters [Khartoum], April 22, 2012) (emphasis added)

We should expect to hear very little about this terrible incident from the unctuous UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon or other feckless international actors, certainly no condemnation commensurate with this state-sanctioned attack on a place of worship.

What we may sure of, given the details of this dispatch, is that this assault was tacitly sanctioned by the regime’s security forces, who in turn have no difficulty discerning what they are to do in restraining, or allowing, racially and religiously motivated attacks on Southerners.

In fact, the ethnic culling of Southerners has been looming for many months, and on April 8 became regime policy, stripping as many as 700,000 “Southerners” of their nationality solely on the basis of ethnicity. No internationally recognized standards for de-nationalizing citizens have been observed or even promulgated. And yet again, there has been no urgent or appropriately forceful international condemnation of this ruthless policy of de-nationalizing those judged ethnically “Southern.”

Sadly, our best guide to the world’s responses to Khartoum’s current multiple violations of international human rights and humanitarian law can be discerned in previous perfunctory responses to cross-border aerial assaults on South Sudan, going back to November 2010.

These attacks include multiple, deliberate bombings of civilian targets, including the refugee camp at Yida (Unity State) on November 10, 2011. International response has been equally indecisive in the face of Khartoum’s campaign of ethnic annihilation by means of starvation in northern border states, a campaign that has been underway in the Nuba Mountains for over ten months and in Blue Nile for almost eight months.

Khartoum’s campaign is a ghastly reprise of the genocidal assault on the Nuba in the 1990s, a fact that seems to inform almost none of the present desultory discussions about the future of these people, even as heavy and isolating seasonal rains are impending.

Of a piece with this perverse diffidence is the refusal to credit fully the massive evidence of atrocity crimes committed by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces in Kadugli, including definitive evidence of mass graves that may hold many thousands of Nuba—evidence that includes both substantial satellite photography and eyewitness accounts gathered by a wide range of sources, including the UN human rights team present in Kadugli in June 2011.

Skepticism on this matter by the Obama administration, and special envoy Princeton Lyman in particular, has been a shameful episode in U.S. Sudan policy, which has been conspicuously misguided from the beginning of Obama’s presidency.

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi