S udan's president, Gen. Omar al-Bashir — an indicted war criminal — is now ferociously targeting the 1 million Nuba and various other peoples of oil-rich Southern Kordofan. Though this area sided with South Sudan in the civil war that raged from 1983 to 2005, it was, under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, left behind when the South seceded last month. Bashir wants to ensure that Southern Kordofan's oil fields remain under Khartoum's control.
Ever since Bashir seized power in a 1989 military coup, with support from the National Islamic Front, he has waged perpetual, total war against his own people — first the Nuba, then South Sudan, then Darfur in the west, then the Beja people in the east, and now again the Nuba.
Since fighting broke out in Southern Kordofan on June 5, Khartoum has made it impossible for foreign aid groups to go there, and the region has never been on foreign journalists' beaten path. Nevertheless, we have glimpses of the atrocities now taking place thanks to leaked U.N. reports and intermittent accounts by church representatives.
One such leaked U.N. human-rights report from late June describes the regime conducting
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; . . . mass graves; systematic destruction of dwellings; and attacks on churches.
Veteran Sudan analyst Prof. Eric Reeves writes:
Strong evidence is growing of house-to-house searches for Nuba people and those sympathizing with the northern wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Army [SPLA]. Also, compelling evidence points to roadblocks that have similarly targeted Nuba. Most Nuba found were arrested or summarily executed. This has occurred primarily in the Kadugli area, capital of South Kordofan. . . . Most disturbingly, a great many eyewitness accounts of mass gravesites are being reported.
Reeves also refers to an incident described in an earlier leaked U.N. report (see the Associated Press), in which members of Khartoum's security services, disguised as Red Crescent workers, led 7,000 refugees, including women and children, out of U.N. protective custody in Kadugli on June 20. They have not been seen since, and the U.N. has no idea what happened to them.
Christians are singled out because they are presumed to oppose Bashir's government. Brad Phillips of the Persecution Project and Voice of the Martyrs, who entered the region in July in a privately chartered plane (one of the few outsiders to have gone there since the new offensive), attested to this development before an August 4 emergency hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights:
I spoke with Reverend Luka Bolis, an Episcopal priest and Western Regional Chairman of the Sudan Council of Churches, who escaped from Kadugli and told me that “The NCP [National Congress Party — Bashir's party] is targeting the church in this war.” Rev. Luka received a call from some friends in Kadugli warning him not to return. They told him the SAF [Sudan Armed Forces] had a list of all church leaders and suspected SPLM [Sudan People's Liberation Movement] sympathizers.
Phillips also testified:
The daily bombings have terrorized the local population to the degree that normal cultivation is not taking place during this crucial planting season. The Nuba Mountains are isolated, cut off, and facing a humanitarian crisis within 60 days unless relief flights are allowed to recommence. And this will not happen while SAF MiGs and Antonov bombers and gunships patrol the skies. The NCP refuses to allow U.N. observers into the Nuba Mountains to document what is happening, which should not surprise anyone.
Indeed it should not. As Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), who chaired the hearing, concluded: “Whatever the numbers involved, we can be sure that the suffering of the people in Southern Kordofan, especially the Nuba people, has been catastrophic.”
Bashir has already been indicted for genocide and war crimes against the tribes of Darfur. Many observers believe that the campaign he directed against the now-independent South Sudan in an attempt to impose Islamic law also rose to the level of genocide: It took the lives of an estimated 2 million people, mostly Christians and animists. The Nuba also took a heavy toll in that war, and the U.S. Committee for Refugees documented genocide there too. Though the Nuba are mostly Muslim, they refused to wage Bashir's proclaimed jihad against the South. For their resistance they were declared “apostates,” which meant that it was deemed permissible to kill them along with non-Muslims, according to a 1993 fatwa sponsored by the government. As a consequence, tens of thousands of Nuba people were starved to death under the regime's two-pronged strategy of conducting saturation bombing and banning international relief flights — the same strategy being used now.
Bishop Macram Gassis, Catholic bishop for the Nuba, leads a church that remains active in the war-wracked area. He states that the attacks now underway amount to “ethnic cleansing.” He reports that Khartoum is bringing to his diocese from across the border in Chad and Niger the Janjaweed, the genocidal militias that ravaged Darfur, and that the government is preparing to import mercenaries from among Somalia's al-Shabaab terrorists.
The monstrous Ahmad Harun — an accused war criminal wanted for arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for having managed the Janjaweed's systematic murder, rape, and mass deportation of Darfur's Fur people in 2003 — is the new governor of Southern Kordofan. According to Bishop Gassis, he is now threatening to use chemical weapons on his Nuba constituents if SPLA troops do not turn over their guns and equipment.
In the interest of bringing peace to Sudan, the U.S. has, over the past decade, engaged in innumerable hours of negotiation and diplomacy, sent $9.8 billion in humanitarian and other aid, supported international peacekeeping operations and indictments by international courts, imposed trade sanctions, and undertaken a heroic effort to arrange for the secession of the southern third of the country. None of these policies has deterred Bashir from unleashing the current horrors.
Roger Winter, a former U.S. special envoy to Sudan and a longtime humanitarian activist, earlier this summer addressed Southern Kordofan at a hearing of the House subcommittee on Africa. Winter called for immediate military action against Khartoum. “Take a military action against a Khartoum military target now,” he urged, “to strengthen the SPLA in meaningful ways as a deterrent against Khartoum aggression, provocation, and attacks against civilians.”
Even antiwar voices are desperate for real protection. Bishop Gassis pleads for a no-fly zone over the Nuba region and for international help in opening the borders so that aid can avert government-made famine. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has repeatedly called for security guarantees for South Sudan in order to deter Khartoum from renewing war, such as improving the South's ability to detect air attacks in advance.
The Obama administration, though well staffed with Sudan experts and anti-genocide activists, has essentially abdicated. It is taking a back seat to the impotent ICC and to the U.N. Mission and its peacekeepers, whose mandate requires a posture of principled neutrality even as Khartoum goes about bombing civilians and manufacturing mass starvation (thus the need to prepare secretly, but then leak, its damning reports).
The Obama administration, possibly still not giving up on its promises to give Bashir trade carrots for allowing the South's secession, also assumes a neutral stance. It does not even muster outrage when Khartoum targets the blue helmets on whom its policy so depends.
Last week, after four U.N. peacekeepers in Southern Kordofan were wounded by landmines and then left to die when the government threatened to shoot down any U.N. helicopters sent to rescue them, Secretary Clinton issued a short, perfunctory statement expressing “concern.” She urged the governments of both Sudan and South Sudan “to fulfill their agreement to withdraw their forces immediately from the Abyei area, and to allow full and unrestricted access to UNISFA [U.N. Interim Security Force in Abyei] personnel.”
This mild statement no doubt gives Bashir succor, with its implication that the U.S. lays equal blame on the aggressor and the defender. Be braced for spreading conflict and staggering numbers of innocent victims.
Nina Shea is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and director of its Center for Religious Freedom. She is the coauthor with Paul Marshall of the forthcoming book Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide (Oxford University Press, 2011)