Action Needed Now to Avert Famine in Nuba Mountains

By Hannibal Travis and Samuel Totten

January 27, 2012 (SSNA) — This week, President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, warned reporters in South Africa that half a million people risk famine on the border between Sudan and newly-independent South Sudan.  An anonymous State Department official told Canada’s The National that the United States would not watch passively while “100,000 people starve to death.”

After fleeing their homes and villages due to an all-out aerial and ground assault by the Government of Sudan this summer and early fall, approximately 200,000 people in the Nuba Mountains region of Sudan are without adequate food. Starvation is setting in and claiming innocent lives.

The attacks against the Nuba Mountains have wrought extraordinary destruction and hardship on the civilian population, including routine aerial bombing and many executions without trials.  It appears that the government’s intention is to starve civilians to death by denying them food.

Humanitarian officials in the Aida Refugee Camp in South Sudan, which contains some 23,000 people who have fled from the Nuba Mountains, report that 12 percent of the refugees straggling in are suffering from malnutrition. The percentage of malnutrition will only increase as the people of the Nuba Mountains are forced to remain without food.

The people of the Nuba Mountains, disproportionately non-Arabs and Christians in a country insistent on Arabization, were the victims of forced starvation (genocide by attrition) in the early 1990s at the hands of the very same regime in Khartoum that is making them suffer once again, headed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. President al-Bashir, in fact, is already wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for the atrocities perpetrated in Darfur, again largely against non-Arabs and “infidels.”

Just as the international community knows that the people of the Nuba Mountains have little to no food reserves, it knows that Khartoum is deliberately preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the Nuba Mountains. And yet, it has done little to ameliorate the situation.

As the people of the Nuba Mountains are forcibly excluded from their lowland villages and farms, their crops are wilting and dying. Even if the people of the Nuba Mountains venture out of the mountains at a later date, they will continue to face life without adequate amounts of food.

Khartoum’s relatively recent attack on the Blue Nile region has resulted in another 100,000 refugees. Those civilians are also facing dire straits. 

Unlike other demands being made by activist organizations, we are not calling on the international community to establish a no -zone at this point; rather, we are advocating a humanitarian mission to prevent the starvation of hundreds of thousands in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile region — nothing more and nothing less.

The obstruction of humanitarian aid to extremely impoverished and dying civilians is a grave violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.  The international community must not accept such violations.

Given the extraordinary risk to such a vast and vulnerable population, we urge all governments in Africa, as well as the continent’s non-governmental organizations, to put more pressure the Government of Sudan to protect the lives of its own citizens.  The African Union, as well as the United States, the European Union, , and the United Nations, should demand that full and unimpeded humanitarian access be granted to civilians in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State.  To this end, the U.N. Security Council should pass a resolution invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter to authorize a United Nations mission to protect UN personnel and humanitarian workers, including in particular the 13 organizations banned from much of Sudan in March 2009, such as Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam GB, CARE, Mercy Corps, and the International Rescue Committee.


Hannibal Travis, Florida International University College of Law And Samuel Totten, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Hannibal Travis is an Associate Professor of Law at the Florida International University College of Law in Miami, Florida.  He teaches and conducts research in the fields of international law and Internet law, and wrote the first comprehensive legal and political history of genocide in the Middle East and North Africa, entitled Genocide in the Middle East: The Ottoman Empire, Iraq, and Sudan (Carolina Academic, 2010).

Samuel Totten, a genocide scholar at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, has conducted research in the Nuba Mountains. His latest book, Genocide by Attrition: The Nuba Mountains, Sudan is due out in 2012 (New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers).

The substance of this op-ed has been endorsed by numerous scholars of genocide studies, including: Dr. John Hubbel Weiss, Department of History, Cornell University; Professor Linda Melvern. University of Aberystwyth,Wales; Dr. Dominik J. Schaller, Research Fellow, Karman Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Bern, Switzerland; Dr. Herb Hirsch, Department of Political Science, Virginia Commonwealth University;Dr. Roger W. Smith, Professor Emeritus of Government, College of William and Mary; Dr. Ervin Staub, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Hon. David Kilgour, Former Canadian Minister of State for Africa; Dr. Edward Kissi, Department of Africana Studies, University of South Florida; Dr. Michiel Leezenberg, Department of Philosophy, University of Amsterdam; Dr. Israel W. Charny, Executive Director, Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, Jerusalem, Israel; Dr.Colin Tatz, Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia;

Dr. Issam Mohamed, Professor of Economics (retired), Alneelain University, Khartoum,Sudan; Paul Slovic, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon; Aram Suren Hamparian, Executive Director, Armenian National Committee of America; Rebecca Tinsley, Chair, Waging Peace, London, England; Dr. Greg Stanton, Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University; and Dr. Selma Leydesdorff,  Faculty of Humanities, Department of Arts, Religion and Cultural Sciences, University of Amsterdam; Henry Theriault, Department of Philosophy, Worcester State College, Worcester, MA; Matthias Bjornlund, Historian, Danish Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark;  and Irving Louis Horowitz, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University;

Contact information:

Hannibal Travis
College of Law, Florida International University, Rafael Diaz-Balart Hall
Samuel Totten, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (on sabbatical)
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