March 2, 2012 (SSNA) — In blatant contravention of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Government of Sudan (GoS) has carried out a brutal assault for the past eight months against the people of the Nuba Mountains. Due to abject fear, an estimated 200,000 people have sought sanctuary in mountain caves where they are attempting to eke out an existence without food. Many are already suffering from malnutrition.
As the GoS indiscriminately bombs farms, villages, churches, and schools, it disingenuously claims that it is solely targeting members of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement/Army-North, the latter of which is intent on freeing the Nuba Mountains from the iron fist of Khartoum. The fact of the lie is seen in the stony eyes of the dead — babies, children, women and the elderly — in the gory photos now coming out of the Nuba Mountains.
Equally grave is the fact that the GoS has prevented the international community from providing humanitarian aid to those in dire need of food in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile State. The ongoing attacks in the Nuba Mountains have prevented many farmers from planting seasonal crops, thus disrupting the agricultural cycle and leaving many people without adequate sources of food. Food insecurity has been exacerbated by restrictions on access to markets and the destruction of food stores.
This is not the first time that the GoS has resorted to starving the Nuba people; it did so in the late 1980s and 1990s. The people were so desperate they “ate” leaves, grass, and roots. The international community did virtually nothing to address the mass starvation, and as a result an untold number of people died miserable deaths in a classic case of genocide by attrition. Such inattention and lack of action must not be repeated.
Only once in the past eight months (August 30th) has the GoS authorized any outside agencies (in this case, UNICEF) to offload emergency health supplies, vaccines, and nutrition assistance into the Nuba Mountains. International humanitarian actors continue to advocate strongly for access to conflict-affected populations in both Government- and SPLM-N controlled areas, but the GoS continues to deny them permission to do so.
Over a month ago, on January 21st, your administration suggested that it was considering the possibility of opening up a humanitarian corridor in South Kordofan in order to provide desperately needed aid. To date, your administration has not acted and neither has the United Nations. It seems as if you and your fellow world leaders do not understand that each and every day that goes by, an ever-increasing number of people are bound to face malnutrition and its ill effects, including death by starvation. The time to act is now, not a month or two from now when lives will have already been lost to abject hunger. As U.S. Permanent Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice recently noted: “If there is not a substantial new inflow of aid by March,” the situation in Southern Kordofan will be “one step short of full-scale famine.”
While we understand that at this point in time neither the U.S. government nor the U.N. are willing to intervene militarily to protect civilians in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, as they did in Libya, we believe that it is imperative that action be taken immediately to provide food to the region. Indeed, we beseech you and your administration to place pressure on the United Nations to act now to open a humanitarian corridor in order to provide humanitarian aid to those in the Nuba Mountains who have faced horrific and ongoing atrocities and a near-famine at the hands of a murderous regime whose president (Omar al Bashir) is already wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for the atrocities perpetrated in Darfur.
As a presidential candidate, you promised you would be proactive, versus reactive, in addressing potential and actual genocide. It is time to honor that commitment and press the international community to open a humanitarian corridor. If the U.S. and the rest of the international community continue to dither there is a very real possibility that many of the 200,000 people may end up victims of genocide by attrition.
At the least, the international community should honor its commitment to the “Responsibility to Protect,” and demand an immediate end to the violence in Sudan and unimpeded access to civilian populations by human rights monitors and humanitarian aid personnel. If the United Nations fails in this responsibility, then we urge you, President Obama, to accept the moral responsibility and to act now, along with the European Union and our African allies, to avert mass starvation in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions.
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).
Hannibal Travis is a professor at Florida Atlantic University Law School. His most recent book is Genocide in the Middle East: The Ottoman Empire, Iraq and Sudan.
John Weiss is a professor of history at Cornell University.