From news reporting, and public advocacy by the Obama administration, one would hardly gather that there is a significant proposal for humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile—crafted by three international organizations to which (northern) Sudan belongs. But the Khartoum regime has refused for over five weeks to sign on, and shows no sign of relenting, largely because it faces no serious international pressure to agree to this desperately needed proposal. Why this inaction, given the urgency of a crisis affecting more than half a million people?
By Eric Reeves
March 17, 2012 (SSNA) — Formulated by the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the United Nations, the proposal was accepted by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North on February 9, 2012—over five weeks ago. The agreement is far from perfect, and it creates dangerous maneuvering space for Khartoum in undermining humanitarian access; but it does declare:
"There is a need to ensure, in the meantime [prior to a negotiated settlement of the conflicts], that all civilians affected by the conflict have access to the necessary humanitarian assistance as a matter of the utmost urgency." [emphasis added]
The document proposes specifically that:
" The Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in South Kordofan and Blue Nile should be encouraged to immediately identify clear points of contact for the purpose of establishing modalities for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to war affected civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states."[emphasis added]
" The African Union, League of Arab States, and United Nations will complement existing efforts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile by organizing the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies for the most vulnerable people. Deliveries will be either by road or by air (helicopter or fixed-wing planes) depending on needs, security, and logistical considerations. Humanitarian assistance will be provided at a scale and pace that meets the most urgent needs and that can be carefully monitored to prevent any abuse. WFP will be the logistics service provider on behalf of the three partners under this proposal." [emphasis added]
" Once initial assessments have been conducted and humanitarian activities have commenced, qualified representatives of the AU, LAS, and UN will follow up and monitor use of assistance delivered and access any changes in humanitarian needs. [emphasis added]
" Reports on monitoring carried out by the AU, LAS, and UN and updates on the humanitarian situation will be shared regularly. The Joint Humanitarian Oversight Committee will serve as a conduit and discussion forum for the joint reports." [emphasis added]
Aside from the Sudan Tribune, there seems to be no news-highlighting of this deadly intransigence by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime. The U.S. in particular has been weak and unfocused: Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, has done nothing to push this multilateral proposal forward or to invest diplomatically in its success. His recent testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did include the statement that, "an international program, as proposed by the UN and its partners, is the best means to reach the most people and we continue to urge the government [in Khartoum] to approve it." But there has been no serious effort beyond this vague "urging," and no specified consequences if Khartoum continues to ignore international pleas on behalf of the desperate people of the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and the north/south border regions.
The feckless nature of the U.S response is also captured in this vague and deliberately obfuscating periphrasis from senior U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official Nancy Lindborg: "If necessary we will examine ways to provide indirect support to Sudanese humanitarian actors." In other words, the Obama administration is prepared to turn matters over to those humanitarian organizations willing to run the dangerous gauntlet into the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan—or perhaps simply give resources to the Khartoum regime’s grotesquely named "Humanitarian Affairs Commission" (HAC), which has demonstrated in Darfur its superb abilities to obstruct, harass, and delay humanitarian resources and personnel for more than eight years.
The warnings of critical food shortages are now over nine months old, and follow directly from Khartoum’s systematic aerial bombardment of civilian sites and the arable regions of the Nuba Mountains in the wake of the June 5, 2011 military assault on South Kordofan. This assault was accompanied by massive atrocity crimes, and by bombing that seriously disrupted the planting season for crops, as well as subsequent tending of those crops. The fall harvest season was also badly disrupted, both in the Nuba and in Blue Nile, where Khartoum launched a new military assault on September 1, 2011.
In early October the UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicted that the harvests in the region would "generally fail." Two months later, in December, warnings of critical shortages of food were issued by various humanitarian organizations, including the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet). Also in December, FEWSNet predicted that without food aid, "near-famine" conditions would prevail in many places by March 2012 (FEWSNet is funded by USAID and was created as a tool for early warning after the 1984/85 famine in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel).
We are presently without any means of acquiring more accurate humanitarian assessments, given Khartoum’s denial of all international assessment missions. But we have known for months that this critical food shortage would take human lives in large numbers; and even now there is nothing approaching an appropriate urgency in responding to acute malnutrition, accompanying disease, and the increasingly precarious existence of those who have, on the basis of their African ethnicity, been deliberately forced from their lands by hunger and violence.
Typescript of African Union, Arab League, and United Nations Joint Proposal for Humanitarian Assistance in South Kordofan and Blue Nile (from scanned copy of original document):
The African Union Liaison Office in Sudan, the Office of the Special Envoy of League of Arab States for Sudan, and the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Sudan and South Sudan jointly present their compliments to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (North) and have the honour to submit a Joint AU/LAS/UN Proposal for Access to Provide and Deliver Humanitarian Assistance to War-Affected Civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. Please find attached herewith the above mentioned proposal.
For the SPLA/M-North: "We confirm acceptance of the AU, LAS, UN proposals; [name illegible] on behalf of SPLM/A-N."
The African Union, the League of Arab States, and the United Nations emphasize the following principles:
Finding a permanent political solution to the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, with full respect for the sovereignty of Sudan, remains a prerequisite to end the humanitarian crisis in those two states;
There is a need to ensure, in the meantime, that all civilians affected by the conflict have access to the necessary humanitarian assistance as a matter of the utmost urgency;
Due to the fact that both parties to the conflict have obligations under international humanitarian law, it is therefore in the interest of both parties to the conflict to permit and actively facilitate humanitarian access in order to prevent the conditions of the affected civilians from deteriorating into a crisis of much larger proportions;
There is an urgent need to help reduce tensions, stabilize the situation, and assist in the safe and voluntary returns of displaced populations and move rapidly from emergency relief to a focus on reconciliation, early recovery, and development in South Kordofan and Blue Nile;
The African Union, the League of Arab States and the United Nations jointly commit to supporting the Government of Sudan (GOS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) in addressing the humanitarian needs of all conflict-affected populations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, in accordance with humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, accountability, and transparency.
In this context, the AU, LAS, and UN propose the following steps: The GOS and the SPLM-N in South Kordofan and Blue Nile should be encouraged to immediately identify clear points of contact for the purpose of establishing modalities for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to war affected civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states;  A Joint Humanitarian Oversight Committee to be established immediately to oversee the implementation of the humanitarian operation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Committee will comprise civilian representatives of the GOS, the SPLM-N, the AU, LAS, and UN. The roles and responsibilities of the Committee and other details related to the functioning of the Committee to be defined when the Committee is established. Any delay in the establishment of the Committee should not prevent the commencement of humanitarian operations as put forward in this proposal.
[PAGE 3] The AU, LAS, and UN to put together joint teams to carry out a rapid humanitarian assessment mission in all areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where there have been reports of significant humanitarian needs; these teams will work closely with representatives of the GOS, as well as with the SPLM-N as needed.  The AU, LAS and UN will complement existing efforts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile by organizing the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies for the most vulnerable people. Deliveries will be either by road or by air (helicopter or fixed-wing planes) depending on needs, security, and logistical considerations. Humanitarian assistance will be provided at a scale and pace that meets the most urgent needs and that can be carefully monitored to prevent any abuse. WFP will be the logistics service provider on behalf of the three partners under this proposal.  As per existing Government procedures, all movement of humanitarian staff and cargo will be coordinated with the Government of Sudan Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), and humanitarian operations will be carried out in full respect of international humanitarian principles.  Verification of humanitarian cargo by air and road will be conducted by relevant Government authorities at departure and transit points according to jointly agreed procedures, to be determined without delay.  Monitors from the AU, LAS, and UN will be present to observe the distribution of humanitarian relief to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches its intended beneficiaries.  Once initial assessments have been conducted and humanitarian activities have commenced, qualified representatives of the AU, LAS, and UN will follow up and monitor use of assistance delivered and access any changes in humanitarian needs.  Reports on monitoring carried out by the AU, LAS, and UN and updates on the humanitarian situation will be shared regularly. The Joint Humanitarian Oversight Committee will serve as a conduit and discussion forum for the joint reports.  The GOS and SPLM-N remain responsible for ensuring the safety and security of all humanitarian staff and observers, as well as all humanitarian assets, supplies and facilities.
Eric Reeves is a Sudan researcher and analyst at Smith College, and author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide (Key Publications/Canada, 2007); he has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade.