February 18, 2013 (SSNA) — On November 27, 2012, over 50 scholars of genocide studies from around the world wrote a letter to U.S. Special Envoy Sudan Princeton Lyman regarding their concern about the crisis in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile in Sudan. Mr. Lyman, for some reason, chose not to respond to the letter. Shortly after the genocide scholars sent the letter to Lyman, he, for whatever reason, tendered his resignation. (The copy of the letter Lyman did not respond to is included below.)
Then, on December 12, 2012, over 60 scholars of genocide studies and anti-genocide activists sent a letter to the U.S. Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), a board that President Barack Obama personally established and has touted as being part of a sea change in regard to how past administration had dealt with issues of crimes against humanity and genocide. The letter was sent in care of Ms. Samantha Power, a member of the National Security Council and Chair of the Atrocities Documentation Board. That letter also went unanswered. Subsequently, in January 2013, Power, for some reason, submitted her resignation and left government service. (The copy of the letter sent to the Atrocities Prevention Board is included below, following the letter that was sent to U.S. Special Envoy Lyman.)
The aforementioned genocide scholars are preparing to resend the letter to the Atrocities Prevention Board in the hope of getting a response to their concerns. The lack of response, thus far, seems to speak volumes to the APB’s lack of interest in and concern about the opinions of scholars and activists. That, though, is in direct contradiction of Obama’s words that “citizens and activists, who have been carrying the torch,…are partners in this work.”
November 27, 2012
Dear Envoy Lyman:
First, thank you for your recent letter of November 1, 2012, in response to our (scholars of genocide studies’) missive regarding the ongoing crises in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile in Sudan. Second, thank you, too, for inviting us to take part in your conference call on November 14, 2012, during which you provided an update vis-à-vis the various situations in Sudan (Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile), and the U.S. efforts regarding these ongoing situations.
Prior to positing numerous concerns and questions we have in regard to issues you raised in your letter and conference call, we wish to convey our appreciation of the tough situation you face: dealing with a regime in Khartoum that is better at making promises than keeping them; making food available along the border of The Republic of South Sudan and Sudan only to realize that many (especially infants, the elderly and the ill) are continuing to starve to death in the Nuba Mountains; witnessing the UN Security Council repeatedly issue Chapter VII Resolutions vis-à-vis the humanitarian crises in Sudan but never following through by getting truly tough; and having to swallow Khartoum’s cavalier dismissal of U.S. entreaties and UN resolutions.
At the outset, we feel compelled to duly note that the debilitating and deadly malnutrition and desperate conditions currently faced by the Nuba Mountains people are not caused by crop failures or flooding. Indeed, we have solid information from local sources that the bombing of civilians by GoS aircraft, which began in June 2011 and have continued unabated throughout the rainy season (even if less regularly), is responsible for the decimation of people’s villages, homes and farms. Tellingly, when various organizations and individuals have suggested the critical need to transport humanitarian aid to the region, the response (from both the U.S. Government and the UN) is that the GoS has threatened to halt all such efforts by any means necessary.
Statements by President Bashir, backed up by videos recording the words of his subordinates on the ground, make it very clear that Khartoum’s intent, from which it will not be deterred by outside diplomatic pressure, is to physically eliminate the peoples of the Nuba mountains. By destroying the people’s farms and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the Nuba Mountains, the GoS’ actions indicate an attempt to perpetrate "genocide by attrition." The armed attacks by troops and planes, carried out without meeting any effective opposition, only accelerates the attrition. The Obama Administration, which claims to be in favor of early prevention vis-à-vis crimes against humanity and genocide, has much to answer for.
As for your comments, first, we wish to draw attention to the contradictory information we’ve garnered from various sources regarding the actual amount of food that has reached those remaining in the Nuba Mountains. In your letter of November 1, 2012, you stated that as a result of the United States’ effort “we have reached 470,000 people in South Kordofan with food and 88,000 with non-food items, such as medicines, seeds, tools, and other material. The food represented roughly half-rations that could sustain the recipients through the rainy season.” Conversely, another authoritative source has informed us that no more than 5.5 thousand tons of food were delivered into the Nuba Mountains during this year’s dry season – and absolutely nothing into Blue Nile. That is extremely disconcerting in light of the fact that humanitarian logisticians estimate that roughly 1,700 metric tons of food per month are required per 100,000 of population in need. Using the current UN figure for South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and not including Upper Nile and Unity, this means roughly 3,000 tons per week are required. A dramatic shortfall by any calculation.
Do you, in fact, know how much food has reached the people still stuck in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile? Do you have any sense – even a rough estimate – how many individuals are suffering from severe malnutrition? Starvation? Or, even a crude estimate as to how many individuals have perished by now due to severe malnutrition (or the effects thereof) and starvation?
Second, in your letter of November 1st and during your conference call on November 14th, you suggested that the seeds and tools that were donated to the Nuba Mountains, along with the fact that this is harvest season, could bode well for the people. However, based on sources in the Nuba Mountains, we fear the situation is not that sanguine. More specifically, it is our understanding that while the situation may look “bright” for some since they will be able to harvest and eat their produce, “it is also a fact that due to the lack of adequate amounts of food in August and September people began eating their produce even before it was ripe. Furthermore, under normal conditions a family would not even start eating the fruits of the new crop until January or February” (Nuba Reports, November 1, 2012). Essentially, this means that an untold number of families have already tapped into next year’s food supply. Furthermore, the same source reported that “some areas of the Nuba Mountains got very little rain and thus some crops were poor this year.” The point is, the efforts of the U.S. have been far from enough to ameliorate ongoing hunger or worse.
A classic example of “worse” was documented in a recent statement issued by “Nuba Reports”: Dr. Raphael Veicht, a physician with Cap Anamur Emergency Doctors, who is heading up a tiny hospital in the Nuba Mountains, has reported witnessing “a sharp increase in malnourished children over the past five months.” Many of the young children “were suffering from severe malnutrition.” He also reported “it was likely that there were people who were so weak they could not make the long trek to the hospital and were starving to death.”
Concomitantly, reports coming from highly reliable sources in the Nuba Mountains assert that “most villages in Abassyia County in north eastern South Kordofan have been burned down recently and these villagers’ food stocks were destroyed and they were not able to farm. They are currently displaced in the mountains. Not only will these people not have food but they are in a region that is extremely difficult to reach.”
Additional information we’ve received indicates that the food being provided by the U.S. along the South Sudan/Sudan border was being given to the refugees; and in turn, the refugees purposely limited their consumption of the rations so that they could carry what they had left to those remaining in the mountains. The point is, it seems that much less food is getting up to the Nuba Mountains than some seem to think. Is this your understanding of the matter as well? If so, is there a reason why the U.S. has not at least doubled the amount of food donated?
The upshot is that while food donated by the United States may have warded off mass starvation in the Nuba Mountains, there are still plenty of people suffering and dying there due to the GoS’ obstructionary actions. And many of those perishing are the youngest of the young, the oldest of the old, and the sickest of the sick. Does this not resonate with the highest levels of power within the White House? From our perspective, it seems as if it doesn’t.
Indeed, in a very real sense, it seems that the international community is fine with this latest crisis in Sudan as long as the numbers of dead do not creep too high and no concentration-camp-like skeletal bodies appear on television news channels and in local, state, regional and national newspapers across the globe. Half-hearted efforts to stave off starvation are akin to attempting to stave off a tsunami by erecting paper fences along a beachfront.
Third, during your conference call, when asked by Samuel Totten, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, whether the US government had any statistics in regard to the extent of severe malnutrition and starvation in the Nuba Mountains and/or the mortality rates of the people in the Nuba Mountains, you replied that since no outside organizations or agencies are allowed into South Kordofan or Blue Nile, there was no way to conduct a formal assessment along those lines. Our question is this: If the U.S. government is truly interested in conducting such assessments, why couldn’t they be carried out in the various refugee camps in The Republic of South Sudan, where literally hundreds of individuals are flowing over the border every single week seeking sanctuary? Not only would the researchers have tens of thousands of individuals to choose from but the latter would likely be from various areas within South Kordofan and have been in the camp for various amounts of time, all of which would be ideal for such a study.
Fourth, during the conference call you mentioned that numerous sanctions have been applied against Sudan. In doing so, you seemed to suggest that sooner or later Sudan will feel their effect and thus begin to cooperate with the international community. Perhaps. But how can the U.S. and the international community allow month after month after month (and in many cases, year after year after year) to go by while Sudan continues to kill its own people in Darfur, carry out murderous attacks against its own people in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, starve to death its own people in the Nuba Mountains, and engages in one ethnic cleansing spree after another in various regions of its nation? It makes absolutely no sense. Essentially, it is giving credence to vacuous promises and abject lies by a government, Sudan, that has absolutely no compunction about engaging in bald-faced lies. Our question for you and President Obama is this: Why in the world has the Obama Administration not applied and/or pushed for sanctions against Sudan as tough as those that have been applied to Iran?
If the point of sanctions is to push and prod a nation into better behavior and the sanctions applied thus far are ineffective then it is obvious that the sanction regime must be ratcheted up. It is high time for the Obama Administration (and the international community) to recognize and admit that the sanctions imposed on Sudan have not had the desired effect.
In your letter you stated that the U.S. continues to “strongly condemn” the actions of al Bashir and the GoS, but that means little to nothing to the culprits. Indeed, their translation of such condemnation, sans tough action, seems to be: “Who cares? In the end, we have no punitive actions of consequence to deal with.”
Fifth, as you well know, the Government of Sudan and its leaders, particularly President Omar al Bashir, are untrustworthy, unreliable, and experts at dissimulation. Time and again, both during the crisis in Darfur and now during the crises in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, the GoS and al Bashir have made promises one day only to break them the next. Currently, the GoS is playing games with the international community — and, literally, with peoples’ lives – in regard to the “tripartite initiatives,” which would have allowed for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to provide humanitarian assistance to people affected by the crises in South Kordofan and Blue Nile areas. Sudan waffled over whether it would even sign onto the initiative (February-July 2012), and then when it signed a memorandum of understanding to implement the initiative within 90 days (August 5, 2012), it allowed the period to elapse without any movement at all. Then, on November 3, 2012, Ahmed Haroun, the governor of South Kordofan, vowed “that no talks will be held with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) until the defeat of the rebel group” (Sudan Tribune). Days later, on November 6, 2012, Agence France-Presse reported that the GoS asserted that “There is no humanitarian crisis in the war-torn South Kordofan and Blue Nile States.” And then, a day later, the GoS blatantly lied that it had “fulfilled all its commitments toward the implementation of the [tripartite] initiative” (November 7, 2012).
That is not the entire story. What has not been mentioned is that the GoS and al Bashir got away with exactly the same murderous plan in the 1990s in the Nuba Mountains. And the impunity for the latter crimes swiftly dovetailed into the genocidal crisis in Darfur. As a result of the killings in Darfur, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for al Bashir’s arrest on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide and an arrest warrant for Haroun on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. What leads the U.S. government to continue to believe that the GoS and al Bashir will eventually, one of these years (not days or months, but years), honor an agreement, especially when it is aimed at helping their putative enemies (meaning, the civilians of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, including women, children and infants and the elderly)?
Year after year after year, diplomacy has been tried and yet the GoS continues to kill at will and thumb its nose at international law and the will of the international community. Talk has lorded it over action. It is time to act, and to act boldly. People are dying and it is untoward to be silent and passive in the face of such atrocities. Likewise, it is unconscionable to accept the status quo; more of the same by the U.S. and international community (i.e., talk, talk and more talk) is bound to result in more of the same by the GoS (i.e., broken promises, more destruction, more deaths, more heartbreak).
With all due respect, Envoy Lyman, for the last dozen years the GoS and al Bashir have been treating both the United States and the international community as fools: “a person [or entity] who has been tricked or deceived into appearing or acting stupid.” By all accounts, the GoS and al Bashir have hoodwinked and duped the U.S. and the international community time and again by issuing fatuous promises that the latter never intended to honor. One can almost hear the laughter of derision in the corridors of power in Khartoum as they celebrate yet another successful act of bamboozlement.
Sixth, word has it that a key, if not the main, reason why the United States has taken a kids-glove-like approach to the genocidal actions and serial ethnic cleansing by the GoS in such places as Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile is because Sudan is playing ball with the U.S. vis-à-vis America’s “war on terrorism.” Seemingly, the U.S. Government’s war on terrorism supercedes all other policies and promises, including the Obama Administration’s purported dedication to preventing crimes against humanity and genocide.
Rumors are also rife that an adjunct reason for the U.S. going easy on Sudan is that it (the U.S.) has drone bases dotting Sudan and wishes to retain them – if not at all costs then certainly at the cost of the lives of those residing in Sudan’s peripheries. Is that, in fact, the case?
In light of the above and the ongoing death and destruction in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, we call on you — and we do so in full appreciation of the gravity of our request — to resign in protest over both Sudan’s habitual tendency to act in bad faith while murdering its own people and the totally inadequate response of the United States and the United Nations to the crises facing the people of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.
We believe it would be the honorable and heroic thing for you to do, and that such an action by an individual of your stature might finally prod the United States, if not the international community, to begin to deal with al Bashir and the GoS with the firm resolve that has been missing over the past dozen years. In the end, you, Envoy Lyman, could be instrumental in saving the lives of countless numbers of people in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, all of whom undoubtedly cherish life as much as we (you, President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and the signatories to this letter) do.
We must all ask ourselves: “When all of the bodies in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile are buried, how will history judge us?”
We thank you in advance for your serious consideration of our concerns, questions and request. We look forward to receiving a written response from you.
Author of The Genocide Debate: Politicians, Academics and Victims (Palgrave, 2011)
December 5, 2012
Dear Members of the Atrocities Prevention Board:
We (scholars of genocide studies and human rights activists) are vitally concerned about the ongoing crisis in the Nuba Mountains, Sudan. Since July 2011, the Government of Sudan (GoS) has carried out a scorched earth policy against the Nuba Mountains people. Using both aerial and ground attacks the GoS has, as it did in Darfur, not only attempted to quell the actions of the rebels active in the area but murdered innocent civilians (including children and infants), displaced between 200,000 and 300,000 people from their villages and homes, purposely destroyed the peoples’ farms thus leaving them bereft of food on which to exist, and prevented humanitarian aid from reaching those now seeking sanctuary in the mountains looming over their destroyed farms. As the rainy season has come to an end, the GoS is ramping up for a more concerted aerial and ground campaign against the Nuba Mountains people and those of the Blue Nile. Both the U.S. Government and the international community have largely stood by and watched this tragedy unfold.
We are well aware of U.S. Envoy Princeton Lyman’s varied diplomatic efforts and his attempts to reason with Khartoum. Unfortunately, though, his efforts have not sufficed and clear evidence of that is the fact that the attacks by the GoS have been relentless and more murderous as time has gone by. We are also cognizant of the fact that small quantities of surreptitious aid provided by the U.S. have been welcomed by people of the Nuba (although none reached the people of Blue Nile); but it provided only a very small fraction of what is needed. The dry season has begun and it is once again possible to move food, medicine and other supplies on the ground, but without secure access, this improvement in transport conditions counts for little.
There is a point, we believe, when it should become self evident that the continuation of endless dialogue with a state that has engaged in serial crimes against humanity, genocidal-like actions, and ethnic cleansing and engaged in habitual denial of its responsibility and been a purveyor of deceit and broken promises, is total waste of time. As hundreds of thousands of innocents needlessly suffer, there is a moral imperative that the continual “diplomatic” talking, negotiating, pleading, and ultimately begging with leaders of such openly deceptive and destructive strategies must be replaced by concrete and effective action — action that stanches the killing and death due to mass starvation as a direct result of the destruction of farms and foodstuffs and the obstruction of humanitarian aid to those in need. That time, we believe, is now.
As you undoubtedly know, the time to address a crisis heading towards mass violence is early on; only in that way is it likely the crisis will be nipped in the bud. Unfortunately, that has not happened in the case of the Nuba Mountains. Some three months after the establishment of the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), the GoS began bombing the Nuba Mountains and carrying out ground attacks, and those attacks quickly morphed into an even greater disaster: the dislocation of hundreds of thousands, a massive food crisis, and the ongoing destruction of farms, villages and the murder of even more people, which continues to this very day.
Presidential Study Directive 10 (August 4, 2011) states that “America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.” From our perspective that is exactly the situation we are now seeing vis-à-vis the Administration’s stance in regard to the atrocities, mass displacement, and mass hunger that the GoS has unleashed in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.
In light of that, we wish to inquire as to whether the APB has addressed the dual crises in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile; and if so, how?
President Obama has stated that one of the results of the creation of the APB was that “Our diplomats will encourage more robust multilateral efforts to prevent and respond to atrocities.” Quite frankly, we are still waiting to see this happen in the case of the Nuba Mountains. To date, ineffective diplomacy has substituted for action and as a result the crisis in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile has not only gone on for 17 long months but is now on the verge of spiraling totally out of control. The GoS is not only bombing village after village but destroying farm after farm by burning them to the ground.
We understand that along with the APB the President has promised to establish “alert channels” that avail lower-level officials of the right to draw attention (or raise red flags) about potential or actual atrocities in areas of conflict. Have, in fact, the crises in South Kordofan and Blue Nile been the subject of such alerts?
In recent correspondence with U.S. Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman we were informed that since it was impossible for anyone to reach the Nuba Mountains due to the prohibitions of the GoS it was impossible to conduct a study into the percentage of people in the Nuba Mountains who are suffering from severe malnutrition and starvation or how many people have perished from starvation. Since a specific component of the APB is to “increase the collection and analysis of information relating to atrocity threats and situations,” would it not make sense to conduct an investigation in the refugee camps inside South Sudan? After all, thousands of people have been crossing the border from Sudan to South Sudan for months on end in flight from the terror inflicted on them by the GoS in both South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The point is, there is a solid sample of those who have been in the camps for a relatively long while versus those who have just arrived.
We also must ask: has the APB considered recommending that the U.S. Government prod the UN Security Council to issue a Chapter VII mandate in order to install a peace enforcement contingent in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile to attempt to halt the violence?
Also, has the APB suggested that the U.S. government, either alone or in conjunction with the international community, design and apply tougher sanctions on the GoS for the ongoing and serial murder of its own people, destruction of their villages and farms, and mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent people?
If little to nothing concrete has been attempted or accomplished by the APB along the aforementioned lines, then we strongly urge that the APB immediately call an emergency session to examine how the U.S. Government could use the full range of instruments at hand — diplomatic, economic, humanitarian, and military – that can be brought to bear on this, the latest, crisis in Sudan.
It is our ardent hope that the new approaches, “tools and expanded capabilities” developed by the U.S. Government for the express purpose of the prevention of atrocities will be implemented in order to prevent the current tragedies in South Kordofan and Blue Nile from expanding into the years-long and deadly affair that Darfur has become. Here, we are referring to, for example, the following, all of which were touted by the White House as approaches that the APB would implement: new kinds of targeted sanctions, financial levers, and getting truly tough on impunity. The latter is especially relevant in light of the fact that President Omar al Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide for the atrocities perpetrated in Darfur, and that the Governor of South Kordofan, Ahmed Haroun, is also wanted by the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes for atrocities committed in Darfur by the GoS.
As you might recall, when the Genocide Prevention Task Force report, in 2008, called for creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board, it alluded to situations exactly along the lines of the current situation in the Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile regions of Sudan. Indeed, it was clearly stated that the express purpose of an agency such as the APB was to deal, in a decisive fashion, with such humanitarian emergencies in the face of the deep failures of US policy in recent years, especially the case of Rwanda.
We are counting on the APB to honor its charge to “ensure that key decision-makers receive early warning and hear dissenting views” in regard to potential or actual crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and genocide. For well over a year now, we have written and submitted letters to Congress, the White House, State, and individual U.S. officials, and to date we’ve only received replies from Special Envoy Princeton Lyman. While we certainly appreciate his engaging with us, we believe he needs the full-fledge support of top decision makers with the Administration.
We believe it is absolutely critical for the APB and the Administration to address, openly with the rest of the U.S. Government and U.S. citizens, the fate of the people in Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan) and the Blue Nile. Indeed, we believe that silence is acquiescence and goes totally against the grain of President Obama’s declaration in April of this year that atrocity prevention is "a core national security interest and core moral responsibility,” and “a high priority for his Administration.” A lack of attention and action by the APB to these matters would go counter to its stated mission.
We thank you in advance for your serious consideration of our concerns expressed herein, and we await both your written response and your determined action.
Center for Southeast Asian Studies