Open Letter to Ambassador Susan Rice-Nuba Mountains Crisis and Absolute Silence by Members of the Atrocities Prevention Board
Dear Ms. Rice:
April 8, 2013 (SSNA) — We, scholars of genocide and human rights activists from around the world, are writing to you about our vital concern about the ongoing crisis in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile and the fact that despite multiple attempts to address such concerns with the members of the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) we have come up short. More specifically, we’ve sent four letters to three different individuals (Ms. Samantha Power (twice); Mr. Steven Pomper, Senior Assistant Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights; and Mr. Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID) (please see letters at the very end of this letter) with the APB and none of them have even acknowledged the letters. Cognizant of your important and good work on the behalf of the people of the Sudan, we are writing to you in the hope that you will be able to assist us in reaching the members of the APB.
As you well know, the people of the Nuba Mountains continue to face daily bombings by Government of Sudan (GoS) Antonovs, periodic attacks by MIGS, and ground fighting near the major population centers in the region. Hundreds of thousands of people in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile have been forced from their homes and villages. While many have sought sanctuary in refugee camps across the border in the Republic of South Sudan, huge numbers of other people remain internally displaced. All of the people also face hunger as a result of being forced off their farms. Not a few have had to resort to eating roots, leaves and insects and as a result an unknown number have starved to death. Just this past week (March 26th), Radio Tamazuj reported the following: “Nearly 22,000 thousand displaced citizens at Kao Nyaro in Abu Jubeiha County and Werne (Verni) in Talodi County in South Kordofan State are suffering from hunger and poor health conditions….Al Haj Al Dewan, the SPLM-N Political Secretary…described the conditions of citizens as ‘miserable and very difficult from the lack of food and poor health conditions,’ adding that there is a sharp rise in the mortality rate among children, mothers and elderly, amid a complete absence of organizations working in the humanitarian field…. ‘Everyday people are dying from hunger and sickness especially children and elderly,’ he said.”
As you know, early in 2012 both the U.N. and the United States considered the possibility of opening up a humanitarian corridor in order to get desperately needed food and medical aid to the people of the Nuba Mountains. Unfortunately, such discussion came to naught. As a result, quasi-secret efforts are underway to get at least a modicum of food into the region. In fact, this past December/January a small group of scholars and activists (among whom are several signatories to this letter: Samuel Totten, John Hubbel Weiss, Slater Armstrong, and Mark Hackett) inserted five tons of food into the Nuba Mountains, both raising the funds to purchase and transport such and sent a member to the region to oversee the effort. It was costly, time-consuming, complex, difficult and, ultimately, dangerous. That is how serious, though, some of us are about what has transpired in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile over the past eighteen months or so.
In light of the fact that President Obama seemingly established the APB to address issues such as those in the Nuba Mountains, where crimes against humanity have been perpetrated on a daily basis over the past year and a half by the Government of Sudan, we thought it behooved us to contact the APB board members to underscore our concern and to inquire as to what the APB has done in addressing the crisis in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. At the worst, we anticipated receiving a typically bureaucratic response that the situation is difficult but the U.S. is apprised of it and working through diplomatic channels to ameliorate the situation. We never expected, though, to have our letter (and now letters) go unanswered. We sent the first copy of the letter to Ms. Samantha Power on December 12, 2012, the second letter to Ms. Power on January 20, 2013, the third letter to Mr. Pomper on March 26, 2013, and the fourth letter to Mr. Steinberg on March 29, 2013.
In reaching out to various members of Congress, we have been informed, for example, that “it appears that President Obama has not yet named a replacement for Samantha Power,” and “It seems that the APB is not very active at the moment.” Both situations are extremely unfortunate. First and foremost, as you well know, there are numerous crises around the globe where crimes against humanity are being carried out on a daily basis (i.e., in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile, all in Sudan; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria) and suspected of being carried out (i.e., North Korea, Burma), and thus should be the focus of the APB. Second, when President Obama reported on the establishment of the ABP during a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on April 23, 2012, he voiced a real urgency in addressing genocide and crimes against humanity, which obviously has fallen by the wayside if, in fact, the ABP is “not very active at the moment.” More specifically, during the aforementioned speech, when he touted the APB as something unique in the annals of U.S. history, President Obama declared the following:
Three years ago today, I joined many of you for a ceremony of remembrance at the U.S. Capitol. And I said that we had to do “everything we can to prevent and end atrocities.” And so I want to report back to some of you today to let you know that as President I’ve done my utmost to back up those words with deeds. Last year, in the first-ever presidential directive on this challenge, I made it clear that "preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America."
Now we’re doing something more. We’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities. So I created the first-ever White House position dedicated to this task. It’s why I created a new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission. This is not an afterthought. This is not a sideline in our foreign policy. The board will convene for the first time today, at the White House. And I’m pleased that one of its first acts will be to meet with some of your organizations — citizens and activists who are partners in this work, who have been carrying this torch. Going forward, we’ll strengthen our tools across the board, and we’ll create new ones. The intelligence community will prepare, for example, the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on the risk of mass atrocities and genocide. We’re going to institutionalize the focus on this issue. Across government, "alert channels" will ensure that information about unfolding crises — and dissenting opinions — quickly reach decision-makers, including me…. In short, we need to be doing everything we can to prevent and respond to these kinds of atrocities — because national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people.
Ms. Rice, unfortunately, when one hears that “the APB is not very active at the moment” and when we, scholars of genocide studies and human rights activists, fail to receive a reply to a letter that we first wrote back in December 2012 and have now sent five times to four different individuals affiliated with the APB, it, indeed, feels as if the APB and its focus/work is little more than “a sideline in our foreign policy.” Furthermore, and again, unfortunately, President Obama’s words that “across government, ‘alert channels’ will ensure that information about unfolding crises — and dissenting opinions — quickly reach decision-makers, including me….” are little more than hollow words churned out for a public relations opportunity and a photo op.
At the very least, it seems, the APB, by this time, could have privately and publicly prodded the UN to open a humanitarian corridor in order to provide desperate people in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile with food and medical aid; argued in favor of establishing an on-the-ground investigation (at least in the refugee camps in South Sudan) to the crimes against humanity that the Government of Sudan has perpetrated against the people of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile (just as the George W. Bush Administration did in 2004 in regard to the atrocities committed by the Government of Sudan in Darfur); and, made the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile a major issue by addressing the tragedy unfolding there by addressing the mass media.
As you will note, scholars and activists from around the world have signed this letter, and that’s because many across the globe (Australia, Canada, England, Israel, The Netherlands, Germany, Sudan, Wales) were hopeful that President Obama was serious about making a sea change vis-à-vis the prevention and intervention of crimes against humanity and genocide; that is, away from the expression of fine sounding sentiments cum concern to real action.
All that said, we, again, hope that you will be able to help us get our letter on to the desk of President Obama and into the hands of each and every member of the APB. We thank you in advance for your consideration of this request and for all of the good work you have done on the behalf of the beleaguered people of Sudan.
Dear Mr. Steinberg:
I am writing to you in relation to your position on the Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). More specifically, in the absence of a current Chair of the Atrocities Prevention Board, I hope that you will be able to assist me in getting the attached letter to the various members of the Atrocities Prevention Board. I wish to thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.
Just prior to my departure for the Nuba Mountains this past December, I sent a letter c/o of Ms. Samantha Power to the Atrocities Prevention Board about the ongoing crisis in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile. The letter was signed by 50 plus genocide scholars and human rights activists from around the world (please see the attachment). Upon my return to the U.S. in mid January I discovered that Ms. Power had not acknowledged receipt of the letter. Just as I was about to resend the letter to her I found out that she had resigned from her government position. Following a series of inquiries about whom I should now address the letter to in the absence of Ms. Power, I was informed by former U.S. Ambassador Evans that we would likely hear from Ms. Power’s replacement or a member of the APB in a relatively reasonable amount of time and thus I decided to wait for such a response. To date, we still have not received a response to the letter from anyone affiliated with the APB.
In light of the fact that on the day (April 23, 2012) President Obama announced the establishment of the APB during a talk at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum he said public input would be welcomed by the APB, we were hoping that our concerns/suggestions would have been readily acknowledged.
I am writing to you to inquire as to whether you would be willing to forward the letter to members of the APB or to provide us with a key contact person either in the White House or with the NSA who could forward the letter on our behalf.
Thank you very much for your consideration of this request.
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