Is Omar Hassan al-Bashir Up to Genocide Again?By SAMUEL TOTTEN
Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, is a genocide extraordinaire. If medals were given out for such activity, he’d be going for the gold.
In the early to mid 1990s, under Bashir’s leadership, the Government of Sudan (GoS) perpetrated genocidal actions in the Nuba Mountains, largely by starving people to death and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the victims. Not a decade later, Bashir and his henchmen committed genocide in Darfur, carrying out a scorched earth policy that resulted in an estimated 400,000 plus deaths, over two million internally displaced persons, and another 275,000 plus refugees. More recently, just over the past two weeks, Bashir’s soldiers and militia carried out at least crimes against humanity, if not genocidal actions, in the Nuba Mountains.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for the atrocities perpetrated in Darfur, is purportedly furious that the people of South Kordafan refuse to acknowledge the recent election of Ahmed Haroun as governor. Not only do many in the state (which borders the new nation of South Sudan) perceive the election as having been rigged, and thus stolen from the highly popular Abdul Aziz, a former commander of the Sudan Peoples Army, but they are outraged that a man wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on over 40 charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes for atrocities perpetrated in Darfur is still free and allowed to run for office.
There are also rumors afloat that Bashir is intent on firming up his hold on all regions of Sudan, as he continues to be miffed that southern Sudan, which Khartoum battled for some twenty years in an internecine war that sucked some two million dead into its maw, seceded from the north. Next month, South Sudan formally becomes an independent state.
Finally, some speculate that Bashir is wrangling to obtain a bit more land along the amorphous border of Sudan and South Sudan. In doing so, it is said that he wishes to strengthen his hand in the ongoing negotiations between the north and the south over oil-rich Abyei.
As is the case in most violent conflicts across the globe, civilians (men, women, children babies, elderly) suffer most grievously. This is particularly true in Sudan because of Bashir’s propensity for targeting an entire population of a region and not just those engaged in fighting his troops. A colleague in the Nuba Mountains related the following examples to me over satellite phone the past week:
* Tens of thousands are on the run, seeking sanctuary anywhere they can find it, following bombings and ground attacks by Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).
* At least two fresh mass graves were discovered late last week; approximately 1,000 dead bodies filled the one in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordafan
* In Kadugli, SAF soldiers and a ragtag assortment of others went door-to-door in search of SPLM/A members and supporters, executing them on the spot.
* In Dilling, another town in South Kordafan, SAF soldiers and militia hunted down SPLM/A members and supporters and sliced their throats, leaving them to perish in puddles of their own blood
* In Kaduguli, soldiers with the United Nations Mission in Sudan allegedly raped girls and women as the latter begged to be allowed into the UN compound as they feared certain death at the hands of the SAF and assorted militia
In conversations with two individuals who have close ties in the Nuba Mountains I was told the following:
• “Many, particularly civilians, are being killed randomly. PDF [Popular Defense Forces] control the roads. All Nuba are wanted, no investigation, only kill (sic) on the spot. People who are black black [dark black] are sought out and killed. Dead bodies are along the road. PDF given long hand on these matters. Please get this out to as many people as possible” – a Nuba Mountains man currently in Kenya, whose family continues to reside in the Nuba Mountains
* “MIGs and Antonov bombers have made 24 hits. They’ve totally destroyed the airstrip, thus no planes will be able to bring in food or water or airlift out any expats with humanitarians organizations or any of the injured. All roads are blocked by the SAF. Now we hear that the bombing was in preparation for a ground attack; if so, many, many more will be killed. Please help us. Ask [your leaders] to establish a no fly zone” — a phone call from inside the Nuba Mountains
A major worry of human rights activists and genocide scholars is that the international community’s attention is focused elsewhere, and understandably: the ongoing tension between Sudan and South Sudan; the Arab Spring (the uprisings in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the ongoing tension in Egypt); and, of course, Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention Pakistan, the perdurable Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the antics and threats of Iran and North Korea.
Admirably, U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (VA) fired off a letter to President Obama on Saturday, June 12th, 2011 in which he pleaded, “I am deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating situation in Sudan, especially in Abyei and South Kordafan.” Wolf specifically asked Obama to dispatch former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in partnership with Special Envoy Princeton Lyman, to Khartoum to attempt to “secure a peaceful resolution of the crisis.” Continuing, Wolf warned Obama that “I am afraid Sudan could plunge into another major war if a peaceful resolution is not soon found.”
On Thursday, June 15, five scholars (Samuel Totten, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Eric Reeves, Smith College; Greg Stanton, George Mason University; John Weiss, Cornell University; Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University; and Ervin Staub, University of Massachusetts, Amherst) sent a letter to Representative Wolf commending him for his concern and actions, presented a list of recommendations that the U.S. and UN should take immediately to quell the violence in the region, and asked him to circulate the letter throughout Congress seeking signatures of support for the recommendations.
Among some of the many recommendations were:
• Call for the arrest and extradition of Ahmed Haroun to the International Criminal Court, noting that he is responsible for the deaths of far more people than President Qaddafi of Libya, and call for him to be dismissed immediately as Governor of South Kordafan;
• Set a short deadline (one week) for the Government of Sudan’s withdrawal from Abyei and a halt to military attacks in South Kordafan. If Khartoum fails to meet the deadline, re-impose those sanctions that have been lifted since the last year of the Bush Administration;
• Demand unfettered humanitarian access and freedom of movement for UNAMID in Darfur and commit significant US training and transportation resources to UNAMID;
• Demand the immediate arrest and prosecution of UNMIS personnel who allegedly raped females in the Nuba Mountains.
• Sign a Congressional letter to the President asking him to instruct the US Ambassador to the United Nations to propose a UN Security Council Resolution that will urgently strengthen the UNMIS mission in South Kordafan by increasing its numbers of combat ready soldiers, and increasing its financing, heavy weaponry, communications, transportation, and logistical capacity.
The scholars suggested that the letter then be sent to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice, among others. To date, Representative Wolf has not responded to the letter.
On June 16, Khartoum announced that the SPLM/A and the Government of Sudan agreed to a cease-fire and to undertake negotiations. However, a source in the Nuba Mountains who must remain unnamed, emailed me this morning (June 17), and said, “Supposedly a ceasefire is in effect but fighting is still going on very near here!”
As of this week an array of human rights organizations (including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) and anti-genocide groups (Save Darfur and the Enough Project) vigorously attacked this matter, issuing a flurry of updates, broadsides, and pleas for their members/supporters to take action.
If the GoS’ record in Darfur presages its actions in the Nuba Mountains, one can almost bet on it breaching the ceasefire within weeks, if not days. This is no time for activists, human rights organizations, the U.S. or the UN to get complacent. All that does is provide al Bashir with an opportunity to seize more time for more killing.
Samuel Totten is a genocide scholar based at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He served as one of the 24 investigators with the U.S. Atrocities Documentation Project in eastern Chad. His most recent book is “An Oral and Documentary History of the Darfur Genocide” (Praeger Security International, 2010). He was last in the Nuba Mountains in January 2011 conducting research for a new book, “Genocidal Actions Against the Nuba Mountains People: Interviews with Survivors of Mass Starvation and Other Atrocities.”