Sudan: Nuba Mountains Letter
Date distributed (ymd): 971024
International Women's Committee in Support of Nuba Women and Children
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Dear International Community, Individuals, Organizations, and Officials:
We are writing to alert you to the tragic humanitarian situation of the people, and especially the women and children, of the Nuba Mountains of southwestern Sudan. In this remote and internationally isolated region of the Sudan, a long-running human rights disaster is precipitously worsening. Therefore, we urge you to demand your governments to act immediately, and with the requisite political will, to help put an end to this unfolding human tragedy. The catastrophic human rights situation in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan has been highlighted for nearly a decade. From independent human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the United Nations and the United States Department of State, various international groups and observers have presented one piece of gruesome evidence after another. This evidence strongly demonstrates that the aggression and violence of the Sudanese Islamist government (the National Islamic Front, NIF) and its local and national militias are part of a concerted effort to purge and thereby subdue the Nuba. This is made clear by the fact that the government of Sudan (GOS) and its armed militias do not attempt to differentiate between Nuba who are sympathetic to the armed opposition, Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), and those who are innocent civilians.
In fact, the term "genocide" adequately describes the situation of the Nuba vis-a-vis the GOS. African Rights and numerous relief and church groups and individuals working in the Nuba Mountains, among others, have so labeled it. African Rights, for example, says that "Sudanese troops are carrying out genocide against the Nuba people in the war against non-Arabs in the country's south" (reported by Chege Mbitiru, Associated Press Writer, Tuesday, August 5, 1997, Nairobi, Kenya.) In addition, Alain Destexhe, former Secretary General of Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres) has written that: "the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Sudan could well qualify as genocide. . . . in the name of Jihad, the whole population was either massacred or deported to camps in the north of the country . . ." (Alain Destexhe, "Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century" New York University Press, 1995, p. 17.)
The instruments of the ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains by the GOS and its local militias include murder, rape, abduction, slavery, orchestrated famines as political weapons, and banishment of civilians to so-called "peace camps" where they are abused and pauperized under concentration camp-like conditions, such banishment often occurring after the GOS has burned their villages to the ground (see Human Rights Watch World Report 1997). At the same time, forced conversion to a particular kind of fundamentalist Islam (the Nuba are already heavily Islamicized), the bulldozing and blazing of Christian churches, Islamic Mosques, and schools, and the execution of "apostates" by the GOS are all indicative of a strategy of cultural genocide.
Though the GOS has increasingly unleashed its brutality on the Sudanese people more generally, "regardless of their race, religion, language, ethnic or social origin and status" (U.N. Special Rapporteur's Report), the Nuba remain a focal target of the GOS' policy of ethnic purging. Religion, ethnicity, class, and gender have been and remain salient features of the NIF regime's campaigns in the Nuba Mountains, as in other areas of the Sudan. In the eyes of the GOS, the Nuba and other ethnic minorities are "expendable" people. The U.N. Special Rapporteur, for example, "cannot but conclude that the abduction of persons, mainly women and children belonging to racial, ethnic and religious minorities from southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains and the Ingassena Hills area, their subjection to the slave trade, including traffic in and sale of children and women, slavery, servitude, forced labor and similar practices are taking place with the knowledge of the Government of the Sudan" (Special Rapporteur's Report -- SRR -- to the Commission on Human Rights resolution 1996/73, at its 60th meeting 23 April 1996).
Unfortunately, the GOS remains openly defiant in the face of increasing international scrutiny. It has continued to ignore all the reports and demands of United Nations organs and UN-affiliated international NGOs. Though it claims to be a protector of global human rights, U.N. documents highlight its failure to observe even the most basic human rights, and its constant denial of violating these rights. For example, the SRR states that "the official position of the Government of the Sudan [GOS] with regard to the provisions of the resolutions adopted by the [U.N.] Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly on reported human rights violations can be summarized as unequivocal rejection. At the same time, calls upon the Government of the Sudan [GOS] to bring an end to the violations and to hold the perpetrators responsible have consistently been ignored."
The GOS has also failed to ensure the access of humanitarian relief groups to needy civilians, whether they are in GOS- or SPLA-occupied areas. In fact, the GOS has deliberately obstructed humanitarian assistance (by direct military targeting of relief efforts and representatives) to the people of the Nuba Mountains (and other beleaguered areas of Sudan). As in the southern Sudan, the NIF regime has persistently refused to authorize the extension of the U.N. Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) relief programmes and those of other humanitarian organizations to SPLA-held areas of the Nuba Mountains. This denial by GOS of humanitarian assistance lies in blatant breach of the joint U.N. and GOS statement of 15 September 1992, affirming ". . . critical importance of access of all people in need of humanitarian assistance wherever they may be." (G.A., res. 48/147)
Though the worst offender, the GOS has not been the only perpetrator of human rights abuses in the Nuba Mountains. According to the SRR, "[m]embers of different parties to the conflict in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, other than the Government of the Sudan [GOS] and those affiliated with it, have committed a series of abuses and atrocities against the life, liberty and personal security of Sudanese citizens in the areas under their control." Nevertheless, the GOS has been the least self-critical party toward the human rights abuses perpetrated by its members. For example, in "Facing Genocide: The Nuba of Sudan" (1996), African Rights cites more determined (though imperfect) efforts by the SPLA to curtail and punish human rights abuses by its members in the Nuba Mountains (and elsewhere), as compared to a total lack of such efforts by the GOS.
Clearly, the situation in the Nuba Mountains is extremely complex. General war symptoms and targeted ethnic cleansing are often misleadingly lumped together by both local and international observers. Ironically, the same sort of confusion occurred in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and even Nazi Germany -- a state of confusion (or political evasion?) which obscured genocide and justified international passivity until far too late in each case.
It remains a puzzle and a travesty of justice that the Sudanese government's cleansing campaign against the Nuba (and other minorities) has earned it only a slap on the wrist by the international community. There has been an embarrassing lack of a political will to act. The civil conflict and attendant human rights disaster in the Sudan remains, to the embarrassment of humanity, "an internal affair" that even the Organization of African Unity (OAU) shamefully brushes off as something to be taken care of by the Sudanese government. Such international indifference is especially troublesome in light of the fact that the Sudan conflict is currently the longest, and perhaps most atrocious, civil war in the world. And, we fear, the fact that the main sufferers are women and children may be an important cause of this indifference. Continued international silence on the Sudan, however, will in our opinion only serve to prolong the war and the inhuman situation faced by the women and children of the Nuba Mountains. The international community must take action now, before it is too late for the people of the Nuba Mountains.
Therefore, our Sudanese and non-Sudanese woman-organized campaign to help stop the atrocities to the Nuba calls on the United States government and its allies to stop collaborating in the genocide through its support of the Sudan government's suspect "peace accord" of April 21, 1997. (The April 1997 accord is suspect because, among other factors, the GOS itself does not take it seriously: it continues to militarily target innocent civilians in the Nuba Mountains and the South.)
We also call upon you to demand that your governments pressure the U.N. to promote the establishment of relief corridors (General Assembly, res. 45/100) to facilitate the immediate free access of humanitarian organizations and U.N. relief programmes to the Nuba Mountains; and to pressure the U.N. Security Council to make use of the instruments in Chapter VII of the Charter (S.C. res. 688) in order to ensure the right to life of the Nuba people (art. 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; art. 12, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966; art. 6, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).
Finally, and most importantly, we call on the international community to acknowledge the state of genocide in the Nuba Mountains and therefore to take the appropriate actions required by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
International silence on genocide is utterly inexcusable in the twentieth century. Please, let the people of the Nuba Mountains and all of Sudan know that they are not less human than those in Sierra Leone, where a military coup called for interference by neighboring West African countries; nor less worthy than those in other areas of the world where the international community has interfered to protect civilians and to punish the culprits who committed atrocities against them. In short, show the people of the Nuba Mountains and all of Sudan that the phrase "never again" is not an empty slogan.
The International Women's Committee to Support Nuba Women and Children
[Letter drafted by: Sondra Hale, Asma Abdel Halim, and Laura Nyantung Beny.]