before the House Committee on International Relations,
June 5, 2002
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify here today about the next steps on what I hope will be the path to peace in Sudan. As many of you know, I have testified many times before Congress on Sudan, but this is my first time doing so as Assistant Administrator of USAID.
The timing of this hearing is very important. Sudan is riding a fine line between disaster and opportunity. In the last eleven months, I have traveled to Sudan seven times, including all of Senator John Danforth's visits, and two trips with USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios in his capacity as the President's U.S. Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan.
During that time, I have witnessed several very successful initiatives. For example, last month during a meeting with civil society groups of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM)-held Nuba Mountains region, I was encouraged to hear about the positive changes in daily life brought about by U.S. humanitarian advocacy and diplomatic activities. Local residents mentioned to me that the sound of airplanes overhead once brought a fear of coming bombs, but now is welcomed as announcing new shipments of food or other needed assistance. This sort of practical improvement in safety, nutrition, and quality of life is what USAID is working toward in Sudan.
While recent developments give cause for hope and justify energetic U.S. engagement toward a just peace, any optimism must be tempered. The Government of Sudan (GoS) continues to send contradictory signals on its commitment to supporting humanitarian efforts. While government declarations suggest official support for such aid, the GoS too often creates bureaucratic restrictions and operational barriers that impede the delivery of assistance to those in need. Aid agencies are denied official access to some areas, and civilians are directly targeted in some instances. These obstacles are so consistent as to amount to a deliberate strategy. It belies the GoS assertions of wanting a just peace.
Mr. Chairman, in my testimony here today, I will discuss three successes that the United States has achieved in Sudan over the last eleven months, several serious concerns that remain to be addressed, and a vision for future USAID humanitarian and developmental assistance in Sudan in the months to come.
The first and greatest achievement has been the remarkable progress made by USAID in preparing southern Sudan for an eventual peace. USAID has sharply increased its investment in education, agriculture, and small business, to lay the groundwork for a stable postwar society. This new long-term development assistance is coordinated and linked with our ongoing humanitarian programs. During his July trip to Sudan last year, Administrator Natsios heard repeatedly from southern Sudanese of their desire to be self-reliant and reduce their dependency on foreign humanitarian assistance. In response, the Administrator announced two major new development programs focusing on basic education and agriculture, intended to help southern Sudanese help themselves. These initiatives are valued at $42.5 million over five years. USAID development funding in opposition-held areas of Sudan increased from $4 million last year to $18 million this year.
To address the fact that two generations of southern Sudanese have had minimal access to education, USAID has designed a basic education program to support the creation of elementary schools, secondary schools, and teacher training colleges in southern Sudan. One effect of the ongoing civil war and displacement of civilians in Sudan has been the severe disruption of the business and agricultural sectors.
The second program will provide technical training to farmers to increase their entrepreneurial skills, and also will support the provision of small loans to individuals, especially women who make up over 60 percent of the farming population, thereby encouraging the development of the southern Sudanese economy. A few days ago when we were traveling in southern Sudan with Administrator Natsios, I saw the production of shea butter, a local commodity that is processed by women who are the "poorest of the poor." Shea butter is a cooking oil that can replace imported food aid oil, and is also a highly valued export commodity. Most of all, support to the shea network will benefit thousands of women as the shea nut tree grows wild in Southern Sudan.
Parallel to our efforts to improve the southern Sudanese society and economy over the long term, USAID continues to address the pressing shorter-term humanitarian needs of Sudanese, north and south. The continued high level of our humanitarian assistance primarily reflects the unfortunate continuing humanitarian need in war-affected areas. We are also supporting what Administrator Natsios calls "developmental relief" programs - those which mitigate the impacts of conflict and encourage people to move along on the path to self-sufficiency. USAID funds relief organizations working both within and outside the framework of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS). OLS has been the primary channel for humanitarian assistance to Sudan, but we do not limit ourselves to providing assistance only to areas cleared by the GoS under the OLS framework. The percentage of USAID non-food assistance in southern Sudan going to organizations outside OLS has increased from 13 percent in 1998 to 45 percent last year. Currently, in Western Upper Nile, where needs are most acute and where GoS is denying access, USAID is giving both food and non-food aid to agencies outside OLS, and will continue to do so.
A second major achievement has been the improvement in the humanitarian situation in the Nuba Mountains over the past year. Nuba had been the area of greatest humanitarian need in Sudan caused by conflict and isolation, but the region was receiving little humanitarian aid due to blanket denials of access from the GoS. To meet the overwhelming needs in Nuba, the United States led negotiations for a military ceasefire and humanitarian access. This effort succeeded. Clearance of flights is now done by the Joint Military Commission (composed of GoS, SPLM, and international monitors) and not by GoS. People are enjoying a new freedom of movement, and an economic revitalization is beginning. There is an overall feeling of optimism among the people of Nuba, and some hope to use this successful initiative as a model for zones of tranquility elsewhere in Sudan. The Nuba initiative has not been an unmitigated success, but I will address that later.
A third achievement has been the close cooperation between USAID and the State Department in developing and implementing the tests from the Danforth initiative. One of the tests relates to eradication of slavery, abductions, and forced servitude. State led the formation of an investigation by an international team of eminent persons. USAID is designing a program to normalize inter-communal relations in the geographic area most affected by slavery. The program will focus on conflict transformation activities that enable people to earn their livelihoods from peaceful economic opportunities rather than from the war economy that involves abductions of civilians.
USAID and the State Department have also worked closely on improving humanitarian access. USAID developed the Nuba Mountains operational plan for the World Food Program 30-day food distribution in SPLM areas in November. The plan was presented to GoS diplomatically by the State Department. This pattern has been repeated in a number of instances throughout the last year.
Despite these successes, we at USAID remain disturbed at the intensification of conflict and humanitarian crises in other areas and feel the U.S. government still has to overcome significant challenges in order to catalyze a just peace. The GoS continually obstructs the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the implementation of programs in opposition areas. It delays operations, violates agreements, and denies access for humanitarian flights.
The Nuba Mountains have seen positive changes, as I mentioned earlier, but there are reasons to question the commitment of GoS to guaranteeing humanitarian access in the Nuba Mountains because of its actions to date. For example, after the GoS agreed in January to unfettered humanitarian access to Nuba, it continued to delay and deny flights into the SPLM-controlled areas until mid-May, only weeks before the rainy season would make airstrips inaccessible. The government finally acquiesced only after sustained U.S. pressure. Lack of humanitarian assistance from early December to mid-May did little to encourage people to return to the Nuba Mountains and in certain locations, civilian movement and markets continue to be restricted. Also, a collapse of, or failure to renew, the agreement is not without risk. Under the terms of the ceasefire, all sides gained access to detailed maps of population centers, military positions, and locations of humanitarian activities.
The problem of restricted humanitarian access to war-affected regions is not limited to the Nuba Mountains. In the war zones of Western Upper Nile, in parts of Central and Eastern Upper Nile, in northern Bahr el Ghazal, in southern Blue Nile, and in Eastern Equatoria, flights continue to be denied. As recently as last week, the GoS insisted that all relief for Western Upper Nile be out of El-Obeid rather the OLS base in Lokichokio. The United Nations (UN) is engaged in continued negotiations with GoS and SPLM on this.
In a recent query on the GoS proposal to restrict access to Western Upper Nile, Administrator Natsios stated, "The principle of Operation Lifeline Sudan since it was created in 1988, was to allow the government-held areas to be served from the North and the opposition-held areas to be served through Lokichokio in Northern Kenya. Any change will disrupt the relief effort and endanger people's lives, and we would not accept it."
My third concern is that the frequency of attacks on civilians is increasing. In Western Upper Nile, credible reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies indicate that the GoS military campaign is directly targeting civilians and food stocks through intensified, high-altitude bombings and helicopter gunship attacks.
An attack on civilians in Bieh on February 17 in which 24 people were killed was witnessed by World Food Program (WFP) staff. On the Administrator's recent trip, we met with six chiefs from Western Upper Nile, a number of whose home areas were bombed that evening. In addition to these attacks, dozens of GoS assaults on civilian populations go unwitnessed by international observers.
The UN and NGOs estimate that between 150,000 and 300,000 people have been displaced in Western Upper Nile between January and May 2002. Due to restrictions on access to the area, information on displaced populations is imprecise. By all accounts the humanitarian needs of the displaced are enormous. Veteran aid workers have described the state of internally displaced persons in Western Upper Nile as the worst they have ever seen.
Finally, I would like to present preliminary plans for future USAID priorities and actions that will improve the humanitarian situation and prepare Sudan for a just peace. These plans follow directly from successes achieved under the initiatives of Special Envoy Danforth.
One of the Danforth tests is to encourage "periods or zones of tranquility," in which military actors temporarily stand down to allow humanitarian access. During the Danforth negotiations, we obtained political approval from both GoS and SPLM for special humanitarian programs in the cross-line area of Abyei and Twic for the eradication of guinea worm. I visited Abyei and Twic counties last month, and met with local authorities, community leaders, and international partners. If USAID efforts to transform the war economy in this region are successful, improved relations among north-south communities could have two impacts. One is a reduction in slave raiding and abductions since this is where these practices historically occur, and a second is an increase in return of displaced people to their home areas in the South from squatter camps in northern cities. This potential initiative is still being vetted.
Similarly, Eastern Equatoria will also be a priority for USAID programs in the coming year. This is a very complex region with a multiplicity of ethnic groups, GoS-SPLA front lines, south-south divisions, and a regional dimension that includes Ugandan dissidents. The impact of all this on ordinary Sudanese is huge, with many displaced within the region and many others living as refugees in Uganda. We will attempt to use U.S. political leverage and the State-USAID partnership to support the UN in its efforts to negotiate cross-line access and eliminate GoS access denials. Success in these efforts will enable USAID to fund infrastructure projects, conflict transformation, and community rehabilitation activities.
Second, USAID will work to consolidate the ceasefire and the recovery effort in the Nuba Mountains. Popular expectations remain high and much remains to be done here to sustain the initial successes so that people achieve self-reliance and economic recovery.
Third, we are considering ways that the current flight clearance system can move beyond GoS unilateral ability to veto humanitarian flights. We intend to explore the creation of an internationally monitored flight clearance mechanism to ensure objectivity and transparency in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This would be a major change in the current approach that could improve the lives of thousands of Sudanese in the south, who live in areas not directly affected by fighting but who are now routinely denied humanitarian access by GoS for political reasons.
I believe the U.S. initiative has the potential to move the warring parties towards a just peace. In that regard, the United States is the only game in town. Yet Khartoum seems of two minds, poised on the edge between a peace and war mentality.
The surest way for Khartoum to prove the genuineness of its intentions is to fully collaborate with the U.S. and U.N. humanitarian initiatives by providing unrestricted international humanitarian access to civilians in need. Failure to do so risks years of more war.