The Looming Famine In The Nuba Mountains, Central Sudan
Testimony of Jemera Rone, Human Rights Watch
Before the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights and the Subcommittee on Africa July 29, 1998
The Nuba Mountains are special. They are in the center of Sudan and not contiguous to SPLA territory. Because of government blockade these mountains remain one of the most isolated places on earth. The Nuba are Africans, half Christian and half Muslim. They speak some fifty different dialects. Their lingua franca is Arabic.
The Nuba Mountains remain isolated and marginalized politically, economically and socially: there was no secondary school in the Nuba Mountains until the 1970s. The Nuba were raided for their cattle by the Baggara (who live to the west) and were under land pressure by Arabs. The mountains are actually hills, but they provided protection from many raiders over the decades, as the Nuba sought to preserve their unique and tolerant culture.
The NIF wages a war of attrition by starvation and displacement of the Nuba. Having failed to defeat the SPLA militarily, in 1992 the NIF declared jihad or holy war on opposition Nuba, even the Muslims-and Nuba commander and governor Yousif Kuwa is a Muslim (although his children are Christians, which he has never opposed; this tolerance is typical of the Nuba in SPLA territory).
In 1992 the government set up "peace camps" ringing garrison towns and forced rural Nuba it captured to live there, under guard lest they escape to their homes. In the camps, women and girls are subjected to sexual abuse by PDF and soldiers. All family members are punished if one manages to escape.
International relief is provided in the Nuba Mountains, but only on one side: the government side. Some food, usually an inadequate amount, goes to peace camps. The government has refused and delayed all U.N. efforts to conduct even a needs assessment in SPLA areas, despite the most recent pledge (May 1998) to U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan that such a mission could proceed. After a compromise was reached regarding the composition of the assessment team and their point of departure, the government denied permission for the team to proceed, and the visit has now been postponed indefinitely. This time the government uses the pretext of an ambush killing three relief workers that must be investigated before anything else happens; responsibility for the ambush is not clear. Many see the U.N.'s failure to push for equal access to the rebel areas of the north as colluding in the government's attempts to starve the Nuba into submission.
At the same time as it delays food relief for the needy in SPLA areas of the Nuba Mountains, the government is engaging in scorched earth tactics against this civilian population, looting animals and crops, and burning what abductees cannot carry. It also displaces those living in fertile valleys into the higher and less fertile land. Now hunger is driving Nubas to the garrison towns and peace camps, in search of food and clothes. Because the Nuba Mountains are isolated from any international border or SPLA area, the government has successfully cut off most ordinary commerce to the area, so basic items such as used clothes, salt and sugar are rarelyavailable, at any price.
These tactics, coupled with the drought, have resulted in a food crisis in the SPLA areas of the Nuba Mountains in 1998. A food assessment done by an NGO in April estimated 20,000 were at risk and later estimates have climbed to 100,000: the population in SPLA areas of the Nuba Mountains may be 300-500,000. Urgent international pressure must be brought on the Sudan government to prevent a food crisis from developing into a famine in the Nuba Mountains.
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