Many Sudan advocates have watched in horror as evidence rapidly accumulates that genocide is beginning again in South Kordofan (in what is now North Sudan). This week, many wrote to President Obama, expressing their deep concerns.
Information from a leaked U.N. human rights report has chronicled massive atrocities that occurred in June, both in the capital city of Kadugli and in the Nuba Mountains. House-to-house searches have targeted the African Nuba people of the region and those sympathetic to South Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (North). Roadblocks have been set up in numerous locations targeting the same population. Many have been arrested or summarily executed. These actions continue to the present. The U.N. human rights report also provides eyewitness accounts of mass graves, with considerable detail.
On July 14, the Satellite Sentinel Project, in conjunction with the Enough Project, released satellite photography that shows three mass gravesites parallel to one another, each about 16 feet by 80 feet; together they are capable of holding many thousands of victims, victims who would almost certainly be Nuba. These sites were excavated after June 7 and before July 4 – in other words, at the very height of violent conflict.
There is simply no other credible explanation for what SSP photography reveals – and none has been offered, even by U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman, who seemed to go out of his way to say that the United States could not confirm the findings of the SSP report. Moreover, SSP has photographed masses of irregular white bags, all of a size to comport with human body dimensions. Lyman says that the white bags were always there (implying, notably, that U.S. satellite surveillance has been ongoing). But this is simply wrong: SSP has photographs of precisely the same site on both June 17 (no white bags) and July 4 (many white bags); this is unmistakable.
Why would Lyman try to undermine the SSP report? There are no answers that are not intensely dismaying. But his effort flies in the face of too much evidence: satellite photography, eyewitness accounts (independently conducted and confirming of one another), and the grim accounts of mass disappearances. The Associated Press reported that on June 20 some 7,000 Nuba who had sought U.N. protection were forcibly removed from U.N. custody by security agents of the Khartoum regime, disguised as Red Crescent workers. To this day the U.N. has no idea where these people were moved or where they are now.
There is a great deal more evidence, particularly of ongoing aerial bombardment of Nuba civilians in the Nuba Mountains, and a deliberate assault on the agricultural cycle (now is the most critical time for planting and tending crops). If there is no fall harvest because bombing has forced so many people to abandon their fields, and if humanitarian access to the Nuba remains blocked, people will starve in large numbers.
Many, including myself, believe that with so much evidence that ethnic violence, even genocide, is once again accelerating in Sudan, the international community must act and act forcefully. With or without U.N. authorization, the U.S. and others committed to the ideal of a “responsibility to protect” must stop the bombing of civilians, the greatest issue in the minds of most Nuba at this point. Khartoum should be put on notice that any aircraft implicated in attacks on civilian or humanitarian targets will be destroyed on the ground, by cruise missiles or drone attack aircraft. This minimizes the chances for collateral damage and provides a steady ratcheting up of pressure on Khartoum. Some of its aircraft, e.g., MiG-29s, are very expensive, running to $30 million each. But the ageing Antonov “bombers” should be the first target, since they are doing the most damage to civilian lives and livelihoods in the Nuba.
The call for an Iraq-style “No Fly Zone,” while understandable, is impracticable on a number of counts, given the geography of South Kordofan; and it would be hugely resource-consumptive. Threatening to destroy culpable aircraft on the ground would soon have the effect of creating a NFZ, but very simply and at low cost.
The alternative is to accept the continuing, indeed accelerating ethnically targeted human destruction of the Nuba people. This is not a morally intelligible alternative.
Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.