KHARTOUM, Sudan, MAR. 17, 2001 (Zenit.org).- With an estimated 2 million deaths, the civil war in Sudan is by far the bloodiest in Africa´s recent history. In spite of repeated condemnations by other nations and human rights groups, the Islamic government in Khartoum shows no sign of lessening its brutal conduct.
Khartoum´s attacks on villagers in the separatist south have reduced them to a primitive level of subsistence, without electricity or modern agricultural methods, according to a March 9 report in The Globe and Mail newspaper. The article quotes Roger Winter, executive director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees in Washington, saying, “I would argue that there´s a genocide going on.”
In 1989 a military coup overthrew Sudan´s democratically elected government and brought to power Lieutenant General Omar el-Bashir and his National Salvation Revolution Command Council. Shortly afterward, the constitution was suspended and press freedom abolished.
In December, el-Bashir was elected to another five-year term, but all major opposition parties boycotted the elections, and there were allegations of electoral fraud. El-Bashir´s party, the National Congress/National Islamic Front, won 340 out of 360 seats in Parliament.
The civil war continues into its 18th year. The fighting is partly about religion. The Arab-dominated Islamic fundamentalist government in Sudan´s north has declared a jihad against the south, which is dominated by animists and Christians.
The principal insurgent group in the south is the Sudan People´s Liberation Movement, the political wing of the Sudan People´s Liberation Army. Neither the Islamic north nor the non-Islamic south has been able to win the war, even though oil revenues have enabled government forces to buy more weapons. All attempts to negotiate an end to the conflict have failed.
Trampling human rights
Numerous human rights organizations have publicized the Sudan government´s lack of respect for individual freedoms and religious liberty. Freedom House´s Center for Religious Freedom condemns the government as “the only one in the world today engaged in chattel slavery, as documented by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Sudan and the U.S. State Department.”
Freedom House also accuses the military forces of repeatedly bombing and burning hospitals, refugee camps, churches and other civilian targets. As well, by manipulating foreign food aid, the government brought 2.6 million southern Sudanese to the brink of starvation in 1998. About 100,000 people in fact died of hunger.
Other abuses include burning and raiding southern villages, followed by “enslaving and raping thousands of women and children, kidnapping and forcibly converting Christian boys.” Freedom House also accuses the Sudanese government of maltreating Christians, including clergy, who have been “imprisoned, flogged, tortured and assassinated for their faith.”
In its 2001 report on human rights, the organization Human Rights Watch confirms these charges. The report describes Sudan´s government as “a gross human rights abuser,” while at the same time recognizing that “rebel groups committed their share of violations.”
International Christian Concern is also protesting the situation in Sudan. It describes how in many cases the northern military forces follow a scorched-earth policy. Areas are sealed off by road and air, and government forces are often sent in to “depopulate” the region. People and livestock are taken or killed, and buildings are destroyed. Survivors are then forcibly relocated to “peace camps,” where the young are taken away from their parents and sent to other camps for indoctrination by Islamic fundamentalists.
International Christian Concern has also published a report on how Sudan is using oil revenues to sustain its military campaign. In these efforts Sudan is being supported by its overseas partners. The government-approved oil consortium, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, is made up of the following partners: China National Petroleum Corporation (40% partner), Petronas, a Malaysian state-owned company (30% partner), Talisman Energy, a private Canadian company (25% partner) and Suda-Pet, a state-owned Sudanese company (5% partner).
Talisman is a signatory to the International Code of Ethics for Canadian Businesses, according to International Christian Concern. But investigations ordered by Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy suggest that an airstrip associated with Talisman´s operations in Sudan has been used by the country´s military forces.
Helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers have used Talisman´s airstrip on their way to bombing raids in southern Sudan. International Christian Concern estimated that last year the government used such Antonov aircraft to bomb 113 civilian targets, including hospitals, churches, schools and relief agencies.
Another organization, Christian Aid, in a report published Thursday, added its voice to those who denounce how foreign oil companies are subsidizing the war machine of the Sudanese regime.
There are signs, however, that internal divisions are weakening the northern Islamic government. Hassan Turabi, “the Sorbonne-educated éminence grise of radical Islam in Sudan,” is now in prison after his arrest several weeks ago for signing a memorandum of understanding with rebels in the south, the Telegraph newspaper reported March 7.
But the infighting may not bring much immediate relief to the conflict. The Telegraph affirmed that in the last three months alone, 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in the conflict. And government forces have launched new offensives to cordon off the southern oil reserves.
In the meantime the United Nations has sent a human rights investigator to Sudan, Gerhart Baum. Baum met the prominent human rights activist, Ghazi Suleiman, of the Sudanese Group for Human Rights, according to a BBC report March 11.
Some hope that new U.S. President George W. Bush will take up the cause of Sudan. The Associated Press on March 9 reported that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a congressional panel, “There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth today than the tragedy that is unfolding in the Sudan.”
On March 11 the Washington Post noted that U.S. Senator Bill Frist, who is “Bush´s main man in the Senate and sees the president all the time,” has firsthand experience of the situation in Sudan, having gone into zones prohibited by the government. Another influential Republican senator, Sam Brownback, is also highly critical of Sudan and is pushing the administration to work on stopping the war. The Post reported that Brownback “has exhorted churchgoers in his home state to join the cause of Christians who are oppressed by the militantly Muslim government in Khartoum.”
Some gains have been made recently. The U.N. Children´s Fund announced it had airlifted more than 2,800 demobilized child soldiers away from the front lines in southern Sudan, according to a Feb. 28 Reuters report.
Rebels in southern Sudan handed the former child-soldiers, aged 8 to 18, over to the United Nations, which will now try to trace their families. The five-day secret airlift from the combat zone followed a pledge last October by the leader of the Sudan People´s Liberation Army to Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, to demobilize all his child-soldiers.
Whether pressure comes from the United Nations, the United States, or other governments, the conflict in Sudan sorely needs to end quickly.