A family survives, if barely, “by eating water lilies and grasses in the marshes.” Still, they are better off than former neighbors who have been burned alive in their huts. You can join the thousands trying to escape the worst of it, those soldiers who are burning their homes and shooting their children, but you too will have to contend with crocodiles.
Not too far away, in the adjacent land, bombs are falling, but their target is not clear. One of two possibilities: either the “Air Force was trying to bomb the village of grass huts, or the girl’s high school next to it.” In that land of falling bombs, do not get sick – or hungry. For you will find bombs, but not much food or medicine; the government is keeping them out.
Welcome, I daresay, to the Sudans and these dual catastrophes – which, as explained below, can be stopped. The family that had to survive by eating that which is not food for human beings, who escaped from an area where government soldiers set fire to people’s homes with families inside, was in South Sudan. Since December 2013, a brutal civil war there as pitted the world’s youngest country’s President Salva Kiir against his former vice president, Riek Machar. The fighting has assumed a deep ethnic dimension; President Kiir is a Dinka, his former vice president, a Nuer. Those government soldiers, they were slaughtering Nuer – likely in revenge for earlier atrocities by the rebel forces against Dinka civilians. Alas, even before the fighting, the people of South Sudan were abandoned by their government as it quickly morphed into an authoritarian kleptocracy. The United Nations recently issued a report on the massive scale of atrocities both sides have committed, which you can access here.
In Sudan, the bombing is the work of the Sudanese air force, as the génocidaire president Bashir continues his modus operandi from the decades-long civil war to Darfur – where fighting has intensified since 2013 – here in the Nuba Mountains, which border South Sudan. The aim of the government bombing there, in response to an armed rebellion, “seems to be to terrorize the population and depopulate the area.” Sudan’s government instituted a blockade of food and medicine, leading to a huge measles outbreak last year. The United States has helped keep food reaching the region despite the blockade, but has yet to do the same with medicine.
The New York Times columnist, humanitarian, and moral compass Nicholas Kristof, who helped draw attention to the genocide in Darfur years ago, warns that “as long as world leaders and aid agencies acquiesce and Sudan pays no price for its savagery, nothing will change.” The same could be said of South Sudan, where last week the United Nations belatedly sanctioned three generals on each side.
The United States (and other countries too) could, should, and must do more.
To address the immediate suffering in both countries, we should increase our humanitarian assistance. Through June, the UN’s $1.63 billion humanitarian appeal for South Sudan was only 41% funded, while as of late June, the appeal for Sudan of $1.04 billion had only generated 35% of the needed funds.
Our central focus, though, must be ending the atrocities on both sides of the border — and helping create a sustained peace. In South Sudan, as Nicholas Kristof and the anti-genocide advocacy group the Enough Project have emphasized, for South Sudan, above all this means robust, targeted sanctions against the wealth and family assets of those responsible, as well as travel bans, including against those who are providing the funds and weapons to perpetuate the fighting. These should be through the UN where possible, otherwise unilaterally, working with Europe, and through support for regional sanctions. To be as effective as possible, investigations and partnerships with civil society and others can track down the assets of the elites who have enabled South Sudan’s descent. Along with raising the cost of fighting for those who are driving it, such sanctions, along with other financial investigative and sanction tools to disrupt the flow of money, can help stop the funds feed the fighting.
It is crazy, frankly, that an arms embargo does not exist for both sides in South Sudan – crazy, but also a matter of politics, including Ugandan military support for the South Sudanese government. The United Nations Security Council should establish a comprehensive arms embargo.
President Obama should also work with regional actors to prioritize the South Sudanese peace process, including during his trip to East Africa in late July. And the United States should increase funding for civil society organizations in the region that are working for peace, transparency, and an end to impunity. Indeed, a number of NGOs have filed a case against the Sudanese government in the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
While the United States already has extensive sanctions on Sudan, more are possible. An Executive Order or legislative action could target individuals and entities – American and non-American alike – that provide that government information technology that facilitates its human rights violations. Gold mining is helping fund the fighting in Sudan. The United States could lead an effort around “conflict gold” in Sudan – building on processes already in place for conflict minerals, including gold, in the Democratic Republic of Congo – barring the sale of gold from Sudan unless its origin can be traced and proven not to be linked to the fighting.
The United States should also encourage countries with particular leverage on the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to do more. The state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation has a 40% stake in South Sudan’s oil facilities. The Persian Gulf states, meanwhile, have leverage in Sudan, which values relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other countries in the Gulf. Last year Qatar provided $1 billion to Sudan’s Central Bank.
In both countries, the measures above are meant to do more than stop the immediate violence, to also lead to lasting peace, including a national dialogue process that has begun in Sudan, but with little progress. If the United States and other countries take these actions, the elites in Sudan and South Sudan will find that their own interests, their own wealth, will no longer be furthered by war as in South Sudan, or the various conflicts that have marked Sudan for decades, but by a sustained peace – and, one hopes, peace with justice and accountability.
Yet these measures are unlikely to lead to immediate change, even as atrocities are occurring now, people are starving and being deprived of medicine now. It seems to me that the United States and the international community must look to further actions that could end the killings now. During the height of the genocide in Darfur, there was a call for a no-fly zone to keep Sudanese planes from bombing villages there. Why not an enforced no-fly zone over the Nuba Mountains (and anywhere else in Sudan where the air force is attacking civilians)? The political reality is that this could not pass the UN Security Council. What about NATO and the African Union establishing and enforcing this no-fly zone?
A well-armed and powerfully mandated UN peacekeeping force in Eastern Congo has reduced the intensity of the atrocities being committed and the strength of the rebel movements there. Could the present UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan be expanded and strengthened – its mandate already includes protecting civilians – along similar lines?
So you see, there is much more the United States and the international community could do so that families in South Sudan can eat food and not grass, so that people can live in their homes rather than perish in them, so that bombs fall on neither villages nor schools. I urge you to write and call President Obama to make sure that the President makes peace and accountability in South Sudan and Sudan a top priority on his trip to East Africa late this month – and before. You can also sign this letter from the Enough Project to Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Powers, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
And if you have not seen them yet, I encourage you to read the two Nicholas Kristof columns that drew my attention to the scale of atrocities happening now in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, “A Toddler’s Death in a Foxhole” (Nuba Mountains, Sudan) and “Tales of Horror Should Galvanize Obama” (South Sudan).