It is Time to Point the Finger of Blame

Written by Rebecca Tinsley with Olivia Warham of Waging Peace. Appeared originally in the Sudan Trubune

Less than a year after South Sudan gained independence, some are already preparing to write its obituary. Before the January 2011 referendum, many of us predicted things would go badly unless the international community, in its role as midwife to the new nation, ensured that outstanding elements of the 2005 peace deal were resolved.

These elements were not minor matters: the location of the border, how much South Sudan would pay to tranship oil across Sudan, and who was a citizen. However, everyone was in a hurry to complete the secession process and the split went ahead with the most contentious issues unresolved.

And so it has come to pass: military clashes along the contested border; Khartoum is bombing South Sudan’s oil fields following the shut-down of production in protest at transhipment fees, and the continued ethnic cleansing of Sudanese citizens whom the Khartoum regime does not want in its racially and religiously ‘pure’ nation.

The UN, the US, the UK, the EU and the African Union have variously condemned the violence in words that imply both ‘sides’ are equally to blame. When confronted with evidence such as satellite pictures of freshly-dug mass graves, troop movements and destroyed oil fields, available at the Satellite Sentinel Project, representatives of the international community still contend there is insufficient evidence to point the finger of blame, or that the exact situation on the ground is unclear.

The international community in the form of the UN, EU, African Union and Arab League, has done exactly the same throughout nine years of misery in Darfur, refusing to accept that for the most part, it is unarmed civilians are being slaughtered by their own regime. Instead international actors use language that suggests both sides are as bad as each other. This is known as moral equivalency, and it clouds an already ill-informed debate.

It is overwhelmingly clear that the government of Sudan and its local proxies have been bombing and terrorising the inhabitants of Blue Nile and South Kordofan states since July, treating all non-Arab, non-Muslim locals as if they are enemies of Khartoum. The Sudanese air force has repeatedly violated international borders by entering South Sudan’s airspace and bombing oil fields. Yet Sudan has faced no consequences for repeatedly breaking its own promises.

Representatives of the international community seem exasperated by Juba’s decision to switch off the oil supply. But they refuse to pay Sudan $36 a barrel to ship oil to Port Sudan when the oil industry’s going rate is less than a dollar a barrel. Why should South Sudan pay more than the norm, given that Khartoum kept the revenues from the oil lying beneath South Sudan from when the country became an oil exporter in 2000 until the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement? Under the deal for six years South Sudan gave half of its oil revenue to Khartoum.

Sadly, diplomatic wilful ignorance is part of a pattern. They habitually recoil from imposing meaningful sanctions or attaching consequences when agreements are broken in case negotiations, no matter how futile, break down. One is reminded of Einstein’s definition of insanity: repeating the same actions expecting a different outcome.

Scott Gration, the former White House envoy, believed Sudan’s National Congress Party wanted the best for their citizens. Never mind that Khartoum has been waging war on its marginalised regions for decades, at the cost of well over two million lives. Gration wanted to reward Bashir, a man indicted by the International Criminal Court for the crime of genocide, for promising he would stop killing his own citizens (nb promising to stop, rather than actually stopping). Predictably, Bashir and his proxies continue the slaughter.

The current US envoy, Princeton Lyman, dismisses accounts from UN and Human Rights Watch observers in South Kordofan where the Nuba people are being hunted like animals by Khartoum’s helicopter gunships. Lyman has ignored the Sentinel Satellite photos showing mass graves, preferring to give Field Marshall Bashir the benefit of the doubt, even as the Sudan peace process collapses around his ears.

This is not a call for military action or regime change: that is up to the long-suffering Sudanese people. However, if there are no consequences for breaking promises, let alone international law, then the NCP regime is emboldened to carry on killing. Travel bans and smart financial sanctions, carefully targeted on Bashir and his cronies, will be more effective than appeasement and failure to apportion blame accurately. Ironically, the UN Security Council approved a raft of such sanctions several years ago: how many more mass graves and bombing raids before they are enforced?

Olivia Warham is director of the human rights group Waging Peace.

 

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