7-19-2011By Crimes Against Humanity Program
Human Rights First
South Sudan’s long-sought Independence Day brought jubilation, cheers, and dancing to the streets. Indeed, the July 9 celebrations were the culmination of decades of civil war in Sudan, followed by years of difficult treaty negotiations and a historic referendum in which 98.8 percent of southern Sudanese voted to secede from the north.
But reports of mass graves this week present a sobering reminder of the difficult challenges ahead for both Sudan and the newly minted Republic of South Sudan. With South Sudan’s successful Independence Day behind it, the U.S. government and other international parties, including the United Nations, must remain focused on stopping violence against civilians in South Kordofan, Abyei, and Darfur if the two nations are to coexist as peaceful neighbors.
An unpublished UN report, first reported in the New York Times, detailed credible allegations of Khartoum-aligned military forces executing rebels and killing civilians in South Kordofan. As the Times recounted, “the United Nations report suggest that in its effort to stamp out any lingering rebellion in South Kordofan State…the northern government based in Khartoum has carried out widespread human rights violations that could amount to war crimes.”
Even more disturbing news came late last week when the Satellite Sentinel Project revealed images consistent with mass graves – three large sites with body-sized white bags in piles – in the city of Kadugli. The images back eyewitness accounts that “[Sudanese Armed Forces] SAF, [Government of Sudan] GoS-aligned militias, and other GoS-aligned forces are present in Kadugli and are alleged to be methodically searching houses for civilians…systematically killing those suspected of supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and others.” One Sudan watcher has characterized the recent reports as “strong evidence of genocide.”
Meanwhile, Khartoum has continued “virtually daily” aerial bombardments of other parts of South Kordofan and Unity State, the latter of which is located in the Republic of South Sudan. Antonov bombers – retrofitted cargo planes – are dropping “shrapnel loaded barrel bombs” on civilians. Similar attacks are taking place in Darfur, while Sudanese president and internationally wanted war criminal Omar Hassan al-Bashir issues warnings that the border region of Abyei could once again lead to conflict.
U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman appropriately told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that the violence in South Kordofan and Abyei threatens any peace between the two nations, and the United States has a strong interest in “two successful, viable states. Without that, there’s not going to be stability in either one.”
One thing U.S. and international policy makers looking to prevent further conflict and atrocities in the region can do is to pressure third-party enablers with close ties to leaders in Khartoum, such as Russia. Russia is the supplier of the Antonov jets (mentioned earlier) used to bomb villages and civilians, and it provides Khartoum with other weapons systems such as MiG fighters, which have also been sighted in recent violent campaigns against civilians. China, too, has served as one of the GoS’s greatest enablers, supplying Khartoum with the largest majority of its small arms. China holds both sway in Khartoum as well as a significant stake in the divisive and yet-to-be-determined oil revenue sharing arrangements between the Sudans.