8-5-2011By Crimes Against Humanity Program
Human Rights First
The Obama administration’s much-lauded Directive on Mass Atrocities comes at an especially suitable time. Reports of ethnic cleansing and violence against civilians in the South Kordofan region of Sudan demonstrate all too clearly the gap between successive administrations’ rhetorical commitment to atrocities prevention and the actual practice of doing it. The Presidential Study Directive, which establishes “a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making…” is a big step toward filling the commitment gap.
Congress is the latest to add its voice to a rising chorus calling for U.S. action to halt atrocities in the south and west of Sudan. Yesterday, the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights held an emergency hearing to discuss the Government of Sudan’s targeted attacks on the Nuba people. “Whatever the numbers involved, we can be sure that the suffering of the people in Southern Kordofan, especially the Nuba people, has been catastrophic,” Chris Smith, chairman of the subcommittee, said in his opening remarks.
Though Ambassador Princeton Lyman, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, was dispatched last week to carry out the difficult task of pressing for an end to conflict and for unfettered humanitarian access in South Kordofan, aerial bombardments against civilians and Government of Sudan obstruction continue.
The creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board could help to bring extra pressure and better coordinated responses in the future to situations like those unfolding in Sudan. The APB aims to ensure that comprehensive, timely, and accurate intelligence on potential and occurring atrocity situations, which is currently in scarce supply from South Kordofan, reaches the appropriate policy makers. The APB will also serve as an institutionalized hub convening relevant leaders to coordinate responses that marshal the full range of U.S. foreign policy tools.
Building an enablers strategy – one that focuses on disrupting the supply chains behind mass atrocities and pressures the third-party actors that supply resources to perpetrators of violence against civilians – into the forthcoming APB could help to prevent or mitigate atrocity situations, like those in Sudan. For example, Russian-made Government of Sudan attack helicopters, fighter jets, and Antonov planes have carried out bombardments of several southern Sudanese villages and towns, reportedly killing and displacing thousands of civilians, including the elderly, women, and children. Leveraging financial, political, and other pressure on enablers of mass atrocities, like Russia, to stop its assistance is an important and innovative strategy that should be included in the APB efforts.