A horrific campaign of ethnic cleansing has been going on in the province of South Kordofan in Sudan since early June. The story is long, but I will keep it short.
Thousands of civilians have apparently been killed in an ongoing effort to eliminate political opposition to the Khartoum regime -- in an area rich in oil, gold, and fertile land. The targets are the Nuba people who have been at odds with the Khartoum regime, and some of whom fought with the Southern People's Liberation Army before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended decades of civil war in which some two million people died. The negotiation that led to the new, independent nation of South Sudan, unfortunately left many friends and allies north of the new border, and subject to reprisals by Khartoum, whose president has been indicted for war crimes for the atrocities he has directed in the Sudanese province of Darfur over the years.
Yesterday, I published a story focused on a dramatic hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee, which had sought to call attention to the matter.
The stories of atrocities carried out by Sudanese forces and allied militia have riveted world media attention since mass killings began in early June: house-to-house searches, summary executions, collection of bodies like trash loaded on trucks in bags, the digging and filling of mass graves, bombing of farms and villages, and chasing Nubans with attack helicopters into the Nuba mountains.
When I was nearly done with my article, I received a translation of a video taken at a rally in New York City, across from the UN, where Sudanese exile and human rights groups had called on the UN Security Council to protect civilians. The video was of the speech by Gedila Musa, a Nuban expatriate who lives in the U.S. but was visiting in Kadugli where the worse of the atrocities occurred, in June. She told her story -- in Arabic -- of witnessing the horrors of women fleeing their homes, carrying their children into the mountains. She was fleeing with them. Some days, she said, they had no food or access to water. I had to include her story:
“People have to be very careful when walking,” she told the crowd.
“They have to remain very low and hide in order to avoid being targeted by airplanes. People are very tired, the mountains are very big and it is tiring to walk. I personally was very very exhausted. The elderly and kids who are sick or injured have nobody to turn to, there are no doctors.”
“Some days, people don’t drink at all,” she said. “They have to wait till the planes leave so they can go outside and get water before they come back and bomb again. The elderly have been put in the mountains because they can’t walk every day.”
“On 17th of June in the morning,” she concluded, “bombing was heavy, two planes, two MIGs and helicopters were bombing Kadugli. I looked at my kids and told them that we have to leave. We relied on God and left. Our travels were long and it took four days to get a plane to be able to leave the region. If we had waited just one day, we wouldn’t have made it out of there alive.”
Despite a steady stream of credible reports coming from the area since the atrocities began -- including satellite images of mass graves and the testimony of eyewitnesses-- inaction on the part of the international community, including the UN and the U.S. has been astounding. I interviewed the local Anglican Bishop, Andudu Adam Elnail, who happened to be in the U.S. receiving medical treatment. If he had not been here, he might now be in a mass grave along with the many other targets of death squads who are still searching for Nubans, especially leaders. He told me at the time that "If the world sits idly by this time, there will be genocide." Six weeks later, events have proven him correct. (Members of the House and the UN Security Council have spoken with him in person and heard his testimony -- which was broadcast on CSPAN.)
Today, 53 Members of the House from both parties have writtena letter (PDF) to president Obama asking him to speak out against the violence and the atrocities, and demanded a "vociferous response from the United States.”
Let's hope that the policy bottleneck can be broken.