On 23 March 1999, Christian Solidarity International, an organisation
which describes itself as a "human rights organisation"
helping those "suffering repression, victimised children
and victims of disaster", attempted to allow John Garang,
the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the
Sudanese rebel movement, to speak as its representative, at
the fifty-fifth session of the United Nations Commission on
Human Rights at the Palais des Nations
in Geneva. Despite
warnings, however, Garang, began his speech in the name of
the SPLA, and began a political diatribe against the government
of Sudan. The chairman of the session stopped Garang from
speaking, and dismissed him from the podium.
Christian Solidarity International
was one of many non-governmental organisations that enjoyed
consultative status within the United Nations Economic and
Social Council (ECOSOC), which allowed its representatives
to speak during Commission on Human Rights meetings.
In contriving that Garang would
appear as a Christian Solidarity International member and
spokesman, Christian Solidarity International clearly abused
its consultative status for political ends. This resulted
in CSI having its United Nations accreditation withdrawn
by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
That Christian Solidarity International
displayed a chronic lack of judgement in attempting to abuse
the clear conventions and procedures of the Commission on
Human Rights is clear. Even more stark, however, is the
simple fact that Christian Solidarity International, given
its claim to be a human rights organisation, has so closely
and willingly associated itself with John Garang and the
SPLA given their clear involvement in what can only be described
as war crimes and other gross abuses of human rights in
The SPLA has had a long record
of wide-scale terrorism in Sudan. This has included the
widespread murder of Sudanese men, women and children, indiscriminate
mortaring and rocketing of urban areas in southern Sudan,
resulting in hundreds of further civilian deaths, ethnic
cleansing, extensive pillaging and shooting of civilians
along the Sudan-Ethiopian border, the abduction and murder
of international relief workers, and the laying of land-mines.
The SPLA has also admitted the shooting down of civilian
airliners within Sudan, incidents involving considerable
loss of life. The Catholic Church has also accused the SPLA
of stealing up to 65 percent of the emergency food aid supplied
by relief agencies to starving and sick communities in southern
In his 1996 report, Dr Gaspar
Biro, the then United Nations Special Rapporteur for human
rights in Sudan, documented an incident which had taken
place on the evening of 30 July 1995. SPLA forces had attacked
two villages in the Ganyiel region of southern Sudan. SPLA
gunmen killed 210 villagers, of whom 30 were men, 53 were
women and 127 were children.
The Special Rapporteur stated that:
Eyewitnesses reported that
some of the victims, mostly women, children and the
elderly, were caught while trying to escape and killed
with spears and pangas. M.N., a member of the World
Food Programme relief committee at Panyajor, lost four
of her five children (aged 8-15 years). The youngest
child was thrown into the fire after being shot. D.K.
witnessed three women with their babies being caught.
Two of the women were shot and one was killed with a
panga. Their babies were all killed with pangas. A total
of 1, 987 households were reported destroyed and looted
and 3, 500 cattle were taken.
This is precisely the sort of
war crime the world witnessed in horror during the Kosovo
tragedy in 1999. In its 1994 report Civilian Devastation:
Abuses by all Parties in the War in Southern Sudan,
a 279-page study, Human Rights Watch/Africa devoted 169
pages to "SPLA Violations of the Rules of War".
Human Rights Watch/Africa reported that the SPLA was guilty
of, amongst other things, summary executions, indiscriminate
attacks on civilians, the deliberate starvation of civilians,
abducting civilians, mainly women and children, torture,
forced recruitment and force labour, theft of civilian animals,
food and grain, and the holding of long-term political prisoners
in prolonged arbitrary detention. African Watch has also
placed on record that the SPLA has murdered government soldiers
taken as prisoners of war.
In its study, Sudan: The
Ravages of War: Political Killings and Humanitarian Disaster,
Amnesty International recorded that the SPLA had lined up
32 women from the village of Pagau, 12 kilometres from Ayod
in southern Sudan, and then shot each once in the head.
Eighteen children were reported to have been locked in a
hut which was then set on fire. Three children who attempted
to escape were then shot. The rest burnt to death. These
are clearly war crimes. In Paiyoi, an area north-east of
Ayod, Amnesty International reported that 36 women were
burnt to death in a cattle byre. Nine others were clubbed
to death by SPLA forces. As an example of a war crime with
genocidal overtones, in its 1994 report, Amnesty stated
that in April 1993, the largely Dinka SPLA forces "massacred
about 200 Nuer villagers, many of them children, in villages
around the town of Ayod. Some of the victims were shut in
huts and burnt to death. Others were shot." These were
ethnically-motivated murders in no way different from the
murder of ethnic Albanian women and children by Serbian
gunmen in Kosovo.
The SPLA's war crimes have even
been admitted to by serving SPLA leaders. Dr Peter Adwok
Nyaba is currently a member of the organisation's National
Executive Council. Dr Nyaba joined the SPLA in 1986, served
as a SPLA military commander inside Sudan, and has a first-hand
knowledge of SPLA behaviour on the ground. He can therefore
be described as an inside source and the picture he presents
of the SPLA is a disturbing one:
It was not uncommon to find
an SPLA trail littered with serious and horrendous human
rights abuses and violations: murder, rape, looting
and irrational waste of resources, mainly grain and
livestock. The arrogance and power of carrying an AKM
rifle made them wasteful and brutal to the civilian
Nyaba described a typical incident
in which SPLA forces were initially welcomed into a village,
whose inhabitants "lavishly served the soldiers with
beef, grain, sorghum beer, alcohol and tobacco". The
SPLA men then "went on a drunken looting and raping
spree which resulted in several murders." It is chilling
to note that Nyaba described this incident as representing
"a common feature of the initial interaction between
the SPLA and the civil population..This unfortunate incident
repeated itself in many other places in South Sudan wherever
the SPLA ventured to set foot, without being corrected or
the perpetrators punished."
also summed up the general image of the
SPLA when it stated in March 1998 that:
The rebels have always,
in theory, been a political movement as well as an army.
In practice, the army was the movement. Led by John
Garang, a former colonel in the national armed forces
and a man with strong dictatorial tendencies, it has,
at its worst, been little more than an armed gang of
Dinkas (Mr Garang's ethnic group), killing, looting
and raping. Its indifference, almost animosity, towards
the people it was supposed to be "liberating"
was all too clear.
It is clear that had Garang
committed even one hundredth of the atrocities that the
SPLA has been party to in southern Sudan in Bosnia or Kosovo,
he would have been on a war crimes list and hunted down
by war crimes investigators. It would appear that Christian
Solidarity International, while declaring itself to be a
human rights group, is remarkably selective about which
human rights abuses are of concern to them, and considerably
less selective about the company they keep.
The only conclusion that can
be drawn from Christian Solidarity International's close
association with people who can so clearly be termed war
criminals is that it is an organisation with only a tenuous
and superficial regard for human rights. The expulsion of
Christian Solidarity International from the United Nations
has served to highlight the contradictions in CSI's declared
aims and the reality of the violent and questionable people
it so clearly and unreservedly supports in Sudan.
It should also be noted that shortly after Garang's disastrous
visit to Geneva as a guest of Christian Solidarity International
it was revealed that the SPLA had murdered four aid workers
involved in an International Committee of the Red Cross project
in southern Sudan.