Published April 2000
ISBN: 1-903545-11-0




On 17 December 1999, the Globe and Mail published an article entitled 'My Week on the Cusp of War'. The article was written by Globe and Mail feature writer Stephanie Nolen, and appeared following a one-week visit by Ms Nolen to an area within southern Sudan controlled by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), a southern Sudanese rebel movement.

As has been previously commented upon, the article was remarkably unprofessional. The Globe and Mail failed to research even the most rudimentary facts about Sudan. The paper clearly did not attempt to independently check any of the claims it carried. And, in a further another example of sloppy journalism, the Globe and Mail published material it openly admitted was "rumour".

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this article, however, was the fact that the Globe and Mail almost completely ignored the nature and appalling human rights record of the SPLA. Its attempt to whitewash the SPLA's involvement in what can only be described as a catalogue of war crimes and human rights abuses is breathtaking. The SPLA been guilty of systematic human rights abuses from its very formation in 1983. In its article on Sudan, however, the Globe and Mail glosses over the SPLA's appalling human rights record in one sentence, stating merely that the SPLA "forcibly conscripts young men and deals harshly with deserters".

The Globe and Mail: Apologists for SPLA War Crimes?

The Globe and Mail's claims and accuracy in reporting should perhaps be assessed against objective and neutral sources. For a newspaper as interested as it makes itself out to be about human rights in Sudan, the Globe and Mail was remarkably selective about those that were of interest to it.

A clearer picture emerges from the eight US-based humanitarian organisations working in Sudan, including CARE, World Vision, Church World Service, Save the Children and the American Refugee Committee, no friends of the Sudanese government, who, at the end of November 1999, felt it was their responsibility to publicly state that the SPLA has:

engaged for years in the most serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, slavery, etc.

Human Rights Watch, similarly no friend of Khartoum, stated in December 1999 that:

The SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights and has not made any effort to establish accountability. Its abuses today remain serious.

The Economist also perhaps summed up the general image of the SPLA when it stated that:

[The SPLA] has.been little more than an armed gang of Dinkas.killing, looting and raping. Its indifference, almost animosity, towards the people it was supposed to be "liberating" was all too clear.

The New York Times, a vigorous critic of the Sudanese government, states that the SPLA:

[H]ave behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging.

The New York Times also categorised SPLA leader John Garang as one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals". The Globe and Mail prefers instead to refer to Garang as a "learned" man.

The Globe and Mail also prefers to cast the SPLA in a different light, stating that "The SPLA relies on guerrilla strikes, while the government fights its battle on civilians". This particular attempt at whitewashing the SPLA falls very short of its mark. It is demonstrably untrue.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan, for example, documented an incident in which John Garang's SPLA forces attacked two villages in Ganyiel region in southern Sudan. SPLA personnel 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.

The Ganyiel incident is sadly only one of many similar instances of gross human rights abuses involving civilians - a self-evident war on southern Sudanese civilians.

Amnesty International, for example, recorded an incident in which SPLA forces 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. 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 the SPLA. Amnesty reported that in April 1993, 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."

The SPLA have also engaged in ethnic cleansing every bit as murderous as that carried out in Bosnia or Kosovo. Following a split in the SPLA, Amnesty International stated that the two groups which emerged attacked each other and civilian groups "for ethnic reasons". Amnesty International stated that Garang's faction of the SPLA (largely Dinka, and known then as SPLA-Torit) ethnically cleansed Nuer and other civilians suspected of supporting the other faction:

In the early part of 1993 SPLA-Torit began an operation which involved the destruction of villages thought to be sympathetic to the Unity group. In January, 17 Latuka villages around the Imatong and Dongotona mountain ranges were destroyed, displacing tens of thousands of people. In the same month Torit faction forces moved further north and attacked Pari villages around the densely populated area of Jebel Lafon, some 100 kilometres east of Juba. Scores of civilians remain unaccounted for and are alleged to have been killed.

SPLA ethnic cleansing continues to this day. Throughout 1999, for example, the BBC and other reliable sources, reported on SPLA violence towards non-Dinka ethnic groups, groups which "accused the SPLA of becoming an army of occupation". These reports of SPLA ethnic cleansing, and tribalism, undermine the Globe and Mail's propagandistic claim that the "Dinka-dominated SPLA united most of the southern groups beneath its multicoloured banner".

The SPLA has also murdered dozens of humanitarian aid workers from the mid-1980s onwards. In one attack alone, for example, SPLA gunmen killed 23 relief workers, drivers and assistants. In 1998, the SPLA murdered relief workers in the Nuba mountains, and in 1999 the SPLA murdered four aid workers assisting with a Red Cross project in southern Sudan.

These examples are but a tiny fraction of the many war crimes against civilians carried out by the SPLA. In Civilian Devastation: Abuses by all Parties in the War in Southern Sudan, a 279-page study, for example, Human Rights Watch devoted 169 pages to SPLA human rights abuses (government violations were dealt with over 52 pages). What must be borne in mind is that it is rare that the incidents mentioned above are actually documented by Western sources. In most instances there simply are no survivors left in such attacks.

Readers can judge for themselves whether the Globe and Mail claim that the SPLA only engages in guerrilla strikes or whether it wages war on civilians is true. The question which must be asked is whether the Globe and Mail has taken the above stance and made these statements out of naivety or in a deliberate attempt to deceive its readers in Canada. Whatever the answer, the Globe and Mail is guilty of crassly biased journalism.

The Globe and Mail also glosses over the SPLA's systematic theft of humanitarian aid and its diversion for its own purposes. While it did refer to the 1998 famine in southern Sudan, for example, the paper did not mention that in July 1998, at the height of this famine, the Roman Catholic Bishop of the starvation-affected diocese of Rumbek, Monsignor Caesar Mazzolari, stated that the SPLA were stealing 65 percent of the food aid going into rebel-held areas of southern Sudan. Agence France Presse also reported that:

Much of the relief food going to more than a million famine victims in rebel-held areas of southern Sudan is ending up in the hands of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), relief workers said.

Perhaps the Globe and Mail does not believe such systematic theft to be a gross abuse of human rights.

It is not just against civilians that the SPLA has been guilty of unambiguous war crimes. Reputable human rights groups have reported the SPLA's cold-blooded murder of prisoners of war. Africa Watch, for example, reported that after the SPLA captured the southern town of Bor there were "reports that a large number of captured soldiers, possibly running into the hundreds, were executed by the SPLA immediately following the capture". Africa Watch also quoted a SPLA source who stated that government soldiers captured after fighting were routinely killed. The human rights group also recorded that there were "no accounts of the SPLA holding prisoners of war from (pro-government) militias." In 1998, the Sudanese Advisory Committee on Human Rights and the human rights committee of the Sudanese Parliament both issued statements which reported that the SPLA had murdered more than one thousand prisoners of war. The Globe and Mail saw fit nonetheless to state that the SPLA "has a reputation for treating its prisoners well".

The Globe and Mail and Sudan: Some Questions That Must be Answered

  • Is the Globe and Mail committed to objective and irresponsible reporting on Sudan? If it is, how does it explain the obviously subjective, alarming inaccurate and clearly irresponsible reporting in 'My Week on the Cusp of War'? Or has the Globe and Mail taken sides in the Sudanese conflict? Does the paper support the SPLA and wish to see it come to power in southern Sudan? Should this interest not be declared lest readers think the paper's reporting is objective? Is the Globe and Mail willing therefore to turn a blind eye to the going war crimes and human rights abuses the SPLA has been party to?

  • Would the Globe and Mail classify the hacking to death, shooting or burning alive by the SPLA of 210 unarmed villagers, of which 30 were old men, 53 were women and 127 were children, as a war crime or what it terms a "guerrilla" strike? Was the Globe and Mail aware of this horrific incident, one amongst many such incidents
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Espac Published by The European - Sudanese Public Affairs Council Copyright © David Hoile 2005
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