There are of course questions
which must be answered by all those involved in the Sudanese
conflict. It is perhaps right that there has been a considerable
focus over the years on the present government in Sudan
and its position and role in the on-going civil war in that
country. It is, after all, the most visible and accessible
actor in political events in Sudan. At the same time, for
a variety of reasons, there has perhaps been too little
attention paid to the activities, position and role of Dr
John Garang and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA)
within the Sudanese civil war. The need for this scrutiny
is particularly important given that the SPLA is being presented
by the United States government, and others, as a vital
political force within any future dispensation within Sudan.
Given this international projection there are several aspects
of the SPLA, its policies and its behaviour which must be
The questions are obvious.
What has the SPLA been fighting for over the past fifteen
years? What are the methods it has chosen to use in its
war? Why does the SPLA have an appalling human rights record,
especially amongst the southern Sudanese population? What
are the implications of the claims that the SPLA is a tribalist
and even a racist organisation? And what are the implications
of the SPLA's use as an instrument of other countries' foreign
policy. These and other questions are critical in assessing
the legitimacy or otherwise of the SPLA's claim to represent
the political views not only of the southern Sudanese people
but of the Sudanese nation as a whole. They also cast doubt
over its projection as the "government" of those
areas it dominates militarily.
In assessing these questions and concerns this study has drawn
heavily upon the work of established and internationally respected
human rights organisations. These include Amnesty International,
Human Rights Watch/Africa (including work it produced in earlier
days as Africa Watch), and African Rights. African Rights
has shown a particular interest in the country and is very
hostile to the government of Sudan. It has produced a number
of studies, reports and discussion papers dealing with political,
civil and human rights in the country. African Rights has
also produced several books on human rights issues in Sudan.
One of these, Food and Power in Sudan: A Critique of Humanitarianism
is referred to extensively in this study of the SPLA. This
use of independent human rights studies enables a critique
of the SPLA to be made that might in other circumstances be
dismissed out of hand as partisan. This study also includes
material from The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan:
An Insider's View
, written by Dr Peter Adwok Nyaba, and
published in 1997. Dr Nyaba joined the SPLA in 1986, and is
currently a member of the organisation's National Executive
Council. Nyaba served as a SPLA military commander inside
Sudan, and has a first-hand knowledge of SPLA behaviour on
the ground. He can therefore be seen as an inside source and
the picture he presents of the SPLA is a disturbing one.
perhaps 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 may come as a surprise, therefore, to learn that the United
States government has chosen to support the SPLA militarily,
politically and diplomatically in its war against the Sudanese
THE ORIGINS OF THE SPLA
The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) came into being
in 1983, following a mutiny by southern members of the Sudanese
army at Bor in southern Sudan. The mutiny was a reaction to
the Nimeiri dictatorship's decision to renege on some of the
understandings and structures settled by the 1972 Addis Ababa
agreement. This agreement between the Khartoum government
and the Anya-nya
rebels had ended the first Sudanese
civil war which had been fought since before independence
in 1956. The Nimeiri dictatorship had sought to interfere
with some of the key powers granted to the Southern Sudanese
regional government under that settlement. Southern resentment
was heightened by the introduction later that year of Islamic
law throughout Sudan, including the largely
non-Muslim south. From its very inception, the SPLA's manpower
was predominantly drawn from Dinka communities in Upper Nile
and Bahr el Ghazal.
The SPLA received almost immediate military and financial
assistance from Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, and also from Ethiopia.
From 1983 until 1991, the SPLA was based in Ethiopia and extensively
assisted by the totalitarian Mengistu regime
country. And from the very start the SPLA was closely associated
with systematic human rights abuse.
The SPLA has waged war against several governments in Sudan,
democratic and otherwise. The Nimeiri dictatorship was overthrown
in 1985 and replaced by a transitional military government,
which was in turn replaced in 1986 by the democratically-elected
multi-party coalition governments led by Sadiq al-Mahdi, coalitions
dominated by the sectarian Umma and Democratic Unionist parties.
The al-Mahdi government was overthrown in mid-1989 by a military
government, a government which has gradually civilianised
and democratised itself, having held, for example, presidential
and parliamentary elections in 1996. The SPLA had refused
to enter into meaningful negotiations with any of the Sudanese
governments since 1983: it is now negotiating with the government
within the framework of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority
on Development (IGAD). The SPLA reached a zenith of military
activity in the late 1980s up until 1991. The 1991 collapse
of the Mengistu administration in Ethiopia then dislocated
the SPLA. In addition, the SPLA itself fragmented into several
groups that year. The war de-escalated dramatically until
1994-5. This de-escalation was because of several factors:
internal constitutional and political reforms within Sudan,
the loss of military bases and supply lines in Ethiopia, and
the disintegration of the SPLA. From 1995 onwards, however,
the United States government began to militarily, diplomatically
and financially support the SPLA, and also secured rear bases
for the organisation once again in Ethiopia, as well as Eritrea
and in the SPLA's additional old host, Uganda.
As part of this revitalisation of the SPLA by the American
government, and its use as an instrument of broader American
policy against the Sudanese government, the SPLA has been
thrust into the international limelight as a major player
in the Sudanese and regional affairs. Given this new lease
of life, and given attempts to present the SPLA as a liberation
movement, there are crucial reservations about the SPLA which
cannot be ignored.
WHAT IS THE SPLA'S POLITICAL AGENDA?
The SPLA has waged war in southern Sudan since 1983. It is
unclear, however, what it has been fighting for. The most
glaring question mark which hangs over the SPLA is the movement's
lack of any discernible or credible political agenda. This
is particularly troubling for two reasons.
Firstly, the SPLA is being spoken of by its supporters within
the international community as a political alternative to
the present government in Sudan. These supporters include
the United States, Eritrean and Ugandan governments, as well
as organisations such as Christian Solidarity International
Secondly, it is also disturbing that despite having no realistic
political programme, the SPLA appears to be seeking power
for the sake of power through the barrel of a gun, power they
continue to attempt to seize at the cost of tens of thousands
of dead and displaced Sudanese. The lack of a political agenda,
or indeed any meaningful political component within the SPLA,
could explain the SPLA's clear reluctance to enter into the
political struggle or to play any constructive part in negotiating
an end to the war.
The absence of a SPLA political agenda is long-standing. In
June 1991, for example, Bona Malwal, a SPLA supporter, journalist
and former minister during the Nimeiri dictatorship, published
an article entitled 'Questions the SPLA can no longer ignore'.
Eight years after the SPLM/A was formed, one of the issues
raised by Malwal was the absence of any political, economic
or social agenda or platform on behalf of the SPLA. There
were also clear questions concerning the lack of civil administration
within those areas of southern Sudan dominated militarily
by the SPLA. These concerns came from someone sympathetic
to the SPLA.
The objectives of the SPLA were first proclaimed in its manifesto
issued in July 1983. This manifesto states that:
The immediate task of the SPLM is to transform the
Southern movement from a reactionary movement led by reactionaries
and concerned only with the South, jobs and self interest
into a progressive movement led by revolutionaries and
dedicated to the socialist transformation of the whole
In its 1983 legal code, The Sudan People's Revolutionary
Laws: SPLM/SPLA Punitive Provisions for the Conduct of the
, the SPLA stated that:
The Marxist-Leninist Movement known as the Sudan People's
Liberation Movement shall be the sole people's political
organization established in the interest of the oppressed
working masses of the Sudanese people.
Garang has stated that "the slogans of the SPLA are 'National
Unity', 'Socialism', 'Autonomy', where and when necessary,
and 'Religious Freedom'. Our belief in and commitment to these
slogans are irrevocable". Garang commits the SPLA to
the "liberation of the whole Sudan, and to the unity
of its people and its territorial integrity"; "the
establishment of a new and democratic Sudan in which equality,
freedom, economic and social justice and respect for human
rights" are "concrete realities"; the "solving
of national and religious questions.within a democratic and
secular context"; the SPLA was also said to "stand
for genuine autonomous or federal governments for the various
regions of the Sudan"; "a radical restructuring
of the power of central government.that will end.the monopoly
of power by any one group of self-seeking individuals whatever
their background, whether they come in the uniform of political
parties, family dynasties, religious sects or army officers";
"an end" to the "uneven development of the
Sudan"; the SPLA also declared itself to be "committed
to fight racism"; to eradicate tribalism, sectionalism
and provincialism; and finally, the SPLM/A declared that it
was "committed to the rapid transformation" of Sudan.
In 1984, influenced perhaps by the anti-separatist stance
of the Ethiopian government - given the Dergue
with various regional insurgencies, Dr Garang defined the
national aspirations of the SPLA as follows, restating its
somewhat monopolistic self-designated mandate:
The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has been
founded to spearhead armed resistance against Nimeiri's
one-man system dictatorship and to organize the whole
Sudanese people under the Sudan People's Liberation Movement
(SPLM) through revolutionary protracted armed struggle
waged by the SPLA and political support.
As an insider, SPLA national executive member Dr Peter Nyaba
is, however, candid about the SPLM/A's 1983 manifesto. He
From the outside, it appears the SPLM manifesto of
1983 was not intended to mobilise and rally the people
of South Sudan behind the programme of the Movement, but
rather to gain acceptability in the eyes of outsiders.
What little indication there has been of the SPLA's political
orientation has been disturbing. For most of the first decade
of its existence it clearly associated with the totalitarian
politics of the Mengistu regime
in Ethiopia. The Mengistu
government soon realised that Garang was sympathetic to the
Marxist-Leninist philosophy of the Ethiopian Dergue
The Mengistu regime
had previously refused to assist
other Sudanese opposition groups as they had not shown a similar
African Rights has touched on the SPLA's close association
with the ruthless Mengistu regime
, and the close support
it received from the Ethiopian state:
The SPLA strategy was not to mobilise the people in
pursuit of a political aim, so much as to capture state
power, and then use that power to effect a radical transformation
of Sudanese society. This reflected the state socialist
(or, less kindly, 'Afro-Stalinist') approach of Mengistu.
While Mengistu ruled Ethiopia, the SPLA used Ethiopian
state power as part of its structures of control and transformation.
In the Ethiopian refugee camps, the SPLA was a government.
In rebel-held areas of Sudan it sought to recreate these
African Rights also makes the point that the SPLA closely
followed not only the Dergue
's political model but
also adopted Mengistu's military model:
The SPLA's de facto military philosophy was derived.from.the
practice of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, President of
Ethiopia.Massive forced conscription and rudimentary training
was the characteristic of the revolutionary Ethiopian
army.Sadly for thousands of Southern Sudanese young men,
the Ethiopian element was prominent in SPLA military doctrines.
THE SPLA: A CULT OF AUTHORITARIANISM
It perhaps follows on from Garang's association with totalitarian
politics that democracy and debate within the SPLA were clamped
down upon very firmly. This intolerance dates back to the
earliest days of the organisation. African Rights records,
for example, that the initial political leadership of the
Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) was made up of
Southern politicians and former ministers such as Akuot Atem,
Martin Maijer, Samuel Gai Tut and Joseph Oduho. John Garang
was named the head of the military wing, the Sudanese People's
Liberation Army. Samuel Gai Tut and Akuot Atem subsequently
withdrew from the SPLM in protest at Garang's rejection of
election results, and transferred their allegiance to a rival
Southern opposition group: Samuel Gai Tut was subsequently
murdered by SPLA gunmen. Garang then took for himself the
chairmanship of the SPLM as well as being the SPLA commander-in-chief.
African Rights summed up the intolerance within the SPLA:
It is hard to see how the SPLA could have become more
authoritarian than it was in the 1980s.
Dr Nyaba provides further insight into the Sudan People's
Liberation Army and its militaristic nature:
The politicians who came to join the armed struggle
found themselves ignored, marginalised and persecuted.
They were branded 'bourgeoisie' and therefore 'potential'
or 'real' enemies of the people.What unfortunately emerged
was a militarist, putschist instrument, intolerant and
averse to democratic principles and methods. The infant
Movement was stifled from the start and differing political
views were completely suppressed, and a campaign of vilification,
marginalisation and alienation of the politicians and
the intellectuals began in earnest.
That Garang's organisation is first and foremost a militaristic
one is clear from any study of its history. African Rights
records that "Southern intellectuals and politicians
who wanted to join the SPLM were subordinated to the military.some
of them were arrested and detained without trial...According
to a liberal-democratic view, they were victims of human rights
abuses because they challenged autocratic leadership. The
shadow of these early violations still hangs over the Movement."
Actions in the name of the SPLM are notional. It is clear
that the SPLA has long since absorbed the SPLM. Military as
well as political independence was purged and punished.
Political discussion within the SPLA was curtailed.
The two remaining civilian politicians on the SPLM's original
Provisional Executive Committee (PEC) - Joseph Oduho and
Martin Majier - were imprisoned from 1985 to 1992.The
PEC was turned into a 'Political-Military High Command'
(PMHC) composed only of soldiers. Two of the five original
members of the PMHC (Kerubino Kuanyin and Arok Thon) were
then incarcerated because they acted independently of
Joseph Oduho was released but was then killed in a SPLA attack.
Martin Majier, a judge and politician with considerable standing
among the southern Bor Dinka, was subsequently murdered by
the SPLA. Other rival Southern opposition leaders were dealt
with equally ruthlessly. Kawac Makuei was imprisoned in appalling
circumstances from 1984 to 1992. Lakurnyang Lado, the chairman
of the Front for the Liberation of South Sudan, was detained
and publicly killed by the SPLA. African Rights also talks
of "many allegations of other extra-judicial killings".
Southern Sudan has had few enough political leaders of any
substance and integrity. The SPLA has murdered most of them.
Even SPLA supporters such as Bona Malwal have expressed concern
about the lack of democracy, or political debate, within the
SPLA itself. His 1991 article, written, as mentioned, eight
years after the SPLA's formation, highlighted the dominance
of the military wing:
there is a pressing need for the SPLA to practice the
democratic ideals it has been preaching for so long. It
is impossible to speak of democracy whilst every aspect
of life is being subordinated to the military cause.
Dr Nyaba also records that even the military high command
would not meet for years at a time: "The last time the
five permanent members of this body came together in a meeting
was in late 1985 and early 1986.From then onwards no meeting
of the SPLM/A High Command was heard of again until.1991."
Three of these permanent members would subsequently come to
politically oppose Garang. Nyaba also describes the autocratic
nature of SPLM/A leadership:
The militarisation of the Movement.resulted in the
emergence of an elitist vanguard, which monopolised decision
making and concentrated all powers in the hands of the
person at the top. In the absence of collective leadership
and individual responsibility, the SPLM/A was slowly transformed
into an autocracy.One outcome of this situation was gross
mismanagement of the affairs of the Movement at every
There is every indication that this disturbing state of affairs
within the SPLA exists to this day.
Perhaps conscious of outside concern about the SPLA's undemocratic
structures, and encouraged by its American advisers, the SPLA
convened its first national convention in May 1994. The convention
was said to have elected a National Liberation Council and
National Executive Council. Dr Garang and Salva Kiir Mayardi
were elected chairman and deputy-chairman of the SPLM.
It is a matter of record, however, that Dr Nyaba, a member
of the national executive council, has said that for all the
stated promises of Garang to reform the SPLA and be more accountable,
nothing appears to have changed:
The recommendations of the various conferences and
workshops which the SPLM conducted from April 1994 to
May 1996, with the exception of those of the SPLA senior
officers conference in October 1995, have not been implemented.
Even those resolutions concerning social and economic
development in the liberated areas have not been translated
into policies and action. It looks as though people are
keen to make resolutions but don't care about their implementation.The
changes in the SPLM and SPLA appear to have been inspired
by external factors rather than the dynamics of the internal
Nyaba records that the National Liberation Council has not
met since 1994.
A recent article on the SPLA which appeared in the South African
Mail and Guardian
newspaper revealed some of the continuing
evidence of an authoritarian and autocratic mindset in the
SPLA and its leader:
Talk within the SPLA of the values of civil society
and democratisation led to the organisation drafting a
Constitution for the south. Garang gutted the document,
writing out any democratic mechanisms that posed a threat
to him. Some liberals in the movement now say privately
that their new Constitution is less democratic than the
new Constitution of the hated government of the North.
A UNITED SUDAN OR SEPERATE SOUTH?
John Garang is constantly presented by his international supporters
as the voice of southern Sudan, and even Sudan as a whole,
in some way articulating at the very least a united southern
Sudanese perspective. The war in Sudan is also presented as
one between the Islamic north and the largely animist south.
The general perception is that the SPLA is somehow fighting
on behalf of the Christians who make up somewhere between
10 and 15 percent of the population of the south (some 4 percent
of Sudan's total population), or on behalf of the animists
who comprise the majority of the south's people.
Yet, from its very beginning the SPLA has unambiguously stated
that it is committed to the unity of Sudan. Its 1983 Manifesto
It must be reiterated that the principal objective
of the SPLM is not separation for the South. The South
is an integral and inseparable part of the Sudan.
Indeed Nyaba confirms that the SPLA almost immediately attacked
southern secessionist forces such as Anya-nya
Many lives were lost because of this fighting and it
diverted much of the SPLA political and military energy
whose leaders even proudly claimed that the first SPLA
bullet was fired against the separatists.
Even the degree to which Dr Garang and his faction of the
SPLA is representative of southern Sudan is questionable.
That the SPLA's claim to speak for the south is an unsustainable
claim becomes apparent from even a brief study of the dynamics
of southern Sudanese political and military activity in the
past decade or so. African Rights has made the point, for
example, that "the peoples of Southern Sudan are diverse
and have never succeeded in forming a united front in pursuit
of their common interests."
The Sudan People's Liberation Army, as originally led by Garang,
fragmented in August 1991. SPLA forces in the Upper Nile area
led by Dr Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, Dr Lam Akol Ajawin and
Gordon Koang Chol broke away from the SPLA, accusing John
Garang of dictatorial behaviour and human rights abuses. Dr
Machar and Dr Akol came to head that grouping know as SPLA-Nasir.
Garang then renamed what remained of the SPLA as SPLA-Torit
and then SPLA-Mainstream. Further dissatisfaction with Garang
led to an additional fragmentation of what remained of his
SPLA grouping when Garang's deputy, William Nyoun Bany, left
and formed another faction called SPLA-Unity. Riek Machar's
SPLA-Nasir and Nyoun's Unity groups then merged in March 1993
to form SPLA-United. SPLA-United then itself divided. Dr Machar
came to head the South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM)
and Dr Akol continued as the chairman of SPLA-United.
Even leaving the lack of a political agenda or orientation
aside, the SPLA would appear to be out of step with even the
most basic issue of whether or not Sudan should separate into
two. The SPLA's claim to represent southern Sudanese aspirations
in this respect has been questioned. The SPLA, for example,
has repeatedly declared itself to be in favour of a united
Sudan. Garang, for example, has publicly stated that:
(A)s we have said many times before, we are not secessionists.
And if anybody wants to separate even in the North, we
will fight him because the Sudan must be one. It should
not be allowed to disintegrate or fragment itself.
This clearly conflicts with well-known southern hopes as articulated
by several southern politicians and even rank-and-file members
of the SPLA. Nyaba states that the declared objective of a
united Sudan is "at variance with the will and aspirations
of many of its members who still believed that South Sudan
must secede from the north." Nyaba also states that "few
people.in the SPLM/A believe in the unity of the country."
Bona Malwal has also mentioned this ambiguity:
Put simply, the SPLA wanted nothing to do with separatist
issues.Many Southern Sudanese have felt that the SPLA
should liberate the South and establish a separate Southern
The SPLA's claim to be a national liberation movement is clearly
unrealistic. Nevertheless, Dr Garang appears to wish to cling
to the fiction that the SPLA is a national organisation, while
at the same time the SPLA has forgone any realistic claim
to represent even southern Sudanese interests. Indeed southern
intellectuals and political leaders who articulated southern
Sudanese political interests within the SPLA were either murdered
or imprisoned by Garang. As African Rights stated: "There
was no broad front: the Movement was resolutely centralist."
This to an extent explains Dr Riek Machar's subsequent identification
with the long-standing southern Sudanese call for independence,
and the renaming of the group he led out of the SPLA as the
South Sudan Independence Movement.
WHAT IS THE SPLA FIGHTING FOR?
John Garang would appear to be out of step with a considerable
number of southern Sudanese politicians, and several of his
former colleagues, in that he has refused to come into the
internal Sudanese peace process. Several of his former colleagues
and other southern leaders are now parties to the Peace Agreement
signed between them and the government of Sudan in April 1997,
an agreement which built upon several political charters signed
in 1996. They include Dr Riek Machar and the South Sudan Independence
Movement (SSIM/A), the SPLM/A (Bahr el-Ghazal Group), the
late Arok Thon Arok and the SPLM/A Bor Group, Commander Mohammed
Haroun and the Nuba Mountains United SPLM/A, Dr Theophilus
Ochang Lotti and the Equatoria Defence Force, Samuel Aru Bol
and the Union of Sudanese African Parties (USAP), as well
as Dr Lam Akol and the SPLA-United group.
It is a matter of record that the 1997 Peace Agreement guarantees
an internationally-supervised referendum whereby for the first
time ever the people of southern Sudan will be able to choose
whether they wish to remain as part of a united Sudan or whether
they wish to opt for an independent South.
The agreement also brought into being an interim southern
government, headed by Dr Riek Machar, and made up of southern
politicians. This southern government has established itself
in Juba and has already started work. It is also a matter
of record that the present government of Sudan has introduced
a comprehensive federal system, decentralising and devolving
government down to 26 states, governed and administered by
southerners - another long-standing southern Sudanese request.
And furthermore, while Dr Garang may not agree with the result,
there is no doubt that in so doing there has been what the
SPLA has long called for, "a radical restructuring of
the power of central government". Similarly SPLA calls
for an end to the "monopoly of power" by "political
parties, family dynasties, religious sects or army officers"
would appear to have been addressed in large part by the present
Additionally, presidential and parliamentary elections were
held in 1996, and were said by the OAU observer mission to
a historic occasion, the first direct Presidential
election in Sudan, and the first time the voters in the
newly demarcated States have the opportunity to select
their representatives to the new National Assembly.
The 1997 Agreement also calls for the inequitable development
of the Sudan to be addressed. Dr Garang's demand that Sudan
should be a secular state further undermines his claim to
represent the Sudanese nation. It is a fact that Sudan is
an overwhelmingly Muslim country, and that as far as can be
ascertained the majority of people in Sudan wish to be governed
in accordance with Islamic law. The present government, in
any case, exempted southern Sudan from sharia
Most if not all of the objectives that southern Sudanese have
fought for since independence appear to have been secured
already or are guaranteed in the 1997 Peace Agreement and
the new constitution. These include a federal system, decentralised
local government, a redistribution of national wealth and
a referendum through which they can choose unity or separation.
Virtually all of Garang's senior colleagues, commanders and
comrades-in-arms within the SPLA appear to have decided that
the time has come to give peace a chance. It is unclear what
it is that now keeps Garang's SPLA out in the field.
THE REALITY OF SPLA POLITICAL AND CIVIL
The SPLA has long claimed to exercise a form of political
and legal administration within those parts of southern Sudan
it controls militarily. These claims in turn have been used
by its international supporters to point towards some sort
of political legitimacy for the organisation. It is clear
however that SPLA claims in this respect are a sham. Garang's
involvement in the murder and imprisonment without trial of
several early SPLA leaders and officials within the SPLA itself
has been documented and was perhaps an early indication of
the larger-scale human rights abuses that were later to follow
within Sudan itself.
Some respected international observers have presented a birds-eye
picture of SPLA behaviour within several of those areas of
Sudan under its control. John Prendergast is one such commentator.
He presently the director of East African affairs at the National
Security Council. Before going to work for the White House,
he was a development expert and veteran analyst of north-east
African affairs, and served as the director of the Horn of
Africa project at the Center of Concern in Washington-DC.
His 1997 book Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in
Sudan and Somalia
, examines several important aspects
of the Sudanese situation. He has a working knowledge of the
SPLA, which is described as having:
attained possession of adequate means of coercion and
has terrorized the southern population into passive compliance.
The predominant instruments of the movement since 1983
have been and still are coercion and corruption. It has
not managed to integrate society around any positive values.
The movement has been able to persist only as long as
it successfully coerces, and demoralises social groups
in the region. Because the cooperation of the civil population
is needed, at times, in order to carry out the liberation
struggle, coercion has not been a successful strategy.
Corruption, in various doses, might have worked for some
time, but it demoralizes both the commanders and the people.Institutionalization
of the top-down arrangements by the socialist group who
initially established the SPLM/A has led to a permanent
oppression of those persons in the area under the control
of the movement.
Amnesty International has also documented that the SPLA is
ruthless in preventing civilians from leaving its areas for
refuge in government-controlled areas. In the Nuba mountains,
for example, the SPLA imposed a "civilian exclusion zone"
around areas it dominated in order to deter civilians leaving.
Those leaving were murdered by the SPLA. African Rights comments
All military training is, in a sense, dehumanising.
It prepares people to kill others. But the SPLA took this
to an extreme. It inculcated a callous attitude towards
civilians.At times, the elevation of the military verged
on a nihilistic attitude towards civilians and existing
An even more chilling account, which directly echoes that
of African Rights, is provided by the former SPLA military
officer Peter Nyaba:
Independent and liberal political opinion was throttled
by the security apparatus - the 'Combat Intelligence'
- an equivalent of Nimeiri's defunct 'State Security Organ'.The
'Combat Intelligence', in its ruthless 'anti-people' mentality
and instantaneous obedience to the SPLM/A leadership,
created, in the Movement in general, and among the combatants
in particular, an atmosphere of mutual distrust, suspicion,
fear, indifference, apathy and outright demoralisation.This.attitude
was manifest first in the training camps, and then in
areas that fell under SPLA administration. The SPLA training
camps themselves resembled concentration camps in which
the recruits and prospective SPLA soldiers are brutalised,
dehumanised and de-revolutionised.It was here that the
SPLA officers and men internalised oppression and brutality.
Once they were deployed at the war front, their first
victims became civilians, whom they now terrorised, brutalised,
raped, murdered and dehumanised.
Given his background, Nyaba is in a unique position to describe
the behaviour of the SPLA within those areas of Sudan in which
it controlled or operated within.
Nyaba himself quotes a senior SPLA administrator as saying
that the SPLA "looked down upon the people without arms
like conquered people at their mercy". Nyaba then goes
on to record that:
(W)ithout sufficient justification, the SPLA turned
their guns on the civilian population in many parts of
the South. The consequence of this was that many communities
turned against the SPLA and migrated en masse to
the government garrison towns.As a consequence of all
these factors, the SPLM/A.degenerated into an agent of
plunder, pillage and destructive conquest.an SPLA soldier
operating in any area different from his own home saw
no difference between the civil population.and the enemy.
The SPLA became like an army of occupation in the areas
it controlled and from which the people were running away.
Within this SPLA regime
in areas of southern Sudan
occupied by the SPLA, Nyaba further records that:
Encouraged by the examples of grabbing, looting, murder
and rape committed by some senior officers in the Movement,
many of the commanders at various fronts turned their
attention to amassing wealth looted from the civilian
population.In many places, the civilians fled from the
so-called 'liberated' areas, which had become nothing
This then is perhaps a more realistic picture of those areas
of southern Sudan dominated by the SPLA than that presented
to the outside world by their fellow-travellers, propagandists
or apologists. Christian Solidarity International's June 1996
Sudan report, for example, recommended support for "the
efforts of the SPLM/A...to promote the values and institutions
of civil society". In this report Baroness Cox also claimed
that "the SPLM/A shows a serious commitment to the implementation
of principles and policies for the promotion of peace and
justice": this a year after one incident in which the
SPLA slaughtered 210 villagers, of whom 180 women and children.
THE SPLA CLAIM TO A LEAGL CODE
The SPLA has made a number of claims in respect of the allegations
of human rights abuses levelled at it. The SPLA, for example,
published a legal code in 1983, and produced new guidelines
in 1994, and claimed to use them as models within parts of
Sudan. It is clear that whatever the SPLA has claimed in respect
of a "legal" system is a sham.
In 1995 Amnesty International declared, however, that the
legal system "operating in SPLA-controlled areas fails
to satisfy minimum international standards of fairness in
almost every respect. The courts are not independent or impartial,
it is not clear what law is applied.The administration of
justice through courts-martial has been arbitrary and chaotic.The
court system is characterized by an inadequate separation
of powers between the executive and the judiciary: in a situation
where the military is totally dominant it is easily abused."
Amnesty International went on further to cite a former Garang
SPLA officer "who was involved in the administration
of justice" as saying that:
The code is next to useless.There is no
real judicial system"
Amnesty further recorded that:
None of the political detainees arrested between 1984
and 1993 are known to have received a trial. Some cases
were investigated - although most frequently investigations
appear to have focused on extracting information rather
than building a legal case.
In 1997, African Rights stated that "despite much talk
about the importance of the judiciary, transparency and accountability"
the SPLA has not "made a serious effort to improve the
situation.". One result of this was said to be "an
increasingly marked abuse of the property and persons of NGOs.
Nothing has ever been done about it.They put everything under
the carpet, and it gets worse and worse."
THE SPLA AND THE NEW SUDAN COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
Another structure in place within SPLA - controlled areas
of Sudan is the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC), which
was formed in February 1990 from Catholic and Episcopal churches
in southern Sudan. The extent of its independence from the
SPLA was questionable from the start. As African Rights put
it: "The NSCC could not have been created without the
support of John Garang". African Rights further quoted
"a leading churchman" as stating that: "The
Movement was behind the formation of the NSCC." Garang
himself, in addressing the NSCC General Assembly in Torit
in 1992, stated that he saw the NSCC as the "spiritual
wing of the Movement". This structure is publicly committed
to speaking on behalf of southern Sudanese people, particularly
in respect of political, civil and human rights. Given its
politicised origins, plus the fact that the NSCC exists as
African Rights states "in a society which is dominated
by armed.movements" and that its leaders are "personally
vulnerable", it is perhaps unsurprising that NSCC criticism
of abuses has been mostly directed at the government.
The New Sudan Council of Churches certainly followed a pro-Garang
line in the wake of the fragmentation of the SPLA in 1991.
Commenting on this support for Garang, the SPLA-United grouping
stated that the NSCC was not a neutral body. One of the SPLA-United
leaders, Dr Lam Akol, said that "Most of the Church leaders
happened to be in the area where Garang was, and could not
resist the pressures of taking sides." The NSCC has also
been accused of bias in its allocation of aid. African Rights
quotes the leader of another rival grouping to the SPLA as
saying that: "As a structure, NSCC is behind Garang.
He was the one who started it, and they are still close to
him. Their resources are almost all channelled to his areas."
African Rights' study of churches in southern Sudan, Great
Expectations: The Civil Roles of the Churches in Southern
, places on record the fatal limitations on the New
Sudan Council of Churches:
Church leaders in the New Sudan recall the anti-church
stand of the SPLA in its early days, and observe continuing
repression against dissenters. Even the most courageous
Church leaders have been selective in their criticisms,
choosing not to name certain commanders responsible for
Given that the report further makes it clear that little if
any attention is paid to NSCC or church complaints or allegations
of SPLA armed robbery, rape, forced labour, beatings or theft,
the effectiveness of this structure in this respect is unclear,
save perhaps in its directed and somewhat propagandistic use
by the SPLA against the government of Sudan. Nonetheless,
the New Sudan Council of Churches is presented as an independent
body in southern Sudan.
THE SPLA: A "SUBCULTURE" OF
It must be placed on record that there has been a clear pattern
of deception and deceit practiced by the SPLA in respect of
the outside world. The SPLA has made claims and promises to
the international community which have not been truthful or
honoured. The Sudan People's Liberation Army claimed in 1986,
for example, to have within its control ninety-five percent
of the southern Sudanese population. As African Rights has
stated, this figure was "a huge exaggeration".
Nyaba also amply records the inaccuracy of SPLA propaganda,
when he speaks of a "sub-culture of lies, misinformation,
cheap propaganda and exhibitionism":
Much of what filtered out of the SPLM/A propaganda
machinery, notably Radio SPLA, was about 90% disinformation
or things concerned with the military combat, mainly news
about the fighting which were always efficaciously exaggerated.
The US Department of State's Sudan Country Report on Human
Rights Practices for 1996
stated that Garang's SPLA "continued
to violate citizens' rights, despite its claim to be implementing
a 1994 decision to assert civil authority in areas that its
controls". The report also noted that Garang's movement
had "failed to follow through on its promise to investigate
a 1995 massacre."
A prime example of the SPLA's "subculture of lies"
and misinformation were its claims surrounding the airplane
crash in southern Sudan in early February 1998. This crash
claimed the lives of the Sudanese first vice-president, Lieutenant-General
al-Zubeir Mohammed Saleh and a number of other officials.
SPLA spokesman Justin Yaac claimed on 12 February that SPLA
forces had shot down the plane as it was passing through "an
area we control". As the truth emerged about the crash,
which was the result of poor visibility during landing, the
SPLA had to withdraw its claim. SPLA spokesman John Luk stated
that they had no forces in the area in southern Sudan where
the crash occurred.
THE SPLA: TRIBALIST AND RACIST?
The Sudan People's Liberation Army's claim, and claims made
on its behalf by its various international supporters, that
it is an authentic voice of southern Sudan and even the Sudanese
people at large has been critically undermined by the allegations
that it is in effect a tribalist, and even racist organisation.
That the SPLA has, for several years, been essentially based
upon, and dominated by, one of southern Sudan's many tribal
groupings, is clear. Since its inception Garang's SPLA has
relied upon Dinka communities in Upper Nile, especially the
Bor Dinka, and the Dinka in Bahr el Ghazal for it's manpower.
It has also been dominated by people belonging to these Dinka
communities. Nyaba confirms the unambiguously tribal origins
of the SPLA:
Initially, political mobilisation for the SPLM/A in
1983/4 was along the lines that the Bor and the people
of Kongor would have an opportunity to acquire weapons
they needed to fight back, or revenge the cattle rustling
practised against them by the Murle. This mobilisation
that took more than ten thousand Bor youth to SPLA training
camps in 1983 was not for the national agenda of liberation
but to settle local scores with their neighbours, the
Murles or the Nuers.
The essentially tribalist nature of the SPLA has been confirmed
and commented upon by various human rights organisations.
Africa Watch reported on early manifestations of the murderous
effects of SPLA tribalism.
In September 1985, for instance, SPLA forces captured Terakeka,
the main centre of the Mandari tribe. The Bor Dinka had had
a long history of enmity with the Mandaris and this resulted
in killings and abuse by SPLA soldiers of Mandaris. African
Rights recorded that "Many Nuer had long felt themselves
to be oppressed by the Dinka in the SPLA". Nyaba also
clearly describes how the SPLA is seen in parts of southern
In Equatoria.the SPLA was perceived as a Nilotic or
Dinka movement whose objective was to reverse the division
of the southern region, and to destroy the 'Equatoria
Region' and impose the Dinka hegemony.
Nyaba's study also describes tribal tensions between the SPLA
and the Shilluk, Mandari, Taposa, Murle and Nuer communities:
Many communities had been completely alienated by the
action of some SPLA officers and men and, in fact, some
of them decided to cross over and allied with the enemy.
For instance, the Murles rebelled against the SPLA in
1989, the Mandari had done so as early as 1984, the Toposa
and the Didinga also turned against the SPLA in 1986 and
1990, etc.the SPLA sometimes posed like an anti-people
Amnesty International, amongst other international organisations,
documented the August 1991 split in the old SPLA, when the
SPLA divided into two and then three factions. As mentioned
above these were known for a time as the Torit and then Mainstream
faction, controlled by John Garang, the Nasir faction led
by Riek Machar, and the SPLA-Unity faction led by William
Nyoun. Amnesty International recorded that "most SPLA-Torit
support was drawn from Dinka". The SPLA-Nasir faction
was said to derive its support from the Nuer and Shilluk tribes
of southern Sudan.
African Rights placed on record some of the reasons for the
split as given by a local Nuer chief:
When we were rebels against the Sudan Government, all
the assistance donated by foreign governments was converted
by Garang to particular benefit. Secondly, all military
assistance was diverted or given to his own tribe, and
leaving the other tribes.
Following the 1991 split, Amnesty International stated that
the two groups attacked each other and civilian groups "for
ethnic reasons". Amnesty International also stated that
John Garang's group victimised civilians belonging to ethnic
groups 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.
Amnesty reported that in April 1993, Garang's 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."
Prendergast's Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in
Sudan and Somalia
also documented SPLA tactics aimed at
destroying civilian centres in areas not controlled by the
Garang faction. The SPLA sought to "weaken the subsistence
base upon which (opposing groups) depend, utilizing village
burning, cattle and crop stealing and destruction, denial
of food aid". Distinct ethnic motives were also placed
on record by Prendergast, who stated that there had been strained
relations between the largely Dinka SPLA and the Nuer tribe
as well as communities in Equatoria ever since the SPLA came
into being in 1983, with the SPLA showing an "absolute
disregard for their human rights":
The SPLA has historically utilized.counter-insurgency
tactics against populations and militias in Equatoria considered
to be hostile. An important tactic in defeating opposing
tribal militias has been to weaken the subsistence base
upon which they depend, utilizing village burning, cattle
and crop stealing and destruction, denial of food aid, etc.
By destroying the subsistence base of certain groups, relations
have been destablized between various Equatorian populations.This
has exacerbated relations between certain Equatorian communities.
Furthermore, spreading insecurity has resulted in increasing
displacement of rural populations. For example, Lafon was
attacked twice in 1993 because the SPLA-Mainstream perceived
that the Pari people of the area might be sympathetic to
SPLA-United.Lafon was only one of a series of towns attacked
by the SPLA-Mainstream in 1993 in Eastern Equatoria. The
common denominator between the attacks was the destruction
or stripping of all assets owned by the community, creating
increased dependence and displacement."
Prendergast states further that:
The SPLA has undertaken forcible recruitment campaigns
('Kashas') since the mid-1980s. After the split in the movement,
the SPLA-Mainstream again undertook forced conscriptions
in Equatoria, including Torit and Kajo Keji, thus further
alienating a population which had barely been reconciled
to the SPLA presence.
Prendergast was also able to confirm that this behaviour has
Just during the days I was in Western Equatoria in January
1995, there were reports of SPLA soldiers beating civilians
in Yambio and an ongoing forced recruitment drive in Maridi.
Stories were also told of SPLA soldiers at the front line
in Mundri in late 1994 engaging in widespread raping and
forced marriages of Equatorian women.
He cites one observer as saying "The overwhelmingly 'Nilotic'
character of the early SPLA was.enough to alienate many Equatorians"
and personally states that the SPLA is seen in Equatoria as
"an army of occupation."
Prendergast also recorded that long-standing Dinka-Nuer tensions
came to a head in 1991, stating that "the Nuer have been
targeted by the SPLA-Mainstream":
The Lau Nuer bordering Bor district used the 1991 split
as an opportunity for avenging years of discrimination by
the SPLA. There is a common perception among this population
that the SPLA commanders redirected supplies away from Nuer
areas of Upper Nile towards the Dinka populations of Bor
and Kongor districts. Clothes, medicines, vaccines, hooks
and equipment are all alleged to have been diverted, forcing
Nuer populations to trade livestock for these supplementary
items which were supposed to be distributed to them free
It is further alleged that Garang, and his SPLA, is not only
tribalist but also racist. The Sudanese Catholic Information
Office reported that Arab northerners have left the SPLA because
of racism. One example was Farouk Saleh Mohammed Abdalla,
a senior Sudanese communist, who left the SPLA after six years
because of racial discrimination.
It is disturbing that the United States government is militarily,
diplomatically and logistically supporting an obviously tribalist
SPLA led by John Garang. The implications of the SPLA militarily
seizing power in southern Sudan, with all the implications
for tribal genocide and carnage that such a move so clearly
brings with it, are gravely disturbing.
THE SPLA AND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
The SPLA has been associated with systematic human rights
abuses from its very formation. Prendergast has stated that
the SPLA "was responsible for egregious human rights
violations in the territory it controlled". The 1995
Amnesty International report on Sudan stated:
(S)ince its inception in 1983 the SPLA's approach to
human rights issues has been characterized by ruthlessness,
a lack of accountability and a complete disregard for
the principles of humanitarian law.Deliberate attacks.have
been.responsible.for the destruction of rural communities.
Prominent internal dissidents have been detained and some
have been deliberately killed. Prisoners have been tortured,
in some cases to death. Prison conditions in SPLA jails
have been harsh to the extent of cruelty. Military discipline
is only loosely maintained.
Africa Watch in 1990 also reported that the SPLA was responsible
for human rights abuses within those parts of Ethiopia in
which it was based. In one instance, SPLA units were involved
in the massacre of over 500 Ethiopian civilians in the lower
Omo valley of south-west Ethiopia. The SPLA had previously
been involved in cattle-raiding activities in the area.
Africa Rights also records that the Ethiopian regional authorities
in Gambela "delivered stern warnings about the SPLA's
failure to stop its soldiers abusing the local people".
The organisation reported one such incident in September 1989
when twenty Ethiopians were murdered and more than twenty
houses were set on fire by SPLA gunmen. Earlier, in March
that year, there had been a meeting "to resolve many
complaints by local Ethiopians against SPLA lawlessness in
the border region". Dr Nyaba also reveals that the SPLA
was implicated in further widespread abuses of human rights
In August 1989, it became the turn of the Ethiopian
Anyuaks to suffer the brutality of the SPLA. For reasons
and motives which could not be established, a contingent
of the SPLA went into action against the Anyuaks, both
civilians and Ethiopian government militia in Itang and
Piny-udo, in which nearly two hundred people, including
women and children, were massacred.
Dr Nyaba is also able to give a stark account of SPLA human
rights abuses inside Sudan:
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 population.
Nyaba described one 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."
In his 1996 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur
on 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 Ganyiel region in 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.
The UN Special Rapporteur's work has made it clear that this
was not an isolated incident. During the Special Rapporteur's
September 1993 visit to the Nuba Mountains, he spoke of a
"very dark picture" of gross violations of human
rights by the SPLA. Local Nuba chiefs spoke of murders, torture,
rape, kidnappings, abductions and the forced conscription
of Nuba children, the destruction of homes and looting of
property by the SPLA. The Special Rapporteur was given lists
of hundreds of victims of SPLA terrorism. A Pax Christi delegation
which also visited Sudan in late 1993, found that the "SPLA
was involved in forced recruitment and in kidnapping and liquidating
community leaders who refused to cooperate."
Africa Watch also placed on record that the SPLA has murdered
government soldiers taken as prisoners of war. After capturing
the town of Bor in March 1989, for example, Africa Watch stated
that 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." It stated that it was likely they were not
afforded an opportunity to surrender or were killed after
capture. In 1998 the Sudanese Advisory Committee on Human
Rights and the human rights committee of the Sudanese Parliament
both issued statements which accused the SPLA of killing more
than one thousand prisoners of war.
The SPLA has consistently refused to account for its human
rights abuses. Africa Watch's 1990 report documented that:
Africa Watch is not aware of any efforts by the SPLA
to conduct systematic investigations of human rights abuses
committed by members of its own forces or to punish those
This was echoed and restated in 1995 by Amnesty International,
who recorded that the SPLA:
is not known to have taken action against human rights
abusers within its ranks, or to provide redress for the
victims of abuses. It has remained silent on this issue.
The US Department of State's Country Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1996
on Sudan has also stated that "the
SPLM was responsible for extrajudicial killings, kidnappings,
arbitrary detention, and forced conscription, and occasional
arrest of foreign relief workers without charge." As
mentioned above, as recently as 1996, the American State Department
has placed on record that the SPLA has not honoured promises
to investigate human rights abuses, despite having guaranteed
to do so.
THE SPLA AND SLAVERY AND SLAVERY LIKE
Most organisations and commentators date the "slavery" issue
to the mid-to-late 1980s, when the Umma party government of
Sadiq al-Mahdi and the SPLA armed long-standing tribal enemies,
and organised them in loose militia form and encouraged them
to fight each other on their behalf. This in effect renewed
the culture of hostage taking, ransoming and abduction - which
unfortunately continues to this day despite concerted attempts
to stop it.
It is very clear that by Human Rights Watch/Africa's own working
definition, and that of groups such as CSI, the Sudan People's
Liberation Army led by John Garang is unambiguously identified
with slavery and slavery-like practices. The SPLA has abducted
tens of thousands of Sudanese men, women and children and
used them as forced labour.
As we have also seen, the SPLA is a resolutely centralised
organisation: John Garang has led the SPLA since 1983 and
is therefore directly accountable for the kidnapping, abductions,
forced labour, forced conscription and other slavery-related
practices his organisation has been party to.
In Denying "The Honor of Living": Sudan A Human Rights
, Africa Watch's 1989 report on Sudan, this human
rights group recorded that:
accounts of hostage-taking and forced labor suggest
that the SPLA may be taking captives and civilians in
occupied areas that can degenerate into slavery. There
are also accounts of the treatment of captives that suggest
a situation that has already degenerated into de facto
Africa Watch recorded in 1989 that "the people subject to
enslavement mostly comprise Tigrayans from northern Ethiopia".
The role of the SPLA in creating the circumstances for slaving
within Sudan itself was touched on in the 1991 Country
Reports on Human Rights Practices
which recorded that:
"It was not clear at year's end whether the intra-SPLA fighting,
marked by Nuer-Dinka tribal rivalries, would also result in
the taking of slaves". The 1990 United States State Department's
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
"the SPLA/M often forced southern men to work as laborers
or porters or forcibly conscripted them into SPLA ranks. In
disputed territories this practice was implemented through
In its 1994 report Civilian Devastation: Abuses by All
Parties in the War in Southern Sudan
, Human Rights Watch/Africa
documented the SPLA's use of "forced unpaid farm labor on
SPLA-organized farms". Human Rights Watch/Africa also reported
that "The SPLA has conducted forcible recruitment...since
at least the mid-1980s" and that "Forcing civilians to porter
supplies for the SPLA is a chronic abuse." The abduction of
civilians by the SPLA and their enforced use as porters continues
to this day. These forced labourers are often moved outside
of their home areas.
THE SPLA AND SUDAN'S MISSING CHILDREN
The SPLA has long been identified with a planned, long-term
policy of abducting children for use by their organisation.
The SPLA's direct role in abducting more than ten thousand
young southern Sudanese boys and holding them against their
will in abysmal conditions has been well-documented. The 1991
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
record that the SPLA had "forcibly conscripted at least 10
000 male minors" and reiterated that the SPLA continued to
use southern men for forced labour and portering.
Human Rights Watch/Africa and the Children's Rights Project
published Sudan: The Lost Boys
which described the
removal of young boys from southern Sudan by the SPLA in what
has been described as the "warehousing" of children for subsequent
use in the war. These children are unaccompanied and the SPLA
have refused any attempts at family reunification. Once suitably
isolated these children are then used for forced labour and
then forcibly conscripted into the SPLA.
It is worth noting that Article 7 of the 1956 Supplementary
Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and
Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery
within it the following relevant definition:
Any institution or practice whereby a child or young
person under the age of 18 years, is delivered by either
or both of his natural parents or by his guardian to another
person, whether for reward or not, with view to the exploitation
of the young child or young person or of his labour.
As the clear intention of the SPLA was, and continues to be,
to abduct young and very young children, well under the age
of 18 years, without the consent of their parents, John Garang
and the SPLA are guilty of slavery and slavery-like practices.
The SPLA's purposeful abduction and isolation of southern
Sudanese children can be seen as a corrupted and less sophisticated
version of the Nazi use of youngsters for political and military
ends, the result of which is a grouping of child soldiers
within the SPLA known as the "Red Army". The SPLA's abduction
and gathering of children, and their subsequent treatment,
is dealt with over almost thirty pages in Civilian Devastation:
Abuses by All Parties in the War in Southern Sudan
a separate study, Human Rights Watch/Africa concluded that:
The primary purpose, however, of luring and keeping
thousands of boys away from their families and in separate
boys-only camps was, in the judgement of Human Rights
Watch, a military purpose. This resulted in the training
and recruitment of thousands of underage soldiers who
were thrust into battle in southern Sudan and briefly
In late 1994, Human Rights Watch/Africa and its Children's
Rights Project published Child Soldiers and Unaccompanied
Boys in Southern Sudan
. The report was based on a fact-finding
visit to Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. Human Rights Watch/Africa
documented the SPLA's use and abuse of boys as young as seven
years of age. Thousands of these children were held in SPLA
camps in Ethiopia and elsewhere. Human Rights Watch/Africa
reported that "the conditions in some of these camps have
been described as 'heartrending': no schooling, no hygiene,
few caretakers, ragged clothing, disease and little food."
Human Rights Watch/Africa returned to this issue in September
1995. In a press release it stated that:
The rebel SPLA has long had a policy of separating
boys from their homes and families for military training.Thousands
of boys went to the Ethiopian refugee camps hoping for
an education and received mostly military training in
segregated facilities for "unaccompanied boys." The SPLA
inducted boys as young as eleven into its ranks. The separation
of unaccompanied boys from their families continued when
the refugees fled back into Sudan in 1991.boys in 'unaccompanied
minors' schools in Eastern Equatoria were called up in
1994 and 1995, while the SPLA continued to recruit minors,
a practice it denies. The 'unaccompanied boys' under its
control now number about 4,500.
Human Rights Watch/Africa also clearly documented John Garang's
refusal to cooperate with attempts to reunite young boys under
his control with their families:
In 1993 UNICEF began a project to reunify willing unaccompanied
boys in southern Sudan with their willing families. The
SPLA never cooperated with UNICEF's family reunification
program, preferring to keep the boys together and close
to military facilities, to call them up when needed.
On 13 June 1996, Lois Whitman, the director of the Children's
Rights Project of Human Rights Watch, Peter Takirambudde,
director of Human Rights Watch/Africa, and Jemera Rone, Human
Rights Watch's counsel and Sudan researcher, wrote to John
Garang on the issue of the SPLA use of child soldiers and
the treatment of Sudanese children in SPLA camps. Human Rights
Watch called on the SPLA to stop using Sudanese boys in UNHCR
camps in Fugnido and Dima, in Ethiopia, as underage soldiers.
The Human Rights Watch/Africa letter clearly stated that "the
SPLA is still continuing in this highly irregular practice,
one which is detrimental to the future of the boys concerned
as well as to the future of the south as a whole." These human
rights professionals added:
Finally, we note with regret that the SPLA has never
cooperated with the UNICEF family reunification program.
Human Rights Watch/Africa has also recorded the almost wanton
way in which these boys are used by the SPLA. The 'Red Army'
mentioned above was described by a SPLA officer as:
Young people, ages fourteen to sixteen.(when) the Red
Army fought.(it) was always massacred.They were not good
soldiers because they were too young.
In addition to being responsible for the slaughter of thousands
of young boys, often in pointless, "human wave" attacks, the
SPLA is also directly responsible for the deaths by starvation
or disease of thousands of other minors. Nyaba criticises
the fact that no-one within the SPLA leadership was held accountable
for such deaths:
For instance, the officer responsible for Bilpam was
not held accountable for the deaths from starvation and
related diseases of nearly three thousand Nuba youths
under training in 1988. And yet it was known that their
food was being sold at the Gambella market, and the proceeds
appropriated by the commander. Similarly, the deaths from
hunger and starvation of hundreds of recruits in the Dimma
refugee camp were not investigated.
As touched on by Human Rights Watch/Africa, the future of
southern Sudan has clearly been jeopardised by this SPLA policy.
The damage that has been done to traditional society in southern
Sudan by John Garang and the SPLA is incalculable. It is perhaps
a sad reality that Garang has done more to destroy traditional
life and cultural structures in southern Sudan than any central
government in Khartoum. The SPLA continues to purposefully
abduct young boys to this day, as can be seen below.
THE SPLA AND TERRORISM IN SUDAN
In addition to John Garang's close identification with widespread
abuses of human rights with Sudan, the SPLA has also been
guilty of widescale terrorism during its conflict with the
Sudanese government. 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, extensive pillaging
and shooting of civilians along the Sudan-Ethiopian border,
the torture and execution of opponents, the murder of international
relief workers, and the laying of landmines. The SPLA has
also admitted the shooting down of civilian airliners within
Sudan, incidents involving considerable loss of civilian life.
The SPLA also seems intent at present on the continued destruction
of what little remains of the rural infrastructure in southern
Sudan, and the murder, kidnapping and repression of civilians
under its control at the moment.
That the SPLA has been closely identified with terrorism is
beyond dispute. As mentioned above this has taken on several
forms. On 16 August 1986, the SPLA shot down a civilian airliner
taking off from Malakal in southern Sudan, killing sixty people.
Two days later the SPLA announced it would continue to shoot
down civilian aircraft. A second civilian aircraft was shot
down in May 1987 with the deaths of thirteen passengers and
The United States Department of State 1990 Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices
reported that the SPLA "conducted
indiscriminate mortar and rocket attacks on the southern city
of Juba, killing more than 40 civilians and wounding many
others. These attacks...seemed intended to terrorize the inhabitants".
The human rights report also stated that there had been "extensive
pillaging and shooting of civilians by SPLA/M forces along
the Sudan-Ethiopian border". In November 1991 the SPLA again
shelled Juba, killing 70 civilians.
In August 1991, the SPLA fragmented and one of the factions,
the Nasir Group, accused Garang of human rights violations
including the torture and execution of opponents, arbitrary
detentions and the forced conscription of children. The SPLA-Nasir
group claimed that some of Garang's southern opponents had
been incarcerated for up to six years. In 1992, the SPLA continued
the random shelling of Juba, killing over 200 southern civilians.
Garang's group was also responsible for the cold-blooded murder
of three international relief workers and a journalist.
In 1993, Amnesty International recorded, as but one example
of SPLA terrorism, that Garang's forces 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. 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 Garang forces.
It is a matter of record that in its 1994 report Civilian
Devastation: Abuses by all Parties in the War in Southern
, a 279-page study, Human Rights Watch/Africa devoted
169 pages to "SPLA Violations of the Rules of War". Government
violations were dealt with over 52 pages. Human Rights Watch/Africa
reported that the SPLA was guilty of, amongst other things,
indiscriminate attacks on civilians, abducting civilians,
mainly women and children, torture, summary executions, the
deliberate starvation of civilians, forced recruitment and
forced labour, theft of civilian animals, food and grain,
and the holding of long-term political prisoners in prolonged
John Prendergast's 1997 book Crisis Response: Humanitarian
Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia
provided more evidence
of SPLA abuse of human rights:
Perhaps one of the most telling signs of SPLA treatment
of civilians resulted from an exercise in which children
in UN High Commission for Refugees' (UNHCR) camps in Uganda
were asked to draw pictures depicting life in a refugee
camp for International Refugee Day 1993. Most of the children
drew harrowing pictures of pre-rape scenes, killings and
lootings, with 'SPLA' written on top of many of the pictures.
The SPLA has also callously and indiscriminately used landmines
within civilian areas. The US Department of State's Sudan
Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996
example, documented that rebel forces "indiscriminately laid
land mines on roads and paths, which killed and maimed.civilians."
A 1990 Africa Watch report stated that SPLA "land mines are
planted at well-heads, on roads, near marketplaces, and close
to injured people, so that would-be rescuers are blown up."
It is also clear according to the United States government
definition of terrorism and international terrorism, that
the SPLA is a group guilty of both terrorism and international
terrorism. The relevant definitions come from Title 22 of
the United States Code, Section 2656f (d):
- The term terrorism means premeditated, politically motivated
violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational
or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an
- The term international terrorism means terrorism involving
citizens of the territory of more than one country.
It is perhaps ironic that it is the United States government
itself which is supporting both terrorism and international
terrorism within Sudan. American government military assistance
to the SPLA has been documented. The London Sunday Times
of 17 November 1996 reported that:
The Clinton administration has launched a covert campaign
to destabilise the government of Sudan...More than $20
million of military equipment...will be shipped to Eritrea,
Ethiopia and Uganda...much of it will be passed on to
the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
on 15 November 1996 stated that
"It is clear the aid is for Sudan's armed opposition." It
further reported that the SPLA "has already received US help
via Uganda" and that United States forces are on "open-ended
deployment" with the rebels. US training camps also exist
It is perhaps also ironic that the United States government
has listed Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, without
having produced any such evidence, while at the same time
the American government itself clearly qualifies as a state
sponsor of terrorism given its military training, logistical
and diplomatic support for the SPLA. American support for
the SPLA, by the American government's own definition, also
clearly qualifies as support for international terrorism as
the SPLA activities involve more than one country.
THE SPLA's SYSTEMATIC DIVERSION OF FOOD
The organisation presented by the SPLA as its 'humanitarian'
wing, the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA),
has been revealed to be both totally controlled by the SPLA
and to have been closely identified with the systematic theft
and diversion of emergency food aid intended for famine victims
and refugees. The SPLA has repeatedly used food aid, and its
denial, as a weapon in their war against the Sudanese government.
In so doing it has been at least partly responsible for the
famines that have resulted in the deaths of so many Sudanese
In its premeditated efforts to deny food to those areas of
southern Sudan administered by the Khartoum government, SPLA
forces have shot down civilian airliners, threatened to shoot
down airplanes delivering food aid, and attacked both overland
food convoys and relief barges coming down the Nile. Its deliberate
1986 downing of an airliner resulted in no food relief being
delivered by air to any southern town except Juba for over
two years. The SPLA regularly attacked trucks delivering emergency
food aid by road. In September 1988, for example, SPLA gunmen
killed 23 relief workers, drivers and assistants in one such
attack. Prendergast confirms that: "The SPLA-Mainstream has
engaged in major diversion as well as torturing or killing
SPLA national executive council member Dr Nyaba is once again
well positioned to describe SPLA policy in respect of the
diversion of food aid from civilians to the SPLA:
(S)ince humanitarian assistance is only provided for
the needy civil population, the task of distribution of
this assistance fell on specially selected SPLA officers
and men who saw to it that the bulk of the supplies went
to the army. Even in cases where the expatriate relief
monitors were strict and only distributed relief supplies
to the civilians by day, the SPLA would retrieve that
food by night. The result of this practice led to the
absolute marginalisation and brutalisation of the civilian
Prendergast also addressed the SPLA's deliberate abuse of
aid and society in those areas it controls:
The human rights abuses of the SPLA are by now well-documented.What
is less understood is the abuse and manipulation of humanitarian
assistance, the undermining of commerce, and the authoritarian
political structures which have stifled any efforts at
local organizing or capacity building in the south. These
are the elements which have characterized the first decade
of the SPLA's existence.
Veteran British journalist Andrew Buckoke has stated in relation
to aid that:
The SPLA seemed just as prepared to use food as a weapon
as the government. It wanted to maximise the relief supplies
on its side and so win the hearts and minds of all the southern
tribes, but did not want to allow the supply of the government
garrison towns, despite the presence there of hundreds of
thousands of threatened southern civilians. Many of these
civilians reported ill-treatment by the SPLA. The SPLA's
reports of atrocities committed by government troops or
pro-government militias were not matched by an all out effort
to help the victims. On several occasions the rebels demanded
hundreds of dollars from journalists who wanted to visit
their areas. Their intransigence delayed the implementation
of relief programmes just as much as that of the government.
Buckoke also recorded that the SPLA did not seem "completely
committed to publicising the people's plight, except when
it also served their own interests".
In addition to denying food to communities associated with,
or dominated by, the government of Sudan, the SPLA also diverted
food aid and relief supplies from civilians under its control
to sustain its own military operations. African Rights reported
On the whole, SPLA commanders and officials of the
Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA, its
humanitarian wing), have seen relief flows as simple flows
of material resources. The leadership has also used aid
for diplomatic and propaganda purposes.
African Rights further documented in relation to the SPLA
A large proportion of their consumption was food aid.
Sudanese who were in Itang during that period later reported
they routinely saw trucks being re-loaded with food at
the camp stores: at times on a daily basis. Often they
were just going to the nearby training camps, but relief
supplies were also sometimes sold, or used on military
operations in Eastern Equatoria and Upper Nile. The SPLA
'taxed' the supplies for the refugees, reselling substantial
amounts of food on the market and earning millions of
Ethiopian Birr. This income.was used to purchase vehicles
and other equipment for the SPLA.Much relief was sold
in Ethiopia: traded for cash, clothing, cattle and other
items. By 1990, the Itang camp manager was even managing
to raise enough revenue to buy vehicles for the SPLA,
and was publicly commended by John Garang for doing so.
The SPLA's capacity, in conjunction with the Ethiopian authorities,
for deception in relation to foreign aid within SPLA-controlled
refugee camps in Ethiopia has also been placed on record:
Huge refugee programmes were implemented with almost
no assessment or monitoring. When relief workers or donors
visited the camps, it was by appointment only and under
tight government (and, more discreetly, SPLA) control.
Former camp residents described how a visit would be prepared
in advance. Weapons and other obvious signs of military
presence would be hidden. Signs of relative prosperity.would
also be concealed. Sometimes a few refugees would be specifically
instructed to wear sack-cloth. No refugee was allowed
to talk to a foreigner except in the presence of a fairly
senior SPLA official. Then the conversation would be through
a translator, who could distort and censor what was said.
Donor countries' attempts to ascertain how their considerable
aid was being used were constantly frustrated.
In February 1991, for example, a senior-level Multi-Donor
Technical Mission, which included two ambassadors, visited
several SPLA-controlled refugee camps. It somewhat diplomatically
reported that "due to the carefully orchestrated nature of
the visit it was hard to gain candid comments". African Rights
stated that the Mission "was aware that it was not getting
at the truth." Even Bona Malwal's 1991 article mentioned the
SRRA's close identification with the SPLA:
It has become evident that the humanitarian wing of
the SPLA, the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association
(SRRA) has failed to achieve much of its agenda primarily
because of its close attachment to the military aspects
of the SPLA.
African Rights made it clear that after the fall of Mengistu
in Ethiopia and the relocation of refugee camps from that
country, the SRRA:
naturally became part of the mechanism for controlling
and manipulating information.And it had to conceal this.
The basic techniques of deception were already well-practised;
they were similar to those that had been used in the refugee
camps in Ethiopia: exaggerate the numbers of accessible
people in need; make up ambiguous and false distribution
reports; strictly limit the movements of the foreigners;
do not let them talk to anyone without security clearance;
use interpreters to censor the information from innocent
interviewees; punish SPLA officials who are indiscreet.
John Prendergast was able to personally document this systematic
A late 1993 SRRA directive in Maridi and Mundri stated
that visitors were forbidden to talk to local people,
but rather must speak to the SRRA. The recent SRRA law
reads more like a police directive. 'It is an inept framework
for humanitarian activities', according to one aid official.
'Its practicalities are abhorrent.'.There are SRRA minders
following wherever NGO representatives go. It is consequently
very difficult to monitor and follow up on aid diversions.
Douglas Johnson, an established commentator on Sudanese affairs,
has said of the SRRA that:
Most of its field representatives had been selected
not only from the military wing of the movement but from
the security wing as well. Throughout OLS the SRRA often
gave the impression that it was the procurement department
for the SPLA, as least as far as food and medicines are
concerned.Its representation of itself as the humanitarian
wing of the SPLM was undermined by its subordination to
African Rights reports that there was no evidence that funds
made available to the SRRA from the money raised by Bob Geldof's
Band Aid consortium ever resulted in relief being delivered.
African Rights has also quoted a foreign aid donor as saying
that its experience of supplying food relief to the SRRA was
a negative one. The SRRA headquarters staff "just ate it.By
that casual act of peculation they set back (the cause of
their people) for years."
recorded that in late 1997 at least
37 trucks of food and fuel, supplied in large part by USAID
and the Norwegian Church Aid for displaced Sudanese refugees,
disappeared while under SPLA control, near Gulu in Uganda.
The food was said to have been sold in Gulu and other towns
in the area. It was one more example of corruption in the
An additional aspect of food aid diversion was documented
in May 1998. An independent consultancy commissioned by the
Norwegian government to investigate Norwegian People's Aid,
a channel for vast amounts of Norwegian government aid funds,
concluded that Norwegian relief funds were being used to support
SPLA soldiers, and thus prolonging the conflict. Norwegian
People's Aid, which worked outside of the Operation Lifeline
Sudan programme, was said to allowed the SPLA to sell emergency
aid destined for hungry and sick southern Sudanese in order
to purchase weapons of war. Norwegian aid funds were also
diverted to buy the SPLA food, houses and cars, and to was
pay for the schooling of the children of SPLA officers.
In June 1998 the British Secretary of State for International
Development, Ms Clare Short, stated that her officials, who
had returned from a visit to affected areas in southern Sudan,
had informed her that SPLA gunmen were closely involved in
controlling food aid even at the height of the acute humanitarian
crisis in Bahr al-Ghazal. She stated that food aid was clearly
"feeding the fighters".
THE SPLA's PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH
It is ironic that John Garang is so unreservedly supported
by Christian fundamentalist groupings in the United States
and Europe given the SPLA's clear intolerance of churches
and abuse of Christian clergy and missionaries in southern
Sudan. This behaviour starkly contradicts their projection
by groups such as Christian Solidarity International as a
Christian movement. It is also clear that the SPLA's intolerance
of missionaries is only a dim echo of their systematic abuse
of civilians in several parts of southern Sudan.
The Sudan People's Liberation Army under John Garang has long
had a questionable relationship with Christianity in southern
Sudan, and elsewhere. Despite Garang's "irrevocable" 1984
commitment to "religious freedom", African Rights records
In the early years of the war.the SPLA.actively repressed
the Church. This paralleled the campaign against the Church
being waged in Ethiopia at the time.In the late 1980s,
paralleling similar developments in Ethiopia, the SPLA
abandoned much Marxist orthodoxy and became more tolerant
of the Church. According to Bishop Nathaniel Garang, in
the early days many SPLA soldiers "smoked the Bible" -
they rolled their cigarettes in pages torn from copies
of the Holy Book.
One of the earlier incidents in the 1980s involving SPLA gunmen
had taken place when the SPLA captured the town of Torit in
February 1989. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Torit, Bishop
Paride Taban, and other Catholic clergy and believers were,
in the words of African Rights, subjected to "vicious treatment".
Bishop Taban was imprisoned and publicly humiliated by the
SPLA. African Rights also reported that nuns had been raped
by John Garang's forces. Church property was looted or destroyed.
Bishop Taban was again imprisoned and mistreated by SPLA gunmen
in 1992. Church property was again stolen.
This intolerance has continued to this day. In August 1996,
for example, John Garang's forces detained six Catholic missionaries
at Mapourdit mission station, 35 kilometres from Akot. Four
of those detained were under arrest by SPLA gunmen, and included
two Australians, Sister Moira Lynch, aged 73, and Sister Mary
Batchelor, aged 68, and Father Raphael Riel the Vicar-General
of Rumbek Diocese. The charges against these missionaries
were said to be: "hindering SPLA recruitment, being found
in possession of documents proving that they were spies from
foreign countries, working for the spread of Islam under the
disguise of the Cross." A Sudanese priest, Father Raphael,
received 64 lashes from the SPLA gunmen. One of those imprisoned,
Father Mike Barton, described the SPLA commander as "mad and
dangerous": the same commander later accused him of "drinking
the blood of children". When Father Barton protested at the
SPLA beating up a pregnant women and an old man at the mission,
he too was beaten up. The Sudanese Catholic Information Office
also reported looting. The six missionaries were eventually
The cause for their ordeal was that they had expressed concern
at the SPLA's continuing abduction of Sudanese boys as young
as twelve years of age for use as forced labour or child soldiers.
This detention was in direct contravention of the SPLA's April
1996 resolution that "no person shall be held in incommunicado
detention without charge or trial." Little if any action is
known to have been taken against the perpetrators.
THE SPLA AND THE SUDANESE PEACE PROCESS
The SPLA's lack of any clear political agenda, and its indifference
to unprecedented government concessions underpin the organisation's
lack of enthusiasm for a negotiated settlement of the Sudanese
civil war. The SPLA has found itself unwilling or unable to
negotiate a peaceful settlement of the war regardless of the
government in power in Khartoum, whether it be a military,
civil or democratic administration.
Within weeks of coming to power in 1989, the present government
in Sudan convened an inclusive national dialogue conference
on peace issues. This conference, which the SPLA chose not
to attend, outlined a peace plan based on the decentralisation
of power and resources and the protection of cultural diversity.
There have been well over twenty rounds of peace talks since
1989. These have been held in Nairobi, Uganda, Nigeria, in
Germany, as well as inside Sudan itself. Peace talks under
the auspices of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority
on Development began in 1993. Despite having reservations,
the government accepted the IGAD declaration of principles
as the outline of a possible settlement. The government's
internal peace moves continued, and Khartoum introduced a
federal structure in Sudan in 1995, creating 26 states in
Sudan, 10 of which were in southern Sudan. These were to be
governed by southerners themselves.
The government signed political charters in 1996, and then
the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement with several rebel factions.
A new constitution entrenches the federal nature of government
in Sudan and incorporates the legislation guaranteeing a referendum
for the south as well as the interim southern government.
The government has repeated called for a ceasefire and continues
to offer amnesty to rebels for them to enter a political dialogue.
Despite all these moves to address long-standing southern
political concerns, SPLA indifference to a negotiated settlement
is perhaps best seen in the statement made by John Garang
following the abortive peace talks in Nairobi in late 1997.
Garang unambiguously stated that:
We intended not to reach an agreement.This is what
we did and we succeeded in it because we did not reach
Critical peace talks were held in Nairobi in May 1998, in
the midst of the severe humanitarian crisis in Bahr al-Ghazal
in southern Sudan. These fared no better than those held in
1997. The SPLA refused calls by the international community,
the UN, European Union, and IGAD for a cease-fire, even a
temporary one aimed at preventing a possible famine, a cease-fire
the government of Sudan had agreed to. The SPLA did recognise
that the Sudanese government had guaranteed an internationally-supervised
referendum for southern Sudanese to choose between unity and
THE SPLA: SUDANESE VOICE OF FOREIGN PROXY?
There are clear concerns about the SPLA's ideological and
military identification with foreign governments, even to
the extent that these foreign governments may be encouraging
the SPLA to continue with its war against the Khartoum government.
It is a matter of record that the SPLA owes its initial existence
to the Mengistu regime
and to considerable Libyan support.
Uganda and the United States have recently revitalised the
The SPLA's identification with foreign governments has gone
to the extent of SPLA forces having been militarily committed
in support of some of these governments. African Rights has,
for example, documented that the SPLA fought as surrogate
forces for the Mengistu regime
. The SPLA was used to
fight Oromo Liberation Front forces, one of the liberation
movements fighting against the Ethiopian government. This
is also confirmed by Nyaba. African Rights recorded that Garang's
adherence to the Mengistu regime
"led to the SPLA continuing
to fight for Mengistu inside Ethiopia for some weeks even
after the Ethiopian army had surrendered in May 1991."
It is surely deeply questionable that Dr Garang ordered Sudanese
men, women and children to fight and die in defence of the
in Ethiopia, one of the most ruthless
and bloodstained dictatorships the African continent has ever
seen. It is likely that the choice to do so was for two reasons.
Firstly, Garang was politically sympathetic to the Mengistu
government and therefore ideologically committed to its defence.
Secondly, it was militarily vital to defend the Mengistu regime
given that the SPLA was so heavily dependent on the Ethiopian
state for its continued use of bases, and control of refugee
camps, in Ethiopia, military supplies and logistical assistance.
It is also very clear that the SPLA is used by the Ugandan
government as part of Kampala's military effort against rebels
in northern Uganda, and has accompanied Ugandan army attacks
into Sudan itself.
It is disturbing to find that the SPLA appears to be serving
much the same function in the late 1990s for the United States
government. The SPLA was picked up in the mid-1990s when it
was at an all-time low by the American government, militarily
re-equipped and re-organised and used as an additional instrument
of policy in Washington's moves against the government of
Given his past political orientation, Garang's willingness
for the SPLA to act as a United States government-directed
military proxy in the continuing American campaign against
the government of Sudan can only be for opportunistic reasons.
It is also worth noting that Garang's shadow over the Sudanese
political and peace process is as a consequence in large part
an artificial one. The extent of Garang's true power base
within southern Sudan was perhaps that revealed to be the
case in the early-to-mid 1990s, a power base undermined by
the political and ethnic fragmentation of the SPLA, Sudanese
government concessions, constitutional changes, reforms and
the rapidly unfolding peace process. That United States government's
military, logistical and diplomatic support has artificially
inflated the importance of the faction of the SPLA led by
Garang is clear. How much more political and moral credibility
Garang has lost by appearing as an American "hired gun" is
THE SPLA IN 1998
The stark picture of SPLA structures and behaviour inside
Sudan presented above contrasts vividly with the image of
the SPLA presented internationally by Garang's somewhat partisan
supporters. This certainly is not how the SPLA is seen by
reputable American aid and development experts such as John
Prendergast, people who are non-partisan and who have spent
considerable time in the country and region.
There is also the overriding fact that the SPLA has no discernible
political agenda. What indication there has been of any political
orientation has been what African Rights describes as the
"Afro-Stalinist" variety. Dr Garang's faction of the SPLA
cannot even decide whether it is for or against the concept
of a separate, independent southern Sudan.
There are obvious concerns about the fitness of the SPLA to
play any constructive role in the Sudanese political process,
let alone its harbouring of intentions to govern Sudan. Given
its flimsy political programme and appalling human rights
record, it is deeply questionable that the SPLA should hold
the Sudanese people to ransom by choosing not to involve itself
constructively in the peace process in that country. This
concern is sharpened by the fact that the military, and therefore
political, position of the SPLA is one artificially sustained
by the American government.
It is unacceptable that the SPLA is being encouraged by the
United States government, as well as governments of Uganda,
Eritrea and Ethiopia, to continue its campaign of violence
in the face of clear internal attempts within Sudan to reach
a negotiated resolution of the Sudanese civil war. Foreign
support for the SPLA is particularly questionable given the
SPLA's atrocious record and lack of accountability. Since
its formation the SPLA has been identified with authoritarianism
and intolerance, an intolerance which has resulted in the
murder or illegal imprisonment of anyone who challenged Dr
Garang. As an organisation, the SPLA has also been involved
with large-scale theft and diversion of food aid, even at
the height of the 1998 Bahr al-Ghazal crisis. Furthermore
the political and civil structures that the SPLA has presented
to the outside world have been described by independent observers
as coercive, repressive and corrupt.
The SPLA's attitude towards southern Sudan's civilian population
also has been described as verging on "nihilistic" by human
rights workers. John Garang and the SPLA have been identified
with systematic, large-scale abuse of human rights. The SPLA
has been responsible for the murder of thousands of Sudanese
men, women and children. It has additionally been associated
with slavery and slavery-like practices, including the abduction
of over ten thousand Sudanese boys under the age of sixteen
and the use of forced labour on SPLA farms. Several thousand
of these children have died while under SPLA control. The
SPLA has also ruthlessly used terrorism in its operations.
This terrorism has included the shooting down of civilian
airliners, the mortaring and rocketing of towns resulting
in hundreds of civilian deaths, the murder of relief workers
and the indiscriminate use of landmines.
Several human rights groups have shown the SPLA to have a
clear tribalist orientation. The SPLA's cold-blooded murder
of civilians because of their ethnicity compares with the
ethnic bloodshed seen in the former Yugoslavia. That the American
government, and others, continue to support an openly ethnicist
group such as the SPLA, in a country made up of hundreds of
tribes and in an area which has seen the bloody results of
what such racism and tribalism has lead to in the Great Lakes
region is disturbing. Given the ethnic-cleansing that has
taken place in those areas of southern Sudan militarily dominated
by the SPLA, the prospect of the SPLA being militarily foisted
upon southern Sudan or even Sudan as a whole is even more
Given that the SPLA appears to exist, and continues to operate,
at least in large part because of the military, logistical,
diplomatic and political support of the United States and
several of Sudan's neighbours, and given political concessions
and reforms within Sudan which would appear to call into question
the continuation of conflict in Sudan, the SPLA and its continued
violence is a problem which the international community alone