Date of Publication: June 2001




On 13 June 2001, the United States House of Representatives passed "An Act to facilitate relief efforts and a comprehensive solution to the war in Sudan", also referred to as the 'Sudan Peace Act'. A more explicit example of confused, distorted and poorly-informed legislation would be hard to find. It is an Act that while paying lip service to the need for a "negotiated, peaceful settlement to the war in Sudan" at the same time provides one side to the conflict with millions of dollars worth of logistical assistance. It is an Act that decries the manipulation of food aid while ignoring the fact that the side it is supporting has been accused of diverting two-thirds of food aid within the areas it controls. It is also an act which decries the abuse of human rights within Sudan but provides millions of dollars to those accused of appalling human rights abuses in Sudan.

In so doing the United States seeks to continue foreign interference in a conflict that has raged since 1955, fought, in its most recent phase, since 1983 between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) led by John Garang. Even a brief examination of attempts to achieve a comprehensive solution to the conflict in Sudan and relief efforts within that country reveal the deep flaws within this legislation.

A "negotiated, peaceful settlement to the war in Sudan"

In any examination of the search for a "negotiated, peaceful settlement to the war in Sudan", a little should be said first about those people who drafted this Act. The Act was drafted by legislators such as Representatives Tancredo, Wolf and Payne and Senators Frist, Brownback and Feingold, whose previous involvement with Sudan had resulted in an escalation in the Sudanese conflict and regional tensions. In April 2001, former United States President Carter, one of the most respected and objective commentators on events within Sudan, said of this period: "For the last eight years, the U.S. has had a policy which I strongly disagree with in Sudan, supporting the revolutionary movement and not working for an overall peace settlement." This echoed earlier concerns voiced by Carter. In December 1999 he had observed:

The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is US government policy. The US is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the United States.Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war.

It is clear, then, that these legislators are hardly the best qualified group of people to talk about peace in Sudan. Far from working for peace they have stood by while the United States militarily and economically destabilised the largest country in Africa. They helped shape American Sudan policy from 1993 onwards - precisely the period referred to by Carter. While they publicly lament the numbers of deaths during this conflict, they are themselves directly responsible for the deaths through war, starvation or disease of thousands of Sudanese. Far from taking Carter's concerns into consideration, the 'Sudan Peace Act' merely perpetuates the Clinton Administration's failed and farcical Sudan policies. The United States Congress has shown itself either amazingly naïve or blatantly hypocritical in drafting the 'Sudan Peace Act'. In either case this piece of legislation reflects very badly indeed on Congress.

This American attitude is all the more regrettable since the Sudanese government has repeatedly invited constructive United States involvement within Sudan.

A "Comprehensive Solution to the War in Sudan"?

While making for good rhetoric, Congressional calls for a comprehensive solution illustrate either naivety or cynicism. For a solution there has to be some sort of political objective on the part of those waging war on the Sudanese government. The political complexion of the SPLA movement has varied from professedly Marxist through to now politically identifying with American Bible-belt Christian fundamentalists. Even on such a fundamental issue as to whether the SPLA is fighting for a separate south or a united Sudan, there continues to be confusion.

The war has always been about the political status of southern Sudan. While the SPLA appear to be confused, the Khartoum authorities' approach would appear to be clear. If the SPLA are fighting for autonomy or even separation this has already been offered by the government. In 1997, having already introduced a federal system and exempted southern Sudan from Sharia law, the Sudanese Government, in the Khartoum Peace Agreement, also offered, amongst other things, the holding of a free and fair, internationally-supervised, referendum in which the people of southern Sudan could, for the first time ever, choose whether to remain as a part of Sudan or to become independent. This offer has also been written into the 1998 Constitution, and repeated on several occasions , most recently during the June 2001 peace talks in Nairobi. It is an offer that has also been acknowledged by the SPLA.

The Sudanese government has repeatedly offered a comprehensive ceasefire. Throughout 2001, the Sudanese government once again called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In April and in mid-May 2000, Khartoum once more declared its readiness to enter into "an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire" and to restart negotiations for the achievement of a comprehensive peace: it called upon the SPLA to do the same. Khartoum appears to have sought out every possible peace forum. The Sudanese government has also repeatedly requested international assistance in securing a peaceful end to the conflict. It is difficult to see how much further towards a comprehensive solution the Sudanese government can go. The SPLA's inability to articulate what they are fighting for is echoed in its approach to the peace process. In erratic shifts in position, the SPLA has both accepted and then refused regional attempts at peace-making, sometimes within the space of 48 hours.

Its commitment to a peaceful solution is questionable. John Garang, for example, commenting on the November 1997 round of peace talks in Nairobi, stated that "We intended not to reach an agreement with the [Sudanese government]. This is what we did and we succeeded in it because we did not reach an agreement."

The 'Sudan Peace Act' has exacerbated an already critical situation. While professing to wish to see an end to war in Sudan, the 'Sudan Peace Act' actually authorised the release of $10 million dollars in assistance to what they called the National Democratic Alliance. This followed an earlier payment of three million dollars. All this funding will be channelled to the Sudan People's Liberation Army. As prominent American Sudan specialist Stephen Morrison, the head of the Sudan project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington-DC, has pointed out: "The NDA is a bit of a phantom. It is basically the SPLA and a few elements." Commenting on the release of American funds for the SPLA, Morrison also stated: "This package feeds false hopes and expectation on the part of the southerners and sustains excessive paranoia in Khartoum."

For all the immediate implications of such clear American assistance, of even deeper concern is the fact that such aid serves to encourage the SPLA, already patently without any clear political objective, to continue with what is an unwinnable war. Shortly after the announcement of American assistance, for example, the SPLA launched a concerted offensive in the Bahr al-Ghazal region of southern Sudan in May 2001. The offensive continued during a regional peace summit in Nairobi in early June, with the rebels ignoring further calls for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

It was thus particularly ironic that Congress passed this Act at the time it did given that amongst the "findings" of the Act was the claim that "[t]he Government of Sudan has intensified its prosecution of the war against areas outside of its control". The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels had themselves launched this offensive in the Bahr al-Ghazal region of southern Sudan in late May and June which had certainly intensified the civil war in that country. In so doing they had ignored repeated offers of ceasefires by the government.

This SPLA offensive has resulted in massive displacement of southern Sudanese civilians. On 8 June, the International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the offensive had led to the displacement of at least 20,000 civilians. The Sudanese Catholic Information Office reported that most activities within the region had been halted by the offensive: "locations from Tonj northwards remain no go areas forcing both church and humanitarian agencies to suspend their flights to the region." By 11 June, the United Nations estimated that 30,000 civilians had been displaced within Bahr al-Ghazal. Two days later, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rumbek, Bishop Mazzolari, reported that just under 60,000 civilians had been displaced by the offensive, and that these civilians were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The very humanitarian access spoken of repeatedly in the 'Sudan Peace Act' has been disrupted by the SPLA.

History would appear to be repeating itself. Former President Carter has in the past stated that the millions of dollars of assistance to the rebels previously provided by the Clinton Administration had a negative effect on the SPLA's interest in negotiating a political settlement. The Bush Administration's financial support for the SPLA has also clearly encouraged the SPLA to once again ignore calls for a negotiated settlement of the conflict and to continue with what can only be described as a no-win war.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail accuses the United States of pursuing a policy that prolongs the Sudanese war: "Your [i.e. the US] policy will not lead to peace. It will lead to the continuation of war, the suffering of the people, the loss of lives in the south . This war, this problem, will not be settled by fighting. It has to be settled by political means. The government of Sudan is ready for that". America's provocative acts take place at a time when the there have been significant positive political changes within Sudan itself. The former Prime Minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi, himself ousted in 1989 by the present government, and a pivotal rebel leader, was quoted by an April 2001 American fact-finding mission as saying that: "the United States has been an obstacle to peace in Sudan and also to unity among the opposition. The United States' policy has been a problem. He said that Sudan is like a pregnant woman that is about to deliver and needs a midwife to help the delivery. They all believe that the United States could act as a midwife. They all accept this. But, the United States, instead of helping deliver the baby, killed it." The former prime minister has also declared that: "There are now circumstances and developments which could favour an agreement on a comprehensive political solution."

Congressional Support for Sudanese "War Criminals"

What then is the nature of the organisation so enthusiastically embraced by the United States Congress? Simply put, the 'Sudan Peace Act' links the United States to a group with an appalling human rights record. A previous attempt by the American government in late 1999 to provide assistance to the SPLA had resulted in considerable concern domestically. In November 1999, for example, eight reputable US-based humanitarian organisations working in Sudan, groups such as CARE, World Vision, Church World Service and Save the Children, no friends of the Sudanese government, publicly stated that the SPLA has: "engaged for years in the most serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, slavery, etc." In December 1999, Human Rights Watch stated that: "The SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights and has not made any effort to establish accountability. Its abuses today remain serious".

The New York Times, another outspoken critic of the Khartoum government, was also unambiguously critical of any assistance to the SPLA:

[C]hanneling assistance to southern rebels would ally Washington with a brutal and predatory guerrilla army. One of the tragedies of Sudan's war is that John Garang's S.P.L.A. has squandered a sympathetic cause. Though its members claim to be "Christians resisting Islamization, they have behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging.

It is ironic that the 'Sudan Peace Act' also contains a section dealing with "the investigation of war criminals" given that the same Act provides the SPLA, an group accused of involvement in war crimes, with millions of dollars worth of American tax-payers money. The New York Times, for example, has stated that SPLA leader John Garang is one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals".. The U.S. Congress cannot have been unaware of this appalling human rights record. The Clinton Administration's Sudan expert, John Prendergast, who served with both the National Security Council and State Department, and who has briefed many of these legislators, has, for example, stated on record that the SPLA "was responsible for egregious human rights violations in the territory it controlled". Prendergast also personally placed on record that: "The SPLA has faced a tidal wave of accusations and condemnation from international human rights organizations and local churches over its human rights record."

Prendergast personally recorded SPLA involvement in wide-scale killings, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, widespread raping of Equatorian women, systematic abuse of humanitarian aid, corruption and an absolute disregard for human rights. Prendergast confirmed the existence of ethnic tensions between the largely Dinka SPLA, and the Nuer tribe, as well as communities in Equatoria in southern Sudan, ever since the SPLA came into being in 1983, with the SPLA showing an "absolute disregard for their human rights". He was also able to confirm that, in an echo of the war crimes carried out in Bosnia, SPLA behaviour included the systematic raping of women from different ethnic groups.

Very significantly, given the Act's desire to make SPLA access to relief even easier, Prendergast further documented 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."

While Prendergast was advising on Sudan, the SPLA engaged in ethnic cleansing every bit as murderous as that carried out in Bosnia or Kosovo. SPLA ethnic cleansing continues to this day. The BBC and other reliable sources have reported on SPLA violence towards non-Dinka ethnic groups, groups which "accused the SPLA of becoming an army of occupation", exactly the phrase used by Prendergast himself in 1997. It would appear that the United States would believe that the human rights of black and brown Africans are not the same value as those of Bosnians or other white Europeans.

Humanitarian Assistance to Sudan: Operation Lifeline Sudan

The 'Sudan Peace Act' states and restates concern about the facilitation of relief efforts within southern Sudan. The Act is also hostile to the United Nations- administered Operation Lifeline Sudan. It further repeatedly refers to the manipulation of food aid by the government of Sudan. Whatever the veracity of the claims about the Sudanese authorities, what the Act conveniently ignores is that the SPLA, the organisation it seeks to logistically assist, and to whom it wishes to make access to relief aid easier, has been the biggest abuser of relief aid in this conflict. The human rights group, African Rights, for example, has clearly stated that: "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." Despite stated concerns about the manipulation of aid, this did not feature in the Act.

While professing deep concern about urgent humanitarian relief deliveries within southern Sudan, the U.S. Congress also ignored that fact that in June 2000 the group they support deliberately broke a humanitarian ceasefire in Bahr al-Ghazal. This humanitarian ceasefire had been brokered by the European Union in July 1998 in order to stabilise aid access to southern Sudan's most famine affected areas. The European Union registered "its grave concerns regarding the offensive launched by the SPLM/A in the region of Bahr al-Ghazal".

The recent offensive was launched by the SPLA, still clearly without any discernible political agenda, despite UNICEF warnings that the drought situation in drought-affected areas of Sudan was "fast approaching critical" and that the food supply outlook was "highly precarious" and likely to worsen". The World Food Programme has repeatedly warned of the impending crisis in statements headlined 'Acute Hunger Set to Hit Sudan as War Continues and Drought Unfolds', 'Major Food Crisis Looms in Sudan' and, in June 2001, 'Sudan Food Crisis - On the Brink'. It should be noted that the horrendous 1998 famine in southern Sudan was precipitated by similar SPLA offensives As much was reported on by CNN in early April 1998 under headlines such as "aid agencies blame Sudanese rebel who switched sides": "Observers say much of the recent chaos has resulted from the actions of one man, Kerubino Kwanying Bol, a founding member of the rebel movement.He aided rebel forces in sieges of three government-held towns, which sent people fleeing into the countryside." Newsweek magazine (18 May 1998) also reported that: "Aid workers blame much of the south's recent anguish on one man: the mercurial Dinka warlord Kerubino Kuanyin Bol".

Humanitarian relief to the war affected parts of Sudan is provided by Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS). Operation Lifeline Sudan began in 1989 under the auspices of the United Nations, and with the approval and cooperation of the government of Sudan and the SPLA. Operational Lifeline Sudan is a consortium of aid agencies bringing together the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children's Fund and 35 other non-governmental organisations. It seeks to bring food and humanitarian aid to those communities in southern Sudan most affected by the fighting and drought, communities within both government and rebel-held areas of the south. Operation Lifeline Sudan was unprecedented in as much as it was the first time that a sovereign government had agreed to the delivery of assistance by outside agencies to rebel-controlled parts of its own country. As the London Guardian newspaper observed:

Most of the people affected live in areas controlled by anti-government rebels and.they were reached by flights from Kenya. Governments involved in civil wars usually refuse to authorise cross-border feeding.

The Sudanese model, developed during the tenure of the present Sudanese government, has subsequently been used in several other areas of civil conflict. It is a matter of record that the number of Khartoum-approved Operation Lifeline Sudan feeding sites in southern Sudan has grown from twenty in the early 1990s to well over one hundred by 1998. During the 1998 famine, the number increased to more than 180 locations. So far from diminishing access to humanitarian relief Khartoum would appear to have greatly increased access. These increases in food delivery sites were agreed by the Khartoum authorities despite it being widely known that the SPLA were diverting very sizeable amounts of this aid for its own uses, something which itself serves to prolong the conflict.

Washington's claims about Sudanese non-cooperation with humanitarian relief are also undermined by the fact that unanimous United Nations resolutions have acknowledged "with appreciation" the cooperation of the Sudanese government with agreements and arrangements facilitating "relief operations".

The strength of Operation Lifeline Sudan is that international relief aid is delivered by a neutral United Nations structure in keeping with international humanitarian law. The often questionable nature of previous non-OLS "humanitarian" assistance to Sudan has been documented. The American government, for example, has given millions of dollars in funding to Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), a non-governmental organisation active in southern Sudan. A November 1999 Norwegian television documentary, entitled 'Weapons Smuggling in Sudan', has highlighted the role played by NPA in logistically and politically perpetuating the Sudanese civil war. There had always been considerable speculation as to whether NPA was militarily involved with the SPLA. This documentary confirmed that the NPA has for several years organised an air-bridge for the supply of weapons to battle zones within Sudan. One of the NPA pilots involved in the gun running stated that on one occasion his plane had landed at SPLA bases with some 2.5 tonnes of weapons. It was stated that Norwegian People's Aid had flown between 80 - 100 tonnes of weapons into Sudan in aeroplanes supposedly carrying humanitarian assistance. Among the tonnes of weapons flown into Sudan were landmines. The documentary also placed on record other clear evidence of NPA military involvement with the SPLA.

Given that Norwegian People's Aid openly states that "[a] major contributor to our programme in Sudan, is the USAID" two questions must be asked. The first is how much American taxpayers money has been used to provide the Sudan People's Liberation Army with weapons of war, including landmines? And secondly, was the Administration and Congress aware that it was in effect funding such operations?

The activities of Norwegian People's Aid have long been of considerable concern to some of its donors. The Norwegian government had previously commissioned an independent investigation into NPA. The subsequent report documented NPA complicity in the diversion of food aid to the SPLA. It stated that:

NPA's intervention is that of a solidarity group. It has taken a clear side in the war. It supports the causes of SPLA/M.NPA's solidarity approach means that in practice the activities of NPA are closely related to the political and military strategies of the rebel movement.

This is the sort of organisation that the 'Sudan Peace Act' envisages channelling "relief" in southern Sudan rather than the neutral and accountable UN mechanisms.

The United States Congress cannot be unaware of the SPLA's systematic theft of humanitarian aid and its diversion for its own purposes. In July 1998, at the height of the devastating 1998 famine, the Roman Catholic Bishop of the starvation-affected diocese of Rumbek, Monsignor Caesar Mazzolari, stated that the SPLA were stealing 65 percent of the food aid going into rebel-held areas of southern Sudan. Agence France Presse also reported that:

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

There is also a direct link between the supply of food aid to the SPLA and the war in southern Sudan. The SPLA has been documented as having clearly engaged in 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 civilians. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of SPLA food aid diversion is that there is evidence that the SPLA sells diverted humanitarian aid, either stolen from civilians or directly from aid agencies, in order to purchase weapons and munitions with which to carry on the war. The 'Sudan Peace Act' seeks to make it even easier for the SPLA to divert relief aid, directly affecting famine-stricken communities and indirectly prolonging the war.

What then would be the sort of non-OLS "relief" situation in southern Sudan? We already have a clear indication of what this would entail. In February 2000, because of unacceptable demands made upon them by the SPLA, eleven international non-governmental aid organisations were forced to leave southern Sudan. These NGOs included CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children and Medecins Sans Frontieres. The SPLA had demanded that all aid agencies active in southern Sudan sign a memorandum which dictated SPLA control over their activities, and aid distribution, as well as which Sudanese nationals the agencies employed, and which stipulated a swath of "taxes" and charges for working in southern Sudan. The NGOs involved handled about 75 percent of the humanitarian aid entering southern Sudan. The withdrawal of these NGOS directly affected US$ 40 million worth of aid programs. The expelled aid agencies stated that one million southern Sudanese were at risk as a result of the SPLA's decision to expel the NGOs. The European Union described the SPLA demands as a serious violation of humanitarian law and suspended its substantial aid program to rebel-controlled areas.

One can only imagine the uproar within Congress had the Sudanese government cut the provision of humanitarian aid to southern Sudan by 75 percent. Such behaviour by the SPLA does not even rate a mention by Congress. Not only has the SPLA severely restricted humanitarian outreach within southern Sudan for political reasons, but the 'Sudan Peace Act' would make it even easier for the SPLA to engage in massive food aid diversion.


The flaws of the 'Sudan Peace Act' are there for all to see. The Act is characterised by cynicism, misinformation and double standards. While professing deep concern about relief delivery in southern Sudan, for example, the Act ignores the fact that the group it is sponsoring has been guilty of diverting two-thirds of all relief going into the areas it controls, was responsible for a suspension of 75 percent of humanitarian projects in southern Sudan by insisting on SPLA control of the relief aid, and has repeatedly launched offensives within areas that are already seriously famine and drought affected. The Act claims to be concerned about war crimes and yet actively seeks to sustain some of the conflict's worst abusers of human rights.

The most constructive role that the U.S. Congress could play with regard to the Sudanese conflict would be to bring the SPLA to the negotiating table. Far from doing this, however, Congress has sought to encourage the SPLA, a group without an identifiable political objective, with millions of dollars in support - in effect encouraging further conflict. When one has the respected former American president Jimmy Carter, former Sudanese prime minister and opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Sudanese government all agreeing that the United States has been the biggest single obstacle to peace in Sudan it is a concern that must be recognised.

The Bush Administration's Sudan policy can only be described as confused and uncoordinated. It would appear that a group of legislators who are at best naïve and at worst dogmatic religious fanatics, are at present driving America's Sudan policy. In so doing they are damaging the reputation of the United States within the international community. The simple fact is that Sudan has moved on politically, domestically, economically, regionally and within the international community. The sooner American policy reflects these changes and works towards a peaceful solution to Sudanese problems the sooner Sudan will be at peace.

Espac Published by The European - Sudanese Public Affairs Council Copyright © David Hoile 2005
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