Oil revenue fuels civil strife
Gains from oil exports are fueling the 18-year-old civil war in Sudan, the latest report by the distinguished and authoritative Human Rights Watch says.
The annual report further reveals that both the government of Sudan and the rebel groups in the vast African country remained gross human rights abusers in a war that has defied numerous peace initiatives.
A gloomy picture is also painted of efforts to end the current phase of the civil war that began in 1983. Negotiations to end the war appeared fruitless, whatever the forum or venue. The parties remained stalled on the issues of the relation of religion to the state and self determination, the Human Rights Watch Report says.
Sudan, ranked among the world's poorest nations, began exporting oil in August 1999, following the successful completion of 1,650 kilometre pipeline from Bentiu in the south to Port Sudan. Beginning with an average of 150,000 barrels daily, the output quickly rose to 200,000 barrels per day and raked in huge profits for the military regime.
The oil exports helped boost GDP growth to an estimated 7.2 percent last calendar year against a targeted six percent, according to Sudanese Finance Minister Mohamed Khair al-Zubair. He put oil income at $1.327 billion in 2000, up from $530 million the previous year.
Analysts had from the onset of the oil exportation expressed their apprehension that the abundant revenue accrued from the trade would mean that Khartoum had lost any incentive whatsoever for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Why would a brutal junta, which has violated virtually every human right in the book, make peace with its adversary if it has the resources to be victorious and impose its final solution? posed Mel Middleton, the director of Canadian NGO Freedom Quest International.
The government, however, put up a strong defence insisting that the wealth was what she needed to initiate equitable development that would pacify the war ravaged Sudanese society.
In the seemingly endless 17-year civil war, the government stepped up its brutal expulsions of southern villagers from the oil production areas and trumpeted its resolve to use the oil income for more weapons, says the Human Rights Watch report.
It adds: Under the leadership of President (Lt. Gen.) Omar El Bashir, the government intensified its bombing of civilian targets in the war, denied relief food to needy civilians, and abused children's rights, particularly through its military and logistical support for the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which held an estimated 6,000 Ugandan children captive on government-controlled Sudanese territory.
Other evidences on the use of oil incomes for war purposes included Khartoum s announcement that the gains, constituting 20 percent of its 2000 revenue, would be used for defence, including an arms factory near Khartoum. Defence spending in US dollars increased 96 percent from 1998 to 2000.
Not coincidentally, government use of air power and bombing increased. When SPLA violations of the cease-fire in Bahr El Ghazal temporarily halted the movement of the government's military train, the government counter-attacked by bombing not only the cease-fire area, but also the rest of the south, the Nuba Mountains, and the eastern front.
The Human Rights Watch account is another devastating indictment of Canadian Talisman Energy Incorp, the lead company in Sudan's oil exploration business. Other well-known partners to the Sudanese government in the oil industry are Malaysian and Chinese companies.
Talisman, asserted Amnesty International in its report on Sudan and oil development (May 2000), is complicit in massive human rights violations. It is also responsible for sending revenues to Khartoum for huge military expenditures, expenditures which end up taking an increasingly horrific toll on civilians in the south, the report said.
According to the Human Rights Watch report, Sudan s human rights record of gross abuses was one factor that denied her a Security Council seat at the UN General Assembly vote last October. Sudan was the Organisation Of African Unity s (OAU) preferred candidate but concerted opposition by USA and Uganda saw the seat go to Madagascar.
Not surprisingly, the bombardment of civilian targets by the government, that marked most of last year, is mentioned more than once in the report. In July, 250 bombs hit civilians and their infrastructure in the attacks, which set a new high according to conservative calculations based on UN relief reports. Among areas targeted for attack were relief, health and school facilities.
Khartoum is further accused of arming tribal militias from the Arab Baggara tribes (the muraheleen of Western Sudan) for use as proxy fighting forces against the Dinka civilians in the Bahr el Ghazal region. Although slave-taking became their trademark, the muraheleen conducted few successful slave raids in 2000 because the SPLA deployed forces in northern Bahr el Ghazal and armed the Dinka boys guarding the cattle camps.
The muraheleen were also used to guard the military train to the southern town of Wau, from which they attacked and plundered the neighbouring villagers.
Like is the case almost everywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, conditions in Sudanese prisons remained shocking. The Omdurman Women s Prison is singled out for mention for chronic overcrowding, lack of sanitation, disease and death from epidemics among children who lived with their mothers. Says the report: The government annually pardoned women, temporarily easing overcrowding before bringing in the next batch of prisoners.
Last year, Khartoum pardoned over 700 women majority of whom were poverty-stricken, illiterate southerners convicted of brewing and selling alcohol for their survival.
As for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the principal armed movement of the south and of all Sudan, the Human Rights Watch Report says, its forces continued to loot food (including relief provisions) from the population, sometimes with civilian casualties, recruit child soldiers, and commit rape.
The SPLA is further accused of failing to act decisively to calm ethnic tension in some parts of their territory. Despite church peacemaking efforts between the Didinga of Chukudum in Eastern Equatoria, and the Bor Dinka who dominated the SPLA garrison in Chukudum, hostilities continued. Sometime after the August 1999 cease-fire, the SPLA assigned commanders of local origin to the garrison, but the local population remained reluctant to return to their homes and fields because of the landmines that the SPLA promised to remove but did not. Even though SPLA leaders promised to stop their troops' looting, the confiscation of relief food from civilians by SPLA soldiers and officers continued.
The SPLA is also blamed for its half-hearted efforts to demobilise underage soldiers in its ranks. One SPLA commander, the report says, remobilised several hundred boys when UNICEF failed to provide promised school books and other supplies for the boys.
On the positive side, the report notes that last July, Khartoum issued visas to some political party leaders, advocates and activists to attend a convention in Kampala, Uganda, on the future of Sudan and human rights in transition.
The non-governmental press, the report notes, exercised more freedom despite arrests of journalists.
New French group to champion Sudan s cause
Touched by the plight and suffering of southern Sudanese, a group of French people in Paris have founded an organisation called "Comité Soudan" whose goals are to spread information and lobby politicians and their respective groups, institutions and the media.
Their idea is to collect direct information on the atrocities and suffering faced by those who have no choice but live in exile and want to testify to the world of their tragedy.
A delegation from the ground intends to come to Nairobi, Kenya, early next month to meet and film Sudanese refugees and record their testimonies. The idea, the group informed Sudan Catholic information Office (SCIO), is to do what US filmmaker
Stephen Spielberg did for the Jews: get as many testimonies as possible so that the world should know what has happened, or is happening, and keep a permanent record of the atrocities of the past and bear witness for the future generations.
Such documentation, the group believes, could come in hand in the event of those responsible for the human rights abuses being called upon to answer for their crimes before the International Court of Justice.
In the meantime, the documentaries by Comité Soudan will be presented and distributed among the various TV channels (and all the media in general) in France and in the West. They will also be broadcast on the "Comité Soudan" website now under construction for the world to see and learn about the situation.
Comité Soudan has an administrative board of about 10-12 people. All of them are in steady employment and their commitment to Sudan is strictly on a voluntary basis. Their meetings take place at weekends and in the evenings. The group chairman is Philippe Geller and he is expected in Nairobi in mid-February.
None of the group members has been to Sudan yet. Their initiative started with a gathering of a few people in Paris who came to learn about the genocide on the Nuba people, which has now been extended with the exploitation of the oilfields in the Bentiu area.
The French group may consider visiting Kakuma Refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, which is a home to about 85, 000 refugees, majority of whom are Sudanese.
In France, like in many parts of Western Europe, few people are aware of the situation of civil war in Sudan. Among those working to create awareness about Sudan in France is Fr. Hubert Barbier who once worked in Sudan. Besides other things, Fr Barbier has created a website on Sudan: www.vigilsd.org.
SUDAN CATHOLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
Bethany House, P. O. Box 21102, Nairobi, Kenya
tel. +254.2.577595 or 577949, fax 577327
For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.577595 - fax +254.2.577327 - e-mail: SCIO@MAF.Org