More than sixty genocide scholars are calling on the Obama Administration to airlift aid to thousands of Sudanese facing starvation in the embattled Nuba Mountains. The experts believe the Sudanese regime is deliberately targeting the minority Nuba people, and they warn that as many as 300,000 internal refugees face imminent starvation.
In their letter to President Obama and other U.S. officials, the scholars cite multiple reports from reputable human rights groups, journalists and U.N. agencies, describing the killing of civilians by Sudanese armed forces. They warn that the regime's racist ideology is driving it to annihilate ethnic groups it suspects of supporting rebel militia, regardless of the civilians' true affiliations.
Satellite imagery has revealed mass graves, razed communities, and the indiscriminate low altitude aerial bombardment of civilian areas in South Kordofan state. Reliable eyewitnesses continue to report systematic government shelling and bombing of refugee evacuation routes, with helicopter gunships hunting civilians as they flee their homes and farmland to hide in caves, and a deliberate and widespread blockage of humanitarian aid into South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Anecdotal evidence of perpetrators screaming racist slurs as civilians are killed and raped are familiar to anyone who knows what has been happening in Darfur since 2003.
Almost 200,000 people from South Kordofan and Blue Nile states have fled across the border into South Sudan to escape the violence which began 15 months ago. Humanitarian agencies warn they face starvation and disease in squalid and overcrowded camps, cut off by seasonal rains.
However, hundreds of thousands remain trapped in Sudan, sheltering in caves and living on grass and insects. The Sudanese government, based in Khartoum, refuses to allow aid groups access to those at risk. An African Union-brokered deal, signed at the beginning of August, may eventually allow the delivery of aid, but observers fear Khartoum will place conditions on access, determining where food goes. Naturally, the regime denies there is any humanitarian emergency in the region.
In their letter the scholars point out that the Sudanese government, led by indicted war criminal Omar Bashir, used the same tactics against the ethnic minority Nuba people in the 1990s. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Sudan and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in its southern states led to South Sudan's independence in 2011. However, Khartoum has violated the terms of the deal by refusing to allow the people in the contested Sudanese border states of Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Abyei to have a say in their future. Many in the region identify more with ethnic groups in South Sudan. Consequently, rebels in the SPLM-North have gained ground in the area, long marginalized both economically and politically by Khartoum.
The genocide scholars fear the Sudanese regime will continue to block or interfere with humanitarian access because it believes food aid will bolster the rebels. They call on the U.S. to act under the power given to it as one of the three guarantors of the CPA.
"We strongly urge you to act now to stave off the starvation of an entire people," the scholars said in an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and Advisor to the President and Director of the Atrocities Prevention Board Samantha Power.
"As world leaders you have the moral authority granted by the U.N.'s unanimous 2005 declaration of the Responsibility to Protect to demand delivery of aid to those inside Sudan," the letter continues.
The scholars go on to warn that Khartoum will continue to kill its own people, "if once again the United States declines to use the economic and diplomatic leverage to enforce the delivery of aid into South Kordofan and Blue Nile states under internationally acceptable terms."
While human rights groups and aid agencies have been pressing the Obama administration to act for more than a year, this is the first time experts from ten countries have called on the U.S. president to intervene.
But will he? If it chose to, the U.S. could apply 'soft power' pressure to the regime in the form of targeted economic sanctions against the architects of the Darfur genocide, measures already approved by the U.N. Security Council but never implemented. The White House could also offer incentives in the form of access to much needed financial support from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The U.S. could also remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terror, in exchange for the cessation of violence against ethnic minorities in Darfur and the contested border areas.
However, the White House has consistently underestimated its potential leverage, fearing President Bashir will jeopardize fledgling South Sudan's independence to an even greater extent. Obama is also under pressure from U.S. security and intelligence agencies to appease Khartoum in the unlikely event that Sudan's avowedly Islamist leaders will pass on information about its ideological bedfellows in al Qaeda. Given that Bashir counts Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah as his closest friends, it is doubtful he would hand any useful intelligence to Washington. Yet, hope continues to triumph over experience and common sense. And the civilians hiding in caves in the Nuba Mountains continue to pay the price.