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«Human Rights Watch Brussels London New York Washington, D.C. Copyright © 2003 by Human Rights Watch. All rights reserved. Printed in the United ...»

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Relief Politics and Abuses in the South Relief in Sudan is a complex, decade-old “emergency” operation. Most relief agencies, U.N. and nongovernmental, operate under the U.N. umbrella group Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS).931 This unique cross-border operation was created after the Bahr El Ghazal famine of 1988 and was designed to serve rebel-held areas from Kenya. Western Upper Nile/Unity State is divided for relief purposes between two sections of OLS; this is common throughout the south. The northern sector, based in Khartoum, provides for government-controlled areas, including garrison towns such as Bentiu, Mayom, Pariang, and other locations in Blocks 1, 2, 4, and 5A. The southern sector, based in Nairobi and operating from Lokichokkio, Kenya, where the huge U.N. “emergency” operation has been located for more than a decade, covers the areas that were in rebel or former rebel control,932 including the territory in Block 5A,933 with some exceptions.934 931 There are nongovernmental relief agencies operating outside the OLS umbrella. No agency, inside or outside of OLS, could play a consistent role in Western Upper Nile/Unity State from 1998 to date due to fighting.

932 The southern sector of OLS initially served only areas controlled by rebels in southern Sudan. After Riek Machar signed the Political Charter with the government in 1996, relief to “his” areas in the south continued to be administered as before, through the southern sector of OLS.

Some relief personnel believed that, since Riek Machar had signed a peace agreement with the government of Sudan, he should look to the northern sector based in Khartoum rather than to the southern sector for the relief needs of his areas. Other relief officials argued that the OLS office in Khartoum would not provide even a fraction of the meager assistance these southerners were receiving through the southern sector because of well-known government interference, and therefore the communities concerned were better off with assistance via the southern sector. Their view was that their humanitarian obligations to the needy individuals overrode the political affiliation of whatever authority controlled an area, even if the authority was in alliance with the government.

324Human Rights Consequences of Oil Development

In most rebel-held areas either the SPLM/A or Riek Machar’s forces have functioned as the de facto government. Their respective relief arms—Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA) for the SPLM/A and Relief Association for Southern Sudan (RASS) for Riek Machar—were recognized as “counterpart” agencies representing “local authorities” and received their funding from the OLS.935 Their duties include assisting in needs assessments and the distribution of food.936 SRRA and RASS staff, almost all rebel officers, do not depend on local financing, but owe their jobs to the rebel leaders who appoint them, negating community accountability.937 After the reunification of the Riek Machar group with the SPLM/A in January 2002, the two relief agencies were merged and renamed the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SRRC) in 2003.

Government Flight Bans and Bombings of Relief Locations in Western Upper Nile

The relief association created by Riek Machar in 1991, the Relief Association of South Sudan (RASS), kept its name, and the same persons continued as its administrators until the merger of Riek Machar’s forces (by then the SPDF) with the SPLM/A in 2002, after which the two rebel-controlled relief organizations were merged and renamed.

933 During most of the period covered by this report, WFP was the only OLS agency operating from Lokichokkio that had access to the rebel area north of Bentiu in Ruweng County, whose garrison towns (Pariang) were served by CARE from Khartoum and Bentiu with WFP food.

934 Some areas of Upper Nile that had been in the SPLA before the 1991 split, whose commanders did not follow Riek Machar back into the SPLA in 2002, received spotty service from the southern sector OLS because of the high rate of hostage-taking of relief workers by some commanders. OLS northern sector did not completely cover the neglected areas.

935 OLS recognized another rebel relief arm covering the Shilluk area, the Fashoda Relief and Rehabilitation Organization (FRAA) of the Shilluk leader Lam Akol. Shortly thereafter, Akol signed the Khartoum Peace Agreement with the government. OLS has been reluctant to recognize any other rebel relief arm (called “local counterparts”) since then.

936 For this period, see UNICEF/OLS—Southern Sector, “Basic Cooperation Agreement between UNICEF/OLS and SPLA/SRRA,” Nairobi, April 16, 1999; UNICEF/OLS—Southern Sector, “Basic Cooperation Agreement between UNICEF/OLS and SSIM/RASS,” Nairobi, March 1999. Pursuant to these contracts, the SRRA received U.S. $ 1,783,494 and RASS received U.S. $ 949,754, each to be allocated by UNICEF and subject to the availability of donor funding. These funds were for offices and staff salaries.

937 Former commanders and combatants made up most of the SRRA and RASS staff. In turn they suggested local hires, often demobilized rebels, to NGOs, for positions as drivers and other local employees needed to carry out relief work.

325Human Rights Watch

The Sudanese government has routinely aggravated the suffering of those displaced by the civil war by imposing flight bans on agencies wishing to bring relief supplies into the south, or bombing airstrips where relief supplies are landed: a ban on most access to Western Upper Nile/Unity State was in effect for more than two years until the parties agreed on October 26, 2002 to full humanitarian access everywhere, in the context of the peace talks.938 These access bans not only barred efforts to help civilians recover from attacks on them and their property. They also make it difficult for international relief staff to observe the extent of destruction and displacement caused by the fighting, which produced the needy persons it is their mandate to care for.

International relief staff reporting on population needs and movements are routinely suspected as “spies” by the Sudanese government, but their assessments are a necessity of their work, and the human rights side benefits are unintended and coincidental. Nevertheless, the Sudanese government has banned relief workers on countless occasions, in order to make it difficult for anything to be known of its brutal actions against civilians.

The government also commandeered or used other relief supplies to attract the displaced to areas where they could be controlled by government forces. Such practices are described as “using food as a weapon”: food given out by government authorities would attract civilians from rebel rural areas into the government garrison towns in the face of international failure to reach the rural areas. All parties to the conflict long ago realized that relief food is a magnet for starving civilians.939 In 1999, for example, during its offensive in Block 1 (see above, “Government Campaign of Forcible Displacement from Block 1, February-July 1999”), the government sought to push people from rural (SPLA) areas and also to pull them in to Pariang, the garrison town. In May 1999, government security forces in Pariang commandeered a consignment of twenty-three metric tons of cereals and pulses belonging to the WFP, and in late June they distributed sixteen metric tons of this to internally displaced 938 As of the writing of this report, it is too early to say whether the agreement is being honored.

939 Human Rights Watch, Famine in Sudan, p. 89.

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persons in this garrison town, without notice to or authorization from the WFP. The WFP protested to the Khartoum government, but the government response was not reported; nor were the missing seven metric tons of food accounted for in later WFP reports.940 At the same time, a flight ban prevented deliveries to the rural areas..941 One of the easiest ways to push civilians out has been by bombing relief delivery locations and airstrips (usually found in close proximity to each other). In early July 1999, the Sudanese army used helicopter gunships to bomb the rebel-held areas around several relief airstrips in Block 1. Local people told a visiting OLS security officer that helicopter gunships had attacked them on July 4 and 5 at Gumriak, Tagil, and a new relief airstrip at Biem, leaving two killed and three injured in Gumriak, and three killed in Tagil.942 This fighting caused Biem, Tagil, Gumriak, and Padit airstrips to be declared “no-go” or unsafe areas by OLS southern sector on July 4.943 These dirt airstrips, built by the local population in order to receive relief deliveries, are only for relief aid purposes. The relief airstrips are not legitimate military targets in and of themselves as the SPLA does not have an airforce or planes.

On July 14, 1999, the government announced a ban on relief flights to most of Western Upper Nile/Unity State, with immediate effect and until further notice.944 This came on the heels of the July 3 surprise attack by SSDF/Tito Biel rebel forces on the government position at Ler and a rebel rollback of 940 U.N. OLS (Northern Sector), “Weekly Report: June 30, 1999,” Khartoum, June 30, 1999.

941 WFP press release, “Government Ban Threatens Food-Deprived Area,” July 14, 1999.

942 U.N. OLS (Southern Sector), “Weekly Report: 5 July-11 July, 1999,” Nairobi, July 11, 1999. The tactic of attacking relief airstrips immediately after supplies had been delivered was used by both Riek Machar’s forces in the Hunger Triangle in 1993 and by Kerubino’s forces near Gogrial in the late 1990s. Both had U.N. radios with which to monitor deliveries and time attacks. D.H.

Johnson, email, April 30, 2001.

943 WFP, “Sudan Bulletin No. 94: July 4-10, 1999,” Rome, July 26, 1999.

944 See WFP press release, “WFP fears worsening humanitarian crisis for thousands of Sudanese as flight ban compounds access problems,” Nairobi, July 27, 1999.

327Human Rights Watch

government forces all the way north to the Bahr El Ghazal (Nam) River. The flight ban was announced as the government commenced its bombing of rebel forces and the subsequent rebel rout, accompanied by more army/militia attacks on civilians as it pursued the rebels south. As the government was generating this new wave of displacement in the oilfields, OLS had “virtually no access to Western Upper Nile.”945 The government flight ban even included Nyal and Ganyliel, areas with no fighting to which the internally displaced were fleeing in the thousands.946 Off and on for a few months in 1999, Cmdr. Tito Biel had his field headquarters in Nyal, and that was probably what lead Khartoum to ban access. This was a military rather than a humanitarian consideration, despite the thousands of newly displaced and needy persons in Nyal who greatly outnumbered any possible troops. Khartoum also denied relief access to Ler, Boaw, and Duar, in those cases perhaps a sign that the government did not control those towns.947 This blocked not only the assessment of new needs and assistance to what appeared later to be thousands of displaced from the oilfields. On-going non-emergency programs were also halted. A planned immunization of 50,000 children had to be called off.948 The locations where there was an actual security risk because of ongoing fighting were not at issue. The U.N. put them off limits temporarily. Locations where there was conflict, including Nimne, Nhialdiu, Koch, and Wicok, were put off limits by OLS (Southern Sector) security personnel which labeled them “Red-No-Go” until the security personnel could land and verify that it was safe for relief workers to 945 U.N. OLS (Southern Sector), “Weekly Report: July 12-18, 1999,” Nairobi, July 22, 1999.

946 The sudd, the Nile, rains, and seasonal flooding were considered to impose natural barriers to any land invasion of those two areas. They were also far from any Sudanese government or militia ally location and therefore safe from their land attack. Those were among the reasons that the displaced sought refuge there.

947 U.N. OLS (Southern Sector), “Weekly Report: July 12-18, 1999.” 948 “Conflict Prevents Vaccination of 50,000 Sudanese Children,” AFP, Nairobi, July 20, 1999; U.N. OLS (Southern Sector), “Weekly Report: July 5-11, 1999.”

328Human Rights Consequences of Oil Development

return, usually only a day or two period of time..949 Bentiu and Rubkona, and the Nile River along the Adok corridor, were declared OLSA no-go areas also from time to time, depending on the actual security situation.950 But the Sudanese government-imposed bans went far beyond the OLS no-go areas and beyond areas of active combat, and extended long after fighting was over.

The U.N. quietly protested the extensive July 14, 1999 flight ban on Western Upper Nile/Unity State to the Sudanese government but received no response. On July 27, the WFP issued a public warning that some 150,000 people in Western Upper Nile/Unity State were in need of relief but could not be reached, and that unless the government lifted its flight ban on the area soon, “we could be heading toward a humanitarian catastrophe.... We’re looking at a lethal mix of a weakened population which cannot be reached and are starting to flee their homes.”951 In addition, some banned areas, including Nyal and Ler, had reported cholera outbreaks, leaving the emergency medical teams and relief authorities extremely concerned that epidemics might spread out of control.952 In mid-August, all locations in Western Upper Nile/Unity State except for Nyal remained no-go areas for relief deliveries for security reasons.953 Then the security situation in Bentiu town improved and WFP staff returned.954 They completed food distributions during the week of August 25, 1999, to some 7,000 949 WFP, “Sudan Bulletin No. 96: July 18-24, 1999,” Nairobi, July 29, 1999. Because it did not control territory in Western Upper Nile/Unity State until mid-2000, the SPLM/A was not in a position to grant or deny access to this area. Nor did RASS, the Riek Machar relief wing, exercise its right to ban access to this area of Western Upper Nile/Unity State.

950 U.N. OLS (Northern Sector), “Weekly Report: July 14, 1999.” 951 “Flight ban,” AFP, Nairobi, July 27, 1999; WFP press release, “WFP fears worsening humanitarian crisis...,” July 27, 1999.

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