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Only after the U.S. Danforth Sudan peace initiative began in September 2001 did the U.S. tackle this problem at higher levels. Even then, aid only started to flow to the Nuba Mountains, previously under total blockade by the government for more than a decade, after tough negotiations. The Danforth team, lead by a top official in U.S. AID, Roger Winter, exerted considerable effort to win humanitarian access for Nuba, the Blue Nile, and southern Sudan. 977 Even then, the plight of those in Western Upper Nile was never resolved despite the access agreement and ceasefire of October 2002.
Before the food supply situation for Western Upper Nile improved, however, it worsened. One humanitarian worker noted another problem: funding. The U.N. Consolidated Inter-Agency Request for Sudan for 2000 was so undersubscribed by the (mostly governmental) international donors that there were serious shortages of food compared to assessed need. As a result many needy did not receive any assistance. By 2002, human suffering at government and rebel hands had increased.
Following its targeted bombing of a relief site at Bieh, Western Upper Nile/Unity State, killing twentyfour on and after February 20, 2002, the Sudanese government on March 1 perversely raised the number of areas to which relief agency access was banned: it increased the number of off-limits locations from twenty six to forty five. It blocked access to the hardest-hit areas in the Western Upper Nile/Unity State oilfields for another four months, then permitted only a short window of assessment from June 21-26, 2002.978 977 Roger Winter had been executive director of the nongovernmental organization U.S. Committee for Refugees for many years before accepting this position in government. In his NGO capacity, he had visited southern Sudan and other African countries many times, and was known to be an advocate for the Sudanese, particularly those most affected by the war, the southerners. He had considerable credibility with key Congressmen. He brought high-level focus on Sudan to U.S. AID, but he was not the only AID executive concerned about Sudan.
978 OLS Emergency Preparedness and Response (EP&R) Humanitarian Services Co-ordination Unit, “Report on the findings of the assessment missions to WUN [Western Upper Nile] during five day window 21st-26th June 2002,” Lokichokkio, Kenya, July 2002.
An OLS assessment team’s look at the condition of the civilian population confirmed that it was bad in Western Upper Nile/Unity State, and it was getting worse due to the conflict and flight bans.
Estimates of the numbers affected by the fighting and insecurity range between 150,000 – 300,000. However, lack of access has made it all but impossible to verify the numbers.
... [Western Upper Nile/Unity State] has suffered constant insecurity and the people have suffered multiple displacements in the last few years, with each displacement leading to a progressive loss of assets and the breakdown of normal coping mechanisms as families are separated. The 2002 Annual Needs Assessment (ANA), undertaken during September-November 2001, indicated that up to 50% of the population in Leech State and up to 100% in Ruweng County would face food deficits during the coming year. Denial of access has compounded this problem.979 In Ruweng County, the assessment team found that “more than 1 in 4 children [were] malnourished.
Children were visibly wasted.” One hundred percent of the population was in need of food and nonfood relief.980 It would be hard to image a bleaker report.
Rebel Manipulation of Relief International relief is a political asset in poverty-stricken and war-wasted southern Sudan. Commanders, SRRA, and RASS like to claim that their rebel group is responsible for bringing material assistance to the people (from the international community), hoping to garner popular support and coincidentally to provide more goods subject to rebel “taxation” or outright diversion.
980 Ibid. The report concluded that “lack of access to drinking water is acute in most locations. Coupled with poor hygiene, loss of assets (animals, shelter and other household items) and limited health facilities, this constitutes ideal conditions for a rapid increase in communicable diseases.”
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That they are accountable only for “their” controlled territory may be somewhat logical from an administrative and military point of view, but in 2000, with the Nuer community split three or more ways militarily and politically, many Nuer groups were left with no “counterpart” relief agency to speak for their needs. RASS did not cover Nuer areas not under Riek Machar’s control. Even then, Nuer in SPLM/A (SPDF and RASS) areas were not adequately served by the SRRA for a variety of reasons. This situation was not greatly changed by the humanitarian access agreement of October 2002. Ceasefire violations by various parties in government militia areas of Western and Eastern Upper Nile resulted in government access denials for “security” reasons, and the groups allied with the government were ineffective at reversing the situation. 981
In early 2000, however, RASS—the Riek Machar relief arm — began to serve an additional purpose:
creating the appearance of Riek Machar’s military control of large areas of Nuerland after his resignation from the government in January 2000. Often RASS was the only operation on the ground that had a radio (for coordination of relief) and could communicate, leaving those without such equipment unable to assert their existence to the outside world.
For relief officials, the acid test for determining which rebel faction controlled any location in southern Sudan became not what RASS and the SPDF claimed. It was whether the RASS coordinator would travel from the U.N. base camp at Lokichokkio in Kenya to the SPDF/Riek Machar location in southern Sudan. Relief protocol required a “local counterpart,” such as SRRA or RASS, to accompany every flight in order to pave the way on the ground. But RASS personnel did not dare land in non-Riek Machar 981 Their requests to OLS (Southern Sector), in addition, met with reluctance because of the long history of these militias taking relief workers hostage. The northern sector was not as experienced at relief delivery in the south as was the southern sector and, in addition, local commanders complained that the northern sector OLS relief was delivered by Muslim proselytizing nongovernmental organizations. As a result the affected populations fell into a relief “black hole.” SSDF commander/relief liaison and OLS officials, Human Rights Watch interviews, Nairobi, May and June 2003.
territory, for fear of their lives. As one U.N. official observed, “You don’t know if Riek Machar really controls the area until the RASS coordinator shows up on the airstrip ready to go.”982 Using the relief structure for military-political purposes, however, tended to slow down and mislead relief officials about the needs on the ground and access. It gave the government more reason to want to kill the entire program.
The SPLM/A also tried to control international relief for its own benefit in ways that hurt civilians. In 1998, the SPLM/A had tried after the Bahr El Ghazal famine to impose more controls on international relief agencies through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to be signed by the SRRA and individual NGOs.983 Negotiations dragged on for a year. Failure to agree on terms led to an SPLM/Aimposed deadline of March 1, 2000 for international NGOs to either sign the MOU or pull out of SPLM/A-controlled areas, where the majority of international aid activity in the south was located.
Eleven of the forty NGOs initially rejected the proposed agreement because they believed it could compromise their neutrality and/or the safety of their staff.984 Although the U.S. administration 982 Local commanders frequently arrested Sudanese (even those with or employed by NGOs or the U.N.) traveling to territory that was not “theirs.” This produced many disputes between those commanders and expatriate staff who often refused to leave the location unless the Sudanese traveling with them were released and could leave with them. The expatriates reasonably feared that the local commander might kill or torture their Sudanese “counterpart.” This had a tendency to create and string out a number of hostage situations.
983 This was also an attempt to assert more rebel “governmental” powers vis-a-vis international NGOs (INGOs). The INGOs were in the position in 1999 of being the only foreign presence in the war-torn region and possessing the only visible assets--vehicles, communications equipment, etc., often better equipment than the rebels. The SRRA designed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for these agencies to sign, among other things to tax and permit more SRRA control over INGO assets and operations. One conclusion that can be drawn from reading the MOU is that the relief “industry” is the biggest and only going economic concern in the south. See Volker Riehl, “Who is ruling in South Sudan? The role of NGOs in rebuilding socio-political order,” in Studies on Emergencies and Disaster Relief, Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, Uppsala, Sweden, no. 9, 2001.
984 “Ultimatum for Aid Agencies Working in Southern Sudan,” AFP, Nairobi, January 20, 2000; Anthony Morland, “CARE, Other NGOs, Withdraw from South Sudan,” AFP, Nairobi, February 24, 2000; “Sudan Rebels Reject Talks with Expelled NGOs,” Reuters, Nairobi, February 29, 2000; Oxfam press release, “Humanitarian Agencies Call on SRRA to Reopen Negotiations,” Nairobi, March 1, 2000; see Human Rights Watch press release, “Sudan Rebels Leaving Civilians in the Lurch,” New York, March 7, 2000.
intervened and sought an extension of the SPLM/A MOU deadline from March 1 until the distribution of seeds for the May 2000 planting season, the SPLM/A refused.985 In response to the SPLM/A ultimatum, several international NGOs pulled their staff and operations out of the SPLM/A areas.986 When several NGOs returned and signed the MOU in the course of the year, the SPLM/A touted this, but the status quo was not restored. Several agencies with large programs did not return to their prior activities but began to investigate the possibility of working in non-SPLM/A areas of the south—and in many other countries facing humanitarian crises.987 One NGO that pulled out due to the MOU dispute left behind 450 bags of seeds and other relief items in a warehouse in Thiet, Tonj County, under the SRRA’s custody for distribution to the Nuer displaced from the oilfields and others. Shortly thereafter it was discovered that the warehouse was completely empty. An investigation established that a local SPLA commander looted the warehouse of its entire contents—food and nonfood relief items valued at U.S. $ 500,000—one week after the NGO pulled out.988 In August 2000, U.S. AID, the donor of most of the relief, sent a letter to the SRRA asking it to account for these goods. An SPLA representative told a journalist that the food had been distributed under “community pressure” to the intended beneficiaries,989 but records were not kept and proof was 985 U.S. officials up to and including Secretary of State Dr. Madeleine Albright called Colonel Garang to ask him to extend the deadline, as did President Moi of Kenya. Colonel Garang refused them all. Meeting between U.S. officials and NGOs, Washington, D.C., March 2000.
986 The SPLM/A did not control the whole south or even the whole rural south. The Riek Machar SPDF controlled some parts of Upper Nile and government militias existed in enclaves around many garrison towns and among ethnic groups alienated from the SPLM/A by its abuses.
987 One INGO resigned from OLS in protest of the fact that OLS should have coordinated and negotiated access across the board for the NGOs with the SPLM/A. Anonymous agency document, August 2000.
988 The fact-finding mission included U.N., NGO, and SRRA officials.
989 Mindy Belz, “Understanding MOUs,” World, vol. 15, no. 49, December 16, 2000.
not forthcoming. Many Nuer displaced in the area, among other intended beneficiaries, received nothing.990 The SRRA eventually agreed to provide compensation in kind to the donors.991 Rebel attacks on relief vehicles occurred from time to time, causing disruption in relief. For instance, in January 2000, a CARE truck was captured in broad daylight on the deserted road from Bentiu to Mayom; the SPLA as part of its siege of Mayom had warned people off the road. Two CARE employees were killed and two were captured by the SPLA, then released by Cmdr. Peter Gatdet in March.992 CARE pulled its staff out of Bentiu.
Shelling towns also frightened civilians and caused disruptions in relief distribution. In March 2000, Cmdr. Peter Gatdet’s shelling of Rubkona and Bentiu garrison towns became serious enough to require 990 They received no distribution for the months February through May 2000. WFP, “Sudan Monthly Overview—May 2000,” Rome, May 31, 2000, says: “these populations [referring to an estimated 20,000 internally displaced persons in Tonj county fleeing insecurity in Ler] have received no humanitarian assistance since [the NGO] terminated their activities in the county in February.” 991 In 2001 the SPLM/A came to an agreement to deliver more than 300 metric tons of sorghum and maize to the relief authorities as compensation. Relief official, email to Human Rights Watch, February 26, 2001 (anonymity requested).