Evidence of mass graves in and around Kadugli, South Kordofan is now overwhelming; it includes definitive satellite photography of three large sites and reports by numerous independently interviewed civilians from the region (see | http://www.satsentinel.org/press-release/satellite-sentinel-project-documents-new-eyewitness-reports-and-visual-evidence-mass-graves-sudan/). Evidence also comes from interviews conducted in June by human rights investigators of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS); these findings appear in an internal UN human rights report whose findings have previously been suppressed by UN/New York. They were leaked to me and others, originally by someone who was evidently quite unhappy with UN silence about the deeply disturbing contents of this report. Given the immensity of the atrocity crimes revealed in this extensively documented but still officially unreleased report (“UNMIS Report on the Human Rights Situation During the Violence in Southern Kordofan” | http://www.sudantribune.com/UNMIS-report-on-the-human-rights,39570), it is imperative that the UN make clear who knew what, and when.
These terrible incidents and the weak UN response in Kadugli have already been likened, rightly, to the ghastly failure of the UN at Srebrenica, where some 7,000 Bosnian men and boys were rounded up in July 1995 by Serbian army and paramilitary units under the command of (recently captured) Ratko Mladic—and executed while Dutch peacekeepers looked on helplessly. Indeed, two days after Srebrenica was overrun by Mladic’s forces, 4,000 – 5,000 Bosniak Muslims were expelled by the Dutch from their base—as Mladic had demanded (some 15,000 – 20,000 additional Bosniak Muslims had sought safety outside the Dutch base). The events of Srebrenica have occasioned much painful self-reflection by the Dutch over the past decade and a half, and a recent decision (July 5, 2011) by a court in The Netherlands ruled that the Dutch government was responsible for several of the deaths (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14026218/). And notably from the standpoint of international law, Major General Radislav Krstic was convicted of the crime of genocide for his role in the Srebrenica massacre. His conviction by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was upheld by an Appeals Chamber review of “Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic,” Case No. IT-98-33-T. This lengthy and superbly argued Appeals Chamber review is a seminal document in international legal interpretation of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and has particular relevance for the situations in South Kordofan and Darfur (http://www.icty.org/).
Given the extremely strong evidence of genocide in South Kordofan, and the Khartoum regime’s long history of genocidal assaults on marginalized populations in Sudan, the process of assessing awareness of and response to the UNMIS human rights report needs to begin immediately—for the UN, the US and the Europeans, and the African Union.
In particular, we need to know about the credibility of the skepticism expressed by U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman and UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos; we need a clear account of what Ban Ki-moon’s secretariat knew and how it responded to reports that made clear atrocities were being committed in Kadugli and elsewhere in South Kordofan from the very beginning of the conflict that Khartoum instigated on June 5. And we also need to know what was seen by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, particularly its Under-secretary Alain Le Roy. And finally, we need to know what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew when she made her recent remarks about Sudan (http://www.tnr.com/article/world/91861/hillary-clinton-south-sudan-crisis-abyei-kordofan/). We need to know what all these various international actors and parties knew—and when they knew it.
The task is challenging. For example, on June 28, in an interview on the PBS NewsHour, Lyman was asked, “Would you say atrocities are occurring by the North Sudanese forces against civilians there?” Lyman’s evasive and disingenuous answer speaks volumes about his character as a diplomat and the larger U.S. response to events in North Sudan:
“We certainly have reports of that. Because we don’t have a presence there, we haven’t been able to investigate it fully. There are certainly reports of targeted killings. There are some reports from the other side also. What we’ve asked for is a full investigation.”
And to the follow-up question (“By whom [should the investigation be conducted]?”) Lyman responded:
“Well, by the UN would be the best. The UN presence has not been sufficient to get out and stop this or to investigate it.”
Lyman certainly knew when he offered this answer that there would be no UN investigation beyond what was being completed by the human rights personnel attached to UNMIS, which had already been confined to its base and ordered out of South Kordofan by Khartoum the day following the independence of South Sudan on July 9. Saying “the UN presence has not been sufficient to get out and stop this or to investigate it” is merely to state the obvious, not to offer any meaningful reply about how the U.S. will actually respond to the now conspicuous human catastrophe in South Kordofan.
I’ll return to the question of whether an international investigation of allegations of genocide could be conducted, with or without UN sanction; but we must bear in mind that any Security Council resolution authorizing such a thorough and unfettered UN investigation will be vetoed by China, which would regard such a precedent with horror, as well as deeply threatening to its relationship with Khartoum.
But the first question is whether or not Lyman knew what UNMIS human rights personnel knew. Was the special envoy to Sudan, representing the President of the United States, unaware of what was being compiled and then assembled at the very end of June in the 20-page UNMIS report? Was he not concerned enough by these extant “reports” to request U.S. satellite surveillance of the Kadugli area? It was precisely such surveillance by the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP, at http://www.satsentinel.org/) that revealed three large mass gravesites on July 14, graves dug between June 17, when the earth on this spot was untouched, and July 4, when SSP revealed three conspicuous, capacious, and nearly identical plots of significantly turned earth. Dug in the midst of heavy military activity and following a vast number of summary executions, these mass gravesites have only one plausible explanation. Certainly if the Obama administration is skeptical it may investigate further: the U.S. has much greater satellite capacity than is available to SSP and faces no restrictions on degree of resolution (as SSP does by virtue of U.S. law).
Importantly, nearly all the eyewitness accounts in the UNMIS human rights report have been fully corroborated by subsequent accounts: from news organizations (several from the Nuba Mountains), from Nuba sources, from the Satellite Sentinel Project. (I offered an overview and synthesis of this evidence on July 14, at http://www.dissentmagazine.org/atw.php?id=497/). How could Lyman so blithely profess agnosticism about these extremely alarming accounts, especially given Khartoum’s history of genocidal counterinsurgency? SSP reports the presence of irregularly shaped white bags heaped together near the mass gravesites, consistently corresponding to human dimensions. Why hasn’t Lyman requested high-resolution satellite confirmation of what these white bags are? Several eyewitnesses, independently of each other, have confirmed that they are being used for the many corpses that litter Kadugli.
What of the more than 7,000 Nuba people who were forcibly removed from UN protective custody at US headquarters in Kadugli on June 20, and who remain unaccounted for? [Note added October 13, 2017: these people were never accounted for and we must assume they were among the many thousands massacred in Kadugli in June 2011]. The UNMIS report confirms what an earlier UNMIS internal situation report (sit rep) had detailed of actions by Khartoum’s Military Intelligence and security services: impersonating Red Crescent personnel, these brutal men compelled the removal of Nuba civilians from the UN protective perimeter (this was reported by Associated Press on June 23, 2011).
[Emphases in quoted text and notes from October 13, 2017 are all in blue italics—ER]
The UNMIS human rights report declares that its authors had “verifie[d] [the allegation of forcible removal] through multiple interviews of IDPs within the UNMIS Protective Perimeter” (53). We presently have no knowledge whatsoever of the location of these people. The UNMIS human rights report declares that by 5pm on June 20, “approximately 75 percent of the 11,000 IDPs in the vicinity of the Protective Perimeter had vacated the areas… At the time of this report, there are no IDPs in the UNMIS Protective Perimeter…” (54). Why aren’t these UN reports sufficient to compel Lyman to ask for U.S. satellite surveillance? Can there be any reasonable doubt about the accuracy of either UN account? Is Lyman not worried that there are potentially thousands of Nuba in the large mass graves identified by SSP?
Perhaps Lyman has a plausible alternative explanation for why, between June 17 and July 4, 2011—during heavy military operations—Khartoum’s forces would be moving earth at three side-by-side and parallel sites, of nearly identical dimensions (five meters by twenty-five meters), and of a size large enough to hold many thousands of bodies, depending on the depth of the excavation. But in the absence of such an explanation, and in light of an apparent unwillingness to request U.S. satellite confirmation of what is occurring at this site, he and other Obama administration officials appear inert before the strongest evidence to date of massive ethnically targeted human destruction.
The same questions must be asked of Valerie Amos, head of UN humanitarian operations. On July 15 Amos declared in a prepared statement: “We do not know whether there is any truth to the grave allegations of extra-judicial killings, mass graves and other grave violations in South Kordofan” (http://reliefweb.int/node/426208/).
“We do not know whether there is any truth to the grave allegations…”? This is preposterous skepticism, and betrays a highly defensive attitude in the face of evidence that makes all too clear that Amos has not made any serious effort to come to terms with the evidence of mass graves and the various atrocity crimes reported by the UN itself. For the UN human rights report, again focusing on the early days of military action when UNMIS still had some mobility, is a savage indictment—one that Amos certainly would not want to acknowledge having known of while saying nothing. Certainly the introduction to the report is quite unambiguous about what the UN had witnessed in the several weeks prior to the compiling of the report:
Monitoring has also revealed that the Sudan Armed Forces, paramilitary forces and Government security apparatus have engaged in violent and unlawful acts against UNMIS, in violation of International Conventions and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) including: verified incidents of shelling in close proximity to UN property, resulting in damage; summary execution of a UN national staff member; assaults on physical integrity of UN staff; arbitrary arrest and detention of UN Staff and associated human rights violations including ill treatment amounting to torture; harassment, intimidation, and obstruction of freedom of movement; and intrusion on UN premises including the UNMIS Protective Perimeter established to protect civilians internally displaced as a result of the conflict. The international community must hold the Government of Sudan accountable for this conduct and insist that those responsible be arrested and brought to justice.
The ethnic targeting of Nuba is made explicit in the UNMIS human rights report as well:
Interviews with witnesses and victims reveal that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and security forces have a list of Nubans wanted for being sympathetic to the SPLM/A, which supports the allegation that people in Southern Kordofan were targeted based on ethnicity. Witnesses also mentioned that persons of Nuban descent and “other dark skinned people” were being targeted by SAF and Arab militias. (49)
And those contemplating a possible future UN presence in South Kordofan, including a human rights investigating team, should bear in mind just how UNMIS was treated:
Throughout the conflict in Southern Kordofan, the SAF, Popular Defence Forces, and the Central Reserve Police Forces have treated UNMIS with gross contempt