Sudan

Food aid to Sudanese rebels opposed

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News and Press Release
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Posted
Originally published
(New York, December 13, 1999) Human Rights Watch today released a letter
to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urging that the U.S.
administration not supply food aid to the Sudan People's Liberation
Movement/Army. A bill has been introduced before the U.S. Congress that
would permit such food aid.

"Food aid is inappropriate for human rights reasons," Jemera Rone, Sudan
researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. "The SPLA has admitted diverting
relief food intended for famine victims during the 1998 famine in
southern Sudan. Giving them food aid would reward for that abusive
behavior."

A copy of the letter is attached.

December 10, 1999

Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State
Department of State
Room 6333
Washington, D.C. 20520

Fax: 202-647-1533

Dear Dr. Albright,

Human Rights Watch has been monitoring and condemning human rights
abuses in Sudan committed by both government and rebel forces for many
years. We were concerned to learn that the Administration is
contemplating providing food aid to Sudan's armed opposition. We oppose
this proposal on human rights grounds and ask that you use your
influence to ensure that the Administration refuses to implement the
permissive legislation.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is the umbrella group for almost
all rebel forces in Sudan. By far the largest army in the NDA is the
Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The SPLA controls vast
areas of southern Sudan and parts of the Nuba Mountains and the east.
The SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights and has not made
any effort to establish accountability. Its abuses today remain
serious. This record makes any form of U.S. support=97food or
otherwise=97wholly inappropriate and wholly out of step with the values
that you have tried to inject into U.S. foreign policy.

Illustrative of the SPLA's human rights record was its summary execution
of three captured Sudan government employees and one Red Crescent
tracing officer in March 1999=97an act which the U.S. government
rightfully condemned. The SPLA refused all requests to turn over the
bodies. It falsely claimed that the four were killed in crossfire during
an abortive government attempt at rescue. It flatly rejected
international protests, including one from the U.N. Commission on Human
Rights. It never conducted a review of the incident or accounted for
its crime. Instead, its representatives excoriated anyone who mentioned
the incident.

Similarly in Chukudum, SPLA abuses=97including summary executions,
arbitrary arrests, and the theft of food=97have been so widespread and
persistent that they have alienated the formerly loyal local Didinga
population. In January 1999 the situation came to a head, with the
locals literally up in arms against the occupation of their territory by
the Bor Dinka, who make up the majority of the SPLA troops and officers
in Chukudum and whose families reside in nearby camps for the internally
displaced. There has been intermittent fighting, with civilian
casualties, ever since. Some of the civilian casualties have been from
antipersonnel land mines which the SPLA has liberally used in the area.
Several peace missions have come to Chukudum and made recommendations
for the SPLA to rein in its abusive troops=97to no avail.

The SPLA has even undercut the prospect of the local justice system
addressing such abuses. One example is the case of SPLA Maj. Marial
Nuor, who was investigated by the SPLA after he detained elderly foreign
nuns and a priest for two weeks in 1996, causing an international
uproar. Maj. Nuor, in charge of SPLA recruitment in Yirol, also in 1996
killed two soldiers and three recruits, and tortured an old man to
death. He was convicted by an SPLA court martial (but only for mutiny
when he evaded arrest), imprisoned briefly, and then placed under "open
arrest."At the request of the old man's family, Maj. Nuor was sent back
to Yirol in 1999 and tried in a civilian court. He was convicted and
sentenced to five years in jail and fines. Several months later,
however, the SPLA ordered him to conduct more recruitment in Yirol.
After he threatened his fellow officers, bragging of his untouchability,
he was transferred from Yirol. To our knowledge he suffered no other
punishment.

This pattern makes the provision of any aid to the SPLA wrong, because
it would support an abusive force and make the United States complicit
in those abuses. Moreover, what makes supplying food aid to the SPLA
particularly inappropriate is the group's routine diversion of relief
food away from starving civilians. The SPLA diverted relief food even
during the 1998 famine in Bahr El Ghazal=97indeed, even from its own
civilian supporters. Some of this was done by individual soldiers and
officers and local officials for their private profit, but the SPLA did
not punish this behavior. At a meeting in May 1999 with U.N. officials
and others in Mapel, Bahr El Ghazal, in southern Sudan, SPLA officers
admitted that both SPLA and rogue commanders had diverted relief food
during the 1998 famine. To provide food aid under these circumstances
is to reward this unacceptable and deadly behavior.

Some argue that the SPLA would stop diverting relief food if it were to
receive food from the international community. Past practice suggests
that this is a naïve belief because it discounts the private-profit
motive that lies behind much of this diversion and the SPLA's
unwillingness to rein in such ventures. Moreover, providing food aid to
a rebel force as a way of stopping its unremedied diversion of food aid
to starving civilians would set a terrible precedent. It would
encourage rebel groups throughout Africa and around the world to
duplicate the SPLA's inhumane practices, knowing that the reward might
be free U.S.-supplied food.

We understand that a large impetus for wanting to aid the SPLA is the
Sudanese government's own abysmal human rights record. Human Rights
Watch has documented that record extensively. For example, our March
1999 book-length report on Sudan highlighted such abuses as the
government's banning of relief flights to famine-stricken areas for two
months, which was a significant cause of the devastating 1998 famine in
Bahr El Ghazal. The government is now banning relief flights in Western
Upper Nile, another area made vulnerable by government military efforts
to dislodge southern civilians from oil-rich areas where they happen to
live. But these abuses could justify aid to the government's
adversaries only if they themselves were respectful of human rights. As
we have noted, the SPLA is anything but a human rights-respecting force.

Finally, we note with regret that similarly misguided policy has
recently prevented the United States from playing the lead role in
international fora in condemning Sudan's horrible human rights record.
The misguided U.S. bombing of al Shifa factory in Khartoum in August
1998 severely hampered the U.S. government's ability to lead its allies
on Sudan issues. That is because the Sudanese government seized the
opportunity to portray itself as a victim, conveniently forgetting how
many times its own planes have bombed southern relief locations,
hospitals, and civilian villages. The result of this relative U.S.
absence on the diplomatic front were weak, consensual resolutions on
human rights in Sudan, negotiated by the European Union with the
Sudanese government, in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and at the
U.N. General Assembly. That the Sudanese representative thanked the U.N.
Commission for this resolution gives a good sense of how inadequate it
was in portraying the state of human rights in Sudan. A decision by the
U.S. government to take the side of the SPLA by materially aiding the
forced is likely to backfire in similar ways, producing a result that no
one in the U.S. Congress or the Administration wants. Regardless of how
the decision is explained, it will be seen as compromising the United
States as a voice on human rights in Sudan by formally aligning it with
the abusive practices of the SPLA. This will further impede efforts to
condemn the Sudan government's human rights record in international
fora.

For all of these reasons, we urge you to use your considerable influence
to ensure that the United States refrains from materially assisting the
rebel forces in Sudan.

Human Rights Watch
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