Syria and Sudan: Our Selective Moral Outrage

As the people of Sudan's Blue Nile region mark the second anniversary of the start of their government's deadly campaign of ethnic cleansing against them, they will question the West's selective humanitarian impulses.

This week US Secretary of State Kerry (1) and British Prime Minister Cameron (2) expressed their moral outrage at the use of chemical weapons in Syria. They cited video of the devastating effects of the Sarin-like substance, labelling the recent attack a crime against humanity.

Unfortunately, equally disturbing images arrive on my computer weekly from the Sudan, but they do not attract the same media attention or diplomatic condemnation. How is a chemical attack on a Syrian worse than the systematic aerial bombardment of unarmed Sudanese civilians by Sudanese armed forces Antonov planes, circling above villages daily, indiscriminately dropping bombs containing scrap metal? Does the suffering of a little Sudanese girl cut in two by hot metal rate less on the hierarchy of misery than a little girl gassed in Syria?

September 1st marks the second anniversary of the start of the Sudan government's ruthless campaign against its black African citizens in the Blue Nile region. For decades the Khartoum-based regime has been ethnically cleansing and killing millions of its own countrymen, intent on creating an ethnically pure country without non-Arabs and non-Muslims. As a result, the UN estimates at least a million Sudanese died in what is now South Sudan, and at least 300,000 have been killed in Darfur (3).

While the violence continues in a media vacuum in Darfur, Khartoum has intensified its aerial bombardment of the Blue Nile area and neighboring South Kordofan, home to about two million non-Arab and non-Muslim Sudanese. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes and farms to hide in the mountains, meaning they cannot plant or harvest their crops. Khartoum refuses to allow international humanitarian aid groups access, so the people of Blue Nile and South Kordofan also face ethnic cleansing by starvation, a favorite Khartoum tactic: genocide in a time of austerity. The authoritative Small Arms Survey has just reported Sudan is using cluster bombs and incendiary devices on South Kordofan (4). Where is the outrage from Kerry and Cameron?

It can be argued that Sudan is geopolitically insignificant, but so is Syria: neither offers any real threat to US or UK national interests. Just like Syria, the Khartoum regime is best ideological friends with Iran. Sudan's fundamentalist Islamist rulers manufacture Iranian weapons under licence and smuggle them to Hezbollah for use against Israel (5). So open is Khartoum in its backing for radical jihad that it allowed Al Qaeda to set up a club at Khartoum University (6). There is no freedom of speech or assembly in Sudan, consistently ranked among the ten most repressive (7) and corrupt (8) nations in the world. In many respects the racist autocrats running Sudan make Assad of Syria seem reticent. Yet, Secretary Kerry in particular has offered conciliatory gestures to Khartoum, rather than moral outrage (9).

It is legalistic hair-splitting to condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria while turning a blind eye to the deliberate and sustained targeting of unarmed civilians in Sudan. Both are crimes against humanity. Both should have prompted a firm, cohesive response from the international community, with robustly applied smart sanctions targeted at the architects of their own people's suffering. In the case of Sudan it should have happened years ago.

Our leaders choose not to see reports from respectable international human rights groups recording the daily atrocities in Sudan. Their wilful ignorance about crimes against humanity in Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur should prompt us to question their sincerity.

Kerry and Cameron are passionate in their reaction to the horrors of the videos emerging from Syria. As the people of Blue Nile mark the start of the third year of ethnic cleansing at the hands of their racist regime, they might be forgiven for questioning the West's selective humanitarian impulses.