The Republic of Sudan's recent decision to permit UN relief agencies into South Kordofan for a humanitarian assessment is a smokescreen. The international community must demand more, including unfettered humanitarian access to the region as well as an independent investigation into accusations that the ruling National Congress Party and its military wing committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against South Kordofan's Nuba population.
Lost in the international celebration accompanying the formal secession of the Republic of South Sudan is the human tragedy unfolding just across the border in South Kordofan, a state in the North.
The violence stems from years of repression experienced by the Nuba, the largest ethnic group in South Kordofan. Khartoum historically discriminated against the Nuba, prompting them to align with Southerners and their revolutionary party, the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, during Sudan's civil war. Under the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Nuba were promised a free election, followed by a consultation with their elected leaders. This was supposed to be a channel for them to raise grievances and discuss their political future.
After years of delay, South Kordofan's gubernatorial election was held in May amid political tensions between the NCP and SPLM.
Violence quickly erupted. Soon the UN mission reported that the NCP's military wing had committed major human rights atrocities against the Nuba, including targeted killings, attacks on churches and dwellings and indiscriminate aerial bombardments.
The UNHCR corroborated the UN mission's findings earlier this month.
That violence began to flare in South Kordofan just prior to the creation of the Republic of South Sudan is not particularly surprising. What is surprising is the lack of international attention to protect the people of South Kordofan.
The humanitarian assessment currently underway is at best futile or at worse a distraction. The UN agencies are working under local supervision and do not have unfettered access to the region. Moreover, the government is still banning free access to humanitarian aid and has threatened to shoot down UN flights over South Kordofan. Likewise, the recommendations of the UN agencies could be mitigated or perhaps even vetoed by a Sudanese government task force specifically created to monitor the crisis.
This is to say nothing of the human rights crisis in South Kordofan. Khartoum's UN envoy has suggested that the decision to allow the humanitarian assessment disproves the human rights abuse allegations. The international community should ignore this self-serving rhetoric and, in addition to demanding unfettered humanitarian access, must demand access to preserve evidence of human rights abuses and vow to prosecute those responsible for the abuses.
A focus on succession and borders can also unwittingly exacerbate extremist elements. This appears to be happening in the Republic of Sudan, where some are calling for a "purified" Republic consisting exclusively of Arab Muslims.
The crisis in South Kordofan is far from over. Both President Bashir, and the NCP governor of South Kordofan, Ahmed Mohammed Haroun, have a proven track record of human rights abuses. Both men were previously indicted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and some analysts have suggested that the violence in South Kordofan parallels the violence that characterized the early days of Darfur, a campaign masterminded by Haroun. In addition, the violence in South Kordofan has disrupted the planting season which may lead to a deadly famine in the coming months.
Khartoum can no longer be permitted to act with impunity. The international community must respond strongly to facilitate an end to this crisis by demanding unobstructed humanitarian and human rights access to South Kordofan.
Arjun Sethi is an attorney at Covington & Burling LLP and currently serves as counsel to Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail. Bishop Andudu is the Episcopal Bishop for South Kordofan, Sudan and also serves as the Sudanese Episcopal Church's National Chairman of Interfaith. With Arjun's assistance, Bishop Andudu is applying for political asylum in the United States because of the crisis currently unfolding in South Kordofan.