Day One of Khartoum's Total Interdiction of Humanitarian Aid
September 27, 2002
by Eric Reeves
As the world watches silently, the first day of Khartoum's total interdiction of humanitarian aid into Southern Sudan is coming to a close. The dying will have begun, even as humanitarian personnel are forced to scramble to evacuate. (The Khartoum regime refused to respond to an appeal from the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan for a forty-eight hour window for an orderly evacuation.) Since Khartoum's ban on humanitarian aid also makes impossible security or medical evacuations---and this is unprecedented---staff have no choice but to leave. Desperately needy populations are now precipitously denied the skills of this extraordinarily courageous and dedicated group of aid professionals. Some personnel have not been able to be evacuated, and are being advised to stay close to bomb shelters as protection against Khartoum's continuing aerial assaults on civilian and humanitarian targets. But these issues pale before the staggering statistic now serving daily as a measure of the world's moral failure: because of Khartoum's interdiction, over 3 million human beings in southern Sudan are now denied all humanitarian aid from the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan.
There is no clear end in sight to this catastrophe deliberately precipitated by the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum as a means of securing military advantage in its ongoing offensive in Eastern Equatoria. We could have no clearer example of the ways in which Khartoum's denial of humanitarian aid and its military tactics are intertwined. To be sure, Khartoum's denial and manipulation of humanitarian aid has not always been tied to specific offensives, such as the one now underway to re-take the key town of Torit. Indeed, Khartoum's policy has long been that the destruction of southern Sudanese civilians and civil society is generally advantageous in its genocidal war. The terrible famine of 1998, in which perhaps 100,000 people died, was a signal example of how destructive Khartoum is willing to be in using the denial of humanitarian aid as a potent weapon of mass destruction.
But the world must now confront the spectacle of humanitarian aid denial to a staggeringly large population. 3 million is only a UN approximation of the number of human beings now threatened by the complete cut-off in access for Operation Lifeline Sudan---but the very size of the population at risk makes greater precision impossible.
Day one, and counting. Khartoum is every hour taking the measure of the world's response, of action---or inaction---on the part of the UN, the United States---and the other Western democracies, so many of which are investing in Sudan's oil development or consummating deals to secure Khartoum's petrodollars. If we judge by what has occurred so far, there is almost no reason for thinking that Khartoum will see any real incentive to end the humanitarian blockade on October 6, as it has indicated. And Khartoum's record makes abundantly clear not only its duplicity and disingenuousness in reneging on such "commitments," but also its ruthlessly accurate assessment of what price it will have to pay for breaking its commitments. So far there appears to be no price, and this augurs very poorly for the regaining of humanitarian access.
We won't ever know how many people will die during this period of total humanitarian interdiction, even as we have no accurate way of knowing how many innocent human beings have already died in the areas that have for many months, indeed years, been denied humanitarian aid by Khartoum.
But the number, whatever its size, is already unforgivably large. Moreover, the actions of the Khartoum regime have posed a clear and serious threat to the rights of war-affected people everywhere---the very principle of unfettered humanitarian access has now been compromised with not so much as an audible murmur of protest from those with the power to reverse this terrible course of events. Yet again, Sudan's agony is disgracing the very idea of an "international community."