12/28/2011 02:58 EST | Updated 02/27/2012 05:12 EST

What We Can Do to Stop the Sudanese Genocide

It is beyond the pale that the international community continues to engage in "business as usual" with the Khartoum regime, dispatching a series of envoys with baskets of "carrots" rather than combating the impunity inherent in this triangular assault and its resultant atrocity crimes. If not us, who? If not now, when?


While welcome, the recent request by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, for the arrest of Sudan's Defence Minister, General Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity dramatizes, ironically enough, the culture of impunity in Sudan.

To be sure, the request for an arrest warrant pertaining to crimes committed in Darfur from August 2003 to March 2004 -- like the indictment before it of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior Ahmed Haroun -- constitutes on its face a blow against impunity. But the arrest warrant -- as with the indictment -- refer to international atrocities committed eight years ago in Darfur.

Moreover, not only have President al-Bashir and Minister Haroun never been arrested -- as Sudan refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC and will not surrender them -- but they remain free, and travel freely, not only in Sudan but in the African region as a whole.

A dramatic example of this culture of impunity is not only the freedom enjoyed by these indicted war criminals, but that they have remained free to continue to commit their war crimes and crimes against humanity with impunity.

Indeed, just recently the ICC prosecutor told the UN Security Council that crimes continue to be committed in Darfur, and that these Sudanese leaders sought by the Court continue to be responsible for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity. Yet, they remain free.

But perhaps the most damning indictment of all -- and a dramatic case study of this culture of impunity -- is that these same government officials are now engaged in a triangular assault on the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile that border South Sudan, as well as the oil-rich region of Abyei coveted by Khartoum.

In particular, while the international community has celebrated the independence of South Sudan, these indicted-yet-still-free war criminals are involved in the same "common pattern" of assault as described in the indictments respecting their war crimes in Darfur.

According to a statement issued by the ICC prosecutor: "...the Government of Sudan forces surrounded the villages, the Air Force dropped bombs indiscriminately and foot soldiers, including Militia/Janjaweed, killed, raped and looted the entire villages, forcing the displacement of 4 million inhabitants."

Sudanese expert Eric Reeves recently described and documented this now ominously parallel triangular assault as follows:

Accelerating violence by Khartoum's regular and militia forces threatens many hundreds of thousands of civilians in Blue Nile and South Kordofan; the regime's military seizure of Abyei is now a fait accompli; the international community seems unable even to speak about the urgent need for cross-border humanitarian corridors to reach highly distressed populations. War has begun again in Sudan, and it is a war whose historical trajectory is tragically clear.

More particularly, as both Eric Reeves, eye witness testimony, and NGOs have documented, hundreds of thousands of Nuba People in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan have been forced to flee their homes in the face of constant aerial bombardment, while being denied all international humanitarian assistance.

Similarly, the widespread indiscriminate bombing has been extended to the civilians in the Blue Nile state, with again the displacement and denial of humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of civilians, many of whom are already severely malnourished and vulnerable to disease.

Moreover, a particularly defiant assault on the Abyei region in May 2011 resulted in the displacement of virtually the entire Dinka Ngok population from Abyei, assaults which a UN investigative body concluded amounted to "ethnic cleansing," while human rights experts called the assault "crimes against humanity."

And so, while President al-Bashir orchestrates these crimes, and Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein implements them, former Minister of State in Darfur Ahmed Haroun now presides over these triangular atrocities directly. Indeed, as the appointed Governor of South Kordofan -- and having previously served in Abyei -- he is the personification of Orwellian impunity, having been appointed while in Darfur to be the Minister responsible for hearing complaints from the very people he had assaulted.

Accordingly, just as al-Bashir's criminal regime turned Darfur into a "black box" beyond the radar screen of accountability, so South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei have become "black boxes," and all but ignored by the international community.

As Reeves wrote recently: "Despite this growing danger, threatening millions of people in the bordering countries as well as in the two Sudans, Khartoum faces no consequences for its most egregious acts of violence and most vicious atrocities."

His conclusion is as poignant as it is painful:

Despite protestations, remembrances, and various declarations of resolve, Rwanda continues to stand as a grim reminder of the degree to which inaction and merely standing by can be as immoral as the unreasonable and illegitimate exercise of military power. In Sudan, Darfur marked the failure of President Bush during his 'Rwanda moment'; and now the border regions of Sudan appear to be marking the failure of President Obama during his own 'Rwanda moment.'

What then is to be done?

What follows is an action plan which Canada, in concert with the international community, should undertake with all deliberate speed, lest the culture of impunity and the attending catastrophes remain unaddressed:

1)The overriding imperative is to bring these genocidaires to justice - first for their war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur and now for their ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the triangular assault on South Kordofan, Blue Nile and the Abyei region.

2) It should be noted that these international atrocities are underpinned by a targeted racism. President al-Bashir and his criminal co-conspirators have repeatedly targeted marginalized African peoples: the Fur, Masseleit and Zaghawa in Darfur; the Nuba People in South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile; and the Dinka and Nuer in Abyei and in the South.

3) International humanitarian access in all the areas under assault is desperately needed. Tragically, there has been no movement to create on an urgent basis cross-border humanitarian corridors. As Reeves writes: "We have no idea of the death toll, but it will soon be staggering, given the massive disruption of the planting season caused by Khartoum's relentless bombing campaign and the absence of any food supplies from any aid organizations."

4) The senior Sudanese government and military officials implicated in these criminal assaults -- apart from President al-Bashir, General Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein, and Governor Ahmed Haroun -- should at the very least be subjected to human rights sanctions, including travel and visa bans as well as asset seizures where appropriate.

5) The UN Human Rights Council should convene in an emergency session and should authorize an investigative commission of inquiry to South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei.

6) A targeted no-fly zone should be put in place in South Kordofan to interdict the bombing and displacement of the Nuba People. The situation here is no less -- if not more -- compelling than it was in Libya, and a no-fly zone was put in place there.

7) The United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) should have its mandate characterized as a Chapter 7 mandate so as to authorize proactive intervention to protect people and save lives, rather than behaving as an observer presence with limited authority to act.

8) It is time for China to play a responsible protective role rather than an irresponsible enabling one. China continues as an enabler in this triangular assault as it did in the Darfur genocide through a similar vicious cycle: China buys Sudan's oil; Sudan buys China's arms; and the arms are then used by the Sudanese government in the triangular assault.

9) Both the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Darfur Peace Process need to be resuscitated and rescued.

10) The International Monetary Fund (IMF) should call upon the Sudanese government to cease and desist from their assaults lest the IMF rescind the loan. The Khartoum regime has a foreign debt in excess of $30 billion, but with an astonishing promise by the IMF to forgive the loan. This is turning morality and accountability on its head.

It is beyond the pale that the international community continues to engage in "business as usual" with the Khartoum regime, dispatching a series of envoys with baskets of "carrots" rather than combating the impunity inherent in this triangular assault and its resultant atrocity crimes.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Irwin Cotler is the Member of Parliament for Mount Royal and the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He is the Chair of the All-Party Save Sudan Parliamentary Coalition. He has written extensively on Darfur and Sudan, and is the co-editor of the recently published book, "The Responsibility to Protect: The Promise of Stopping Mass Atrocities in Our Time."