Human Rights NGOs and the Neglect of Sudan
University of North
Carolina at Wilmington
July 2 2004
The high profile visits of Colin Powell and Kofi Annan to the Sudan
must be praised by those who care for human rights and the victims of ethnic
cleansing in Darfur. The major human rights NGOs, Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch can claim some credit for issuing a flurry
of reports, press releases, and urgent appeals over the past few months that
have brought this catastrophe to the attention of the mass media and the
world—moving the US and the UN Secretariat to serve notice to the Sudanese
government that their vicious campaign must stop. There is little reason to trust that the Arab
regime in Khartoum will behave
itself without intense, sustained pressure.
It will continue to deny that it controls and supports the Janjaweed militia, even though it dispatches its bombers
and helicopter gunships to wipe out the non-Arab
villages in Darfur in
coordinated attacks. But at least AI and
HRW have finally gotten the word out, making it more difficult for the regime
to murder, rape, and enslave defenseless African peoples clandestinely.
AI, HRW, and the UN congratulate themselves for finally denouncing Sudan
loudly enough to make the headlines, it is important to ask what they did
during the past 22 years, when the Islamic/military government carried out a
devastating jihad against the non-Muslim Black people of Southern
Sudan. Over two million people were killed, mainly
civilians from the South. Hundreds of villages were destroyed, and over
5 million people are refugees. As in Darfur,
slavery, rape, and torture were routine.
The deeper tragedy is that this
could have been prevented. It would not
have happened if the international community had taken notice and made it an
issue. Despite the scale, scope, and duration of
this genocide, it was never a priority on the agendas of AI, HRW, or the UN. Only recently did these organizations decide
to commit the necessary resources to discourage the long-running genocide
against Black Sudanese. For two bloody
decades, they quietly reported on what was happening; however, they made it a
low priority. The UN Commission on Human Rights actually
took up the issue at the 2004 session, but there was no naming and shaming the
government of Sudan—arguably the world’s worst human rights serial
offender—which sits on the 53 member Commission. The UN’s top human rights forum could only
manage a softly worded draft resolution of concern, which was supported by Sudan. The resolution passed with the overwhelming
support of fifty nations—it was only opposed by the United
is in such good standing among the nations that it was reelected to another
three-year term. Mauritania,
another Arab nation on the UNCHR, is also waging a race war against Black
Africans, characterized by mass murder, rape, and enslavement.
So what have AI, HRW, and the UN
been doing with their multimillion dollar budgets? Their priority has been to focus
disproportionately on Israel. Over the decades, the UN spends far more time
than any other country. It lavishes
hundreds of millions of dollars each year on the Palestinians, who already
receive more foreign aid per capita than any other people. Both AI and HRW have issued far more
documents criticizing Israel
than Sudan, or
for that matter, Algeria,
or Zimbabwe. This obsession would make sense if Israel
was among the worst human rights offenders in the world. But by any objective measure this is
not the case. Even with the harshest
interpretation of Israeli’s policies, which takes no account of cause and
effect, and Israel’s
predicament of facing existential war, there can be no comparison to the civil
wars in Sudan, Algeria,
or Congo. Like the UN, the policies of AI and HRW have
more to do with politics than human rights.
Had the international community
paid half as much attention to the race war in Sudan as it did to Israel’s
construction of a security barrier (from March 2003 to February 2004), then the
Sudanese government would not have continued its ongoing ethnic cleansing
campaign. The regime would rather not
be in the spotlight. The fact that
international human rights organizations finally mobilized to do their job
underscores what they could have done to prevent the tragedy of Darfur, had they agitated sooner. It also demonstrates what they did not do for
the many cruel years of the jihad against non-Muslims in the South. The world would be a better place if the
watchdogs had their priorities straight and understood when and where they must
bark the loudest.
Randolph Martin, “Sudan’s Perfect War,” Foreign Affairs
81:2 (March/April 2002), pp. 111-27, esp. p. 111. See also, the Central Intelligence Agency’s The
2003, entry on Sudan.
It states: “The wars are rooted in northern economic, political, and
social domination of non-Muslim, non-Arab southern Sudanese. Since 1983, the war and war-and
famine-related effects have led to more than 2 million deaths and over 4
million people displaced.” http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/su.html.
Ibid, p. 111. See also, Nsongurua J. Udombana, “The
Unfinished Business: Conflicts, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development,” George Washington
International Law Review 35 (2003), n. 375; and, Alemante
G. Selassie, “Ethnic Federalism: Its Promise and
Pitfalls for Africa,” The Yale Journal of
International Law 28 (Winter 2003), note 8.
Selassie puts the death toll at 1.5 million
Ibid, p. 111. Since Martin’s
article, the number of refugees has increased, especially in Western Sudan where another million people have
fled. See also, “Mass rape atrocity in
west Sudan,” BBC News/Africa, Friday,
19 March, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/africa/3549325.stm and, “Ethnic Cleansing, Again,” New York
Times, March 24, 2004 and reprinted in the International
Herald Tribune, March 25, 2004.
See for example, HRW’s April 14, 2004
report: “Sudan: Monitor Darfur Ceasefire” HRW’s Sudan researcher Jemera Rone makes this point:
“Without the international spotlight, the Sudanese government is
unlikely to disarm and disband its Arab militia…The government will only
reverse the displacement that it has caused under intense, sustained
international pressure.” http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/04/14/sudan8431_txt.htm
In the 1990’s the UN did assign a Special Rapporteur
to investigate the problem. In 1996, Gaspar Biro submitted his report, noting that slavery in
the Sudan is race-based and most of the
victims are children. However, the UN
and its organs, the UNCHR and UNICEF took no effective action. The Security Council imposed sanctions but
then lifted them. More recently, the
current UN Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, told the BBC: "This is ethnic cleansing, this
is the world's greatest humanitarian crisis, and I don't know why the world
isn't doing more about it." See,
“Mass rape atrocity in west Sudan.”
The quotation from Mukesh Kapila
is also quoted in Nicholas D. Kristof, “Ethnic
Cleansing, Again,” New York Times, March 24, 2004 and reprinted in the International
Herald Tribune, March 25, 2004.
Among the heroes of this tragedy are the American Anti-Slavery Group http://www.iabolish.com, the Coalition
Against Slavery in Mauritania and Sudan http://www.casmas.org,
and some Church groups. Christian
Solidarity International is a Swiss NGO that has taken the lead to raise money
for redeeming slaves from their captors.
According to the American Anti-Slavery Group, UNICEF broke its silence
on the outrages in Sudan to criticize CSI. A major accomplishment of the IHRM is
reported by Human Rights Watch: "Talisman Energy Inc., the Canadian oil
company…announced that it would sell off its Sudan assets, thus bringing to a
successful close a major campaign against the company by nongovernmental
organizations in Canada, the United States, and Europe." See Human Rights Watch World
Report 2003: Africa: Sudan.
Australia and the Ukraine abstained. In addition to Sudan, also serving on the 2004 UNCHR are
such human rights disasters as: China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Congo, Egypt, Indonesia, Mauritania, Qatar, Pakistan, Nigeria, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Bahrain, and Zimbabwe.
In 2003, Libya was elected to chair the
commission. It is as if the inmates took
over the asylum. As Michael Dennis
wrote, commenting on the 2002 UNCHR session:
“Unfortunately, many UN member states, where human rights are not
properly accepted and implemented, have realized that the best way to protect
oneself from scrutiny is to be elected to the Commission and divert attention
from implementation…Largely through their efforts, the fifty-eighth session of
the Commission saw an unprecedented erosion of its prestige and credibility and
regression of human rights norms.” See
Michael J. Dennis, “Human Rights in 2002: The Annual Sessions of the UN
Commission on Human Rights and the Economic and Social Council,” American
Journal of International Law, 97:2 (April 2003), p. 385-8. For another critical assessment of the 2002
UNCHR conference, see Nazila Ghanea
and Ladan Rahmani, “The 58th
Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights,” The International Journal of
Human Rights, 7:3 (Autumn 2003) pp. 116-140, esp. pp. 132f.
. For a delusional defense of such countries
serving on the UNCHR see Walid M. Sadi,
"Human rights conundrum," Jordan Times, Sunday,
May 18, 2003.
See Andrés Martinez, “One State or Two, Israelis and Palestinians
Share the Same Economy,” New York Times, May 28, 2004.
According to Martinez, the annual aid for Palestinians is
$325. In his opinion piece, Martinez cites Nigel Roberts, the director of
the World Bank for Gaza and the West Bank. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/28/opinion/28FRI4.html
The most recent statistics provided
by the World Bank that I was able to access on-line are based on the World
Development Indicators database, August 2003. According to the World Bank, in 2001 the per
capita aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza was $280. This is far higher than per capita aid
to Jordan ($85.80), Israel ($27.10), Egypt ($19.30), and Bosnia and Herzegovina ($157.40). Some South Pacific island states with tiny
populations, such as Palau and the Marshall Islands, received higher per capita aid. See http://www.worldbank.org/data/countrydata/countrydata.html
 I support this claim with the
following documentation. I visited AI’s
websites on June 5, 2004 and observed the following: By
accessing the “All AI Documents on . . .” link for individual countries, the
documents (news, press releases, reports, urgent actions) are listed in reverse
chronological order in screens of 31. The
most recent 31 documents on Israel were issued over the time span from 1
to the present, most recently from 27 May 2004.
This means that according to its on-line library records, AI released 31
reports on Israel over an 8 month period. Moreover, according to its document library,
AI has issued 380 documents on Israel, dating back to 25
time span of 5 years. This comes to
roughly 76 documents per year.
For Jordan, according to AI’s on-line library
archives, AI has issued a total of 67 documents, dating back to 16
For Morocco/Western Sahara, a total of 55 documents have been
issued, dating back to 1 March 1996.
For Egypt, a total of 187 documents have been
issued, dating back to 26 February 1996.
For Algeria, a total of 120 documents have been
issued, dating back to 16 February 1996.
For the United Arab Emirates, AI has issued a total of 23
documents, dating back to 1 Jan. 1997.
For Iraq, AI has produced a total of 221
documents, dating back to 1 April 1993.
For Iran, a total of 231 documents have been
issued, dating back to 1 February 1995.
interesting to note two countries that have only recently received increased
attention for their human rights violations.
In Syria, the suppression of the Kurds and
others did not escape AI’s notice. With
14 documents in March and April, it took less than five months to issue 31,
from December 1 to the present (most recently, April 26). This sudden burst of activism is all the more
commendable because there were no AI visits to Syria during this time. Over the years, there are a total of 182
documents that have been issued dating back to January 4,
1996. (AI issued twice as many documents on Israel, over a shorter period of
time.) For Sudan, the ethnic cleansing in Darfur captured AI’s attention, so it took
only 5 months to issue 31, from 21 Jan 2004 to June 3. AI was not nearly as attentive to the
genocidal jihad waged against African people in Southern Sudan.
It has produced a total of 212 documents dating back to 24
For Myanmar (Burma), AI has issued 155 documents,
dating back to 1 April 1993.
For the Democratic Republic of the Congo/Zaire, AI has issued
220 documents, dating back to 14 June 1996.
For Cuba, AI has issued 123 documents, dating
back to 1 April 1993. AI monitors
last visited Cuba in 1988.
For Zimbabwe, AI issued 124 documents, dating
back to 30 July 1996.
I visited the HRW websites on June 7, 2004 and observed the following number of
documents available on line. For Israel and the Occupied Territories, HRW has issued 177 documents,
dating back to April 1, 1991.
For Jordan, 28 documents, dating back to June
1, 1997. For Lebanon, 34 documents mostly criticizing Israel, dating back to July
1, 1993. For Syria, 38 documents, dating back to Nov.
1, 1992. For Morocco, 27 documents, dating back to Oct.
1, 1995. For Algeria, 45 documents, dating back to Jan.
1, 1994. For Sudan, 90 documents, dating back to Feb.
1, 1993. For Saudi Arabia, 37 documents, dating to May
1, 1992. For the UAE, 5 documents, dating back to Aug
1, 2000. For Yemen, 7 documents, dating back to Nov.
HRW issued 73 documents on Burma, dating back to Dec.
1, 1993; 131
documents on Congo/Zaire, dating back to Jan. 1, 1993; 39 documents on Cuba, dating back to Feb.
1, 1993; and
24 documents on Zimbabwe, dating back to Nov.