By Lily Hough, IPS
Witnesses' chilling depictions of a new Sudanese genocide at an emergency congressional hearing Thursday quelled any remnants of doubt that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the Nuba mountain region of South Kordofan.
"It is a war of horror," Sudanese bishop Andudu Adam Elnail told a House committee here about the systemised ethnic cleansing of the formerly southern allied Nuba people - now the targets of violence in the ethnically divided northern state of South Kordofan.
"Nuba people are fearing," Elnail said. "They don't know what is going to happen. They feel they're forgotten because nothing is going there tangible to rescue them and give them the freedom."
Elnail's closest colleagues had told him they witnessed two pits being dug at a school one night, where bodies were later transported to the site, put in "wide body bags" and thrown in the pits - something to add to the heap of evidence piling up in Washington that a decades-old campaign to exterminate the ethnic Nuba has resumed in the wake of the south's independence.
Elnail added his own accounts of bombs dropping from the sky daily on civilian towns, military forces shelling and burning his neighbourhood – including his own house - and people running to the mountains to hide in caves where they have nothing but "greens" to eat.
"There is more than enough evidence to justify speedy action on the part of the United States government and the international community to address this very dire situation in the Nuba Mountains," Phillips said.
"It's absolutely essential that the international community bring pressure to bear on the United Nations to immediately declare a humanitarian emergency in the Nuba Mountains and impose a no-fly zone to stop the bombing campaign and allow humanitarian access so that relief flights back into the region may resume," he added.
Recent accounts that signal ethnic cleansing in Sudan's border region are inextricably linked to a complex history of violence, stemming from a decades-long intensive military campaign spearheaded by the National Islamic Front (NIF) to Islamise the African indigenous populations in Southern Sudan, the Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains region of Southern Kordofan state.
The Nuba allied with the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the primary force resisting the NIF and today, southern Sudan's national army. After a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was forged by the two sides in 2005, with extensive pressure from the U.S., the Nuba were guaranteed a free and fair election to determine their own political future.
But the Nuba have yet to see the promises made by the CPA fulfilled. What's more, Sudan's president al-Bashir publicly stated in April that he would smoke the Nuba people out of the mountains using tanks and camels, a move Phllips referred to as a declaration of war and a "clear violation of the CPA".
Both President al-Bashir and current governor of the Nuba mountains, Ahmed Haroun, are indicted war criminals for their roles in the Darfur genocide.
"These men make Libya's Gadhafi look like a choir boy. There is no justification in my mind for bombing in Libya while we do nothing in a place like the Nuba Mountains," Phillips said.
In July, The Satellite Sentinel Project released satellite images consistent with mass graves in South Kordofan that confirmed similar allegations made in a U.N. report draft that was leaked around the same time.
But Princeton Lyman, the U.S. envoy to Sudan, responded instead by contradicting those claims, stating that the satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts provided no clear evidence of mass graves.
"It amazes me how the U.S. and international community is able to tolerate these killers for so long, yet aggressively pursue other villains who have not killed one-one-hundredth of the people whose deaths Omar al-Bashir and his regime are responsible [for]," Phillips said. Another leaked U.N. report indicated that some 7,000 people who had sought refuge with the U.N. Mission in Kadulgi, the capital of South Kordofan, were forced on Jun. 20 to leave the U.N. protective perimetre. The Red Crescent workers who moved them were reportedly disguised members of Khartoum's security services. Today, the U.N. has no record of those refugees whereabouts.
"That sounds like something out of a bad movie," Congressman Frank Wolf bellowed at Thursday's hearing. "The U.N. has failed. The U.N. failed in Rwanda; the U.N. failed in Bosnia; the U.N. failed in Darfur."
"The U.S. government needs to have a loud voice complaining about what's happening, and putting pressure on the U.N. to start changing the way they communicate on this as well," Phillips added.
As the witnesses and committee members called for an end to U.S. diffidence at the emergency hearing, President Barack Obama unveiled new policy plans to strengthen the U.S.'s capacity to respond more swiftly to mass atrocities. Announcing the implementation of the Atrocities Prevention Board Thursday, Obama admitted that even after witnessing the Holocaust and genocide in Rwanda, "the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework" for responding to mass atrocities.
"What we fail to do is heed the early warning signs…raise the red flags early," Tom Andrews, president of the Genocide Intervention Network, told IPS.
That's exactly what Wolf pleaded for U.S. officials to do in South Kordofan.
"I just wonder how some people in this administration will feel when they leave and they know they missed the opportunity," he said. "I just don't want my country to fail."