SUDAN IMPACT: The Crisis in Sudan

Monday, May 21, 2001

An eighteen-year civil war between the Arab north and the African south has created a humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said of Sudan, "There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth today." President George W. Bush has promised, that under his administration, foreign involvements would take place only where direct American interests are at stake. Does the tragedy in Sudan warrant direct U.S. involvement? If so, just what can, and should, the United States do?

Recorded on Monday, May 21, 2001

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge, civil war in Sudan, perhaps the worst human rights crisis anywhere on the planet. What should, what can the United States do?

Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation and the Starr Foundation.

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today, The Crisis in Sudan. We begin with an earlier crisis in Sudan, one that formed the basis for a Hollywood epic. Sudanese Muslims led by the Madhi a prophet, here played by Laurence Olivier, rose up against a Egyptian military occupying force. In the midst of the conflict, British soldiers were trapped in Khartoum, the capitol. So the British sent in the daring General Charles Gordon, here played by Charleton Heston, to rescue them. Instead of simply escaping from Khartoum, Gordon stayed to fight the Sudanese Muslims, losing his life. As the movie poster puts it, 'they say the Nile still runs red'.

Which brings us to the crisis in Sudan today. The danger in these events is not that they will be romanticized, but ignored. A civil war between the Arab north and the Christian and animist south has ripped the country apart. Sudan, the biggest nation in Africa is now the site of widespread human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, and even slavery, representing perhaps the worst human rights crisis anywhere on earth today.

What should the United States do? Can a case be made for military intervention as in Kosovo? Beyond the obvious humanitarian concerns, do we have any specific national interests at stake? With us today two guests, Stephen Morrison is director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. Bishop Macram Max Gassis is the Roman Catholic bishop of a diocese in southern Sudan itself.

Title: Sudan Impact

Peter Robinson: President George W. Bush. During the presidential campaign, he was critical of the previous administration's involvement in Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and elsewhere, and he promised that under his administration, foreign involvements would take place only where direct American interests were at stake. Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Testifying before the House of Representatives this past spring, and I quote, "There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth today then the tragedy that is unfolding in the Sudan." Does the tragedy in the Sudan warrant direct American involvement? Bishop Gassis?

Bishop Gassis: Yes it does because these are your brothers and sisters in humanity.

Peter Robinson: Steve?

Stephen Morrison: Yes. We have serious American constituencies that care about this. These are constituencies that matter to this administration and to the past administration.

Peter Robinson: All right. A word about the Sudan. The Sudan achieves its independence from joint rule by Britain and Egypt in 1956 and there has been conflict between the Arab north and the African south ever since. For the last eighteen years, the conflict has taken form of open civil war, but for most of those eighteen years, the civil war involved seasonal skirmishes, violent, but limited. Two more recent events have changed the nature of the war making it deadly. Event number one. In June 1989, the then government was overthrown by the Army. Bishop Gassis, you called the military men who seized power, and I'm quoting you, "an Islamic fundamentalist junta that has opened a new and savage chapter in the Sudan's long struggle." What made the junta that took power in 1989 worse then preceding governments?

Bishop Gassis: Well because, uh, they have reinstated the Islamic sharia law, which was shelved for some time. And they have declared that the Sudan is an Arab-Muslim nation. So a, uh, practically it has put us, uh, back many years and uh, rendered the--the--the non-Muslim and the non-Arab population second-class citizens.

Peter Robinson: Steve? From the American point of view, why would the 1989, the folks who took power in 1989 be worse?

Stephen Morrison: Well I agree with, uh, with the Bishop's characterization. I would add a very important element for U.S. policymakers was also that as this regime radicalized in the early 90's, it also became an active--active sup--active and passive supporter of international terrorists entities. Uh, and that accounted for the United States placing Sudan on the terrorist list in August of 97.

Peter Robinson: What radicalized the regime? How did that happen?

Stephen Morrison: Well when the--when the coup took place in June of '89, the initial estimation in Washington was that this was a military action, it was not a--a--a national Islamic front, radical Islamist take-over. And we, it was only a few years later that Washington began to conclude that this was a--a much more threatening and--and venal regime.

Peter Robinson: What about you? How quick--how quickly was it apparent to you?

Bishop Gassis: Immediately.

Title: Black Gold Rush

Peter Robinson: At least two billion barrels of oil reserves have been discovered in the disputed region between the north of the country and the south of the country. And beginning in 1999, oil has begun to be pumped out of the region. Uh, last year, some five hundred million dollars worth of revenues from the oil flowed to the Sudan. How has the pumping of oil changed life in the Sudan? Bishop Gassis?

Bishop Gassis: Well it has changed, uh, the attitude of the ruling, uh, um, dictatorship of Islamic fundamentalists in the sense, they are no more committed to the IGAD solution…

Peter Robinson: IGAD stands for?

Stephen Morrison: Inter-governmental Authority on Development. It's a regional grouping that has had a peace process.

Bishop Gassis: Yes, and it includes Ethio--Ethiopia, Eritrea, uh, Kenya, and Uganda. They are brokering for--for a peaceful solution in the Sudan. And they came out with this, uh, Declaration of Principles, which actually it has two hinges. Namely, uh, that the south, the Nuba Mountains and other marginalized areas, they have the right of self-determination; and secondly the separation of religion from politics. Now the regime of Khartoum now doesn't want this to be pursued, because they--they think that they can arrive to a--a military solution now that they have the revenue from the oil.

Peter Robinson: Because they have the money…

Bishop Gassis: Sure.

Peter Robinson: …to raise an Army…

Bishop Gassis: Sure.

Peter Robinson: …buy weapons, and just conquer the south…

Bishop Gassis: Sure.

Peter Robinson: …impose their will on the south.

Bishop Gassis: Sure.

Peter Robinson: Fair characterization of what the oil has done?

Stephen Morrison: The oil has definitely tipped the strategic balance in favor of Khartoum militarily. It's allowed them to cre--to enlist new external corporate partners, Malaysian, Chinese, European, uh Canadian. It's enabled them…

Peter Robinson: There are no American oil companies participating in…

Stephen Morrison: No.

Peter Robinson: …this project?

Stephen Morrison: There are comprehensive sanctions on trade and investment by American entities in Sudan that were put in place the end of' 97 and those are still law, the law of the land.

Peter Robinson: Because of Sudanese support for a, terrorist activities?

Stephen Morrison: Right.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Stephen Morrison: Now, um, what you said earlier is accurate. Um, production comes on stream 98, two hundred thousand barrels a day, today five hundred million dollars of revenue. There are much richer fields to the south that are in--in development right now which will bring that up to four hundred to four hundred and fifty thousand barrels per day. Those are deeper into the southern territories of the Dinca and Nuer insurgent zones. It will require an ever-greater investment in security. In the first phase of production, there was mass displacement of civilians from the production areas and the pipeline.

Peter Robinson: The regime simply cleared people out of the way?

Stephen Morrison: Yes.

Peter Robinson: And now they want to go deeper into the south…

Stephen Morrison: Right.

Peter Robinson: … and clear more people out of the way.

Stephen Morrison: Right. And that--those clearances were not polite clearances. These were violent, uh--uh, violent displacement of civilian populations that uh…

Title: Sudan Bloody Sudan

Peter Robinson: Bishop Gassis, let me mention two or three phrases and ask you to give us a sentence or two of eye-witness account, events that you have seen or of which you--you yourself have reliable knowledge. Um, here's the first phrase: Religious persecution.

Bishop Gassis: Ah, well religious persecution is--is the detention of church personnel, imprisoning them on trumped up charges. Uh…

Peter Robinson: What's happened to you personally?

Bishop Gassis: Well I--I was brought to cross-examination by this regime. On the--on the charges that I have ruined the reputation of my country before a foreign nation, and that's when I testified in Congress during…

Peter Robinson: And you yourself now have been effectively exiled?

Bishop Gassis: Uh, they did not exile me. I was told by people from Sudan who were also members of this ruling junta not to return for security reasons. And--and therefore I have abstained from entering my diocese. I know that the regime would like to have me back at all costs because I--I--I'm talking too much.

Peter Robinson: You're doing programs like this…

Bishop Gassis: Sure. Oh sure.

Peter Robinson: Here's the next phrase: Bombing of civilians.

Bishop Gassis: Oh sure. That--that's common. We were bombed just on Easter Monday a few months ago.

Peter Robinson: You were in the Sudan?

Bishop Gassis: I was in the Sudan, I was in my diocese, I was in the Nuba Mountains. I had American guests with me…

Peter Robinson: Now, wait when you went in the--you fly in without the knowledge of the regime, is that…

Bishop Gassis: Of course.

Peter Robinson: All right. So you're in and out from time to time…

Bishop Gassis: Sure, I--I'm--I'm in and out. I have five of my personnel working in the areas which are under the control of the SBLM, SBLA. So we were bombed and this is not the first time we were bombed. We were bombed two years ago; three years ago, we were bombed on Easter day, on Christmas day. So this area bombardment is the biggest trag--tragedy we're having today because it is dislodging the people, it's frightening people…

Peter Robinson: Do they bomb to kill or do the bomb to frighten and harass?

Bishop Gassis: They bomb to kill, to terrify, but if you bomb, that means you are

going to kill. You--you--you cannot just say you--you are bombing to get the people run out. People are going to be victimized by the bombs. With, um, my school, Holy Cross, was--was bombed in February 2000. And it killed nineteen students, uh, plus their teacher. Now we--when we were there at Easter, it bombed us and one soldier of the SBLA died on the spot, and two are uh, seriously injured. So the bombing has to causes; terrorize the people, and--and kill the people. Because they cannot say that they are going to--to--to kill and bomb the SBLA, the SBLA are their guerilla fighters. They cannot be seen. Why should they bomb the schools? Why should they bomb the churches? Why they should bomb the hospitals? Why should they--they bomb the civilians. And then a…

Peter Robinson: Unless simply to terrify the entire population…

Bishop Gassis: …high member of the Embassy in--in--in--in Nairobi says, actually the bomb fell where they were supposed to--to fall, that means kill the--kill the children? Because they were put--put…

Peter Robinson: Now, hunger--hunger and famine hunger and famine? Are your people suffering from that?

Bishop Gassis: It is--it is not only to the cruelty of nature, it is because will by Khartoum--Khartoum has put they--they uh, OLS, Operation Life Line Sudan under its thumb.

Peter Robinson: OLS is?

Stephen Morrison: The U.N. uh…

Bishop Gassis: U.N., a program for the relief of Sudan.

Stephen Morrison: Right.

Bishop Gassis: It was purposely made by the United Nations. But they determine when and where they, uh, what do you call, World Food program should go. So for example, the Nuba Mountains they have always been excluded from being uh, assist--assisted.

Peter Robinson: And the Nuba Mountain is, Nuba Mountain region is African, uh, Christian and anim--in other words, no Muslim, no Arabs, it's part of the persecuted uh--uh peoples.

Bishop Gassis: The Nuba Mountains is a United Nations in miniature. Uh…

Peter Robinson: Oh, is it?

Bishop Gassis: Oh yes. We have--we have a diversity of--of tribes there and we have a diversity of religion. And we can really be called an example for a future Sudan where Christians and Muslims and Africans of traditional belief could live in peace.

Peter Robinson: But there's no oil in the Nuba Mountains is there?

Bishop Gassis: Well the--the pipeline is going to pass through the Nuba Mountains…

Peter Robinson: Ahh.

Bishop Gassis: …and already there are some hints saying that there is oils also, there is oil in the mountains…

Peter Robinson: In the mountains themselves.

Bishop Gassis: Yes.

Peter Robinson: Here's, slavery.

Bishop Gassis: Oh my God. That--that's--that's the shame of all our country. Yes slavery is a fact. Children are branded on their hands and on their cheeks. They cannot deny that there is slavery. Uh, we have seen the children mutilated. We have seen girls pregnant at the age of thirteen with babies in their arms. Girls have been sexually, uh, what do you call it, mutilated. All this is a fact. Let them come and see. I mean it's useless that I would come here…

Title: A Line in the Sand

Peter Robinson: Steve, let me ask you to satisfy the test that President George W. Bush has laid down? The suffering in the Sudan is undoubtedly terrible. However, it is sad but true that there is terrible suffering many places on the planet. The United States will become engaged where American interests…

Stephen Morrison: Right.

Peter Robinson: ...are at stake. So satisfy that test. Is it, I mean one argument might be that the suffering itself reaches such a point that it becomes a--a--an interest of its own. You just can't let something like that go on. Is that the argument you make?

Stephen Morrison: The argument is we have humanitarian, human rights, moral human rights, and security interests in Sudan.

Peter Robinson: What are the security interests?

Stephen Morrison: Well we still have an outstanding uh, agenda of negotiating--that we're negotiating through with Khartoum on--on the--on the outstanding terrorist issues.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so would it be fair then to say, look, uh, make a number of points. One would be that we have a concern throughout the Islamic world in seeing to it that moderates should predominate and not fundamentalists of the kind in Khartoum. Item one. Item two; Khartoum backed an assassination attempt on a very close and important ally of ours, Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt. They're bad guys. Number three, we know that they have been backing uh, terrorists of various kinds; they seem to have ties to Osama Bin Laden. So--so they're bad guys. For all of these reasons, we have quite specific security interests in the Sudan, and it's not purely humanitarian. Fair?

Stephen Morrison: Right.

Peter Robinson: Or--or am I simply, or does that have the air to you of making up a policy just to…

Stephen Morrison: No, no.

Peter Robinson: …fit the political pressures.

Stephen Morrison: It--it's an important dimension. Uh, I think when we talk about Sudan in the American context, we sometimes get carried away with the terrorist agenda and lose sight of the internal war and the--and the human and moral consequences of that, and what that means for U.S. foreign policy. To get back to your question about the standards that Bush set for himself in--in--and against which he is now making judgments. That standard was a sort of hardheaded, clearly stated, formulation that grew out of the campaign. The reality is that in governing you deal with a broader array of cases. And you--and--and you can have, you'll have serious internal debates of the kind that we've seen where the

realpolitik perspective which says Sudan does not rise above the bar, it's too difficult to fix, its not important enough, its too bad, we'll address it on the humanitarian level but don't over-invest…

Peter Robinson: So if you're President Bush, sorry, go ahead.

Bishop Gassis: The issue of the Sudan is no more a national issue for the Sudan and the Sudanese. It has gone overboard. So it became a regional issue. And after a while, it's going to get bigger. It's going to be an inter-national issue. The issue--the--of the expansionism of Islamic fundamentalism which is equal--equal to me to terrorism, that's the equation, is going to be an international issue. Actually it has become already an international issue. So why don't you, why can't the United States save the region? And I think the United States has interest in that region from a security point of view on the Horn of Africa.

Peter Robinson: Okay.

Stephen Morrison: May I add one point note…

Title: The Sheltering Sky

Peter Robinson: Let me test on you Steve, one of the Bishop's proposals. I'm quoting him, "We call on the international community led by the United States to impose no fly zones over southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and the southern Blue Nile." What do you make of that Steve?

Stephen Morrison: Not realistic.

Peter Robinson: Not realistic for the United States to get that involved in a--in a--that militarily involved?

Stephen Morrison: No one will take on that responsibility.

Peter Robinson: Okay. Can I just ask, both of you as a matter of fact, as a layman looking at this problem, uh, there are a couple of things that strike me as it would be big but on the other hand they seem obvious, and yet in all the material I've looked at, I can't find anybody proposing them. Item number one; just break the country in two.

Stephen Morrison: You will never be able to sell that to Egypt.

Peter Robinson: Egypt does not want the country broken in two, why?

Stephen Morrison: Because of its equities with Nile waters among other things.

Peter Robinson: Okay, is it as simple as that?

Bishop Gassis: I think it's--Egypt has interests in the Sudan. Basically the Nile's water is--is one of the major interests in the Sudan, but I don't think that the international community should buy what Egypt is dictating, because it is--it is Sudan's interests, not Egypt's interest.

Peter Robinson: So would you propose someday, eventually, at least in principal, would you favor a referendum in the south on independence?

Bishop Gassis: If--if the north is not going to accept the--the--the proposed solution of IGAD, then I think we have got to go to cessation.

Peter Robinson: Okay. In principal he's with it, you, as the American policymaker say oh please, we just can't deal with that one. Here's another one. There is a movement, an armed movement in the south, the SPLA, Sudan People's Liberation Army, the Bishop has referred to it several times, the fundamental problem here is not one of manpower. As a matter of fact, the Arab's in the north are only about forty percent of the population. The majority of the people are in the south. It's the pers--persecuted majority. It's a question of power, and money, training, equipment, why don't we arm the SPLA and enable them to fight back?

Stephen Morrison: There's no political will in this administration, nor the last administration to do that. It's simply not going to happen.

Peter Robinson: In principle would it be an acceptable solution to you?

Stephen Morrison: If there were political will to undertake that sort of investment, uh, it would certainly be one very important option for changing the strategic balance…

Peter Robinson: Okay…

Stephen Morrison: …it would be highly risky.

Peter Robinson: …so Bishop, you're a man of peace, you're a man of the church, hence a man of peace, there's your pectoral cross, but let me ask you. Why are you here asking for humanitarian aid, why aren't you asking also for guns? Arm my people, let them fight themselves, fight their own fight.

Bishop Gassis: I always, you know the NGO's they always tell us…

Peter Robinson: Non-government organizations. Go ahead.

Bishop Gassis: … and--and--and the various, uh, donor partners, they say we want you--we want to help you to help yourselves. So if you…

Peter Robinson: That's the line I'm taking here sir.

Bishop Gassis: …exactly. That's why I'm saying it, and--and--and then why don't you help the people of--of the south, the Nuba Mountains and other--other marginalized areas, help them to help themselves.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Bishop Gassis: I think the people even in the church, we say people have the right to defend their--their God given dignity. Uh, people have the right to defend themselves. Nobody has the right to take my life or obstruct me from forming a family or from expressing my views…

Title: Talking Points

Peter Robinson: Steve has called, now I'm quoting his paper, published by CSIS, they called on the Bush administration quote, "to press for serious and sustained talks between Khartoum and the southern opposition." What is it that the Bush administration can do to press?

Stephen Morrison: The Bishop has referred to the regional peace effort undertaken by IG--this organization called IGAD. That process has been stalled for a very, very long time. It has very weak leadership. Our paper argues that we should build upon the achievements of that process. The Declaration of Principles that lays out the--the framework for an eventual agreement. But there needs to be a concerted multi-lateral extra regional effort that would involve the British, the Norwegians, and the Americans in a leadership posture as well as the regional states.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so you're in favor of talk, right?

Bishop Gassis: I am in favor of--of--of arriving to a kind of a peaceful solution, but not at the expense of the rights, of the--of the suffering people. We are not going to have just--just to say we have solved it peacefully, because if it is at the expense of the suffering people, that's no peace, because the foundation is lacking, and the foundation is justice. You are not going to have peace without justice.

Peter Robinson: Steve has called on, an agreement based on a, I'm quoting him now, "one Sudan, two systems formula."

Stephen Morrison: What we are arguing is that the U.S. in concert with--with others, should be pushing for interim solutions. That is, pushing for a cessation of hostilities and an agreement around an interim set of arrangements that would preserve the unity of Sudan, but would build a--a robust self-governing south, with international guarantees to--to--to protect against the abrogation of those agreements.

Peter Robinson: Are you suggesting a government in the south?

Stephen Morrison: What I'm suggesting is we live with the ambig--with a--a--a broad ambiguity as to what the final status of Sudan would look like, but create a test to see whether it's possible to build a democratic self-governing south within a unified Sudan, and with very, very strong external investment and guarantees, and see if that works. You can kick down the road for the time being the referendum for--for independence…

Peter Robinson: What do you think of that? This is what the diplomats call creative ambiguity.

Bishop Gassis: This, from what I call, uh, compromise.

Peter Robinson: I don't think that was a ringing endorsement, Steve. Bishop listen to this, Steve is calling for the Bush administration, I quote him again, "to devise enhanced inducements and pressures that move both sides", there is the suggestion your side needs to be moved, as does the north, "that moves both sides to participate in peace negotiations in good faith." Could I ask what enhancements and inducements?

Stephen Morrison: On the oil sector. We should be putting much more intense pressure upon the present countries that host gov--host corporations that are involved in the oil sector, and those that are host to homes to corporations that are coming in on stream now.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so the Chinese are in there, there's not much pressure that we can impose on the Chinese, the Malaysians, not much, but there's a Canadian oil company…

Stephen Morrison: Right.

Peter Robinson: …and there's a Swedish oil company…

Stephen Morrison: Right.

Peter Robinson: …we should lean on Canada, and the Swedes, and well, the French, leaning on them never, well, in any event, we should lean on whom we can lean on to stop the flow of oil, right?

Stephen Morrison: Right.

Peter Robinson: You in favor of that?

Bishop Gassis: I'm in favor of anything that would stop the oil.

Peter Robinson: Oil is the first thing, did you have another two or three…

Stephen Morrison: Well many other, there are several others.

Peter Robinson: Okay.

Stephen Morrison: First of all, we've already seen Secretary Powell's pronouncement the end of April in which he said, it's incumbent upon Khartoum to demonstrate that it is prepared to change its spots. On terrorism, on aerial bombardments, on reigning in militias, and on opening humanitarian corridors. And those are the four items that we're going test Khartoum, and if they are prepared to show progress, we are prepared to begin thinking in broader terms of a--of a broader peace effort.

Peter Robinson: All right, that's a carrot…

Stephen Morrison: The U.S., the U.S. …

Peter Robinson: That's a carrot. Where's the stick?

Stephen Morrison: …but the, what do we hold that Khartoum wants?

Peter Robinson: Right.

Stephen Morrison: What Khartoum wants that we can stand in the way of is norm--full normalization of its status globally. It does not have an opportunity to go to the World Bank or the IMF under normal circumstances, or the Paris club of creditor donors, and get relief on its massive debt, get reconstruction flows and the like…

Peter Robinson: All right, so what we have to hold over Khartoum is the possibility of treating them as a normal nation?

Stephen Morrison: Right.

Peter Robinson: What you've heard here, does that like something that would impress Khartoum.

Bishop Gassis: Um, Khartoum can never be trusted.

Peter Robinson: They can never be trusted.

Bishop Gassis: No.

Peter Robinson: Its television, we're running out of time. If you could ask American's to do one thing, for the Sudan, what would it be?

Bishop Gassis: Be a--be brokers for justice and peace. And I still insist on the issue of non-fly zone. They have done it for the Kurds, why can't then do it for the Sudanese? Where there is a will, there is the way.

Peter Robinson: Let me ask--let's close it out by asking for a prediction. Four years from now, will the United States have become effectively involved in the--in the Sudan? Make a prediction, Steve, what do you think?

Stephen Morrison: The odds of--of us having a very sustained high level and effective engagement in trying to reach a just peace to Sudan are fairly low, but we need to keep pushing on this.

Peter Robinson: Bishop Gassis, are you as pessimistic as he?

Bishop Gassis: No, I'm a man of hope.

Peter Robinson: Thank you very much Steve, Bishop Gassis, thank you very much.

Bishop Gassis would like to see the United States engage in dramatic intervention in the Sudan, a no-fly zone for example. Stephen Morrison believes we should pursue diplomatic ends. But both agree that if the United States does nothing, the Nile will indeed run red once again.

I'm Peter Robinson, thanks for joining us.