Administrator of the USAID Andrew Natsios discusses the continued human rights abuses in the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan
Friday, October 12, 2001
JERRY FOWLER: Welcome to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Jerry Fowler. I’m the staff director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. The Committee on Conscience is sponsoring this evening’s program.
When the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Elie Wiesel, recommended the creation of a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, they pointed out in their Report to the President that... to confront and work to halt, acts of genocide and related crimes against humanity.
ANDREW NATSIOS: Thank you for that kind introduction. It is indeed an honor to be here and have the opportunity to discuss the terrible humanitarian challenges the people of Sudan are facing with an audience asexperienced and knowledgeable as this.
Let me begin, though, by thanking the organizers of this event and commending the Holocaust Museum for all that it has accomplished since opening in 1993. The staff here has done an outstanding job in keeping the Holocaust from being buried beneath the weight of history and forgetfulness. In doing so, you have helped shed light on dark dungeons that live in the human soul and inspired us all to help make sure such things never take place again.
Sudan is one of the places where we are trying to prevent terrible human rights abuses from taking place. This danger is especially evident in the Nuba Mountains. The Nuba people have been on the frontline of the conflict for many years and consistently denied access to relief by the Government of Sudan.
The photographs of the Nuba Mountains exhibited here in the Holocaust Museum show the rich cultures, people and landscape there that are being threatened with extinction. Let me assure all of you that we are doing everything in our power to see that food and assistance gets to the Nuba people and to ensure their plight will not be forgotten.
Let me assure you, also, that despite the events in and around Afghanistan, Sudan is, and will remain, a subject of great importance to this Administration.
It is important that it does. Even as the world is focused on Afghanistan, the war in Sudan continues, bitter, relentless, and cruel.
In the past week alone, the Government’s military forces attacked the World Food Program’s (WFP) humanitarian operations three separate times. Sudanese aircraft dropped more than 40 bombs on an area formally approved by the Government for international humanitarian relief. It could hardly have been an accident. The people who were bombed were civilians who had already fled an active combat zone and who had gathered to receive the air drops of relief food. It was one more outrage.
These are the kind of brutal events President Bush had in mind last month, when he named Senator Danforth the Special Envoy to Sudan, and said: “For nearly two decades, the government of Sudan has waged a brutal and shameful war against its own people … The responsibility to end the war is on their shoulders. They must now seek the peace, and we want to help.”
Indeed, we will help, for that is our nature, part of the makeup of the American people.
Part of the process of helping is informing people about the nature and extent of Sudan’s many man-made problems. I would like to thank the Museum’s Committee on Conscience for their Sudan exhibit, therefore, and for the clear warning they issued last year about the grave conditions the Sudanese people are facing. The moral authority the Museum and the Committee lend to the process is a valuable asset as we search for ways to bring this humanitarian and human rights nightmare to an end.
I have been to Sudan many times, beginning when I was the director of USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in the George H.W. Bush Administration.
When Secretary Powell and I visited Africa this May, he spoke of being “moved by the desperate situation that exists in Sudan, by the people on the verge of starvation and, people who have children that are not being educated.” And he “pledged that the United States would continue to do everything we could to assist them.”
As the Administration’s Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, I take that pledge to heart. As long as I hold this position, the United States Agency for International Development will keep its focus on the people of Sudan.
You are familiar, I am certain, with the figures -- two million dead, four million internally displaced, and the 18 years of nearly constant civil war. You are familiar, too, with the Government’s support for terrorism and slave-taking, massive human rights violations against civilians in the North and South, and repeated bombings of civilians.
My purpose today is not to go over each and every one of these issues, important as they are to understanding the challenges Sudan presents, but to discuss with you a few points that will guide our humanitarian policy there over the next few years.
The first point is our reestablishment of the indisputable principle of the neutrality of humanitarian assistance - providing relief to all civilians in Sudan who need it, regardless of where they reside.
One of the first things I did after being named Special Coordinator this May was to get Colin Powell’s support for putting this principle to work in Sudan. Thus in May 2001, desperate drought-affected civilians in remote areas of the North became eligible to receive US drought and famine assistance. Since then we have been sending food and humanitarian supplies to the drought-affected areas of the North, in addition to the afflicted regions of the South.
Because all conflict zones are not being provided assistance, we have an aggressive approach to expanding our humanitarian access.
For example, we have made significant strides in providing humanitarian access to the people of the Nuba Mountains. For many, the Nuba Mountains represents the most extreme humanitarian challenge in Sudan. Recently, however, the US sponsored an unprecedented humanitarian relief flight that both the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Government agreed upon. It delivered eight metric tons of wheat to the people of this remote area, who until now been completely cut off from official international assistance.
Their immediate needs, however, are for over 2,000 metric tons of food. We are now negotiating to expand delivery of food aid there through airdrops organized by USAID and implemented by the WFP. Our goal is to have a program which can be sustained and has the approval of the Sudanese Government.
Even in the absence of such approval, however, we will continue delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Nuba Mountains. We will not forget the Nuba people.
The United States supplied more than $168 million in humanitarian assistance to the Sudanese people in FY 2001 alone.
We at USAID are supplying emergency food assistance to many parts of the country now through five private voluntary organizations, some of which are affiliated with Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS). In addition, our Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance programs support about 15 NGOs in the South whose programs are devoted to agricultural production, livestock health, primary health care, water and sanitation, infrastructure, and repatriation and resettlement of refugees and displaced people.
Finally, our cutting edge development assistance program, called Sudan Transitional Assistance for Rehabilitation - or STAR - has been working to furthering self-reliance and good governance in opposition-held areas. These programs reflect the more energetic approach we have been taking recently to address both the humanitarian and development needs of vulnerable Sudanese.
While my main point is that we are getting food and emergency supplies to most of the people who need it, irrespective of their political affiliation, a corollary benefit is that people, of course, see where this assistance is coming from. They always do. If, in the process, they reflect on the strength and value of our system, with its reliance on freedom, free markets and the institutions of a free and democratic people, I have no problem with that.
While our humanitarian assistance is neutral, the Sudanese Government is not. By deliberately denying food to large regions of the country and putting obstacles in the way of Operation Lifeline Sudan - to say nothing of the slave-raids, forced displacements and bombing of civilian settlements, schools and hospitals - the Government has provoked at least two separate famines over the past dozen years.
None of these stemmed from purely natural causes. Indeed, famines occur when the effects of drought or regional food shortages are exacerbated by the indifference, incompetence, or deliberate hostility of the central government.
If you look at the major famines of the last century - in Russia and Ukraine during the forced collectivization drive of the 1930s; in China during Cultural Revolution in the 1950s; in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s; and in North Korea over the past few years - you will notice that they share one common denominator. Each of these was deliberately and methodically imposed by ruthless, ideology-driven totalitarian regimes. I fear we must add the government of Sudan to this list.
By contrast - and this is my second point - democracies do not allow famines. This has been well documented by the eminent Indian economist Amartya Sen. The reason is simple. People who live in democracies have the means to defend themselves. They can vote their leaders out of office, express and inform themselves through a free media, change jobs and travel freely. And where free markets and free institutions prevail, even the poorest people can have access to food and shelter.
This is hardly the case in Sudan. This year, while there was no famine, there has been a serious drought in Kordofan, Dafur and the Red Sea Hills provinces of the North. Approximately 900,000 people were affected. Most of the people in these regions do not support the ruling regime, so the Government of Sudan made little effort to alleviate their suffering.
Fortunately, the United States and some of the other Western democracies - the countries that supply virtually all the world’s humanitarian relief -- were there to help. And now that the rains have come, there is a good chance that these people will have enough food to survive and hopefully plant new crops this winter.
I visited these areas myself this July, along with OFDA Director Roger Winter, who knows Sudan better than just about anyone in this country. Our seven-member team was the highest-level delegation to visit Khartoum in six years. It was also the first to raise the humanitarian issues of the North and the South. In our nine-point message to the government, we addressed vital human rights and humanitarian issues such as slavery, bombing, oil, and limited access to humanitarian aid.
We also visited the South, where our theme was “preparing the people of South for a just peace.”
I must say that I was struck this time - again -- by the incredible devastation that 18 years of war has caused. An entire generation has been lost. Essential building blocks for lasting development -- peace, stability, and education - remain elusive in many areas and much that is essential to individual development has been destroyed. At the same time, distinct and unique cultures such as the Nuba face extinction.
It seems, in fact, that the brutality of the government has gone a long way toward creating the very thing it wanted to prevent: the sense that the South is indeed different and separate from the North.
However, there are also expanding areas of relative stability in the South, especially on the West Bank of the Nile and in Western Equatoria, where gradual progress is being made toward civil administration, economic rehabilitation and development - with assistance from the USAID’s STAR program.
We are supporting peace and reconciliation among the many groups that live in the South. To this effect, we are setting up a Sudan Peace Fund to provide incentives to support schools, wells, and markets there, to be implemented after each peace agreement among these groups is signed.
The devastating legacy of long years of endless conflict will take decades to overcome, even if peace were to come today. The toll that almost two decades of displacement, civil war, refugees, and food insecurity has taken on peoples’ lives is probably incalculable.
One thing is sure: the war must end now and people must be given a chance to rebuild their lives. As the President has made clear, the United States stands ready to help make this happen.
It is sometimes said that an unjust peace is better than a just war. This may have merit in the short-term, when anything that ends the killing is welcome. Over the long-term, however, an unjust peace is impossible to sustain, because injustice carries within it the seeds of the next rebellion.
This is precisely what happened with the Taliban. When they seized Kabul five years ago, many people accepted them because they brought a kind of peace to a worn and weary people. But look at what they wrought.
The third point I would like to discuss with you is oil. The discovery of oil, in what is essentially the South, has profoundly changed the calculus of the war in Sudan. Just what the long-term consequences of this discovery will be are hard to say.
Oil revenue, of course, could be a major source of funding for the country’s growth and development. Properly shared, it could be the economic stimulus that the country has long needed, and a very significant component of a just and lasting peace.
But as it stands today, oil has only helped to fuel tension, bitterness and war. I heard loud and clear from Southerners when I visited in July that they feel that the North is stealing their oil - and all the economic development it could bring to them.
They have a point. The forced displacement of tens of thousands from around the pipeline has swelled the ranks of the country’s internally displaced, already the highest in the world. The abandoned and destroyed villages were readily apparent as we flew over the pipeline -- the destruction of people’s lives could not be more apparent.
Another problem is the fact that the oil fields extend well into the heartland of the South. If Khartoum decides to develop these fields fully and without including the South -- as I suspect this government hopes to do -- there will be further displacement and killing and little incentive for the two sides to come to terms.
I would like to end by pointing to two new programs that we plan to launch soon and that I am particularly proud of. Both stem from my visit to Sudan this summer and the effort that we have undertaken to foster the transition from relief to development and especially to assist the South in preparing for peace.
The first is a teaching and training program designed to help the people of the South regain some of the schools and teachers that they have lost. The other is an agricultural extension program, which will help people there regain some technical expertise that has also been lost. Both of these initiatives will assist in furthering Southerners’ efforts to rebuild their devastated communities.
We have chosen these activities because no society can advance without an educated population. Nor can a region the size of southern Sudan hope to achieve significant development without a solid agricultural foundation to depend on.
But you know and I know that development can only go so far as long as this dreadful conflict continues. In the meantime, we will continue to work towards preparing the South for peace.
I believe, as the President and Secretary Powell do, that a just peace is possible, and because it is possible, we who understand the benefits of peace, have a duty to do all that we can to encourage it.
Thank you. And now, I will be happy to take your questions.