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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of African Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2002: African Affairs Remarks

Conflict in Sudan

Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, USAID
Testimony Before the Subcommittee on African Affairs Committee on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC
July 11, 2002

Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify here today. As many of you know, this is a critical time for Sudan. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace process is well underway, with senior representation by both parties to the conflict. At the same time, a major military offensive is affecting thousands, and access to humanitarian services has been denied to hundreds of thousands more. This demonstrates the dichotomy of Sudan. The country is riding a fine line between opportunity and disaster.

Under this Administration, the U.S. government has been thoroughly engaged on Sudan. President Bush personally has made a number of strong statements about the conflict in Sudan; Senator Danforth has extended his term as the President's Special Peace Envoy; and USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, the President's Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, has committed more resources to Sudan than in any other year in the last decade, especially in development assistance for southern Sudan.

I will focus my testimony today on the ways that humanitarian activities can enhance the ongoing peace process and how diplomatic intervention can further humanitarian goals.

During the first phase of the U.S. initiative under Special Envoy Danforth, USAID and the Department of State worked exceedingly well together to test the willingness of the Government of Sudan (GoS) and Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) to move toward a just peace, while at the same time improving the lives of war-affected people in Sudan. That link between humanitarian programs and the peace process will remain strong over the next six months.

Although most of USAID's funding will support continuing programs in the sectors of health, food security, education and economic revitalization, new initiatives linked directly to the peace process will include: improving humanitarian access to populations in need; preparing the South for peace whatever its final form; expanding programs that cross GoS-SPLM front lines to reinforce local reconciliation; addressing underlying causes of vulnerability in marginal regions of northern Sudan; and following up on the previous Danforth initiatives, especially on the humanitarian efforts in the Nuba Mountains.

While recent developments give cause for hope and justify energetic U.S. engagement, optimism must be tempered. Historically, the GoS's record on humanitarian assistance to war-affected civilians is not at all good. The GoS continues to send contradictory signals on its commitment to supporting humanitarian efforts. While the government takes steps forward on the geographically limited Danforth initiatives, it takes steps backward in the overall provision of unhindered humanitarian access. Currently hundreds of thousands of war- affected and displaced Sudanese in Western Upper Nile are denied access to assistance by GoS flight bans.

In Western Upper Nile, the area where the fiercest fighting is taking place, the government has prevented aid agencies from delivering life-saving food and other commodities. It is this combination of active conflict and denial of access that created a famine in 1998 in Bahr el Ghazal, where up to one hundred thousand people died. If the current situation cannot be changed in Western Upper Nile, and the GoS continues its manipulation of food and other assistance, such as the limitations the GoS has placed on flight access in the month of July, there is a strong risk that we will again witness the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Sudanese.

Full access for aid agencies to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance is our number one priority. The main avenue for assisting the Sudanese population affected by war is through Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), an international relief program based on an agreement between the United Nations (UN), SPLA, and GoS negotiated in 1989. At that point, the former Government of Sudan gave OLS unfettered access because the warring parties were participating in a peace process. It was all too clear to the international actors at that time that, in the Sudan context, humanitarian access was a necessary precursor for successful peace negotiations.

When the current government in Sudan came to power two months later, it began frequently and habitually denying access to OLS in violation of the agreement. USAID, with strong and persistent Congressional interest, began supporting NGOs working outside the OLS in order to minimize civilian deaths. The non-OLS initiative was not designed to be a complete program meeting overall needs, but to fill gaps in the larger OLS program caused by the GoS manipulation of OLS. In an ideal situation, where the warring Sudanese parties fully respect the principle of humanitarian access, there would be no need for agencies to work outside a common U.N. framework.

In recent months, access by international agencies to civilians in need has eroded dramatically. The GoS is now proposing major revisions to the current OLS framework to increase its control. In June, in Western Upper Nile (the focus of the current humanitarian crisis), the GoS cleared six organizations to work in only five locations for five days, far short of what is needed. If access to this area does not improve immediately, famine may result.

The GoS impedes access in two ways - by outright denial of access to certain locations, and by adding bureaucratic steps that encumber the monthly flight clearance process. Given its limited ability to negotiate with a member state, the U.N. has requested donors to engage the GoS bilaterally in parallel humanitarian access negotiations.

It is clear that the U.S. and other donor governments must assume a forceful and unified stance towards GoS non-compliance with various humanitarian agreements it has made to date. On June 27, in Geneva, USAID convened the humanitarian arms of eight donor countries to seek consensus on coordinated donor actions on humanitarian access. I can tell you that all of the governments present were in sync on the humanitarian access issues. On June 28, Administrator Natsios released a statement, and from this, a formal demarche was given to the GoS. It called on the Government of Sudan to approve without delay all flight clearance requests made by the UN/OLS for the month of July. This, however, has not happened.

While the initial increase in the numbers of locations given access for July 2002 shows an increase of 18 locations, a further analysis shows a different picture. The number of places to which the GoS denies access, saying they cannot be identified properly, remains the same at 41. Amazingly, some of these locations "unknown" to the GoS, such as Marial Bai and Marial Lou in Bahr el Ghazal, are places OLS has been flying to for years. Those locations are well known, and have been previously approved by the GoS. There were 23 locations that were categorically denied access in July. Of these 23 locations, nine were in Western Upper Nile, seven in Bahr el Ghazal, and the rest in Equatoria. The continual denial of locations in Upper Nile is especially problematic because U.N. reports show large unmet needs and a population that is largely displaced. Out of the five locations approved in Upper Nile, only three are actually in Western Upper Nile, the worst hit area. Almost all of Equatoria continues to be denied as it has been for more than three years. The only positive result is the approval of one location in Ruweng County, where a U.N. assessment shows the entire population of 74,000 in need of food and non-food items.

The United States specifically and donor governments generally must be willing to define and articulate the consequences of GoS non-compliance, and they must be ready to apply these consequences swiftly when a violation of an agreement occurs. The U.S. government must link unimpeded access to an end goal of improving bilateral relations between the United States and Sudan. If the GoS has real or perceived concerns about military assistance being delivered to the SPLA from outside sources, it must address these issues through other mechanisms, not through the manipulation of humanitarian aid to desperate at-risk civilians.

In the meantime, USAID will continue to build the management and logistical capacity of humanitarian non-OLS partners to make them a more effective avenue for essential aid. To be consistent with Congressional intent, the amount of USAID disaster assistance other than food in southern Sudan going to organizations outside OLS has increased from 13 percent in 1998 to 45 percent last year. We will continue this strong support for non-OLS agencies as long as the humanitarian access crisis continues. Non-OLS partners continue to be a major part of our humanitarian response, and we will not allow the GoS to portray this valuable assistance as anything less than meeting a humanitarian imperative for the long-suffering civilian population of southern Sudan.

Humanitarian access is not peripheral to the larger peace process. The issue of unimpeded humanitarian access is a benchmark that must be reached for a genuine peace process to move forward. It is the necessary proof of good intentions toward desperate civilians in the South. As President Bush has said, "Sudan's government cannot continue to talk peace but make war, must not continue to block and manipulate U.N. food deliveries, and must not allow slavery to persist."

A second USAID priority for the next six months is to promote stability among different ethnic groups along the line of conflict so that an eventual just peace is not engulfed by tribal warfare. In many countries, new peace agreements often unravel because civil society is not ready for peace. One can imagine such a scenario in Sudan. The Sudanese have been dependant on disaster assistance for many years and have had their ability to again achieve self-reliance dramatically undermined. Administrator Natsios has heard repeatedly from southern Sudanese affected by the war of their desire to again be self-reliant. For this reason, USAID has committed $42.5 million over the next five years in longer-term development programs, concentrating on agriculture and education in southern Sudan. Implementation of these programs will begin by the end of September of this year.

Historically, certain areas of Sudan have served as gateways between cultures and across the historical North-South divide, and for the movement of people and commerce. Increasing stability around these gateways will draw internally displaced persons (IDPs) back to their home areas and build upon local peace initiatives. Recovering markets will give peaceful economic alternatives to slave raiders, that is, "trade not raid." Growing peaceful interaction among ethnic groups will enhance stability. In the next six months, USAID expects to commence or expand these cross-line programs in the Nuba Mountains and Abyei/Twic. We will facilitate the return of IDPs to areas of origin, and will support economic livelihoods.

Our third priority is expanding humanitarian assistance to northern Sudan. Most of USAID's humanitarian assistance to northern Sudan goes to displaced southerners living in urban areas. Northern Sudan also suffers from cyclical droughts, to which USAID responded with relief programs in the mid-1980s, the early 1990s and in 2001. USAID's drought response in 2001 restored the principle of neutrality for U.S. humanitarian aid by expanding our program to include drought-affected northerners. This action also had a political resonance given the increasing bilateral engagement. This was appreciated by other donors who perceived U.S. Sudan policy in the past as being unbalanced.

Our area of focus in northern Sudan over the next six months will be Northern Darfur and the Red Sea Hills, following up the current emergency drought response with a program that addresses underlying causes of vulnerability. Additionally, possibilities currently exist for some of the 2,000,000 IDPs in the greater Khartoum area, as well as urban IDPs in other northern cities, to return to their home areas in the South. Such opportunities will vastly increase should the peace talks succeed. Other permanent solutions will also be supported for IDPs who may choose to remain in the north.

Finally, USAID will continue to follow-up on the Danforth Initiatives. The highest priority is in the Nuba Mountains where, it is clear that diplomatic and humanitarian cooperation is essential for saving lives and furthering the peace process. In August, 2001, Administrator Natsios initiated negotiations on an airlift of eight metric tons of food in the Nuba Mountains, an area that had been previously isolated and specially targeted by the GoS. The successful delivery of the food in August was followed by an extended military stand-down to permit a humanitarian assessment of the region and larger deliveries of assistance. Both the delivery and the stand-down required the State Department's direct involvement and support. These humanitarian interventions, in turn, helped pave the way for the Special Envoy Danforth's successful negotiation and implementation of a formal cease-fire agreement in Nuba.

The Nuba Mountains cease-fire has not been perfect. Even though expanded humanitarian assistance was part of the agreement, implementation of the food assistance program there was blocked by the GoS from February until several days before Andrew Natsios' visit in June of this year.

The cease-fire is also not without risks for humanitarian workers. Just last month, a USAID-funded tractor in the Nuba Mountains hit a landmine after a GoS military officer detained groups traveling in and out of one small area. Six persons died and several others were wounded. There have been several investigations to determine whether the landmine had been newly planted, but regardless of when it was planted, one must question whether the spirit of the cease-fire agreement truly trickles down to the local commanders.

These weaknesses are real, and I believe the cease-fire is not replicable in toto. However, there are many positive aspects of the Nuba Mountains cease-fire agreement and its international monitoring that may be of use in other high-conflict areas of Sudan. When the formal Nuba Mountains cease-fire agreement was signed, the enthusiasm of the local population grew more rapidly than was anticipated, and civilians and commerce began to move more freely. The impact of the Nuba cease-fire outside Nuba has been striking; the local reconciliation has triggered "grass-roots" discussion and anticipation of peace far beyond the borders of the Nuba Mountains.

The degree to which the warring parties respect the agreement to protect civilians from attack has significant humanitarian consequences. Since March, when both parties signed this agreement, repeated bombings, continuing reports of gunship attacks, and the ongoing forced displacement of civilians, indicate that the agreement has had little positive humanitarian impact in Western Upper Nile or Bahr El Ghazal, the two regions most likely to serve as a "proving ground" for true commitment to protect civilians. Preliminary reports on the month of June show more attacks recorded than in all of the other months this year combined.

Additionally, the GoS imposition of flight denials in these regions all but prevents even ad-hoc monitoring of the agreement. In the absence of either a mechanism for impartial monitoring and investigation, or a reversal of the GoS flight denial patterns, there is little hope that the current situation will change. Finally, if the February attacks on Bieh that killed twenty-four civilians serve as an example, even the strongest international condemnation of attacks is not likely to produce adequate results. (The GoS has yet to take definitive steps to prevent a similar incident.) As a monitoring mechanism is implemented and as increased international focus on the protection of civilians in Sudan grows, it is also clear there must be well articulated consequences for violation to assure the agreement takes adequate hold.

Mr. Chairman, I have outlined some of the political and administrative actions needed for the humanitarian work to be successfully accomplished. Sudan's needs may actually increase in the short-run, especially if prospects brighten for a negotiated settlement and USAID will be expected to respond to those needs. We will continue to consult with you as this situation evolves.

I would like to thank the subcommittee once again for allowing me to testify today. I have worked on Sudan for twenty years. I believe there are significant prospects for peace, but it must be a just peace, and it cannot be negotiated while atrocities take place. If the Government of Sudan is serious about peace, it must give unrestricted access to war-affected civilians in humanitarian need. That must happen now - not one month, two months, or three months from now. The world cannot wait; the people of southern Sudan cannot wait.

Thank you.

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