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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of African Affairs > Releases > Reports > 2003
Sudan Peace Act Report  
Released by the Department of State
April 21, 2003

Section 11

I. Introduction

This report is submitted pursuant to Section 11 of the Sudan Peace Act (P.L. 107-245) (“the Act”). It provides “information about incidents which may constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and other violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Sudan, including slavery, rape, and aerial bombardment of civilian targets.” It focuses on information concerning incidents that have occurred in the period from enactment on October 21, 2002, through March 31, 2003. To provide context, the Department of State collected and reviewed information for the full year 2002. In some cases, pertinent information regarding events before 2002 is presented for deeper context or clarification. Subsequent reports, due annually on April 21, will cover the period April 1 through March 31.

The information presented here principally concerns attacks against civilians and forced displacement of civilian populations. These categories encompass the major types of relevant incidents that have been reported during the time period covered. The Department is not able to confirm much of the information presented, but has endeavored to identify sources of information and the means, if any, of verification. The Department sought to collect and review available material relevant to the requirement, including information from the U.S. missions in Nairobi and Khartoum, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other parts of the U.S. government; information submitted by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army and the Government of Sudan; information from and published reports by international and non-governmental organizations; reports by the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team; and press reports. Some of the information presented herein repeats or makes reference to information provided in the report submitted in compliance with Section 8 of the Act.

II. Overview

A. October 15, 2002 Memorandum of Understanding

The Sudan Peace Act was enacted six days after the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (“SPLM/A”) signed the October 15 Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) that called for both a cessation of hostilities and unimpeded humanitarian access. The parties have imperfectly honored the October 15 MOU, but humanitarian access to opposition areas of Sudan has improved and the government has ceased aerial bombardment in southern Sudan.

B. Ground Offensives Leading up to and in the Aftermath of October 15, 2002

The cessation in aerial bombardment (see section III.C. below) contrasts with the government’s on-again-off-again pursuit of war objectives in Western Upper Nile, whether directly or through allied militias, through ground offensives beginning in late December 2002. Western Upper Nile, also known as Unity State, holds unique importance due to its oil reserves and infrastructure. The offensives of January 2003 follow a similar pattern of repeated government/militia attacks in Western Upper Nile in the first half of 2002 and in years preceding. Attacks on civilians and forced displacements are an inherent part of these offensives and are addressed in detail below. In information provided to the Department of State and to the committee within the IGAD peace talks to which the U.S. is an observer, the SPLM/A has lodged numerous allegations of violations of the cessation of hostilities in Western Upper Nile by the Sudanese military and allied militias beginning December 31, 2002. This information lists sixteen SPLM/A-held locations taken by the government and militias after signing of the October 15 MOU and asserts continued attacks in February and March on civilians throughout Western Upper Nile. Most, but not all of the hostilities in Western Upper Nile ended in February 2003 as a result of intense U.S. and international pressure and the signing by the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A of an MOU Addendum calling for the creation of a verification mechanism.

For its part, the SPLM/A led an offensive that culminated in the seizure of the government garrison of Torit (the only government-held terrain in Eastern Equatoria) on August 31, 2002. This offensive had the effect of prompting the government to halt the Machakos peace talks and to muster its forces to retake the town some weeks later. Credible reporting suggests not only that many civilians died in the SPLM/A assault on Torit, but also that the SPLM/A executed soldiers whom it had captured in the assault. Pursuit of war objectives by allies of the SPLM/A in eastern Sudan in October-November 2002 and in western Sudan since the beginning of 2003, to both of which the government has responded, has run counter to the spirit of the MOU, if not the letter, and produced violence that has spilled over into the civilian sector.

III. Information Concerning Possible Violations of International Humanitarian Law

Attacks of various kinds against civilians have been regularly reported throughout the history of the civil war. Many attacks on civilians have been the product of poor command and control and inadequate rules of engagement (for example, civilians have been harmed as a result of indiscriminate use of force and extremely imprecise targeting techniques), but both parties to the conflict have also employed attacks on civilians as a military strategy.

Senator John Danforth, the President’s Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan, set forth four tests for peace in late 2001. One of the tests was a commitment by the government and the SPLM to end attacks on civilians, reflected in an agreement signed by both parties in March 2002. The agreement called for the creation of a Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (“CPMT”) to verify its implementation. The team became fully operational in October 2002, coincident with the parties’ signing of the MOU. It is equipped with the capacity to investigate allegations of attacks on civilians by either side, and it has provided a modality for verifying reports of attacks that did not exist in the previous history of the conflict. Since it became operational, there has been a reduction in attacks against civilians outside the Western Upper Nile; the team’s presence probably has helped to deter such attacks.

A. Rape

Most reports of significant episodes of violent attacks against civilians throughout this conflict have included rape as a recurrent element of the attacks, and the present reporting period is no exception. There were reports of rape and forced sexual service by government forces or allied militias during the Western Upper Nile offensive beginning in December 2002. In the CPMT’s report on its investigation of military activity in the Western Upper Nile, more fully described below in section III.D., the CPMT concluded, on the basis of multiple interviews with victims, that village women abducted by pro-government armed militias had been forced to provide manual labor and sexual services.

B. Slavery/Abductions

In May 2002, an International Eminent Persons Group completed an investigation into the extent of slavery and abductions in Sudan, concluding that both the government and the SPLM/A were guilty of forced abductions, although armed pro-government militias were the principal agents. The extent of the slavery problem is unknown, although estimates suggest that there may be over 10,000 southern Sudanese in forced servitude. The report of the International Eminent Persons Group and research by organizations such as the Rift Valley Institute and civil society programs, appear to have helped deter the previously persistent slave raiding by government-supported militias in southern Darfur and northern Bahr el-Ghazal. Nevertheless, in the present six-month reporting period, there were further allegations of abductions, possibly involving slavery, including reports received by the CPMT. The chairman of the Committee for Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children, in an interview with a Sudanese newspaper on April 2, 2003, stated that 350 cases of abduction had been reported to that committee in the year 2002. According to a recent statement of the Special Rapporteur for Sudan of the UN Commission on Human Rights, though, no new cases of abductions were reported since June of 2002.

C. Aerial Bombardment of Civilians

The Government of Sudan, the only party in the conflict capable of conducting aerial bombardment, has not engaged in aerial bombardment in southern Sudan since it signed the October 15, 2002 MOU. However, it used helicopter gunships during its 2003 ground offensive in Western Upper Nile. Aerial bombardment had been, for many years, a major feature of the government’s actions in the south. During the year 2002, aerial bombardment of civilian and military targets was heavily employed in Equatoria in June, apparently in anticipation of an SPLM/A offensive, and throughout southern Sudan in September, after the SPLM/A captured Torit. Some of the most deadly use of aerial bombardment and helicopter gunships occurred during the first half of 2002 in Western Upper Nile. According to reports from various sources of varying reliability, there were approximately 85 instances of aerial bombardment by fixed-wing aircraft in the year 2002, of which approximately 35 were reported to have caused human casualties, resulting in an estimated 200 civilians killed. In many cases of aerial bombardment, it is difficult to determine to what extent civilians were deliberately targeted, harmed as a consequence of indiscriminate bombing, or accidentally harmed in the course of an attack specifically directed against a military target. There are indications that aerial bombardment had also been used to terrorize civilian populations even when there are no direct casualties. It is clear that a very much higher number of civilians were killed as a result of ground offensives. Section 8 of the Act specifically requires reporting on aerial bombardment. The Department has provided a separate report responding to Section 8(3), which should be read in conjunction with this report.

D. Attacks on Civilians and Forced Displacement

i. Incidents since Enactment of Act

To a significant extent during the conflict, and particularly during the reporting period, intentional attacks on civilians have been aimed, at least in part, at forcing the displacement of civilian populations. Much of the available reporting merges these categories of incidents, and they are therefore treated together here.

Since the signing of the MOU on October 15 (and enactment of the Act on October 21), most reported incidents of attacks on civilians and forced displacement have occurred in Western Upper Nile. Various types of violent actions against civilians have been used to compel their displacement from their usual areas of habitation, including killing, rape, abduction, burning of shelters, and looting of property (including cattle and crops) necessary for livelihood. Forced displacement in Western Upper Nile is an aspect of the conflict between the government and the SPLM/A (and a shifting array of militias associated with each side) over control of oil-rich territory. The government is widely regarded as having pursued a policy to depopulate the key oil exploration and exploitation areas (principally, Western Upper Nile) as a counterinsurgency measure to eliminate threats to its control over the resources. The SPLM/A continues to try to deny the government the benefits of oil production as a fundamental military objective, but to that end does not engage in forced displacement actions. Much of the oil-producing zone (known as the Heglig Unity fields run by the GNPOC consortium) in southern Sudan has, over a period of years, been substantially depopulated. During the period since enactment (October 2002 to April 2003), tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced.

The Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, in a report submitted February 6, 2003, concluded that many thousands of civilians had been forcibly displaced from their villages during fighting in Western Upper Nile from December 31, 2002, to January 30, 2003. The displacements were a result of direct government-supported military attack in the areas of Lara-Tam-Nhialdou-Leel and the villages south of Mankien and Mayom. The report concluded further that conditions were “equally bad” along the new Bentiu-Adok road built for oil exploitation, where most villages were found to be empty or destroyed. The CPMT reported abductions of noncombatants, rape, and looting of cattle, food, and personal possessions by government-allied militias. According to the CPMT, these militias, supported directly by government military forces, conducted military attacks against villages and civilians in the Mayom-Mankien-Lara-Tam-Leel area. The CPMT found that the government’s direct support to attacks included possibly artillery and likely helicopter gunships against Lingara and villages north of Tam. The CPMT found no indication that the SPLM/A had attacked government forces or allied militia in the region; however, SPLM/A units were stationed in some of the villages attacked and drove off government-allied militia attackers in several instances.

Specifically in the village of Leel, the CPMT verified that a militia attack on January 21 was directed against the civilian population and involved the use of rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine-gun fire (no casualty data were reported). CPMT interviews with captured government-allied militia involved in the attack indicated that the purpose of the mission was to burn the village in order to drive out the inhabitants. The attackers had by-passed SPLM/A forces during their approach march and made no effort to engage the small number of such forces who were in the village at the time. The report noted that Leel is an internally-displaced persons center with an estimated 8,000 people who had been previously displaced from their homes by fighting to the north.

With respect to incidents along the Bentiu-Adok road, which was still under construction during part of the reporting period, the CPMT found that military operations and village clearing were being conducted by what appeared to be the government and their allied militias, and some SPLM/A military units were involved in counter-attacks. Four civilian workers were reportedly killed at the highway-construction camp near Kock on January 1 as a result of weapons fire from unknown persons outside the camp, probably from SPLM/A members. The CPMT found further that the government military had been providing security for the construction by pushing their regular units forward along the new road, completed to within a few miles of Leer at the time of the report and that “[v]illages along both flanks of the new road ha[d] been cleared of the civil populace.”

As a result of intense international pressure, the government and the SPLM/A strengthened the October 15, 2002, MOU by signing an addendum on February 4, under which the parties undertook to provide information on the identity and location of their own and allied forces, give notice in advance of all troop movements, allow creation of a verification and monitoring team, return control of any locations taken over since the signing of the October 15 MOU, and suspend construction work on the Bentiu-Adok road. The United States continuously pressured the government and its allied-militias to cease hostilities in Western Upper Nile, and on February 11, 2003 condemned the government in a public statement following publication of the CPMT report. During the period of January 31 to March 10, continued government and allied militia patrolling in the Bentiu-Adok road area was reported to the CPMT, to include rapes, looting, and theft of livestock in the villages northeast and northwest of Leer. The U.S. Charge d’affaires in Khartoum and the head of the CPMT traveled to the region February 28 to meet militia leaders and to urge an end to fighting and attacks on civilians. CPMT investigations are ongoing.

The International Crisis Group (“ICG”), a non-governmental organization, offered its own analysis of recent events in Western Upper Nile in its February 10, 2003, report, “Sudan’s Oilfields Burn Again: Brinkmanship Endangers the Peace Process.” Its report recounts the use of tactics including abduction of women and children, gang rapes, ground assaults supported by helicopter gunships, destruction of humanitarian relief sites, and burning of villages, committed predominantly by government-allied militias, with government troops in back-up roles. The ICG took note of the defection of militia leader Peter Gatdeat from the SPLM/A to the government in early December 2002. According to a variety of sources, Gatdeat is widely considered to be responsible for brutalities committed both as a commander for the SPLM/A and, more recently, for a government-allied militia.

As reported by the ICG, the offensive aimed in part to clear both SPLM/A and civilians out of the area of road construction from just north of Leer through Leer to Adok along the Nile. The village of Leer was attacked on January 26, and the road was extended to within 5 kilometers of the town by early February, just before hostilities ceased. Pro-government militias reportedly burned to the ground several villages along the route, with government forces in support. According to the ICG’s analysis, the SPLM/A was generally on the defensive in the recent fighting, although over the last three years, SPLM/A-allied militias had been responsible for a series of attacks against civilian targets in the context of battles with government-supported militias.

ii. Incidents Prior to October 21, 2002

Offensives by the government and pro-government militias in the oil-producing region of Western Upper Nile occurred in 2002. Indeed, credible observers, typically from non-government organizations, have consistently reported accounts of attacks on civilians and forced displacement of civilians from various areas in Western Upper Nile with particular intensity since 1997. Between 1999 and 2001, for example, much of Western Upper Nile was unstable because of constant fighting between pro-government and pro-SPLM/A Nuer militias. Fighting resumed in late December 2002 following Peter Gatdeat’s defection to the government. A March 2002 report by Christian Aid and DanChurchAid pointed out that “it is virtually impossible to make an accurate assessment of the numbers of people affected and their precise locations, given that there is constant movement over a very large geographic area.” By the same token, it is not possible to give a precise assessment of the numbers of civilians attacked and displaced in the fighting during 2003 versus 2002 or earlier years.

Shifting alliances of various militias have changed the pattern of attackers over the years. However, there is no way to quantify accurately the impact of shifting alliances from year to year. Medecins sans Frontieres reports that, until 2002, fighting between the SPLM/A and SSIM/SPDF (which splintered from the SPLM/A in 1991, then in 2002 rejoined it) was the primary reason for displacement, particularly in the Nhialdou area. Both sides used similar tactics against the civilian population: burning villages, looting cattle, and abducting and raping women.

Some assessments by non-governmental organizations of numbers of people affected by fighting in Western Upper Nile in 2002 reach high figures. A team from Christian Aid and DanChurchAid reported, on the basis of a three-day trip to Rubkona County (coinciding with the “Block 5A” oil concession) in March 2002, that deliberate targeting of civilians had forced the displacement of perhaps as many as 75,000 people from the area. The team reported accounts of high-altitude bombardment using Antonov aircraft, helicopter gunship strafings and rocket attacks, use of T55 tanks (specifically to capture Nhialdou), and attacks by government and allied militia ground troops and horsemen in two waves in January and February 2002.

The Department received in February 2003 a report from a non-governmental organization of a Sudanese-army attack in late April 2002 on villages in eastern Upper Nile, resulting in thousands of civilians killed. In accordance with its mission to investigate attacks on civilians, the CPMT is looking into this allegation, and has not completed its investigation.

Pro-government militia leader Paulino Matip featured significantly in reports of militia activity in 2002. Human Rights Watch, in its report on Sudan covering the year 2002, reported that Matip had joined forces with the Arabic-speaking murahilin and conducted scorched earth campaigns to drive tens of thousands of civilians from their homes.

In central Upper Nile, a pro-government militia deliberately killed an international aid worker and kidnapped three others in July 2002. OLS security confirms this incident. The government took no steps to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.

The Government of Sudan provided the Department of State on March 31, 2003, with an extensive analysis of possible war crimes allegedly committed by the SPLM/A over the past 20 years. Most of the incidents cited in their analysis took place prior to the year 2002 and none took place following enactment of the Act on October 21.

The Sudanese government’s information cited the following incidents from Human Rights Watch 2003 annual report: the summary execution of captured or wounded government soldiers following the taking of Torit in eastern Equatoria on August 31; the summary execution of captured non-southern soldiers by then-SPLM/A commander Peter Gatdeat ; the capture by the SPLM/A, in an attack on Todaj, north of Abyei (September 2002), of 45 civilians, including children under 15, some of whom were forcibly conscripted; the recruitment of underage soldiers, including from southern Blue Nile (no date); an attack on Tuhubak (eastern Equatoria, March 2002), 25 killed, all homes burned; attacks on eastern Equatoria, April 2002, with 24 killed in Kor and six in Lofon; and the raping of women (undated). The same 2003 Human Rights Watch report also cited incidents of government attacks, most of which are detailed in section III and elsewhere in this report.

The government analysis also cited a joint press release by OCHA, UNICEF, and WHO of April 2, 2002, concerning actions by the SPLM/A against health workers engaged in polio eradication in Nyingol, near Malakal, on March 15. According to the press statement, the SPLM/A assaulted three health workers, detained 14, and looted vaccination equipment and personal effects.

The SPLM/A provided information to the Department of State that pertained to allegations of crimes against humanity and violations of the cessation of hostilities by the government and pro-government militias in the period since signing of the October 15 MOU. That information is incorporated in section II.B. and elsewhere in this report.

E. Obstruction of Humanitarian Relief

The government has for two decades employed a strategy of blocking or delaying the delivery of humanitarian assistance as a weapon of war, with devastating consequences for the civilian population of opposition areas of Sudan. The October 15 MOU on cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access has led to improved humanitarian access. The Government of Sudan has ceased to impose outright bans on relief flights.

However, the military offensives by government-allied militias in Western Upper Nile, beginning in late December 2002, have had a negative humanitarian impact. As the CPMT concluded in its report of February 6, 2003, “Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) has been able to deliver some relief assistance to Leel and other areas affected by recent fighting; nevertheless, the humanitarian situation in these areas and along the road remains desperate.” Moreover, there are other continued problems, including the government’s requirement that some UN relief flights originate from or stop for inspection in government-controlled locations. Food delivery to meet urgent needs in Southern Blue Nile only commenced on March 19, 2003, two months after OLS reached agreement with the government. The companion report covering Section 8(4) of the Act, which should be read in conjunction with this report, details incidents of government interference in UN-organized Operation Lifeline Sudan and other humanitarian operations.

F. Treatment of Detainees and Child Soldiers

In regard to detainee treatment and access afforded to the International Committee of the Red Cross (“ICRC”), the Government of Sudan did not permit access to detainees and did not return any detainees during the year 2002. The government also subjected ICRC to the same system of flight denials as OLS (although not necessarily to the same locations), resulting in ICRC being unable to perform activities related to their work with detainees, especially in the Nuba Mountains. On the other hand, the SPLM/A often cooperated with the ICRC and allowed regular visits to detainees, and the SPLM/A released a limited number of detainees for health reasons during the year.

The ICRC cooperated with UNICEF to remove child soldiers during 2002. According to the Human Rights Watch 2003 report, the SPLM/A continued in 2002 to recruit underage soldiers in or near battlefields, while at the same time demobilizing thousands of underage soldiers elsewhere. Child soldiers were still common in 2002; Human Rights Watch in August interviewed SPLM/A soldiers aged fifteen and sixteen (recruited two years earlier) from small tribes of Southern Blue Nile. The Department of State has little substantive information on treatment of detainees or recruitment of underage soldiers for the year 2003.

The Special Rapporteur for Sudan of the UN Commission on Human rights stated, based on visits to the region in October 2002 and February-March 2003, that he had received reports on the forced recruitment of children and adolescents by government-allied militias in Western Upper Nile/Unity State. These reports indicated that 667 school students, some as young as nine years old, had been forcibly recruited, representing over twenty percent of the total primary school student population in the state. The Department of State is unaware of the precise time period covered by these reports.

IV. Actions by the United States

During the reporting period, senior U.S. officials repeatedly pressed the government to cease attacks against civilians, halt forced displacements, and end restrictions on humanitarian relief. The United States pressure, through the Department of State, was instrumental in both the government and the SPLM/A signing the October 15 MOU, and the February 4 Addendum that called for the establishment of a verification mechanism. Senior officials, including Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner and Special Envoy John Danforth, have strongly urged both sides to end the fighting, and have spoken out strongly on these issues. Numerous actions have been taken to stop obstructions to humanitarian relief, including visits by Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan Andrew Natsios to negotiate access directly with government and SPLM/A representatives, public statements against obstruction of assistance, and hosting a number of donor meetings that agreed on joint actions in support of United Nations efforts. United States also issued several statements condemning the January 2003 fighting. In March 2003, a senior representative of the Office of War Crimes Issues visited the region and met government and SPLM/A officials and non-governmental organization representatives.

The Department of State formed an internal working group to collect and review relevant materials for this report. It will continue to collect data for subsequent reports and will continue to meet with relevant members of the non-governmental organization community. State Department officials will schedule future trips to the region to solicit further information.

The Department will forward this report to the Government of Sudan, the SPLM/A, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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