The Humanitarian Times

October 1, 1999


- RUSSIAN TROOPS ATTACK CHECHNYA, DISPLACING 250,000+ EXPANDING CONFLICT over Dagestan's separatist rebellion. After bombing the Chechnya capital Grozny this past week, Russian ground troops invaded Chechnya, yesterday, establishing positions N & E of Grozny, taking control of the inner border, not allowing male refugees to cross. Over 65,000 refugees have fled Chechnya into Ingushetia, although no aid agencies are operating there yet.

- INDONESIA AGREED TO RELINQUISH ADMINISTRATIVE CONTROL OF E TIMOR this week, in discussions with UN Sec. Gen, at the same time as 5,500+ UN "Interfet" peacemaking forces expanded west from Dili, coming closer to potential confrontation with armed anti-independence militia believed to be amassing in West Timor. Relief airdrops have been terminated, as aid groups like MSF, UNHCR & WFP are now able to establish ground convoys in country.



- $5.7 BILLION OF NEW DEBT RELIEF PROMISED BY PRES CLINTON THIS WEEK for the world's poorest countries, although it's unclear whether the Republican Congress will appropriate the necessary resources. Earlier in the week, the World Bank & IMF announced a change in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative that will resolve the remainder of poor countries' debts. Uganda, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Mauritania & 8 other countries are expected to benefit from this debt relief in the next few months.

- TAJIKISTAN BRACES FOR INFLUX OF REFUGEES FROM FIGHTING IN AFGHANISTAN, as Taliban forces push north. Separately, last Sunday, Tajikistan's citizens voted to approve changes to the constitution that will solidify the peace agreement, allowing, among other things, the opposition to set up Islamic political parties.

- NGOs PROVIDING SEEDS, TOOLS, SUPPLEMENTARY FEEDING IN ANGOLAN TOWNS of Kuito (Care), Huambo (Save the Children, ICRC), Benguela (Catholic Relief Services), Huila Prov (Norwegian Refugee Council), Uige Prov.

(Danish Refugee Council), as part of overall 1999 relief effort projected by the UN to cost $110m. Medecins sans Frontieres & Intl. Medical Corps provide health care. Canada has approved $3.5m for food aid to Angola so far this year.


- QUEEN NOOR URGED THE US TO RATIFY THE LANDMINE BAN TREATY this week when meeting with Pres. Clinton, arguing that, unless & until the US supports it, neither China nor Russia will.

- US SUPREME COURT RECEIVED PETITION SUPPORTING BURMA SANCTIONS LAW on Sept 17 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which modeled its law (barring the state govt from buying goods or services from companies doing business in Burma) on the South Africa laws of the 1980s that catalyzed a peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa. A US Federal appeals court had struck down the Burma law on June 22.

- EUROPEAN UNION SEEKS UN GEN. ASSEMBLY TO OUTLAW THE DEATH PENALTY, on a global basis, building on an April UN Human Rights Comm. resolution calling for an intl. moratorium on death sentences.

- WORLD BANK WITHHOLDS FUNDS TO ETHIOPIA & ERITREA UNTIL WAR ENDS, the Bank announced last week, noting that these 2 countries have deferred their own anti-poverty efforts.


The African Medical Relief Fund, established in 1957 in Kenya, earned the annual Hilton award this week for its persistent attention to primary health problems (including training & radio education) throughout the E & C African regions, building on African capacities. AMREF said it would devote the $1m to expansion of its HIV/AIDS & malaria programs. At the ceremony, UN High Comm. for Human Rights Mary Robinson argued passionately that "it is time to believe again in sustainable human development" & that human rights monitors can prevent violations, illuminate the grievances that lead to war, & help hold accountable those perpetrating massacres. UN humanitarian affairs coordinator S V de Mello focused on the recent crimes against ethnic Serbs in Kosovo saying that the current intolerance "sows the seeds of future crises." Ambassador for Religious Freedom Robert Seiple outlined the relations between religious intolerance & complex emergencies, arguing that religions' sanctity of life tenet can also be part of the solution, particularly where NGOs "provide the tangible moments of hope." Newsday journalist Roy Guttman said that the public needs to be better informed about intl. humanitarian law, which should be "common property of everyone."





The largest country in Africa, Sudan also has been in the middle of the most protracted, deadly, expensive & intractable crises over the last 12 years, with hundreds of thousands killed in war, displacement, repeated famines, disease epidemics, flooding & predatory tribal clashes that often abduct women & children into modern slavery. Since the military coup in 1989 that overthrew its democratic govt, Sudan's rulers, notably Pres.

Omar el-Bashir, have continuously been at odds with intl groups -- NGOs, the Red Cross, neighboring govts, western govts, & has come close to full-scale war with neighbors Egypt, Eritrea & Uganda. Sudan's govt does not permit freedom of news media, assembly, elections or movement, & regularly impedes humanitarian aid programs to needy areas. In 1992 USAID employees working in the south were summarily executed by the govt.

In the last 12 years, donors have spent several billion dollars on relief (primary health care, bulk food, & seeds/tools) in the Sudan, mostly under the operational umbrella of "Operation Lifeline Sudan" which UNICEF coordinates out of Nairobi Kenya, with ongoing airlifts run out of Lokichokio in NW Kenya. The August 1998 nigh-time cruise missile strike against a drug plant related to financial connections with Osama bin Laden (who is responsible for terrorist bombings that killed hundreds of Africans) made more intl headlines than the 30-100,000 starvation deaths in S Sudan the same year. Over time, aid agencies have oriented programs to restore long-term coping strategies -- self reliance. Also, intl. groups have increasingly emphasized conflict mitigation: in the 1990s, major mediation efforts have been sponsored by IGAD, (Intergovt Authority on Development), though these have been stalled since July.

Recently, Sudan has been in the news over flooding, oil production & slavery. Widespread flooding in northern tracts destroyed 15,000 homes (the city of Dongola was flooded in Sept). New fighting threatens newly-productive oil fields. And, a lively controversy has burned internationally over humanitarian aid programs that buy slaves in order to give them their freedom. Some NGOs claim it is a necessary, desperate measure, for lack of other solutions. Others, including UNICEF, argue that it fuels the market for slaves, creating incentives for more slave- taking, & killing, by slave raiders, making the scale of slavery worse in the end. Also, this week, Sudan & Chad reached agreement on border security & the return of 20,000 Sudanese refugees.

- "BUILDING FOR PEACE IN THE HORN OF AFRICA: DIPLOMACY & BEYOND" by John Prendergast (1999 USIP, see website claims that "the deadliest conflict in the entire world is the sixteen-year-long Sudanese civil war, in which rebel groups from the south, east & west fight the govt of Sudan for a mix of agendas including equal rights, democracy, self-determination for the south, & a secular state." Prendergast's shows the vital links between the various conflicts in the Horn region: Sudan's, Somalia's, Ethiopia & Eritrea's, & the protracted violence in N Uganda: "the legacies of a shoot-first approach, & over- developed military institutions remain fixtures through the Horn, under- cutting positive agendas such as those articulated by current govts in Kampala, Addis Ababa, & Asmara." He explains how profiteering, asset- stripping, new upward economic mobility by joining militias, a declining resource base & divergent taxation policies cause the Horn's violent conflicts. Prendergast argues that conventional diplomacy will not suffice to end Sudan's crisis; rather, strong multilateral pressure on the Sudanese govt. to engage in the IGAD peace process. Prendergast advocates use of "food and medicine directly to the Sudanese opposition" as a form of pressure on the govt, and to "enhance the capacity of the people of the south, the Nuba Mts, & other besieged areas to withstand attacks against their livelihood bases." Otherwise, Prendergast warns, "if the regime is able to capitalize on its internal oil production, there is little hope that Khartoum will perceive any reason to negotiate, & it will be able to carry out its campaign of ethnic cleansing around the oil pipelines & prime agricultural areas with impunity" Prendergast also advocates linking peace efforts in the Sudan with conflict mediation in N Uganda.

- "INSIDE SUDAN: POLITICAL ISLAM, CONFLICT & CATASTROPHE" by Donald Petterson (1999 Colorado: Westview Press) in which the former US ambassador to the Sudan (1991-1994) remembers his rounds of debates with Sudan's leaders, largely over the never-ended efforts by intl. groups to help gain access to displaced populations (just outside, Khartoum, mid-country in transition areas, and in the war-torn south).

Petterson gives a blow-by-blow account of the split in the independence- minded Southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in 1992, & the intractable dispute it has with the Khartoum government which won't relinquish its primary requirements of keeping Sudan a non-democratic religious (Islamic) state based on Sharia law & customs. He makes numerous brief observations on the heroic work of NGOs working in famine zones, notably Irish Concern, Goal, & the ICRC. In his account, the struggle by intl aid groups to eliver life-saving services "was constant, requiring a judicious mixture of tact & belligerence." He also cites the work of Sudanese NGOs, cautioning that they sometimes are an instrument for proselytizing Islam among southerners: "efforts at forced Islamization were widespread" using relief supplies as a tool to Islamize people in the camps." Petterson sees the divide between N & S as mainly intractable: "The IGADD mediation attempt had shown that neither the Sudanese govt nor the rebels were prepared to negotiate in good faith unless the other side virtually surrendered."

- "SUDAN: CONTESTED NATIONAL IDENTITIES" EXPLORES VICIOUS CYCLES. By Ann Mosely Lesch (1998, Indiana Press), this text explores the twists & turns in the conflict between N & S Sudan. The author examines her theme -- how minorities seek representation, self-rule, autonomy or secession back to British rule in the 1800s, finding that "north & south emerge as expressions of unequal relations, divergent historical memories: ethnic categories can be politicized & hardened, not through a natural process, but through the manipulation of identity for instrumental purposes by political movements. "The bitter struggle has nearly destroyed the country."

-- For a fuller understanding of the famine cycles in the Sudan, see the scholarly publications of Alex de Waal, as well as by David Keen. Also of interest is Judy Walgren's 1998 40-page photo book "The Lost Boys of Natinga, A School for Sudan's Young Refugees" (Boston: Houghton Mifflin) which depicts daily life & realities in school, health, agriculture, & religion in a displaced persons (not refugee) camp near the Uganda border.