By Samuel Totten
March 15, 2016 (SSNA) — Rumors are afloat in Sudan that the Government of Sudan has recently transported chemical weapons to one or more regions of South Kordofan, which the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) control. South Kordofan state also happens to be the home of the Nuba Mountains, which has been war with the GoS since early June 2011. Rumor has it that the SAF, weary of the protracted war with the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), the force representing the Nuba, may be planning to use the chemical weapons against the SPLA in an effort to bring the rebellion in the Nuba Mountains to a quick end. Fear is that the use of weapons may well bring an end to the Nuba people, for the GoS never simply attacks the rebel groups it is in conflict but has a propensity to target civilians of the group, just as it did in Darfur in the early part of this century (and continues to do) and as it has done in the Nuba Mountains since June 1011.
The use of chemical weapons in warfare is prohibited under the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which entered force in February 1928. In 1997, the Chemical Weapons Convention went into force in 1997, which is an arms control treaty, which outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and their precursors. The use of chemical weapons has been outlawed. Outlawing their use is one thing, enforcing the prohibitions and treaty is quite another.
A general tenet among those of us who are scholars of genocide studies is that the time to act to prevent genocide is before it is perpetrated. That is, as soon as potential early warnings signals are detected on the horizon is the time for the international community to act to do everything within its powers to prevent the outbreak of atrocities that might eventuate in crimes against humanity, if not genocide. To take a “wait and watch” approach when something along the lines of chemical weapons are in the mix is not only the height of irresponsibility, but unconscionable.
As for the rumors, my understanding is that a Sudanese soldier with the SAF based in Kaduguli (the capital of South Kordofan and a stronghold of the SAF) called his brother in Khartoum and informed him that the SAF was preparing for an assault against the Nuba Mountains and that chemical weapons had been prepositioned for potential use in the forthcoming battle. The brother then called a fellow Nuban in Khartoum, an individual with the SPLA-N intelligence service, and informed him of the chemical weapons. The latter then reached out to one of his contacts (a fellow Nuban) in the United States, and that contact reached out to me, assuring me that the information came from highly reliable sources.
The exact wording of the email I received reads: “Very Important to be known. A report from reliable (sic) [source] that the SAF plans to use banned weapon in NM [Nuba Mountains] in the coming offenses in the area to clear it from rebellion to pave the way for gold exploration. The said weapons are in the capital of the SK [South Kordofan State] state. Please let our brothers there know this piece of information.”
Be that as it may, a rumor is still a rumor. That is, no hard or definitive evidence has been provided in order to establish that is a fact that the GoS has (a) transported chemical weapons to South Kordofan or (b) it has any intention of using them in its fight against the SPLA-N.
Another individual, a well-connected Nuba based in the United States, also informed me that “he has been informed that SAF vehicles are all fueled up and ready to move in [the Nuba] at a moment’s notice.”
At one and the same, though, the United Nations can certainly act on rumors and warn the GoS from even contemplating the use of chemical weapons, let alone making use of them against the SPLA-N and/or the Nuba people. To avoid doing so in the face of the potential use of such deadly (and outlawed weapons) would constitute an abysmal failure to honor the very first Article in its (the UN’s) Charter: “To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace” (italics added).
Furthermore, it is incumbent on the United States to (a) prod the UN to issue such a warning to the GoS, and (b) to issue a warning itself. And in doing so, the U.S. should make it crystal clear that should the GoS use chemical weapons against the SPLA-N and/or the Nuba Mountains people that it will, at a minimum, be slapped with the most aggressive sanctions possible and the U.S. will bring the matter to the UN Security Council for the express purpose of calling on it to immediately and aggressively act to suppress the GoS acts of aggression, breach of peace and use of internationally outlawed weapons.
Need anymore be said? This the time for action, not a dilatory “strategy”!
Samuel Totten is Professor Emeritus at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He is the author Genocide by Attrition: Nuba Mountains, Sudan (Transaction Publishers, 2015). He was last in the Nuba Mountains in January 2016.