2001 High School Essay Contest Winning Essay
Sudan: A Conflict of Human Rights
BY MARGUERITE GABRIELLE
The same year a civil war erupted in their country, two boys were born in southern Sudan. Separated in age by only two days, they entered a world of hostility and constant uproar. War surrounded the boys as they grew; men were always going off to fight the centralized government, but never returning. Often the government's army would block aid from reaching the rebels in the south, and their village was left without food and water for weeks. When there was food, the rebel army would come in and ransack the village- looting what they had, tearing families apart, and stopping to rape the women. At six years old the boys were abducted by an army and brought to labor camps. Poorly fed, hardly supervised, and clothed in rags, the children were just two of Sudan's "Lost Boys" who were never reunited with their families.
Last year, the two were moved into my town under a federal asylum program. Their names are Aeul (a-ool) and Aeik (ai-eek). l remember what they first said about their home: "maybe when we are ready, to die, the fighting will have been long over and we will go back."
Their experiences are very common in the Republic of Sudan. The people have few rights under the Muslim government, and are subject to police brutality and random arrests. The revolution against the Muslims is led by the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), a group of mainly Christians, led by John Garang. The conflict has little to do with the civilians, but they are the most common victims. Boys as young as eleven are kidnapped by both armies and forced into labor or battle. In an interview by the Human Rights Watch, an SPLA officer admitted, "Young people, ages fourteen to sixteen (when they) fought were always massacred. They were not good soldiers because they were too young.(1)" Amnesty International also reports that the SPLA once stuffed eighteen children into a hut and lit it on fire. The three who attempted escape were shot dead, and the rest burned to death. (25)
Amazingly, United States foreign policy in Sudan supports the SPLA. The Sudan Foundation in Great Britain reports that Dr. Garang has met with Secretary of State Madeline Albright to ask for assistance, and not only has the US responded financially, but also with CIA and special forces officers training SPLA gunmen in camps in Uganda and Eritrea (Gabb). The US also provides military aid to Ethiopia, Uganda, and Eritrea, which "observers believe is meant to be channeled to ... the SPLA" (Miheisi). In light of the SPLA's human rights violations, this scenario seems similar to the Iran-Contra affair, in which the US had to justify its motives to the world.
In much of its foreign affairs, the United States has political and economic interests in establishing a democratic government ( which the SPLA aims to do). It is Sudan's rich oil reserves that are eyed, but tapping them creates countless internal refugees. (The government often kicks people out of their villages and leaves them homeless.) "Global interests have the Sudanese Resources at heart, not the well being of the Sudanese people" says Michele Stragupede of the African Church Information Service. Unfortunately, the US has often sacrificed human rights for oil. The US may also support the Christian SPLA because in the past-most notably in the Israeli Palestinian conflict and in Bosnia-the US hasn't supported Islam. The US doesn't agree with the church-and-state relationship or the oppression of women under Islamic law. But if the US has "picked sides" because they have better relations with the SPLA's "Christians", shouldn't they note that both sides oppress their people and violate UN law? By not standing for human rights in this case, the US may also be affecting its relations with other non-Christian countries. In any case, siding with "child abductors" is not a good foreign strategy.
The US needs to help the real problems of human rights, disease, and famine in the UN, which involves mending the ties with the government. The US has already taken action to help the famine- a shortage which is threatening 600,000 lives (UN Integrated Regional Information Network)- by donating over$ I billion of food (Gabel, 31 ). But the government often intercepts aid to starve the SPLA, and also bombs aid sites- over 152 humanitarian and civilian targets in 2000 alone. (US Committee for Refugees) Reportedly some Sudanese officials would rather kick all Americans out of Sudan than let them help. (Miheisi) The next step is therefore to cut any military aid to the SPLA and its allies, which will open relations. With the help of a recently appointed special envoy for Sudan to focus on humanitarian aid and peace negotiations (US Dept. of State), the US may be a primary negotiator in the peace talks. Two important human rights steps the US and UN can work towards are being allowed into Sudan to identify perpetrators of human rights, and investigating both sides of the conflict for their treatment of children. Also, the US could support the International Criminal Court so that the offenses be brought to the table.
The US can assist the Sudanese refugees through the non-profit programs. On the outside families may be reunited, and children can be educated- not trained for battle. But the US must get involved by creating more programs like the Peace Corps, the asylum program- which brought Aeul and Aeik away from war for the first times in their lives- and making sure UNICEF and Doctors without Borders has access to labor camps. Also, countries must be helped in supporting the refugees, so good diplomatic relations are necessary. Though humanitarian services may not end the war in Sudan, they support a future for Africa which is more sane, healthy, and responsible for human rights. As a model for other counties, the US can lead with education, compassion for every side of a conflict, and equality as fundamental goals of foreign relations. As the Dalai Lama-the best foreign diplomat I know-has said: "If we exhibit compassion and peace, others will see our goodness, and follow our lead."
Gabb, Sean. "Sudan's Missing Children: An Open Letter to Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the United States of America, on the Abuse of Children in Military Conflicts." 27 Mar. 1998. Ed. Sean Gabb. London: Sudan Foundation, 1997. 21 Feb. 2001.
Gabel, Ed. "When To Jump In: The World's Other Wars." Time Magazine 19 Apr. 1999: 30-31.
Human Rights Watch. "Child Soldiers and Unaccompanied Boys in Southern Sudan." Online Posting. 11 Nov. 1994. 23 Feb. 2001.
Miheisi, Dr. Yasin. "US Adopts Tougher Line Towards Sudan." Sudan News and Views 21 (1996). 22 Feb. 2001.
Stragupede, Fr. Michele. "Sudan Has Become a Struggle for Power, Greed." Editorial. Online Posting. 29 Jan. 2001. 24 Feb. 2001.
UN Integrated Regional Information Network. "600,000 Are At Immediate Risk of Starvation." Online Posting. 27 Feb. 2001. 28 Feb. 2001.
US Committee for Refugees. "Sudan's Military Bombed Civilian Sites 152 Times Last Year." Online Posting. 23 Jan. 2001. 22 Feb. 2001.
US Department of State (Office of the Spokesman). "United States Welcomes Sudan Peace Process Enhancements." Online Posting. 28 July 1999. 21 Feb. 2001.
"Sudan: The Ravages of War: Political Killings and Humanitarian Disaster." Amnesty International. 29 Sept. 1993, 25.